Biblical Fiction: Hungry Is the Wolf

This is an excerpt from an upcoming work of fiction about the life of St. Paul by Father Tucker Cordani.


That night Ananias showed up at Judas’s house on Via Recta.  This was where they had brought me after the vision.  Ananias found me in my room in the back on my bed reading Isaiah, a jug of wine nearby on the table.

“Feeling better?” he said.

“Ananias.  You came to me again.”

“I figured you could use some fellowship after what happened.”

“One of the companions who traveled with me here is a traitor.  I don’t know who to trust.  And when I argue against leaving you insist that I go.  Why?”

“For your safety.”

“Why do they want to get rid of me?”

“They say you’re not really an apostle.”

“I, not an apostle?  I AM the Apostle.  I have seen the Lord.  Have any of them?  Are not all the saints in Damascus my work in the Lord?”

“Don’t be grandiose.”

“Don’t be grandiose?  I received a vision from heaven!”  I turned to face the wall.  “Who should I trust?  Only God is trustworthy but I have not learned to rely upon him entirely.  I wonder, will I ever?   I have only myself and have little faith in myself.   I trust my intellect and knowledge of Scripture.  Faith I can find along the way.”

“Have you started packing?”

I motioned to my bag on the floor by the table.  “See that satchel?  It was a gift from my father, Old Saul.  He taught me tent making but he also is a leatherworker.  He gave it to me before I left for Jerusalem to study with Gamaliel when I was ten.  What I need is in there: a knife, some scrolls and writing utensils, my tent making tools, a little food.”

“Nothing else?”

“Oh, certain needful things.”

“What things?”

“The letter from the High Priest to the synagogues.”

“Do you need it still?”

“I should not have mentioned that.”

“Why did you then?”

I rose from my bed and took up the wine jug.  “Tomorrow I’ll fill some skins with water and I’ve charted a course in my head toward Sinai.  That’s where I’m going.  I know he dwells there, that place where covenants are forged, where he revealed himself to Moses and Elijah.  I hope he will reveal himself—again—to me.  And when he does then I will believe.  Seeing is believing, right?”

“The Lord will see you through, as  they say.”

I nodded, and poured myself another tall cup of wine.  “That’s what scares me.  The Israelites did not have much preparation either.  Moses roused them from sleep and bade them to prepare for the exodus.  How could they imagine what perils awaited them across the sands?  Four hundred years of slavery: that was all they knew.  They didn’t even have an army.  God gave them no time to prepare; they ate their last supper on the night of the Passover with their loins girt, staff in hand, and sandals on their feet.”

Ananias savored the image.  “Roasted lamb or goat with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.  I prefer goat.”

“Prefer nothing to the Lamb.”

“I was being literal.  Surely that final supper was bittersweet.”

“And intense.  The Angel of the Lord infiltrated and slew all the first-born Egyptians.  The Destroyer.  Creeping Death.  Just imagine.  ’And their was loud wailing throughout Egypt, for there was not a single house without its dead.’ ”

“The Israelites had Moses as their guide.”

“Look what I’ve got: me.”

“You have Jesus, Paul.  Remember him, whom you saw last week?  Don’t forget, you are following his call.  He can show you the way because he has been there.  He was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted.  Are you not doing the same?  If you are not willing to yield to the Spirit, to trust God and to follow him then you may find yourself out there with no purpose.  You’re only one man.  What is that you’re doing?”


“Stop that.  I don’t think it’s wise to be scraping your face with a razor.”

“I want to assume the appearance of a Roman.”

“But you are a Roman, Paul, aren’t you?”

“With my citizenship I can travel incognito.  I can move unnoticed if I look like a Roman and not like a Jew.”

“I don’t understand.  Are you ashamed to be a Jew?”

“Certainly not, sir.  Are you forgetting who I am?  Like Isaac I was circumcised on the eighth day—do you want to see?”

“That won’t be necessary.”

