I have written a story:
There had been a Fall - of that I am certain, though I have no memory of how, or of hurt to go with this knowledge. There was no mark on me that I could see. No bruise, no break, no seam of blood. There was only the certainty of a Fall, of myself, fallen, and all the world fallen with me. I had a sense of my own wrongness, of exile and enmity. But there is nothing before that, no moment in which I can see my un-fallen self, no recollection of the crime that cast me out. I stand beneath a star-domed, cloud-webbed sky, solitary and afraid. I am addled and memory-stricken; a wanderer, chartless, guideless, a stranger within a country which - for all that I could tell - might be my own. My feet will not stay firm beneath me. The Earth cannot anchor me. The sky above me will not stand still in its course. I am lost, unmoored, nameless and alone, in a world whose shape and colour is strange to me.
Memory, I have none, but I know this bit of Earth upon which I stand. It is dun-coloured, scrub-brushed and olive-treed; hard-baked and dusty. This, like my Fall, I am certain of. But something has happened to it. It has changed, grown white-feathered as a dove; gone soft underfoot, and smells of wet, and of chill, like the Sea upon the first cold morning of the dawning of the world. Star-motes fall from the sky, silver-shot and faintly glittering, to rest upon the rolling white hills of an altered world. One streaks my hand as it falls, burns cold, and warms to water. I lift hand to mouth, taste the sky and look up.
There, low upon the sky, and westward, a single Star kindles to life before me. No star had been there a moment before. Nothing had lived in that blank space, in that black patch of empty sky. Yet now and suddenly, there was a Star, flickering and dancing. I turned left, and right, looking to share this wonder with another of my kind, but I am alone. Alone. Only I, nobody, nameless, am there to see it spark, to catch and flare, like a flame amid its sister stars - only I, to witness the birth of an impossible Star.
Impossible? Aye, for it was a pilgrim Star, unfixed, even at the moment of its birthing. A living light that would not be still, but sported about the sky like a lambkin, in its new-born joy. And so I say again: impossible, for a Star to dance as this one danced. Impossible for it to slip the bounds that set it in Heaven, break free of compass points, and star-charts, and slide down the edges of the sky. Yet, this one did, and my heart, my fearful, flinching, fallen heart, leapt and cowered in equal measure.
I could not bear the brilliance of it, the bright, boundless, leaping joy of it - “Hope!” it sings to the star-bright, cloud-webbed sky. “Hope!” to the inexplicable world, robbed if colour, glittering, white. Such terrible joy in a single word. Hope - to a fallen, broken world! I cannot bear the glory of it, the exultation. It must not see me as I am. And so, I flee the Star, run in such fear as I have never known. Put my back to its light, and flee, until the air is gone out of me, until my feet are tangled in the white-feathered hills and I fall down, down, down.
The fierce, bright glow of a shepherd’s fire pricks my eyes - hot and red, and blessedly human. It spears at the indistinct sky, smoke wreathing round it. The shepherds themselves are black flickers against the flame. Their sheep drift like clouds through the remote silver light, beyond the circle of its warmth. I am drawn to that warmth, to the bone-cheering, sweet-smelling power of it. Like a mouse, I creep towards it, afraid of notice, but the shepherds allow me that comfort, asking no questions, speaking not a word. From the shadows, a hand forms, passing me a steaming cup. I see a straight profile, haloed in firelight, a beard giving back red for red. I drink heat, forgetting the strange, white world, and dancing, pilgrim star. Here, there are no mysteries, no impossible Hope singing in the heavens, no Fall to bother me. The world is at is has always been – tangible and material. And me, a mere temporary thing upon it, concerned with cold and now, unmoved by the great, unknown things, coming to life around the edge of it The ground stays still. The stars hide behind a screen of smoke. The air smells of burning olive wood, of sheep’s wool, and men accustomed to hard labour.
The fire shifts, and sparks fly upwards. A constellation of stars, glowing red for a moment against the smoke and clouds. But they are earth-born things, and they cannot live long upon the air. They wink out of existence almost before they live, and when they are gone, the sky clears. Smoke thins, and ghosts out of being. The last threads of cloud break and part, and there are sudden stars in that space. Brighter, even that relentless Pilgrim - great, winged stars, their light spreading like eagles against the cold sky. Their numbers grow, moment, by moment, until there is no sky left, for the star that throng it.
They are singing - "Glory" - resounding from pole to pole, and all the world answer, "Glory, and Hope!" And though my soul leaps to hear it, the Fallen, broken heart within in cowers and quivers and breaks anew.
The shepherds are all around me, black against the mingling of red light and gold, tall as trees, their arms branching toward the sky. The starlight make hallowed their work-weary winter faces. I alone in this company of stars and night-watchers, am in the dark. I bow my head to the earth, my face to the cold, feathered whiteness of a world running mad around me. The shepherds have gone, singing, after wingéd stars. The red glow of earth-fire is gone. I am left with only the heavenly light of the fiercely joyful Pilgrim Star.
We look at each other, that Star and me. "Hope." it insists, and "Come." But I know my wrongness and brokeness, my own and all the world's with me. This is not a place of hope. It is a place of do and die, of here and now. I do not trust in miracles. I do not speak these words, but the Star hears, and it laughs at me. "Come." insists, and though I do not answer it, the birds do.
