When people make their way through international airport terminals, their focus on finding a gate or a restroom deadens their senses.
Blazing lights and an array of signs that blur past the eye conceal the tearful sadness of a woman in rough clothing saying farewell to loved ones, while nearby a man yells in Arabic into his mobile phone. Few notice the two female flight attendants walking past with grace and speed down the concourse.
That well-dressed man walking slightly behind you is invisible to your challenged awareness. He too speaks into a phone, but he’s watching you. Is his gaze casual, appreciative, or something you’d rather not think about? You don’t see. You don’t know.
Her eyes hidden by sunglasses, a beautiful young woman with rhythm in her walk and a sly smile on her lips should capture the interests of many. But in the early morning, she was almost invisible among throngs of confused travelers.
For the third time in eighteen months, the heels of Rennie Haran’s boots knocked on the white tile floors of Heathrow International Airport. Days of meetings with experts and officials at the British Museum for the exhibition at the Vatican were finally done. There was nothing more for her to do; no decisions to be made, no stress to bear.
Relaxing, elegant parties in fine houses cushioned her heartache of leaving old Matthew on his sickbed. He said she should go to Rome without him. He would be okay, and this was now her time.
“Besides,” he said, “a man nearing ninety might get in the way of a good time.”
She protested, of course, but she had to go.
The last reception was behind her and the first glimpse of Italy was only a few hours away. This day and those ahead were going to be hers. No more chaos. Just fun and possibly, hopefully, pleasure were on the horizon.
Her confident stride declared her to be invulnerable.
The well-dressed man walking a little behind her had other ideas.
I - 1
Rennie stood next to her assigned seat in first class and breathed in the luxurious moment. She was ready to get away. Here we go, girl! Her tall, slender frame and lustrous dark hair flowing over her shoulders often attracted the eyes of men, and the well-dressed guy three rows back in coach, aisle seat, clearly had his eye on her.
Colorful scenes of the days in London flowed through her mind. Discussions with eminent staff at the British Museum focused on arrangements at the Vatican. A private gala in the home of a member of parliament with celebrities and members of the ultra-wealthy offered unexpected fantasies. Everyone wanted to meet her to hear how she did it.
Her investigation into the death of Professor Matthias Justus led to her accidental discovery of the most profound ancient treasures in Christianity. Then there was an exhausting year of political games, publicity, and petty administrative hurdles. Now, she could relax and begin her personal celebration as she traveled for the grand exhibition. A sense of pleasure curled the corners of her lips into a grin.
Polite instruction with crisp consonants from a flight attendant speaking “proper English” on an intercom rose above the background noise in the aircraft cabin. “Welcome to British Airways Flight 548 to Rome, Italy. We will soon prepare for takeoff so please take your seats. If you need assistance with baggage in the overhead compartment, please let us know. Smaller items are best placed under the seat in front of you.”
Quiet moments sitting with good old Matthew were difficult although he remained full of spunk despite his frailty. They celebrated the excitement of the discovery, escaping the grasp of dangerous people, and revealing the precious artifacts to the world. They mused about the overwhelming wonder and delight of how Matthew’s father, Matthias, must have felt when he first discovered them ninety years earlier in a British Museum storehouse.
Then, the antiquities disappeared until Rennie found them. She and Matthew spoke of the frustration Matthias must have felt with not being able to tell the world of his discovery, especially to his new and true love Priscilla, before he was murdered.
Another crisp announcement interrupted the moment. “The captain has asked that all passengers please take their seats and prepare for takeoff. Please observe the screens for our presentation. An attendant will assist you with any questions.”
Rennie settled into her seat. Her mood shifted back to the thought of Matthew, so weak, but still so full of life. He teased her with the suggestion he would join her later in Rome to protect her from the men who would be chasing her.
