Tag Archives: Mari

Miranda Lamden’s Mysteries and Yeshua’s Cats Together!

I’ve been thinking a lot about how This Madness of the Heart (and all the following Miranda Lamden Mysteries) fit together with my Yeshua’s Cats series–and why I feel certain the two series can coexist as books by the same author. But since my reasons are more feelings and instincts than logic, I’ve had trouble putting them into words.

So I did what I often do when I need to make sense of something: I created a piece of art (below). After all, what good is an art therapy degree if you can’t use it to clarify your own confusion? If I’m lucky, by explaining the image I’ll be opening up what lies behind it!

The Sleuth, Chi Rho, and the Cat

So, what are you looking at here?

First, I chose a Hubble image for the background: “Interacting Spiral Galaxies” . . . surely ideal for this project, since galaxies don’t often interact–anymore than churchfolk and professor-sleuths! It felt like a propitious beginning.

Hubble, Interacting Spiral Galaxies

Three interlocking circles fill the foreground. The center circle pulses with a glowing gold and green light; the Christian Chi Rho emerges from its heart.

What is the Chi Rho? Like most symbols, it has different meanings across cultures, but for me it’s a symbol used by early Christians in the first three centuries after Yeshua’s birth–before Constantine transformed it into an imperial banner (the cross didn’t emerge as a Christian symbol until after the year 500).

Chi Rho, early 3rd C catacomb

The Chi Rho gets its name from the two Greek letters that overlap to create the symbol: Chi and Rho, the first two letters of the Greek word Christos, or Christ. In the image above, the Greek letters Alpha and Omega are added. I did experiment with using a cross in the center circle, but I like the visual effect of the Chi Rho better, probably because it has “rays” like the sunburst. Anyway, the central circle is meant to be the Christian faith–not the organized religion–but the living faith of all the individuals who hold themselves to be Christian.

The circle to the right is Mari, from Yeshua’s Cat, turning aside from a path in a green forest to investigate the central circle. In her circle she represents all of the natural universe. Creation.  Everything that exists naturally, apart from the intervention of humankind. This natural order also includes human beings, since they’re part of the created universe–but not their civilizations.

The totality of the created world–as we know it on Earth–is flowing back from Mari’s search like the tail of a comet.

 

The circle on the left is where Miranda, my detective, lives. Her circle is the world of human civilization–urban, complex, multi-cultural, and often unsure exactly what they believe. Many, like Miranda, have their roots in Christianity, but have turned away from the church. Spinning out from her circle is a spiral of different world religions. But in her circle she, like Mari, has paused to examine something about the Christian faith that has caught her eye.

Both Mari and Miranda live outside the Christian fold, and they approach it from opposite directions. Mari moves from the non-human, natural environment, Miranda from a detached, urban, academic world. Still, both find themselves intrigued by the light in the center circle. Mari has the easier approach: Yeshua introduces himself by saving her life, and she joins him as a friend. But Miranda has been scarred by her Christian experience; she mistrusts the church and its agendas. As a professor, she sees all religions as examples of the human yearning toward the divine. Truth claims don’t enter the picture. She simply records what she observes, without making judgments. Her methods are catlike: she steps cautiously toward anything new, not committing herself, poised to slip back into the shadows if conflict threatens.

I knew a number of women like Miranda in my years apart from the church. Their worlds were full and rich, but they didn’t screen their experiences through a Christian worldview. Yet they were sometimes attracted by a light shining out from this tradition many of them had left behind.

. . . maybe the light shone through a person
a man like Elmus
or as comfort in the midst of  evil
perhaps through the One’s presence in some crisis of their own
or simply in prayer and meditation.

But today we live in a world where it’s increasingly difficult to say, “I believe.” The language is lost. What does it mean to believe? Who are we believing in? People who live in the secular world can’t respond to most Christian overtures–because they don’t understand the words anymore. God-talk is becoming literal non-sense to those outside the churches.

People like Miranda are who they are, just as cats are cats. Each responds to life according to their gifts . . . but for some reason those inside and outside the churches are drawing further apart.

Perhaps we might learn from the effort, and love, we put into cross-species communication with our cats (and dogs, gerbils, birds, and ferrets) . . . and look at the incomprehensible human beings around us as if they concealed inner selves as delightful, unique, and full of surprises as a cat’s. It’s not really such a stretch.

I happen to find the lives of alienated Christians intriguing, perhaps because I’ve been there myself. And if the polls are right, their numbers are growing. Their honesty is often fierce, like their determination never to be taken in again by faux-Christianity and self-serving lies. Sadly we don’t have to look far to find the lurking predators they’re avoiding. And that’s what This Madness of the Heart is about.

