Capturing Beauty and Having Fun

Photo by Philippe Donn on Pexels.com

The world is a beautiful place–on balance much more beautiful than we should expect, since as a rule, natural beauty has no advantage in it. The Alps don’t gain by their beauty, neither do the Azores or the Milky Way. And we don’t gain by finding them beautiful either.

A smiling woman holds a bright orange book. Her face is beautiful, smiling, her head tilted to the right. She illustrate human beauty.

Some might argue that certain kinds of of biological beauty confer a fitness advantage, but even that is problematic. For more, see Beauty Will Lead Us Home.

In this blog, I try to capture beauty in as many ways as I can. I have posts about science, posts with original poetry, and posts with some original music, all in the hope that they will strike a chord for some.


A woman jumps exuberantly, in mid air. Will she fail? Will she arrive safely back in ground?Will my fiction fly?
Photo by Temo Berishvili from Pexels

Jumping

I have never written fiction before. But I have always wanted to try. So I am going to jump out of the airplane–and see where the story takes me. The difference is, this will be a kind of performance art, because I will be improvising the story in front of you, my audience. I have three episodes so far. When I began I had no plot, no script, no mental sketch as I sat down to write. No idea where the story would go or what it would be about. No parachute. My husband says, you don’t do that unless the plane is on the ground. So maybe I have a small parachute.

I follow the same rules for each episode. I may have a vague idea of where I want to go, but there is always a turn that is unexpected, even to me.

I am having fun, but this is early days yet. I haven’t written myself into a corner or created a ridiculous contradiction or worse, grown predictable and boring.

Tune in periodically to catch up on episodes. Let me know what you think in the comments. I will list the episodes and their permalinks here so you can find them. Wish me luck!

Episode 1 https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/anngauger.blog/386

Episode 2 https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/anngauger.blog/570

Episode 3 https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/anngauger.blog/583

Episode 4 https://anngauger.blog/2019/12/18/4-room/(opens in a new tab)

Episode 5 https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/anngauger.blog/1121

Finding wheels

        When I was a sophomore taking Biochemistry, one particular event stands out in my memory, perhaps because it was such an odd thing. Our Professor, Dr. X, knew his material very well. Our classroom had nine blackboards stacked in groups of three. As he wrote on one, Professor x would flip a switch and blackboard A would advance upward, then B, then C, following some pattern that only he knew, until at the end of class, having dragged us all through metabolism, he would neatly draw an arrow connecting blackboard I’s reaction with the one on the starting blackboard. He always left me staring at my notes in despair of connecting them.

            But that’s not what I remember about him the best. One day we were having a discussion about the marvelous things that were being found in biology. It was only a decade since the genetic code had been cracked, and the first DNA and the first protein had been sequenced. These were remarkable achievements. The development of the tools that made genetic engineering possible was happening at MIT there and then. I didn’t really realize how momentous it all was. But one thing Dr X said stuck in my brain. He said, “We will find marvelous things in biology because nature is very inventive. But one thing we will never find is a wheel.” Maybe he thought that the wheel was a man-made machine, smooth, round, and designed. Biology was made of bumpy lumpy proteins and was most emphatically not designed. But I speculate. He never gave his reasoning

Let us have a moment of silence to reflect on the dangers of hubris.

Now let me count the ways “unintelligent” nature has made circles, rotors, wheels and gears:

Porins : These proteins are pores in the membrane, holes to let compounds into or out of the cell. Not quite a wheel, they would be an uneven ride. The protein is shown here in three different ways: one showing every chemical bond (stick), one showing a cartoon of the protein’s secondary structure (the way the amino acids associate with one another), and one showing what the surface of the protein would look like to another protein, or a molecule trying to squeeze through its hole. Bacteria and mitochondria both have porins but not apparently of common origin.

ATP synthase : This molecular machine is 98% efficient at using a flow of protons across the inner mitochondrial membrane to change ADP back to ATP. Part of its essential inner structure is the c-ring rotor, shown in yellow. Its ring structure can best be seen in panel B. As protons pass through the inner channel, the ring begins to spin, acting as a rotor. The rotor contacts other proteins in blue on the “stator,” shown on the left in A. This causes a conformational change in the stator, which allows the ADP to ATP reaction to take place. (For a general description of the whole process see this DI video link here) The technical paper describing the structure, and from which this figure is borrowed is https://elifesciences.org/articles/33274.

