Joy Brighterday Back at the Altar

“Dear God, now I know far more about that man than I ever wanted to know … and yet, there remains the question: Who or what twisted and perverted him into such an angry, hideous, and tyrannical demoniac? His father? Yes, he was surely one factor, but there was also his loving and nurturing mother on the other side. His church? Yes, the legalistic fundamentalism, but surely he met others and your Spirit, too. His whole environment? Maybe, partly, but Splinterbit is, all in all, an excellent and warm, friendly community, and he had dear Effete and two precious sons… You? But you ‘take no pleasure in the death of anyone,’ for ‘you love all things that exist, and detest none of the things that you have made.’ So … I still do not understand. Did it really all come down to his choice, then?”

The Reverend Joy Emmanuella Brighterday knelt at the altar of St. Gianna Church praying and meditating, mulling and contemplating … questioning. She stared at the attractive, rustic altar cross surrounded by primroses, courtesy of Mrs. Featherwit. Joy couldn’t help but smile. “Primroses again … and I could never be more thankful,” and I’m very thankful that so many of us still have something for which to be thankful, maybe even much for which to be thankful … I’m certain I do.”

Three months ago to the day, the same evening Joy lead everyone at Lucent Keener’s home in brief meditation and prayer, the Reverend Fen Sloughheart breathed his last. They found out the next morning. Emotions were mixed, though no one cried for his demise. Effete probably cried more from a deep sense of relief and final closure (of sorts), and the boys, Rue and Bane, just cried from youthful confusion, mixed emotions, and in solidarity with their mother, whom they adored more than life itself. At first, at least, Angelica and Morris cried out of anger; they cried for justice denied; they cried out of their own still-inadequately addressed, unrectified pain and suffering. Joy simply cried for everyone, in each of their unique situations.

Phoenix Rising presented their very well packaged, completely up-to-date booklet of investigation on Sloughheart – supplemented nicely throughout with excerpts from Dr. Sage Wiseman’s socio-psychological studies on legalistic fundamentalism, especially where it focused upon Ebenezer Bible Church and the Reverend Sloughheart – to Judge Love Fairman. She was impressed, to say the least, with the sleekly, self-published 123-page manuscript, and this most admirable woman read every page within 24 hours of having it in her hands.

Since Joy had adamantly decided not to press any charges against Morris Graver whatsoever, and considering all else in this sad, suffering young man’s “relationship” with Sloughheart, Fairman dismissed everything pending against Morris with the clear (and legal) understanding that for the next twelve months, he would continue counselling with Dr. Pert Kibitz on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for one hour each session. He would also volunteer eight-hours each Tuesday and Thursday with the Verdure County Civilian Core and, since his sessions with Kibitz would be early in the morning, he would also begin taking basic courses at Splinterbit College to the tune of at least 15-hours per term, with the goal of at least earning an Associate’s Degree.

From all reports, which hadn’t been many, he was doing as well as could be expected. The same was evidently true for his mother, Angelica, who was seeing Dr. Kibitz on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, all expenses (including Morris’) covered by Effete, who felt a deep, moral obligation to help the two anyway she could … and, indeed, she could. After all of the court expenses, taxes, fees and legalese, she was now worth around $400,000, thanks in large part to Phoenix Rising. Grace, Suijnwe and associates had rather quickly uncovered Sloughheart’s unethical, illegal stash of cash and investments, and they asked for precious little in terms of compensation. Angelica had also picked up a couple of evening courses at the college both to work toward her bachelor’s, but perhaps even more so, to travel the road of academia with her son, which was important right now.

Blue’s book, with Able’s illustrations, had been published. The Chords of Cilicia enjoyed a grand first showing and book-signing in a nice, little corner of the park last month. Of course, Effete was privileged to buy the first copy – and she insisted on the purchase – and to be the first in line to have it autographed by both men. With tome in hand, she practically glowed in Blue’s presence, and he in hers … but the two were taking it slowly. They both knew and respected the fact that Effete had a long road to travel in healing, so they opted for close, somewhat affectionate friendship right now, and both were very satisfied with that relationship.

