“Lily” (Part eight)

“I just hated to see you sit by yourself at our church,” Beth whispered to Lily. Lily feinted a smile in Beth’s direction. Lily never wanted to disturb worship.imgres

The pastor wrapped his hands over the lip of the chancel. “Solomon,” he said, “presents the gospel in the Old Testament. Listen to the familiar proverb again, and read it not only in its original setting but also in light of the story of Scripture, the Bible as a whole.

“‘Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find.’ Does that not have the ring of familiarity?

Do we not all know people—political leaders, actors, singers, icons, people in our own families, but mostly ourselves who have done this?

“Many of us have proclaimed our dependability, our trueness, our constancy, right? But when we examine our realities in light of holy God, how do we fare?”

Lily felt perspiration build under her right armpit. She again knew why she’d come to Beulah. She needed this truth—that she was the guilty one. But she also needed the truth that God came for the repentant guilty. Lily saw herself as a Jacob—a deceiver redeemed, but with a spiritual limp. She knew she judged others more harshly than she ought. She knew she did not deserve mercy. She knew God would be just to damn her. She knew that she didn’t love God as she ought, and that she would answer for her sins. But Christ.

Suddenly the pastor looked up from his notes and out at the congregation. “But when we examine ourselves in light of holy God, church, how do we fare? Do we not feel like Isaiah—sinners with unclean lips, undone, lost?

“And we are. But that is not where God left sinners who repent. He did not say, ‘If you clean up your act, I will then accept you.’ No, he said, ‘but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ He says we’re to believe upon Christ.”

Lily had heard the gospel message for most of her life in Rook. She discipled teenage girls at the school she left in Rook before accepting this new offer to teach at Covenant. She knew the gospel. She knew the passages of Scripture most pastors used to illustrate man’s nature and his only hope of rescue through Christ. Yet this truth amazed.

Movement on Lily’s right side caught her eye. She saw Beth again spinning the golden rings on her ugly fingers. And her fake black nails arced like ravens’ claws. Beth’s rust-colored head leaned forward, as if in prayer. Lily felt guilty for her visceral reactions to Beth. Lily almost whispered to Beth. An apology? How does one apologize to another for one’s own thought life, Lily thought.

(To be continued)

 

 

 

 

 

“Lily” (Part four)

Lily tried to listen. She wanted others to comment about Jacob’s wrestling match with the angel, but all Lily could see was Beth’s black nails at the end of the masculine hands. Beth maimgresnipulated each ring on her fingers. She’d not remove them; she’d turn them round and round on each hideous finger, as if planning. Still, no one else spoke after Beth. Her words were shadows that darkened the atmosphere. Other than her ruined rust-colored hair, Beth was a tower of darkness, adorned with golden ornaments.

“I must seem so odd,” Lily thought, “here from Rook, a teacher from another state, and everyone seems to know each other here. Please, Lord, send me a friend.”

“Well,” Tim addressed the class, “Jacob was of course used greatly by God, as Beth said. He is renamed, in fact. God gives him a new identity. Jacob is Israel soon hereafter, a deceiver become struggler, and father of twelve sons, a man through whom God will continue to keep his promise to bless those whose trust is in him.”

“That’s exactly right, Tim,” Beth said. “I remember when Dad started Covenant School. He told Mom and us girls how God had called him to plant a school with godly counselors–and teachers, too, who would guide kids in the right direction. We ended up selling our big farm out Highway 91, and we moved into town and began Covenant. It was like we all had a new identity—like Jacob did! Right, Tim?”

Lily turned to water in her metal chair. She would not have been surprised to see Beulah’s custodian enter the Sunday school classroom door to mop her up—drop by drop. Beth was the headmaster’s daughter. Beth, the rusty-haired word factory. Beth, a tower of hot air and dark shadows; a counselor sure to plunge students into ruin, and Lily into unemployment.

(To be continued)

“Lily” (Part three)

Beth’s figure cast a shadow over Lily’s chair. Lily looked up reluctantly, fluorescence glittering off Beth’s hands and earlobes. “Thank you,” Lily responded. Beth’s feinted welcome rangimgres hollow to Lily.

“We’re a great class,” Beth said. “I’ve been here for years. I should promote up to the next age group, I suppose, but I just love Tim, and this class. Tim’s a great teacher, and we’re all such a close group. If you want, I could introduce you. I know everybody.” Lily’s stomach again turned.

“I work at Covenant, too” Beth said, “but I’m with administration. I’m a counselor. I help direct students in ways they ought to go.” For a moment, Lily felt she might vomit. “Oh,” said Lily. “I teach English—grammar and literature.” It didn’t appear to Lily that Beth had even heard her.

Behind Beth, Lily could see Tim making his way towards his lectern. “Guys, we’ll go ahead and get started this morning,” he said. “First, welcome to Lily. She teaches at Covenant. She moved from Rook last month. Please make her feel welcome. “

Tim and the others in class smiled at Lily. Beth, who had taken a seat opposite Lily, interjected: “Guys, this is Lily. Yes, she works with me at Covenant. But she just teaches English. We in administration are just so glad she came to Covenant and to our church, aren’t we?” Beth’s bracelets jangled. Lily felt acid in her throat.

Tim sat upon the stool, glanced down at the lectern, and addressed the class. “The passage this morning comes from Genesis. It’s the story of Jacob’s wrestling with God in chapter 32.

“Be thinking about what God is teaching about his own nature, and about Jacob’s nature. Then ask yourself how this episode in the life of the patriarch applies to us. Are we at all like Jacob? Then we’ll discuss these things, okay?” The class nodded. Tim read:

 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip on the sinew of the thigh.

 Lily looked up from her Bible app, where she’d been following Tim’s reading. Tim looked out at the class. “Well,” he said, “did anyone notice the first sentence—and the crowd of people Jacob was with?”

Lily appreciated Tim’s method. Beth, unsurprisingly, spoke first. “Well, Tim, I know just how Jacob felt. I mean, when I’m with the Lord, I too want God to bless me, and I think it’s so important to listen to him like Jacob did.” Again, Lily felt her stomach turn.

Then Tim looked at Lily. “Lily,” he said, “you look like you wanted to say something.”

“Well,” Lily said, “Jacob was not with a crowd. He was alone when the Lord confronted him.”

“Oh,” Beth said, “well, I mean, of course, he was. We knew that. I was just saying how God blesses us.” Again, the feeling in Lily’s stomach.

“That’s right, Lily. Jacob was alone when he wrestled with the angel of the Lord,” Tim said. “Does anyone think that is significant?” Lily felt Beth’s glare.

“Well, Tim, we all know that Jacob was going to be used by God for something great,” Beth continued.

Then Beth looked down at her hands and began adjusting two of the rings on her right hand. Lily glanced at some of the faces in the semi-circled class to see if anyone’s thoughts were with hers. Several people nodded at her. Beth fondled her golden rings and avoided Lily’s eyes.

(To be continued)