Flagellum: Not just a wheel, but a water-cooled, acid-fueled, rotary motor, capable of up to 17,000 rpm that can reverse directions in one quarter turn. Very much analogous to human motors, it has parts that function as a drive shaft, stator, bushings, gaskets, and the motor itself.

Diatoms:  Well, maybe he didn’t mean whole organisms. But anyway:

A micrograph of the diatom Actinoptychus maculatus

Leaf hopper’s gears: My professor didn’t mention gears, which are even more stupendous. But see for yourself.

Truthfully, no one in the early 1970s had any idea the wonders there were still to discover in biology. And I think it’s safe to say, no one now should think we are ready to declare the riddle of life solved. We can’t even say that we are close to solving it, because we don’t know how much more there is to learn. Let’s let biology show us her wonders. Hubris has a bad name for a reason.

Adapted from a post originally published at Evolution News,

/https://evolutionnews.org/2019/08/making-predictions-against-design/

Beauty served up free!

I have found a new photo service with glorious photos–you know, good enough to print and frame– and they are freely available. The only restriction is that you can’t go off and use them to make your own site. Don’t believe me? Well, here are some samples.

Logan Weaver at Unsplash


Drew Darby at Unsplash





Andrew Spencer at Unsplash


Daniel Sessler at Unsplash



Reflections on Our Ancient Past

Cross-posted from Evolution News January 9, 2020

ancient past

This past October, Ola Hössjer and I published a paper, “A Single-Couple Human Origin Is Possible.” Writing in the journal BIO-Complexity, we described a model that used standard population genetics methods but refined in a new way to permit calculation of larger data arrays deeper in time. Using this model we were able to demonstrate that an initial couple could indeed give rise to the modern human population.

That paper discussed the possibility of a first couple, but it did not distinguish between two alternatives. The single couple could have had a de novo origin, meaning to start from the beginning. This alternative is one most scientists choose to ignore since it does not fit with methodological naturalism (MN), the philosophical position that only “natural” explanations are allowed in science. Natural explanations include only those things that can be detected, measured, or weighed using scientific equipment. Notice that MN automatically excludes intelligent design or any event like the de novo creation of anything. I noticed that after our paper was published, there was no discussion of the de novo option.

Valid Criticisms?

Instead, the discussion focused on the bottleneck scenario. A bottleneck means a sudden severe decrease in population size. It could be the result of a sudden population crash due to disease or environmental catastrophe, leaving only one male and female of breeding age behind or leaving them isolated from the group. Some objected that this was highly unrealistic because any disease so virulent or environment so deadly wouldn’t spare the couple either. Even if they did survive, the landscape would be uninhabitable. They would not be able to thrive and rapidly reproduce.

These would be valid criticisms if that were the scenario I had in mind. You see, it is not necessary that all members of the starting couple’s family of origin, whatever that may have been, died in a cataclysm. All that matters is that only the first couple had any progeny that made it through to the present. Most lineages die out over time; only a few survive to have progeny in the present. Seen from the present and looking backward, the lineages flow and join, as twigs do to branches and branches to the trunk. The phenomenon is known as coalescence. By definition, the first couple was the founding couple because the lineages all coalesced to them. There were no others from their generation who went on to produce progeny that made it to the present day. We are all descended from that first couple because all lineages coalesced to them.

Ultimately a coalescent event can’t tell you what went before. Was there a previous population, or was there no pre-existing population? Bottleneck to two, of de novo creation? These questions will have to be addressed by other methods.

Another point we made in our paper was the possible ages of the first couple. If one started with identical chromosomes, it would take 2 million years for natural mutational processes and recombination to reproduce modern genetic diversity. If we allowed for initial primordial variation, then that reduced the waiting time considerably, down to 500,000 years.

A Reference Frame

To give those numbers a reference frame, Homo erectus was emerging in Africa about 2 million years ago; Neanderthals and Denisovans appeared about 700-800 thousand years ago.

In our genomes, there are traces of DNA from Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA. The question is, how are they related to us? Are they human or brute? If the first couple is 700-800 thousand years or older, then Neanderthals and Denisovans could be their descendants also. I prefer the older age for the first couple precisely because that way, the hominids that follow them in time are human, and there is no need to invoke something abhorrent like bestiality to explain that small amount of Neanderthal sequence in our DNA.

Why Take Such a Position?

