a candle and a prayer :: a story for advent

for alex

This story follows “And You Welcome Me :: A Story For Advent.” If you haven’t read it yet, you should probably read it first.

The news flashed across the screen like a thunderstorm.

No. More like a tsunami.

Kids killed in a school shooting. Kids killed by terrorists. Kids killed by American soldiers. God, too many kids killed.

In the year since she’d moved in with Jane and Alice, Jessica’s life had changed drastically. At home she didn’t watch TV much. Nevermind that; here was home now, and here felt safer than “home” ever had. But the news was enough to break anybody’s heart, let alone a new mother’s.

Her baby Steven lay in her lap, contentedly sucking at his thumb. She looked down at him and then up at the television. What horrible world would she be sending Steven into? She held him closer, as if to protect him from the guns and bombs and darkness that crept from every corner and ravaged at the light.

The daily news lineup heralded another young black man, killed by white people who were probably just afraid. Jessica comforted herself by touching Steven’s perfect white skin, then felt guilty at her relief that her child would never be arrested, frisked, or shot for “walking while black.”

And then there was a story about prison. As the announcer talked about a new law that was putting more people in jail, the old TV flickered, and the picture disappeared into a black hole that opened in the middle and then closed.

“It’s bad for your soul,” Alice said from behind the couch. “It’s good to be informed, but if you watch tragedy too much, it’ll eat you alive.”

“You’re right, Aunt Alice.” Jessica had taken to calling Alice and Jane her aunts, though sometimes they acted more like mothers.

“Are you coming to church tomorrow?” asked Alice.

“I think so. If this little guy lets me sleep.”

Alice smiled. “May I hold him?”

Jessica lifted her baby into Alice’s arms.

“Aren’t you a beautifuw wittwe boy?” Alice asked, exchanging her l’s for w’s the way everyone does when they talk to babies. Steven, unaffected, continued sucking his thumb.

“Do you mind if I get ready for bed while you’re holding him?”

“Of course, go ahead.” Alice returned to her baby-talk, and Jessica brushed her teeth.

Steven, properly nursed, promptly, mercifully, and miraculously fell asleep as soon as his sleeper hit the sheets in the crib. His mother did likewise, except in her pajamas.

Jessica hid. Her dad was angry because she was pregnant. Hiding didn’t work. He found her. How dare she corrupt Peter? And living with lesbians? What was she thinking? She cowered under his words.

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

“But they’ve been kind to me!”

“Whoever causes a child to stumble, it would be better if they had a millstone tied around their neck and were drowned in the sea.”

Steven was in her arms. Her father reached for him. “No!” She held on tight, but her arms just weren’t strong enough, as they never are in our dreams. She tried to get Steven back, but she couldn’t.

“I will protect him from you and your wicked ways,” her father said. The room slipped away, and Alice and Jane appeared with her. A tall devil with a pitchfork approached, and flames surrounded her. “The sexually immoral will not inherit the Kingdom of God,” he said. He sounded exactly like her father.

A man with a gun was there. He was pointing it at Steven. Steven had black skin. Steven cried.

Steven cried.

She woke up, breathing hard. She found herself back in the room with the leaf wallpaper.

A dream. It was a dream.

She shot up from the bed to check the crib. Relief. Steven was still in his crib, and insisting loudly upon being fed. She picked him up and held him close. “God?” she asked, looking out the window toward the dark sky. “Are you still there?”

The rest of the night passed uneventfully.

A warm light crept across the floor to herald the morning and gently awaken Jessica. The light competed for the latter privilege with the smell of bacon wafting in from the kitchen. Jane enjoyed cooking for Jessica. She said Jessica was like the daughter she’d never had.

The dream had mostly faded, but it held on with white fingers at the corners of Jessica’s mind as she got ready for church. She was comfortable wearing jeans everywhere else, but it still somehow seemed strange to wear them to church, even though Jane and Alice usually did.

The Sunday paper was sprawled out on the table, and Alice was skimming it with her reading glasses. There was some headline about riots for something or other, but Alice quickly folded it up and put it away.

“Good morning, Jessica. Sleep well?”

“Fine,” she said. Alice knew this was code for not-even-remotely-fine, and Jessica knew Alice knew, but Alice let it go. Jessica was relieved. She didn’t want to tell Alice and Jane about the dream. They worried about her enough already.

Breakfast was delicious. Jessica, Steven, and their semi-adopted family wrapped themselves up to face the bitter chill of northern Minnesota and walked out the door. Fifteen seconds later, Alice hurried back in, grabbed a worn leather-bound Bible, and left again.

Jessica had become accustomed to the Episcopal liturgy, but everything had been a blur the previous Christmas. Now she paid attention.

A small child lit a purple candle.

“On this the first Sunday of Advent,” said Father Richard, “We light this purple candle. It represents hope.”


She held it together until the reading from the Older Testament. It included this phrase:

He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

Her heart turned the words over and over again. He shall judge between the nationsBeat their swords into plowshares. Neither shall they learn war any more.

The sermon was a blur. It was about hope, of course, the hope of Jesus coming back. Father Richard had apparently seen the same newscasts Jessica had, because she thought she caught a few references.

For Jessica, the Lord’s Prayer had always been rote, something you said without really thinking about it. Since coming here, it occasionally had meant something. The words started to mean something.

Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. God’s will. God’s kingdom. Maybe when that kingdom came, there wouldn’t be any more kids killed. Maybe bombs would get beaten into tractors. Maybe God’s will wasn’t for parents to throw their kids out.

She reflected on her time with Jane and Alice. Maybe that was what God’s kingdom coming looked like. Maybe that was God’s will being done. Lesbians enacting God’s kingdom and doing God’s will. A year ago she never would’ve imagined such a thing.

The world outside continued to be broken, but something in Jessica had changed. Alice and Jane’s obedience had given her hope. Hope that had been commended to her by a purple candle and a rote prayer.

She made a mental note to hug her “aunts” extra-tight when they got home.

About David M. Schell






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