'God's Grandeur' by Gerard Manley Hopkins
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs --
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889) was an English poet and a Jesuit priest.
By Will Shine
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'The Future Ain't What It Used to Be'
I slipped and fell into the ocean
And a big fish swallowed me
But then he spit me up and swam away in great disgust
And said, 'The taste ain't what it used to be.'
I went and saw a fortune teller
Asked her if I'd ever grow old
Well, she looked back at me and explained, despite the fee,
'Those weren't the kind of fortunes that you're told, no.'
Can't you see, can't you see?
This ain't the way it was meant to be
Read the book, ask your folks, consult the prophets of old
The sky is falling down, the whole world is upside-down
Yeah, the future ain't what it used to be
Oh, the future ain't what it used to be
They say the times they are a'changin'
Yet they seem to stay the same
Don't see the point in rearrangin'
If everything is going up in flames
Can't you see, can't you see?
This ain't the way it was meant to be
Read the book, ask your folks, consult the prophets of old
The end is drawing near, we have everything to fear
Yeah, the future ain't what it used to be
Oh, the future ain't what it used to be
Yes, the future ain't what it used to be
Below is an excerpt from a conversation between Will Shine (WS) and Josh Seligman (JS), editor of Foreshadow, about Will's music and work.
JS: What inspired you to write the song?
WS: I wrote it while I was a student at Fuller [Theological Seminary]. In fact, I wrote it as the summation project for a theology and culture class.
I loved talking to you about it the other day because you heard something different in it, which is great because hopefully, that's not to pat myself on the back, but that means it functions in a properly artistic capacity, that it was multireferent, it has hermeneutical potential, meaning it could be interpreted in different ways, and that's great.
As I wrote it, in my mind, it’s really around a lyric. And it’s a playful musical setting. It has a very playful Lyle Lovett kind of vibe -- a folksy, country-rock kind of a shuffle. I’m really an instrumentalist first, I think in my mind at least, and then definitely a lyricist and all that stuff second. So I’m imagining textures and stuff to help carry this message, and that’s what came to mind, this whimsical tune with a lot of conventional trappings, harmonically speaking, to get into the weeds musically there for a moment.
But in terms of lyric, it’s a satire piece entirely for me. It’s sung from the first-person perspective of someone whose really entrenched doctrinal stances, their belief systems, are uprooted when the future ain’t what it used to be, when all of their senses of what were supposed to happen or come to fruition, or the experiences that they thought they could bank on and what they thought was true -- it’s not what it was supposed to be. It didn’t work out that way.
In part I had in mind Harold Camping, who ran billboards around the country, and we had him in San Diego when we were finishing college, about predicting the end of the world and the date, and it just wasn’t that, you know what I mean? It was so ridiculous. And the guy made tons of money off of people who fell or that and were convinced that this was what was true and so divested themselves because the naysayers, the prognosticators of doom had spoken and this was what was true.
I’m thinking of the series the HBO series The Leftovers for a media relationship, a great series that kind of deals with this too.
But yeah, it’s just to satire that, to spoof that, the disappointment that comes when you realise fortune tellers really aren’t actually telling you your fortune, and prophecies that you thought meant one thing really don’t mean that thing, and they don’t even want to play anymore with you, the whale spits the guy out.
JS: I really like that line. It starts out with that line. Jonah comes to mind, and then it’s the joke, ‘The taste ain’t what it used to be.’ So these people that you think are prophets, they’re not the real thing. On one hand, heaven and earth -- God’s glory fills it all. And yet on the other hand, we’re still in this fallen world, and there are prophets that often don’t speak on behalf of God. There are prophets that, whether it’s intentional or not, they are false prophets. They don’t speak the truth.
WS: I think nobody really has the corner on the truth. I think that’s part of the suggestion. The person in the song, their world is ending because the way they thought it was supposed to go isn’t what’s actually happening, so now the world really is ending. And I think that’s part of the thing that evades prophecy and people when they think about prophecy. People think prophecy is about in general predicting the future, and that’s not really what prophecy is. It’s really about addressing the present, I think. In the biblical prophetic tradition, it’s about really addressing what’s happening right now. Clairvoyance is about the future. Maybe it’s just semantics. I think prophecy is about really dealing with the present. And a truly prophetic voice helps bring us somewhere into the future by giving us a better sense of what is presently going on. Again, the person in the song, their false notion of what prophecy is, is foiled, and now their world, from their vantage point, is falling apart. They cannot reconcile the fact that the things that they thought should be happening, or would happen, are not.
