Of all the creatures to walk on the earth, only humans question why they do so. They are curious beings by nature, always wanting to know the whats, hows, and whys of their world. They wonder why they can never walk to the horizon, what stars are made of, what happens to people when they die, and where it all began. Sometimes they find the answer to their question; other times, it dangles out of reach. Speaking of which, it was a dangling object that posed a stumping question to one man.
His name was Valour, a man living in a time and a land lost to memory. In that era, there was much work to do, leaving little time to ponder the mysteries of nature. In the shadow of mighty mountains, and uphill from an emerald forest, Valour plowed his fields and fed his sheep. He drove wolves away from his flock with his sling and stone, and he repaired his cottage when the summer storms beat on its walls. He cared for his family and offered prayers to his God. He did everything a good man is supposed to do. But he also had a question; one that would direct his destiny.
It came to him when he lay supine in his field one autumn night. The grain was harvested, bundled up for his wife to grind into flour. Tired from his work and pleased with another successful harvest, Valour rested on his back in his field, chewing on a piece of ripe grain. He glanced up at the darkening sky. The inky firmament captured his fancy, as did the moon. The princess of the night dusted the land below with her silver light. The stars, her royal attendants, clustered beside her. She tantalized Valour with her mystery. It was then that he asked himself the critical question.
Gazing up at the moon with one eye squinted, he asked aloud, "Upon what does the moon hang?"
For a man living long before the age of scientific snobbery, it was an honest question. And a stumping one, too, because nothing in his knowledge could provide an answer. Night after night, as the moon waxed and waned through her shapes, Valour wondered how she could hang in the sky with nothing to support her. Surely one needs a string and ceiling to suspend an object. Yet, he could see neither strings nor pillars to hold her aloft.
The question plagued him. He couldn't focus as he plowed up the ground in preparation for the next harvest. His children took notice of their father's detached demeanor. His wife asked him if he even remembered her name - and gave him a slap when he couldn't dredge up right away that it was "Batyah." Nobody could understand why Valour couldn't stop thinking about the moon, of all things, but the inquiring mind never rests.
He went to visit the village elders. Sitting behind a screen of smoke from the incense censers, they regarded their visitor with skeptical gazes. One made a face and added more resin to the censers because Valour smelled strongly of his farm. Unfazed by their distaste, he gave them his question.
"Sirs, upon what does the moon hang?" Valour asked. "I must know. I can't rest until I do."
The elders were silent for a long time, tapping their fingers together and staring into the incense pots. Then they gave their answer.
"You ask us something that, for once, we cannot answer. Your curiosity has led you to a dead end. Either disregard it or make up some tale for yourself, for we cannot help you."
Valour didn't like this answer; not many in his situation would. "Surely there is a better thing I could do. What, should I ignore the question, letting it linger in the back of my mind until it drives me mad?"
The elders sighed. "Very well. You have one option remaining. If you wish to ask the heavenly questions, you must seek answers in the heavenly places. Only the One who set the moon in the sky will know her secrets. Seek the Creator."
Valour shivered. There was a summoning tone in that last statement. It was the beginning of a quest! If a question is difficult, so will be the journey to find its answer. He would have to live up to the meaning of his name to complete his quest for knowledge, and he would have to be determined and courageous as well. After all, there is no task greater than attempting to find God!
The farmer-turned-quester returned home that day with a glint of determination in his eyes. He gave little clue to where he was going, only that it was an important trip and that he'd be gone a long time. After giving Batyah a good-bye embrace and admonishing his children to behave themselves, Valour set off, full of the drive of a tenderfoot adventurer.
He turned to the mountains first. They were like stone claws, reaching up to scratch at the sky. As far as Valour knew, they were the tallest mountains in the world. Perhaps the Creator would be on the tallest mountain. He passed through a village at the foot of the mountain. There, the people laughed at him when they heard about his quest. Some made bets on how high Valour could climb, before he either died or scurried back down the slope in defeat. Their jeering left him red with embarrassment and searing with self-doubt. He would have given up before his adventure even began, had he not met Teraroc.
Teraroc was a soft-spoken man, tall in stature and honest in conduct. He had the grizzled look of one experienced with climbing the mountains. Most importantly, though, was that Teraroc shared Valour's question. He, too, wanted to know what the moon hangs upon.
Or at least, what he said was, "I would like to hear the answer when you do. Also, I will be with you when you encounter trials on this quest of yours."
