uses the verb "hate". At first we thought this was purely a Johannine term but it isn't."
I was already lost. My future sister-wives were all accomplished scriptorians, just as Misha the Lithuanian was.
"I'm sorry, I'm not quite with you," I sheepishly interjected.
"Well," Anna continued, "John uses quite a different vocabulary from the synoptists, Matthew, Mark and Luke. For instance, he uses the word "light" as a wide-ranging metaphor in Yah'shua's sayings. Did Yah'shua actually use this Johannine vocabulary or did John purposefully modify the Saviour's words in order to be more readily comprehensible to his gnostic audience?"
I was still puzzled.
"What she means," said Suszana taking up the thread, "is that John translated the original concepts of the Gospel into his own peculiar style using words that would best be understood by his audience. For instance, you and Sarah-Jane are North Americans with your own special vocabulary which can sometimes be mystifying to Europeans like the rest of us who speak British English. The question we've been asking ourselves is what exactly did Jesus mean by "hate" since elsewhere He condemns hatred and commands us to love..."
"OK, I'm with you," I replied. "You're thinking of the time when Jesus said we should hate our parents..."
"And wives and children," added Kryztina, "brothers and sisters too..."
"Right," Stan picked up. "And don't forget that Luke reports that Yah'shua said we should hate our own lives too, confirming John (Lk.14:26). Since Luke was a doctor and didn't use Johannine terminology at all, we have to conclude that John reported a literal saying of Christ. That being the case, and knowing what we know about His teachings about love and hate, we are forced to conclude that in both the Johannine and Lukan accounts He isn't talking about literal hate. And if this is the case, then when John reports Yah'shua saying, "He who loves his life loses it", the word "love" cannot mean love in the sense in which we traditionally understand."
Stan paused, and there was silence amongst the adults as they sensed a new insight was coming to him.
"Obviously Yah'shua uses the word "hate" in the sense of regarding something as being of secondary importance. Thus, simply stated, He is telling us to put Christ before parents, family, and self. Most theologians recognise that - only the extremists who lack sound discernment assume that we are to literally cultivate an active hatred of someone. If this is so, then when Christ uses the word "love" He must surely want us understand that to mean "of primary importance" rather than being in love with one's self. And if this is true, we may have to carefully reconsider what the Saviour means when He uses the word "love" elsewhere. It's more a question of emphasis than any new radical revelation, but isn't so much of the misunderstanding of scriptorians caused by wrong emphasis rather than by completely reading a passage wrongly?"
There were nods of agreement in the room. I never failed to be impressed by the fact that whenever Christ was the topic of conversation, all the adults spontaneously and enthusiastically engaged themselves in the discussion that inevitably followed. This was one of my strongest impressions of the Królewiec family, their complete interest in the Gospel. Everything was guided by it. It was alive amongst them.
Some of the wives discussed this theological tidbit further whilst others drifted elsewhere.
"Do you always have such scholarly discussions here?" I asked Isabel.
She gave a little chuckle. "Always! It's our bread and water..."
"...and cake and grape juice too," added Kasia. Everyone laughed.
"Or in your case, ice-cream!" teased Stan. Kasia giggled. Some of the children thought it was a cue for dessert and were slightly disappointed when fruit and cream were rolled in.
At length the clutter of spoons on glass bowls died down and everyone went silent as Stan rang a little brass bell on the table for the concluding prayer. The younger children left with their mothers for bed and the older ones for other activities. Kryztina and Sarah-Jane began loading the trolley with the mountain-load of washing-up. My offer of help was gratefully received and so I ended up with them in the kitchen.
"Where in Saskatchewan are you from?" I asked Sarah-Jane.
"Oh, you'll not have heard of it, Hélène," she answered. "It's a little place in the middle of nowhere called Tisdale surrounded by lots of other places nobody's ever heard of like Porcupine Plain and Nipawin."
Kryztina giggled as she started filling one of the three dishwashers. "Porcupine Plain - Stan loves that one!"
Sarah-Jane giggled as well. "Yeah, he always calls it 'plain old porky nips away with a yellah head' - you see, Yellowhead's another village nearby."
Kryztina hooted with laughter. "When Sarah-Jane told our Scandinavian visitors last year about her old home they were in stitches..."
Sarah-Jane began to heave uncontrollably - "You see...."
Kryztina shrieked, the tears rolling down her cheeks which were glowing red like charcoal on fire - "You see, Hélène, Tisdale..."
She creased up again: "You see, Tisdale in Swedish means 'urinate in the valley'.
Howls of laughter again.
"Kryztina never told you where she comes from, I bet!" retorted Sarah-Jane, trying to be serious but making a bad job of it.
"I guess I'll find out sooner or later," I said trying to join in the revelry a bit.
Isabel had by now poked her head around the kitchen door trying to find out what all the fuss was about. She and Suszana did not appreciate this sort of humour.
"Kryztina is from Krąpiel...."
"It's pronounced Kranpiel," snapped back Kryztina, pretending to be annoyed.
"Who cares," insisted Sarah-Jane, "it's spelled K-R-A-P-I-E-L!"
Isabel gave a disapproving grunt and disappeared.
"Where abouts is that?"
I tried to steer the conversation around to something else. Kryztina sensed that maybe they had gone too far.
"It's near Szczecin - maybe you've heard of it as Stettin?"
"Well, it's not too far away from Germany in Pomerania."