I bring this up because some have claimed that I advocate a sole genetic progenitorship model for the first couple. And by that they mean that I do not allow for any other genetic source but the first couple in our DNA. That isn’t very reasonable since the evidence belies it. Why would I take a position already shown to be false? I have always acknowledged the apparent admixture of Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA, and have argued that Neanderthals were fully human in the ways that matter. However, I do hold firm for one source for the human race, apart from that small admixture. There are competing models for human origin in the literature; thus far, it cannot be definitively decided which model is correct. I favor the single-origin out-of-Africa model.

I hope this short commentary will help to clarify and set the record straight. Finally, I need to end by saying these are my views and not those or my coworker, Ola, or of Discovery Institute.

The story of human origins is one we care about deeply. It touches on our identity — who we are and where we came from — and our most deeply held beliefs. Yet it is also shrouded in mystery and hidden in the deep past. We have minimal evidence from science, patchy at best, a sacred text with disputed interpretation, and no end of strife to go around. We would do better to lay down our arms and see what we can establish as true and what we cannot. We must also be prepared to give each other space for our beliefs.

Photo: An artist imagines a Neanderthal, from the Natural History Museum in London, by Paul Hudson, via Flickr (cropped).

An Antidote to Despair

This was first posted at EvolutionNews.org on June 9, 2020

I am a biologist, a worker in a field with a sorrowful history of categorizing human beings by race, arranging them in a false hierarchy to dismiss some as less human than others. That history seems very of the moment now, as anguish about interracial friendship and understanding has emerged as the dominant note in our culture. The following story is true, though, and perhaps it is an antidote to despair.

I have a friend. Let me call her Kia. I met her when she was homeless and had just had a baby. She needed a place to stay — she didn’t want to take her baby back to a homeless shelter where smoke and foul language and worse were everywhere. We had a spare room and had asked at church if there was anyone who needed a place to stay. Kia was the answer.

She was an African immigrant, with no family, who had been working in adult home care. One night she was raped. When she got pregnant, abortion was not an option as far as she was concerned, despite the stigma of being a single mother. This came at some cost to her, even among members of her church. Yet there was no question of her giving up the baby for she had been told she would never be able to have a child.

When her pregnancy was far advanced she could no longer do the work. That left her homeless, living in a shelter. 

An Act of Trust

We all agreed that she should move in. It was a gesture of trust for both parties. To share a home is an act of intimacy and of vulnerability. She came cautiously, bringing a friend along to evaluate the situation. No one in her community could believe that anything like this could happen. White people don’t open their homes to poor black people with no status, they all thought, and perhaps some said. 

But move in she did. There was soon a parade of visitors from her community. They would stare as they walked by us on their way downstairs to the spare bedroom. They did not approach that “strange” white couple, out of awkwardness and language barriers. 

Over time I learned about all the ways of government subsidy — food stamps, WIC, subsidized housing, DSHS, Medicaid. I was both impressed and horrified by what I saw. On the one hand, the government gave food, medical care, childcare, cash, and even housing to the lucky indigent. But they gave barely enough to live on, and reduced the benefits given according to the amount earned. It was an incentive to earn just enough, but not enough to remove you from the welfare roles. And humiliations abounded. Everything needed documented proof, and petitioners were made to paddle the chartless bureaucratic ocean by themselves, drifting from window to window, unless they had a good social worker to help them navigate the waters.

As time passed, Kia and I became family. The little baby girl became like a granddaughter. We shared faith, and stories. We learned from one another — she learned to eat our bread and we learned to eat flat bread, she learned about knives and forks, and we about using the bread as a delicate means to pick up a morsel of food and eat it. 

But it was mostly I who was learning from Kia: what it was to grow up poor — indeed, what it was to be poor in a way most Americans have never experienced. Kia told of sleeping four or more to a bed in one small bedroom, cooking over a fire outside, no indoor plumbing, walking everywhere, leaving school in eighth grade to care for family when her mother grew sick and died. No bureaucracy, but no safety net either.

“No Matter What”

Eventually the social interventionist U.S. government persuaded Kia to take a Section 8 apartment with her daughter. Perhaps they had as much understanding as the Africans did of the arrangement between Kia and my family. It seemed something that must be disrupted somehow. Perhaps they were afraid we would grow tired of the experiment and deposit mother and child back on the street. So Kia moved out. Still, she would return for holidays and we would go to her daughter’s birthday parties. 

