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)

 

 

 

Sunday Morning

Lily awoke in the predawn. Mauve light bathed her bedroom walls and bed. She cherished early hours, especially sunrises, as if they declared messages. Her worn copy of Wuthering Heights had tumbled onto the bedroom floor beside the bed. Lily leaned over the side of her bed and retrieved the novel. She placed it on her nightstand beside the other books. She showered and dressed for Beulah. She brewed coffee and toasted an English muffin for breakfast. Finally she brushed her teeth and checked herself in her bathroom mirror again before driving to Beulah.

When she arrived at church, several cars were there. Deacons and elders, she assumed, came early to prep the classrooms and church grounds for Sunday’s services. The sun grew higher in eastern sky. Lily planned to sit in her car to gather her thoughts before going to Tim’s class. She opened her purse, retrieved her iPhone and checked her Bible app. She began to read. Suddenly the shadow of someone darkened her side of her small car, startling her. She looked up nervously from her car. Donald smiled down at her. Lily smiled and exhaled. She opened her car door and grabbed her phone.

“I hope I didn’t scare you, Miss Rood,” Donald said. “I saw you pull in and thought I’d be sure you were okay.”

“I won’t lie. You did scare me, but I’m glad it’s you,” Lily said.

“Hopefully coming to Beulah does not frighten prospects,” Donald said, smiling. “May I walk you in?”

“Yes, yes. Please. No, I enjoy Beulah very much, but I had some interesting encounters at Glim’s Wal-Mart. I’m skittish now.”

“Wal-Mart? Well, I’ve lived here before Wal-Mart came, and I went there as often before they came as I have since.”

Uncertain whether she understood Donald, Lily smiled and raised her eyebrows to signal him to continue.

“I’m a farmer, Miss Rood. Well, I was. Now my boys run it. For me, Wal-Mart signals a huge shift, one I’m not sure I’m fond of.”

“I see.”

“But you said you had an interesting encounter? I hope you were not in danger,” Donald said.

“I was accused by a couple of hitting their car door with my car door in the parking lot,” Lily said, “but I didn’t. I parked about as far away from the front as possible and this couple parked right beside me when there must’ve been four acres of parking lot they could have used.”

“Sounds like there’s more to this, Miss Rood. Perhaps we can continue over coffee this week with Thomas, if you have time,” Donald said. He opened the church doors for Lily and they both entered Beulah’s narthex.

“I’d welcome that, Donald. Thank you. I know where Tim’s class is, so I’ll go on alone. I’m good now.”

Donald extended his hand and Lily inhaled the Jergens.

“Is it okay with your wife if I hug you?” Lily asked.

“I’m old enough to be your father, dear. I don’t think there’s any danger of jealousy.”

When Lily turned towards Tim’s classroom down the corridor, she heard voices issuing from within. She checked her iPhone to confirm it was on silent mode and crossed into the class, looking for Tim and Nathanael.

“Lily!” Beth said. “Welcome back. So glad you came again. I’ve brought two of my oldest friends. You know Desiree and Alice, of course.”

(To be continued)

Lily (Part forty-seven)

Nathanael’s composure never left him. Self-possessed, he remained near the wall where he could see down the main corridors of the church and into the narthex. Only weeks earlier Lily had entered this same way and seen Fred Aims, Donald, and attended Tim’s class for the first time.

Lily surveyed the parishioners as before. She found a seat three rows behind Donald and his wife. She pulled her iPhone from her purse, verified it was still on silent, and opened the Bible app. It was still in Ruth. Momentarily Lily’s thoughts turned again to Tim and his class. Naomi’s bitterness in the early parts of Ruth reminded her of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. Miss Havisham eventually sought forgiveness for her treatment of Pip. And Naomi’s story ends with her being blessed by her peers, bitterness replaced by benediction.

“Ms. Rood, may we join you?” It was Nathanael with his guest. When Lily raised her eyes, she saw Nathanael smiling politely. Jovial Thomas McDavid stood behind him.

