Beta: the lovely and painstaking silentdescant
Pairing: Viggo/Dom Elijah/Orlando, with a smattering of Billy/Liv and Sean/Cate(no graphic het, I swear)
Rating: PG this chapter, NC-17 for the series
Warnings: High School AU, Blatant philosophizing, Biblical discussion
Summary: Mr. Mortensen's Physical Metaphysics class opens up new worlds of passion, love, and hope for his students and himself.
This chapter: Elijah's inner struggles and a new lesson with Viggo.
Feedback: Soothes the soul and is much appreciated.
Disclaimer: Utterly untrue. No harm meant.
It's been a while. Previous parts can be found here: http://not-a-lamb.livejournal.com/tag/universe+machine
A/N 1: I’m very aware that there’s a ton more to the Donne poem included in this chapter. It’s tremendously dense. What I use here is only one stanza to a much larger piece. What I included moves the story forward. I didn’t want to slow it down with analyzing every detail, especially since there are a myriad of them.
A/N 2: I get by with a little help from dreamingsquirel. Thank you for keeping me writing, honey! Don’t know where I’d be without you. This chapter is dedicated to you…
Elijah was a fan of the metaphysical poets. Even those like Donne who openly attacked the Church. Beneath it all, he felt their yearning to be closer to God was genuine and the passion and purity with which they expressed that longing was nothing short of true poetics.
He’d gotten deeply into their work a couple of years ago, when he was first saved. He’d read them between enthusing Bible studies and calming prayer meetings. He knew that God gave gifts to those who earnestly sought him, and that was how he saw the metaphysical poets—as bearers of God’s gifts.
Wanting to delve deeper into that idea, he’d petitioned for this senior-level class. As a diligent, straight-A student, he had been excited but not surprised when he was allowed to enroll.
Then Viggo had struck. The paint-stained, barefoot hippie look hardly met Elijah's expectation of a metaphysical scholar. And yet, at second glance, the man had a way about him, a gentle fervor in his voice that could easily belong to a pastor. Finding that, Elijah had realized: his hopes for the class rekindled.
Then Viggo had begun to lecture and Elijah had felt disappointment and frustration enfold him in an over-warm embrace. He listened attentively and without comment, though his mind was flooded by myriad questions. The Bible was clear on what Viggo was proposing: Christians were supposed to be in the world but not of it. The path to God was one of abstention from the physical world and seeking the Father through prayer. So what was all this about finding God through the earth? Godless transcendentalism was not what Elijah had signed up for.
Then—to top it all off—the man has to go and advocate jihad! Elijah understood that Davidson’s was an alternative school, but he had never expected to be asked to perform jihad. And sure it just meant striving, but that’s just not a word you throw around thoughtlessly.
Perhaps that’s what irked Elijah the most. Viggo seemed to be a wise, deliberate, thoughtful man, but Elijah knew the teacher understood exactly what he was doing: leading his students away from God under the guise of leading them to Him. However, it had been ingrained in Elijah to treat his elders with respect, so he had said nothing. Just sat there waiting for the school day to be through.
When he had received the note last Friday to wear his swimming trunks to class, Elijah had thought up dozens of hare-brained schemes that Viggo could be up to, but none of them had included what he now found waiting on his desk.
It was a poem. Or rather, the first stanza of a poem:
FATHER of Heaven, and Him, by whom
It, and us for it, and all else for us,
Thou madest, and govern'st ever, come
And re-create me, now grown ruinous:
My heart is by dejection, clay,
And by self-murder, red.
From this red earth, O Father, purge away
All vicious tinctures, that new-fashioned
I may rise up from death, before I'm dead.
Elijah was familiar with it, Donne’s “A Litanie”. It was a poem that had always stretched, then reaffirmed Elijah’s faith. Elijah had always identified with this stanza in particular. He understood that need for purification.
He watched his classmates trickle into the room as class time approached, saw their looks of confusion and wonder, curiosity and excitement as they discovered the poem. Elijah himself was just stunned that Viggo had chosen it.
