«FREE EXCERPT from WALKING WITH J by KARSTEN QUARTERS The Opening of the Book The pages below are the beginning of Walking with J. With appreciation ...»
Walking with J Karsten Quarters
FREE EXCERPT from WALKING WITH J
by KARSTEN QUARTERS
The Opening of the Book
The pages below are the beginning of Walking with J. With appreciation for your time and gratitude for your
interest, I offer this free preview to the full-story of my spiritual travelogue. I would love to know your thoughts on the
book, if you would like to add to the discussion on the true meaning of Jesus’ words or if you have questions about visiting the locations in the story. Thank you so much, enjoy!
- Karsten Quarters September 2012 His presence was obvious, intense and alive to anyone who was open to receive it.
Even inside the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, standing like any tourist, looking at a soldier, an African soldier, a black African soldier in an ancient suit of metal armor, I sensed rather than saw Him standing near me. The feeling was like an awakening, an awareness that an entity was nearby, one that not only occupied a piece of existence, but permeated a radiance I knew I wanted to encounter. I felt that I should turn slowly towards Him, like in a movie scene when the director builds up the audience for a reunion between lost loves. Feeling as if my face displayed that I had been caught off guard by the soldier, I felt that my expression was situationally inappropriate. I felt that I should readjust my look before He noticed it. I did not know why. I just did not want Him to think that I was surprised to realize that there were black African soldiers in Egypt, as if I did not know the region’s history and should have known that all the hues of the Nile Delta would be on display in the museum for visitors to acknowledge. It was a trivial thought but one that allowed me to process the new reality that had come to possess me in those few minutes. I was essentially just trying to comprehend what I had suddenly realized.
I bowed my head, took a deep inhale breath, released a slow exhale and turned towards Him.
He was standing further away than I had originally thought and was dressed plainly in a white cotton tunic with matching baggy trousers. He looked like the soldier, well like every soldier I had ever seen everywhere in the world, He looked like everybody. His hair of dark curls crept slightly down His neck, shorter than in so many of the paintings all over the world.
His eyes were dark too. With a slight break in the continuity of our common world, He stood there, touched by the sun, understated and humble.
“You know me,” He said softly “and you know where I come from.”1 A sweeping relief overwhelmed me. What I had sensed was in fact real, as real as I could understand it in that moment. I stood there, wondering if I should smile but then thought – well how silly, of course I should smile. Smiling was universal. It meant the same thing everywhere in the world, which was a reality that I had always found fascinating. I had never
been in a place where smiling meant run for your life. So I smiled and He smiled back. Or at least I thought that was what He was doing. His facial expressions were not entirely clear, nor obvious in the way a human means for another to register them. So I did not know if He actually smiled or if I had just wanted Him to be smiling and therefore that was what I saw. I kept looking at Him. I felt no awkwardness. How could I? I knew who He was and so I was completely at ease. One should not talk to strangers but He was not a stranger that much I knew. Seeking to suppress the shivers running through my body, I smiled again and He looked at me, I suppose continuing to smile back, although I was still not too sure.
My next move eluded me. I just knew that I wanted to speak to Him, as anyone would. I also assumed that any language would do. I assumed He could speak them all. But I wondered what I should say first? Where would you start with questions if you were facing the one who apparently had all the answers? And how long would He be visible? Would I have one minute and only one question? So then, would I at least start with the basics, the obvious – Why were people poor? Why were there earthquakes? And droughts? And floods? How come there were no perfect guys for me to marry? I could go on and on, there could be a lot of questions. But then the more that I thought about it, the more that approach seemed ridiculous.
I knew the answers to those questions, sort of. Scientists and economists had been studying and explaining such issues for centuries. They had researched and interpreted what they found and gave us a body of knowledge that we continued to evolve and build on. They had not resolved all of the questions, after all the perfect guys one remained unaddressed by science and overstocked by pop culture. And why did earthquakes happen at a particular moment that no one could see coming? They had not figured that out yet either. Should I ask Him that? I stopped. What if He was reading my mind? Does He not know the inner thoughts of all people? He would probably think I was pretty shallow asking about guys when I should be contemplating a more universal and important topic. Actually that was a universal topic – but OK, earthquakes. But then, I thought, how ridiculous, why would I ask Him about earthquakes?
Suddenly I realized that I was actually staring at Him, and despite my mental ramblings, I was still not feeling awkward even though I knew that one does not just stand and stare in a public place. The soldier inside his bright glass case stood between us. The Egyptian Museum was not crowded at that time of the day. The towering white walls were a clean backdrop to the treasures from King Tut’s tomb to a Pharaonic worker’s coin that sparkled in the cases on every floor. The building preserved its store of a grand civilization’s symbols of wealth and power.
People walked by us but they did not appear to notice Him as I did, which made me feel even more isolated in my realization of who He was. Since I already knew that, I decided that I should just move us forward.
