Stone Table: Pensées for Eastertide
by Mike Boniface
I carry a thirty-pound maul to a cedar grove. My friend, Jake, follows with a chainsaw hoisted on his shoulder. Our mission: to fell a dead cedar tree and split the wood for the Easter fire.
The scream of the saw echoes through the hollow. Logs crack open beneath the maul’s blunt wedge. The scent of cedar fills the air. Soon, Easter wood lay at our feet, its splintered core as purple as Lent.
I’ll always remember that grove. Not sure why. Just two men, hooded like monks, breaking sticks and stacking wood. Strong backs. Shared convictions. That odd mix of admiration and competition called brotherhood.
When life weighs heavy – like a maul – my mind drifts back to that grove. And I recall a Bible passage about a place called Marah (bitter in Hebrew). It tells the story of thirsty Israelites. Three days out of Egypt, they locate a pool of water, but it’s brackish. The Lord instructs Moses to throw a piece of wood into the pool. The timber purifies and sweetens the water.
The story doesn’t mention the type of wood, but I imagine Moses holding a hunk of cedar, his thumb tracing a vein of purple grain.
I am not worthy.
The Lord’s Prayer falls silent. The Blessed Sacrament rests in a golden bowl on the linen cloth. Beneath the cloth, an altar made of stone.
Simon Peter went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings.
The priest lifts the Host. Behold the Lamb of God.
Last year an historic drought gripped our region and all the land was dust. The playa beds gaped like open mouths, dry and fissured. No rippling pools for Moses to aim a chunk of wood. Instead, the ground yielded stones. At noon, its surface glimmered with flint.
I ride the fence-line on my ranch. Beneath my stirrup, light glints in the blaze of the sun. I dismount and dislodge a chunk of flint from the hard-packed earth. A dull white along the edge, hues of purple layer a smooth bowl in its center.
In the Bible, stone begets water and water begets hope. If my ranch held a canyon, I would name it Meribah, the place where Aaron’s staff struck the cliff and water gushed from a gash in the stone.
I am not worthy.
It’s twenty years since Jake and I cut wood on his Ohio farm. Now I’m in Texas and my parish church has a stone altar. On Good Friday, my gaze lingers on the rugged flint and it is then that I remember a wondrous facet of ancient Truth: Beyond the Cross, a Tomb. Hewn from rock.
Outside, thunder cracks. I think of cedar splitting and in my arms I imagine the weight of iron. But there are no trees. No maul in my hand. Just the Church. Her liturgy.
An angel descends. He heaves aside the stone. Behold, he says. Behold the place they laid Him.
Mike Boniface is the author of The Shepherdess, winner of the 2014 Tuscany Prize for Short Fiction.
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