It was as though the teacher had sensed Elijah’s misgivings and selected this poem to quell them. It was uncanny. Elijah decided that he could relate to his classmates’ wonder after all.
Viggo walked silently into the room a few minutes before the start of class, watching his students curiously as they mused over the poem he had selected. He was fascinated by their reactions; most of them looked confused. Viggo could relate as he remembered the first time that he had read Donne—Donne’s writing was fuckin’ dense. Dominic looked disappointed, as though analyzing a poem didn’t live up to his expectations after Viggo’s first lesson. Viggo chuckled inwardly. He was most interested, however, in Elijah’s reaction to the text.
Unlike his countenance throughout the first class, Elijah seemed confident, eager, and completely calm. Nary a twitch to be found, Viggo mused, curiouser and curiouser. The class settled down as they noticed Viggo’s presence and Viggo began to speak:
“Hello and welcome,” he said, “I’m glad to see that you all received my note and dressed accordingly.” His eyes drifted from student to student, as he smiled. “I promise it’s not a ruse for my amusement,” Viggo said, then paused before continuing, “But first, let’s address the poem before you. First impressions?” There was a long pause as his students stared blankly back at him, then Elijah raised his hand. “No need to raise your hands, just show each other respect,” he encouraged.
“It’s about the renewal possible through God’s love and cleansing,” Elijah stated with surety.
“Good,” Viggo affirmed, “What else?”
The class was silent and Elijah looked dejected by the implication that his answer wasn’t complete. Viggo took a deep breath, “Which words seem odd to you guys? Which ones stand out?”
This time it was Liv who spoke. “Well,” she said hesitantly, “Madest and govern’st for starters.”
‘Very good, Liv,” Viggo praised, before addressing the class. “What’s unusual about them? What’s their purpose?” he prompted.
He saw Elijah take a frustrated breath and open his mouth to answer, but Billy beat him to it.
“They date the poem. Tell us it’s much older than we are.”
“Yes, it’s ancient language,” Viggo said, nodding. “Someone take that further.”
“Ancient language, yeah,” Orlando said, “Well it’s kind of Biblical language, isn’t it?” he asked, “Like he’s trying to make it sound holy, like a psalm.”
“Good, Orlando,” he said, smiling. “So, to combine Elijah’s cleansing and Orlando’s Biblical insight—how does the poem say that Donne was prepared to be redeemed?” Viggo prompted.
“Through sin,” Liv made the word sound like a proposition, smiling as she said it. She continued, “Through gathering up ‘vicious tinctures’,” she cited insightfully.
Elijah’s eyes got big, “You want us to sin so that we can be cleansed?” The nervous twitching was back.
Viggo nearly laughed, but smiled instead, “Not quite, Mr. Wood.” He paused as he reigned his thoughts back on track, “Now, was there a symbol of Donne’s sin?”
“His heart of red clay,” Dom said quickly. Viggo took a moment to let the comment sink in, marveling at Dom’s instincts. “Like being close to the Earth is a sin, or something,” the young man continued dubiously.
“What do you think, guys? Is that a sin?” Viggo asked.
“The Bible says so,” Elijah said with authority. Viggo let that postulation stand.
“But surfing, man, it takes me closer to whatever is out there,” Orlando said defensively.
Billy chimed in, “And other people. Well, The Bible says we all come from the earth and your connection with other people takes you closer to someone else, or the feelings you have for them—well that’s not a sin even though, in a sense, it’s loving something from the earth.”
Dom took up the thought. “Yeah. Like a mother’s love for her baby, which came from the blood and flesh inside her. That can’t be a sin.”
Viggo took control of the conversation once more. “Well, whichever way you see having a heart of clay—whether it’s the result of your sin and your preparation for redemption or it’s a sign of your closeness to the earth and the positive feelings that entails—our next exercise will be a meditation in that point of view.” He paused to allow his point to sink in. “Ladies and gentlemen, gather your things and follow me.”
