Katie Ippolito | 19
The Geography of Heart and Soul
“And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.” Revelation 12:7-9
Where he fell his influence spread, seeping into the foundations of the Earth. Kingdoms rose and fell, deception in their building blocks. People trusted blind gods, and in turn became blind themselves. Because the seen and the unseen occupied the same space, a complicated landscape arose below the heavens: infinity collapsed onto a timeline, truth layered and masked with deception. The truth is this:
“’See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed’…Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne.” (Rev 5:5-6)
In the land below the heavens, the triumph had come. The dragon was not strong enough; the king was on the throne, the happy ending already written. Yet the Lamb is slain, the world is deceived. And the ultimate choice is a series of skirmishes between compromise and patience in the human heart.
In the beginning, their hearts were gardens.
The man tended his: trimmed thorns from rosebushes, pruned trees, worked endlessly to create more beauty. He liked to invite his neighbors to sit in the scanty shade, to tell them that he had been inspired by someone down the street, who had once owned the most magnificent garden that spread wonder in every season, before He came to dwell for some time on a little plot on an ordinary street. This someone would often visit the man, all the while knowing the garden was a little patchy, a little over pruned, and a source of some (truthfully, misplaced) pride. Nevertheless, He loved him. One day the man would sacrifice control over even this, recognize that his best efforts were humble in this infertile terrain, and would give Him the trowel. He who could breathe life where there was none, He would create a masterpiece here.
“I know your works…I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and not denied my name…Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on earth.” (Rev 3:8, 10)
She had built a great temple; paved the wilds of her heart with streets of gold and invited all to enter. The Lord of that land walked those streets, and His glory suffused the atmosphere, and in his footsteps followed justice. Those caught in his light could not help but rejoice. Yet, darkness slipped in through the open gates, dangerous elements collected at the fringes and in alleys of the city. Green space seemed caged by the scaffolds of constant renovation; confusing dead ends appeared as dense, wandering streets began to overlap. Thieves hid in corners and the crowds now jostled the Lord as he walked, averting their faces. They put signs in their windows advertising alternative truths at discount rates, speaking louder in hopes that a large, empty clamor might displace His actual presence.
“For you say I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked… those whom I love I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent…if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev 3:17, 19-20)
Kissing Goodbye at the End of the World
She is sitting in her car, fingers tapping on the steering wheel as the radio croons: and Love, such a silly game we play…
She considers this. It didn’t seem like much of a game in this day and age. In fact, it seemed like exactly what the world needed. Rolling to a halt at a red light, she begins to imagine the crackling exterior lives that they all struggled to hold together long enough to meet expectations. Outside the borders of her prospering nation, there were natural disasters that went unreported and people who died unknown and unremembered.
“They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on earth?” (Rev 6:10)
Within the borders there was ignorance and offence. Everywhere, there were people fighting high stakes games of human rights. There were those who were looking merely to love who they wanted, to live where they wanted, for an equal opportunity to make their way in the world. To define for themselves each day without hindrance who they wanted to be.
“And they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.” (Rev 16:9)
Rippling underneath was the notion that no matter who they were or how they lived their lives, they were valuable in a way that couldn’t be diminished.
“The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot out his name in the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” (Rev 3:5)
Her phone rang, interrupting the music and her thoughts. It was the love of her life. She declined the call. It was Friday night in Babylon, and she was in no rush to get home.
“’What city was like the great city?’” (Rev 18:18)
“[Babylon] has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit…the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living” (Rev 18:2-3)
She rolled down her window and her engine hummed into motion. The city glittered outside her windows. People of every size, shape, and color flowed past her in the streets, shoulders bumping, a distracting array of expressions on their faces. Their shoulders were set with the confidence of anonymity: no one could judge you if no one truly knew you. In the distance were both music and sirens. She breathed in the sharp air and pressed Seek on the radio. It shuffled through pop hits and “classics” from the past twenty years, commercials had more than their share of time, as did the urgent undertones of the newscasters. Yet, there was something for everyone and someone to share every deejay’s point of view shared gregariously between tracks. This city was the world pushed into a frame, and at the very last moment frozen. It was a place where disparity of every kind could coexist, where people had the opportunity to push out their personal boundaries. One person could mean everything. To her, this city meant unlimited horizons, the chance to craft the best version of yourself.
He’s been urging her to leave.
“’Come out of [Babylon], my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities…And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, of all who have been slain on earth.” (Rev 18:4, 24)
He, the love of her life, the one who knew the things she wouldn’t admit to anyone else, the one she had picked to share her every day with, had completely stopped listening to her. One day they were living a shared dream, and the next she was walking on eggshells and he was regarding her and her city with increasing suspicion.
“Alas! Alas! You great city, you mighty city, Babylon! For in a single hour, your judgment has come.” (Rev 18:9)
As she turned the corner on her familiar street, she listened to the radio for just a minute more, clinging to the notion that there were places where every opinion was equally valid, and then bracing herself, she entered their shared house.
“Hey, I’m back” she called towards the light softly radiating from the kitchen. She heard a chair scraping, and he poked his head into the hallway, a strange expression melting into relief. “I tried calling,” he said, making his way towards her.
“Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy” (Rev 1:3)
She wasn’t in the mood to argue so she gave him a quick kiss and a noncommittal reply and made her way towards the kitchen to put on the kettle. He followed behind her. “Something weird happened to me today.”
“Oh really?” she said, half listening. Their kitchen window had a wonderful view, their quiet street, and skyscrapers in the distance, the only thing that made up for their cramped living quarters. She was aware of him behind her, probably leaning against the kitchen table. He wasn’t responding, so she looked at him over her shoulder, and found him staring. “Babe? What happened?” He shifted his gaze and cleared his throat, and asked in a forced tone, “So, how was your drive home?”