Miranda peers into the light of Christian faith–but she looks from a place apart. Her own experiences haven’t shown Christianity to be that promised “light to the gentiles.” So she watches, examines, records, and considers. In the meantime, I feel privileged to narrate her journey.

 

Click here to visit my Miranda Lamden Mysteries site.

 

 

 

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Royal Purple Murex Dye

 

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Before discussing the Murex dye, I’m delighted to announce the 3rd of the 3 reviews received for Cat Born to the Purple: another 5 stars  ★★★★★ — this time from Self-Publishing Review! Go here to read the entire review.

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Empress Theodora in royal purple, 6th C
Empress Theodora in royal purple, 6th C

The term “royal purple” originated in the Mediterranean and Ancient Near East,  particularly during the days of the Roman Empire, when the wearing of a specific color–royal purple–was a privilege restricted to the aristocracy, if not the emperor alone. Royal purple was not the color we think of today when we speak of purple. Apparently it was an almost black violet-red color, said to resemble the color of heart’s blood/clots of heart’s blood. The word “purple” in Greco-Roman times, however, was used to refer to a whole range of colors, from pale blue to red to violet to the true royal purple. Deciding which of these many colors was intended in a given passage can be difficult.

But historians agree that the priceless near-black “royal purple” dye was made only from a gland of the Murex trunculus (more recently called Hexaplex trunculus) sea snail. Depending on the strength of the dye, the time submerged, the dye process, and the type of fabric dyed, the Murex dye could also yield colors ranging from pale shades of blue, green, pink, and violet, as well as the deeper tones. Other varieties of the Murex, particularly brandaris, were also used for dyes, but were considered inferior.

At present a whole separate debate is ongoing among Jewish traditionalists about whether the blue (tekhelet) tassels required by the Torah on the corners of Jewish garments should be dyed using Murex trunculus. Recent archaeological discoveries of fabric remnants from Israel’s biblical period indicate that the original tekhelet dye was probably made from one of the Murex family, if not the trunculus, but since the source of the original tekhelet has been uncertain for so long, white has become the preferred color for these tassels. Ruscillo’s research (see below) found that immersing wool very briefly in a fresh, unheated Murex dye bath resulted in very attractive blues of varying intensity.

Tekhelet?
Tekhelet?

The Murex trunculus sea snail lives in the sublittoral waters of most of the Mediterranean’s coastal areas. The sublittoral zone refers to the area of relatively shallow water permanently covered by seawater that is immediately beyond the intertidal zone (the area between the high and low tidal marks, where the shore is above water at some point in the tidal cycle). The Murex must be constantly submerged to survive, but it prefers shallow water, usually no more than 20 meters deep, in sheltered coves or lagoons. Where the water is calm and protected from waves the Murex may be found at slightly greater depths. It prefers mixed sand and rocky bottoms.

Sublittoral ocean zone
Sublittoral ocean zone

hexaplexThe Murex feeds in two different ways: scavenging and predation. When there isn’t enough dead material in the water, it preys on other sea snails, mussels, barnacles, hermit crabs, etc., by drilling holes and/or chipping their shells and feeding on the living flesh through the holes. Not an appealing creature, as predators go.

 

Murex spawning
Murex spawning

The ancients didn’t dive for the purple snails during the months between early spring and the beginning of July, because that was (and is) the Murex spawning season. Murex trunculus was harvested from the Dog Star’s first rising in the dawn sky (early July) through the winter months.

 

 

Phoenician merchants
Phoenician merchants

Since the only records we have describing the collecting and processing of “purples” are the writings of Roman essayists like Pliny and Vitruvius (whose reports were often more imaginative than accurate), archaeologists have had difficulty piecing together the details of the royal purple industry. Additionally, the Phoenicians–whose Murex dyes were most highly valued in early Roman times–guarded their dyeing secrets carefully. Only in the early 20th century did scientists begin to experiment with Hexaplex trunculus to try to reproduce the ancient dyeing techniques.

Artist's Reconstruction of Tyre before Alexander's conquest
Artist’s Reconstruction of Tyre before Alexander’s conquest

Deborah Ruscillo’s experiment, “Reconstructing Murex Royal Purple and Biblical Blue in the Aegean,” is by far the cleverest, and most innovative approach to this problem that I could find. By grossly simplifying her methodology, I might summarize it like this: locate an ancient Murex dyeing site where the Hexaplex trunculus is still thriving, and duplicate the processes suggested by archeological evidence and ancient texts, using tools as close to the originals as possible; where ancient wisdom fails, experiment with reasonable alternatives.

