Joy Brighterday Glum at the Altar
“Sweet Lord, what is it about that man? Who or what twisted his spirit into a bitter pretzel? Why is he so damn sour and angry? It wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t care, but for some reason I do and I wish I didn’t and I’d like you to take these feelings away but you won’t because I know you expect me to care but I wish I didn’t feel so much pity…”
The Reverend Joy Emanuella Brighterday knelt at the altar of St. Gianna praying and meditating … or, maybe, mulling and complaining; she couldn’t decide. O.k. Stewing. Stewing and complaining. Any real effort at deep meditation had flown out the window five minutes after kneeling down in front of the flower-laden altar.
“Primroses again,” she sulked. “I’m tired of primroses, but that’s all Mrs. Featherwit brings, and she always places flowers the first Sunday of every month because she always has, and we can’t change that, now can we?” She thought she heard God laughing. “It’s alright for you to chuckle; you can place whatever flowers you like anywhere you like.”
But a primrose altar was not what Joy Emanuella Brighterday had come to pray and meditate about, or stew and complain about, or whatever it was she was doing. She was upset, again, by the Reverend Fen Sloughheart. And she was upset at herself for being upset … again. Why couldn’t she ever learn?
“Dear God! The man has cracked jokes about me publically; he’s denounced me from his pulpit more than once – and once would have been too much – and he’s even called me a ‘spawn of Satan.’ Huh! My dad could act like the devil sometimes, but he was hardly Satan!” She chuckled at the thought.
“Of course, the good Reverend Sloughheart would have no problem believing my mother married some incarnation of evil, since she’s Roman Catholic. And she plays the lottery, too! Forget all the good she does – volunteering at the food bank, visiting nursing homes, teaching Sunday school, donating to the homeless shelter – because that’s all ‘works religion,’ right?”
Joy had been born 34 years ago into a sizeable, well-established, middle-class family headed by an assiduous Lutheran father and benevolent Catholic mother. She had been baptized Catholic, a concession her father made to her mother, but she grew up attending the Lutheran church as much as she went to her mother’s. It wasn’t difficult; her parents just made it work, and it did.
And her parents always loved and encouraged her. Early in life, Joy knew what she wanted to do; she just couldn’t do it, at least not quite. She really wanted to be a priest, but that was not allowed, of course. But she was never bitter about it, nor did she complain, even though she disagreed and would willingly offer thoughts on the matter whenever the subject came up.
Joy was the rare sort of person who could agreeably disagree. Besides, she had a deeply rooted respect for “holy tradition,” and much to the consternation of some of her friends she would simply smile and say, “It’s not something to be overturned lightly.” Sometimes she would add, “If it is changed, then it should be changed by those who first understand and respect holy tradition. After all, revolution is easy; real reform requires work and wisdom.”
At any rate, Joy Emanuella Brighterday entered ministry in the Lutheran tradition. In many ways the ecclesiastical structure suited her better and services were still liturgical enough to satisfy her proclivity toward more structured, ancient worship. And with her warm, strong personality, approachable manner, wit and natural wisdom, Joy was readily welcomed by the folks at St. Gianna. In fact, they were nearly desperate for her leadership and pastoral care.
Not everyone was so welcoming, though, and Fen Sloughheart was among the most unwelcoming. Not that he had ever participated in any ecumenical events or even once attended a meeting of the local ministerial association, but when Joy Brighterday was elected moderator it gave him even more reason to denounce the group as “false shepherds, deluded by the devil,” who “seek to marry Christ to Belial.” It was enough to make her skin crawl.
“So what am I doing here, Lord?” She looked up at the uniquely attractive, rustic altar cross surrounded by primroses. “Why did I even bother inviting him to the community service? What was I thinking? God, I must be brain-dead! You tell us to love those who hate us and mistreat us, but… he couldn’t have taken the invitation as anything meant for good. Not in a million years! He probably thought I had some ulterior motive; I know he did!”
For some unknown reason, Joy then recalled the one and only time she’d met and spoken to Effete Sloughheart. “Poor woman. How can she bear it?” They literally ran into each other in the grocery store, their carts colliding as each rounded a corner too quickly. Joy was easily identified by her clerical collar; Effete almost as easily identified by her haggard and frightened look. Of course, each apologized and then politely introduced themselves.
No conversation should have taken place and, indeed, not much of one occurred anyway when all was said and done. Joy remembered Effete nervously looking around as if she might be caught, then very kindly asking her how she liked the community so far. Joy half-smiled at the recollection, feeling great pity for the lady.
They exchanged some more pleasantries and then, just before turning away, Effete said the strangest thing. With worn, weary eyes and weak smile she said, “Well, it was nice meeting you and … and thank you for your prayers.” Effete very abruptly spun on her heels, then, and briskly walked away. Joy was stunned, to say the least. She’d never met Effete before that day, or her nasty husband, and she hadn’t been praying for any of them!
“Ah, that’s why you’re reminding me of all this, isn’t it?” Joy looked up at the cross again. “That’s why I started praying for them. That’s why I’ve been praying for them every day since… And, o.k., maybe that’s the reason I sent the invitation. I guess I keep hoping against all odds that even if I can’t change Fen Sloughheart, maybe I can at least help poor Effete. Hmmph! Am I trying to play the part of Savior?” She shook her head and half-smiled again.
Effete would not be at the service, though, and that made Joy sad. Still, the service promised to be a good one and it was only one week away! She looked over to her right at the stain glassed window of St. Gianna. She had more to pray about than Fen Sloughheart; after all, her church was playing host for the celebratory event, which meant some very busy days ahead. Unknown to Joy, she would not be the only one planning and preparing…
Note: This episode follows “Sloughheart Writes To Reverend Brusque”
Written by noblethemes
December 29, 2012 at 12:27 PM
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