The Rapture and the Hive – Chapter 2Oct 22nd, 2011 | By Guy Lancaster | Category: Series, The Rapture and the Hive | 287 views
I grew up in a world where everything that happened was the will of God, where from the way the wind blew to the price of bread was a measure of God’s divine favor or disfavor, and though that may seem to you in some sense a naïve worldview, with holiness, the creator of the universe, ever incarnate in this fallen world of ours, it was to me—long before I learned that God’s temperament was little more than my father’s as he looked upon a world he had not created and, more often than not, judged it not good—it was to me a magical world everywhere I went. Demons lurked everywhere, but the armor of God given to all believers was mine to use, and prayer was the sword my father taught me to use to drive evil away. I remember once, little girl that I was, coming upon a snake in our back yard, and I made myself stay rooted there to the ground and prayed to God to drive the snake away, and between my prayers and stamping my feet, the little green snake lazily slid away from its good sunning spot and through a crack in the fence to the neighbor’s yard. I felt like Deborah, the Judge of Israel, and I pranced around the yard singing her song of victory as if it were my own:
Praise ye Lord for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves.
Hear, O ye kings; give ear, O ye princes; I, even I, will sing unto the Lord; I will sing praise to the Lord God of Israel.
Lord, when thou wentest out of Seir, when thou marchedst out of the field of Edom, the earth trembled, and the heavens dropped, the clouds also dropped water.
The mountains melted from before the Lord, even that Sinai from before the Lord God of Israel.
In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were unoccupied, and the travelers walked through byways.
The inhabitants of the villages ceased, they ceased in Israel, until that I Deborah arose, that I arose a mother in Israel.
I little understood the song there at eight years old, but I had memorized it anyway—all thirty verses. And if my father was somewhat disconcerted that I had not chosen material more practical, more morally inspiring, for my first exercise at memorizing scripture, he could little argue with my choice being, in fact, divinely inspired. God was real to me, and the world outside my home was fraught with exciting dangers that I could not wait to conquer. Even in the town of Searcy, my father frequently said from the pulpit, there were dangers to both body and soul, despite the presence of a university which trained people in godly ways and the churches having closed down the one bookstore that sold dirty magazines—even here was there danger around every corner.
I loved my father. I saw how he was admired at church, how all the ladies came up to him and said that he had preached just the right sermon to still their grieving hearts or give them courage to face these new travails, whatever they were, and I saw him leaving the house often on emergencies—someone’s hospitalization, someone’s death—and how mom would send him out the door with a prayer and hug him tighter when he returned, as if he were a firefighter or a soldier, and in many ways, he probably thought of himself like that, too.
I remember once when I was eight years old and we were having dinner with the president of Harding, which prospect excited my mother but which my father insisted was simply another dinner, that lots of people got to dine with the president, and this was nothing special. We went to a house that was positively stately for the town of Searcy, and we sat at a table that, in my mind, was fit for a king and queen, with the president and his wife sitting at opposite ends, the two sons remaining at home along one side, and the three of us along the other side, with my father sitting closest to the president, my mother in the middle, and me nearest the president’s wife at the end. I had seen dolls in the store, though I was not allowed one, and she struck me as a living, breathing doll, with her face painted the color of flesh and her hair a veritable plastic mesh, gleaming blonde and frozen in the form of perhaps some exotic flower. Her lips and cheeks seemed stitched in some permanent smile. Her name, I remember, was Virginia.
At some lull in the dinner conversation, which was mostly between the president and my father and on the subject of whether or not to develop some new program of youth ministry, Virginia turned to me, ever smiling, and asked, “My dear, have you given any thought as to what you might study when you go to Harding yourself some day?”
I was young, and I did not realize the ridiculousness of the question nor the many layered assumptions behind it (what I might “study,” not what I might choose to become), and I said, “Yes ma’am, I’m going to study preaching and be like my dad.”
There was a round of polite laughter from the adults, but the president’s two sons—who were of that gawky, junior high age that, being in between states, searches so much for anything to let it feel superior—snorted derisively, their pimples flaring red with amusement.
“Women don’t become preachers, you stupid girl,” said one before his father hushed them both with a look.
“Dear,” said Virginia, “you might marry a preacher, but women don’t become preachers themselves.”
“But I’m going to,” I said, not understanding upon what ground I trod.
“Dear,” said Virginia even more condescendingly, “First Timothy, chapter two: ‘Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, not to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.’ That’s what the Bible says, dear. Women just don’t become preachers. It goes against the word of God.”
Everyone around the table nodded in agreement, even my father and mother.
“But,” I said, “Deborah was a prophet and a judge.”
“Hawa, that’s enough,” said my father.
