A voice singing and the sound of birds winging their winding paths overhead; such sounds awoke the Scholar as he dared to open his eyes, still reeling from the horrors seen moments before.  Finally, a breath of cool air rushed into his lungs, air fragrant with pine, cinnamon, and damp vegetation.


A wooded clearing expanded around him, with the horizon hidden by trees of a height that stupefied all description.  Apparently sunrise occurred only minutes before, as the clearing was bathed in that baby blue and light gold hue of a virgin day.


And the voice?  Far in the distance, it echoed like a faint memory, a strange hope, something also beyond words, but imbued with joy unspeakable and a soaring, masculine confidence.


The wind lightly blew through the clearing, bringing the sound of the voice closer to comprehension, a voice like the waters of the river, which reverberating off of every tree, defied the ability of the Scholar to determine the direction from whence it thundered.


"Hullo there, my brother, and well met!  What brings you to my woods?"


Turning, the Scholar was baffled by the source of that great voice: A woodsman in green garb, with an axe carelessly swung over his shoulder and a shrub in one side of his mouth, which was receiving a good chewing.


"'Y'have a habit of ne' speakin' to strangers don't ye'?", chuckled the woodsman good-naturedly.


The woodsman walked on past the Scholar, who, head turning with the woodsman's movements, stood still in wonderment.


"Follow me!"


And the Scholar followed, as if his own limbs had no choice in the matter.


As they wandered for what seemed like years amid the gargantuan trees, the woodsman whistled a merry tune, leaning back on his heels, gazing squint-eyed up at the trees' branches.


"These trees grow so tall and strong, that my father must delight to see their progress!  Still, a few branches for my purpose will harm none.  Even more, the trees do well when pruned back a wee bit.  So we shall do!"


The Scholar blankly watched the woodsman harness himself up into the heights of the tree and saw off branches from the tallest climes.  He too leaned back on his heels, gazing far up to see the little speck which he knew to be the woodsman up in the foliage.


"Why stand ye' like a ninny gazing at the sky?", said the woodsman with another hearty laugh.


Having lost track of time, the Scholar turned his gaze back to earth and dumbly followed yet further into the brush and undergrowth.


Now, time having passed, the sun began to set, and the woodsman finally stopped moving into the wilder parts of the forest.  Without a word, he unhooked his hand-axe from his belt and chopped off some small branches from shrubs, bushes, and smaller trees, all of which he used to light a small fire.  The light thwacking of the hand-axe lulled the Scholar into a trance of sorts where he sat, and visions came to him: memories of the horrors he had seen, the disfigured faces of tormented souls, and the final scene of the flame-filled pit, with flames wreathed around in the visible dark.


He opened his eyes, afraid to see such a sight once more, as his shut eyelids seemed to hide phantasms of a kindling display.


But all he saw was the light-dance of the fire and the furrowed face of the woodsman, who intently looked upon him with concern, care, and perhaps more than mere care.  The sleep that night was exceedingly sweet and the sun rose again with hues of bright gold and baby blue.


More of the same the next day: forging ever onward into the depths of the forest.
Still, throughout this journey, the Scholar remained struck mute, haunted by the images he had seen on the edge of Heaven and Hell, bathed in fear.  Most moments were moments of barely holding on to sanity; such was the torment of the Scholar's soul.  His countenance bore the weight of a man twice his years, and finally, the woodsman spoke:


"Peace! Be still!  Why d'ye allow the mere phantasmagorias of a defeated foe trouble y'so?  Did not you say it yourself? It is finished!"


The Scholar ventured a reply stumblingly:


"I know not how I come to this place, nor do I know whither I go.  My soul is cut adrift in the bounds of a spiritual wasteland, floating aimlessly in the seas of a continuum beyond my control."


With a jolly but empathetic laugh the woodsman, "And hath it not always been so? Man knows not his beginning nor his end!  The presence of eternity within cries aloud, but does one know the end of it all?  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak beyond all help. Wait upon the Lord, and to your own sphere of mortality you will return in good time.  Fear may begin the journey, but to such must I beseech you: stay not in its embrace forever.   Fear is perfected in Love."


The simple, honest words of the woodsman bore the echo of the voice of the many waters heard from his waking in the forest clearing, and the Scholar stood in awe, unable to speak yet again, gazing upon the woodsman with a hint of incredulity.


"Y'ask who I AM?"