Thus, Valour found a friend and a traveling companion. Teraroc saw him through the climb to the top of the mountain. More than a few times, he saved Valour from plummeting to injury or death. Even more times, he admonished the tenderfoot farmer to keep going. Soon the air turned thin and cold, and Valour's breath escaped in a curly white cloud. Teraroc helped him up the last slope, bringing him to the top of the mountain. Valour knelt and cried out for an answer.
"Creator, here I am! I came here on a quest-my curiosity won't let me rest! Upon what does the moon hang?"
But he heard no miraculous answer. The sky, and the Creator ruling above it, remained silent. Teraroc patted Valour on the back to comfort him.
"Don't give up," he said. "Maybe the answer is elsewhere."
It was easier physically to come down from the mountain, but not in Valour's mind. He felt like a failure. Was his quest for naught? Had he wasted his time? Valour considered that he might have, but Teraroc was adamant that he should not abandon his quest.
Encouraged by his friend to press on, Valour considered where he might continue to search for his answer. Now he had two questions dogging him; "Upon what does the moon hang?" and "Where does God dwell?" His theory was that he might find the Creator dwelling with the intelligent and literate. The wisest Mind of them all would make residence with the most scholarly people, he reasoned. Teraroc did not object to continuing the search. Therefore; they soon departed on the next leg of their quest. They walked for many days, traveling by day and resting by night. They passed out of Valour's homeland and pressed on, until they finally encountered the Temple of the Mind.
Within its marble walls dwelt the brightest minds of Valour's day: scholars, scribes, and priestesses. He felt a stroke of hope when he saw the design on the temple floor: a half-completed map of the stars and constellations. These scholars had been observing the night sky! Maybe they knew its secrets.
Valour wandered in the midst of the temple. There he got down on his knees and, once again, cried out to the Creator.
"Are You with the wisest minds? If You are, give me the answer I've been seeking! Upon what does the moon hang?"
Silence settled over the temple like a blanket. He still had no answer. Teraroc sighed and helped Valour to his feet.
"Do not give up after only two attempts," he said to his friend.
It was hard advice to take. This failed attempt disheartened Valour even more than the first. However, since his friend encouraged him to continue, he did. They departed from the Temple of the Mind, casting about for ideas.
"Where should we go?" Valour asked Teraroc.
"You are leading this expedition," said Teraroc. "Where we go is your choice. Where do you think God is?"
Valour thought for a moment. "God desires a humble heart, doesn't He?"
"A humble person denies themselves the vanities of life, hoping for a closer relationship with the Creator."
"I know of a man, not far from my own village, who denies himself almost everything."
"Do you, now?"
"Yes. He lives an ascetic existence in a cave, doing little except praying. I don't believe that he's touched wealth in decades. He must be the man who denies himself everything."
"And you believe that such a person lives in the presence of God?"
"I think that would be so."
"Then let us go."
The two men returned to Valour's homeland. By then, the autumn days were short and chill. Likewise, Valour's patience was short and his demeanor was cold. His repeated failures grated on him. Teraroc remained stoic. Valour couldn't understand how his friend could be stoic. He began to suspect that Teraroc knew something he didn't but refused to say anything. The man from the mountain village stayed ever quiet, striding alongside Valour, giving no clue to his inner thoughts.
The cave they were seeking lay on the outskirts of the forest near Valour's house. There, the environment became a misty swamp. It was fortunate that the men were traveling by day; had they been walking at night, it would be all too easy to imagine ghosts and monsters hiding in the swampland mist. Valour's steps were hesitant; he knew where the ascetic man lived, but the place unnerved him. Not only was Teraroc unfazed, but he strode boldly into the swamp, as if he'd already been there a hundred times. Perhaps he had.
When they found the cave, Valour approached it timidly. He constantly checked over his shoulder to see that Teraroc was still following him. His companion remained faithfully behind him. Valour marveled at the man's dedication.
"This is the place," Valour explained. "Come along."
The hermit's cave wasn't deep at all. The rain and mist blew in easily, leaving it drafty and damp. There was no fire-pit, no chair or table, and not even a bed for its resident. The man who denied himself everything slept on the stone floor of his cave. They found him huddling against the wall, defenseless against the wind and rain. The ridges of the man's bones jutted out from his skin. He wore only a cloth to cover the essentials; any more clothing was an excess. His haggard appearance made him look twice his age.
"We are Valor and Teraroc," Valour said, trying to keep his voice steady.
"You will call me Tam," the hermit replied. "Leave soon. Visitors are an excess."
Teraroc looked Tam up and down. "Why do you abuse yourself like this?"
