Aisling "Ash" Rowan
Stewards of the Lifewater
“Just as the body is one, with many members, … so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were baptized into the same body … and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”
—1 Corinthians 12:12-14, (ESV modified)
“The body hath need of every member, that all may be edified together, that the system may be kept perfect.”
—D&C 84: 110 (LDS)
“It’s time,” Immah says, reverently.
Immah, crouched beside the running rivulet, nods. “See for yourself, téknon. The lifewater is cold.”
You kneel and trail your own feathery tendrils into the currents. Sure enough, it’s crimson, viscous-thick, and now— icy. The first sign.
“Godbody is changing,” you murmur in wonder.
“Yes.” Immah’s multitude of iridescent eyes glint, and her plumage puffs up in delight. “Isn’t that incredible?”
The Godbody is always in motion, but you’ve become familiar with its usual cadences. All around you, the pattern’s whooshing, pounding noise reverberates, rattling deep into your core— sometimes fast, sometimes slow, always an insistent staccato. Lifewater, rich with nutrients, runs perpetually through Godbody’s tunnels. The lifewaters also carry putrid debris, fished out for disposal by stewards like you. Purification.
Speaking of debris... prophecy says that comes next. Lots of it. Sure enough, when you squint, something is hurtling downstream towards you and Immah. The pattern’s pace picks up: an urgent drumbeat.
Typically, purifying only involves bits and pieces of dregs… nothing like this. A whole torrent of detritus stretches as far back as you can see, choking the tunnel from wall to wall and obstructing lifewater’s flow entirely.
“This... will be a lot of work,” you realize.
Immah smiles. “Then it’s good we have so many stewards. It’s not as much to bear, if every companionship manages their region. The whole is accounted for.” (Wise, as always; you expect no less from your Elder.)
“But what if we still can’t do it?” you press, voice rising several notes. Because this is a lot of muck.
Immah straightens up to survey. After a moment, she says, stonily: “It could kill Godbody.”
“With our systems overrun,” Immah continues, “Godbody would eventually succumb under the weight of dredge. Pollution would leech out to infect everything Beyond. Then, the Plan fails, no souls can be saved, and entropy reigns eternally.”
“Oh. So... nothing to worry about, then,” you reply meekly.
Meeting your glance, Immah sighs as her plumes flatten. “Oh, dear child. Our task is clear, and necessary, but we know how this story ends. What does the Revelation on Atonement say?”
You barely hold in a groan. She seriously wants to recite revelation right now? “Uh, Godbody’s light will prevail.”
“Light always prevails.”
What does that even mean?, you want to say. Light doesn’t exist inside Godbody. And you’re supposed to just trust that this mythical substance will show up in time to save everything?
Not wanting a lecture, you say instead, “We should get to work.” Immah hums in agreement, and you both start upcurrent.
“So this is really it then?” you ask. “Atonement?”
“The catalyst,” Immah agrees.
Realization hits again, heavy and cool in your gut. “And then going Beyond. And transfiguring.”
“Yes. But focus on this calling first, dear one. We must care for Godbody while God passes through this moment.”
You watch the approaching sludge. “How do we start?”
“First: we trust in light. Then, we’ll witness with God, and share in el’s pain.”
“That’s all?” you squawk.
Immah scowls. “Zeora, witnessing is our most powerful ability. To shoulder a burden together is the deepest form of connection.”
Heat rises in your face, and you nod. “Sorry, Immah. You’re right. I just... wish el didn’t have to hurt so much,” you finish quietly.
Immah’s steely look softens. “I wish that too. It is necessary, for All Beyond’s sake. But el need not suffer alone.”
Immah crouches again and touches the mucous-slicked ground, feathered feelers splayed tenderly to make as much contact with Godbody as possible. “Come and help.”
Quickly you move to Immah’s side, imitating the gesture. The pattern pulses under your light caress, and you close every eye tightly.
“We are here with you,” Immah murmurs in soothing tones. “God Around Us: you are never abandoned.”
Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. Each pattern-beat knocks against you, urging you to answer the call and let it in. Gradually, any distinction between you and the pattern blurs. Rhythm fills your being, and you begin to belong within it too.
Somehow, as each beat echoes outwards, it illuminates the tunnels so you see them inside your mind. Curious, you reach out and push. Your awareness zooms forward, until you reach a branch-off into another cave. Then another, and another. As you stretch further within the pattern, you leave behind the familiar nearby caverns you’ve been called to purify, and spiral outwards into more and more of Godbody’s sprawling expanse. In a sudden, stark instant, you see precisely how infinitesimal you’ve always actually been.
