The headlines he had seen for years were really calls to sin on the authority of men. He had never seen it so clearly before. There were false religions everywhere. The answer was laid out in The Bible when God gave no mercy to Levites worshiping the golden calf, why should he? Even though all those people had traveled in the name of God, like the government had always done, behaving in the name of God, they still needed to be punished. He sat back a little and tried to relax. He had gotten carried away for the moment. The United States of America is a God fearing nation of mostly good Christians. The country’s government wouldn’t be the problem. The highlighted word was the first sign, but not the entire message. He needed to remain calm.
Closing his eyes he tilted his head back and prayed, “Thank you, Lord, for the blessing of sight. I will continue your work.”
It wasn’t possible to change people’s minds with the truth alone. In the past he had tried to explain to those of weak faith using the truth as he received it, but they rarely listened to his message of salvation and joy. Even those that professed to agree seemed unwilling to have the commitment required for making God’s word their world. Despite this, nobody ever asked him to speak to the congregation or wished him to teach a Sunday school class. Remorse filled his heart when thinking on their sins. Realizing his focus was drifting, he lay back on the bed searching his mind for the next move. Only a few superficial thoughts poked into his awareness before sleep took him. The sleep was dreamless.
Light coming in the bedroom windows woke him from the thoughtless sleep. He stood from bed and for the moment, his mind empty. After the bathroom, he went to make oatmeal with cinnamon and sugar for breakfast. The pressing matter of his task quietly began to eat at him while water boiled. A lump in his throat made him shift uncomfortably with a rush of emotion and awareness. Rather than letting panic distort focus, he moved his thoughts to simple things for the day. There was obviously more research to do. He would start with The Bible today. Steam from the oatmeal worked like incense in his home filling every room with the scent of the morning ritual. He cleaned the kitchen utensils, retrieved the juice from his room along with his Bible, and began to reading some of his most beloved passages. It worked to energize him, as story after story of God’s prime creation forsaking his blessings galvanized his resolve. “It was in man’s nature to take the evil path, and that nature should never be forgotten, or more dangerously, underestimated,” he thought after the first three verses of John 18. The disease, already within people, to which God provided the only vaccine and no faithful person would decline the duty to be well. Christian’s lackadaisical acceptance of gays, foreign faith, and work on the Sabbath made him sad, sad and sick. He would flood the world tomorrow if he had the power, or rain a cleansing fire the great cities of the world. He had lost focus again. The Bible was closed and put aside. He decided to take the air.
He strolled around his yard hoping for something to come to him but nothing did, so he decided to work, to write instead of read. The writing session continued into the evening. He ate another sandwich with pen in hand, lines of notebooks filled with passion. Once the notebook he worked in was filled he glanced around for a new one. Frustration hit him, as he realized there were no more blank pages to fill, but there was so much more which would unfortunately have to wait. Wednesday service was tomorrow night, and he would replenish his medium after. Unfulfilled, he crawled into bed bringing the sheet up so the edge would be across his shoulders. Ideas began to take on voices of their own as he faded. He began to listen closely allowing them to become louder and more numerous. His final clear thought was, I get to listen in on the conversations of Angels plotting God’s glorification.
The next morning he drove into town to get some pens, a bottle of juice, a stack of new notebooks, and a pack of bacon. Once his home was stocked with the newly purchased supplies, he headed for Church.
He always arrived early on Wednesdays to get everything ready for the evening service. He went around to each class room and straightened rows of chairs, emptied trash cans, cleared chalk boards, and vacuumed. This took him a few hours to complete, but the church paid him a little wage every week which was all he needed. He would have done it for nothing, but the church reported the wage for tax purposes. Once the little church was in order, he headed home to get ready for tonight’s service. While he prepared, a hope of something in tonight’s service came to him. The idea of such an event added urgency to his movements, and soon, he was back in the Lincoln.
He smiled noticing the parking lot of the little church was quite full for a Wednesday night. The walk to the entrance was graced with the sounds of children playing outside before having to come in for the service. Every step and the familiar smell of strong perfume brought him closer joy. As he reached the door, a rush of cold air ushered him into the foyer. The main room hummed with conversations which echoed inside the small space.
