The Moravian community of Herrnhaag, Germany, outside Frankfurt, late 1740s
Benigna Zinzendorf opened the door to her brother's room slowly, soundlessly. As she looked inside, one eyebrow raised in scorn. Christian Renatus Graf von Zinzendorf was a count. He was also the literal side wound of Christ. By looking into Christian’s eyes, one saw Christ’s eyes at the moment of his death. The Single Brothers knew this. His very name stated it. His parents affirmed it. It was the truth.
Now he stood before his brothers as their leader, their sav- ior, their bridegroom. He was a mixture of the divine in earthly clay. The spirit burned within him and his eyes glowed with flames.
His linen surplice shimmered with light that came from within him as well as from the candles that lit the room. His brides, his brothers, surrounded him, not yet daring to touch the long folds of finest thread. They were nearing ecstasy simply by being with the source of their devotion. Passion became song, a hymn to him:
Take me in your arms.
Kiss my wounded brow.
Take away my pain.
I love you so.
Then the word became flesh. Christian bent down to each of his brothers and kissed each one fully on the mouth.
Even gods must have a favorite. His own dearest friend was saved for last. They kissed. They touched. Passion turned to fervor as they held each other so closely their very bodies should break.
Benigna motioned for her father to see. The older count, Nicholas Ludwig, looked into the room. His face betrayed no emotion. Odd for a man who espoused a religion of the heart. But this was too much. Now, he was angry.
He grabbed the edge of the door and threw it open. The young men looked at him in shock, especially his son.
"Father . . ."
"Shut . . . up." The words were carefully spaced, precise. Nicholas Ludwig walked into the room. Benigna stayed in the doorway. Christian saw him, and her, and the betrayal became clear.
"Blasphemy! Perversion!" Nicholas shouted. "Out! Out all of you, out! Out of this room. Out of this building. Out of this community. All of you. Out. Now!"
He grabbed one brother by the folds of his coat and threw him out the door. The others stumbled to get out of the way. Benigna stood to one side as they passed her. She smiled at Christian. He stared back at her.
Only his favorite was left, holding onto his hand.
Nicholas looked at them both and would have burned them to ashes by sight alone if he could. He advanced upon the pair. The lover of the god looked at Christian with fear.
"Go," said Christian violently. "Go!" And he fled.
Benigna continued to stare.
Nicholas' face was red with apoplexy. His eyes bulged. Neck veins throbbed. He was speechless for a moment. Benigna came in and took her father's hand, stroked it, and he began to calm down to the point of intelligibility.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"Christ lives again in me as the Divine Bridegroom. These are my Brides."
"Don't take it literally!"
"Christ is real in me and I am real to my brothers, my brides. Heaven is here at Herrnhaag. That’s why you named it God’s Grove."
Nicholas slapped Christian hard on the cheek with the flat of one hand, knocking him to the floor. Nicholas stepped forward and towered over his son.
“This is not what it means! You embarrass me and you disgrace our religion. You misunderstand everything. You've nearly destroyed everything, yes, everything I have worked for. Now all this, [and he swept his hand around the room], all this," he repeated for emphasis, "comes to an end. As of this moment, you are no longer head of the Single Brothers."
"I am closing both Marienborn and Herrnhaag. Those who wish to follow my word, not yours, my word, will be given transport to America, to Pennsylvania, where they can show repentance by teaching the heathen."
"And as for you, my son (he said this slowly, drawn out with sarcasm), you are coming with me to London. You will stay by my side. You will do as I say until you repent these vile and evil acts. Do you understand me?"
Silence. Then slowly, very slowly, not looking at Benigna or his father, Christian said, "Yes . . . sir."
"Good. You have spent too much time with your mother. She has not been a good influence. Spangenberg was right. You are less a son than Benigna is. That, too, will change. Do you understand me?"
"Now, get ready to leave at dawn. This place will be abandoned."
Christian went to a chest to pack. He looked into a mirror on the wall and saw Benigna looking at him and smiling. He looked away.
A window was thrown open with a crash as its panes of glass shattered against the stone casement. Someone on the ground and looking up to the Single Brothers' third floor dormitory would have seen drawer after drawer of clothing thrown through the window, tumbling down as the clothing was blown and tossed by the wind, falling like ghostly wrappings.
"Out! Out!" came the shouts that started on the third floor and worked their way down floor by floor. Windows on each floor opened, followed by another rain of clothing - shirts, breeches, waistcoats, stockings - all piling on the ground like a ragpicker's dream.
The double doors of the brothers' house were flung open and men, old, young, strong, weak, rushed outside as though being herded by a shepherd to market. Dressing as they ran, trying to fit feet into breeches and arms into coats, grabbing whatever clothing came to hand, then hurrying off into the darkness, the Single Brothers discovered the wrath of God the Father.
Benigna and Christian looked at each other in the reflection of the mirror as they listened to their father tear his way through three floors and dozens of rooms. Christian put down the clothes in his hand and turned to face his sister.
"Why did you do it?"
"Because you were destroying everything Father's worked for."
"Destroying? Destroying? The spirit is alive here. It lives through me and I pass it on to my brothers. How is that destroying?"
"Christian," she held out her hand. He pulled away and her hand remained suspended in the air for a moment before she put it down.
"Christian, you take everything so literally."
"How else am I to take it?"
"Metaphor. Symbol. Transcendence."
"Here and now," he replied. "The eternal in a moment. God is love."
"Not that kind. Not that way."
"How can you judge love? It is what it is."
"Not . . . that . . . way," she emphasized. "Love in the spirit, not in the body."
"But the spirit inhabits the body. It is the body."
"No, it isn't. You are wrong."
"No," he replied. "There's nothing wrong with that."
"You don't understand."
"No, you don't understand."
They stood looking at each other.
"Christian," she said, "There are people out there waiting to destroy us, waiting to use any rumor, any innuendo, to discredit us. Don't you realize that?"
"These festivals you hold, the candles, the food, the extravagance. Who pays for that? You don't. It's paid for by our brothers and sisters. They work, all over the world, spreading the word, sending money back to continue the word, to spread it even more and you spend it on extravagant festivals lit by hundreds of candles that blaze across the valley. It's not right."
“There are those even within the church who would ruin you, Christian. They are jealous of your influence. They envy your position. They would destroy you to prove their own fidelity."
"So you destroyed me first?"
She looked at him and, for the first time, there was pain in her eyes.
"You need to grow up. You need to see the world as it is, not as you want it to be. It's a dangerous place."
"So I'm learning," he said bitterly.
Benigna looked away for a moment, then continued. "It's not the end of the world. Father will take you to England. You will work with him at Lindsey House. Let people see that you are chastened, repentant. Let them see you working for the good of the church. Then Father will give you back everything he's taken away."
"No, my dear sister," he said looking at her. "Not quite everything."
They stared at each other for a moment, then Benigna bowed her head and left the room.
Christian looked at himself in the mirror until the candles burned out.