A rustling woke him up, and Yeshua opened his eyes.
There before him, dressed in a robe of deep royal blue, richly brocaded with stars of silver, stood the Magdalene. Her glistening black hair was encircled by a crown of animal figures carved from lapis lazuli intertwined and connected by vines and leaves of knotted beaten copper. A shining silver and copper necklace adorned with carved sapphire birds wrapped around her shoulders and cascaded into the valley between her breasts. Beneath her robe she wore a diaphonous Egyptian linen dress, white, tinged with sky blue, and tied with a white girdle. Her jewellery jingled as she held her arms out to him.
Yeshua rubbed his eyes in disbelief.
"Miri!" he exclaimed, shivering from the cold of the desert night.
"Yeshua," she said softly. "I have come to see to your needs."
"I am hungry," Yeshua admitted, "I haven't eaten for days!"
"Why do you deny yourself sustenance?"
Miriam walked toward Yeshua.
"I must turn from the ways of the flesh."
Yeshua had trouble looking Miri in the eye. She slipped her hand around his waist.
"And by denying the flesh, do you release yourself from it's bonds? Are you not now thinking more of how you can feed the flesh than the spirit? If your stomach is full you will have time to feed your soul. Yeshua, you cannot reach enlightenment by separating yourself from what you are. Discipline does not mean denial."
"Then how do you suggest I reach The Power?" asked Yeshua.
"Immerse yourself in Life. Experience all that it means to be alive. How can you deny your humanity? You turned away from my bed when I offered it to you."
"I do not see how by wallowing in sin can help me achieve a greater sense of the Mysteries." replied Yeshua.
"Perhaps you might look at life in terms of what is good rather than what others say is bad. How can you condemn that which you do not truly know. How can you change that which you do not understand? Are you so pure that you can pass judgment on yourself and others? If by your actions you have become a son of God, then will Yahweh not turn these stones to bread to feed you?" she asked.
Yeshua replied, "It is written: 'Man cannot live by bread alone.'"
Miri caressed Yeshauh's cheek. "You reply with the rote of scripture with no feeling from your heart. Deny your body its needs and the body becomes the centre of your life. To avoid gluttony, you have moved to the opposite pole: the denial of fasting, and yet you still fail to achieve the harmony you seek because your body is not in balance. It is only after the flesh has been cared for that your spirit can reach The Power. You are removing all from your life that is life itself. Do you think that by coming closer to death that you will find the god you seek? The Power is life, and Death is only a small part of that Life. You must accept your body, your soul and spirit as One.'
"You are right." agreed Yeshua somewhat reluctantly.
Miriam wrapped her cloak around Yeshua and the warmth of Miri's body filled his own, and he stopped shaking.
"In this world there are two roads of perfection," she told him gently, "The one you seek, the Path of Wisdom, and the other, the Path of Action. But don't believe even for a moment that refraining from action will free you from action. Renunciation and rejection will not set your feet upon the Path of Wisdom for a man cannot be without action, even for a single moment. We are all driven to action by the forces born of our nature and the attraction of the will of others.'
"When you withdraw yourself from actions, only to ponder on their pleasures in your heart, your vision is clouded by delusion. Action is greater than inaction: perform therefore your task in life. The life in your body could not exist if there were no action.'
"And so, when you have eyes that see Truth as it is, you will see that the Road of Wisdom and the Road of Action are as One. Thus the road you seek leads to me. In any way that you love me in that same way you will find my love: for many are the paths of men, but in the end, they all come to me."
"You are not who you seem," he said.
"I am what I am, Yeshua," she replied.
His hand came up cautiously and he caressed her cheek. His hand was warm, and she pulled him toward her.
They embraced. Yeshua's head buried in her neck, his lips seeking her skin as Miri's neck arched to receive him. He moaned softly and his mouth caressed her shoulders and travelled quickly to her breast. Miriam uncovered her left breast and Yeshua's mouth closed over her nipple and sucked gently. Miri's breath came more heavily as Yeshua began to suck harder at her breast, pulling the flesh into his mouth. As Miriam reached around to hold his head, Yeshua curled up, transformed into an infant child suckling at her breast. Miri caressed the baby gently as he nestled in her arms. A golden aura radiated from her head and within the gentle light, stars twinkled. She lifted her right hand, trailing light, and touched the child on the forehead. Where she touched him, a silvery outline of the crescent moon remained. She smiled and lay down where Yeshua had been sleeping, her arms and robes forming a warm nest for the small child who suckled at her breast.