Then one day Kia became sick. It got worse and worse. She was in and out of the hospital for seven months — she could not keep down food. The doctors thought it was first one thing, then another. She was afraid it might be cancer. She had no one to take care of her, she thought. And in her culture, people with cancer just went back to their country to die. But when I found out what she was afraid of, I said, “We will take care of you no matter what.”

From that time, I stayed by her side in the hospital. Kia found she was treated better when I was with her. The orderlies would say, “Why is she doing this?”, meaning me. The nurses and doctors would ask, “How are you related?” And I would say, “What, don’t we look alike?”

Finally, the doctors determined that Kia did have cancer, stage 4 cancer.  It was spread throughout her body. I said she should move in with us again. I couldn’t do otherwise, I couldn’t let her go through this alone. 

This time Kia moved in with a four-year old daughter, full of energy and life. Our children had recently all moved out, so we were glad to have the house full of life again. With the support of the local church, we were able to enroll the little one in pre-k. A local oncologist with an excellent reputation agreed to take Kia’s case. And most stores and doctor’s offices took the government food stamps and Medicaid.

There still were barriers, though. People in the mainly white suburban town couldn’t figure out why we were together. So we sometimes got strange looks. One time at the surgery suite the whole staff came to see Kia get an IV. She was so sick and yet so beautiful and exotic to them. This kind of treatment was revelatory for me, who was used to being invisible. 

A Peaceful Spirit

As we settled in, this time it was different. There was a sense we really were family, truly committed to one another. We would talk and talk and talk. We would sing, and laugh. I found a peaceful spirit in Kia, one full of trust in God. Her whole life long Kia had practice saying, “I am in your hands,” so saying it now wasn’t hard. We recognized a kindred spirit in each other, though our lives had taken different paths.

It was different with the African people who came to visit also. I made a point to sit and talk to these visitors, because I considered them my friends too. I wanted to show them they were welcome, and that my intentions were good. 

Kia began chemotherapy in September. She was scheduled to go every other week.

The chemo seemed easy to bear the first time, aside from having to delay for low blood counts. They removed one of her medications for the second round and pushed it back a week.

I knew that everything Kia was going through must be incredibly hard. To enter into our house, to go through difficult medical treatment, to worry about her daughter — all of this was very hard. But Kia never complained, and only sometimes hinted that this was a struggle.

Sometimes Kia and I would sit around the table and talk after dinner. One night I asked, “What has this been like for you?” Kia smiled and answered, “Before I was lonely. Now I am not. I have peace.”

The thing that stood out most in my mind was how we had become family. Others recognized it too. Kia’s pastor said to us one day, “Do you realize what you have done? You have broken racial barriers, social barriers, economic barriers, cultural barriers, all barriers.” I was embarrassed and thought, “Anyone can do this.” 

Humans Together

After the third round of chemo Kia developed a tremendous headache. It proved to be an old subdural hematoma, perhaps from a past fall. That meant she had to have a hole drilled in her head to remove the old blood, and another stay in the hospital. She went home after a few days, then had to go back for a new hematoma. All of this delayed her chemotherapy.

She had another round of chemotherapy and another hematoma. No one knew why. Kia cried out, “What do you want of me?” and then had her third brain surgery.

When she was out of the hospital, it was time for her scan to see how the cancer was. Together we went to the appointment to hear the results. Both were worried that all the complications and delays might have made the treatment ineffective.

“Your scan is clear.” The doctor said it calmly. Kia first shouted, then wept. First the doctor, then I silently held her. She praised God for his mercy. Suddenly the future I had feared was gone. It was December.

What happened next? The treatment continued to make sure all the cancer was gone. Kia passed her final scan after treatment finished and has continued to be clear. Her daughter is now seven. We continue as a black and white family. We are knit together by trials and circumstances and grace. 

When I said that anyone can do this, I meant it. What is required is a leap of trust, from both directions. The past errors of my scientific field notwithstanding, experience gives evidence of a healing truth. We are all human together.

Photo by JOHN TOWNER on Unsplash.

A Medieval Christmas Carol

(written about 2016)

A Nativity scene at night with an angel moon lighting the scene as Mary adores and Joseph sleeps: this painting in rich jewel tones resembles a more modern style despite its age (1423). This is fitting, because music is new but sounds medieval.

Gentile de Fabriano, Nativity, 1423, Wikipedia Commons


 Angels sing on Christmas morn
When Christ our Savior comes to be born.
The angels bow in awe before Him 
Who comes to take away our sins.


