The Terror

Mariam was among the first to be taken. She was out gathering herbs in the field near Yoshua’ s laboratory one morning when a Christian knight approached her.

–And what might you be doing, young one?

She ignored him, but he persisted. 

–When a knight of their Catholic majesties speaks to you, you respond with respect. He was still smiling –or rather leering— and was confident that he would have his way with her.

Mariam gathered up her bundle and hurried off towards the city gates. The knight followed at a distance. Mariam was aware of this and made several unplanned stops on the way, picking up bread at her aunt’s house and some lamb from her cousin, who was the halal butcher for the community. But the knight persisted and eventually she had to return home.

Every morning after that for nearly three weeks he pursued her. Every morning she ignored him, becoming more and more careful about where she went and what she did. At first she did not want to worry her father or Shmuel. She had been followed and harassed by Muslim men as well and while unpleasant it was, it seemed, simply part of being a woman in a world dominated by men. Her mother had warned her of this. But after three weeks she became worried. An honorable man –or for that matter a sane one– would not be so persistent. And so she told her father what was happening and he decided to keep her in. But when the knight proceeded to station himself outside their household it was decided she would be safer hidden at Shmuel’s laboratory.  They were, in any case, likely to be married quite soon, assuming that the odd young man overcame whatever reservations he suddenly felt. And  he knew that Shmuel, in any case, would do his best to protect her. And surely the Knight would not go poking around a church looking for a young Muslim woman!

So Miriam busied herself incinerating and calcining herbs, dissolving salts and evaporating solutions, bringing near to completion the work which Shmuel had begun. He visited when he could, bringing her her favorite foods, but had to be careful lest he draw unnecessary attention to the chapel. And so the terms of their marriage were negotiated by means of letters exchanged furtively, hidden in the pile of sawdust in the outhouse behind the church.

Miriam, for her part, knew what she wanted: a marriage which would be recognized by their families and by the public authorities so that they could be together and discover and carry out their common work. Would she have rather it had been a Muslim or a Jewish wedding, or better still a ceremony which publicly declared their commitment to each other and to the cause of justice on their own terms? Of course.  But this was to confuse the batin and the zahir. The deeper truth was secret for a reason.  Humanity cannot bear very much reality. She was not even sure she could bear it, though she hoped she could, and carry it forward and extend it and make the seed of a better and more just world.

Shmuel, to be honest, didn’t really know what he wanted.  The truth is that while he had fantasized about marrying Miriam, he had never really thought about it. And the two things were quite different. He had assumed that a public ceremony would never be possible and he had never considered weaving his life with Miriam into the fabric of his life with his family —much less with hers. It was part of the hidden life, separate from their families, where they were free. But again, this was just a fantasy.  Much as he might disdain his father, he had never actually intended to cut all ties. And he loved his mother and sisters. Indeed, it gradually became clear to Shmuel that he had not thought anything through and that wild as it was, Ruben’s plan for ‘aliyah was safer and better considered than anything he had imagined —-especially his fantasies that he would become wise and just enough that his adversaries —the Pope and the Catholic Monarchy— would simply retire from the field of battle in shame. 

At first Shmuel simply repeated the arguments he had made that night in the garden, just stripped of the anger and insults.  But that got them nowhere. Indeed, Miriam simply declined to respond, writing back that he seemed terribly angry and that she understood that but that it was no basis for making decisions regarding their life together —or how they would serve humanity. And she told him that she loved him and yearned to be with him but that she could wait until he matured. 

This went on for some weeks, but finally, in despair, Shmuel confessed his confusion and let Miriam guide him to a solution. They agreed to ask for a simple, private wedding with just their families, while allowing their fathers to be more public about their new business alliance. This was fine with her father, who was spared considerable expense, and with his, who was able to negotiate the unveiling of the new joint enterprise without interference from his crazy son. And because the wedding was to be simple and private, it could take place soon —in less than a month in fact.  

