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)

 

 

 

 

Interruption

Lily heard Beth’s bracelets click against each other as they slid up and down her forearms when she and Desiree Dramal walked towards her, Thomas McDavid, and Donald. Instinctively Lily looked out through the Cup-n-Saucer’s windows searching for the live oak like she had outside her classroom window, but none was there. Outside the diner lay the flat land in that noiseless gray stillness after spring rain. The March sky appeared a dome of seamless gray. The noise of Beth’s bracelets and her yellow-orange ruined hair clashed with the gray evening. Lily braced herself as Beth’s shadow neared the table first. Desiree Dramal stood to the left of Beth, and slightly behind. Lily felt her chest tighten.

“Hello everyone,” Beth said. “Are some of Covenant’s faculty still meeting? If so, Desiree and I would welcome your hospitality.”

“Good evening,” Donald said. “We were about to leave, but you ladies are welcome to our seats if you like.” Donald slid his metal chair back and stood. Lily felt her chest suddenly release. She had again underestimated Donald.

“I’m sure you all are thrilled to have Ms. Dramal in counseling now. I’ll verify she continues to advise students in the ways they should go,” Beth said undeterred.

“Beth, please tell your sisters and families we said hello,” Thomas McDavid said, rising from his chair. “With Nathan at Covenant, I hope to have them come around more often.”

Beth glowered at the group, seeking for words. Lily rose from her chair, her coffee still hot and undisturbed.

“Excuse me,” Lily said, “I have had enough coffee today. I’m heading home.” Lily rose from her chair. Had one looked at Lily’s eyes, he would have seen Desiree Dramal’s long black slacks reflected there like serpentine coils.

Wheat and Weeds

The menopausal waitress at the Cup-n-Saucer saw Lily exit her car.

“Hi, hon. Welcome back. Your friends are in their spot.”

“Thank you,” Lily said.

“Black coffee for you?”

“Yes, please.”

Lily walked towards Donald and Thomas McDavid.

“Ms. Rood, thanks for coming,” Donald said.

“Bonum diem,” Thomas said.

“Afternoon, gentlemen. Am I late?”

“No, Ms. Rood. All is well,” Donald said.

“May I ask then why afternoon coffee?”

“Have you heard from Beth Aims, Lily?” Donald asked.

“No. Why do you ask?” Lily wondered why Donald now used her first name.

“What do you think Beth is up to?” Donald asked.

“Why do you ask me questions I cannot answer, Donald?” Lily remonstrated.

“First you ask me if I’ve heard from Beth, and I tell you no. Then you ask me to speculate what she has been up to. Why do I sense you know the answers already?” Lily continued.

“Ms. Rood, since you came to Covenant, you and I have become—well, friends. Have we not?” Thomas McDavid asked.

“I hope so,” Lily said. “I believe we have, Thomas.”

“But why am I being questioned?” Lily pleaded.

“Because we are your friends, Ms. Rood. And Beth Aims and Desiree Dramal are friends–with each other,” Donald said.

“Yes. So?”

“People like Beth don’t have friends, Donald. They have co-conspirators,” Thomas McDavid said.

Mr. McDavid continued. “Did Iago work alone, Ms. Rood?”

“No,” Lily said with finality.

“Correct,” Thomas McDavid said. “He divided people. He sowed discord. He sowed seeds of mistrust. He thrived on innuendo, did he not?”

“He did,” Lily said. “’I am not what I am,’” Lily quoted from the play. “If Beth is my Iago, Desiree Dramal is my Roderigo?”

Suddenly Donald interrupted. “I am not educated in this stuff, Thomas. What we are suggesting, Ms. Rood, is that Beth Aims has not gone away. She is planted in Covenant’s soil whether we like it or not. And Ms. Dramal is not much different. She’s from our town, too, and has certain connections.”

“Why must everything come back to being from this town? It sounds less like a town than like a cult,” Lily said.

Immediately Lily saw her words wounded Donald. “I’m sorry, Donald. I didn’t mean that—well, not that forcefully. I just meant that…”

“It’s okay, Ms. Rood. I am an old man, a tired old farmer. I have lived here my entire life and I know the people, and they know me. I’m not here to defend this town or make it appear better than what it is. Thomas and I only want you to know what you’re up against. Fred Aims was our friend. And his daughters could not be more different from one another. Beth has always been—driven. But not by the good,” Donald said.

When he finished speaking, he folded his Jergens-scented hands in front of his face as if he were going to pray. But then he looked over at Thomas McDavid and spoke.

“Thomas, I’ve said too much. I’ll let you talk while I drink my coffee.”

The waitress appeared at the table, refilled the men’s cups, and poured Lily’s. Mr. McDavid inhaled deeply, held it, and slowly exhaled. He began to speak, but then looked away from Lily and towards the door.