Ruscillo's baited pot & basket
Ruscillo’s baited pot & basket

Most of Cat Born to the Purple‘s technical details of Murex dyeing came from Ruscillo’s work. For instance:

  • Neither divers nor baited baskets/pots alone could have caught enough purples to supply a dyeing workshop of any size; they must have both been used together.
  • Adding urine makes the color more vibrant, although the Murex dye is permanent without additives
  • Boiling the dye mixture ruins the dye
  • Three days is the ideal amount of time for steeping fabric in the dye
  • The stench of the Murex, swarming wasps, biting flies, and hatching larvae make the dyers’ lives a misery
  • Dye on hands and nails takes roughly 6 weeks to disappear
  • Wool is the only fiber that absorbs the dye to create a deep, dark color
  • Neither the stink nor the color is reduced by washing; perfume would have been necessary to disguise the smell, even after washing and long periods of airing.

Perhaps her most amusing and understated remark was, “Pliny never made dye himself.”

Hypobranchial gland, live Murex
photo Kirsten Benkendorff

 

The dye comes from the hypobranchial gland of the Hexaplex trunculus, which secretes mucus for its mantle. The gland itself is pale, and must be cut out of a living snail (left), since the gland shrivels and dries shortly after death.

 

 

photo by kuvmamhlubhmoob
photo by kuvmamhlubhmoo

When the live gland is pierced and exposed to air, the mucus rapidly changes from clear to yellow to yellowish green, green, and violet. The photos to the right show a fresh live trunculus gland removed. The gland itself is yellowish, but the liquid is clear.

 

The photos below show a sequence from Pourpre filmed by pygmeejones. The timing and color may not be exact, since the snail in the sequence appears to be recently dead or the gland already ruptured in opening the shell, based on the green color of the mucus when the gland is first pierced.

 

Archaeologists have discovered what appear to be holding tanks for snails along the Phoenician coast, where Murex could have been kept alive in seawater until enough snails had accumulated to brew the dye. Since thousands of Murex trunculus would have been needed to dye just one cloak to the deep blackish color of the royal purple–and twice as many if Murex brandaris snails were used–there would have been a definite need for such tanks.

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Like most Mediterranean cultures, Phoenicians trafficked in slaves, and may have made a habit  of kidnapping unwary women and children in their ports of call. The citizens of Sepphoris rounded up by the Romans after the brief rebellion following Herod the Great’s death were sold to Phoenician slavers in Acco. No doubt because of the extreme unpleasantness of the tasks involved, slaves provided most of the labor in the Phoenician Murex dye industry.

The stench of the opened snails permeated the area of the dye workshops and beyond. Contemporary accounts described Tyre and Sidon as attractive cities, but stinking of the Murex dye. In almost every case where archaeologists have found the huge piles of broken Murex shells that identify a likely dye site, the piles have been well outside the cities.

 

crushedmurex
Piles of crushed Murex shells

Finally, Ruscillo asks one question that I never saw raised anywhere else: was ancient fleece stained with Murex dye before before it was woven (dyed in the wool), or was the whole cloth dyed after the fabric was completed? Her experiment showed that dying the unwoven fleece left a powdery residue of purple dye in the wool that filtered out and left stains on workers and work areas. The residue made an extra post-dye washing essential before the wool could be spun and woven, which would have required extra time and labor. Dyeing already woven fabric left no such residue, and also eliminated the problem of different dye lots of thread creating an unevenly-colored weaving.

For more details, imaginative and historical, read Cat Born to the Purple!

 

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IndieReader Gives Purple 5 Stars!

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Purple gets its 2nd review: 5 stars!

Here’s an excerpt from IndieReader’s review:

“CAT BORN TO THE PURPLE is a poetic tale with a flair for description and a welcoming, hopeful, and loving spiritual heart. Textile work is a common thread (pun intended) through this novel, and everything from the cruelty of the murex-harvesting and dyeing process to the intricacy of the weaving patterns finds deeper meaning in the story and the theology . . . [The kitten named] Purple is an appealing narrator, with a recognizable-yet-alien felinoid point of view, that adds a valuable perspective to the novel . . . [Cat] is full of warmth and deep loving-kindness, and Francisco’s conception of Yeshua shines with the charisma and compassion that explain plausibly why people would willingly drop everything and follow him.”