“Of course,” Lily said. “O Thomas, hi. I had no idea Nathanael was waiting for you.”

“I hope I didn’t keep Nathan from you long,” Mr. McDavid said. Looking at Lily, Thomas said, “He has been asking me to come to Beulah nonstop since he assumed his new role.”

Lily watched Nathanael for a response but his equanimity remained fixed. He only smiled and took his seat beside Lily and Thomas McDavid.

(To be continued)

Lily (Part forty-five)

“Lily, I’m glad you returned to Beulah today and to our class,” Tim said.

“I enjoy your teaching very much.”

“It was awkward for you this morning, I take it?”

“I’m not from here,” Lily said. She felt embarrassed to state the obvious. “And that is creating some challenges.”

“A Naomi in Moab?”

“There was no famine in the land for me in Rook,” Lily said. “But like Naomi, I did leave for what I hoped would be a better life.”

“How have you found things since coming here,” Tim asked.

“I am enjoying teaching. I have some bright and thoughtful students at Covenant. Plus I have met some interesting peers.” Lily was thinking of her friend Thomas McDavid.

“But I have not been welcomed by all people there—or here. And I appreciate Beulah. Mr. Donald has welcomed me and become a friend. I don’t know his wife well yet but I hope to. Mr. Fred Aims would have become a friend, too, I believe, until…”

“Fred Aims was a precious man. His wife Ellen is just as precious. And Donald and his wife are cut from the same cloth as the Aims parents,” Tim said.

“Do you think it is perhaps impossible to be liked by all people we know, however, Lily?”

“More each day,” Lily said. “I do not like confrontation but I have found enemies since relocating here.”

“It seems you are respected at least by the new headmaster at Covenant,” Tim said questioningly.

“I only met Nathanael and his parents since the turnover drama surrounding Mr. Aims’ replacement. Nathanael has been very kind to me, yes. I cannot say the same for one of his aunts, however.”

“Ms. Lily, we are a small town here. Sometimes people’s thinking can be similarly myopic. Do we understand one another?”

“I think so. I did not seek enemies when moving here to teach. I came in hope of making some new friends, of finding a church where I belonged…”

“And you are making those friends. I hope you remain at Beulah, as you have a foothold already. Our enemies, Lily, come somewhat like our friends–unplanned by us. Friendships are not manufactured; they seem ordained for us—like doors we open already prepared for us. Our enemies are likewise unplanned by us, but there.”

“I see why you teach,” Lily said.

“Ha! Thank you. I have enemies too, to be sure. But I think I have some friends as well,” Tim said.

Lily felt someone looking at her. Down the corridor Nathanael stood against the wall watching her. He appeared to be waiting for someone.

(To be continued)

Lily (Part forty)

For Lily, several days bled into lonely evenings. Dusk invariably found her heart heavy. Each passing February day’s light faded but her sorrows increased in counterpoint. Her thoughts turned upon her as opponents. She wrestled invisible foes during her dreams while she fought to rest. Beth’s visage plagued her mind–the fake black fingernails, the masculine hands, the ruined hair. Lily suffered when alone. When not teaching, she sought comfort in reading and at Beulah on weekends. She longed for Thomas McDavid to attend Beulah, but it did not appear he was active at Beulah or otherwise in a local church body.

When Sunday arrived, Lily rose as if she had slept upon stones rather than a bed. She ached in her hip and lower back. The gray in her hair, she believed, betrayed her melancholy. But Beulah promised Tim’s teaching Sunday school, seeing Donald, and perhaps Nathanael. She washed, dressed, and drove towards Beulah.

As she pulled into Beulah’s parking lot and exited her car, sunlight shone above and around Beulah’s steeple. She stepped from her car. “Christ,” she said.

“What’s that?” an elderly woman asked. It was Mrs. Ellen Aims.

“I’m sorry, what?” Lily asked.