Desiree Dramal and Beth Aims had entered. They stood at the threshold of the Cup-n-Saucer. They looked over to where Donald, Mr. McDavid, and Lily sat. Beth stared at Lily and smiled, her teeth shiny as swords.

(To be continued)

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)

Lily (Part forty-nine)

Monday morning’s first light found Lily in her classroom at Covenant. She sat behind her metal desk in a cheap metal swivel chair. The desk was covered with worn paperbacks of Hamlet, Great Expectations, books of poetry, index cards on which she kept notes, Post-its of various colors she had stuck inside books with cross-references, and papers to be graded. Pens and pencils of various colors were in a heavy ceramic coffee cup Mr. Fred Aims bought her as a welcome. On the cup in white letters was stenciled a biblical reference: 2 Cor. 3:6.

Her classroom had one window through which she could see a live oak tree and some of Covenant’s grounds. No other teachers had arrived yet but she had learned that Thomas McDavid arrived early, too. Lily stared at the oak outside. She checked her calendar for the date: March 1. Spring is nearing, she thought, with its attendant rains, richness of upturned soil, life pushing upward.

“Holloa, my young friend! Up early again?”

Lily heard Mr. McDavid’s merry voice and caught the smell of black coffee.

“Good morning, Thomas,” Lily said, smiling. “Yes. How are you?”

“All’s well. We’re looking into some of Caesar’s weaknesses in my classes today.”

“Some other lads, too. Mark Antony and Brutus. Ever heard of’em?” Thomas said, grinning.

“I think I have.”

“Beware those lads from March, right?”

“Something like that, Thomas,” Lily said, laughing.

“Just wanted to check on you, young lady. I’m off to hang out with Julius Caesar and other men closer to my age.”

He sipped from his coffee cup.

“You still on the Mississippi with Pip and Miss Havisham?”

“Well, how about in 19th century England with Pip and Miss Havisham and Denmark with Hamlet?” Lily asked.

“Yes, of course, just like I said.”

“Right, Thomas. Have a good morning, okay?”

Mr. McDavid stepped backwards and looked back up the hallway, then stepped forward again into Lily’s room.

“Ready to tame Covenant’s shrew?” Thomas asked.

“Huh?”

“You will see soon.”

Thomas McDavid departed, leaving only the smell of his black coffee. Suddenly Lily heard the sound of Beth’s heels and the metallic clinking of bracelets.

(To be continued)

Lily (Forty-four)

Aaron was the last to exit the room. His disappearance left a hush in Tim’s Sunday school class. Ruth, the middle sister, departed silently, along with Sarah. Nathanael remained beside Lily in equipoise.

Tim knew to refocus the class on the passage under discussion. “Do you feel sympathy towards Naomi?” Tim asked the class.

Lily wanted Nathanael to speak up but he remained quiet in observation, stolid.

“I do, Tim,” Lily said. “She is not from Moab. She went there with her family with thoughts of it being better than where she had left. And yet—”

“Yes?” Tim said. “Is there more?”

“Well, rather than better fortune for her and her family in Moab, she has experienced misfortune and suffering. Her husband and sons have died. She has two daughters-in-law. And she is battling bitterness towards God because she believed she had done the right things,” Lily said.

Tim nodded and looked out at the class from his stool. Several people nodded silent agreement with Lily’s analysis.

“That seems spot on, Lily.”

“Of course Naomi had a battle to wage. But she needed to just get on with it,” Beth retorted. “Death occurs in our families. I should know. But we must go on. That’s what I would have done.”

Lily felt movement at her elbow. “Beth, how long has my grandfather been dead?” Nathanael asked.

“Why you!” Beth snarled. “This is not about Daddy.”

“Exactly, Beth. This passage about Naomi and Ruth is not about Granddaddy–and it’s not about you either,” Nathanael said.

Lily felt trapped as if among brambles. She looked up at Tim.

“There is much occurring here,” Tim said. “Can we all agree that Naomi had at least a lot to sort out, to battle, to perhaps even learn from?” Almost all of the class appeared to nod in agreement.

“Yet, as Beth brought up, Naomi did continue in spite of death and deep sadness, even in a place where she was an alien,” Tim said.

This seemed to mollify most of the class. Lily wanted Nathanael to say more but he remained silent and composed. Beth sat with her forearms folded across her chest. Her bracelets clanked upon one another in cacophony as the class bell sounded in the hall to dismiss for the worship service.

“May we pray together about what we have seen here this morning?” Tim asked.

Most of the class members closed their eyes. Many heads leaned forward as if in petition. Beth remained upright on her metal chair. Lily leaned slightly towards Nathanael to feel his presence. He pressed one forearm towards Lily as if in solace, as Tim addressed the God of Naomi.

(To be continued)