He was greeted often during his journey down the center of the room. “Evening,” and, “Well hey, stranger,” came from either side of partially filled pews. Returning each greeting with a handshake or hug, he strode to the front of the room. He preferred to sit in the second row, “it allows me to be at the front, but still be a part of the group,” was his philosophy. He continued to converse with fellow followers about things they deemed important. These conversations could be awkward for him, as only the Word was important, yet he managed to seem interested, and when the opportunity permitted, interjecting a relevant Bible reference. Those references often brought compliments on his level of study forcing him to suppress pride. He knew Bible study was important for everyone, and he shared this knowledge with people educating them until the organ would announce the beginning of service. He always enjoyed observing the silence slowly wash over the room in anticipation.
He turned to the pulpit to see the secretary and speaker for the church, Ellen, walk up to the podium, adjusting the microphone down to her height followed by a look to the organ. Once the organ music reached an end she said, “Good evening.” The congregation echoed the greeting with little variation. She was dressed in a flowing gray blouse and gray dress pants with tiny black speckles covering them. Her dark-brown hair stood away from her lightly tanned skin, held in place by ample quantities of hairspray, in waves that cascaded down each side of her face. Even though her wrinkles had become more numerous since he was a boy, he still felt she was an attractive and captivating woman. Nobody doubted her devotion to the church or to her faith.
She opened by addressing a few minor administrative issues: winter vacation bible school schedules, Thanksgiving and Christmas events, attendance numbers over the last week, donations for a local family in some troubles, and the announcement of a religious country band booked for late January were most of the big picture items. She spoke quickly, yet melodiously. A few questions came back to her from the audience which spawned some back and forth discussion. This was his least favorite part of Wednesday service. God is almost never brought up during this exchange. Putting any needs, before attending to the Lord’s work, was not the kind of Christian he aspired to be, but he had to admit good things for the church sometimes came of the discourse. After the business of things was out of the way, she thanked everyone for attending the Wednesday service and proceeded to introduce the choir leader who presented a few hymns to sing. The unsteady pitch created from a room full of less-than-amateurs possessed a charm. He was always amused at the blending of voices during hymns, sure that most of the church members did not sing often, and many, or likely most, of them only sang at church. Once singing concluded, Ellen returned to the microphone. “That was beautiful y’all, thank you. Now let’s open the floor to our own Reverand Spurian,” she said looking to her left, as the Reverend approached the podium she gave him a warm smile and stepped back, out of his path.
Reverend Trevor Spurian was a thirty year veteran of the pulpit. He wore a light green suite and his auburn hair had a swooping part that started above his left eye. He was tall and wide, but his round face and contoured expressions were ageless. His sermons tended to be compassionate, calling on the good nature of Christians fellowship while presenting the Word with an artistic clarity that revealed the beauty in difficult verses. The congregation knew they were lucky to have such a preacher.
The Reverend looked over the rows of submissive eyes and opened his Bible. “In second Kings, chapter 21, verse 2, the book tells us Ma-năsss’eh, the king of Jerusalem, did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord by adopting ‘the abominations of heathen, whom the Lord cast out before the children of Israel. For he built up again the high places which his father had destroyed, and he reared up altars for Baal… And he made his son pass through fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards: he wrought much wickedness in the sight of the Lord.’ You see brothers and sisters, Ma-năsss’eh was questioning the will of God. It is not for us to know the will of God, but resist it, and a child bound for the grace of Heaven will fall as Satan did when he We move to verse fourteen, and God warned his prophets he would deliver them into the hand of their enemies; and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies. Because they have done that which was evil in my sight.’ Ma-năsss’eh had tested the Lord’s resolve, even though the book tells us that his own father had done God’s work. Many people in the modern world behave the same way as Ma-năsss’eh. They want to be able to understand faith, thus making faith an easy road.” The preacher let his gaze float over the room allowing the listeners to digest his words. “Children, faith is not an easy road. Faith has never been easy. Jesus asked of his father while dying upon his cross, ‘why hast thou forsaken me?’ Abraham was given the test of sacrificing his son, and Lot suffered the loss of his wife under the tests of faith.
“In the mighty city of Constantinople, a city that had been gifted by angles to Emperor Constantine, and given him was great glory for submission to God. Along came the Persian force of Mehmed II who laid siege to Constantinople for fifty-three days. The Christians inside the city walls were given the opportunity to convert to the false gods of the mighty Persian empire, but they refused.” Gripping the front of the podium with a left hand and with the right holding the Bible out to the congregation, the Reverend’s voice increased in volume and resonance, “They were trapped inside while the forces of evil raised the city around them and murdered them with deadly weapons of war,” using the Bible as a pointer bouncing it at a new face with every syllable. “The streets were flooded with the blood of the innocent, and the great city of God fell into darkness.” The moment the Reverend finished, something changed in the church.