IndieReader:  5 stars

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Read the full review here, on the Purple Reviews page on the drop-down menu.

 

AND the Kindle version of Cat Born to the Purple is live NOW  on Amazon

 

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Cat Born to the Purple’s first review!

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Coming Nov 1st!

 

Here’s an excerpt from Midwest Book Review’s Senior Reviewer Diane Donovan:

“Cat Born to the Purple is one of the most powerful accounts of Biblical times in Christian literature! It’s rare to find the fourth book of a series just as gripping a read as its predecessors, and equally extraordinary to find such an addition both a stand-alone achievement and an impressive expansion of themes presented in prior books. A truly unique ‘voice’!

Midwest

 

 

 

Read the complete review here.

 

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Rave reviews for The Cats of Rekem!

 

The first 3 reviews are in for The Cats of Rekem!

 

Indie_5“The Cats of Rekem is an intriguing and beautifully written consideration of the life of Jesus and the meaning of his teachings, offered from a novel perspective. The writing is poetic and lush, with moments of tender emotion, spiritual ecstasy and sorrow, enlivened by touches of humor . . . 5 stars!”

IndieReader

 

SPR-WIdget-4Half“The Cats of Rekem is a wonderful addition to historical fiction . . . a fascinating interpretation of Jesus, his life, and how he impacted those around him . . . clever and magical . . . well-balanced with a twist . . . a powerful lesson for today! 4 1/2 stars!”

Self Publishing Review

 

Midwest“The Cats of Rekem represents spiritual fantasy at its best . . .brimming with flavor . . . the feel of the times springs to life . . . scintillatingly haunting . . . Christian fantasy readers will find it a delightful adventure!”

                                    — Midwest Book Review

 

Read the full reviews HERE.

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Author C. L. Francisco’s blog — home of Yeshua’s Cats!

 

 

This site is still under construction in some areas. Please be patient with our glitches!

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Yeshua’s Cat the Audiobook!

 

FInally, after months of breathless waiting, the audiobook of

The Gospel According to Yeshua’s Cat is available for purchase and/or download!

Buy it now at Amazon-Audible and iTunes.

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Yeshua’s Cat the Audiobook is an unabridged version of the original book, narrated by the author, C.L. Francisco. The listening time is 6 hours and 7 minutes. It is available only in English. Buy one today!

 

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Sleeping with Bacchus: cats and stress

 

PF-Moving-house_GettyMoving: nobody likes it. It’s unsettling, disorienting, chaotic. Every stress scale includes it. If you live within a tight budget it’s also appallingly hard work. And the older you get, the greater the possibilities of personal disaster. The specters of back injury and clinical exhaustion pile onto the routine risks of things broken or left behind, toes smashed, muscles strained, and near-death experiences driving top-heavy, tank-like vehicles. And I speak from a continent of experience.

When humans move, we understand why we do it, although it’s never easy, and seldom without pain. But what about the animals who share our lives, who go because we go? No, let’s be more specific: what about our cats?

Morgan
Morgan

We had finally been forced to leave our fire-scarred land for a new home, and the year was turning toward the 2nd anniversary of my cat Morgan’s death, which had resulted from the stress of our original flight from the wildfire.  And that meant I was also approaching the 2nd anniversary of my mother’s death (she died a week after Morgan).

Trauma makes tracks in our memories, links among synapses like connections in a railroad switching yard: a mental switch is thrown, direction changes imperceptibly, and we find ourselves traveling a road wearing the smooth semblance of the here and now, but invisibly cracked and pitted with old emotion. The unseen past trips us with its rubbled pain and creates new trauma where none need be: a trick of the mind, and one that caught me off-guard.

I had adopted a pair of kittens from a local shelter not long after Morgan’s death. From his earliest days, the male, Bacchus, had a sweetness I’d rarely encountered in a cat before, and I loved him beyond reason. When we moved to Colorado, he developed a urinary infection in the first weeks. I watched him closely, and began to see symptoms like Morgan’s appearing. When he strained to urinate for over a minute with no success I packed him into his carrying case and took him to the vet. Probably stress-related from the move, the vet said, and my heart quaked.

Bacchus
Bacchus

Stress. We talk about it all the time. Most of us are sure we have too much of it. We assume we understand what it is, but the word can mean at least four different things:

  1. in physics, force per unit area;
  2. in language, emphasis on a word;
  3. in psychology, emotional discomfort produced by external and/or internal circumstances;
  4. in biology, a stimulus that generates a state of heightened physiological response, and the physiological and anatomical consequences of that response.