He awoke as the first fingers of the morning sun poked into the wadi. As he stood up and stretched, Yeshua was deeply troubled by the images of Miriam still floating within his brain. He was no longer hungry, and his body felt warm and refreshed. Somehow the vision of Miriam had invigorated him with an energy he had not felt since he left Yahja.
He picked up his staff and walked westward.
Yeshua froze at the sound of a low guttural growl. Slowly he turned, staring intently into the darkening gloom. A deep disembodied animal breathing reached his ears but was unable to determine its source. The desert rocks seemed to move as his gaze swept past them and he started at their imagined movement. With a deep breath, he steeled himself and took a slow step forward. The invisible animal growled again. The hair on his arms stood upright.
Then, there, suddenly was a lioness gazing calmly at him from the shadows. Another padded silently to stand beside the first, then another. The three cats stood side by side staring intently at him.
Yeshua's fingers tightened on his staff.
A woman's hand touched his shoulder. It was Miriam.
"They will not attack as long as you face them."
"How long will they stay there?" Yeshua asked nervously.
"As long as they need to" Miri replied calmly, stepping past Yeshua.
"Miriam!" cried Yeshua, and started forward to restrain her. One of the lionesses lashed out at Yeshua and he stepped backward quickly to avoid her claws. Miriam stepped between the two other cats, and turned to face Yeshua and smiled. She squatted down and scratched the lionesses behind the ear.
"Oooh, you're a lovely pussy-cat, aren't you?" she asked as she scratched behind the ear of the lioness who rubbed up against her.
Yeshua licked his lips nervously as Miri played with the cats.
She was dressed as richly as she had been the night before, but her robe was dark forest green velvet trimmed with gold, lined with deep red satin. Her pink dress sparkled with gold lacing, her jewellery glinting gold, sprinkled with rubies.
Miri smiled at Yeshua and stood up. "Put down your staff, Yeshua, you have no need of it anymore."
She stood up and held out her hand for the stick. He slowly passed the rod over to her. At the moment the two of them held the staff together, it transformed instantly into a writhing snake. Startled, Yeshua let go.
The snake slithered up Miri's arm and she allowed the serpent to wrap around her arm and slither up to her shoulders. "Don't be alarmed, Yeshua. This is the snake worshipped by Moses."
"Blasphemy!" whispered Yeshua.
Miri smiled. "Moses carried it as his staff from Egypt. And Aaron planted it on Mount Gerizim! Surely you know this?"
"It was destroyed by Hezekiah as an abomination of Nehushtan!"
"You know of it then?"
"The Lord told Moses to make a metal snake and put it upon a standard, so that anyone who had been bitten by a snake would be healed by laying their eyes upon it."
Miri brushed her cheek against the snake lovingly. "Yeshua, he did not cast the snake. His wife brought it from Egypt. Our people once worshipped it's healing powers. It was used for good. Your god does not allow for good to come from any but him!"
"All good comes from the Lord."
"So you say. If he is as strong as you believe him to be, why does he need men in high places to do his work? You know that these men are not put in place by God! The high priest is nominated by the Romans and appointed by the king. Do you believe Herod was sent by God to rule over us? Do you think that the priesthood that outlawed the religion of Moses and our ancestors are servants of God?"
Miri stepped forward and hugged him.
"Is it not written that the Lord commanded Moses to cast the snake?"
"Tell me who commanded Hezekiah to destroy it."
Yeshua was silent.
"From the Book of Numbers, Yeshua. You know the verse."
"Hezekiah destroyed the pagan places of worship, broke the stone pillars, and cut down the images of Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze snake that Moses had made, which was called Nehushtan."
"He destroyed that which God had commanded Moses to build. How strange that the Lord should contradict himself according to whoever leads our people."
"You are trying to lead me away from the Path of Righteousness, by your arguments."
"No, I want you to open your ears to Truth. I want to peel away the scales covering your eyes, and open your heart to Life."
"I cannot abandon the Lord."
