This is a short story I wrote several months ago, when I had only newly discovered the Orthodox doctrine of ‘theosis‘. I was so enchanted by it (it is a very powerful idea) that I translated my fascination into this little allegory. I hope you enjoy it.
“Nothing is yet in its true form.” ~ CS Lewis
It was very dark, the pit that stretched out below me. I can’t really remember how I ended up hanging precariously above it, clinging to a couple of lonely branches which grew out of the sides of the well. It was large for a well – it must have been at least twenty metres across, and extended so far downwards that I could see only darkness below me. Daylight trickled in weakly from above, but it came from so far away that it was little more than a soft, grey glow. It was a miracle that I had been able to catch hold of the branches to stop my fall … I must have been falling so fast.
“It was no miracle.” A voice came.
I started and almost lost my footing. But then I remembered. It was only Him.
“Oh,” I said, “it was You?”
“So what happens now?”
“You need to get to the top. Back up to the daylight.” He said.
“Actually, I already knew that,” I said, “I was inquiring more as to howwe were going to make that happen.”
“Oh,” He said. “You have to let go.” He had no face, but I was sure I felt Him smile as He said it.
“Oh! You want me to let go!? It was You who designed gravity wasn’t it? You know which way it pulls don’t You?”
“Yes. That’s why you have to let go.”
I shifted uncomfortably on the wall. In order to keep my feet against the brickwork and my hands on the branches, I had to arch my back in the most unnatural of ways. It was unpleasant, but gazing down into that horrible blackness, I knew that I preferred the minor discomfort of my little foothold to the terrifying uncertainty of the pit.
“Why … why do You want me to let go?” I asked, bewildered.
“You’ll find out when you do it.”
“Oh very funny, seriously, why on Earth would You want me to do that?”
“I wasn’t joking. You wouldn’t understand if I told you now. You just have to do it.”
I sighed deeply. If I had been having this conversation with anyone else, I would’ve dismissed it as pure lunacy. But I knew Him well enough to know that if He said that the only way up was down, then down I would have to go.
“Just … just so I can be sure we’re not misunderstanding each other; You want me to let goof these branches?”
“And again, You do know that means I’ll fall?”
“Okay then. I suppose … there’s nothing for it. I’ll just have to fall.”
I shifted my position again, to get a better look at the dark pit below. It hadn’t become any more inviting since I last checked. It was still impossibly dark, probably bottomless. I took a deep breath, and loosened my grip ever so lightly. As I did so, a stone shifted under my foot and was pulled violently down towards the blackness. Instantly, I gripped the branches harder than I had before, and pulled myself frantically back upwards. My heart beat like a jackhammer in my chest, and my veins ran cold with adrenaline. There was no way that I was going down there.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I can’t do it. Couldn’t You just make these branches grow upward? Then I could climb to the top!”
“You wouldn’t make it.”
“A rope then?”
“I’ve already told you … there’s only ONE way out. You need to let go.”
“I’m sorry … I’m failing to understand the logic here. We want to go up. You’re asking me to go down.”
He paused before answering. “We could go on like this forever. Look, do you trust Me?”
I took another sigh. “Yes.”
“Do you want Me to get you out of this place?”
“Then you must let go!”
“I … I want to … but …” I gazed back at the pit, and the adrenaline began to course through me with renewed vigour, “… I just can’t.”
“Do you want Me to help you?”
“Yes of course … wait … define help.” I had long ago learned that He could be quite masterful with ambiguity.
“We don’t have time for this,” He said, a new seriousness in His tone, “You need to trust Me. Completely.”
I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth. Trusting Him was not an easy thing to do given the circumstances; He was nothing but a disembodied voice, which for all I knew could have been nothing more than my mind playing tricks on the wind flowing through the well. And what He asked of me was, by all rational standards, suicidal. But I knew Him.
“Yes,” I said, reluctantly and as quietly as possible, “I trust You … completely.”
For a tiny moment which felt like an eternity, I felt Him stronger than I ever had before. He washed over me like a tsunami, making my fear seem petty and insignificant. The pit was so much larger than me, but so much smaller than Him. “So this is how You’re going to help me?” I thought contentedly, “It’s not so bad.” But I quickly became conscious of an uncomfortable prickling on the palms of my hands. I looked at the branches to which I still clung so desperately, and saw that all over them, little slits had formed. And emerging from these slits, alarmingly quickly, were the pointed heads of little thorns. I tried to shift my grip so that the thorns would not pierce my hands, but I could not; wherever I moved my hands, new thorns would begin to emerge. I began to panic … the peace of the last few moments fell away like a house of cards.
“What are You doing!?” I screamed.
“Helping.” He said coldly, with the detached tone of a surgeon asking for a scalpel. “Listen to Me carefully. You have to stay upright when you fall. Do you hear Me? Always stay upright. Keep looking up.”
As I felt my grip loosening, my feet stumbled again and I fell flat against the wall. Instinctively, I tightened my grip on the branches; and felt the searing pain of the thorns digging into my flesh. Now, my entire weight was pulling down my hands, driving the barbs ever deeper into my fingers and palms. I felt a warm trickle of blood run down my wrist. I screamed in pain.