The familiar buzzword is #3. Most people are aware of #2, some are superficially familiar with #1 from news reports on structural collapses after earthquakes, but I doubt that many people without biological or medical training are aware of #4.

The vets I consulted about Morgan and Bacchus almost certainly spoke in biological terms—but what I heard was pop psychology. I went away believing that the emotional terrors of moving were direct causes of both infections. We were speaking subtly different languages.

Photo by Hannibal Poenaru
Photo by Hannibal Poenaru

FlightThere are two basic scenarios for biological stress: the perceived threat can be real, or it can be imagined. If the threat in the stimulus is real, then running away or fighting will relieve the stress, and the body can return to normal. But when the threat is imagined, the situation is more complex. If, as in Bacchus’ case, a cat perceives a threat in a new environment, but neither fight nor flight is possible, his body is unable to relax from the heightened response, and the stress is prolonged and unresolved. So he remains in a state of inappropriate physiological alert to the stimulus of this new environment for days and weeks. Such stress has an exhausting effect over time.

Apparently, Bacchus’ response to feeling lousy from the extended time on high alert was to stop drinking water. An unfortunate choice, since he then started building up uric acid in his system, which caused bladder inflammation and pain, making him think he needed to urinate when he didn’t—with the result that he felt worse and even less inclined to drink anything, and became dehydrated.

Morgan-Bacchus collage
Morgan-Bacchus collage

By the time I packed Bacchus into his carrying case, my emotional train had already switched tracks without my awareness: I was sure I was rushing to save his life, but in fact I was caught up in a replay of the trauma of the wildfire and Morgan’s illness and death. Judgment and clear-sightedness had fallen away. As for Bacchus, taking him to the vet was probably the worst thing I could have done. Already suffering from the effects of physiological stress because of our move, he found himself suddenly moved again, but this time abandoned in a strange vet’s kennel, with neither his human nor his sister for comfort. Suddenly his life had gotten much worse.

Bacchus stayed overnight at the clinic, but by midmorning the next day he had produced no urine sample, so the vet used a needle to draw urine from his bladder. It hurt, and Bacchus vomited. Concerned that shock was a possibility, the vet hydrated him, analyzed the urine, and sent him back home with some antibiotics. At 2 AM Bacchus began to stagger and vomit. He was going into shock.

Shock is a sudden and drastic drop in blood pressure that is usually fatal if not reversed quickly. It is commonly caused by an extreme reaction to threatening stimuli, great blood loss, or pain—any of which will have greater impact if the animal is already dehydrated. Immediate intravenous fluids are the only effective treatment for a cat in shock, so I rushed Bacchus to an emergency clinic twenty miles away. He barely made it, but they saved his life.

If I had responded to Bacchus’ symptoms with a little thought and research instead of recycled panic, I could have taken special care to be sure he drank enough water and watched him closely for a couple of days. Perhaps he never had an infection—just inflammation. By taking him to the vet, I subjected him to greatly increased stress and dehydration, and when the vet drew urine, Bacchus was frightened by the pain. I might as well have been setting him up to go into shock.

Cat’s Nightmare, C.L. Francisco
Cat’s Nightmare, C.L. Francisco

The odd thing about the whole situation is that neither Bacchus nor I engaged with actual events. Bacchus responded to threat where there was only sudden change, and I was running on fear laid down by a similar trauma in my past. In a sense we were both sleepwalking, moving through self-created dreamspace.

My emotional overreaction to Bacchus’ stress probably added to his difficulties. A cat’s human is rather like a parent, and the cat looks to his human to assess danger and alert him to its presence. My alarm at Bacchus’ health issues and my ongoing anxiety over his well-being undoubtedly communicated their message to him: “Be afraid! Be very afraid!” And his stress increased.

Sad cat in cage, by Giordano
Sad cat in cage, by Giordano

I suspect the vet realized that if the feedback loop of Bacchus’ stress response couldn’t be interrupted, Bacchus would not recover. So after hydrating him for 36 hours he told me to come get him and take him home. When I approached the cage, Bacchus was lying in the back corner, looking much like he looked when he went into shock: almost dead. I knelt down and called his name, and he growled and hissed without even opening his eyes. I unlatched the cage door and called him again, and his eyes flew open as if he really heard me that time. But when I reached in and picked him up, he snarled and spat and tried to scratch me. At last, as I pulled him out and held him close, he relaxed and began to burrow into my neck.