"No, of course not. You have no need to abandon the totem which you choose to worship. I am here to help you find the way to your God."
"You are to show me? But you are a follower of Ishtar!" cried Yeshua incredulously, "How can you know the ways of The One True God?"
She pulled away and smiled, pulling him by the hand. "Come," she said.
He took her hand and they rose into the air, high above the moon-silvered rocks, the hills and then the desert itself. He found himself standing with Miriam on the battlements of Fortress Antonia. Sentries patrolled the walkways overlooking the temple and the Kedron valley.
"If you throw yourself down from here, will Yahweh order his angels to hold you up with their hands so that not even your feet will be harmed landing on the stones below?"
"It is written: 'Do not the Lord to the test.'" said Yeshua dogmatically.
"Indeed. Yet you require yourself to pass tests to prove your own worthiness. You require me to pass tests to prove myself worthy of you. If you fall, who will be there to save you? Yahweh or I?"
Yeshua looked away.
Miriam waved her arm and they stood in Rome itself. Yeshua turned full circle in amazement.
"I could bring you all this power and wealth within a twinkling. Everyone in the World will bow down to your image. This, the most powerful city in the World, will become the centre of your cult."
"I have no need of such wealth nor I am not seeking such power."
"What are you looking for, Yeshua?"
Miriam smiled. "I shall bring you Peace."
"I shall show you Love."
"Who are you?" asked Yeshua.
Miriam touched Yeshua on the shoulder. "Yeshua, I am the one who will help you more than all others, but you cannot deny me your soul. In order for you to achieve peace within yourself, you must open yourself to everything that I have to offer."
His lips touched hers, and their mouths fused together, and her mouth eased the dryness of his own. He drank her embrace and was refreshed as he had never been before. The tingling of ecstasy filled his mind erasing the aches and pains inflicted on him by his stay in the desert. Their bodies fused , and in a flash of brilliant light, the two became One.
The desert sun beat down on Yeshua, and despite his thirst, he turned to face it, his arms outstretched to embrace the sun's rays. He stood basking in the heat as a plant welcoming the Power of Helios, accepting the warmth as a blessing and his open arms as a benediction. He was One with the desert: each stone, each grain of dust; he absorbed the power from the Sun and passed the power into the ground at his feet.
When he opened his eyes, the old woman stood before him, her beauty mellowed by untold centuries. Beneath her black robe she wore saffron linen tied with an orange and red girdle. She held her arms out to him.
Yeshua blinked. "Who are you?" he whispered.
"Do you not know me, Yeshua?" the old woman asked.
Yeshua stared at her and the dawn of recognition lit his eyes.
"Miriam!" he exclaimed, "You have grown so much older!"
"Your name for me is what it is, yet I am none of these things, and I am all of them." she replied.
Yeshua opened his hands, palms down and stared at them, turning them over. "I don't understand," he exclaimed, "I have not aged at all!" He looked at Miriam in amazement.
"Yet, you have. Do you think that we simply exist from birth to death and on either side there is only a void?"
"No, Yahweh will sit in judgment at The Resurrection."
Miriam shook her head. "Yeshua, you must not think of your life as a straight line, nor limit your idea of the Power to a single entity. By naming the Power, you limit it to whatever you have named."
Miriam lowered herself onto a large boulder.
"Come, sit beside me," she patted the boulder beside her.
Yeshua settled beside on the ground at her feet, and looked into Miriam's eyes
"You told me by naming the Power, I would call only that part which I have named, yet Yahweh has no name."
"If the reason for naming comes from fear of the unknown, not from the wisdom of knowing, then it is so. It is one thing to acknowledge that a name will only limit our understanding of a thing, and quite another to refuse to name it because you will lose it to someone else. Those who name a goddess wish to own her, to make her theirs alone, to control the power that she represents. The naming limits the power to one, when the Power is transcendent and omnipotent."
"I don't see how you can then deny the existence of Yahweh, himself," replied Yeshua defensively.
"Yahweh is only what you see of the Power. Where is the female in Yahweh? You think that the name is simply a name? It contains more than the Word. The Word is all that it represents. Yahweh is male. Yahweh is the god of males made in their image as are all the gods which we name. To really reach the Power, you must look within yourself, yet also outside yourself at all there is around you. You are not separate from the world, nor is the ultimate power. You are a part of it and it is a part of you. The air you breathe comes from me."
