Hearing with Faith

Lily twitched birdlike at Nathanael’s touch. Nathanael was refined in his speech and manners, so Lily was embarrassed at her nervousness. The cantaloupe in her throat swelled.

“I did not mean to startle you,” Nathanael said softly, as Beth prattled.

“I’m sorry. Yes, Glim is fine. Finding my way, you know, my place.”

From his stool, Tim saw Beth make herself the focus of attention again but he was patient.

“Yes, of course. Desiree, welcome back. We are thankful you have come. And Alice, welcome,” Tim said.

Beth sat with both legs pressed firmly onto the classroom floor, arms akimbo on her hips, waiting for Tim to congratulate her.

“And Lily, welcome to you again, too. We are grateful you have all come. I think everyone else is our marrow. Glad to be gathered with you all,” Tim continued.

Beth glowered at Tim, crossed her arms over her chest, and the sleeve of bracelets on her arms looked to Lily like a brass Slinky toy.

Lily’s eyes twinkled when she looked amusingly at Nathanael. He sat composed with his coffee, apparently thankful for Tim’s acumen.

“We will resume in the story of Ruth this morning,” Tim said. He had a worn Bible on the music stand serving as a lectern and colored Post-its and bookmarks taped throughout with annotations. Suddenly Lily thought of her own Bibles and books of literature and writing in her classroom and in her apartment with their notes and her musings on her reading. She warmed to Tim more each time she came to Beulah.

“Let’s review, shall we? First, there was a famine in Judah, the hometown region, if you will, of the main characters—Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth. Naomi, along with her husband and two sons, travels to Moab out of desperation. The sons married Moabite women. But Naomi’s husband and two sons die, and she is left with two Moabite daughters-in-law. She is a widow in the ancient Near East. She had gone seeking relief from the famine and instead found herself a widow, a decade later, with daughters-in-law, bereft, and longing to return to her home back in Bethlehem, in the land of Judah.”

“As I said last time, Tim. Remaining at home and fighting for what’s yours is often the best way. That’s what Naomi should have known,” Beth interjected.

“Really?” Tim asked. “You think that’s what is going on here? After all, Naomi’s husband, Elimelech, was taking his wife, Naomi, and their two sons to Moab in hopes of providing for them because there was a famine in Judah. Yet you think Naomi should have remained in a barren land to fight for what was hers? What exactly was hers? And what would she have been fighting for?”

Lily and Nathanael smiled to themselves and fought the urge to look at Beth.

“I just know that moving away does not win any victories,” Beth exclaimed.

Looking up from his Bible, Tim asked, “Do others have thoughts about this? Would Naomi, as Beth suggested, have been better off to remain and, as she said, fight?”

Nathanael sipped his coffee as if pleased with the class’s silent response. Lily stared at the empty seat between Nathanael and her; she wished it were not there.

“Tim, I know I’m a guest, but I see something here.” It was Alice.

“Yes, what is it, Alice?”

“It reminds me of a book I read recently about hearing from God.”

“Can you explain? I’m not sure I follow you.”

“Naomi was learning that hearing from God involves trusting his nature, especially when tragedy strikes.”

“That is excellent, Alice. Can you continue?”

“Naomi and her family were desperate. They left looking to God to provide for them. She was doing what any reasonable believer should do—go. Go, but go trusting God.

“And as she went, more tragedy struck. The men in her life died and she was now more destitute. But she was about to hear from God, even through the tragedies, right?”

“It is as you say, Alice. Thank you for that,” Tim said.

Lily pictured the unread book about hearing from God on her kitchen table and burned in shame.

(To be continued)

 

 

 

The Lump

Lily’s Adam’s apple transformed into a cantaloupe, she believed. Suddenly she felt unable to swallow. Beth’s voice crashed inside Lily’s ears and the ruined hair appeared garish gold under the Sunday school room’s fluorescent lights.

“Good morning, Alice. It’s nice to see you,” Lily said.

“You bet!” Alice said smiling.

Lily turned next to greet Desiree Dramal but was interrupted.

“Looks like someone finally got to a classroom before you,” Beth said. “I came early with two of my oldest friends.”

Lily smiled in silence at Beth.

“Ms. Rood, have you been visiting Beulah long?” Desiree Dramal asked.

“Since moving to Glim, yes,” Lily said. “And you?” Lily longed to elude being the subject of public conversation.

Desiree shifted one long leg six inches behind her as if she were coiling to strike. “Not exactly, Ms. Rood. My family and I are members of Beulah but we don’t feel obligated to attend as if that were more pleasing to God. We know better.”