And Mary His mother ponders it all
To see David’s heir born in a stall. 
She knows her Son has a high destiny, 
But what that might mean she has yet to see.


The Babe so tender in His mother’s arms
Rests peacefully now, safe from all harms.
His Father stands in guard over Him 
Who comes to take away our sins.


Sweet Mary rejoice at your Son’s birth
The Lord of all come down to earth.
For all is made new by your assent, 
Creation renews its great Amen.


Oh Living Splendor of God Most High,
How is it that You come to die?
Tis love outpoured upon the earth
That brings our Savior to His birth.


And we for our part do give thanks
Along with the angels’ heavenly ranks.
The Immortal Wise God asleep on the hay
To bring salvation to us today.

   		   	

The Whole of It: The Mission



A Knock on the Door

There once was an old woman with a magical house. Every now and again the house would grow a new room, and the old woman would know it was time to expect guests. She never knew who would come, or when, just that some day there would be someone in need of that room, and it was her sacred duty to keep it ready for them.

She and the house had an odd sort of relationship, almost symbiotic. The house needed her as much as she needed the house. I was never sure where the magic came from for those extra rooms, but my guess is that it was from the bond between them. She needed guests to be happy, so the house supplied them.

As you might expect, after years of organic growth the house was a great shambling thing sprawled across a hillside, like something from one of those magical Japanese movies. In fact, the house was so odd it was a wonder anyone ever dared approach it seeking help. But I guess word had got around that the place was safe after all.

Photo by Chelsea Cook on Pexels.com

So that’s why Zephan turned up on a Friday. Trying to look nonchalant, he lifted the old-fashioned door-knocker, only to have the door swing wide. Inside was a cheery little parlor with a fire blazing on the hearth and the old lady knitting a great shawl in one of those bright colors whose names never seem to match the color themselves, like puce or vermillion. “What an odd color!”said Zephan out loud, before he could help himself.

“Do you think so?” The old lady peered at the shawl. “I have wondered myself. But this is what Mrs. Oddsworthy asked for specifically. She does have the most extraordinary taste.” She stopped, laid aside her knitting and rose. ‘Oh, but do come in. I am Mrs. Stone. I see you have been invited. I have just the room for you.”

Zephan’s mouth, which had gaped a bit during this last bit, hurriedly shut, then opened again and said, ” I don’t know what you mean. Invited?”

Strange doings

 Zephan followed silently behind Mrs. Stone, but his mind was agitated. He turned over her few words in his mind, much like a jackdaw would look for jewels among pebbles. What did she mean by saying only a fortunate few are welcomed here? Hadn’t he decided on his own to take a bruiser’s dare? No one invited him! Rather than get another beating, or worse, make his mother worry, he’d decided to just get it over– a knock on the door of the strange old house. He didn’t really believe the stories that said people had gone in and never come out again. Did he?

Mrs. Stone turned in mid-stride, as if jerked around by Zephan’s doubts, and said, rather sharply, “I’ll not have you fretting, boy, for this house is a harmless as she comes. No one is ever held against their will. You are free to come and go as you will.”

‘B-b-but why am I h-h-here?” Zephan managed to stutter.

“Well, I don’t know,” she said crisply, shaking out her skirts and turning to go on. “The house hasn’t told me yet. This way please.”

After a few more corridors (Zephan had lost count) they stopped in front of a big black oak door with Zephan’s name on it!!! This is too weird! I am outta here first chance.

Mrs. Stone swung the door wide onto a teen-aged boy’s Fantasy Island. Game consoles with comfortable swivel chairs, the best bluetooth head sets, game controllers and joysticks, mouse pads and webcams. And one of his favorite games was already loaded and ready to play. He barely noticed the large bed and easy chair in the corner, but he did take note of the door and windows opposite their entry point. They didn’t appear to be locked.

“Well?” Mrs. Stone smiled.

Zephan shifted uncomfortably. “I’m going to have tell my mom where I am. Then I’ll come back. For a while. To see.”

“So we’ll see you at dinner then,” said Mrs Stone, nodding her approval. “Just knock on the door and someone will answer and bring you to the dining room. You’ll get to meet the others then.” She turned backed and added, “Oh, and give my love to your mother, please. She was such a sweetheart during her stay here. Always looking out for other people. I expect she still is.”

Surprises from the past

Zephan edged through the door, hoping his mother wouldn’t notice, but of course, she did.