"And the air you breathe comes from me," countered Yeshua.
"And so we are One," said Miriam.
"You aren't Miriam."
The old woman smiled. "I am. But I am you also. You see me as you wish to see me, and so, then, I become a part of you and you of me. Are you afraid of me, Yeshua?"
"Yes," Yeshua's voice cracked.
The old woman stood up and held up her arms, her hands palms outward. "Behold!" she commanded.
A flash of light blinded Yeshua, and he shielded his eyes. Slowly, he lowered his arm, and, before him, holding a well-worn rustic shepherd's staff in his right hand, stood an old man, his hair white as the snow on Mount Hermon and beard as full and soft as lamb's wool.
"Yeshua," he said softly.
Yeshua scrambled back in fright, shielding his eyes from the light.
"Who are you?" Yeshua cried.
"Do you not know me Yeshua?" the old man asked, "I am what I am." The old man stepped forward. "At this moment, I am El, the Ancient of Days, the God of your forefathers. My son, let me help you-"
El reached out to Yeshua. Yeshua timidly extended his hand, forefinger first, as if he could test the reaction to touching God. Slowly his reach extended until their fingers almost touched. A blue trail of light flowed from the finger of God into Yeshua. Their hands met and El held Yeshua's hand gently in his, and Yeshua rose slowly and effortlessly to his feet. His face glowed of it's own accord as the power of God was transferred to him.
"I have need of you, Yeshua," said El simply.
"My Lord," said Yeshua in acceptance.
"You are my servant as I am yours," said El.
"What is it you wish of me, Lord?" asked Yeshua.
"Follow your heart, Yeshua," commanded El, "It is all I ask of anyone."
"I do not know my heart, Lord," confessed Yeshua, "I cannot follow what I do not know."
The old man eased himself down onto a boulder, and patted the space beside him. "Come," he said gently.
Yeshua approached awkwardly, and gingerly sat down. The old man's eyes narrowed as he stared into the sky, then he began to speak:
"When you see yourself in the heart of all beings and see all beings in your own heart, you will know the vision of the wise man, a vision which is ever One. And when you see me in all beings and see all in me, then I shall never leave you and you shall never leave me. In this oneness of love, you love me in whatever you see; wherever you may live, you will live in me. You will be the wise man, whose vision is ever One, and the pleasure and pain of others will be your own.'
The old man's gaze darkened and he faced Yeshua.
"There are fools in this world who know me not when they see me in my own body." El raised his arm and transformed into the old crone and her arm swept the horizon.
"They do not understand my Spirit supreme, the infinite God, the infinite Goddess of this all. But, there are some great souls who know me! Their refuge is my own divine nature. They love me with a oneness of love. They know that I am the source of all. They praise me with devotion, they praise me forever and ever. Their vows are strong. Their harmony is ever one, and they worship me with their love.'
"Others worship me, and work for me, with the sacrifice of spiritual vision, as the One and as many, because they see that all is in me. For I am the sacrifice and the offering, the sacred gift and the sacred plant. I am the holy words, the holy food, the holy fire, and the offering that is made in the fire. I am the Father of this Universe, and even the source of the Father. I am the Mother of this Universe, and the Creatrix of All. I am the highest to be known, the Way, and the Mistress who watches in silence: your friend and your shelter and your abode of peace, your Beth-El. I am the beginning and the end, and all that transpires between.'
Her hand reached skyward.
"The heat of the sun comes from me, and I send and withhold the rain. I am immortality and I am death. I am all things and I am none. I told you that by naming, you limit me. I have spoken truthfully. But remember this, Yeshua: even those who in faith worship other gods, because the love of their hearts is real, in Truth, they worship me, although not in the right way, because their minds are clouded by what they see before them.'
"But I accept every sacrifice made from the heart, for I am the Lady Supreme. But they know not my pure Being, and because of this they cannot achieve the Realm of God. For those who worship gods go to the gods, and those who worship lower spirits go to the lower spirits; but those who worship me as I am, come unto me in Purity and without fear.'