Lily felt the cantaloupe in her throat again. Is it possible, she wondered, for Beth Aims and Desiree Dramal to be more loathsome? Did evil replicate more than good?

“Lily, welcome back. I’m glad to see you have met some more new friends.” Tim had seen Lily enter and disappear into the den of Beth, Desiree, and Alice.

“Thank you, Tim. I was eager to hear you teach again,” ignoring the part about new friends.

“We’ll be in Ruth again, okay. Anyway, I’ll let you ladies continue. Just wanted to welcome you back.” Tim walked back over towards his stool and lectern. Lily glimpsed Nathanael sitting where he had sat before when his parents came. Nathanael sat sipping coffee in equipoise and resumed a subdued conversation with Tim. Nathanael looked at Lily and smiled and said “Good morning” silently with his lips.

“Lily, sit here by Beth, Desiree, and me,” Alice said. “I saved a seat for you.”

“Thank you, Alice, but I was sitting over there this morning,” nodding in the direction of Tim and Nathanael.

“It’s okay, Alice. Not to worry,” Beth said. “We’ll see Ms. Rood soon enough.”

“You bet, Lily,” Alice said.

Lily walked over towards Nathanael and sat next to him with one seat empty between them, opened her Bible app again on her phone, and felt stares upon her. When she looked over towards Alice in hopes she had not hurt her feelings, Desiree Dramal had her right leg twisted around her left one like wild ivy vines around a tree. Lily felt the cantaloupe in her throat.

“Good morning, everyone,” Tim said, settling onto his stool behind a black music stand serving as a lectern. “What an impressive group we have this morning.” Lily felt her throat muscles begin to relax when the sound of metallic bracelets filled the air.

“Tim, I wanted everyone to see two of my dearest friends—Desiree and Alice. Please make them feel welcome,” Beth interjected.

Lily’s cantaloupe pushed against the walls of her throat as Nathanael touched her on the shoulder.

“Good morning, Ms. Rood. Glim treating you well so far?”

(To be continued)

 

 

 

 

Lily and Desiree Dramal

Lily overheard Alice say her name. Lily intended to speak with Tim, Mrs. Aims, and Donald but when she heard Alice say her name again, she caught Alice’s eye. Lily sensed Alice’s excitement about introducing Desiree Dramal.

“Oh Lily, this is Desiree Dramal. I’ve known her and Beth since we were all girls. Desiree, this is Lily Rood. She teaches literature and writing with us now,” Alice gushed.

“Pleasure, Ms. Rood. Or is it Mrs. Rood?” Desiree asked, extending her right hand.

“Good afternoon. Miss, yes. Welcome to Covenant,” Lily said, shaking Desiree’s hand.

“I’m so excited to have you two meet. Desiree, you’ll be so impressed with Lily; she’s read everything. She’s got me reading an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel now. Isn’t that right, Lily?” asked Alice.

“I’m sure we all have our areas of interest,” Lily said. “Without music life would be a mistake, right? Reading is music for me. I don’t believe I can say I really chose it; it was more like it chose me.”

Wanting to remove herself as topic, Lily asked a question. “So what brings you to Covenant, Miss Dramal? It is Miss, right?”
“Yes, single still, Ms. Rood. We are still a small town here. Many of our young people have moved off for promises of careers in the city. Sarah and Ruth—you may know them already, I believe—they moved off. But others of us have remained. I guess some feel called to remain where we were planted. Isn’t that right, Alice?”

“You bet,” Alice said. “Desiree, Beth, and I have—oh gosh—we’ve known each other most of our lives. I’m so excited about how we get to work together.” Lily discovered herself longing to speak with Thomas McDavid, Tim, Donald, and Ellen Aims. But she forced herself to continue.

“And you will replace Beth Aims here, is that right?” Lily asked.

“I don’t know if ‘replace’ is the word. But I will take over a significant counseling role, yes. I see myself as a kind of rudder.” Lily’s abdomen tightened.

Donald’s gentle voice rescued Lily. “Ms. Rood, is that you?” He walked into the triangle of women. Lily caught the scent of Jergens as Donald shook hands with each woman.

“Donald, good afternoon. I did not know you were attending today’s meeting. Do you know Ms. Dramal?”

“I am familiar with her, yes. I watched her grow up alongside the Aims daughters, and Alice, too,” Donald said.

