As the hart panteth after the water brooks,
So panteth my soul after thee, O God…
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my meat day and night,
While they continually say unto me,
"Where is thy God?"
The heavens were groaning.
They were weeping and wailing in roiling fits of anguish, and her heart was weeping right along with them.
It was in a velvet-lined casket of cold granite where she was weeping in the cold darkness. All she could see as she lay on her back were the leaden clouds flashing their silver-veined brilliance on the curtains of raindrops falling like diamonds from high above. And, with each flash of lightning framed by the walls of her grave, her stiff wet fingers grasping her sodden Rulebook, flickered a florescent purple against the deep twilight shadow.
The thunder rumbled above, but she could hear nothing except the drenching downpour streaming the muddy walls of her grave, and the muddy water would soon be overflowing the sides of her coffin. And, she had another problem equally worrisome - she could not move her arms or legs. That meant she could not keep the clear quartz lid of her coffin from snapping shut. As the heavy lid gradually closed, it shielded her more and more from the pelting rain, and, if it were to close completely, it would seal out the rising flood; but, it must not close completely, or she would be trapped inside forever.
She was in serious trouble, but she did not wish to think about it.
Squeezing her eyelids together, she scoured her brain for a happy thought to crowd out the unpleasantness.
She smiled as a certain crystal day flashed across her mind, and she saw her younger self racing through a field of wildflowers with her arms outstretched and the warm fingers of the sweet breeze combing her flying hair. Then, she saw her younger self falling to her knees to gather some of her favorite blossoms.
"Flowers are so beautiful!" she heard her younger self say on that crystal day, her hands full of flowers.
Those words echoed, hanging like an accusing finger in her mind as she shivered in her casket. She had only intended to admire the flowers, but instead she had unintentionally praised Someone she had been trying very hard to ignore…still must ignore.
"I keep doing that!" her younger self had grumbled, knowing that in having grumbled it, she had unintentionally spoken to him once again. And, although she had always tried hard to pretend he was not there, she still kept speaking to him by accident, as she had done twice in a row long ago on that crystal day.
That had not been the first time she had grumbled to herself about having spoken to him; she had grumbled about it after each of the many times she had caught herself speaking to him every day of her life. And each time she had spoken to him and grumbled about it afterward, she was reminded of the ancient many storied edifice, where she and all the others had listened to the black-robed holy man once a week.
And there was the Holy Man projected on the screen of her mind, standing up front on a raised platform behind an intricately carved pulpit laden with a big black Rulebook.
Though she was in her grave, the memory was so clear, she felt she was yet seated on a familiar backbench, fully engaged in another habit of hers much more to her liking than listening to the Holy Man; she was scanning the audience before her for an enchanting view of a handsome blond and blue-eyed young man, whom she had always dreamed of getting to know better.
But he still doesn't know I exist, she feared from her coffin. He has always ignored me, just as I have always ignored…
You was the word she was going to think next, but caught herself just in time.
She distracted herself from acknowledging that she had once again spoken to the One she was trying so hard to ignore by squeezing her eyes shut even more tightly than she had before. And, with them closed so tightly, every time the lightning flickered, she saw red-veined telescoping images vying for supremacy on the backs of her eyelids, looking much like a huge, round, stained-glass window.
There was such a window behind where the Holy Man stood in his pulpit. It was a spectacular rose window with tiny panes of red and green and of blue and yellow set in stone tracery high up in the limestone wall of the weekly meeting place. With this image came the sound of his great voice reverberating around the vast columned hall, as he told them of the God of the Great Beyond.
And what had the Holy Man told us about that God? She sifted through her foggy brain, suddenly desperate not to forget, not to lose hold.
The Holy Man had preached from his pulpit to his large audience that the Distant Sovereign of the Great Beyond did nice things for people who followed the Rulebook and tried hard to be good, and that the Distant Sovereign was intending to bring them all to live with him in Paradise someday, as long as they did - or wanted to do - more good things than bad things. In that perfect place full of happiness, the Distant Sovereign would give them everything they ever wanted, just as an indulgent grandfather might.
Then she remembered how the Holy Man had told them a different theory about God each time there was a meeting, while instructing them to choose any of the theories they liked best or rearrange them any way they liked. He had even told them they could reject his theories altogether and make up some of their own to believe in.
Three of the most intriguing of the Holy Man's theories were about how the world had begun.
And, she must remember the theories as she lay helpless in her cold stone box; it was of the utmost importance. Remembering the theories helped her to hold on instead of giving up. So, she began to rehash them, reaching for them through the murkiness of her mind, thinking to grip something solid.
With great effort she imagined a swirling, Glowing Orb in the blackness of space around which tiny glittering rocky specks revolved in unalterable elliptical paths. The tiny specks greatly desired the Glowing Orb but sadly could never attain it. They would always be held away to reflect the glory, but they were never to enjoy the experience of it deep down inside. If they could somehow break away from their orbits and crash into the Orb, that would be the end of them.
The image of the Glowing Orb and its revolving specks had always helped her to remember the first theory. It was about how the Distant Sovereign, the Superior Entity, had set the planets spinning around the sun as one would wind a clock and then had left to come back at a much later date to wind it up again.