Rennie looked at the open seat next to hers. It would be convenient to set things there. She pulled her backpack from beneath the seat in front of her then noticed an elderly nun in traditional attire hurry onto the plane, show her boarding pass to the attendant at the door, and turn down the aisle. With a sweet smile but clearly confused, the nun stumbled forward, looking at each row number until arriving next to Rennie.
“Excuse me, do you speak English?” the nun asked.
“Yes, of course, I mean, yes. Is this seat yours?” Rennie gestured to the seat.
“I guess so. I’m sorry, I’ve not been on many aircraft.”
She observed the old woman fumble about as she settled into what must be an unfamiliar place. Buckling the seat belt seemed unduly complex despite its commonality, so Rennie offered appropriate advice. When she finished, the nun issued a gushing exhale suggesting this was indeed all new and uncomfortable.
Quiet filled the cabin as a video presentation with a bouncing melody guided the passengers through routine safety procedures, to which no one paid attention. The engines came to life and seized everyone’s attention as a rumbling motion led to acceleration and a leap into unknown space.
Once aloft and awaiting the beverage service, the nun turned to Rennie. “This is all much nicer than I expected. One hears of the ugly aspects of flying, but I’m quite delighted.”
The lilt of her voice whispered a delicate innocence that drew Rennie in with a loving embrace.
For Rennie, it was time to escape the burdens of her phenomenal discovery, including responsibilities to classic institutions, publications, and even fame. The presence of this nun felt like a highlight to the start of a well-deserved victory journey.
“Well, sister—may I call you that?—this is the first-class section. I usually sit in the back, and it isn’t anything like this.”
“I see, I’m sorry I didn’t introduce myself. I’m Sister Marjorie. I had no idea I would be riding up here or even be on this flight. It’s a bit embarrassing. But then, Jesus did say the last shall be first, and those who sit in the back will be called to the front, so I guess it’s true!”
Rennie laughed, “Marjorie, I’m glad you joined me. This is also my first flight in first class, and it does feel special. My name is Rennie Haran.”
“Ah, Miss Haran. What an interesting name.”
“Thanks, I’m not sure where it comes from. My dad is a professor of religious studies and he dabbles in old languages.”
“Well, I wondered about that. Your last name is also the land from which the Patriarch Abram, or later Abraham, came at the bidding of God. Very interesting. Have you also come at His divine request?” She flicked her eyes upwards to the heavens, indicating just who she meant.
“That’s a good question. I never thought of it that way, but I guess if we’re both going to the Vatican, we might have received the same call.”
Sister Marjorie’s old eyes squinted as she looked at Rennie, a tilt of her head gaining a different perspective. She sat back and seemed to be in thought, and then again expressed interest. “Miss Haran, I recognize that name. Are you the person who found the letters of our Lord Jesus?”
Humility flushed through Rennie and her throat became dry, surprising her in response to what had become a routine inquiry. The question had been tossed to her a hundred times, but this felt different. She sensed no arrogance or adulation coming from Marjorie.
“Yes, I found the letters written by Jesus. I wasn’t looking for them and was on a different mission. It was an accident, and in truth, I re-found them. I wish I could have met the man who made the original discovery a long time ago.”
“But you revealed them,” Marjorie whispered. “You could have done so much else. Your humility kept you in the background. I followed the story with great interest. Miss Haran, you were the one chosen to find them.”
This perspective of destiny was uncomfortable and raised questions she tried to avoid. Rennie didn’t like the “puppet” concept where the Almighty pulls the strings and humanity dances or even dies. Yet, the unique conditions and situations that occur in life and happened in finding the letters can be looked at from the predestined angle.
“Sister, I’ll admit the idea of ‘chance’ driving events, like when two people meet who are perfect for each other or someone misses a train that’s then derailed, can be looked at as too unlikely to have happened without a ‘hand’ directing those activities. Still, my perspective doesn’t allow such ‘God management.’ Unpredictable free will is the core of how I see people operating. The two approaches can’t easily coexist. But my accidentally finding the letters raises this challenge of ideas. Now, I’ve had found a life of peace, and I want to keep it.”
