He opened the great book before him on the table, and drew the lamp nearer to read.

Deuteronomy Chapter 7. Eb had set himself to reading through the five books of Moses, the great foundational tomes of the Torah, that had shaped the people of God in the story of their making.

Some parts he found inspiring, and moving; others set him to thinking and wondering. He had read aloud to himself the first story of all, the creation of heaven and earth, the breathing of life that made Adam a living being, the resting of God in fulfilment, delighting in all He had made. Eb loved that story. He loved the story of Noah, with the raven that flapped off and never came back, and the dove that returned; also the story of Jacob, wrestling all night with his God til the morning found him limping but filled with wonder and bearing a new name. Eb’s soul had been lifted and carried on the swell of familiar tales; and then the intricacy of Leviticus with its arcane detail, the mysterious demands of God, had intrigued him. Deuteronomy arrested him with moments of poetry; but tonight, trudging through Chapter 7, he felt lost in it: indifferent, tired and bored – and because of that, guilty as well.

…. your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid. 20Moreover, the LORD your God will send hornets among them, until those who are left and hide themselves from you are destroyed. 21You shall not be in dread of them, for the LORD your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God. 22 The LORD your God will clear away these nations before you little by little. You may not make an end of them at once, lest the wild beasts grow too numerous for you. 23 But the LORD your God will give them over to you and throw them into great confusion, until they are destroyed. 24And he will give their kings into your hand, and you shall make their name perish from under heaven. No one shall be able to stand against you until you have destroyed them. 25The carved images of their gods you shall burn with fire. You shall not covet the silver or the gold that is on them or take it for yourselves, lest you be ensnared by it….

Eb struggled to concentrate, but was overwhelmed by the loneliness rising up like cold water inside him. It reminded him of the times the rain soaked through his boots and trousers, working out in the fields. For just so long leather and wool could hold out the cold and wet – but the misery of rainwater seeping through into his socks would get him in the end. So now in his soul, the miserable loneliness soaked right in. Eb sagged weary in his chair, propping his head on his hand. He felt a tear trickle down the side of his nose. It fell onto the open Bible. This was self-pity exactly and only; Eb felt most deeply ashamed. Rejoice in the Lord always… another tear coursed down his cheek, then another, a rivulet of tears. He never let people see this. He felt too ashamed. He closed his eyes and lowered his head to rest his brow on the great pages of the open book.

“Please…” he begged the almightiness of God: “thou who watchest over me… please, please please. Canst thou not see – dost thou not care? I am so terribly lonely.”

Then he righted himself, pulled out his kerchief and dabbed the precious Word dry, blew his nose and rubbed his eyes.

He sat for a moment, then as so often, he wrapped his arms around himself, and sat rocking in the gathered shadows of nightfall, aching with loneliness, trying to remember what it felt like to be held.