Lily (Part fifty)

As Thomas McDavid disappeared from Lily’s door, Beth appeared, orange and ruined hair the color of brass, and tight white slacks, better suited for a young woman.

“Good morning, Ms. Rood.”

“Hello. May I help you?” Lily asked.

“Did I interrupt anything? I thought I saw a man leaving your room.”

“Did you not say that you saw him?” Lily asked.

“I thought maybe it was Mr. McDavid, but I was not sure. I try not to be alone with a man in my classroom—I mean, my office. It does not paint a professional image.”

“I see,” Lily said. “I suppose having another professional teacher, a peer, a man twenty years my elder, a friend—yes, I suppose you’re right. It could paint the image of two teachers greeting one another early in the morning as they work on their lessons.”

“Ms. Rood, we try to set an example at Covenant.”

“By not collaborating with fellow teachers, I take it?”

“I like to think our students are a reflection of the best of us here at Covenant. For us to ever present ourselves as less than Christian—well, it undermines my father’s vision and what we have built here in our town.”

“My speaking of Shakespeare and Dickens with a respected teacher could be interpreted as moral turpitude, perhaps? Might that phrase be in your mind, Beth?”

“I see no reason to make this personal, Ms. Rood.”

“If you prefer surnames, Ms. Aims, we can keep it on that level.”

“That would be welcomed by me and, I’m sure, by my other colleagues here,” Beth said.

“Understood, Ms. Aims. Let me see if I can clarify for you. You are somewhat different from Mr. Aims. He recruited me from Rook where I taught for many years. He interviewed me over weeks. He spent time—brace yourself—in my classroom. He spoke with me face to face,” Lily said.

“What’s more,” Lily continued, “he got to know me and understood the concept of vocation—calling.”

“Am I being professional enough for you, Ms. Aims?” Lily continued.

“How dare you speak to me like this!” Beth exclaimed.

“Wait, there’s more, Ms. Aims. This vocation—this calling—into teaching, into trying to continue the study of, and appreciation for, literature’s greatest achievements—well, your father, Mr. Aims, he seemed to grasp all of that. He understood what it meant to learn, to teach, to inspire others in appreciation of the true, good, and beautiful.”

“I’ll have you know that my father was a brilliant man, Ms. Rood. He was very strict as a father, especially when we were young girls, but you do not have to tell me how brilliant a man my father was. I should know; I remained at home with him while my other sisters left us. If anyone knew Daddy’s heart, I did,” Beth said.

Lily continued, “Your father got to know me by spending time with me. He did not gossip or spread innuendo. And I came to Covenant because I thought this is where God called me. I believe that he used your father to bring me here.”

“Hmmf! I have never had such a conversation with a faculty member in all my years at Covenant, Ms. Rood. I don’t understand why you must make this personal.”

Looking over Beth, Lily saw a group of people at her classroom door. Sara and Ruth were standing with arms akimbo in the threshold. To their left stood Donald and Nathanael. Thomas McDavid had stepped out of his classroom door.

“Go on, Beth. Let us hear how we left and you are the family heroine,” Sarah said. “Somehow I think Ruth and I can already tell you how your story will end.”

“How dare you! I simply came down here this morning to see Ms. Rood. But when I did, I saw a man leaving her room, and—well, I mean, I have heard things about Ms. Rood,” Beth said.

Suddenly Ruth spoke up. “Thomas, would you come up this way, please?”

Mr. McDavid smiled and walked back towards Lily’s classroom intrepidly. “Good morning, all. How may I be of assistance to the Aims family?” Thomas looked at Lily and winked. Ruth started to speak but Sarah interrupted her. “Thomas, I am sorry to involve you in this, but may I ask how you would characterize your relationship with Ms. Rood? Is it professional only?”

“No.”

Beth raised her head and eyes in triumph. “See!” she said.

“It is more than that. Since Ms. Rood came, I have rediscovered my calling.”

“Can you elaborate, Thomas, please? Is it a more-than-professional relationship?” Sarah asked.

“Certainly. Since Ms. Rood came to Covenant, I have seen a woman who loves her field and the passing on of its wisdom. And as to our relationship, yes—it’s more than professional. She is my friend,” Mr. McDavid said.