“That’s a worthy goal.”
“However, it all came about, I’m very grateful for the friends who stepped up to help me when I needed them. I stumbled into treasure and they helped me deal with it.”
“Did it all go well?”
“There were problems with some people wanting the documents for their own purposes. One guy, by the name of Galila, thought the letters could harm Christianity. We heard he was ready to do whatever he could to get them and destroy them. Another guy, Charles Sfumato, is a wealthy collector and broker of Christian antiquities. He wanted the letters because he figured the priceless nature of the writings would make him even wealthier. The letters would never have become public or be released to scholars.”
“So, like a quest, you had some serious obstacles to overcome. Were you in danger?”
“The first guy, Galila, who wanted to destroy the letters, apparently had a novel technique of getting rid of his enemies by shoving stones down their throat. Luckily, he didn’t get close enough. This was partly due to unknown assistance I got from the second guy, Sfumato. He wanted the documents for himself and not destroyed. So, my throat is untouched, and the letters are available to the world.”
“Miss Haran, the peace I sense in you was probably a valuable resource to help you succeed.”
Rennie began to chuckle. “I’m sorry, sister, that’s a new and untested quality for me. Before this, I was all passion in my projects and probably a lot of trouble. I had little patience and should have thought first before I took action. I’d like to stay in this happy, peaceful place from now on.”
“Given what you’ve been through, you may be on a path that will again cause you to do something very special, so be alert to that opportunity. But it can bring more danger. The unexpected will always happen. Staying in touch with that place of peace instead of your old approach will be better for you.”
The thoughts offered by this fragile, non-threatening little woman caused unexpected anxiety to roll through Rennie.
“Thank you, sister, but I’d like my name to now fade into the past and get on with life. I hope the choices I have in the future only involve selections of food and wine.”
Their flight attendant asked for beverage requests and offered them warm, moist towels. Rennie and Marjorie took them with delight and joked about their possible uses. The attendant returned with a glass of red wine for Rennie, and for Marjorie, a bottle of water with a glass of ice. Rennie began to make an excuse for asking for wine in the morning, but Marjorie interrupted.
“My dear, you know the first miracle of Jesus was to make the best wine. I would not criticize your choice.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Rennie responded with a lifted glass.
“May I ask you about them, the letters?”
“I’ve seen and studied images of them, but you touched and handled letters written by our Lord Jesus. Were you aware of that? Did it change you?”
“I’ve been asked that, and I’ve wondered if I changed, and what it first felt like to have the letters in my hands. I see it from too many perspectives to know for sure, and I second-guess myself. For one thing, I’m a journalist at heart, and an investigator. I’ve always had this need to know the truth. I get anxious, excited and maybe erratic—and possibly just a tiny bit afraid—when faced with the unknown. My passion for shedding light on mystery is satisfying to me. At the same time, I don’t like risk and somehow manage to overcome it by always moving forward. Like others in my business, I may be more individualistic, and even cynical, than other people.
“Were you always like that?”
“Before the letters came along, I was okay with being alone and was probably not a nice person. In fact, there was a time when I was pretty bad. My teenage rebellion years lasted a long time—way past adolescence. But, I evolved, and after the discovery, I felt that peace you mentioned, like I belonged to everyone in good ways, and everything was connected.”
Marjorie sat back and nodded to some line of inner thought, her thick eyebrows dancing with each insight that passed by.
She leaned onto the armrest between them and said, “Miss Haran, in addition to the letters, you discovered the central and most overlooked feature of the teachings of Jesus. Christian doctrine highlights sin, forgiveness, love, and other qualities, but few ever speak of what is perhaps most important: belonging to one another.”
Rennie reflected on the thought. “I can share this with you, since we’re speaking in confidence. Or is that only with priests?”
Marjorie chuckled, “Your thoughts, my dear, will be held in sacred confidence.”