And the second theory built on the first. After the Superior Entity had set the planets spinning, he stuck around in a 'Presence' to watch how things progressed without interfering much with the affairs of men. As far as she knew, into which affairs of men the Superior Entity was most likely to intervene, the experts disagreed, but when he did decide to intervene, that was when miracles happened.
And the third theory…
What was the third theory? She racked her muddled mind to come up with it.
That theory veered off on a different tangent. That was the theory which hypothesized that the Distant Sovereign did not make the world at all, but that it had made itself. According to that theory, a Superior Entity may not have been needed in the very beginning stages of the process that took millions of years to finally make life as they knew it. Furthermore, the theory allowed for the possibility that a Superior Entity may never have existed at all. And if that were the case, then it followed that the Rulebook was not a Sacred Book.
She lay in her cold stone box with satisfaction. She had remembered the theories most interesting to her, however bothersome. Such responsibility! To pick the right theory or combination of theories in which to believe!
Deep down, she was not fond of any of the Holy Man's theories, but he had given her and the rest of his congregation a Guarantee; no matter which theory each person wished to believe, he had assured them, everything would come out alright in the end. The Holy Man was confident that if the Distant Sovereign, Superior Entity or God (whoever or whatever he or she might be) did exist, he was so wonderful, he would not leave anyone out of his Perfect Paradise. But if he did not exist, then there was still nothing to worry about; they would each go blissfully into the mystical oblivion of the Collective Conscience, just as a single drop of rain loses itself in the greatness of the mighty ocean, or if it could, just as a tiny rocky speck would crash into the Glowing Orb in full knowledge that it would have to die – disintegrate into nothingness – in order to become a part of it.
Dead! All the theories are dead! They have no promise! she agonized in a rare outburst against them. And that must be why I feel so dead lying in this cold stone box!
Although the theories seemed to give her something of the greater world to hold onto, she hated them; but, her memories of the young blond fellow, whom she had always very much enjoyed dreaming of, were a comfort to her now. And thinking of his starry sapphire-blue eyes made her think of the conversation she had overheard between the Holy Man and that tall and very handsome young man.
Standing there in the entry of the ancient edifice the young man had asked the Holy Man on what authority he was basing all his theories. To that question the Holy Man replied that he had based his theories on the ideas of Scholars Who Knew Best with a little of his own tweaking to round out the edges. Then the Holy Man had reached way up to ruffle the young man's fair tousled locks with the hand that was not carrying his big black Rulebook and sent him happily outside through the arched oaken doors.
Her heart-throb may have been satisfied with the Holy Man's answer, but as she lay in her coffin, the theories seemed too nebulous to be taken seriously, and the idea of being absorbed into the Collective Conscience frightened her despite the Holy Man's soothing explanations. But she had tried to feel comfortable with the theories just to fit in with the others especially the young and handsome one.
Since she did not know which theory to choose, she had taken the Holy Man's advice and had formulated her own theory based on the ones she had liked best, reserving the right to alter aspects of her theory from time to time to fit any situation in which she might find herself.
Her theory included a nice old Grandfather type of Superior Entity along with a little of this and a little of that mixed in that she had picked up along the way. Her Grandfather Entity promised her happiness and would give her what she wanted in the here and now as well as all the things she ever wanted in Paradise someday. Her Grandfather Entity worked along the same principle as a rabbit's foot, protective amulet or other lucky charm.
The very sound of the word was pleasing.
Even from the vantage of the terrible, subterranean coffin, she liked to think of Paradise as being in the sky somewhere, but she was not sure where. In fact, she had never been sure of anything, but she had made certain to follow all the Rules in the Rulebook as extra insurance, just in case she had not managed to stumble upon the correct combination of theories responsible for getting her into Paradise.
The Holy Man's weekly discourse having ended, her favorite part of the meeting was at hand.
Oh, good! Now for the fun part! she brightened, while ignoring the complications even this memory brought to mind.
Laying in her coffin, she longed to feel the moment at which the shiny brass pipes of the grand old organ would begin to boom, shaking the floor and rattling her to the very bones, but she was there again, if only in her memory.
She saw all the people rise to their feet to sing lovely songs, while bathed in the vibrant rainbow of morning light streaming through the stained-glass windows and setting aglow the golden threads in her favorite young man's flaxen curls. The ringing harmonies soaring amid the vaulted roof beams, where they entwined with the clear high notes from the organ, had always nearly made her feel as if she had already gone to live in Paradise with the Grandfather she had created for herself.
Then a song began to play again in her memory, the one she loved best;
Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the path of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, he faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend,
Through stony ways leads to a joyful end.
Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as he has the past.
Then shalt thou better know his love, his heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul, the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.
Even in her casket she could not allow those words to bring her to the place where she had always refused to go.
She squeezed her eyelids together more tightly, as if by doing so, she could shut out the truth about that song and all the other songs they had sung at the weekly meetings, but she could not. The truth lay as bare before her as the memory of her younger self kneeling on that haunting crystal day in the field of wildflowers.