“I was just telling Ms. Rood,” Desiree said, “that some of us remain where we’re planted. We don’t move away. We have vocations here in our community.”

“Some do. Certainly,” Donald said. “I’m just a farmer–well, used to be anyway. I suppose it’s a matter of where we think we can do the most good. For my wife, our boys, and me, it would not have made much sense to pick up and leave.”

Lily listened. “But I know that we are thankful Ms. Rood was willing to leave teaching at Rook and join us here at Covenant,” Donald continued. Desiree said nothing.

“You bet,” Alice exclaimed. “It’s going to be a great rest of the term.” Alice turned to exit quickly as if she had forgotten something.

“Ms. Rood, it was a pleasure meeting you. I’m sure we will see each other regularly,” Desiree said.

“Welcome to Covenant,” Lily said.

“And welcome to our town, Ms. Rood.”

“Ms. Rood, do you have just a second? I know your teaching day is over and you’re probably tired, but I just have a quick question,” Donald said.

“Of course, Donald.”

“Thomas and I are going to the Cup-n-Saucer this evening. Would you care to join us?”

“Certainly,” Lily said. “What time?”

“Five o’clock,” Donald said. “See you then.”

Lily returned to her classroom to gather her materials she planned to work on later that night. The faculty and staff had largely dissipated when Lily passed back by the library. She looked for Tim, Sarah, and others but did not see them. As she passed through the front doors of the school, Alice popped out of the front office. Looking through the office windows Lily could see the bookroom door ajar from which Alice had sprung.

“Lily, I wanted to tell you I already finished Gatsby. Terrific! I can’t wait to discuss it with you,” Alice exclaimed. “I have it here for you. Nick Carraway would have liked our town instead of West Egg and East Egg, don’t you think?”

“Maybe so, Alice,” Lily said. “He misread much early on. Towns and cities had less to do with his struggle than with a dearth of  discernment.”

“Lily, we’re going to have such great talks. ‘Dearth of discernment’? Who talks like that but you, Lily? Anyway, let’s get together. We could even meet with Beth and Desiree,” Alice said.

“Um, we’ll get that coffee soon. Have a good evening,” Lily said. Alice returned to the bookroom wondering if she’d misread Fitzgerald’s novel or why Lily mentioned coffee.

Lily drove home. She thought of meeting Donald and Thomas McDavid at the Cup-n-Saucer. As she drove, she watched the fallow fields fill her car windows. Her thoughts flashed quickly as the patchwork fields–Easter in a few weeks; farmers would seed their fields; Covenant’s spring play; and Desiree Dramal.

The Meeting

Lily fought her emotions when examining Hamlet. She had read and taught Shakespeare’s dramas and poetry for decades but she could not put Beth from her mind. She worried about Beth’s schemes and about her remaining connections to Covenant. Lily was not from this town; Beth’s entire life was rooted here. Lily nevertheless persisted teaching.

She wrote on her dry erase board of Hamlet’s endless conflicts. Hamlet struggled with his mother over her remarrying so hastily after King Hamlet’s murder. And as son of the murdered king, Prince Hamlet should have been the next ruler at Elsinore, but he was denied that role. Additionally, Hamlet suffered amidst a kingdom of corruption. His life was stripped of almost anyone he could trust. And the ghost of his murdered father, prompting him to avenge his murder—well, Hamlet’s conflicts called for our compassion as reader-witnesses of his struggles.

Covenant’s faculty, not unlike Elsinore’s citizens, was seeking trustworthy personnel. Nathanael was headmaster, but Lily knew now that Beth had not been crushed; the terse note confirmed that.

Lily assigned topics for her students to write on in their journals. As her students settled into writing, Lily sat down into the cheap swivel chair behind her desk and looked outside. Clouds the color of bruises slid across the firmament. Winds stirred. Then Lily rose from her chair and walked over to the rectangle of window. As she neared the window she caught her reflection in the glass. Her muslin dress seemed to her as sackcloth. She beheld her aging frame. Did God ever hide his face, she wondered.

The day limped along. Finally the last classes dismissed. The afternoon meeting time neared. Lily walked the corridor to the library. Looking up, she saw Alice standing in front of the library doors.

“Hey, Lily. Are you ready to meet our newest employee?”

“I think so,” Lily said. “Are you familiar with her?”

“You bet,” Alice said. “She is a friend of Beth’s. They’ve been inseparable since girlhood.”

“Really?” Lily responded. “Interesting.”

“Why do you say ‘interesting’?” Alice asked.