JS: This connects back with what we were saying earlier about how we become who or what we worship. Maybe these false prophets are worshiping a false future, so when that doesn’t come, they come crashing down.
As the editor of Foreshadow, I see our work as prophetic in the sense that, in our worship of God, we see a vision of a union between the future and the present, a union between heaven and earth, a union between God’s future and the present that we live in. And in that union, that changes how we live and how we operate in this world today.
Stay tuned for an upcoming interview exploring Will's music and work.
Will Shine is a musician, thinker and friend. He holds a Bachelors in Music from Point Loma Nazarene University and an MA in Theology and the Arts from Fuller Theological Seminary, California. You can learn more about his work at www.itswillshine.com.
'This Is My Father's World' by Maltbie D. Babcock
This is my Father’s world,
And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world:
I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
His hand the wonders wrought.
This is my Father’s world,
The birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white,
Declare their maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world:
He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass;
He speaks to me everywhere.
This is my Father’s world.
O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong
Seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world:
The battle is not done:
Jesus who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heav’n be one.
This is my Father’s world,
Dreaming, I see His face.
I ope my eyes, and in glad surprise
Cry, The Lord is in this place.
This is my Father’s world,
From the shining courts above,
The Beloved One, His Only Son,
Came—a pledge of deathless love.
This is my Father’s world,
Should my heart be ever sad?
The Lord is King—let the heavens ring.
God reigns—let the earth be glad.
This is my Father’s world.
Now closer to Heaven bound,
For dear to God is the earth Christ trod.
No place but is holy ground.
This is my Father’s world.
I walk a desert lone.
In a bush ablaze to my wondering gaze
God makes His glory known.
This is my Father’s world,
A wanderer I may roam;
Whate’er my lot, it matters not,
My heart is still at home.
Maltbie D. Babcock (1858–1901) was an American pastor.
By Jaden Goldfain
Every generation needs a war
to make it great.
Ours does not have guns.
The blood river in the streets
is not from bullet wounds.
Hell, you can’t even see it.
Our enemy nestles himself
in the six-feet caverns
between our playground soul-friends,
in the one "like"
on a suicide letter Instagram post,
in the seven-hundred-and-fourth hour
of social isolation
where he sews vines of stifling solitude,
Over these, we trip and fall heart-first
without a sound because
the pain of a pixelated face
cannot be tangible
so it must not be real.
These monsters of shadows
are wizards at convincing us
that we have no monsters at all.
Everyone is alone,
therefore everyone must want to die,
our grievances aren’t that special.
If we believe them,
that the whisper ache inside us
is just an imaginary friend turned sour,
a natural part of life,
the shadows will become our souls
as they bleed cries of emptiness.
We are hollowed when we believe
“It is finished” was meant for our lives.
When satan’s lies have clogged
your heart’s receptors for love
and you haven’t felt
more than brittle in a week,
Jesus doesn’t feel like enough.
This is war
because God’s children
no longer feel human.
Fellowship, may you flick loneliness
from the cavities of our souls.
Breath of Christ, may You undam(n)
our blood so it may rush in rivers
rather than faucet trickles.
Roar of the Lion,
may You rip the foam of fatigue
from a generation’s pulse.
Saturate and shine our battle line
with Your vibrancy
and may every young person know--
His hand rests love on your shoulder.
In Him, you are alive today.
Command satan to get behind you
and run, run, don’t stop running.
In Him, you are alive today.
in this war that seems eternal,
Jesus is more so.
Yes and absolutely
you are alive.
Jaden Goldfain is pursuing a BA in Writing from Point Loma Nazarene University, California. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming in Blue Marble Review, Bridge Ink and iō Literary Journal. She loves Jesus, her friends and 'Stranger Things'.
