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 (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 (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 (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)