Bacchus
Bacchus

I recognized the pattern and felt sudden shame. By permitting old trauma to derail me from the reality of the present, I had opened a door for Bacchus to do the same. Now we were both sleeping the troubled sleep of past pain reliving itself in the present. Did he hear someone call his name? Terror. Was someone picking him up? Pain soon to come. He was snared by a shock different from what nearly killed him—he was suffering from incipient post-traumatic shock.

Each day after he came home he grew a little stronger. Kitty water bowls bloomed throughout the house, tempting him to drink. He started eating and drinking, and soon he even romped a bit. I worked relentlessly at monitoring and releasing my own anxiety. Now, more than 5 years later, he still flinches at any sudden noise or movement, but otherwise he’s my warm, loveable friend.

Miner’s Canary
Miner’s Canary

Bacchus granted me a rare inside look at the damage we inflict on ourselves and others when the landscape around us is transformed by our own emotions.  The animals who share our space mirror more than our care and grooming. They are individuals with interwoven multilevel awareness like ours. But unlike our human relations, they suffer in silence, never accusing us, allowing us to see how we hurt them without triggering our defensiveness and self-justification.

If we let ourselves see them clearly, they can be our counselors, even our guides. But too often they are only our miners’ canaries, dying in vain to warn us of inner toxins we have ignored until escape is impossible.

Bacchus Today
Bacchus Today

Thanks to the One, it wasn’t too late for Bacchus or for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Wildfire that Birthed Yeshua’s Cat

A number of people have asked me to share more about the wildfire that resulted in the death of the young cat whose memory lies behind Mari in The Gospel According to Yeshua’s Cat. This is the story of that wildfire.

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Killing drought followed years of plentiful rainfall. Temperatures spiked into the 100’s and refused to drop. Creeks ran low. The odor of pine resin hung heavy in the air. A dry lightning strike—and a rancher who didn’t take it seriously enough—provided the critical mass, and two weeks later wildfire had consumed 40,000 acres of forest, pastures, and homes.

FireCloudSB2We dismissed the first smoke rising behind the buttes as nothing more than a wayward cloud, never imagining that the storm building there would explode into a holocaust. The days that followed dragged by in anxious succession. Winds dropped, and then blew up again out of nowhere. The fire turned back on itself, only to gather strength and roar off in another direction. Waves of rumor obliterated facts.

 

One night we drove out to watch the fire’s progress from a nearby ridge. News pictures of fire-lit nightscapes are commonplace now, but for us 8 years ago the scene was nothing less than apocalyptic. Small refugee animals fleeing the fire choked the dirt roads as we steered a path among them.  I remember the porcupines best, humping their way in unseemly haste through the sullen light. Lines of flame spreading across the black ridges looked like flowing lava. The images presented themselves to our visual processors as nonsense, unreadable data. Nothing in our lives had prepared us for this.

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First we evacuated the horses, just in case. We found carriers for the dogs and cats and set them by the doors. When the call came, we were as ready as we could have been, but we had room for little but the animals, basic clothing, toiletries, and our computers. Then for a week of endless days we waited in a small motel on a busy highway 30 miles away.

IMG_3972 Dark ravine rootsWhy our home didn’t burn will always remain a mystery. The firefighters abandoned their efforts in the face of high winds and encircling fire. We were advised to expect a total loss. But in the end, the flames stopped as if by divine fiat all along the wire pasture fences that enclosed our buildings. Sap melted out of the old redwood paneling in my house from the heat, but only the land burned—the land and something deep in the flesh of my small black cat.

 

Morgan, cat of quiet pine groves that she was, probably hadn’t ever been in any building other than my house, and certainly never a motel on a busy highway. For a week she hardly came out from under the bed. No matter what I tried, she refused to eat, and she probably didn’t drink. By the time we returned to the still-smoldering ruins of our forest, she had a urinary infection. No medication touched it, and she grew steadily weaker, until at last the vet tested her for feline leukemia. The results were positive: she’d probably been born with it. All options vanished. The vet’s theory, and a sound one from what I’ve heard, was that the physical stress of her changed environment roused the sleeping disease into burning life. She might have stood a better chance if I’d left her behind to survive the wildfire on her own.

Within two months of the fire, Morgan was dead. I buried her in the charred grove where we had planned to build a small chapel. Beneath boughs once sweet with resin, in smoke-filled light and brittle shade, I laid her under the endless sky. And I grieved.