"Even those who in faith worship other gods and goddesses, by their love, they worship me. They are deluded by their own illusion, Yeshua. Even though they bow down before the idols they themselves have created, in truth, that which they seek is found only in me. I exist deep within their souls. I am their souls and their souls are a part of me. There is no reason why I should want anyone else to follow my path. Your path to me is your own to choose.'
"If you offer me with devotion only a leaf, or a flower or a fruit, or even a little water, this I accept from the yearning of your soul, because with a pure heart, you offered it with love. Whatever you do, or eat, or give, or offer in adoration, let it be an offering to me; and whatever you suffer, suffer it for me.'
"Thus you shall be free from the bonds of the World which yields fruits that are evil and good; and with your soul one in renunciation you shall be free of the bonds of greed and come to me. I am the same to all beings, and my love is ever the same, but those who worship me with their true devotion, they are in me and I in them. For even if the greatest sinner worships me with all his soul, he must be considered righteous, because his will is righteous. Soon he becomes pure and shall reach everlasting peace. For this is my covenant, that he who loves me shall never perish.'
"All those who come to me for shelter, however weak or humble or sinful they may be: men, women, kittim, or gentiles: they shall all reach the Higher Path. Give me your mind and your heart, give me your offerings and your adoration; and so, with your soul in Harmony, making your goal supreme, in truth shall you come to me.'
"Listen and I shall reveal to thee some manifestations of my divine glory. Only the greatest, Yeshua, for there is no end to my infinite greatness. I am the soul which dwells in the heart of all things. I am the beginning, the middle, and the end of all that lives and all that dies.'
"Among the Sons of Light, I am The Teacher of Righteousness, and of the luminaries, Horus the radiant sun. I am Enlil, Lord of the Winds and Storms, and of the lights in the night sky, I am Luna.'
"Among the terrible powers, I am Rabbat Allat, Kali, the goddess of destruction, and among kings, the Lord of Wealth. Of priests, I am Levi, and among warriors, Ares the god of war and Gilgamesh, the Hero Supreme.'
"To lakes, I am the Nammu, the Great Ocean, and among all rivers the holy Nile. Among the mountains, I am Mount Olympus. Of the trees I am the tree of life and the tree of knowledge. Among serpents, Ouranos, the serpent of Eternity who devours itself. Of beasts I am the king of the beasts, and of the fishes in the sea, I am Leviathan.'
"Of sounds I am the first sound, Alpha, and Omega the last. Of compounds I am that which binds. I am Chronos, never-ending Father Time, and The Great Mother, the Creatrix, who sees all. I am the beginning and the middle and the end of all that is; I am Mot the Devourer of all living things. I am death that carries off all things, and I am Ki-Urash, Rabbat Asura, the womb of all Life and the Essence of Being. Of goddesses, I am Fortuna, the Lady of Fame and Prosperity. I am Speech, Memory, Intelligence, Constancy and patient Forgiveness.'
"Of all knowledge I am Sophia and the Truth of the Soul. Of the many paths of reason I am the Way.'
"And know Yeshua, that I am the seed of all things that are; and that no being that moves or moves not can ever be without me. There is no end to my divine greatness, Yeshua. What I have shown you forms only a small part of my Infinity.'
"Yeshua, I want you to know this: whatever is beautiful and good, whatever has glory and power, is only a portion of my own radiance. I am whatever you find Evil, I am that which you find ugly and foul, I am the creature that crawls in the ground and slithers along the gutters. What help is it to you to know this diversity? To know that with one single fraction of my Being I pervade and support the Universe, and know that I am?'
"It is this: Neither Scriptures, nor sacrifices, nor studies, nor benefactions, nor rituals, nor fearful austerities can give you the vision of my form Supreme. Nor by the Scriptures, or an austere life, or gifts to the poor, or ritual offerings can I be seen as you now see me.'
The old woman smiled, held out her arms and transformed once again into a radiant Miriam.
"Only by Love can you see me, and know me, and come to me.'
"Remember this, Yeshua, he who works for me, who loves me, free from attachment to all things, and with love for all Creation, he in truth becomes One with me.'
In an instant, Miriam disappeared, and the desert was swallowed momentarily by infinite darkness. As Yeshua spun around, his eyes adjusted to the light of the crescent moon, but he could see only shadows, and the fading image of God.
And he knew he was no longer alone.