Joy had been in the hospital four full days, and that was enough for her. Consequently, with the assurance that Lucent Keener would provide ongoing care in her home for at least the balance of the week, the hospital conceded to releasing her. Of course, they didn’t expect Angelica and Morris Graver to pick Joy up, but that’s what Joy wanted and … well, they knew the Reverend Brighterday enough to know there was no use in arguing with her. It was what it was and that was it!
“Oh no you don’t, Reverend Brighterday!” Angelica practically shouted. “How could you even think of the back seat? Get real!” Angelica was rather brash, but Joy could instinctively tell she was an authentically good person, deep down in the depths of her heart and soul. “Up front with you, Ms. Righteous, and no argument about it, o.k.?” Joy already loved this vivacious, no-nonsense, brassy young woman. Of course, she knew Angelica was covering up an awful lot of pain, too, with her assertive, even aggressive, attitude.
“Yes ma’am! In the front seat it is, then,” Joy laughed and smiled. “Thanks for coming to pick me up, you guys.”
“Ha! Don’t thank us yet,” Morris replied. “You haven’t been in a car with mom driving yet; you may very well regret it … if you live through it!” Holding the passenger door open for Joy, Angelica shot him an “o.k. buster, you’re gonna get it” look. Everybody laughed, though.
Morris got in the back behind the driver’s seat so he could better see Joy. Angelica got in behind the wheel, slammed the door, and fired up her 2010 Camaro LX4. Joy had seen the car before, naturally, but now inside she was really impressed. Angelica had kept the vehicle spotless, with little to no wear-and-tear visible. Taking off out of the Grand Oak Hospital parking lot, the engine sounded perfect to her ears, and the ride was smooth. Wow! She thought. She and Mox really need to get together. This gal obviously knows a little something about cars … or, at least, basic maintenance, which is more than I can say for myself!
“Very nice car,” Joy offered enthusiastically.
“Very nice outfit,” Angelica replied not quite as enthusiastically, but genuinely nevertheless. “You look professional, but casual … clean and not clergy, you know?” Joy thought maybe so. “Anyway, after all you’ve done for us, particularly Morris, already, I figured we could afford to make the trip up here to spring you from the hospital-prison.”
They pulled out onto the highway heading back toward Splinterbit. Angelica didn’t floor it like Joy expected. Joy would have been tempted, but maybe Angelica had had the car long enough that racing down the road was no longer a thrill to her. More probably, she just didn’t feel like any more thrills of any kind. Doubtless, she thought that in many ways both Morris and her lives had come crashing to an end, kind of like Humpty Dumpty, and no one could put all the pieces together again. Could she help to at least begin mending their shattered lives? Would God?
“How did your meeting with Phoenix Rising go?” Joy asked Morris.
“Better than I expected, actually. I mean, it was tough, even grueling, but good,” he responded happily. “I can see what you mean about them; they’re good people, and we talked about more than just legal matters, too.”
“Oh, I’m not surprised,” Joy chuckled.
“From what he told me, they sound like … I don’t know … something like an espionage, A-Team-type, religious attorneys at law,” Angelica remarked with obvious cynicism.
“You’ve pretty much hit the proverbial nail on the head, my dear,” Joy answered without skipping a beat. “That fairly well sums up the nature and constitutional make-up of Phoenix Rising, with the addition, of course that they’re damn good at what they do, and they’re on the side of the victims … always.”
“Well, that’s good,” Angelica nodded her head. “That’s good, and I’m thankful you’ve gotten them involved. In fact, thank you for everything you’ve done for us. It really does mean a lot, even though I come across kind of harsh sometimes… I really do appreciate it, and so does Morris.”
“You’re quite welcome, Angelica … and Morris,” Joy turned a bit to smile at the young man in the back seat.
“You did hear about Fen Sloughheart resigning his ministry, right?” Morris queried.
“How could I not? Effete called me first thing this morning! Quite shocking, actually, but then I also got a call from one of my members, Luce, who told me he’d been by to visit Sloughheart. Their families are thinly linked and Luce knew his father. Anyway, from what I gather, Luce managed to convince him to resign, and give away the land his school sits on, which is quite a chunk of prime real estate.”
“Well, bully for ole Luce,” Angelica said sardonically. “That’ll make things a helluva lot better.”
“Maybe more than you think, Ange,” Joy gave her a firm stare. “Luce says what he means and means what he says, and he’s no friend of Sloughheart. I can’t tell you why he felt compelled to go see him, but it wasn’t to offer sympathy or comfort. No, he laid it on the line in no uncertain terms, and told Sloughheart to come clean – completely, without hiding anything, without excuses – and to do so immediately. So you see, resigning the ministry and giving away the property wasn’t all there was to it.”
“You really think Sloughheart’ll come clean?” Morris asked doubtfully. “He’s too dame sick and filthy to come clean… I seriously, seriously doubt he’s gonna put himself in more trouble voluntarily because he suddenly feels guilty, or because some old man talked to him.”
“Well, you may be right,” Joy answered as she noticed the acceleration of the car. “No, I don’t expect Fen Sloughheart to suddenly feel guilty, but he might find it to his … well, considering the obvious predicament he’s in now, he might find it in his best interest to procure the services of another attorney and, with his attorney present, at least talk with an investigator. I mean … look! He’s bound to know he’s in deep… By now, he knows, and he’s not that dumb. Sloughheart knows he’s got to make a move as best he can, yet any move he makes will still lead him further down into … umm, let’s say the mire of tribulation. He’s got it coming, of course; the only question for him now is how much … to what degree, how deep.”