And with that, Viggo strode out of the room, followed by the rustle of backpacks being zipped and slung over shoulders, students chattering excitedly, and a stern and ever-wary Elijah.
Four of Viggo’s students were intrigued as they were shuffled into one of the silver school vans. One of them was deeply pissed off. Elijah knew that most kids his age didn’t fully buy into Christianity. Many still saw it as their parents’ religion. Others were raised in other faiths. Elijah knew that, but to play off of it to promote your own values, well that was just wrong. And any way you sliced it, that was what Viggo was doing here. Turning naiveté into his own, misguided way. That everyone seemed to be buying into it just made Elijah sad.
Where Viggo was taking them was something about which Elijah had a few ideas. The most obvious place was the beach, though they were currently driving south, parallel to it, rather than stopping. Still, maybe Viggo had a specific beach in mind. Or else maybe a river, an estuary, a harbor? Elijah wasn’t certain. One thing he knew for sure though was that if Viggo tried to baptize him, he was fucking reporting him to the Dean. After that little “discussion” he’d just sat through, Elijah wouldn’t be at all surprised.
He crossed his arms and settled down in his chair. Then, closing his eyes, he began to pray.
Viggo listened to the fevered discussion of his student’s with a smile as he drove. He loved to see kids excited about learning, loved being the one who made that happen. Still, he couldn’t help noticing that one voice was distinctly absent. He had hoped that Elijah would be open to hearing other points of view; Viggo knew that this class was going to be challenging for the young man and didn’t want to turn him off irrevocably. On the other hand, he had to do what he thought was best for the class; he meant to challenge them, open their minds up to something greater, and maybe nudge them a bit closer to it. Make them think. Nevertheless, he truly hoped that the young man would not switch electives, an option that he had open to him for another week. As Viggo pulled off the freeway in Ventura, he feared today’s lesson would push Elijah over the line.
The murmur of conversation dwindled as the van neared its destination. The tension and excitement of his students must have affected him because, Viggo noticed, his own heart was beating a smidgen more quickly than usual. He knew his students, with one glaring exception, were eager for this next lesson, and he hoped it would live up to their expectations. Viggo knew it was a powerful experience for himself; he just hoped it would translate.
Viggo took a deep breath as he pulled into a parking lot that backed up to the Santa Clara River and turned off the van. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have arrived,” he stated proudly as his students curiously surveyed the vacant parking lot. From their parking space, all that was visible of the river was the dense vegetation that bordered the riverbed.
Only Elijah recognized it for what it was. He’d wanted to be baptized in this river, but it had ended up happening in a congregant’s spa, much to his dismay. He knew the where of the thing wasn’t what mattered, though; it was the act that had power, not the location. And so he’d declared his love for God wherever it was most convenient.
“Here?” Dom asked, voicing the hesitation that most of them were feeling. Not even Elijah understood what any of this had to do with the poem they’d read an hour prior.
Viggo strode toward the riverbed, his students trailing after him uncertainly like a line of ducklings. He knew that they expected him to turn onto the walking path that ran parallel to the wall of bushes before them, but Viggo—who found no greater pleasure than that of defying expectations—continued forward onto a well-disguised trail through the shrubbery.
He could almost feel Dom bouncing on his toes as the young man exclaimed, “It's a river, Bills!” He could likewise envision Billy’s sage-like nod as he replied, “Yes Dommie, it seems so.”
When they reached the riverbed, Viggo led is students to the edge of the water before turning to face them.