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Morgan in her last week with friend Toby (Photoshop design, “Doorway Into Forever”)

Burnt trees FP2But the grief had really begun when the vet first placed the figurative black cloth on his head and passed sentence of death. A dead forest surrounded me. My gentle cat was fading away in my arms. Eventually I gathered courage and resumed my walks beneath beloved trees, now wasted skeletons streaked with amber tears.

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I remember shutting my heart against the echoes of pain that surely must lie in ambush along those charcoaled aisles. But as weeks passed, only woodland stillness reigned. Blowing ash darkened the sun—smoke without fire, forest lives airborne—but already the forest’s heart was turning to the east. Life was emerging from death.

 

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Blasted meadows were greening. Tenacious pines, seared but stubborn, drank deep to gather strength for life. Fire-crimsoned cones dropped seed. Seedlings broke the fragile soil. *

 

 

 

I found comfort in the cycle of life, and even in death..

 

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Somehow over the next five years, Morgan’s death, questions about the Creator’s on-going involvement in non-human nature, the timing of Jesus’ coming in human history, and the redemption of the suffering Earth—all came together into the creation of Yeshua’s Cat. The spiritual doubts that had plagued my heart for years ripened and bore sweet fruit.

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I’ll continue the story of this journey in a few weeks. Come back soon!

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* To read about the devastating effects of salvage logging on the recovery of burned forests, click here.

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The Decapolis

What exactly was the Decapolis? It was mentioned twice in Mark’s gospel and once in Matthew’s, but described only as a region near Galilee where Jesus’ fame spread. In The Gospel According to Yeshua’s Cat, Yeshua and Mari spend considerable time in the Decapolis among the Greco-Roman peoples there.

Decapolis meant literally “ten cities” in Greek, and referred to a loosely knit group of ancient cities in what is now Israel, Jordan, and Syria. No one can say for sure which cities were included in the ten–or even if there were exactly ten–since their relationship was never formalized in Greek or Roman law. As best we know, they were independent cities, each established as a polis, or city-state, with its own local sphere of influence. They supported each other because of their common ties of culture, similar economic interests, and commitment to the Greek, and later, Roman, empires. With the construction  of Roman roads they became even more closely interconnected: outposts of the Roman Empire on its furthest eastern edges,  islands of Greco-Roman speech and culture, determinedly set apart from the Aramaean, Nabataean, and Jewish populations all around them.

The Decapolis
The Decapolis

The red dots on the map above mark the eight cities closest to Galilee that were probably included in the Decapolis in the early 1st C. CE. The cities connected by red lines are the ones Yeshua visited in The Gospel According to Yeshua’s Cat, although (except for Scythopolis) they aren’t identified by name in the book. In the paragraphs below, cities where specific events in Yeshua’s Cat took place are identified by small cat silhouettes:

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Antiochus Epiphanes

Greek influence in Syria was strongest between the time of Alexander the Great and the reign of the Seleucid emperor Antiochus IV Epiphanes, whose rule ended a century before the Roman conquest in 63 BCE. Most of the Decapolis cities were founded during this period.

When Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the Temple and forbade the observance of the Jewish religion, Israel revolted, led by Mattathias the

Judas Maccabeus, Acre Synagogue, photo Dr. Avishai Teicher
Judas Maccabeus, Acre Synagogue, photo Dr. Avishai Teicher

Hasmonean and his five sons, later known as the Maccabees. They overwhelmed the Seleucids and forced them to concede Israel’s limited independence, thus founding the Hasmonaean dynasty, which ruled in Israel until after the Roman conquest. Once the Greeks were defeated in Israel, the Hasmonaeans turned their eyes to the walled cities of Trans-Jordan, and conquered most of the Decapolis by the beginning of the 1st C BCE.

Ancient Roman statue of Pompey the Great
Ancient Roman statue of Pompey the Great

After annexing the Decapolis, the Hasmonaeans forced Judaism and circumcision on the predominantly gentile population of Hippos, exiled the gentiles from Scythopolis, and burned Pella to the ground after it refused to accept the Jewish religion. Circumcision was a point of irreconcilable conflict between Greeks and Jews. For the Jews it was the essential mark of the male believer in the One God; for Greeks it was a desecration of the divinely formed human body.

Hard feelings between the people of Israel and the Decapolis during the time of Jesus had roots both in the Seleucid oppression of Israel and the years of warfare under the Hasmonaeans. Each side had known cruelty and suffering. When Pompey claimed the Decapolis for Rome in 63 BCE, the gentile population greeted him as a liberator, and killed many Jewish residents in revenge for Hasmonaean cruelty. Once the Romans established themselves in the Decapolis, a period of extensive rebuilding began, lasting into the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE. As a result, little remains of the original Greek cities.