The cold, glittering star motes are still falling, still burn cold upon skin. Hands ache at the cold, feet turn to iron, weighing one to the ground. It is not a night for delicate things to be winging. Yet the birds come, a mighty squardron of them, pouring across the sky. Starlight silver-gilds each fluttering feather-point, gleams along beaks ad streaming tail-plumes. Larks, there are, and herons, doves and owls, eagles and hawks, redbirds, robins and wrens. The air is alive with the beating of their wings, the air liquid with the sound of a thousand birdsongs. They soar above me in a veritable storm, the wind of their passing is in my hair.
For an eternal moment, the world is birds, and spring in winter. For an eternal moment, I forget that the world and I are broken. But at last that mighty stream of caroling birds had utterly poured itself out, and I am left, wonder-stuck, between joy and fear, standing before a laughing star. Only a gentle swirl of wind-plucked feathers assures me that I have not gone mad. A last faint echo speaks of their passing - a mere thread of sound upon the air. "Hope...."
Hope? In a world where stars roam freely, and dance and sing? Where a single star-word calls forth birds from the uttermost ends of the world? Where the world has changed its shape and colour, and men and birds run mad with joy? A single red feather gleams at my feet. I pluck it, and it is like fire in my hand, red and gold, lit from within. A firebird's feather, perhaps - a burning creature, that dies, so it might live.
The Pilgrim Star beckons, and the feather flies to it. I am suddenly afraid. Hope is too terrible a thing for a broken world, and the broken heart within it. The Star goes still for a moment, banking the fire of its jubilation. There is just here and now, and in this now, the Star touches me with a single, ordinary fall of starlight. A single word, breathed out into the aching world - "come." Golden glory trembles in a halo around the star. For a moment more it is a star simply, but the strain is too great. In a riot of joy it spins out across the sky, and looks at me no longer.
So I followed it. What else was left for me to do? Full of doubt, and fallen wrongness, I walked through star motes, over white-feathered hills. The light of the impossible Star upon my face, and a shadow that stretched to the edge of the world, trailing behind me.
How long I followed it I could not say. Having committed myself to the sharing of its pilgrimage, I simply did as it did, nor gave thought of why or how long. Perhaps there were other pilgrims whom it led in a more direct route. Often and often in my journeying through endless black night, with only the Star-guide for lantern, I heard the sound of singing in the distance, of men and women laughing. Sometimes there was the march-music of a shepherd-drummer - once the wild music of a Italian soldier's piping, and I blessed it for the fire it set in my faltering heart. Yet the path the Star led me along was long and music-less. "Hope" still it whispered, when I grew weary, and softer still, "trust", when I was near despair at my hopelessness. I was memory-less, a star-addled pilgrim, until the aching need of hope, was greater in me than any sense of doubt, or despair.
Then did the Star release my from my discipleship. I stood knee-deep in snow-feathers, at the mouth of a cave. The air was winter cold, and star motes had turned to snow in earnest, but the cave, with its fire-glow, smelled of flowers, and fresh mown hay. I recognised the star-song that had lured the shepherds and the sheep. Softer now, it hummed through the stone and the earth, but glory it still proclaimed. The dancing, impossible star winked once at me. I took my courage in my hands, and plunged into the earth.
All was a confusion of lights and colour in there. My sight grew misty, and I would have faltered, but compassionate hands clasped at my own, drawing me further in. Great, winged beings, with light-starred hair, thronged the air. I knew them from the shepherd's hill. They were singing, even still, softer than snow, and as warm as love. Birds roosted on every edge and foothold; a congregation of people in the flickering shadows, silent, awe-held. A home-like fire was kindled in the center of the cave, and within its light, a soldierly man, and a woman with a wise young face. She smiled at me as I was pulled, hesitatingly into the circle of firelight - a smile that warmed and purified. She nodded once, and bade me come. Closer I crept, and paused, and peered into the manger-bed before her.
It was a night of stars, and at first, all I could see was the light. I thought it a star, buried deep within the earth - the brightest and best of all stars. But somehow, at the sight of it, I knew me - knew my name, my wordsmith trade, knew the taste of forbidden fruit in my mouth; knew my wrongness fully. Fallen I was in very truth, but here was Goodness itself, and here was all made right. The broken bits within me righted themselves. They would never be unbroken, but a star that foresook heaven for earth might make a good thing out of me anyway. Salt water splashed on my hand, and my vision cleared. There was a face in the midst of the starlight. Two solemn brown eyes looked up at me, and a tiny, tiny hand reached for mine. A Child was there, nutbrown, and rosy-cheeked, a child whose firm little grasp of my finger anchored me to earth even as my human heart leaped heavenward. A firebird child, all aflame, but unburned. Man I saw in the hollow of the earth - Man and God. God, whose hands had shaped angels and stars and birds, took my hand into His own, held me with all His infant strength; and at the warmly human touch of God, He was mine, and I was His.
"Glory" softly, from the star-haired angels, and from my healed and hopeful heart, I answered - and all the world answered with me: "Glory."