The light around Reverend Spurian grew darker and the pews began to vibrate. An expression of confusion covered his face as he looked to the esteemed minister. His heart started to pound inside his chest. Looking back at the first two rows to see if anyone else looked uncomfortable, his skin went cold as all eyes were on him. He risked looking at rows of pews further into the room. Everyone stared at him, wide eyed and unmoving. He looked to the Reverend who was leaned over the podium clutching the top with both hands now, looking directly at him with the same wide-eyed stare. “Trapped,” the Reverend spat, trembling. “The demons of Persia wanted to crush their faith. They wanted those Christians to forget God. All God’s enemies are abominations. They will envelope this world in darkness. Satan has released demons into the world to tempt us and our neighbors. We must punish their wicked ways, administer God’s wrath to demons and sinners alike.” The Reverend looked to the congregation and cried, “Retribution!” They chanted the word in response. “Retribution,” the Reverend’s voice was no longer alone. A second disembodied voice croaked the word in unison. Again the congregation answered. “Retribution,” the reverend’s voice was so loud it filled his head and forced him to cover his ears.
In an instant, all returned to calm. He looked to his neighbors. They were listening intently to the Reverend. Not a single person noticed him. He looked back to the rest of the congregation, no one even glanced in his direction. It had to be another message. “Let us end with a prayer,” the Reverend announced. After the closing prayer he did not stay to hear Reverend Spurian thanking members for attending, or to shake hands and provide pleasantries. He moved for the exit nearly jogging, momentum sent him crashing into the foyer as the glass doors rattled on impact. The outside had grown dark to match the cold. Wind that politely ushered him into the church before, now sliced through him. The car provided in silence and solitude. He closed his eyes, started his car, and sped off dodging parked cars and slinging more gravel. Fear and confusion filled his thoughts.
The need to write it all down screamed at him the whole way home and launched him through his front door. He wrote feverishly describing the scene in as much detail as he could remember. He looked for answers in the scene from church. Understanding it was all that mattered. Grabbing yesterday’s writings, he searched for an unnoticed clue. If a link to the event at the church existed, it had to be found. He still wrote and studied when morning light began to once again leak through his bedroom window. He finally, and unknowingly, fell to sleep with pen in hand.
His dreams were of Reverend Spurian and the congregation. They were clawing at him. “Retribution,’ the preacher called out to him from a podium a dozen feet directly above. The congregation pressed him into the bottom of the tall podium making breath labored. Fingers began to push into the flesh of his face. Foreign fingers crossed the threshold into his nostrils makings his eyes water and between his lips scraping against his teeth. Their bodies crushed into him, he tried to push back, but their weight was overwhelming. Sweat poured from him while elbows crushed into his midsection driving out the last of his breath. The preacher continued to scream, “Retribution!” The throng began to drag him down using fistfuls of his flesh to drag and pull him while continuing to moan responses to the preacher’s call,. He cried out, “Stop!” His plea was unheard. They meant to suffocate him and were succeeding. He struggled but another breath would not come, panic gripped him.
He sat up in bed, his sweat very real. There was no memory of getting in bed. His shirt was on, but his tan slacks were removed, and his writing area looked as though he had abandoned it without thought. He crawled to the end of the bed scanning the room for his jeans. Once up, he snatched a notebook off the floor, and began again.
The smooth paper was bright, and the lines allowed him to concentrate. Words appeared without effort onto the page. He could see the message forming. He dropped his pen and sorted through some of the writing from his last volume. He circled a section here and tore out the page. Moving from tome to tome, circling and removing for a few minutes before settling down with a mess of pages to begin studying and writing again. He moved with purpose, perspiration collected at his brow as he copied and added text. Methodically eliminating pages as they became of no more use. He tore the page free he was writing letting the notebook slide out of his grip landing at his feet in a twisted heap. The lines he knew were important lay in the middle of the jumbled mix of manuscript, and he began folding the paper. Folding the page in half, and again, narrowing it until only a few lines were visible.
“Family is where God’s word takes root, growing His kingdom. Satan understands this so his forces will pose as simple men of families, creating families of heretics. Destroy the minions teaching evil and where they create their works of blasphemy. Kill the root of evil.”
“Retribution,” escaped in a whisper from his lips. The paper fell from his hands. This was the message. God had spoken to him in the church twice, and through his writings. He was never happier. The smile on his face would not subside. Unsuccessfully suppressing a giggle he said, “Amen. Amen. Amen. Hallelujah.” Then the pain silenced him.