The evening’s flat winter came in over the stainless steel sink. If you stood in the right place, you might catch a draft from the window that was on the handyman list. When the day was more clear, light would come through that amber drinking glass and dance its odd spider up the wall. There was a glass on the ledge no one ever thought to put a new sprig of flower in. It looked like a plucked grape stem.
The same dust-shafts of light would be falling on the piano around now. God rays from the belch of the furnace’s burn, the lack of vacuuming with an adequate suction. What the motion of feet left in motion after people left the carpet alone.
The aluminum-cornered and laminate card table was crowded against the pass-though by the counter opening to the general purpose room. There were 6 of us trying not to bump knees and find a comfort with discomfort on the leatherette folding chairs. It was the end of a Friday Bible study and the new lady, M, had questions for the elders who led the discussion after a deep read of the Scriptures.
They went over her questions, earnestly with the sounds of deference and respect that they were skilled at, which they thought went under the name sympathy.
A transplant to the neighbourhood, thirsty for understanding, M was a young mom, dark-haired, dimpled and bright-smiled when no in such an earnest quest for her eternal soul, pricked to protect her children.
We were all sorely heartsick for M because she was a soul in hard straights. The men intoned that she was in a grey zone, in the world, but not of the world, yes but not yet saved in faith. She thought she had been. She’d repeated the sinner’s prayer, was contrite, had gone to church faithfully, brought her husband each week to this baptist church, lived to aim to be in a constant state of prayer, giving her life over to the will of god. She’d come to Anglicanism as an adult, raised her children in the church, did her best by her 3 tumble-haired tykes. She had them baptized as infants and she was baptized Catholic as an infant herself. The old men clucked pity and shook their heads. It doesn’t count, they were telling her, illuminating the scriptures with their sooty light.
They were explaining that her baptism “didn’t take” if it was not a decision of the person. One must choose. One must take the lord Jesus Christ as your personal savior. It’s not something one can do for someone else. She nodded, we nodded, it made a kind of sense. We couldn’t pray someone else into heaven. We weren’t, after all, lost Mormons, were we.
The greying-haired farmer flipped over his well-thumbed book and found some highlighted, bookmarked pages, read and flipped and read,
Acts 19:4 Then said Paul, John truly baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying to the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.
John 3:5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
They explained to her the age of accountability, as an afterthought added that her children would not go to hell if they were not saved properly, well, the younger two at least. I could see her heart lurch, the white of her eyes widen, then be hidden beneath her lids, as she lowered her chin in resolved submission.
Could she be baptized herself, she asked, and they assured her she could complete the act of salvation and the remission of sins. We’d be happy if you would, said the elder woman, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Mark 16:16.
Oh, this summer sometime, I’d imagine. Two of the men gibble-gabbled, of when, trying to recall which month they’d done it last time. In the lake. She looked confused, looking back and forth between them. Which lake? It can be arranged. We can work out a date, one concluded.
Snow blew taps against the glass in a gust enough the attention flitted even if no one turned to look.
The weight on her mind and mine, what if she died going home in the storm? Was all lost? A baptism, a confession of sins, a life of faith, and it all not good enough. She’d have to wait for summer. I felt I should intervene. To say what? Step out of character, slam my hands on the table, and say a bad word? Or to find time alone with her later, sidle up, put an arm around her, and negate all they said?
Her high colour of cheek, her breath that rose as if to speak, fell regular again. People poised themselves as if perhaps they could clap shut books and go home. Back to work.
They were prepared to leave her in anguish. They seemed to wind her up for fun, write a rule book themselves on the fly. How could they be this callous. Were they? Looking at their solemn faces, they were the graven images they so eschewed. Images of people. With insides, surely. And looking across the kitchen like a clumsy version of Philippe Stark, with not a cross in sight, in case we be led into thinking surfaces and icons instead of god himself, I thought, surely it is only people that can become idols, and not some bas-relief caricature. It is the living people inside that can lead up astray not some token drawing.