“Hawa, be quiet!” he said with a threat in his voice and a red anger I had never seen before in his eyes. I didn’t know then that my innocent statements were threatening his position at the university, for a man must have control over his own family before he can presume to teach others, and I was obviously ill taught.
That night, when we arrived back home, dad took away the Bible that was one of the few books I was allowed to own. He replaced it instead with a copy of the New Testament and announced that, starting tomorrow, we would have a short reading from Paul’s epistles every evening before supper.
Alone in my room, I flipped through the pages of this half-Bible. Gone were my stories of Deborah leading the charge, of Jael bringing down Sisera with her tent spike, of the strange Zipporah defying God’s murderous rage with the bloody foreskin of her son, of Rachel and Michal’s cleverness, of Ruth’s faith and Tamar’s scheming, of Hagar protecting the servants of the Lord. The few stories that I had in that big book, the few stories that truly belonged to this girl, were gone from me. I cried myself to sleep that night because I did not know why the world had turned suddenly cruel on me.
A few gray weeks later, however, I began to learn new stories—because, for the second time in my life, though I did not know it, I met my grandmother.
* * *
Dad never spoke to me of his mother. When I asked him about it, he simply said to me, “That woman is an evil person who will never be saved.” That is all he would say, and rather than titillating me with mystery, that solitary clue left me feeling a bit empty on the subject, for this was before I learned that my father was not the omni-benevolent being that I thought him, so I had no real means or motive to question him. If friends or teachers asked about my other grandparents, I learned quickly to say that they were dead. An imagined death leaves fewer questions.
But one day, as I was walking home from school, lost in my own thoughts as I often was, I suddenly realized that there was someone walking alongside me, seemingly matching my every mindless step, blending into my childish gait. I looked up, and there was an old woman walking there beside me. “Old” was not truly the right word for her, but it was the only one I knew then to apply to women and men of wrinkled visages and gray heads of hair. She did not walk at all like an old person, like someone afraid to step too hard on this world for fear of being broken by it.
“Hello, darling,” she said in a voice that managed to be kind without turning all syrupy the way most people talk to children.
I said nothing but tried to ignore her. Dad had told me not to talk to strangers. People you didn’t know could usually be counted upon to have some nefarious plan in mind for your innocent body.
“Do you mind if I walk alongside you?” she asked. “It is a pretty day for a walk.”
I shrugged my shoulders and went on walking.
“Well, I think it’s a very pretty day. The air is crisp, with the first taste of autumn. Have you ever noticed that it’s the littlest leaves that fall first and get blown about by the wind, even when autumn’s not quite here, even when it might warm up in a few days and feel like summer again? It’s like they’re eager to fall, and who knows? Maybe they are.”
I tried not to give any indication that I was listening to her, but I did start looking around at the steps before me and in the yards we were passing by, and sure enough, little fallen yellow leaves lay scattered about by the mischief of the wind, scattered like wilted flower petals thrown at the celebration of some great wedding.
The old woman went on. “The ancient Greeks—have you studied them in school?—believed that fall and winter were caused by the despair of Demeter, the earth goddess. You see, she had a beautiful daughter named Persephone, a lot like you, but she was kidnapped and taken down to the underworld by Pluto. Demeter wandered day and night all over the earth for her, and when she learned that Pluto had carried her daughter off to be his bride in Hades, she left heaven in anger at all the gods, especially since Zeus, Persephone’s very own father, had not done anything to stop Pluto and was not himself at all angry that the god of the underworld should so take his daughter. What did he care for this daughter? So Demeter left heaven and roamed the earth, and because she was in despair at the loss of her beloved child, the earth began to grow cold and wither away, like it does for us in winter. Eventually, it got so bad that Zeus ordered Pluto to return Persephone, but the girl had already eaten part of a pomegranate—do you know what that is? It’s a fruit filled with all these seeds covered in a very tart juice. She’d eaten a few of the seeds, and the rules said that whoever eats of the food of hell is condemned to stay there. But Zeus, showing that some rules were meant to be stretched or broken, decreed that Persephone , since she’d only eaten part of the fruit, could stay with her mother for half of the year but would have to stay with Pluto for the other half. And so fall and winter are when she mourns for her daughter, while spring and summer show her full of joy and bountiful.”
When we came to my street, she walked on, stopping first to say, “You’re a very nice little girl. Would you mind if I walked with you again?” I shrugged my shoulders again and turned away from her toward home.
She met me on the sidewalks again the day after the next and walked with me and told me another story about all those ancient gods and goddesses of whom I’d never heard tale, save for the condemnations hurled against them in scripture. And she seemed to know that, too. “You’ve heard of Baal, right?” she said. “I bet your father’s talked a lot about Baal.” It did not even occur to me to ask then just how she might know that—though my dad frequently told tale of all those unbelievers out there, I could not say that I actually knew any, for the children I played with were the children from church, and the families my parents knew were families from church or school (in many ways one and the same). The whole concept of pagans and infidels was a rather abstract one for me, and I just figured that all little girls grew up with the words of scripture in their ears. So I nodded in answer to her question. “I knew so,” she said. “So what do you know about Baal?”
