Sunlight shot through her dorm room windows and burned a spotlight onto her bed. No more time in bed. It was Sunday, the day for renewal. God’s day. She’d planned a reunion with him. For weeks she’d been visiting churches on Sunday mornings but they’d each left her dry. She’d even tried to commit to one, a hip one, one that offered worship songs that swung and a pastor with a knack for storytelling. Her mother said sometimes you have to commit to one for a while, sow the seeds, for a time, in order to make connections that bear fruit down the line. A community doesn’t emerge overnight. It had taken a full four years for her high school friends to grow into a family.
But it was leading to a kind of soul death. The people were uninteresting, the stories from the pulpit the same. How many times can you hear how we need to trust him because at the last minute he can walk on water? Not that he couldn’t and not that she didn’t believe that. She did. That was the point. It was the church, the pastors who failed to bring that to life. The scriptures live. They breathe. They speak.
This morning she would find a place outside in order to hear him speak, on his own, and not hope that some man could get out of the way long enough to allow God to speak through him. This morning she’d sit in the clean morning and be scrubbed spotless.
She’d be refreshed, finally rising above the petty infighting in the group of people she called her friends- that haphazard collection of people loosely bound by their theatre major. But they didn’t love God. They might have believed in him, but they didn’t serve him. She felt the loss of her high school friends with increasing panic. As her relationships from high school waned, so did her intimacy with God. She still prayed. She journaled. She spent time in the word, but she couldn’t hear his voice. The more earnestly she reached for him, the further away he felt, like a boyfriend who disappeared for unknown reasons. She must’ve done something wrong. She must be carrying some sin she didn’t know about.
Ah, but in nature, she’d find him again. He couldn’t escape her there. He was all over nature. It was his voice. Wasn’t it? As a child she’d spent hours in bed watching the trees outside her window move and cast shadows across her walls. She’d think of nothing, feel nothing. No anxiety, no pain, no fear, just existence.
She freed her legs from the sheets. Her roommate, thankfully, had been out all night and didn’t return. She was a nightmare, a Russian exchange student who smelled, played Meatloaf 24/7 and stayed in the room all the time. Until recently, when she finally got the hint and started staying at a friend’s dorm. God, what a mistake. That was a huge regret and one that cost her a friendship that would never recover. She’d planned on rooming with a girl from her program, but at the last minute felt it would compromise her faith. The girl was an atheist.
She’d hoped, just knew, God would bring her a friendship in a new roommate like the ones she’d had back home. Someone with whom she could share her deepest secrets. Someone who’d pray with her and be her ally.
Another slight from God, no, sorry, she didn’t mean that. Sorry God, sorry. There was something to be learned here. Something she’d eventually learn, if she could just get through the year with this beast. And she felt guilty, terribly ashamed. She knew she’d hurt the girl from her program. She’d really only realized they were friends after she’d backed out on their plans. Since then she’d been trying for an entire semester to get back into her good graces, but the harder she tried, the more the girl punished her. She’d keep trying. She deserved whatever treatment she got.
Black thoughts. “Think on that later. Be with God now,” She said aloud. She looked at the temperature. It was barely 50 degrees. Move. It doesn’t matter. Just bundle up. The ground was clear. The grass was green. A brief spring thaw had begun a few weeks prior. Holland, Michigan, land of the tulips and cherry blossoms, was coming to life again, which was why it was a perfect time for her to restart her relationship with God.
She took her Bible and a blanket to a spot of ground under a massive Oak with green buds on the edges of its black branches. She lay there for a moment. OK, way too cold. She moved to a sunny spot in the middle of the grove. No one was about. It was the perfect time to be with God. She lay down again, put her sunglasses on and opened her Bible. It was the pink leather one with silver lined tissue pages she’d asked her parents to giver her on her graduation from the eighth grade. The spine cracked. Perhaps the New Testament today.
The ground pushed against her like the jagged edge of a cliff, all sharp, cutting bumps, and wet. Oh yeah, dew. Frozen dew. But she’d come all this way, and skipped church. She couldn’t go back in now. Not to that messy, tiny room. There was no place else to go. Not to find God. God wasn’t in any building on this campus. She’d been to them all. And don’t say the chapel. He definitely was not in the chapel. The guy who ran that, the pastor, if you could call him that, believed that all roads led to Jesus. Or heaven. Or whatever. Their service would be going on and it would definitely be anything but meaningful.
“Just open the Bible and read for 15 minutes,” she told herself. Even if it wasn’t the 30 that her pastor back home said was necessary for intimacy with God. She’d feel so good that she’d be able to continue her prayers back in her room. She opened her Bible again. Should she try to read something she never read? Give God the opportunity to speak to her through new material? She opened Leviticus and gave that a try. Then she looked at Deuteronomy. A terrible idea. She was never spiritually advanced enough for those. So she turned back to Psalms, her go-to. Many passages were underlined. Many times they’d made her feel close to God. They were the songs King David sang to God throughout his life, in the best of times, in the worst.
But, these days, she couldn’t get the worst of David out of her mind. For whatever reason, she was obsessed with it and each time she tried to read the Psalms, his words stuck like muck in her thoughts. He lusted after another man’s wife, sent that man to the front lines during the war so that he would die, then took his wife. In her journal she wrote,
“I saw him lusting at her from his castle wall, as she bathed, naked and beautiful in the moonlight. I envied her. I pitied her. She was a lamb to the slaughter. No agency of her own. The only man she ever loved murdered because she was beautiful. The son she bore David had an illness and while he struggled to live, David tore his clothes and wept, begging God to save him. God did not, so David stopped crying. And that was the end of her story. She was never named and never mentioned again.
Oh, and what about that situation with his son who raped his own daughter? Amnom lusted after and raped his own half-sister and she was forced to live in shame, never marrying, never having a life and King David did nothing. Nothing!
God forgave him, restored intimacy with himself, and blessed his line. What a crock of shit. What have I done to offend him that he removes himself from me? Why am I not good enough to feel close to him anymore? Is my sin not big enough that my forgiveness can’t be big enough?
OK. Calm down. Just calm down. Go back inside. This isn’t working. You’re all worked up. Mad at yourself because you can’t do this right. You’re tired. You haven’t slept well since that Russian moved in. Some prayer will help. Let God calm you down and go back to sleep. You’ll feel better when you wake up.”