All these foreign names were bewildering to me. Unlike Stan's wives who were all good geographers - they had to be with such a international, cosmopolitan bunch of women - my range of geographical knowledge stretched from the Rockies to the Appalachians. But I was learning.
Stan walked in.
"Are these ladies teasing you, Hélène?" he asked quizzically.
"Oh, no, no, I'm learning new things all the time."
Stan was as confused by my non sequitur as I was, but shrugged it off, putting it down to embarrassment and tiredness.
"Why don't you come along to the living room when you've had enough of their banter." Sarah-Jane looked a bit sheepish. "Kasia's making hot cocoa."
That was all I needed to head south-west to the living room. I'm an addict of cocoa. I sensed that Stan knew my little secret. Of course he did, I must have told him when we swopped questionnaires about our likes and dislikes on the internet a few weeks before I flew east.
It was quieter with the smallest children in bed. Isabel had gone to read a bed-time story to Stanisław, Jr., and the older children were either watching TV in the classroom or nursery. I could hear the clack of balls as Suszana's eldest, both teenagers, played snooker, the European equivalent of American poole.
Stan came in, Kasia forgot she was making cocoa, and went to him for a hug and kiss. She was like that. Stan was her life and she saw stars whenever he appeared, and forgot everything else. But she was also his most avid critic and made the rest of us cringe at times.
"What about the cocoa?" teased Anna.
"Oh, yes, sorry!" she said innocently, and went back to the by-now boiling canteen in the corner of the room.
Stan sat down and Anna snuggled up to him on the sofa. Isabel decided she would have the vaccant side and swopped seats.
"Hey, what about me?" quipped Kasia.
"You've had your cuddle," said Anna jokingly. "Now it's our turn!"
Isabel gave a soft giggle and glanced at Suszana sitting opposite. She gave one of her huge butter-melting smiles at the silliness of it all. Stan shook his head slightly in disbelief. This had become an almost daily ritual which he tolerated because it broke down barriers and helped build up family cohesiveness.
"It's always like this," said Stan in a tone of mock resignation. "You wait until I get a lapful of children too!"
And he did. They marched to bed past him for a goodnight hug and kiss. Sometimes he would go off to tuck some in and then retun.
The sun had set and it was dark outside. The wind was blowing and an autumnal shower was thrashing rain against the window panes.
"Draw the curtains, would you?" he said to Sara-Jane as she came in the room from the kitchen, and in moments we were sealed in, cosy and snug. Stan had lit a fire in the hearth and the flames leaped up into the chimney as the wood crackled. Kasia served the cocoa and soon the room was full of a pleasant aroma and contented slurping.
Kasia, not to be outdone by Anna, sat on the floor at Stan's feet and leaned her head back on his knees. The room was silent as we stared into the fire and enjoyed our drinks. I felt a wonderful peace, as though I had been there for an age. Suszana lay with her head resting on Kryztina's right shoulder - it could have been a scene from a Victorian painting.
Oh, I liked this already! It was so different but so - so warm! Was it possible that I had found my paradise so soon? It seemed just too good to be true. And yet - and yet, this place seemed to be like an island in the sea of a very different world. Raj was a time capsule, a cultural ghetto which no-one else could possibly understand. How could I possibly share this with my friends and family?
Stan saw that I was in deep meditation. "A penny for your thoughts, Hélène?"
I paused. "Oh, hard to say really. How do you share something wonderful with the world when they can never understand it?"
He smiled. "That's just how Christ felt. Do you remember how, heavy of heart, He once said that he wanted to share so much more with His disciples but they weren't ready?"
I vaguely recalled, and nodded.
"The deeper you enter into God's love and grace the fewer there are who can understand you. To join Christ's family you receive a double-sided blessing, like a coin. The one side offers you paradise, but the more time you spend there, the more starkly you see hell. The deeper you journey into heaven, the narrower becomes the Way, until you reach the point when you are completely alone. You can share only so much as you go the deeper into the light. And you are able to share less and less except with those who are walking along the Way with you. You can relate certain things to the world but it is so very little.
"This path we walk, Hélène, is both the most intimate you can ever experience as well as being the most lonely. Your circle of friends shrinks the deeper into the light of Christ you go, and especially in our polygamous lifestyle . In our fellowship there is this family and a dozen or so other ones, maybe a hundred souls in all. But because we're all over the world the only real contact we have is our family.
"Our family is our ark of safety and fellowship. We belong to Noah's world. That great and lonely man spent the better part of a century with only one wife, three sons, and three daughters-in-law. That was his only company. And from his own age group, there was only his wife. We may never understand his loneliness and sadness. He lost all his other wives, with all their children, and all his grandchildren to the antediluvian world. All of them.
"In this way of life, Hélène, there is much to sacrifice. Yet none of us would go back to what we had before in the world. Better a dozen or so souls deeply in love and in the light of Christ than thousands of superficial relationships. We've made our choice. We're in our ark headed for millennial waters and there's little outside but dark and stormy weather. We know what we want."
I pondered Stan's words a long while. The choices I faced were great indeed. And though I hadn't been formally invited to be a part of Stan's family, we all understood that we were considering the possibility. I was taking stock of the Królewiec family, and they of me. I had alot of questions, but I was tired after my long journey.
There was a sharp crack in the fireplace as a log shifted and ashes moved. I stared into the flames and remembered what Stan had taught me in a letter about the fire we all had to pass through. We would either be burned or purified. I wondered what would happen to me next.