Joy was fairly well out of the loop now. For three months, only Lucent had shown up on a handful of Sunday mornings. From what she understood, on Sundays Blue and Effete worked together on her classes, now that she, too, was enrolled in the College. By supplementing courses from Grand Oak, she was able to now pursue her Bachelor of Arts degree in Religion and Ethics. Blue was also helping her put together her book, The Devil is the Shepherd: My Life in the Hell of Fundamentalism. This was good, Joy supposed, all good … but she missed seeing Effete and the boys. In fact, she missed seeing Blue Poorman, Able and Moxie. Pert Kibitz had visited a couple of Sundays, and even Sage Wiseman had popped in once. Suijnwe and Grace were evidently very busy and found it more convenient than ever to hop down to the nearby, country Methodist church, so she hadn’t seen them either. And is this the new Splinterbit? It’s still stunningly beautiful, warm and welcoming, yet at the same time it feels mighty, mighty empty. And the key in my possession? What was it, exactly? And was this, all of this, meant to happen this way? Did I, in fact, unlock that gate? Where now is my Guardian to answer my queries?

Mrs. Ileana Glumsurf had managed to escape any charges, but the old lady was summarily “retired” by the church, with an appropriate end-of-service appreciation party following one Sunday morning service. She hadn’t gone back since, from what Joy understood; someone had offhandedly mentioned her possibly attending Grim Brusque’s church which, interestingly (and happily) enough, was hardly an independent, legalistic, fundamentalist Bible church anymore. With approximately 500 members now, they had changed their name to The Word of Life and Hope Community Church, and had joined the North American Association of Non-Denominational, Evangelical Churches (NAA-NEC). Of course, Joy thought, Glumsurf was not without her own pain and suffering, and in all likelihood desperately needed help as well. Maybe, just maybe, the new and far more gracious Grim Brusque could administer some healing in her life. Joy prayed so, “and in mine, too. My God, you know I feel betrayed, and it hurts to the core of my heart.” And why am I hurting so much when those I helped are doing well … or at least, well on their way to doing well? Feeling sorry for myself, perhaps?

Of course, it also bothered Joy that she hadn’t ever been able to answer all of the tough questions posed throughout this blood-and-guts tribulation: Questions about the presence of God in pain and suffering; about the effectiveness of prayer … or the worthwhileness of prayer at all; about any real changes the death and resurrection of Jesus, if the resurrection even occurred, had made on the whole in life in this world, presently and not in the “sweet by-and-by;” evidence of the cosmic governing of an allegedly good and just God in the face of overwhelming oppression, victimization, marginalization, and injustice; about the seeming lack of any tangible presence of the God who is Love in the life (or lives) of individuals desperately reaching out to the divine…

“Yet here I am, Lord, at your altar once again. Why? Will you answers any of these questions now?” She paused and reflected on just how the ordinary primroses beautified the old, rustic altar cross as if for the first time. “Have you answered some of these questions already, and I’ve just been blind? Are you, maybe, continuing to answer, and I’m just not really paying attention … maybe because my own self-centered feelings have been getting in the way?” Effete and the boys were now definitely free of Fen Sloughheart, living their brand new and much better life in their own, brand new home. Blue’s book had finally been published, with Able’s illustrations, and was doing well, and Blue was on top of the world with his new, very real, and healthy relationship with Effete (and her two boys). Moxie and Able, now second-term sophomores, were doing extraordinarily well and even seriously talking about an official engagement (finally!). Angelica and Morris were both receiving the help they needed, and even beginning – just beginning – to enter into an authentically new and truly more enjoyable life filled with good people, including Moxie, whom Angelica especially liked and had formed an agreeable bond.

Fen Sloughheart had been buried rather abruptly, with only the graveside service, presided over by three of the deacons. Since the newspaper published absolutely as much as it could the morning after Sloughheart’s death, the Ebenezer Bible Church was quite ready to distance itself from his person. The article went into some detail about the conditions leading up to and probably causing death, then went on to review the divorce and charges of domestic violence. Effete allowed the paper one comment: “The charge was certainly not superfluous; in fact, it is one that could have been made long ago. I only regret that I did not make the decision to leave the marriage sooner, with full custody of my children. Fen Sloughheart was definitely not the righteous man so many of his congregants sadly imagined him to be in real life.” The paper then wrapped up its article by mentioning the beginnings of an investigation into at least two other cases of abuse, but with no further information, and also the report three unidentified individuals provided that Sloughheart had evidently been unethically, if not illegally, ensconcing funds away in various investments under an assumed name and, somehow, free of taxation. Other than this scanty mention of the fact, the paper could offer no more … and no one seemed willing to offer the paper any more details.

Alone in the sanctuary, Joy Brighterday suddenly shivered, and turned around to look over the room. Had someone come in? She felt an ominous, unnerving presence that sent chills up and down her spine. She hugged herself and whispered the ‘Our Father’ before getting up to walk around. No, she was not alone after all … but no one was visible. The air only cooled more until she was genuinely cold.

Well, if the atheists and skeptics are right, and there is no God … there certainly is the devil.

Finale … Magari

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