“I will not stand for this!” Beth shouted. “She does not belong here.”

“Nathan, I think I’ll let you handle the administration stuff. I’m off to look into the likes of those with the lean hungry looks from Caesar’s circle.”

He turned to go, but then looked at Lily. “Isn’t that right, Ms. Rood?”

Nathanael turned to Donald.

“Donald, would you help me walk my Aunt Beth back to the counselors’ offices, please? She will need to be getting her items removed.”

Sarah and Ruth nodded their heads toward Lily and turned to go. Mr. McDavid had already returned to his classroom.

Suddenly Mrs. Wilkins’ voice came over the intercom:

“Good morning, faculty. Students will be arriving soon, but the headmaster wanted me to remind everyone of the faculty meeting tomorrow morning in the library. We will all get to meet Covenant’s newest employee. She will be working as our new lead counselor. See you tomorrow at 7 a.m. Have a great day, everyone!”

Lily looked up from her chair. Thomas McDavid suddenly reappeared in the hallway. Nathanael and Donald turned around to look back towards Sarah, Ruth, and Beth. Speechlessness filled Lily’s class. The only sound was the clang of bracelets and the crash of Beth’s fleeing heels like fading cymbals.

(The end)

 

Lily (Part forty-eight)

Thomas McDavid sat near the end of the pew. Nathanael was next. Lily sat farthest in. It struck her as strange to see Thomas without his coffee cup. Moreover, Lily did not think Thomas attended Beulah or any other church.

Lily mused. She stared at the pew on which she had laid her iPhone when Nathanael and Thomas McDavid had approached. A small brown crack in the pew caught her eye. She ran her right index finger over it and a splinter of the wood lifted out of the pew’s bottom–a tiny wooden skiff between her index finger and thumb. A splinter for a ship, she thought.

Lily considered whether to speak to Nathanael and Thomas more while already seated in the sanctuary, but chose to remain silent. Singers and instrumentalists found their places behind the pulpit and chords familiar to Lily sounded.

So, remember your people

Remember your children

Remember your promise, oh God

The congregation joined in singing this and another song. Towards the end of a hymn, the pastor approached. Lily watched him place his Bible down and wrap his fingers over the sides of the rostrum.

“Our Father and God,” the pastor said, “we confess today that you and your gospel are the reasons we sing. You and your gospel are the reasons we pray. You and your gospel are the reasons we hope. Move upon us, Lord; show us yourself. We pray in Jesus’s name. Amen.”

The pastor made several announcements about information in Beulah’s church bulletin, about classes and outreach, and finally about the text from which he would speak: Mark 4:35-41.

When the pastor mentioned the text, Lily scrolled to it on her app and began reading. When she raised her eyes again, she looked at Nathanael. Almost motionless he sat, balanced. Thomas sat next to him, half-smiling, it seemed to Lily. She fidgeted some on the pew, trying not to finger the splintered ship at her fingers. She lowered her eyes again to the text as the pastor read:

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith? And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

The pastor paused after reading and looked up from his Bible.

“We have some questions to answer, Beulah. First, who was in the boat? The Lord Jesus, right? And his disciples—his followers, those whom he called, right?” The congregation nodded. Lily dabbed at her brow.

“And when they were in the boat on the Sea of Galilee, what occurs? A storm, right? So tempestuous in fact that waves were flowing into the boat.” Again the congregation nodded.

“And where is the Lord Jesus?” the pastor asked. Several voices were heard in the sanctuary.

“Asleep,” they said.

“Who is asleep?” the pastor asked.

“The Lord Jesus,” many in the sanctuary replied.

“Was he Lord then, when he was asleep? Or was he just human?” the pastor asked. Fewer responses came. “Let me pose it this way, then. Was Jesus any less than God when he was asleep in the boat while his disciples were panicking?”

“No,” came the tentative response.

“Are we listening to our own answers?” the pastor asked. “Is Jesus still Lord—when the winds toss, when the waters come in our boat, when we say we’re followers, but he appears unconscious—asleep, as it were? When this same Lord Jesus does not seem to us to respond when we want, is he still the Lord?” Lily dabbed at her face.