The truth was the words of the songs were not about the Grandfather or the good things he was eager to bestow on anyone who tried to follow his Rules. And the words were obviously not about any of the theories that the Holy Man had taught.
She did not understand how she knew, but she had been certain for some time that the words of the songs were really about the Someone she kept accidently speaking to, the very One she was still unsuccessfully pretending was not real!
Furthermore, there were a couple other things about those beloved songs that bothered her…
Why did the words to the songs have to promise joy only at the ends of many trials? Trials were uncomfortable; she did not like to think about them, especially since she expected the Grandfather to give her all the happiness possible for her to have complete with a fairytale Castle and handsome Prince. If only the Grandfather would make her present reality disappear in a way that would suit her, then everything would be alright.
But, those words! Those songs! All her life, their treasured melodies had continually come unbidden to her mind, reminding her of the One she was trying so hard to ignore, reminding her that he wanted something of her! All through her life, it had been those songs which had made it so difficult for her to keep pretending he did not exist!
Had the others noticed those very odd and bothersome things about the songs? Were they, like her, trying to live in a make-believe world without him?
Pretending he was not there had always made her feel uneasy. She had gone through life afraid he would leave her for good, if she kept ignoring him, though she was not sure why his absence should make any difference to her. Though all she could ever see of him was a fuzzy image, she remembered peeking at him every now and then just to make sure he was still there. Then she had had to be very careful, because if she looked at him directly for too long, he would start to expect something of her that she was unwilling to give. Even though, she suspected he always expected that thing of her, and she was only aware of it when she looked his way.
Apart from his outward appearance, there was something about him which she found to be fascinatingly beautiful but evil, too. He was so evil, she was afraid he wanted to kill her or in some way force her to give herself to him, which made her squirm to think about even for an instant.
"He has no right!" she would fume, "Who does he think he is?!"
The only antidote was to surround herself with distractions, so she would not have to think about it.
Eventually, she managed to convince herself that he wanted nothing of her. Deep down she knew he did, but life could be lived as if he did not. And was that not why, even at the end, even in her grave, she had been squeezing her eyes shut?
But you are not supposed to exist! she angrily pretended not to inform him.
And she remembered how angry she had always gotten with him, especially when he would not do her bidding. After all, if he was real, he should have proved himself to her. If only he had given her a sign, she would have had a good reason to stop pretending.
"Talk to me!" she remembered pleading with him over and over, just to test him out. "Or at least do a miracle for me. Make that young fellow notice me! Give me what I want!"
Of course, he would never answer her speaking to him like that no more than anyone else would have. Then she would smugly tell herself, "There, I was right; he's not real after all." But, before she could say that, she would first deeply bury her bitter disappointment of not getting what she longed for into a dark crevice of her broken heart.
How did that crystal day end that she had seen flashing across her mind?
She did not want to think about it, but it remained before her like a wide-open door she was powerless to shut, just as she was powerless to keep her coffin lid from closing.
She saw herself standing in the field of wildflowers, being roused from the daydream roiling within her by the buzzing of a bee visiting each of the brightly colored blooms of her bouquet before buzzing away. When she was just about to inhale the lusciousness of the silken-petals, her hair went on end as she felt a deep rumbling that meant,
This had been the first time the One she had been trying to ignore had spoken to her, and though she had not remembered hearing any words, she knew exactly what he he meant.
Just as she had been about to breathe in the fragrance of the lovely flowers, he wanted her to allow him to fill her heart and every cell and pore of her being, so he could live in her forever.
"Of all the parasitic notions!" she remembered her horrified self pretending not to mutter to him. "If I let you do that, I'm sure to die! I won't be me anymore!"
And what about the Holy Man? What about that handsome one and what about all the others? They would disapprove if she acknowledged him at all, never mind let him run her life!
On top of that, though she wanted very much to live forever, letting him fill her heart and every cell and pore of her being was not something she knew how to do, so it was not fair that she should be expected to do it. But, even with all her excuses she had the eerie feeling that none of them was enough to get her out of doing what he wanted her to do.
This was not the kind of sign she had been looking for.
How could she have given up being the master of her own fate and the captain of her own soul? She had never wanted to yield to him; not then, not now, not ever! She had wanted him to bow to her and give her what she wanted and to give it to her now, just as a genie in a bottle would!
She saw herself standing in the meadow, frozen with indecision, staring at the two choices which had reared immovable before her…
That long past day she could have chosen either to beg him to show her how to carry out the command he had given her, or she could have continued to keep pretending he did not exist. She remembered thinking at the time that since he could not make her do what he wanted her to do, pretending would be the easiest choice by far, but as she lay shivering in her granite coffin, she was not sure it had been so easy.
So, on that far past day, while standing in the sunny meadow, she had defied him with a resounding,
The memory of the gauzy veil wafting softly down over her world, billowing like smoke, graying first the turquoise sky, then the flowers and the grass still made her shudder in horror. She should have said to him, "Yes!" right away, so the veil could be lifted, but she had not been able to bring herself to do that.
Forgotten, the flowers she had gathered dropped from her hand, as she tried blinking away the dingy dullness of the veil, but it had not worked.
The veil was there to stay.