“You said ‘Christ’ as you got out of your car. I’m sorry, but I saw you pull in and I was watching you. You remember me, right?”

“Yes, of course. I’m sorry,” Lily said, “but I did not realize I had said anything. How are you, Mrs. Aims?”

“It’s alright, dear. I talk to myself, too,” Mrs. Aims said.

“I was just thinking as I pulled in, and I saw the sun and steeple… I’m rambling. Sometimes I just see things, you know?”

“It’s really alright, dear. If you cannot say ‘Christ’ here, when can you?” Mrs. Aims said. “Would you care to walk in together?”

“I would love that. Thank you,” Lily said.

Ahead Lily could see Donald at the front door of the church, smiling at her and Mrs. Ellen Aims. Lily grinned to herself, thinking of the Jergens scent she’d soon inhale. She walked beside Mrs. Aims, looking towards Donald, as the sun fell upon them like a benediction.

(To be continued)

Lily (Part twenty-eight)

Michael’s questions spurred Lily. Why? Always the question. Lily remembered stepping from her car onto Beulah’s blacktop parking lot for the first time. Weeks ago now when she met Donald, Fred Aims, Tim the Sunday school teacher, and Beth. Even with Beth, Beulah called to her. Tim taught Scripture the way she taught literature: read the text, explain the context out of which it was created, and then probe the situations and characters based upon the type of literature it is. Only by doing at least these things could one rightly interpret literature. Tim asked thoughtful questions, too, a hallmark of powerful teaching. Donald was there. And Mrs. Ellen Aims. And the pastor seemed humble and wise. Yes, she thought, she appreciated Beulah and her people.

And at Covenant, she believed she had a friend in Thomas McDavid. He encouraged her delicate disposition each time they were together. He was too old to view her sexually, so she felt safe with him. Moreover, he appeared to have read everything. He feigned not knowing which characters did what in Shakespeare’s plays or in the great novels, but Lily knew that he knew them all.

But what about Covenant’s leadership? What would happen to Beth, or between her, Sarah, and Ruth? And there was Nathanael.

“Miss Rood, did you hear me?” Michael asked.

“I’m sorry, but what did you say?” Lily said.

“I asked you whether you think Shakespeare expected us as readers of Hamlet to believe in the reality of ghosts. After all, King Hamlet appears as a motivating force for many, if not all, of Prince Hamlet’s actions,” Michael said.

“Excellent, Michael. What do you all think about the question Michael has raised, class?” Lily asked.

As hands went up to respond, Nathanael knocked upon Lily’s classroom door.

“I’m sorry, class. Give me just a minute, okay?” she said, and walked from the front of her classroom to the door. Heads swiveled in unison following Lily to her door.

“Good morning, Ms. Rood. I’m sorry to interrupt your class,” Nathanael said.

“It’s okay, but is everything alright?” Lily asked.

“Actually, I came to ask you a few things,” Nathanael said.

“Really?” The question hovered in the hallway air between them.

“Perhaps I should say that I feel like you are owed some explanation of what has occurred at Covenant, and a bit of background on my mother, her sisters, especially Beth, and how I came to be here,” Nathanael said.

“I would welcome all of that,” Lily said.

“Do you know where the Cup-n-Saucer is?” Nathanael asked.

“I do.”

“How about there about 6:45 tomorrow morning?”

“Sure,” Lily said. “I’ll be there.”

“Very well, then,” Nathanael said.

“Sorry again about interrupting class. Literature was my favorite subject in high school, and I’ve taken you away from your class for too long,” Nathanael said.

“Well, you’re the headmaster, right? I suppose they may excuse my brief absence from discussing Hamlet,” Lily said.

“Oh, do we not teach Dickens’ Great Expectations to seniors nowadays?”

“We do, for sure. But we are discussing drama this morning, especially how our past… you remember King Hamlet, right? Anyway, his ghost, or Hamlet’s mind, or whatever…well, the past played a crucial role in his future,” Lily said.