“I am a Jew.  Like my father I am a Hebrew’s Hebrew, a Benjaminite, gifted in the observance of Torah.  I excelled in my studies beyond my peers, as they well know.  But I persecuted the Church and participated in the stoning of Stephen, the only Greek who beat me in debates.  One day I will answer for that when I stand before the judgment seat.  Yet God was pleased to call me by his grace and to reveal the truth buried within my uncircumcised heart.  Now I am wanted by the authorities in Jerusalem and Damascus.  I have seen the Lord and my life will never be the same, don’t know what’s next.  I am only twenty-five, and unable to defend myself or speak clearly in the synagogue or even in court, Roman or Jewish.  My hands, see how they tremble, filled as I am with anticipation of what is waiting for me in the desert, so vast it cannot be measured even by the Bedouins.  I am a bondservant, Ananias, a bondservant of the Lord.  I don’t want to run away but I can’t return to Tarsus because my father will hate me and I can’t go to Jerusalem because the high priest will kill me.  I have to follow the Spirit; there is only one place to go: into the desert, as did Moses, Elijah, and Christ Jesus our Lord.”

“Watch what you’re doing with that razor.  I wish you didn’t do that but since you started you better finish.  Walking around with half a beard, people will think that you’re a madman.  Or a fool.”

“Then I will be a fool, a fool for Christ.”

When I finished I studied my face in the mirror.  “There.  Not bad.  If God had intended me to wear a beard then he would not have made me so handsome.”

“So modest, too.”

“Daphne, she whom my heart loves, always thought I would look better clean-shaven.  She may never know.  She awaits word of my safety in Jerusalem but I can’t communicate to her that I’ m alive.  Only days ago she saw me off near the temple and I promised to return so we could marry.  What happened back then and there seems like somebody else’s life.  Everything is rubbish, a total loss compared with knowing our Lord.  I was only doing what I thought was right, what I was taught.  ‘Cursed is one who hangs on a tree.’  I was acting in concern for our people.  I prayed for the power to reclaim the honor of the nation that God freed from slavery with his strong arm and led them through the Red Sea dry-shod, with the water like a wall to their left and to their right.  Will he do the same for me?”

“You won’t know until you go.”

We sat silently.  For me no stillness existed because the Lord’s glory filled my ears which rang from the trumpet blast that knocked me to the ground and scared off my Penelope my horse.   I could accept the hearing defect—another thorn in my side—because, well, I was born abnormal—but held out hope of finding her in the wilderness.  I paid a lot of money for her pedigree and though we only knew each other a short time I knew she missed me too because horses feel our emotions better than we do.  Horses are another gift from God to man, like the dog.  Women, well, they were a double-edged sword.

Ananias rose to leave.  “Don’t oversleep or change your mind.  Keep your face veiled or the sun will bake, bubble, and burn it red and then turn it black.  I’ve seen it before.  Most gruesome.  Your beloved won’t like that.”

“I promise, I’ll be careful.”

He stopped at the door.  “Something else?”

“Don’t forget me.”

He looked puzzled.  “Of course I won’t forget you.”

“Apart from God, who I don’t completely trust, I regard you highly.  You baptized me,  heard my confession.  You’re like another Gamaliel but I don’t know when I will see you again.”

Once more he put his hands on my head.  “Then I give you my blessing.  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

I replied, “And with your spirit.”

“Good luck, Paul.”  And he left.

I sat and sulked and beat my thigh with my fist.  Why was everything so temporal?  I only arrived last weak and now I had to go.  I didn’t like God’s plan for me.  I liked it better before because this vision changed the course of my life but it was happening too fast.  God swept me away like a dream but I couldn’t sleep with my ringing ears.  I ran over my gear again; anything I lacked I could get from outposts and oases.   I bristled at that flabby Philip.  I wanted to crush him but Ananias stepped between us.  If I survived these forty days I would return here and deliver that letter.

Father Cordani was ordained to the priesthood in 2011. He holds an MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and an MDiv from Pope Saint John XXIII National Seminary. He has written for Our Sunday Visitor, the National Catholic Register, and Columbia Magazine. Follow him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tucker.cordani and Twitter @tuckercordani

Filed under: » »