With a jolt, you return to yourself. There’s no way the stewards can pull this off.
“Immah,” you hiss. “This wave— God’s whole body is filling up.”
Immah nods lightly, but doesn’t reply— too engrossed in the work. That’s your cue to rejoin the greater whole. Once more flying through the tunnels, you observe multitudes of stewards: every quorum witnessing together while apart, joined in purpose from every corner of Godbody. Their awarenesses layer onto your own as ghostly sensations and emotions, like afterimages and half-remembered dreams.
One perspective begins to clarify above the rest. You— no, not you, but another ministering pair— have begun harvesting material.
“In excess, this stuff is toxic,” the Elder is saying. “But we can reclaim some for our growing.”
“It’s compost!” the younger companion exclaims, plunging their hands into the muck.
So this, too, will be transfigured...
You push on, and hear something echoing towards you. It’s deep and sonorous, and as you move closer to its source you begin to discern individual words. It’s a voice.
“Abba, please. If thou be willing... remove from me this cup,” God begs, rasping between sobs. A violent chill rumbles through your entire body, and when you look down, you see not feathers, but… flesh.
God’s— your limbs tremble, as you grip the stone before you so tightly that its ridges jut into your glistening palms. A fresh wave of agony erupts in your center and burns outwards, tracing every nerve and vein inside you with arcs of searing fire.
“Eema, help me,” you cry out, and you hope someone is listening.
Something touches your shoulder. When you turn, you expect to see one of the disciples. But this hand is iridescent, and feathered.
“I am here, my son,” says Immah, as God sobs in relief.
Once more, your mind is yanked back. “Immah??”
Immah cracks open an eye to look at you. “Yes, little one?”
“How—” But before you can finish wondering, you notice another change in the waters.
A breath catches in your throat. Light! It has to be. It’s here, finally, within Godbody for the first time. Immah rises to watch it, too.
“It’s beautiful,” your Elder croons, and you just nod, too stunned to form words. The golden substance glimmers around, and even— in some places— through the muck-hills flowing downriver. You can’t stop staring, even though, apparently, light hurts your eyes.
“Maybe it’s true,” you whisper. Light prevails when lifewaters illuminate— from the story of Elyran, a first-generation Elder who trained with God personally.
The sins and sorrows, Elyran had said, will burn in waters which rise to flood every cavern. This flood will surge forth to shatter our home from within, to rupture Godbody and wash away many stewards. These are then cast out beyond this first estate, to be transfigured with souls intact.
“It’s time,” Immah says evenly.
“You’re coming too, right? ...Immah?”
Immah shuffles, and stares downwards. The lifewater’s new radiance highlights the squinted crescent-curves of her many pained eyes.
“The Elders will stay until Godbody’s death, little one. This next step is yours alone.”
“But you’ve always been there! Since the first instant of my awareness!” you protest, loudly, above the growing din of the pattern and lifewater.
“And I promise to be there until the last!” Immah reaches out and takes your hand, tightly.
“I should have told you sooner,” Immah says. “I’m sorry. But Light prevails with you.”
Light will prevail. So far, that prophecy seems to have held true. Will all the rest?
You breathe in deep, and decide to trust that the Godbody which has held you this long will also carry you on to whatever comes next. “I’m ready,” you reply, and you try to believe it.
Lifewater surges over your midsection, and still rises. Immah’s grip remains firm.
“Keep looking at me, zeora,” Immah instructs— so you do. You want to imprint those rainbow eyes permanently into your consciousness. “You are prepared, and I call you now to stewardship of your own Godbody. The memories you made here will fade from mind, but your soul knows and remembers. Light prevails. Now go onward, with all my love, and witness.”
It’s the last thing you hear before the current rushes in and explodes around you.
Special thanks to: Adam McLain, Derek Knox, Josh Higham, Conor Hilton, Zach Collier, Wm Henry Morris, Amacy, Steven Peck, and Madeleine L’Engle
About the Author
Aisling “Ash” Rowan (they/them and he/him) is a bird buff, giddy gatherer of fonts, and aspiring fossil. Founder of GEM Stories and the #LiminalMormonism hashtag, he also practices as a Unitarian Universalist, while striving to be a radically kind neighbor in the vein of Fred Rogers. Ash currently lives with their spouse and sprogs in the valleys of Utah, where magpies sing about home.