“Zephaniah? Where have you been? I wanted you to go and get more goat cheese from Mr.Raintree before nightfall.” She spoke quietly, without reproach, but simply describing how it had been.

Zephaniah grimaced. He had forgotten. “I went to the old house on Hearthstone Hill. You know the one. Chocko had dared me, and I thought you would rather have me go than have me come home with torn and dirty clothes again.”

She turned her face in his direction eagerly. “Really? You went there? Did you try the door?”

Zephaniah was puzzled by her eager response. But then he remembered she had been there too. “Yes”, he said,”Mrs. Stone said to say hello.” A pause. “I’ve been invited.”

Zephaniah definitely didn’t expect what happened next. There was silence from his mother, her head turned down and away, as if rejecting his words, when suddenly she lifted her head and turned toward him, her blind eyes were wet with tears and her face shining with joy.

“Oh my son, I have prayed for this day,” she said, voice trembling. “”They told you I was there too?”

“Yes.” He nodded, though he knew she couldn’t see. If he waited she would tell him what he needed to know, who these people were and why they did what they did.

They came and got me the day I was blinded, and took me to the house. I raged for days about the unfairness of it all. But Mrs. Stone was like her name–it all bounced off and had no effect. She held me as I cried, listened as I shouted at God, and waited…When I was finally quiet within, she spoke four words, “You have a mission.” That opened a door in my soul I didn’t even know existed. A mission? A mission!”

She paused, and ran her hand through her short brown curls. Long hair was a bad idea for a blind person. “I spent a year there, learning how to live as a blind person, how to accept help with gratitude, and how to be independent. I learned how to use my blindness as a point of witness. Those who saw my peace wanted to know its source and I was happy to share. Then the last part– I was told I would have a son, and he too would have a mission. He was to be treasured by God.” She smiled gently at Zephaniah.

Zephaniah sank into a chair, his head spinning. The fire in front of him swam in his vision as he recalled that strange moment half a year ago. A voice had called his name from another fire. No one else heard it. He thought he imagined it. But now he wasn’t sure.

Photo by Pamoni Photograph on Pexels.com

Room

Zephaniah rolled his shoulders, trying to release some tension, and then rubbed his hands across his face. He didn’t know what to do now. Voices calling him from flames! He must be crazy! Except his mother had said he had a mission.

“Mom, please tell me everything you can about the house and that old woman who seems to run it. If I am to go back, I need to know who they are and what they want.” He spoke quietly, but with a firmness beyond his years.

“Her name is Mrs. Stone. As far as I can tell she is as old as the house and still going strong. She is solid as a rock, immovable in her opinions, flinty eyed when it comes to mischief, but she has broad shoulders and a soft heart for the sorrowful. Go to her when you are in trouble and you will receive unfailing aid,”

“But the house, Mom?”

“I don’t know, honey. All I know is that people staying there were given jobs to do, some of them pretty heroic. Like the time Lester had to lead a herd of sheep off the mountain in a crashing thunderstorm at night. Good thing he and his dog know that mountain like thee back of their hands er, paws. I just had to learn not to feel sorry for myself, and one day to marry and have a son.” She sighed wearily. “I don’t know else to tell you.”

“Can I trust them?” Zephaniah asked.

“With your life, ” she said swiftly. “They saved mine, you know. I was a proud, heartless vixen the day that fall blinded me, and drove the will to live out of me.” She reached out for him and he took her hand. “Ask anyone who knew me then and they will tell you that blindness was the best thing that ever happened to me. But I will add, no, it is the best only because of Mrs. Stone and the house.”

“Why do you say the house, Mom? Do you mean the people living in the house?” Zephaniah released her hand.

Photo by Rohan Shahi on Pexels.com

She smoothed her skirts, frowning a little. “No. Though they did help. It was the house.” Then she smiled. “It is alive, Zephaniah. It knows what you want and what you need, and when to give them both. It is like the world’s best parent, only it never speaks directly, only indirectly. And it is full of love, infinite love, for each one within it. Always room for one more. It always seems to know when someone’s coming. It’s the house that tells Mrs. Stone, you know.”

The snap of resin popping and wood burning was the only sound for a while. Both mother and son seemed far away, in quiet conversation with themselves. Finally, Zephaniah roused himself. Something had changed. He no longer looked like someone to be bullied. He had grown into a young man in an evening.