Fiction by Michael Dean Clark
A pastor with a heroin addiction fights for his life to deliver the eulogy of a young man he could not save.
Scott watches his hands. He should focus on the tiny butane torch or superheated silver spoon that had most likely been some grandmother’s wedding gift. But weddings are beginnings and today is just an end.
If not the spoon with its neglect-browned scalloped edges, he should watch its partially immersed face that has become, for yet another moment, his reason for existence. Just enough to push the thoughts away, submerge the fact that he has nothing of worth to say about Jesse, a sweet, earnest, awkward kid who loved everyone else but couldn’t love himself. Depression built a wall no kind words could breach and a cage even medication couldn’t unlock. But Scott won’t think about this yet, even though the funeral he’s in charge of performing is just a couple hours away. All his compulsions allow him to see are his hands through the peripheral phantom of curling smoke.
Tracing the length of his left hand with his eyes, he remembers to avoid burning himself again, the months-old, comet-tailed red scar on his inner thigh blinking memory spasms. The nails on fingers wrapped around the handle of the spoon, trimmed clean to exactly the same length fold smoothly into his skin, not a hangnail or rough spot. Small patches of blond hair on each knuckle hide deepening grooves. He knows without looking his palms are still young, elastic despite it all. They reject wear, pushing it outward to the publicly accessible real estate of the backs of his hands. This is what people see, their eyes finding still-emerging craters and ripples no amount of moisturizer prevents.
By the wrist, he is lost and his gaze travels up his forearm. A year ago, it was thicker. Now, it’s as if the water’s been sucked away, leaving a thin sheet of skin over veins clinging weakly to a bone pedestal. The difference is so great people have asked about his diet. He says he takes high-caffeine Starbucks supplements. When a couple asked where they could get the pills, he’d been forced to warn them, straight-faced, about the dangers of addiction.
Scott ceases his anatomical musings with a glance at the polished teak box resting just beyond his hands on the equally teak desktop. Lid up, its base blends seamlessly with the surface while the contents pop like neon lights against the maroon velvet lining. An already-opened alcohol swab waits on its torn package and the air moves with Fiona Apple’s voice singing I only travel by foot and by foot it’s a slow climb, but I’m good at being uncomfortable so I can’t stop changing all the time.
From preparation to injection, moments are meaningless. Mere efficiency. Inhaling, he places the elements of his bastardized communion back in the box, snapping the lid shut. He looks away from his father’s initials carved on its face. Racing the weight of thickening limbs, he drops the swab into the trash and turns up the fan on the miniature desktop air freshener. Sinking into his chair’s cushions, his head lolls to the side. From a distance, he hears a noise.
The groaning goes on for hours or minutes or thirty seconds before Scott realizes he’s making it. He tries to clamp a hand over his sagging mouth but stops at the sight of its veins throbbing and pulsing. Tiny holes at the base of each follicle gape like emptied eye sockets. Turning it over, he watches blood pool in the hollow of his palm and can’t tell if it’s really there or not.
They would have driven the nails through his wrists, not his hands.
His weight shifts and the worn nickel cross in his pocket digs against his thigh while he watches images of his closest friends—usually in sunny places, always smiling—fade in and out on the screen of his laptop. Each image feels sinister in its insidiously genuine happiness.
How can anyone feel this good when people like Jesse can only suffer? People like him?
Scott held counseling sessions with the kid once a week for three months and tried to tell him they had these feelings in common, that he doubted and felt empty most of the time too. But every time he verged on showing Jesse the depth of his pain, the physical scars that might have lent more weight to his hope that they showed he still believed in healing he’d yet to feel, Scott couldn’t. The fear walled up in his throat like a dam and the words drowned behind it.
Maybe what they actually shared were the things neither could feel, like the comfort of the dishonest certainty from people around them. But those talks never carried any comfort for Jesse, not even in the most basic sense of reminding him that he wasn’t alone in his isolation. Maybe he could sense the things Scott could never say and their absence made it all feel like a lie.