“Umm, how about six feet under?” Angelica offered. “That seems appropriate … maybe after being tortured to death?”
“I second that!” Morris heartily agreed with his mom.
“And if I could, I’d almost ‘third’ that, but I believe in the end Fen Sloughheart will receive justice, pure justice.”
“Is that a statement of faith, Reverend?” Angelica asked. “You know, all of my life I’ve reached out to God. I’ve studied the Bible, prayed, and gone to church. I’ve tithed pretty faithfully, I think, and I’ve tried to help people whenever I could. I’m not a saint, but I’ve also practically begged God to just show me something of himself; just to whisper in my ear; to answer me as his child, not because I was asking for anything special, but just because I was asking for him. I thought this God was supposed to be my Father, my perfect heavenly Father, but it seems to me like he’s had a pretty sick relationship with a lot of his children, not just me.”
“And, oh yeah, of course religious folks have made all kinds of excuses for God.” Joy noticed the car slowing down now. Evidently Angelica was not as hyped up as she’d been getting before, thankfully. “You know, we have the almighty Bible, and that’s how God communicates to us. If he doesn’t answer prayer, then it’s lack of faith or you’re asking wrongly or the silence itself is the answer … something like, ‘just wait.’ Even the beauty of creation has been thrown out as God’s communication, but you know what? I can see and appreciate beauty without God. Besides, I have yet to hear any rose bush or oak tree or mountain stream shout, ‘Hallelujah! Praise God!’ And the Bible? Great big, confusing collection of books… Interesting in many parts, but an awful lot of it is just convoluted, ancient, gobble-gook that, at most, deserves some regal place in the Smithsonian, maybe. If it’s supposed to be ‘God’s love letter’ to us, like one person told me, then I have to say, God’s one bad daddy … in fact, pretty damn perverse, almost like Sloughheart. So much for nature and creation and the Bible and other people, for that matter. Why doesn’t God just answer for himself every once in awhile? Is he that uncaring? Impotent? Frightened? Or really just not around to answer?”
Morris was shocked by his mother’s straightforwardness, especially with Joy Brighterday, who’d been so kind and forgiving, even loving. He was afraid she might be offended, but if Joy was she didn’t show it. Point in fact, her answer was quite empathetic.
“Very good questions. I’ve wrestled with them myself.” Joy was looking out the passenger’s window at the undulating fields. “And I don’t know that I’ve found any satisfactory answers… Of course,” she looked back at Angelica, “I do think that the holy Scriptures have been terribly maligned by the likes of Fen Sloughheart and others, thus very tragically misunderstood, so I can’t quite agree with you in your suggestion to have them locked away in the Smithsonian. Moreover, I truly do believe that, when properly understood and applied, sacred Scripture does speak to us the words of God. Now, of course, in what you’re talking about that would be like receiving, at best, several letters of correspondence … not quite the same as an intimate, personal relationship. I know. I understand perfectly, believe me. Still, the Scriptures do have their place, and it’s an important place, as is the place of nature, or creation. Yes, you and I can appreciate beauty seemingly without God, but who or what instilled within us an appreciation for beauty or, for that matter, any aesthetical sensibility in the first place. I’d say – as I truly believe – that just like our instinctive sense of right and wrong, God instilled within us both the idea and aptitude to appreciate beauty, so … when we do genuinely stand amazed at the overwhelming beauty of creation that is a very real communion – mystical though it may be – between our spirit and the Spirit of God.”
“So far as God being silent like you were talking about silence, though, I still definitely understand… Oh, wait a minute.” Joy almost forgot. “You said something about other people, too. Well, other people can be, and are, the voice of God for many others, not to mention the eyes and ears, hands and feet of God. This is, in fact, what Christians are called to be; the word ‘Christian’ actually means ‘little Christ,’ did you know that?” Angelica just shook her head. “So, yes, I believe we can, and do, sometimes hear God in and through other people … well, if we’re listening closely enough. You know, it may be, just maybe, that God has spoken to you recently through the likes of Lucent Keener and Dr. Sage Wiseman… Maybe, maybe not, but it’s possible. But as far as God whispering in your ear, or just allowing you to catch the tiniest glimpse of him as your perfect, heavenly Father, who loves you with an unimaginable love, that is frustrating, indeed, and like I said, I don’t have good, solid answers I’m afraid. For myself, I hold onto what has been testified by those who have gone before, such as Elie Wiesel. She wrestled with this, and she said, ‘I was very, very religious. And of course I wrote about it in Night. I questioned God’s silence. So I questioned. I don’t have an answer for that. Does it mean that I stopped having faith? No. I have faith, but I question it.’”
“We question, then, but we go on. Thomas Keating claimed, ‘Silence is God’s first language; everything else is a poor translation. In order to hear that language, we must learn to be still and to rest in God.’ And we do, after all, live in an extremely noise-filled society. Sometimes it’s difficult to hear ourselves think; then how can we expect to hear God? It was the medieval mystic, John Climacus, who taught, ‘The friend of silence comes close to God. In secret he converses with him and receives his light.’ Is this true? I’m not quite certain, but then I’ve not quite tried practicing that kind of soul-deep silence, that is, silence as an important spiritual discipline. My guess is, not many Christians in contemporary Western civilization have,” Joy chuckled. “Some people can’t even go to sleep without their television on! And the Lord knows I don’t understand that, but…”
“I hear you, Rev,” Angelica answered. “I hear ya … at least, a whole lot better than I hear God.”