The Call

Zephaniah paused on the doorstep before entering. It wasn’t often doors swung open soundlessly at his approach, he thought to himself. No word, no knock, no touch even. Well, Mom had said it was alive. He stepped across the threshold.

Sconces on the wall flared one by one, lighting a path for him. The hall was long, with doors closed on either side, and no hint as to what lay beyond. He walked maybe 100 yards and then stopped. There was no sound of human activity of any kind. Is the place empty? He wondered, Or is everyone asleep? “Hello?” he called.

“Hello.” Mrs. Stone emerged from an alcove that must have been ahead. “Welcome back. Are you ready to begin?” She was dressed in a red velvet robe trimmed with sable, quite regal compared to the last time he saw her. Her hair was swept up and pinned with a diamond clasp.

Zephaniah blinked. “Where is everyone?” he asked.

“This is a private moment,” she responded, “one of great gravity. We honor it by giving you room and time for introspection. Your room is available to you as long as you need it. Everything that you need for your journey is also available to you there. If you need anything, simply ask out loud and you will be heard.” She bowed solemnly, then said, “Know this. You are not alone,” and turned and left him, disappearing into the same hidden alcove from which she had come.

Zephaniah blinked again. That was strange! He thought to himself, but maybe it will be clearer after I find my room. Looking around, he saw the lights now extended in a new direction; where the corridor met in a T intersection, then turn left, then off to the right into a small, somewhat shadowed alcove. He approached the door soberly, until the placard on its front could be read.

Shock, then awe, then confusion registered on his face. Was this his mission?

The sign on the door held two words.

WELCOME, PRIEST


Almighty Father, grant this servant of yours the dignity of the priesthood. Renew within him the Spirit of holiness. As a co-worker with the order of bishops may he be faithful to the ministry that he receives from you, Lord God, and be to others a model of right conduct.


Zephaniah approached the house on foot, with a pack slung over one shoulder, and a staff in hand. His dust-stained brown robe was worn and patched, with a hood that hid his graying hair. His beard, neatly trimmed was gray also.

A hundred yards away, he stopped to take out a flask and drink, and then wipe his forehead with an old handkerchief.

The house looks the same. Has it really been forty years? He thought to himself. Well, time to see what has changed.

As he came to the door it swung wide. Well, that hasn’t changed, he thought. Then he spied Mrs. Stone hurrying toward him, a most atypical grin on her face. “Welcome, dear Father,” she said. “Your room is ready, of course. The house knew you were coming.”

“Of course,” he said solemnly, and smiled in return.

“Are you coming to stay, Father?” Mrs. Stone quietly enquired as they walked down the corridor.

” I believe I am, Mrs. Stone,” he said. “I think I am to spend time in prayer. My heart is restless now and finds no peace in anything else. Nothing else will do. I am full to overflowing with the richness of lives I have shared, the births, deaths, marriages, baptisms, the community celebrations. I need to let all that richness take root and bear fruit in me, and for that I need solitude and peace. I have seen both the grace and goodness and wickedness that people are capable of. The human soul is a great mystery. Just imagine, Mrs. Stone, if I had walked away from the invitation 40 years ago. Obviously, I would be different, but different how?”

The human soul is a great mystery.

“It is my observation, Fr. Zephaniah, that second-guessing life choices goes nowhere good. I think it safe to say that the choice you made has made you a wise, gentle, and generous man, one who seeks after holiness. You can’t do better than that. But you have an obsession about doors, I’ve noticed…” she waited, eyebrow cocked, for him to react. He laughed.

Then suddenly she drew herself up regally, looking not unlike she had forty years ago, but without the red sable-trimmed robe. She placed her hand on his head and he felt compelled to kneel. She spoke. “So then, Hidden of God, do you bring to fulfillment the prophecy your mother received long ago. She would be very proud. Truly you are Zephaniah, Treasured by God, for your faithfulness. Be at peace.” So spoke the living Stone of the House with many rooms, on Hearthstone Hill. And so it was.

#5 The Call

Final part of a series of 5

Green doors open onto a hall with open columns to the outside on one side and a closed wall with doors on the other side. This i
Photo by Chelsea Cook on Pexels.com

Zephaniah paused on the doorstep before entering. It wasn’t often doors swung open soundlessly at his approach, he thought to himself. No word, no knock, no touch even. Well, Mom had said it was alive. He stepped across the threshold.

