My church* was founded by a very wise old seer who arrived here, as if out of nowhere, by divine decree, from a distant land, but I believe he was sent to us from heaven by divine providence. He had traveled widely, through many foreign countries, even passing by here once many years ago, in a different era. He had known and met with the wisest and smartest men of the past three generations.
As our sage was so old and experienced, he was one of the few men alive on the planet who was able to learn from history. A wise man, he never neglected to gain knowledge from what he had seen in lifetime, or heard from the old sages he met in his youth. He was like a biblical prophet in his abilty to predict events, but this was no prophesy; this was his ability to apply the lessons of the past to the present and beyond.
He also taught us to always appreciate the good things that others do for us. He always recalled what others had done for him in the past and always mentioed these people as a blessing. He learned this lesson from King Saul, who warned the descendents of Jethro, Yitro, to move out of the path of his attack on the Amalekites. While this was a strategic disaster, King Saul said that he was repaying the Kenites for what their father, Jethro, had done for the Children of Israel when they left Egypt . . . and what had Keni done for Israel -- he ate breed with Moshe, Moses, our teacher.
While the Australian writer, Rhoderick Gates, in in Intellectuals, Society and Oligarchy defined intellectuals as "priests in a secular society, whose role is to uphold Establishment truths and power", our man of letters represented no secular society. A man of the cloth, he taught the ways of the Almighty. Strongly reactionary, he did uphold "establishment truths" of our church.
Though devoid of secular education, our Seer was very "street smart", an expert in the psychology of the common man. He was able to listen and advise on a wide varietey of topics. He could see right through the best charades of man. His disdain for politics was a legend and university postings did not automatically give status to a person. Each individual had to prove themselves as upright in their own right. And time spent learning was the key.
Our place of worship does not have a tall steeple, not is it the tallest building in town; in fact it is located in a basement near the sage's house. A very nice basement, with wood panelling and lined with the seer's many and varied books on all subjects relating to learning, meditation and prayer. Unfortunately, as the church is mostly under ground level, the only window is high up in the steeple (at outside ground level). This means that there is very little airflow; but with a few fans, and later with the addition of air conditioning, we were able to survive. It's a good idea to arrive early; that way the smell grows gradually and you don't get hit with it in one go on entry.
Our seer taught us the Right Way, lectured to us, preached to us and talked us the ways of the Almighty, with the right mixture of humor and rebuke. Of course not everyone is able to take the rebuke and a number of disciples left for other churches and greener pastures.
He saw the building more a House of Study than a House of Prayer and Meditation. Perhaps in his eyes the suplication was secondary to the learning. He had an uncanny ability to pass on the ancient tradition.
As the seer had no money or other resources -- he didn't have too much need for worldly possessions, books being the main focus -- he was dependant on the good will of supportive individuals. Morning after morning, night after night, the wise man would be among the first to arrive and the last to leave. At first the beadles** were there as an extension of Seer's will. He gave the orders and they joyously carried out his instructions. As the first generation of these assistants gave way to another lot, some of these men started to delude themselves of their self-importance and self-righteousness. They became the Creator's gift to the Congregation.
Unfortunately as the ancient sage progressed in years, he was to become more dependant on these people in order to keep the basement operation alive. They talked about him behind his back, pushed modern ideas, in actuality they never really understood the seer's basic message to his flock. He was a nice old man, not to be taken too seriously, but a great figure head or perhaps fig leaf.
Our seer was much smarter than they. He knew exactly what was transpiring. He gave them broad hints that he was aware of their misdeeds. He would rebuke one of them and then not comment to another over an identical action. He always knew who would listen to his words and who would snicker after polite acceptance. I was pained by their attitude.
The seer had two young colleagues. He enjoyed discussing the Holy books with them. While much younger than he, they were perhaps the only two in our village that understood him and were able to discuss lofty matters with him. He was heart-broken when the first young man was tragically killed. At his funeral, the sage said that he had finally found a person in our time with whom he could speak eye-to-eye, but that "the Almighty had come into the garden and plucked the most beautiful flower" to adorn his throne. It took him a while to recover. An then tragedy hit again, in the same place. The second young scholar was also suddenly plucked from among us. The seer was now all alone, in an intellectual wilderness. From his lofty heights, he continued to lead the way, to shine like a beacon in the dark night. He tried to replace the two young scholars, but there was no of their calibre in our town. He sought assistance from what was available. It was not the same, although some in our congregation mistook his choice as sign that a successor was in the wings.
Towards the end of his life, the old man started to have memory lapses. But these were not permanent and their recurrences not always apparent. The new generation of beagles thought they could now do as they pleased.
But he, in his worst mental state, knew exactly what they were up to. Some of us saw what was happening and suggested he appoint a successor, but almost as if ancient leader thought he may live forever, he ignored our pleas.
The seer's his nephew suddenly moved into the village. Perhaps a saviour, a successor. Was history repeating itself? Had divine intervention again visitied us? Was he here to take over his uncle's seat?
The old sage fell ill. He fell gravely hill. I arrived one evening and he was not there! This was not the first time he was rushed to hospital. We were certain we had lost him twelve years earlier, only for him to fully recover his health. For five weeks he lay in an unconscious state in hospital, hanging onto life by a thread, and then finally he returned his pure soul to his maker. We were orphaned.
After the traditional thirty day period of mourning, the beadles lost no time. A fiery meeting was held to decide where the leaderless congregation would now go. Was there a new captain to steer the ship? The seer's sons were there too. A close disciple of the seer claimed that the seer had told his [the seer's own] brother that he wanted to appoint his youngest son as successor. (Reminded me of the story of the famous Hassidic Rabbi who died without appointing a successor. One of his sons claimed that his father's ghost came to him in a dream and appointed him the successor. The old Rebbe's disciples said, "If he wants you be his successor, let him come to us in a dream".)
The beadles appointed their friend as successor. The nephew went elsewhere in disgust. The young son occasionally visits and preaches to the worshppers. They show him respect, but in reality just tolerate his presence. The successor is a nice young man, but doesn't fit into the old seer's sneakers. But the beadles think (incorrectly in my opinion) that he will uphold there modern (read lazy) ideas. They're wrong, very wrong. Their new man is more reactionary and conservative than the old seer. And the dwindling numbers in church-goers is witness to their deeds.
* Church: a building built for public worship
** Beadle: Minor parish officials employed in English churches to usher and keep order during services.