M could be baptized. The words bounced in my head. A rubber crazy ball with no room to bounce. The Anglican church, I had read, said, “Baptism is permanent and cannot be cancelled or repeated. So, if you were baptised as a baby, in whatever church that took place, you are still baptised and you cannot be baptised again.”
As I had found out, even that wouldn’t be the end of it either, because when I was baptized I was welcomed into the family of god, and asked if I would like to join the Fellowship. Greeted with one hand, shoved away with the other. Years among them and still not part of the church family. Instrumental in duties to clean the church, to participate in every role open to women, which was cleaning, singing a song, and reading a verse. No extempore speech, no sermons, no handing of money or leading prayer and no sitting on organizational meetings.
To join the church, apparently there was a whole other set of studies to embark on, and a formalizing contract for tithing. Panic is a thing that seeks to protect itself and the organism that hold its. My brow was as flat as if botoxed. Even past the shoulder of the ill-fitted suit, in the toaster’s reflection I could see I was the picture of serenity.
When do I know?, M asked.
They will know. Each soul is one’s own. You look after yourself first and lead a good example and when they are able, they will follow as surely as chicks after a hen.
What age? she needed to know. They tilted they head and exchanged glances, uncertain.
We see through a mirror darkly, offered the elder woman with a cracking voice, hoping that was helpful, dropping her tone just in time to seem sure.
The scriptures aren’t clear, that is, we can’t truly know the Mind of the Father, added the mechanic. They each should be immersion baptized once they are old enough to know their minds, added a young lanky deacon who hadn’t spoken until now.
If I might say a word, started the greying-man, and the others nodded him the floor. He paused until all eyes looked at him which flustered him more. He took a breath. Between 14 and 16 depending on the maturity of the child, he finished. And looked relieved at having spoken.
But if you aren’t right about the age of accountability, Tom could fall through the cracks? she asked.
Uh, our god is a merciful god, the grey-haired man added too quickly. M nodded like a child who is told we’ll go to the park later, not now, later.
My mouth was as sealed as the lions in Daniel’s jail cell. Sealed by god I thought, reassuring myself that it wasn’t sealed by my own cowardice. The fire in my belly, crackled, shifted heavily, two more logs collapsing off the stack.
Cut the grass. Weeded. And wow,
And Manitoba Maple keys. I plucked probably 4 dozen trees with my bare hands. A mixture of power against the few and powerlessness agains the millions hanging overhead like a blackfly swarm.
It’s so much easier to talk of what is than of what could be.
Have you noticed, a good point could also mean the gesture with the hand being a good motion?
Congratulations to Alberta on going NDP. It feels like an ending to a Christmas Carol. Bless us every one.
Days have two types. Those when I have to leave the house and those when I get to stay in.
And when time comes, I can rise and shine.
Events coming up include
April 30, 8pm, Platform Gallery, Ottawa
An upcoming vernissage at Platform Gallery, 51 A Young Street will be abstract art by Dan Sharp, Ted Willis and Georgia Mathewson. During the evening there will be a performance of The Quatuor-Gualuor a sound poetry group of jw curry, Georgia Mathewson, Rachel Lindsey and Brian Pirie. For She Was a Visitor and Glass on the Beach, a few extra voices will come in, Robert Rosen, Alistair Larwill, and Pearl Pirie.
Willow or won’t you be my springtime?
I didn’t end up raising the camera at a single vineyard in St. Catharines but here are photos of our BorderBlur and BookThug launches.
This evening, one more go, I’ll be reading as part of Thuggery at Ottawa Writers Fest.
I’ve also been fleshing out Looking on the Bri Side, filling in the early 2000s. This fall will be the 20th anniversary of our honeymoon. How crazy is that?
I dreamt I wanted to write but when I got to the keyboard it was grey and black and I couldn’t see the keys and would have to clean it before I began. When I woke it seemed to me about the issue of write as therapy or get yourself sorted then write. Am I not on top of processing life? Maybe. But as much as dream may spring from deep or shallows, dreams are like talkers. They may perceive but may get facts wrong.