“Um,” I said, racking my little brain for something to stick to that name I had heard so often in sermons. I knew that it was connected with some kind of evil, but I could not remember what.
“Well, let me tell you a story about him,” she said. “See, once Baal was battling the god Mot, who was the god of death, and during this battle, he died and descended to the underworld. When he did so, winter came to the world, and everything stopped growing. His sister Anath searched everywhere for him, and when she found his body, she buried it and then took up the sword against Mot. She killed the god of death and cut up his body and crushed it and ground it down to a powder that she spread over the land like seed, which brought Baal back to life and spring back to the world.”
“But—” I said, and then stopped. I wasn’t supposed to talk to strange people.
“Yes?” she said.
I looked around. There were a few cars on the street, and the postman was slowly making his way from mailbox to mailbox. I decided to risk it—if she was an evil kidnapper, I could certainly call out for help.
“But you said that winter was caused by Demeter.”
She smiled. “I did,” she said. “They’re different stories,” she said, smiling.
That night, I lay in bed with the lights out and imagined once again that I was Deborah with my sword in hand. I was fighting Satan in a fierce battle, both of us slinging our swords at each other, the clanging of metal upon metal ringing out across the earth. “You’re just a girl,” he snarled at me, but for a moment, he let his guard drop, and I trust my sword deep into his heart. And when Satan was good and dead, the mountain shook, and there, from the mouth of the passage to hell, there came Jesus. Jesus thanked me for killing the demon and told me that I was his princess forever and forever.
* * *
For some reason, I never asked this woman’s name, nor did I ever really think it amiss that someone should walk with me on odd days and tell me the stories of gods long passed into history. I just liked listening. Indeed, I think a part of me suspected that she was but a figment of my own imagination or some fairy godmother, but a part of me also knew not to tell my father about the woman or her stories.
Oh, my father. I was certainly and swiftly changing from the apple of his eye into something else—the fruit of the fallen, perhaps, for after that dinner with Harding’s president, I think he saw in me my prideful namesake, and for the first time, I think I saw myself that way, too. As I said, he was intent upon quizzing me with regard to my knowledge of Paul’s epistles especially, and I didn’t understand why he took all of my stories away for what kind of meat to eat and how to act in church. It all made no sense to me. He was so anxious that I learn proper doctrine, and when I asked why, if Paul had commanded it, women didn’t cover their hair in church, he seemed to get all the more frustrated, though it was just an innocent childhood question, as far as I knew. I was not there to question but to learn, he said. I did not know it then, but he saw in me my grandmother and wanted to extirpate, to eliminate, to destroy what part of her lay in me—and maybe, when I was old enough, he could talk me into changing my name. Yes, he would bring that up when I reached the age, but then, when I was still just a girl, he had weightier matters to attend to so that I would grow up to be the perfect sort of young woman.
After that dinner, my father had stopped being my god, and I had perhaps started being his Lucifer, his creation gone awry. I was learning how to resist for the first time. So my little question about Paul irritated him, I saw. I tried a few others, and when his anger threatened to boil over (and how I had never seen him this angry before!), then I was good for a week before I tried my hand at being slow. That had a few good weeks of burn to it before I realized that it was causing me more trouble than it was worth with all the extra time I was made to spend at the kitchen table with Colossians or Ephesians or Titus open before me, with my father peering in to check on my progress. Then, I simply decided to learn the lessons—they were easy enough—and in my spare time stay lost in the world that I was beginning to create, to populate with my imaginings.
It was in this new world that I kept the stories the old woman told me. You—you pick up some book of myths, a scholarly study of symbols and images or a new translation of Hesiod or a comparative study of Sumerian and biblical lore, and most of the time it means next to nothing to you because you’ve lost the ability to hear these stories again for the first time, because you’ve never had them passed down to you from the mouth of an elder of your world. The world in which you lived was flooded with these stories, and so they meant nothing to you. It was so deluged in these stories thought relics that you never had hopes of finding what you needed.
And I think my father knew about my inner world—at least, he knew it existed, that there was this realm in my soul neither he nor mother had any entrance to, and that just burned him all the more. I was slipping from him even as he worked harder to teach me the proper life of a proper Christian girl, even as he brought back to me my Bible for select studies on the law and Proverbs. I was slipping away.