“Yes,” sounded voices through the sanctuary. “Yes,” she heard herself say. Nathanael glanced over at her, but she did not look up. She set the tiny splinter-skiff back into the pew’s bottom with her wet index finger.

(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-six)

Tim offered to escort Lily towards the sanctuary but she declined after she saw Nathanael waiting down the corridor. She bade Tim farewell and walked towards Nathanael. He pushed himself off the wall against which he had been standing and smiled at Lily when she neared him.

“All okay, Ms. Rood?”

“Yes. Tim was welcoming me back to Beulah again. We talked about his class, today’s lesson, and about my move here. He is attentive.”

“Tim’s an excellent teacher,” Nathanael said. “He has known my extended family for years. In a lot of ways, he saw me grow up. Mom, Dad, and I lived up in the northern part of the state in the city, but Tim always kept up with our family.”

“Is he from here?” Lily asked.

“Born and raised. He is one of Beulah’s best. He is from this town but he is not provincial. I think it is safe to say he is wise. He has taught at this church ever since I was in the nursery.”

“You are making me feel old, Nathanael.”

“Well, I’m a bit younger, Ms. Rood, but I think we have similar callings. We both value education. And I share your taste for literature. It was my favorite subject when I was in school, remember? We spoke of this before.”

“I do recall.”

“Well, should we enter the sanctuary?” Lily asked.

“You go ahead, Ms. Rood. I am waiting for someone.”

Lily felt her face redden. “Yes, of course,” she said.

(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)

Lily (Part forty-three)

“I’m fine,” Lily whispered to Nathanael. Tim’s ways of letting Scripture explain itself captivated Lily. Tim asked questions of his Sunday school class and listened to the class’s responses but he invariably returned to the storyline of Scripture itself. Lily understood herself to teach literature the same way–read the play, novel, or poem; then ask questions about what was read; then return to the texts themselves as their own interpreters.

Lily knew Ruth’s story in Scripture well but Tim’s teaching drew her in once again to the plot. “Okay then,” Nathanael said. Nathanael sensed Lily’s focus.

“Does anyone think we might learn from Naomi’s questioning God like she did?” Tim asked.

“Tim, I think Naomi was wrong to do that. We should just trust that the Lord won’t put more on us than we can bear,” Beth interjected.

Lily pressed her own fingernails into the fleshy parts of her palms. She grimaced at the bromides that passed for biblical theology. She longed for Tim to rebuke Beth. She sat back in her chair again to keep from speaking and to release tension in her hip and lower back. She sensed Nathanael watching her.

“So Naomi was self-pitying, Beth?” Tim asked. “Is that what we should understand the story to be teaching at this point?”

“Well, I just know that God has put me in some really tough situations, Tim. And rather than giving in, I fought back. And I—well, I overcame. Now I try to impart that wisdom to the students I’ve led and counseled over the years at Covenant. I see it as my mission field,” Beth returned. Lily felt some acid rise in the back of her throat. She felt forming vomit.

Movement in the classroom. Suddenly Aaron, Sarah and Ruth rose from their chairs and walked out. Looking up from his Bible, Tim said, “Aaron, is something the matter?”

“Excuse us please, Tim. It is not you,” Aaron said. The class alternatively stared at Aaron and Tim, grasping for explanations. Lily looked straight at Nathanael, who had not moved.

(To be continued)

Lily (Part forty-two)

As if nothing has occurred, Lily thought. This mocks the very name of Christ. And yet we are allowed by God to sit here and partake of her goodies’?

Lily seethed as the rest of the Sunday school class placed Beth’s ceramic dishes onto trays against the back wall of the room, their outsides clean of crumbs.

“Thank you again, Beth, for feeding the class this morning.”

“You guys are so welcome, Tim. I wanted to do it,” Beth said, smiling.

Lily had neither eaten nor drunk anything since the day before. She sat with her right leg over her left in the folding metal chair, waiting.

“This morning I would like to turn our attention to the story of Ruth in the Old Testament,” Tim said. “As you turn there in your Bibles, would anyone like to share any insights into the history of Ruth or things you would like us to discuss?”

