Being John the Baptist | Sojourners

Being John the Baptist


What follows is an imprecise, and likely inaccurate, interpretation of the prologue to the gospel of Mark. It is a rough crack at the husk of Mark's text to see what sweet milk spills out. In digging at the roots of the language, I was more concerned with echoes, harmonies, and countermelodies than the central narrative. I attempted to gaze into the original Greek and allow a new vision to spring up from the etymologies. This is a meditation on the desert, on John the Baptist, the feral prophet, and on us, the domesticated great-great grandchildren of The Way.

The desert is cold tonight, this unloved place for the unloved. Those people, they stink of the city. I can only scrub them so much. They tell me their hard-luck stories—how they have been defaced, debased, dishonored. Sometimes their sorry souls leave draglines behind them in the dust. What did they come to this wilderness to see? Am I only a hollow reed to them, blowing a tune not my own? I know who I am, and who I am not. When I can't take it any more, I just walk away. Their voices eat at me like lice.

I needed to come here; brush out my little hip-hole at the bottom of the rock, settle in under stars. Alone, I am myself. The stars sprinkle their half-light. There is little moon. I like it best when there is no moon at all, and no small fires.

Those people call me "devourer of devourers" because of the little locust I eat. In truth, I am no devourer. I am only consumed.

I am sick of the offal of their lambs and their goats, the stench of their domesticated ways. I know that tomorrow, or the next day, I will go back to the river. And they will be there. And I will throw hard words at them, like rocks thrown to keep carrion birds off a corpse. Not out of respect for the corpse, mind you, but to keep them from becoming fascinated with death.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 2003
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