“What shall I call you?” I asked Him directly, aloud, in English. Then in a flash of panic, I quickly looked around at the people standing near us. After all if they had not noticed Him, was He even really there? No one acknowledged that I had spoken aloud as if to myself. The other museum-goers continued to function as if I was just another visitor looking at a statue. To the people around us I was not speaking to the air, but I was also not speaking to Him. I was not exhibiting noticeably different behavior from anyone else around us. That freaked me out
too. Was I even in the room anymore? Other people could not perceive of my interaction with Him, as if He had forced a layer of privacy over our encounter.
Still looking at Him, while all of these thoughts passed through my mind in seconds, I suddenly realized, to my surprise, that He seemed surprised by my question. Guess He was expecting the earthquake concern after all. But the look in His eyes reflected the question back to me, awaiting my own response. So I continued. “I suppose it should be Master or Lord or Rabbi or Teacher, but do you want to know what I really want to call you?” I realized that I had asked my question without thinking, at least I did not think that I had thought about it. Was I actually trying to guess what Jesus Christ, the King, the Messiah, the Savior wanted me to do and then deciding that I would just do what I wanted? With a semblance of monitored concern, I decided that I was. Looking at Him and understanding His existence framed my confidence. I knew that I did not have to use the ceremonial honorifics for the greatest man of the people who had ever lived, so I guessed that He would accept whatever made us both comfortable.
“Well you know that in English your name said outside of church sounds kind of funny,” I continued. “Not in the way it’s pronounced, it’s just that no one uses it as a person’s name. In fact it’s usually used as a curse word. Spanish-speaking people name their sons after you, but not English-speaking people. So that would seem weird to me since we’ll be speaking English.
It would sound like I’m cursing before every sentence. Maybe I’ll just call you J, would that be alright?” This winding analysis and cross-cultural logic seemed to amuse Him. I guessed it sounded like slang, like I had come up with an urban street name for Him. But it seemed to work. “Or Josh?” I ventured, just in case. He looked at me with what appeared to be further amusement. “OK J it is,” I conceded in relief as the first question was answered. I viewed a nearly imperceptible nod as He turned and shifted to walk away. My emotion, still managing a level of shock and excitement that I had never known, rolled over to embrace an experience that had laid out the fundamental blueprint of behavior for millions.
“Follow me,”2 He said and I moved towards Him just as those who had seen Him first did more than 2,000 years ago.
We emerged out of the Museum into Tahrir Square and the streets of Cairo. The capital of Egypt was really called Al Qahirah. But since the British had voyaged around the world anglicizing local names, wherever they encountered what they considered unpronounceable, today we would all say Cairo. It was among the world’s megacities, full of the noise, pollution, trash, crowding and perfume to bodily smells that one accepted in all corners of great nations while journeying around the world. Still on the banks of the Nile River, there was no denying the city’s majesty, its soul as a determined marker of world history and civilization, its true sense of a tight lunar existence.
“The interpretations of your life say that you never travelled more than 30 miles from your hometown. What are you doing in Cairo?” I asked with a weak hint of disbelief. The Matthew 4:19
question had a ring of impertinence to it also, but He just looked at me as if I should know the answer so I reset my mind to assume that I did. But inside my thoughts were churning. ‘Why would He appear to me here and now at this point in my life?’ I thought. ‘I was a believer already, at least in my mind. I did not need conversion. Although I was amazed and grateful for this moment, I was also unnerved. Why was He here visibly beside me? Why had He come now? What did He want? What did He know about me that I did not know?’ I quickly flashed through the details of my life. I guessed that people considered me successful, at least by the measures used in North American society. Being college-educated with a well-paying job was about all that one had to show to be considered functional and I had accomplished all of those goals within the dictated timeframe. I lived in a comfortable house, drove a luxury sedan and did what I wanted with my leisure time. Although I had many friends scattered all over the world, I did not have everyday friends near me, there was no one to go to the movies with or out to dinner often. I would be considered a loner then, if I had to describe it, or at least people would think that I am. But it was by choice. I was actually not that much of a fan of just going out for the sake of saying one went out. We used to do that in high school.
‘Let’s go out’ we would say and then just move from one home basement to another. It would bore me then, and it would bore me now. Even so, I did hang out a lot and partied. I guess in the moment I was enjoying it. Looking back, I wondered if we were wasting time. Nowadays, I would rather sit home and read a book than go to a party to get drunk and listen to idle gossip all night long. Most people bore me now too. It does slightly concern me that no one in my circle seems to have embraced the pursuit of a perpetually happy life by taking control of their actions and choices and moving themselves down the road that they truly wanted. Most talk was complaint. People complained, about money, spouses, children, neighbors, work, aches, pains, trials and tribulations. I had grown weary of the continuous rant. Because one thing I had done was travel, all over the world, for years. I loved to travel and I was very interested in the state of the world, history, geography and how our current situation had evolved. One observation that I had internalized was that the daily lives of those around me did not warrant one word of complaint in comparison to the lot of the vast majority of the world’s people.
Perhaps that was why I found the whiners and complainers so difficult to tolerate. Having moved beyond their narrow vision of modern life, I was no longer susceptible to their words. But that conclusion had isolated me. Most people love to get-together with one another and gossip and complain. I wondered if He thought my current stance was good or bad.