“Help me!” I bellowed, “What are You doing to me!?”
“Let go!” He said, an uncharacteristic harshness on the edge of His words.
The throbbing pain from my hands begged me to let go, but my visceral fear of falling kept me there.
And then the pain became too much. I let go. And I fell. No, I plummeted, like a meteor, down into the blackness. I twisted and turned, falling faster than I thought it was possible to fall. I probably screamed, but the air was rushing past me so fast that even if I had, I wouldn’t have heard it. I was too scared to be angry. Perhaps I tried to call out for Him once, but like my screams, my cries for help were simply caught up in the violent onslaught of air. My body too was helpless, buffeted and battered by the unending emptiness, flitting about like a paper cup in the wind. I was, for the first time in my life, truly powerless.
In the course of my twistings and turnings, I caught sight of the dim, grey daylight that flowed in from the top of the well, now no larger than a pinhead. I remembered what He had said … look up; and I realised that there was nothing else to be done. I had, as He had asked, let go, of everything. He had me precisely where He wanted me; the place where I controlled nothing and He controlled everything. I could do nothing, but look up, and trust Him. And so I did. I righted myself, and like a javelin pointed at the very heart of the world rocketed down, feet first, head looking up at the distant daylight, resigned to whatever fate He had in mind.
It was not long after I had done this that I started to feel an unusual pain in my back. It was dull and vague at first, but soon afterwards, it suddenly exploded into excruciating clarity. Two strips of burning, searing pain between my shoulder blades. The eruption of pain caused me to falter, and for a few seconds I fell back into an uncontrollable tailspin.
“Keep looking up!!!” I heard His voice, somehow louder than the roaring wind.
“It hurts,” I sobbed back.
“I know!”, He said, this time with the tone of a recovered patient rather than a surgeon,“Believe Me, I know. Just keep looking up!”
I gritted my teeth and moved my head upwards. The second I did, My back burst again into a storm of agonising pain. It was as though my very skin was tearing, the bones shifting, snapping and rejoining. My eyes watered with the agony, but I kept them fixed on the tiny pinhead of light above. And then, the pain began to subside. It became milder and milder every second, and as it did, I felt the onslaught of air weaken. I was slowing down. The pain weakened steadily until it was no more than a memory … soon, the pain had disappeared, but in its place, strengthening at the same rate as the pain had weakened, I felt an incredible, new sensation; a feeling that is to pain what water is to fire. It throbbed, much like the pain had throbbed, but not with excruciating, torturous agony – it throbbed with wholesome, vivifying energy. Before long, it had become as strong as the pain had been … and then stronger. It spread to my entire body, and as it did, I suddenly became aware that the air was no longer buffeting me from below, but from above. In disbelief, I gazed upwards at the top of the well; the thin circle of daylight was getting larger, not smaller.
It was only then, only as I realised that I had now begun to fall upwards, that I became conscious of the two glowing lights on either side of my head. They rose and fell in great, sweeping motions, pulsing brilliantly like miniature suns. They were wings. Beautiful, radiant, powerful wings. Effortlessly, they drew the air into themselves and pushed it away, as though it were the easiest thing in the world. They propelled me upwards as though they had never heard of gravity or air resistance. And they were mine, as mine as my fingers and toes. I realised then that they were not new or unnatural, they were always meant to be a part of me. This is what I was always meant to be; He had not given me wings, He had dug them out from within me. I had been living my entire life blind, not knowing that I was ever meant to see; in a wheelchair, not knowing that I was ever meant to walk.
As I rose, like a missile, I began to notice others, hanging to the walls as I had been. They couldn’t see me, for although I pulsed as bright as the midday sun they were completely oblivious. Looking at them, clinging desperately to the side of the well like bugs caught on a windscreen, I felt a pang of pity. Their smooth, wingless backs provoked in me the sort of horrified reaction I used to get from amputated limbs and headless bodies. They so broken, so unwholesome … so weak … they had no idea what they were. They thought the only way to escape the well was to climb it. They could never understand, as I had not understood, that the only way up was down. The only way to let Him help them was to let Him change them.
“Do you understand now?” I heard Him whisper.
When I finally emerged, I saw the sky truly for the first time; no longer bricked in by the shadowy circle of the well, it stretched out to infinity in every direction. In its centre, there glowed a Light brighter than any light had ever glowed, or could ever glow. The best description I can conjure is to say that it was the Light by which all other lights could be said to be bright … it was not merely bright, it was Brightness itself. Around me, I saw thousands … millions of shining stars emerging from the ground, from millions of dark wells just like the one that I had found myself in. They were winged men and women like me; not angels, but humans. Real humans. Humans as He had always wanted us to be. The Light called to us; It did not need to use words. And together, we flew effortlessly upwards towards It, growing stronger, more beautiful with every metre we closed.
“God became man so that men might become gods.” ~ St. Athanasius of Alexandria