“As it did for Pip in Great Expectations, if I recall correctly,” Nathanael said. “Funny,” Nathanael continued. “The past is really what I wanted to discuss with you tomorrow morning.”

“I will see you at 6:45, then,” Lily said, and returned to her class.

(To be continued)

 

Lily (Part twenty)

Tim turned and walked towards his chair and addressed the class.

“It is difficult to put a happy face on the events of the last week. But we rejoice in the arrival of the eldest Aims daughter Sarah, and of course, Aaron, and Nathanael,” Tim said.

Tim looked at Sarah and her family as he spoke. “You know we loved your father, just as we love you all, and we are here with you as you grieve your father’s death. But we celebrate your father’s life, too, his legacy he left through you, through his ministries at Beulah, and especially through Covenant.”

Sarah, Aaron, and Nathan nodded in appreciation, and remained quiet.

“Thank you so much for that, Tim,” Beth said. “Dad would not want us all to grieve his loss but to get back to the business at hand. But thank you all so much for your support. It is truly felt.”

Lily raised her eyes from looking at and listening to Tim, and glanced at Sarah to see what her face registered. Sarah, Aaron, and Nathanael sat in equipoise, listening. Tim nodded in Beth’s direction but did not speak to her comment.

“With that said, let’s turn our attention to the Scriptures again. Last week, we explored the passage from Genesis 32 where Jacob wrestles with God. I asked you to think about what God revealed about himself, what God taught Jacob about Jacob’s own nature, and what lessons we are to draw from that historical account,” Tim said.

“As I said last week, Tim, Jacob was blessed by God to do great things. The angel of the Lord was there as confirmation of God’s being with Jacob,” Beth said.

Lily did not look at Beth, but could still hear Beth’s bracelets slide up and down her forearms while she spoke.

“Does anyone else have other thoughts on Genesis 32, perhaps about God’s nature, or about what Jacob should have been learning?” Tim asked.

Lily did not say anything but felt her pulse increase as Beth sat satisfied in her metal folding chair. Lily glanced again towards Sarah and family, as they sat politely, seemingly untouched by Beth, and listened thoughtfully to Tim as he continued.

“Normally I would not do this but I want us to leave Genesis 32 without finishing the whole story, and turn to a New Covenant passage: Acts 1,” Tim said.

“As always with Scripture, context is key. When the passage under consideration opens, Luke recounts how Jesus was with his apostles—bodily–post-resurrection. And Jesus is promising them that the Father will send the Holy Spirit. Follow me in the text:

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

“Just like last week, ask yourself what Jesus is teaching his people about himself, about themselves, and how this applies to our lives.

“Let’s be specific. How did the apostles feel in this passage as Jesus was speaking with them?” Tim asked.

“They were looking to him as their leader to restore order to Israel,” Nathanael said. “But they still did not understand God’s plans were not yet their plans. They felt nervous or anxious, we might say.”

“That’s right, Nathan. Excellent. What makes you say that?” Tim asked.

“Tim, I think the focus was on how God would entrust them to lead,” Beth interjected.

“That’s interesting,” Tim said. “And was the Lord teaching them about who their leader was to be?”

“They were looking for earthly power, still,” said Sarah. “They did not understand the New Covenant yet. They were looking to bolster political might, to capture the culture with godly talk but without God’s means.”

“I think you’re on to something, Sarah,” said Tim. “They called Jesus ‘Lord’, so it sounded good, if you will. But in verse seven, Jesus rebukes them: ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority’.

“Might humility be called for?” Tim asked.

“I think that God was simply telling them that they were going to be used mightily to change their culture. They were going to have God’s blessing and power,” Beth said.

Tim did not say anything. He surveyed the expressions of the class. Lily felt her right foot tapping up and down on the blue carpet. Sarah and Aaron sat like jurors, calm and smiling. When Lily looked at Nathanael, she was pleased to see him looking back at her, smiling.

(To be continued)