The Painting

3/8/24

In the medieval town of Camelot, a person’s 15th birthday is touted as irrevocably transformative, a psychologically significant milestone that’s celebrated all month long. On the final day of the calendar month, a procession from country to castle is heralded with Arabian equine dancers whose horses are so agile and spry their hooves hardly touch the ground. Today, a caravan carrying cakes, marmalades, and macarons follows closely behind. The caboose of the convoy— “fire-breathers” as they’re called—don long, seamless dragon costumes as they each light the way to the enchanted castle that awaits the birthday boy, who rides atop a beautifully beaded and lavishly extravagant elephant, to enact his test of courage in order to become a man. If he passes the test, he becomes a warrior, a protector of the crown.

The King of Camelot has kept his keen eye on the aspiring victor, named “Gift of God,” who was raised from orphan to protector of innocent lambs, in the humble shepherding village known to outsiders as “of the Lamb,” representing “the Lamb who was slain.”[1] As a good shepherd, he’s fought off wolves, lions, and bears.

The king has prayed incessantly for a brave warrior to save his people from the abominable beast that’s raised havoc on his kingdom. A recent dream confirmed his heart’s desire—God will send him a Gift who will bring glee to all who witness his courage.

The boy—soon to become a man, soon to become a warrior—has had to struggle for everything he has and has accomplished. His grit and suffering have earned him the honorable qualities of nobility: justice, goodness, and perseverance. But now he’ll be tested to see if he possesses the properties of temperance, personified by Sophrosyne, courage personified by the Trojan Prince, Hector, and wisdom, which can only be known when applied in the right way, personified by King Solomon.

The tall and handsome Gift enters the palace walls for the first time. He’s captivated by the sights, sounds, and smells he encounters inside. A strange sensation fills him with simultaneous peace and curiosity. It’s a feeling of both belonging and longing. In a word, he experiences déjà vu—the familiar feeling of reliving the same moment.

Gift’s desire to impress the king, however, has been thwarted. Blood, in the shape of gargantuan footsteps, litters the royal entryway. His pachyderm is bleeding profusely, slowly dying with every ground shaking red-stamped thump of its flat, fanned-out feet.

Its front legs buckle. The Gift flies forward. Graciously, the tusker’s trunk catches him, enabling him to slide down, safely to the ground, before falling on its side. As he inspects his loyal friend, he immediately diagnoses the problem: hundreds of cavernous wounds have afflicted its long, curvy legs. Ferocious animals consistently attacked it, at night while it slept, for thirty-one days, during its long trek from country to castle.

These stealthy ravagers were no mere incidental predators, but intentional assassins sent by the abominable beast, who’s currently holding the king and his kingdom hostage. A blind prophet, on the side of the road, warned the Gift of his impending doom, by calling out, “Beware of the ides of March!” The boy was given a small vial, containing a potion that would heal him instantly of the beast’s bloodthirsty attacks. But instead of saving it for himself, he gives it to his travel companion.

Deep gashes are replaced with muscle and flesh, until there are no signs of scars or scratches. The elephant’s eyes open wide. Light from the castle’s belfry streams into its hungry pupils, sharp eyes that’ve seen and remembered every detail of the young man’s life for the last 15 years—life begetting life. His faithful friend is healed. But there’s more.

The beautifully beaded and lavishly extravagant elephant is picked up by a magical hand that repositions each atom, cell, and tissue, transforming it into a beautiful maiden, a young lady endowed with the adoring qualities of wise partner and loving mate.

The moment her tender feet touch the ground, she points her bubbly toes toward her chivalrous beau. They walk toward each other and embrace. They look into each other’s eyes and kiss.

Menacing hooves clanking on the cobblestone floor interrupt the romantic moment. From the shadows, the mighty minotaur steps into the light, its face—a hideous sight of instant terror, a black mouth crammed with bladed-teeth, and curved horns with sharpened edges, inciting screams from the nightmares of children. The king lives inside the iron grip of its left hand; in its right hand—a sword, the size of a man.

On the wall, opposite side the goliath, three weapons—dagger, battle-axe, and spear—thrice call out the Gift’s Hebraic name, “Nathanael.” “Nathanael.” “Nathanael.” The prudent lass chooses the spear, fashioned by Hephaestus, and hands it to him.

The abomination speaks, “ ‘Am I a dog that you come at me with sticks? … Come here … and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!’ ”[2]

(The king is tossed aside like a discarded carcass.)

They rush at each other—man vs. beast. With its right horn, it impales the boy through his left shoulder, lifting him effortlessly without using its razor-sharp fingers. It swings its leviathan neck, sending Nathanael sailing in mid-air. He slams against the wall and falls to the floor. The king picks him up.

Nathanael grabs the spear. He shuts his left eye to place his prey in his cross-hairs, then releases the javelin with Odyssean accuracy. But the creature parries. The spear gets stuck in the heart of a warrior in a painting that the king had commissioned 15 years prior. The image gives Nathanael an idea. He runs like Hermes—a messenger with a gift—at the indomitable beast. Approaching the predator, he ducks underneath its swinging arms and grabs the spear with both hands. The 10½ foot tall woolly mammoth hugs him from behind. Nathanael pulls the spear out of the painting and thrusts it forcefully through his own chest, and into the heart of the minotaur. Skewered together, they fall to the ground, dead.

The king untethers the boy, who’s proven to be a man, a mighty warrior—the warrior in the painting. The boy is the king’s son. The same prophet who gave Nathanael the tonic, and whose sight was taken by the minotaur, told the king, years prior, that in order to prevent the prince from the corruption of power that comes with being heir to the throne, he would need to be raised in pedestrian humility, protecting his true identity, and prove his lionheart prowess to the kingdom he’d one day serve. But his son would first have to suffer a mortal wound. Salvation would come by thrusting into his own flesh the spearhead laced with the same tonic that saved his beloved.

A robe of righteousness is placed on Nathanael’s shoulders. He opens his eyes and sees the king. His father explains to him his true identity as royalty, and thus his future right to the throne. His future wife, the future queen, kisses him repeatedly. King and (forthcoming) queen embrace the warrior in the painting.

Nathanael’s father smiles, knowing that his legacy of being a “Gift of God” to others will live on, as surely as the spoil of war—the severed head of the “invincible” brute—lives on, high above the castle’s stone hearth as a symbol of the power of humility to the honor and glory “of the Lamb,” the King of kings.

Happy 15th birthday, “Gift of God,” “of the Lamb”!              

[1] See Revelation 13:8.

[2] 1 Samuel 17:43-44, NIV.

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