One day, the old woman told me this story:
“Sometime near the beginning of things, Eve was sent down into the world by the spirit of Wisdom, who had looked upon the poor, pitiful creation that was Adam with sadness, for all he could do was to sleep. So Eve went down and stood by him and said, ‘Adam, awake!’ And up he rose, looking at her who brought him from sleep, and he named her Hawa, which is Eve in our language and which means ‘mother of the living,’ because she had brought him to life. But the creator of this world, he was not pleased, for now Adam was free from his dark imaginings, so that night, he gave Adam a dream in which the creator made Eve from one of his ribs, and Adam woke up that morning feeling that he gave life to Eve, not the other way around. He did not see any more the light that was in her and the light that was inside him, so Eve, to awaken him again, fed him the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, as suggested by the snake who was also sent by the spirit of Wisdom. It opened his eyes truly. He knew that the creator was not his father but that he had a true Father and Mother of Light above. But the creator was angry at this man and this woman, for knowledge of the truth was something he never intended Adam to have, so he drove them from the false paradise he had made, burning it behind him, and since then, people have lived in fear and slavery of the creator, though some do have the light inside them and can just sense the truth, even in a world so very dark.”
And then one day, she walked beside me and said what a beautiful day it was and how rosy red the cold wind made my cheeks and then said nothing else, but just hummed to herself. “What about the story?” I eventually asked. “What story?” she said. “The one you were going to tell,” I answered. “Oh, well what story is that?” she asked. “I don’t know. You tell me,” I said. “No,” she said, “why don’t you tell me what story I’m going to tell you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” she said, “what kind of story do you want to hear?”
“Any kind,” I told her.
“Sometimes, little one,” she said, “just ‘any kind’ isn’t good enough. The world around us changes so fast, and sometimes we need to tell the old stories differently, or sometimes we may need completely new stories altogether, though that’s rather rare—you have to be careful in either instance of who is doing the changing and why.”
I didn’t understand.
“It’s like,” she said, “… it’s like a boat. If you want to paddle across a lake or down a stream, you probably want a canoe. But if you want to cross the ocean, you need one of those huge sailboats like Columbus had, or some ocean liner. And sometimes, if you’re walking on your journey and you come to a river that you have to cross, you may have to build your own boat, if there isn’t one nearby. You never start a story on a blank page or in a silent moment, but you build it out of the sound and the world around you. So let’s build a story, okay? What would you like your story to be about?”
I thought about it for a few steps on the crack, break you’re mother’s back, and then I knew I wanted her to tell a story about a set of twin girls who never knew each other until one day, and the one who lived with her finally learned that she had a sister who had been banished to a far off land. That’s the story I wanted to hear. That’s the story I wanted the old woman to tell me.
But it was not meant to be, for the moment I opened my mouth, suddenly I heard a voice shouting, “YOU! What are you doing here?!?!?!!!”
There was my father, getting out of the family car he had so hastily parked by the curb, walking toward us with a venomous look on his face. At first, I was confused, wondering what I had done wrong, but then I saw that his eyes were upon the old woman, and I turned to her. Her body still carried all the kindness I had known, but there was a spark in her eyes, as if she were one of the Eumenides slowly regressing, one of the “kindly ones” turning back into her long ancient Fury self. (More stories I had learned from her.)
“Can’t an old woman take a little stroll with her granddaughter?” she asked in a calm and even voice.
I felt my father’s hand grabbing me and dragging me toward the car. I tried to look back to her, but he was in my way, pushing me inside. I only had a brief glimpse of her out the window while he walked around the car, and I burned that image onto my brain—I can still see her standing there, the cold wind whipping across her, and her eyes moving down to me with all the love that I had not seen in them before. And then dad started the car, and we drove away.
I was not allowed to walk home from school ever again. Instead, either dad or mom made sure to pick me up. I never heard my story about the twins lost from each other, but that almost didn’t matter, for I knew they would remain lost to each other for a long time coming, because the father was not yet dead and the secret world inside was someplace that Hawa the daughter, Hawa the good church girl, could not yet explore—for I was someone different when I went there, when I expanded its geography with stories of explorers and wanderers even as Hawa the good church girl was kept under close watch and not allowed to stray from certain paths. But they knew they had lost me, no matter how much my outside twin did as they instructed, did everything just as perfect as they could please save for that glint of happiness which is there when you do something of your own free will. I could be that girl all my life and still not be theirs, do what they desired until I fell into my grave and still not make them happy because my true life was elsewhere.
That’s when my parents started trying for another child. They wanted the child who would love them and God of his own free will. Oh, they had never tried not having children, for large families were still a blessing, but it never seemed to happen. Now they tried and tried harder and even went to the doctor a few times for a check-up, but nothing was wrong. My father believed in the full-fledged power of Satan, and he probably thought that either his mother or I had cursed him, for they never did get pregnant again, despite all assurances that it shouldn’t be a problem. They had only me. And I had only my twin, lost in those enchanting worlds that lurked behind my eyelids.Help Support T21 with your Dollar Donation Today
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