The woman raced up the steps, she had reached the door but it was locked. Locked! There had to be another door, another entrance. Yes, another door, another locked entrance! She had to get inside, she had to be inside. One more door. Success! She pulled the heavy oak door just wide enough for her to slip inside. She could barely see, it was dim. It was near dusk and the only light came through the stained glass windows on the other side of the empty church.
The woman found her way to a pew and collapsed, her face buried in her silk scarf. Here she could let go, let go of the pain, the anger, the hatred. She started to cry, softly at first. All too soon her pain bubbled to the surface and she began to weep. She hunched over and released all her pent up emotions in quiet sobs of despair.
Father Mitchell was making his rounds of the church. His first church. It may not look like much, or be well attended but it was his first official assignment and he felt honoured. Yes it was an old church, falling down in some places and it was poor, financially and in attendance. But it was peaceful, and he needed the peace. Here he could deal with his crisis of faith. Did he really want to continue to be a priest? Could he continue? In this place he felt the answer must be yes. There was a generosity of spirit here. He could feel it. He could feel God here. Almost.
As he turned a corner he heard a noise. Someone was in the church. What he saw next, touched his heart. A woman was crying, deeply. She was alone. He watched her for a moment. The secretary was gone for the day. He was the only one who could offer this stranger comfort. This was the one part of his ministry that he was unsure of. It was one thing to lend a shoulder to a withered old widow, but to a young and attractive woman? Father Mitchell shook his head, he was here to help. She needed his help. Still he hesitated at the door, uncertain of the shadows. He knew he would offer her the comfort of his faith even though he questioned it personally. As he approached her he could see the pain deeply etched in her still lovely face. He placed one hand on her shoulder and paused.
“God will come to your aid my child, if you let Him.”
The words sounded hollow, even in his ears. Why?
“I want to help. Will you tell me what is wrong?”
The woman raised her head. Her eyes were sad, but there was something more. She was a mere slip of a woman, no more than twenty-five or so. But her eyes were that of someone who has seen too much misery. Father Mitchell mentally shook his head, his confidence was slipping.
“Father, I need to speak to you, I must explain.” Her voice quivered as her eyes pleaded with him for understanding.
Without hesitation the young priest motioned for the troubled woman to follow him to his office. He gently seated her on a wing-backed chair across from his desk and handed her a box of tissues. He was unsure of where to sit himself so he stood for a moment.
“Please Father, sit down. This could take some time.”
Her voice wasn’t quivering anymore. She seemed more sure of herself. Bewildered, Father Mitchell felt . . . confused, so he did as was suggested: he sat down. As he moved behind his desk he felt that at least here he had the trappings of his office surrounding him and that gave him some control of the situation. He thought.
Visually the woman sitting across from him had not changed. Visually she was still young and attractive, but now she appeared to be more, more self-possessed perhaps. With her gain in confidence, Father Mitchell felt the opposite. He almost felt fear, a mindless, formless disquiet entered his mind and he felt totally alone.
“Father Mitchell you told me that if I let God into my heart my pain would go away. You are wrong. God cannot make my pain go away. He can only show me how to cope with the pain and only if I let Him. You have it all wrong. God does not reside here in this church. He resides in each and every one of us. I don’t mean that we are godlike, just that we never have to be alone. He is always with us. The religions of the world are not an act of God but of mankind. Religion was made by man to control, to teach, to force back the shadows that frighten everyone. The Bible was written by men. Not God. The Good Book, as you call it, is a series of stories that tells of another time, a history. And history is modified by time. Whatever argument you have, you can use the Bible to agree with your particular stand. Actually you can find confirmation of both sides of any argument if you look for it. It is all in the interpretation. The only part of the Bible that was written by God is the Ten Commandments. People pervert the meaning of the Bible by using it as a confirmation of their own private beliefs. God has become a means to an end. People do not come to God on bended knee but rather with outstretched hands. They want something in return for their devotion to the trappings of Religion. God did not created religion, men did. Faith is the belief in God, religion is the belief in the trimmings. People are confused and in their confusion they choose dangerous paths.”
The priest sat motionless. He did not know how to respond. He desperately needed guidance and he knew he was without anyone to help. Fear entered his heart. He thought of himself. He thought of all the good deeds he was going to perform, the people he was going to help. He was going to show the world the wonders of God. Was that now in jeopardy? Was it a manifestation of Satan sitting across from him? One does not question what has been the norm for two thousand years. He was so young, with so much promise. He felt his own mortality near, perhaps it was his time. It was unfair if he was to die here, now. The world would never know how precious his life could have been. But perhaps, perhaps his death had a purpose. Maybe his death would result in others being saved. If so, then he would face death willing.
“Wrong again priest.” The voice that emanated from this beautiful woman changed again. There was a menacing quality that had not been there before.
Father Mitchell felt real fear. It seemed to encase him, squeeze him tight. He couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. The figure in front of him grew in size. It hovered over his frozen body.
“You are insignificant. Your value is less than trifling. Your aspirations of grandeur demean your beliefs. You cannot win; you can only provide me with entertainment. Accept your fate. Submit.”
With those words Father Mitchell felt a small spot beneath his heart start to burn. A small flicker of pain seemed to grow, to expand until it filled his chest. A single tear escaped his tightly closed eyes. He wanted to raise his fists and scream, he only sat and cried. He cried for himself, but mostly he cried for others. He wanted to share what he had learned. God was not a separate entity who resided in a distant location behind pearly gates. God was here, in the ditches, in the bars, in the hearts of all those who believed. God does not judge you based on your skin colour, your religion, or your life style. God judges you on the things that matter in this life. Do you love others as well as yourself? Do you try to help those in need? Are you true to those around you and to the world you live in? Do you give without the expectation of reward?
He knew that he was going to die, but it was all right. His faith was stronger than it had ever been. He understood, and that understanding gave him the strength he needed. His crisis was resolved. He sighed once, and allowed himself to let go.
“Father, Father Mitchell, good heavens. I canna understand these young’uns. They work to all hours and then fall asleep at their desks. It is not seemly. .“
Father Mitchell heard his name called out repeatedly and realized that he had not in fact died. What he was hearing was his secretary Mrs. Carruthers berating him for sleeping at his desk. Sleeping. Was it all a dream? The woman, the fear? Father Mitchell opened his eyes and stared at his office. His. Everything looked normal. Almost everything. There was a red silk scarf carelessly dropped behind the wing-back chair.
Later that day Father Mitchell took a few minutes to reflect. He knew that physically everything was the same as yesterday, but he was not. Whatever had happened last night had given him the strength to see what was not in front of him, not tangible: his faith. Earlier he had been confused, unsure. Now he knew the role he was expected to play.