“Look down,” Viggo instructed. His students’ eyes fell to the loose, red-brown ground below their feet, before turning back to Viggo expectantly. The recently-full riverbed, moist and rich, was perfect for what Viggo had in mind. He silently thanked the universe before beginning to speak:
“In this class, we will explore many different spiritual views. Today we look at one of many Shinto stories. Practitioners of Shinto believe that when one crosses to the far shore of a river, they are stepping through the life-giving onto the shores of another world, a spirit world,” he said, then paused partly for emphasis and partly for dramatic effect. “Now, I'd like you to think back to your feelings about the clay heart, whether it was softened by sin or brought you close to the earth, or something else entirely, I invite you to keep that in mind as you cross this river before us. On the far side, in the spirit world, you will find a clay-sewn shore, just like that beneath your feet.” He saw understanding blossom on his students' faces. “Some clay will call to you; find it, dig it out, and bring it back to the land of the living. That clay will be used to make representations of your hearts.” Viggo dug several plastic bags out of his back pocket and handed them to Orlando, who stood closest to him. Orlando's crooked grin and sparkling eyes looked to Viggo as though the surfer dude just might say that this exercise was “awesome”.
Viggo smiled to himself before turning to Elijah. The young man's face was drawn tight into a grimace, as though he'd tasted something bitter, his pale blue eyes shone dark with anger. Viggo understood suddenly crossing had to be a positive experience, that it had to be choice.
So, he added, “If you wish to gather your clay on this shore, you are more than welcome to not cross the river. Freud speaks of water as the unknown, as the unconscious. I wouldn't want anyone who isn't comfortable doing this exercise to commit to it. And I'd hope that none of you would treat anyone who makes this choice any differently than you would those who chose to cross the far side.” He waited for each of his students to nod, which they did as though the matter had never been in question. Viggo smiled, silently proud of their integrity.
Then his eyes fell upon Elijah and he was swept away by the resentment he found in the young man's face. Okay, maybe that hadn't been Viggo's best idea. Now, the poor kid was also pissed that Viggo was looking out for him. Well he'd just have to get used to that. Elijah was the most vulnerable student in Viggo’s class, of course Viggo needed to protect him. If he didn't earn Elijah's trust, there was no chance of him challenging the kid's beliefs—and that was what Viggo was here to do for all of his students.
Dom was first into the water; color Elijah shocked. If that guy got any more enthusiastic about this God-forsaken class, his head would explode. Elijah watched with feigned interest as his classmate swam across the creek-like waters of the river. There seemed to be little danger and symbolism aplenty in this exercise, but Elijah knew better. What was at risk went far beyond merely the physical. Each of them was risking spiritual distance from the Creator. It was a gamble Elijah as hesitant to make.
Elijah noted that his classmate had reached the far shore and was now kneeling in the loamy clay, but was too consumed by his own thoughts to care. He thought about Viggo’s amendment to the assignment, giving him an out. Elijah wasn’t sure that he could take the teacher up on his reprise. Sure, it appeared to be the best offer at first sight, but Elijah—who specialized in inspecting the unseen—knew that appearances could be deceiving.
At second glance, the offer seemed a way to isolate him, separate him out from the rest of the class. Elijah thought back to the Bible’s teachings—to minister, he needed to be in the world but not of it. Look at Mother Theresa, he told himself, how far would she have gotten in her ministry if she was afraid to get her hands dirty? Not that he was Mother Theresa, but here he was, part of God’s army. And if Viggo kept on the same path, this class could easily become a battle field.
Elijah considered the semantics of the assignment. Swim across. Dig up some clay. Swim back. Not so hard. He didn’t have to get into that headspace where Viggo wanted him. Didn’t have to become one with the earth or the spirit world or any of that bull. And he’d still be one of them.
Dominic emerged from the river grinning just then, so Elijah spoke up. “I’d like to go next, if that’s okay,” he said. His classmates turned to him with shocked expressions before nodding in turn. Elijah looked at Viggo as the man spoke, “Help yourself.” Viggo looked pleased and annoyingly nonplussed, as though things were going precisely to plan.
In that moment, Elijah hated his teacher. Then, the moment passed and Elijah took a deep breath, reminding himself to love the sinner but hate the sin, his determination to complete the assignment unscathed now more intense than ever.