Suddenly the sound of bracelets slipping down forearms onto Beth’s masculine hands preceded the voice Lily dreaded.

“Oh Tim, I just love the story of Ruth. It is about a powerful woman God used to accomplish mighty things,” Beth said. “It has always held a special place for me in my walk with the Lord.”

For a moment, Lily contemplated swallowing her own tongue.

“That’s interesting, Beth,” Tim responded. “Can you elaborate on what you mean?”

“Of course,” Beth said. “I just think that Ruth was so important to God because she didn’t leave when others left. She remained with her family. She did not go off. She stayed and God used her to become an even greater woman.” Beth scoped the classroom as she spoke, in case her sisters were present.

Lily felt perspiration begin to form on her forehead but she did not speak.

“That is an interesting take on Ruth as part of the storyline of Scripture, Beth,” Tim said. “Does anyone else have some things you might share about Ruth—either as a woman, per se, or perhaps as part of what God was doing?”

Suddenly four people appeared at the door.

“I’m sorry we are late, Tim.” It was Aaron and Sarah. Ruth walked in beside her sister, and Nathanael entered last.

“No problem, guys. Welcome. Please grab some goodies your sister-in-law brought, and join us. We’re discussing the baker’s namesake,” Tim said.

Lily straightened up in her chair, and patted her forehead to check for perspiration. Nathanael sat next to her. Aaron, Sarah, and Ruth sat adjacent to Nathanael.

“Well, I don’t think Beth is a book of the Bible,” Aaron said, “so I guess that means you’re in Ruth today?”

“All that law school paid off, Aaron,” Tim said, smiling. “I was asking the class what insights about Ruth as a person, or as a woman, per se, or as a character in Scripture, they might have.”

No one spoke for a moment, until finally Tim continued.

“Well, Beth mentioned that Ruth was a powerful woman used mightily by God.”

Nathanael turned his eyes towards Lily without turning his head. Lily cleared her throat and adjusted into a more comfortable position in her chair.

“What actually was the setting of Ruth?” Tim asked.

“Wasn’t it during the time of the judges?” Nathanael asked.

“It was, Nathan. Exactly. So that was the 900s B.C.,” Tim said. “And what was the time period like for the people in the story? Was the nation experiencing a time of blessing by the Lord? Was the nation politically and nationally stable?”

Nathanael and Lily both smiled sadly, and shook their heads, as did several others in class.

“It was not,” Tim said. “As Nathan said, this was the time of the judges. When the story of Ruth opens, we are told right away that there was a famine in the land. And so a man, Elimelech, and his wife, Naomi, and their two sons go in search of better fortune in Moab. Once in Moab, however, Elimelech died. And Naomi is now widowed, with two sons, in a land not her own.

“And then more bad news strikes. Naomi’s sons married Moabite women, but after a while, her two sons die, too. Now Naomi has two daughters-in-law, and she’s still away from her home back in Bethlehem.”

Beth made some motions in her chair when Tim said ‘away from her home’, and adjusted some rings on her hands.

Lily could hear the metallic clink of Beth’s bracelets carried on the air. No one else in the room seemed to stir.

“Tim, this is the part I just love,” Beth interjected. “You see a woman who does not leave her family when times are tough.”

“Ah, you mean Ruth, of course, Beth,” Tim said. “Yes of course, but we are not there yet in the story. At this point, we are still reading of Naomi, of how she felt God was against her, how she felt bitter, et cetera. Is everyone with me?”

Except for Beth, the class nodded in agreement. “At issue here, it seems to me,” Tim said, “is this woman, Naomi, who had gone with her husband and sons to a territory not their own. And yet tragedy had set in—in several ways. For her, she lost her husband, her sons, there’s famine still back in Bethlehem, and now she has a complicated life as a woman in the ancient Near East with two daughters-in-law, and she questions God. Does anyone else in here think that we might do the same thing if God allowed those circumstances in our lives?”

Lily was unaware that she had begun leaning forward in her seat. Gently, Nathanael leaned into Lily’s left shoulder. “You okay?” he whispered.

(To be continued)