Published by:

Anthony Mansueto

Humanity is the desire to be God (Sartre, Jean Paul. Being and Nothingness, 1943/1993: 556). Being finite, we are aware of the infinite and seek it without limit. Being contingent, dependent on other beings for our existence, we seek the power of Being as such and seek it absolutely. Human history is fundamentally the history of this seeking, and of the distinct ways of being human to which it has given rise. Precisely because we are finite and contingent, our seeking takes place under definite material (physical, ecological, demographic, built-environmental) conditions which shape the ways which emerge, as well as the social structures through which we pursue them. As something set apart we call this power of Being the sacred but it is, in fact, the warp and woof of the world in which we live, driving secular projects as much as those which understand themselves as religious. My work is centered around an effort to engage the sacred analytically, interpretively, normatively, creatively, and practically. My scholarship is centered around an effort to restore theoria to its original sense as an encounter with the sacred which is empirical, analytic, interpretive and normative, and specifically to understand the diverse ways (including secular ways) in which humanity seeks (to be) God in the context of the material realities out which they emerged and the structures through which they operate while engaging these ways normatively, contributing to the transhistorical deliberation around what it means to be human. As an artist I work first and foremost with narrative, telling stories which, blending elements from magic realism, science fiction, and fantasy, highlight humanity’s engagement with the sacred. But I also create paintings, photo collages, and illuminations and am experimenting with alterealities, games which actually change the world, and which engage all these elements in an interactive context. And I work in the medium of food, creating alchemical cuisine which at once encodes meaning and transforms those who consume it —especially in community. My scholarly and creative work aims at charting a new way of being human, at making the sacred present to people in their day to day lives, and at helping people situate their lives and their decisions, individual and collective, in he context of the ultimate aims of human life. My practical engagements with the sacred cross the boundaries between teaching and mentoring, leading and organizing. As a teacher, it is my aim to cultivate free, creative human beings and engaged citizens with a mature spirituality who have the ability to make rationally autonomous decisions regarding questions of meaning and value, to understand their particular calling and how to realize it, to build and exercise power in service to the common good, to learn the difficult spiritual lessons that come from both success and failure in our lives, and thus to pursue and progress along the way they have chosen. In addition to teaching in formal academic and community based settings, I mentor individuals using a process which integrates deep listening with both traditional spiritual disciplines and secular insights drawn from organizing and business strategy. I cultivate both scholars and practitioners, and challenge my students to cross the boundaries between these two domains. As an academic leader I have worked to promote liberal education for students from working class and ethnic minority communities, to make the institutions I serve into centers for deliberation around questions of meaning, value, and public policy, and to restore (nonconfessional, pluralistic, but still normative) engagement with the sacred to its rightful place in the academy. I see this academic leadership as an extension of my broader work as an institutional organizer helping organizations and institutions find their way, and working to build, conserve, and transform them in service to the Common Good. My work as an organizer has also included significant contributions to interfaith dialogue, deliberation, and organizing, from building financial and institutional support for interfaith organizing through catalyzing public deliberation around questions of meaning and value across diverse spiritual and civilizational traditions. I bring to this engagement a substantial record of publications, including nine books and numerous articles in both scholarly journals and journals of public opinion setting forth my vision and strategy, decades of experience teaching the liberal arts to students from working class and ethnic minority communities, a history active civic engagement, primarily in interfaith dialogue, deliberation, and organizing, and a range of institutional leadership roles in the academy including department chair, program director, dean, and campus leader with responsibility for all community college functions for a large rural area. As I continue my formal institutional engagements as an academic administrator over the next several years, I am also looking to build support for my creative work and a consulting practice mentoring individual leaders and organizations across the academic, religious, and civil society sectors. Supporting my work through Patreon is a way to contribute to making this possible while getting a glimpse of my creative process, free or discounted artifacts from my alterealities, and the opportunity to benefit from my mentoring and consulting practice at much reduced rates.

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