The Scholar nodded with a slight tremble.


"I AM the One who begets existence through my Word."


The Scholar fell upon his face.


Transported once more to the mountain top of which he read in the library tome, he understood the writing's meaning: Love, that gift beyond all human ken, a manifestation most clearly seen in the Oracles of the One, spoke of the most humble, most powerful, most true Person to ever walk the paths of men.  Again, he stood on the mountain top, high above the icy climes of the Soul-Struggle, and knew who it was he beheld in that moment:


The First and Last, the Beginning and End, the firstborn from the Dead, and the best Hope of humanity, hid amid the humble garb of a lowly woodsman.
The images of death and Hades fled from his view, and he awoke.


A rushing wind as if traveling at the speed of light from a great distance, and he opened his eyes, feeling the familiar oaken roughness of his dining hall table against his face, while his hand still grasped the large wine goblet from which he had imbibed in his meeting with the angel.  Lifting his head from the table brought a rush of splitting pain to his head, while his limbs felt their usual heaviness, augmented with the visions of the previous night, as well as the receding presence of his choice spirit.


A glance at the seat across from him at the head of the table showed nothing amiss: all the seating and the cutlery were in their normal places, as if the feast with the burglar had never occurred.  Nevertheless, an eeriness haunted him.
He shook it off and continued the day's events.


He clothed himself and made his way to the academic agora with posthaste, feeling unsure of his lecture even proceeding without divine intervention.  Yet, he knew exactly what he felt he needed to say.


The students entered as they had many days previous and milled around the hall talking and catching up with friends and acquaintances until the keeper of the hall rang the bell signaling five minutes until the lecture.


Meanwhile, the Scholar sat in his study behind the lecturer's entrance, in the throes of an unknown struggle.  One question haunted him in this moment as the sounds of the eager students just behind the door dulled to an anticipatory murmur.


The question:  "What benefits does morality bring a man?"


He knew his answer.


He opened his study door, stepped behind the lectern, and began once more:
"I spoke to you in my previous lecture on the nature of transcendence, delineating many key features and postures of the human soul towards this storied subject. While the truth of pleasure's dangers remains the same, along with the deceitful nature of ideas, I find recent experiences of my own lead me to amend the bent of my initial introduction.  Instead of boring you with the details of the events leading to this conclusion, I will merely share the conclusion itself.  If it was otherwise, then what would office hours be for?"


He smiled charmingly while a few chuckles and giggles emanated from pockets around the theater.


"One question plagues man: The question of living.   How is a life to be lived for the better and not the worse?  How can the present moment be most appropriately utilized?  What benefits does morality give a man?


The question specifically in relation to morality most bears upon the nature of our discourse here in Contemporary Moral Problems of Humanity.  Today, dear friends, I share with you the fruit of long years of personal study, my own personal answer to this most prodigious quandary.   By no means do I claim to give you your answer, friends, but merely, the answer of my own, for truly who knows? Shall I claim in pride to know what hides itself from kings and the wise? Most assuredly not!  But I do claim peace.  Aye, that I do claim.  Perhaps that is all I ever truly wanted.


This day do I denounce the upward climb of seeking transcendence.  So often does man look up beyond the grace and goodness around him right here in the dust and ashes of what nihilistic fools call 'this mortal life.'  From this day onward, I refuse to say no to living, but to engage in great yes-saying in all of my affairs.  Morality benefits us as an arbitrary system whereby human affairs and governments are put into proper order, purely at the discretion of each particular kingdom, down to the level of each of the individuals which comprise that kingdom.  The years I spent beating on the shut fast doors of heaven were years of blindness; blindness to the joy of my work; blindness to friendship; blindness to the real and good delights of food and drink: blindness to happiness itself.  These little toys of man are not mere toys, but the only tangible companions on this journey of mortality.  There remains one and only one consolation to Man under the sun:  He knows for certain so very little, merely that he possesses this sacred moment of existence; a little time to enjoy life; a little time to live in harmony with himself and the cosmos; a little time and then the end of all things.


But enough of me and my prating oratory.  What do I know or claim to know?"


He chuckled and turned again to his onstage desk, "Turn to page eighty-seven for information on the Guild of the Pilgrims, a most strange breed, indeed!"


In the corner of his eye, a shadow seemed to hang just beyond the threshold of his study.  He dismissed it with a careless smile.


Just beyond, lay another satisfied smile.


Mission accomplished.