The next picture on the screen is his ex-fiancé, Gina, and he lurches to snap the computer shut like closing a door in her face. It takes him three tries. The effort ends the precious few moments where his need to control every aspect of his universe had evaporated into a lethargic space where time expanded like a rubber band stretching out beyond the horizon. These moments were why he suffered the rest of it, or so he’d convinced himself, and when they ended it was like a thousand rubber bands snapping against his naked body.
Without trying, Scott begins cataloging the neatly arranged items around the square of the desktop he cleared for his box, fighting to still the sense of it all ending. Just beyond the computer on the right is a small printer, its tray propped on top of his cell phone, which is either blinking a missed call or signaling him in sentient machine code. His thoughts drift to the saved message from Jesse from the day before he killed himself and a shadow falls over the office. There was nothing of note in the message, just the kid saying hello. Maybe that should have been a warning, but Scott refuses to linger on the thought. To the immediate left of the printer and facing him is a suddenly terrifying stapler. He leans forward to hide it behind his office phone and can’t stop his momentum before banging his head against the corner of the desk. It won’t hurt until tomorrow.
His face against the cool dark wood, Scott is eye-level with a neatly-fanned pile of letters and a stack of papers. The top one reads “Local Boy Dies, Suicide Suspected” and he lets out a slow, gasping, eyes-closed sob. He can’t be a mourner. People need assurance the world isn’t too broken to continue caring. But faith is hard to hold onto when he pauses to find that he still believes he could have saved Jesse. Maybe if Scott had let the kid in, even just a little more, just enough to see how much darkness he was wrestling with. Isn’t that what he always preached faith is? Grasping for some light against the moments that feel most pitch black? The picture in those words only moves away, replaced with the look on Jesse’s mom’s face when she fell into his arms in the hospital hallway, pressing her face into Scott’s chest after they declared her only child brain dead.
“He wasn’t sad. He was happy.” The words were muffled and then she pulled back enough to look up at him through eyes ringed with black eyeliner gone starburst from her tears. “He was…happy, right?”
The desperation in her tone blanks the memory playing on the screen in Scott’s head and his stomach pitches into his throat as the ocean in his head drops from high to low tide, gagging him. He gulps and struggles to hold off the next heave by imagining the contents of his desk drawers.
The lower right-hand drawer’s contents are so lodged in his mind they appear in list form: open surf wax, bubble-gum scented; Quiksilver sandals, worn; one re-gifted bottle of chardonnay, untouched; three DVDs, Garden State, Heat, Riding Giants; 200-count coffee filters, unopened; one still-sealed bottle of caramel syrup. By the end of the inventory, Scott breathes evenly while slicks of sweat break like dank tropical storms against his skin.
Moving to the upper right-hand drawer, he inhales deeply and a rattling cough causes purple and orange flares to burst before his eyes. He yanks it open and rifles through the contents: printer paper, one ream of ivory; printer ink cartridges—black, cyan, magenta; four compact discs he refuses to replace with digital copies--Nothing is Sound, Core, The Black Album, Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star; three full-sized chocolate bars—two Hershey’s and one Ghirardelli’s mint; the church checkbook. Shame scalds him at the sight of the last check made out to “Cash.” The memo line reads “Ministry Donation.”
The center drawer is last, even though the paper bags he’s looking for are there. So is the worst piece of Jesse. But it’s the only piece that matters. Scott imagines the kid’s face, dead eyes moving from his fix kit to his face and live mouth asking Didn’t you love me enough to hold off for once? He has no answer and sifts through the rest: keys to church doors and his motorcycle, boxes of paper clips and staples, pink and yellow Post-it notes, miniature Hershey’s chocolate bars, cheap Bic pens, cheaper sharpened pencils, four thumb drives, and loose change totaling 74 cents in two quarters, two dimes, and four pennies. Sweeping it all aside sets him spinning and he barely gets one of the sacks to his mouth before everything comes up. He’s still lurching when the knock comes.
“Pastor Scott, are you ok?” The handle jiggles, but the brass deadbolt is shot.
“Fine,” he grunts, the slide in his head deepening. “I’m just—” he heaves, “—getting ready.”
“Yeah, ‘m sure.”
“Well, people are starting to get here.”