Sconces on the wall flared one by one, lighting a path for him. The hall was long, with doors closed on either side, and no hint as to what lay beyond. He walked maybe 100 yards and then stopped. There was no sound of human activity of any kind. Is the place empty? He wondered, Or is everyone asleep? “Hello?” he called.

“Hello.” Mrs. Stone emerged from an alcove that must have been ahead. “Welcome back. Are you ready to begin?” She was dressed in a red velvet robe trimmed with sable, quite regal compared to the last time he saw her. Her hair was swept up and pinned with a diamond clasp.

Zephaniah blinked. “Where is everyone?” he asked.

“This is a private moment,” she responded, “one of great gravity. We honor it by giving you room and time for introspection. Your room is available to you as long as you need it. Everything that you need for your journey is also available to you there. If you need anything, simply ask out loud and you will be heard.” She bowed solemnly, then said, “Know this. You are not alone,” and turned and left him, disappearing into the same hidden alcove from which she had come.

Zephaniah blinked again. That was strange! He thought to himself, but maybe it will be clearer after I find my room. Looking around, he saw the lights now extended in a new direction; where the corridor met in a T intersection, then turned left, then off to the right into a small, somewhat shadowed alcove. He approached the door soberly, until the placard on its front could be read.

Shock, then awe, then confusion registered on his face. Was this his mission?

The sign on the door held two words. Welcome, priest.


Almighty Father, grant this servant of yours the dignity of the priesthood. Renew within him the Spirit of holiness. As a co-worker with the order of bishops may he be faithful to the ministry that he receives from you, Lord God, and be to others a model of right conduct.

Zephaniah approached the house on foot, with a pack slung over one shoulder, and a staff in hand. His dust-stained brown robe was worn and patched, with a hood that hid his graying hair. His beard, neatly trimmed was gray also.

A hundred yards away, he stopped to take a out a flask and drink, and wipe his forehead with an old handkerchief.

The house looks the same. Has it really been forty years? he thought to himself. Well, time to see what has changed.

AA green double door opens onto a hall with open columns and doors. It is a lovely place, showing  that the house is beautiful.
Adobe Stock photo

As he came to the door it swung wide. Well, that hasn’t changed, he thought. Then he spied Mrs. Stone hurrying toward him, a most atypical grin on her face. “Welcome, dear Father,” she said. “Your room is ready, of course. The house knew you were coming.”

“Of course,” he said solemnly, and smiled in return.

“Are you coming to stay, Father? ” Mrs. Stone quietly enquired as they walked down the corridor.

” I believe I am, Mrs. Stone,” he said. “I think I am to spend time in prayer. My heart is restless now and finds no peace in anything else. Nothing else will do. I am full to overflowing with the richness of lives I have shared, the births, deaths, marriages, baptisms, the community celebrations. I need to let all that richness take root and bear fruit in me, and for that I need solitude and peace .I have seen both the grace and goodness and wickedness that people are capable of. The human soul is a great mystery.

Christmas Day, Wikimedia

“Just imagine, Mrs. Stone, if I had walked away from the invitation 40 years ago. Obviously I would be different, but different how? “

“It is my observation, Fr. Zephaniah, that second guessing life choices goes nowhere good. I think it safe to say that the choice you made has made you a wise, gentle, and generous man, one who seeks after holiness. You can’t do better than that. But you have an obsession about doors, I’ve noticed…” she waited, eyebrow cocked, for him to react. He laughed.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Then suddenly she drew herself up regally, looking not unlike she had forty years ago, but without the red sable-trimmed robe. She placed her hand on his head and he felt compelled to kneel. She spoke. “So then, Hidden of God, do you bring to fulfillment the prophecy your mother received long ago. She would be very proud. Truly you are Zephaniah, Treasured by God, for your faithfulness. Be at peace.” So spoke the living Stone of the House with many rooms, on Hearthstone Hill. And so it was.


For other posts in the series, see below for links, or under category short story,

#4 Room in “Short Stories”

#3 The MissionIn “Short Stories”

#2 The Beginning part 2In “Short Stories”

#1 The Beginning In “Short Stories”

Lux Dei

This video was made to support the piece of music, which was a poem set to music, and written for choir and orchestra. Since it was mixed and mastered by computer there was no choir to sing the lyrics. I needed video to render the words. The images help to express the music but are not primary.

Lux Dei means Light of God. This is my imagining of the beginning of creation, before there was life. The music paints a picture of emptiness, then an explosion of energy and the sudden appearance of light–then the stars and the planets.