"I must do it," Tam insisted. "The Creator wants nothing to do with the proud, greedy heart. Thus, I deny myself everything. I eat cold, raw fish once a week and nothing else. I force myself to brave the cold and damp. I wear no comfortable clothes, only this cloth about my hips. The more miserable I am, the holier I am."
Teraroc sighed; he seemed disappointed. Valour assumed that this was the place, and so he got down on his knees.
"Let me join you in your prayers," he said to Tam. "Creator! I know you want the humble heart. Here I am, with the most humble man in the land. Hear me, please! Answer my question before it drives me mad...Upon what does the moon hang?"
Once again, there was silence. Valour paused for a moment, then collapsed to the floor. Tears ran down his cheeks. He despised himself for it, as he had been told that a true man never cries. Tam muttered to himself, perhaps out of disgust at Valour's self-indulgent feelings, and scuttled to the back of his cave. Teraroc helped his friend stand up. They left the cave and the fetid swamp in silence.
"Hush, shh," he said, brushing the tears off Valor's cheeks. "Come with me."
"Will I never find the answer?" Valor's shoulders sagged. "I have looked everywhere. I did not find God on the tall mountains. I did not find God with the wise scholars. I did not find God with the humble man who denies himself everything. Teraroc, is there even a God to seek?"
"I wouldn't be so quick to assume that there isn't. Do you think the Creator exists to serve the created?"
"What does that mean?"
"It is the world's oldest misunderstanding. Everyone seeks an authority, but then they make themselves servants to the wrong master. Everyone seeks the answers to their questions, but they look in the wrong places."
"Some climb mountains and seek fame, making power their master. They think it will bring them answers and happiness. It doesn't. It makes them slaves to desires they cannot reach. Some seek knowledge, thinking that knowing all there is to know will give them peace. It doesn't. There is always more to learn. Some believe that inflicting self-punishment will win the Creator's favor. Not so, for He desires sincerity, not show."
"I have been looking in the wrong places."
"Precisely. I don't mean to be unkind, friend, but that is the truth."
"How would you know these things, Teraroc?"
"Valour, I'd like to ask you a question of my own."
"What would that be?"
"What other word is made from the signs of 'Teraroc?'" He bent down and traced the letters in the dirt, allowing Valour to visualize them.
"I'm not sure I understand…" Valour bent down and examined the letters. He rearranged them in his mind. Teraroc watched quietly, a small smile growing on his mouth. His expression brightened all the more when the realization swept over Valour.
"All this time I sought the Creator...and He was alongside me the entire journey?"
"This is so for all people," the Creator replied. "People seek Me. What they don't realize is that I am with them from the beginning. They don't need to seek Me; I have already found them."
"Why didn't I realize it?"
"Too often, people let their own thoughts and opinions shape their view of Me. They are so convinced that I am like this or act that way, and they won't accept the truth if it is different from how they see things. I reveal Myself to them in various ways, but their stubbornness keeps them from seeing Me."
"I had the wrong intention."
"Somewhat. I don't favor those with power, Valor, nor am I impressed by vast knowledge. Power and knowledge are gifts from My hand. Tam, and all others who punish themselves for no reason, are no closer to Me than anyone else. A truly humble person sees themselves as who I created them to be and nothing more. No pride and no arrogance-just honesty. My love for what I've created is the same for all. I show no favoritism."
"And for me? What about my question?"
"Ah, yes. You want to know what the moon hangs upon. I can answer your question quite simply: she stays in place because of invisible chains. They moor her to the earth and ensure that she moves in rhythm with it. Humanity will learn the full story later on."
"Why? Why can't you tell me now? Don't you know?"
"Of course I know. I was the one who strung the chains between the moon and earth in the first place. However, discovering the secrets of the celestial realm is not your story. I already wrote your story."
"What do you mean?"
"I gave you a family. You have a wife who loves you, and children who look up to you. Your story is that you are Batyah's faithful husband and your children's caring father. Go home to them, Valour. You have been gone for a long time. They miss you."
Valour wasn't sure what to say. There is something about being in the presence of God that silences any person. Some occasions call for silence as the most appropriate action, and Valour quickly discovered that this was one of them.
"Remember, Valour. Your perception does not change my reality. Even when you cannot see Me, I am still there, and I will guide you if you ask Me to. Do not run to the ends of the earth seeking the Creator. He has already found you."
With that, the Creator turned aside from Valour. His tangible form faded out of sight, but His presence remained. Valour returned to his home and family. The moon and her secrets still, for the most part, mystified him. Yet he was at peace, because he had learned what he truly needed to know.