In the Fullness of Time
Based on true events.
It was a roll of the dice whether I felt the call or felt the elbow shove of one of my friends, trying to get me saved, so we could one day ride bikes on the streets of gold in heaven. We felt nuclear war would come because we’d heard it was a toss-up whether Reagan was the anti-Christ (Ronald Wilson Reagan=666) or whether it was Gorbachev with the mark of the beast being a birthmark on his forehead. Either way, I found myself in the center aisle of the church and stumbled toward the “This Do in Remembrance of Me” table while the minister ushered me to the front pew until after the last verse of “Just as I Am” where he could show me off to the members and they could vote on my salvation. I was twelve.
A few months later, I don’t know if the salvation didn’t take or listening to KISS had brought demonic possession, but I sat on the back row with my saved friends, rolling spitballs from bits of the church bulletin to blow through straws to hit girls in front of us. To my amazement, an African America woman decked out in a gold dress, shoes, and hat with flowers and aided by a cane slowly wobbled to the front pew, the same one reserved for the newly saved. When the banker cupped his hand and whispered to the minister, the reverend turned red, got up, walked down from the pulpit and whispered to the old woman. She heaved herself up on the cane and started up the aisle toward the front door. Curiosity got the best of me, and I got up and went out after her to see. The old woman had disappeared. There were no cars leaving, and she wasn’t on any sidewalk. I couldn’t figure out where she’d gone. I assumed she’d been asked to leave and was sad. It was the first time I had thought about our Southern protestant church being segregated, like many churches were even years after integration had swept the South.
The next year, deacons questioned some of the minister’s decisions, asked him to leave, and he refused at which point many of them and their families left. Relatives and friends became enemies, many people had personal problems, and I distanced myself from the church and what I believed was hypocrisy. I worked more, partied more, and explored more. I visited other churches with friends, studied other philosophies about the world including atheism, agnosticism, Buddhism, and Native American philosophy, but none of them offered those old hymns I’d grown up singing, seeing those old choir members harmonize, and hearing those stories of faith, love, and forgiveness.
Fifteen years later, I finally returned. I felt like the prodigal son, nervous, sweaty, and who sinned my fair share. I’d heard an internal voice, maybe me or maybe God, telling me I was still forgiven and to come home. I could still hear that choir from childhood singing “Come home, Come home. Ye who are weary, come home.” From the grave, they massaged a cold heart and brought memories. I found churches still somewhat segregated as I moved around the country, but I found them open to integration and sparsely populated by difference. I wondered about the old woman, if she had been an old woman, or an angel, or even Jesus come to test his flock. They failed the test then, but I felt like they might finally pass it now.
Niles Reddick is author of a novel Drifting too far from the Shore, two collections Reading the Coffee Grounds and Road Kill Art and Other Oddities, and a novella Lead Me Home. His work has been featured in nineteen anthologies, twenty-one countries, and in over three hundred publications including The Saturday Evening Post, PIF, New Reader Magazine, Forth Magazine, Citron Review, and The Boston Literary Magazine.
Photo credit: “shadow of the cross” by Marilylle Soveran, via Flickr.com.