LAND OF LIGHT
The parishioners filed into the church, slowly, with only a few showing up at first. Some walked up front to be near the altar. One of them was motivated by a desire to get a good seat to be able to hear the sermon clearly. A few others thought that being closer to the altar would bestow upon them some greater holiness than those further away. And finally, there are those who sit up front for recognition and adulation because of their place. Some who wandered in would divert either to the left or the right and sit far in the back corners. Usually they were the ones you saw with their heads bent down in fervent prayer.
The rest of the congregants would direct themselves to their favorite seats so as to be able to sit near friends or relatives. Comfort and familiar surroundings were of paramount importance to these “believers.”
The church slowly filled to about two thirds capacity, maybe a little more. Most of the parishioners sat towards the middle of the church pews, filling their usual spots. As the clock approached ten in the morning the sun was already bright and hot. The openings at the bottom of the stained glass windows, which reached up to the roof, were opened to let in as much air as possible. Air conditioning was a luxury the church couldn’t afford.
Filters of light beamed through the front door shining directly on the pulpit, leading to the odd juxtaposition of shadowy figures pacing back and forth, whispering mouths talking into straining ears. Monstrous differences in size were noticeable in the figures parading around in the doorway of the church. Shadows of some loomed huge as though the church were being invaded by some spectral figure breaking into God’s own domain. It was only a few members of the church huddled together in deep conversation. The air that morning was cool upon waking, but had grown stagnant by mid morning, the heat already bearing down with temperatures hovering at or above eighty.
The sky was clear but minds were clouded by buzzing thoughts occupying empty heads. How to budget this week’s paycheck, making sure of course that the tithe doesn’t cut too much into any favorite activity. “How come I keep getting these damn hangnails, I’ve got to find the clipper when I get home or I’ll end up getting another bloody finger because I’ll get frustrated and pull it out with my fingernails.” “Why is she sitting all the way over there? If she got to know me, she’d like me, I know it.”
Occasionally, the air would move a little, prompted by the two fans on opposing sides of the two rows of pews. The timeless, placeless daydreaming would be broken by the light breeze tapping you on the face, bringing you back to reality for a moment. Most of the congregants were having difficulty in keeping their attention on holy thoughts. During the week at work, or even at home, it’s not that difficult to focus on a task being done. Even activities being enjoyed can be engaged in with blissful single-mindedness. That new Steven King, I remember not being able to put it down until I was finished. The project at work was near deadline and I knew that if I could get it done early my chances for promotion would improve. No problem. Easy to explain why my mind was so set. Everybody needs to escape once in a while.
While the church was quiet, with little whispers of conversation or shifting bottoms breaking the silence, the church building itself seemed quiet. But the occasional creak would give away the weight being withstood by the church; the groaning planks bearing down under the weight of ten thousand souls treading them under foot.
As the sun slowly rose in the morning sky, the people (the body of Christ?) sat motionless, but impatiently waiting for the sermon to begin. Somewhere in the back there was a noise. It seemed to come from where the pews began or where the doorways leading into the church ended. It wasn’t a loud noise at first, it was hardly distinguishable from the creaks and groans heard any other time emanating from within the church walls. A few heads turned out of curiosity, half expecting a late parishioner tip toeing in, hoping not to be noticed. But no one was there. A few planks of wood from the floorboards had peeled back from being nailed down and were bent slightly upward.
The first few thoughts were that the humidity had been high lately and maybe the wood hadn’t been treated correctly. The financial officer’s first thought was how this was going to be a whole new expense for him to worry about. Fixing this would probably cost a bundle. The next sounds came from adjoining planks peeling back from the floor and curling upwards so that they were practically standing upright.
At this point the congregation was, as a whole, spellbound. What happened next was anything except what they could ever expect would be possible. The planks of wood bent across each other and twisted and turned until they formed the figure of a wooden man standing upright.
The impatience was gone, it was now replaced by fear.
The voices mumbling earlier had stopped, no voice daring to speak in the face of such supernatural force. Finally the wooden planks, having fashioned themselves into one unified figure, disgorged itself from the floor completely. The figure proceeded to walk up the center aisle towards the altar, people on either side scurrying backwards in their seats, reacting in terror. After a few seconds of clumsily, then steadily walking towards the altar, it climbed the steps to behind the lectern. The congregants couldn’t help but sit with their mouths gaping open at this wonder.
Here before them was an assemblage of inanimate splinters, staring at them all from behind the altar. Animated though is what this wood now was, and with perdition breathing down the necks of these people, they were in no position to ignore the forthcoming sermon.