“It was fine,” she replied, starting to feel some concern. “Some traffic on the throughway, but it’s a pretty night out, and you know I enjoy the way through the city.” His eyes snapped back to her face and she knew she had entered dangerous conversational territory.
“What kind of traffic?” He asked. She wasn’t expecting that. “Nothing unusual. Just, people going home.” She turned to face him. “What’s wrong? What happened to you today?” He held her gaze for a few seconds longer before turning to look out the window. “You didn’t see it? The parade?”
“What parade? Is today some kind of holiday?” His expression was a mismatch for his words, concern instead of enjoyment. “I don’t think so.” He moved to stand by her, opened the window and then stilled. “Do you hear it?” Outside, the wind sighed. She could hear the quiet whistle of cars below, and her husband breathing, and nothing else. “In the distance,” he continued, “drums and screams and laughter and they’re getting closer.”
“Also, [the beast] was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority and was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it” (Rev 13:7-8)
“Screams?” The kettle beside her suddenly began to shriek. She jumped, unsettled by her husband’s words. Turning off the stove, she put a hand on his arm, “Babe, are you alright? Does this have to do with what happened today? I’m worried.” His face was grim and drawn. “No,” he replied. “I’m worried. I’ve been worried for weeks and I’ve been trying to tell you the city isn’t safe anymore, it’s being overrun.”
She rolled her eyes. “Is that what this is all about? Babe, how many times are we going to go over this? We live in a great neighborhood! There are restaurant pop-ups, the galleries have exhibits that address what’s wrong with this country, all of our old friends are here, and there are plenty of other young, interesting people we could befriend.” The exasperation she had been feeling in the car was deep rooted within her and it was blossom in her voice. “Where else are we going to go? Why are you determined to have us isolated from everything we know?”
“This is not everything! This city is not the whole world! Our church, love, our history—those things matter, and it’s like you’ve forgotten!”
“I haven’t forgotten anything! I’ve just grown up, moved on, there is more to know than words that were written over 2,000 years ago! The world changed! It’s changing right now this minute and you’re not seeing it! We promised that we would see it together, experience it together, and once again it seems like I’m on my own in this!”
“No, love. You’re not seeing. You missed the parade! The army marching past your car, the shadows in the eyes of our friends, the monsters pulling at your hands! Look out this window,” he gestured wildly. “Tell me what you see!”
“I see our home! I see nice houses, and a couple walking hand in hand, and some cars with political bumper stickers. What I don’t see is the devil lounging in the streets! Come on, babe! You know better than to still believe those stories! The city is not inherently evil! Maybe people struggle, maybe they’re complicated, but its not because they’re possessed!”
He was silent for a long moment. She poured the tea. One mug for herself, and slowly, reluctantly, a mug for him. She continued, “Babe, I’m going to say it one more time: look out that window, and recognize the place we grew up. The place where we became the people we are today. Look at me! I’m not a bad person for liking this place. For caring about what these people—Christian, non-Christian, whatever—think and feel. We’re all doing our best, and we’re fine.” She continued to look at him, willing herself to remember all the things about him that she loved, willing herself to remember the respect and pride and trust that she had felt when she first chose him. He was still staring out the window, and her heartbeat was loud in her ears.
Finally, he looked at her.
He looked at her with the intensity of someone seeing over thousands of miles. “But it’s not about you, love. Or, me, may I never forget. It’s about the truth, and really loving—it’s about all of us in this life together. None of us are fine on our own, doing our own thing. There is a right way to do this—we have to go.”
She felt something inside her crumbling at his tone of finality. “I can’t.”
His face fell but his eyes never wavered. “If you really loved me,” she said with a shaky breath. “You would stay.”
“I really love you,” he replied with a choked laugh. “I have to go.”
Then he glanced out the window once more, kissed her, and walked out the door in that very minute.
What He Saw
She watched him from the kitchen window. He cut a heartbreakingly familiar figure, walking with purpose in the night. He looks like a fool; gesturing in the air, zigzagging across the road, talking to things that aren’t there. And suddenly, he crumples.
“And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them” (Rev 11:7)
She feels a stab, her heart contracting, and she calls his name. She runs down to the front door and throws it open, and the street is overflowing. It takes her a minute to understand. An army is marching down the street: in their footsteps there is fire, they spread forward in chaotic waves as if there is no one directing them. There are people, too, regular people, faces she recognizes. They are wandering past her and past this army of shadows, of monstrous things that caress their faces, slipping blinders over their eyes. The soldiers were weighing some down with chains of gold until they could barely move, and cutting the purses of others. Some they battered and stabbed. Some they followed, linking arms and shouting abuses and whispering self-doubt. She is horrified, and she feels a pull in her gut, she has to do something— but none of it matters if her love is dead; and she is searching, pushing out into the crowded street and his body is not where she thought. It’s not anywhere.
And then she sees:
“The one who is sitting on [the horse] is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war…He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood and the name which he is called is The Word of God…And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he had deceived…” (Rev 19:11, 13, 19-20)
This rider was clearing a path through the chaos, and behind him, someone familiar. She knows it’s him, although he’s stripped down to something vital and brilliant that doesn’t look much like him at all. He’s talking to people, pulling on their sleeves and pointing towards glorious door, open at the other end of their street, through which she sees the city, made new.
“Then I saw I new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold the dwelling place of God is with man…He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore for the former things have passed away.” (Rev 21:1, 3-4)
(of the world)
THE BEGINNING OF LIFE
Katie Ippolito, Bowdoin Class of 2019. Neuroscience. River Edge NJ.
Katie’s preparations for the end of the world include constant people-watching and a spot of whiskey in her tea.