 

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Hippos looking west across Sea of Galilee

BlogCatStampHIPPOS sat on a high ridge overlooking the eastern side of Sea of Galilee, surrounded on all sides by steep inclines and high fortifications. One thin shoulder of rock approached the main gate on the east, where a fortified road connected the city to the eastern hills as well as indirectly to the sea. Of all the Decapolis cities, Hippos is said to have harbored the greatest antagonism toward Israel for her part in the Hasmonaean wars.

BlogCatStampAs you read of the blind man Yeshua healed outside the gates of the first Decapolis city he visited, you can imagine that long ridge by which travelers still approach the gates of Hippos.

 

 

View of the eastern approach to Hippos
View of the eastern approach to Hippos

BlogCatStamp_Gadara13GADARA, like Hippos, was built on a long ridge with steeply sloping sides. Unlike the other Decapolis cities, Gadara developed an international reputation for philosophy, art, and literature. Pilgrims to the hot springs located below the city also contributed to its cosmopolitan atmosphere. Some scholars believe that the story of the demoniac among the tombs was set in its general locale.

BlogCatStampYeshua’s debate with the young philosopher took place in a wealthy home in Gadara.

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Gadara’s theatre, photo by Berthold Werner
Abila, photo by APAAME
Abila, photo by APAAME

ABILA is still little more than an excavation in process, with only tantalizing possibilities visible to the visitor. But the area awaiting excavation is immense. The ruins extend across two tells, and appear to include structures going back as far as 4000 BCE.

 

 

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Gerasa Cardo, photo by Bgabel
Gerasa Cardo, photo by Bgabel

GERASA, or JARASH, was a strong walled city, but stood in a river valley rather than on a hill. Most of the surviving structures date back to a massive Roman building program begun in the 1st C CE. The Cardo, or main thoroughfare, is one of oldest structures, running east-west through the city, with the marketplace on its west side.

 

Below are the remains of the market, or macellum, where Yeshua’s parable of the prodigal son brought a tide of change to the people of the Decapolis. This was also the market where Mari trapped Maryam into speaking with Yeshua.

The Macellum at Jarash, photo by APAAME
The Macellum at Jarash, photo by APAAME

PELLA, of all the ancient cities of the Decapolis, has left the greatest mystery behind. Almost no ruins from the Roman period have survived. Located in the hills on the east side of the Jordan Valley, on a major Roman road, Pella lay in an area with fertile soil and plentiful water, where towns had stood almost continuously from Neolithic times. After Alexander Jannaeus sacked and leveled the city in 82 BCE, it was entirely rebuilt by the Romans. Archaeologists have suggested that after the great earthquake of 526, the inhabitants of Pella might have recycled the rubble of Roman buildings to rebuild the city.

Site of ancient Pella looking toward the Jordan River
Site of ancient Pella looking toward the Jordan River

BlogCatStampSCYTHOPOLIS, or BEIT SHE’AN, is the only one of the Decapolis cities located on the western side of the Sea of Galilee. These ruins have been extensively excavated, revealing almost continuous occupation from the earliest times, although the city’s significance fluctuated with intermittent wars and violent conquest. The Seleucids founded Scythopolis in the 3rd C BCE on the ruins  of the ancient city of Beit She’an, destroyed during the Assyrian sack of Israel. During the Hasmonaean wars much of the Greek polis was destroyed. Once the Romans took over, Scythopolis was named the capital of the Decapolis, and a massive urban building program began, which continued through the next 2-300 years. The steep hill, or tell, which rises to the north of today’s excavated Roman city, covers the remains of the biblical Beit She’an, as well as Seleucid and early Roman ruins. Most of the monumental Roman buildings were completed during the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE on the flat land to the south and east of the tell, leaving little evidence of the city’s appearance during the time of Jesus, although the main layout of the streets may have been similar.

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Temples were built on the tell at various times during Greek and Roman occupation, perhaps partly because of Scythopolis’ fame as  a major center for the worship of Dionysos. Legends of the time located the tomb of his nurse Nysa at Scythopolis.

BlogCatStampBecause of the city’s connection to the Greco-Roman dying and rising agricultural god, in Yeshua’s Cat the procession of Tammuz’ devotees witnessed by Mari, Yeshua, and the disciples took place in Scythopolis. The tell was the hill the mourning women climbed by torchlight.

Excavations on the tell at Beit She’an
Excavations on the tell at Beit She’an

 

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