“Sometimes it seems Covenant is skeptical of hiring outside of this town, with few exceptions,” Lily said.

“That’s ‘interesting’ you would say that, Lily. Beth would like that,” Alice said.

“Lily, would you like to sit together?”

“I usually sit in the same spot each time we have meetings, if you’re okay with that.”

“You bet,” Alice said, and followed Lily. Lily looked to confirm the settee near the shelves of Dickens’ works had not been moved.

Lily looked for Thomas McDavid’s face among the other entering faculty and staff personnel but did not see him. But Nathanael entered with his grandmother, Ellen Aims. Her face had the same warmth she exhibited at Beulah. Mrs. Aims saw Lily as soon as she and Nathanael entered. Lily rose and walked over to them.

“Lily, nice to see you, dear. Are you finding Covenant satisfactory? And is my grandson leading well?”

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Ellen. Covenant promises much—bright students and fine leadership.” Lily listened to her words, wondering if she’d be misunderstood.

“Well, Nathan is like his mother and father—a born learner. I am so proud of him,” Mrs. Aims said.

“How about we get settled, okay?” Nathanael said to his grandmother. “I should move things along this afternoon.”

“Of course, Nathan.”

 
Lily returned to the settee near Dickens’ works.

“You know Mrs. Aims?” Alice asked.

“Somewhat,” Lily said. “I have been visiting Beulah. She is a very kind woman.”

“Like our founder,” Alice said. “We have good people here, Lily. I’m so glad you’re here. You’ll like our new employee, too. She’s a lot like Beth. It’ll be good to have them working together, even though Beth’s role has changed. Aren’t you excited?”

(To be continued)

Solomon Visits Lily

Solomon’s words beat against the walls of Lily’s mind: much study had wearied her flesh. Her lower back and hips ached. She lost focus upon what she had planned to cover in classes. She stared long at the bold words on Beth’s stationery. Lily’s mind fed upon itself with Othello-like suspicion. Who is spying upon me at Covenant? Who is the new counselor? Where is Beth now? Lily folded the paper along its creases and slid it back into the envelope. She told herself to sit and gaze at the live oak beyond her classroom window. It reminded Lily of an old man. Its branches were weathered elbows, its bark a wizened face. At last Lily began to quiet when Alice reappeared.

“I found it, Lily!”

“Found what?”

“The book, silly…about hearing from God.”

“Yes of course,” Lily said. “Um, thank you.”

“I know what you’re going to say next,” Alice said.

“You do?”

“Yes. You’re going to tell me to keep going with The Great Gatsby.”

“Correct. Now what shall I say instead?” Lily asked laughing.

“Don’t worry. I’ll keep going,” Alice said. “I really like it. I just think Nick is more small-town boy than he realizes.”

“Correct again, Alice.”

“Do you enjoy Fitzgerald like you do Shakespeare and the other writers you teach, Lily?”

“This could turn into more than we have time for now, don’t you think?”

“Oh I see, I’m sorry. Maybe we can continue later, okay?” Alice asked.

“We have an agreement then,” Lily said.

“You bet,” Alice said.

As Alice disappeared from Alice’s sight, the bell rang for class. Lily struggled to focus her mind on the lessons she had prepared. Beth’s image filled her mind. She pictured Beth’s scorched orange hair and saw the raven-black nails.

Her students began entering. “Good morning, Ms. Rood,” some said.

“Good morning,” Lily heard herself say perfunctorily, hating the sound of her own voice.

“Hi, Ms. Rood. Miss Havisham today?” It was Michael. He could read Lily’s mood prophetically.

“Hello, Michael. How’d you know?” Lily asked, humbled.

“Some stories tell themselves,” he said.

“I may look to you a bit more than usual this morning in class, Michael, okay?”

“Of course, Ms. Rood. I wanted to ask you a lot about Hamlet’s relationship with his mother anyway,” Michael said.

“I have questions about that too,” Lily said. “But enough with the Miss Havisham references already, okay?”

“Of course, Ms. Rood.” Michael walked towards his desk and began talking with other students as the class continued to fill. Lily walked to her door in an effort to appear composed. As she watched students disappearing into other classrooms, she saw Nathanael walking with a woman dressed in black slacks and a royal blue blouse. Together they turned into the counselors’ offices. Lily felt herself begin to sweat under her left armpit. The bell sounded again as she reentered her classroom. Today, her years of study seemed to her to have raised suspicions more than solace.