“Well, after finding the letters, all the PR and stories, the public interest, the analysis of academics, even the love letters from strangers, all that noise, I just want it to go away. I’m ready for privacy, fun, and —” Rennie dropped the volume of her voice to a saucy whisper “—maybe a little romance.”
They quietly laughed as Marjorie covered her mouth, pretending to be shocked.
“Miss Haran, who knows? It may be that your trip is also preordained for that special intention. But it can be risky! Ha! There are things in heaven and on Earth we will never understand. You may discover that on this trip.”
“Well, sister, I’m thirty-two years old and I think I’m just beginning to understand a few things. Understanding men, however, is one topic that’s a complete mystery and perhaps always will be!”
“My dear, I’ve not had to deal with the complexities of romance, but I do know that real love is different. People can’t love one another unless there’s a sense they belong with one another.”
The flight attendant stopped again to offer a selection of comforts and a refill of Rennie’s glass, allowing moments of distraction and quiet. When Marjorie said belong to one another, Rennie thought of her previous relationships with men and how they too often dwelled on doing things instead of just being with each other. This guy liked camping, and that guy liked dancing, and that guy was into literature, and that guy was into much more intimate adventures. But she ultimately found the “doing” was a distraction from knowing the deeper personal connection her soul needed for the now and the forever.
“Marjorie, enough about me, please tell me about you and your trip to the Vatican.”
“Well, it’s quite fortuitous for me. I’ve done advanced studies in ancient Greek and even Aramaic, so at times our bishop has asked me to clarify scripture passages by looking at the original languages. When the revelation of the letters released that amazing text to the world, we spent a good deal of time reviewing them. Miss Haran, they offer powerful, fresh insights on where He went and the people who shared His mission work. I know you’re modest about your role, but I’m confident those letters have touched the lives of millions of people in wonderful ways. Have you wondered what new accidental discovery awaits you?”
“No, and I’m happy to leave that to someone else. I did my job.”
Rennie enjoyed another sip of wine as a reflective mood warmed her thoughts and mingled with her gratitude for friends and family when they protected and supported her through unprecedented media demands and personal pressures. The discovery transformed what was hard and distant into a new person who was soft and welcoming.
“Miss Haran, did people tell you how their lives were changed, by the letters, I mean? I’m sure there were many, and you are the source of their blessing.”
“Thanks, but others were involved. Some key friends were at my side all the way. My buddy Angie is the chief librarian at the college in Iowa where Professor Justus was, back in the 1920s, and her presence was like bedrock for me, especially when we went to London. My editor at the Des Moines Record, Bud, assigned me to investigate what happened to Professor Justus. Then, he stepped up and helped convince the paper’s management to do the right thing and publish the story of how we found the letters. People aren’t aware how reluctant the paper was to do that.”
Rennie gently elbowed the nun and said, “And then there’s Matthew, who is the son of Professor Justus. He’s a little older than you, but I know he’s single.”
Marjorie slapped Rennie’s arm and pretended astonishment.
“You’d like him. Matthew became a professor and also served at the British Museum in the same field as his father. He’s now about ninety but was the most critical resource in helping me and then validating the letters. Together, this little group became my family and inspired me to reconnect with my own family and friends.”
“Miss Haran, I’m happy for you and I’m not surprised your life is full of goodness.”
“It is, sister. I’m sorry, I might have interrupted you when you were talking about you and the bishop and going to the Vatican.”
“Well, the bishop was planning to attend the exhibition at the Vatican and had a seat booked for the trip. But he’s become quite ill. As a special gift to me, he arranged for me to take his place. I must say, I feel overwhelmed with the opportunity. I’m sure you’ll be consumed with more significant matters, but I hope I’ll see you there.”
“Let’s plan on it.”
Turbulence shook the plane. The women pushed back into their seats and tightened their belts.
Rennie muttered, “I hate flying.”