(To be continued)

A Note Arrives

Lily reentered her classroom. She sat in her cheap metal swivel chair and gazed through the rectangle of window at the live oak outside. Mysteries hung in the boughs of her mind—what to make of Thomas’ comments about Beth and Beth’s replacement in the counselors’ offices, of Beth’s machinations and designs on Lily’s future with Covenant. Beth’s family, she thought, was inseparable from Covenant.

Suddenly there was a knock at her classroom door that startled Lily. It was the bookkeeper, Alice.

“Oh Lily, I am sorry to interrupt anything but there’s a message for you Mrs. Wilkins forgot to give you. I thought I’d just bring it down.”

“Yes, of course. Thanks, Alice.”

“You bet,” Alice replied.

Alice entered Lily’s classroom and handed her an envelope. Lily stood up from the metal chair and stared at the envelope. Alice had not turned to go.

“I’m sorry, Alice, but is that all?”

“I was just curious if you’d like to borrow my book on hearing from God.”

“Well, it may be some time before I could get to it,” Lily said. “I have my literature classes going on; those consume a large portion of time. Plus, in the afternoons, I help interested students who struggle with writing,” Lily said.

“I know you do, Lily. I remember Beth talking about how you had people in your classroom many times that…”

“I’m sorry but what are you suggesting, Alice?”

“Nothing at all. I was just saying that Beth—the counselor, Ms. Aims. Anyway, she mentioned several times to Mrs. Wilkins and us in the front office how you often had people in your classroom. That’s all, Lily. Did I say something? I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything,” Alice said.

“It is fine, Alice. As I said, I help interested students who struggle with writing. And my peers are certainly welcome in my classroom, as I assume I am in theirs. Does that make sense?”

“Of course, Lily. I’m sorry. I just came to deliver a message you had missed, that’s all,” Alice said.

“I will be glad to read that book on hearing from God if you think it’s important,” Lily said.

“You bet, Lily,” Alice replied excitedly. “I’ll go get it, okay?”

Alice’s back disappeared from Lily’s classroom door. Lily stared at the envelope Alice had brought. Inside was a beige piece of stationery that had sullied to the color of dark orange the color of Beth’s ruined hair. B.A. was embossed at the top in black letters. In the middle of the piece of paper were four words: IT IS NOT FINISHED in all caps.

Lily swallowed and looked again through her rectangle of window. Winds stirred. Lily pined and watched the oak’s leaves bristle against each other in agitation as if a thunderstorm were forming.

Lily and Alice

Lily could tell right away, as soon as she entered the faculty bookroom, Alice wanted to talk. Alice was the bookkeeper at Covenant. She was a divorced woman in her early fifties who pulled her auburn hair into a tight bun that revealed a prominent pale forehead. She wore eyeglasses on a silver chain like a woman much older might exhibit. She had on a two-piece black business suit and pumps. She viewed herself as an intellectual, and undervalued by most people. Lily had treated Alice kindly since coming to Covenant and Alice fancied them close friends. Lily liked Alice but could tell she wanted validation. Lily had come for some paper clips and manila folders.

“Good morning, Lily. How was your break? I missed seeing you.”

“Good morning, Alice. Nice to see you, too. Refreshing. I visited some family back in Rook and took some time at the beach. But I’m glad to be back,” Lily said. “How are you?”

“Just great, Lily. In fact, I am reading a new book about hearing from God. I cannot wait to pass it on to you.”

Lily swallowed and searched for a kind word. Anytime she heard people speak of “hearing from God” she got nervous. In Lily’s mind, if you desired to hear from God you opened the Bible.

“I see. I am so encouraged, Alice, that you’re a reader,” Lily said, hoping she did not sound dismissive.

“Did you have a chance to read the Fitzgerald novel I passed along to you?” Lily asked.

“Oh, I am so loving it, Lily. Thank you. I mean, poor Nick Carraway. He is out of his league with Gatsby, isn’t he?” Alice exclaimed.

“It gets better, Alice. Keep going. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the book, okay?”

“You bet,” Alice said excitedly, envisioning a time when she and Lily could dialogue about deep issues.

Lily thought she had said enough but Alice had not forgotten.

“Oh Lily, I almost forgot. Did you say you had not read this book about hearing from God?”

“Um, no. I have not read that one,” Lily said.

“Well, you’ll just love it!” Alice exclaimed. “I’ll be sure you get it after I’m done, okay?”

“Yes, of course. Thank you.”

Lily smiled and continued to the bookroom for her supplies.

(To be continued)