”Be out soon,” he says, a little louder than he wants.
After a few seconds, he drags himself to standing, fighting the warp and sway of the walls around him. It takes two tentative steps to circle the desk, five to cross the room, and two more to get far enough inside his closet bathroom to shut the door. Each step is agony and he strips off his white t-shirt as he goes, catching a breeze but no relief from the rotating fan in the corner. The rattle of its turning taps a Morse code that carries a meaning he can’t make out. Closing the door, Scott drops the lunch-sized puke sack onto the white tile floor and kneels in front of the toilet.
Oh God, I tried. I know this isn’t my thorn, but if it isn’t, what is it?
What if you were Jesse’s thorn, a voice that sounds like his own seems to answer aloud.
Scott heaves again. When he’s done, he wipes his face with the extra-soft toilet paper. The plushness of it is terrifying. He is suddenly convinced the 762 squares left on the extra thick roll will smother him right there in the bathroom. He drops it like a snake and trembles, his hands opening and closing in an incomprehensible sign language, and refuses to touch the paper towels coiled on top of the toilet’s tank.
Instead, he pulls himself up on the white pedestal sink to rinse off his face. It rocks slightly under his weight and Scott looks at his reflection. Generally, he hates thinking about himself for more than thirty seconds at a time, but he can stare into a mirror for hours, especially this one with its brushed silver frame hung the length of its rectangle to accommodate his 6’5” frame. The image is exactly what he expects: the sloppy heap of imminent collapse in all forms.
No one sees it yet.
At 35, he still looks healthy. He’s pretty lean, save the small boiler and handles pressing into the waistband of his shorts. His face is clear and a mild tan says he spends a good amount of time in the San Diego sun. Even his hair seems healthy, a full head cropped with clippers and shaped at the edges.
They don’t look close enough. At the gums pulling away from the tops of my teeth. The gray stealing the blue in my eyes. The lumped ridge of my nose. How my smile lifts more on the left than the right.
He spins the high school class ring around his right middle finger and scratches at the lines of his tattoos—a Celtic cross, the full text of Romans 3:23, and a pin-up Bette Page with U.S.M.C. under it—each green with age on his left arm. The angry purple slash of a scar at his collarbone from the stray mortar pulses with the pounding heartbeat he’s only just noticed.
He should shower but has no time. Instead, he splashes water on his face and chest before applying every toiletry he has; his electric toothbrush and whitening toothpaste give way to the burn of Listerine for germs and then the sting of Scope for breath. He shaved earlier, the fear his razor would try to slash his neck if he waited seeming less crazy now. He puts alcohol on the silver hoop in the cartilage of his left ear, smears deodorant under each arm, and slaps on Old Spice hard enough to feel it through the deadened nerves of his face. The scent carries his father into the room, but Scott forces him out just as quickly. He already disapproves of himself enough.
When he’s done, he feels good enough to leave, and it’s only after he’s opened the door that he notices he hadn't locked it. Fear slithers up the back of his neck and he stumbles back into the office, grabbing the side of the four-shelf, mission-style teak bookshelf on the wall next to the bathroom. Leaning with all his weight, he’s glad he used all six anchors to attach it to the wall. The spinning speeds up and he pants for more air than the rattling fan can produce. So, he reads his shelves, moving dutifully from left to right, up to down like any other book he studies.
The top is taken up with, but not full of, six Bibles: the King James Version, the New International Version, the Living Bible, The Message (Old and New Testaments), a Greek New Testament, and a Hebrew Old Testament. It occurs to him for the first time that all his Bibles are wrapped in the same dead brown leather. Shelf two is for non-fiction, alternative faiths, and commentary, from left to right: the Book of Mormon, the Bhagavad-Gita, Wiccan Magic, the Koran, the Catholic Study Bible (apocryphal texts included), The Life of Christ in Stereo, Tyndale’s Omnibus Bible Commentary, The God Delusion, the Satanic Bible, The Art of War, The War of Art, Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination, Man’s Search for Meaning, The Ragamuffin Gospel, Your Best Life Now, The Anarchist’s Cookbook, St. Francis of Assisi: A Revolutionary Life, Velvet Elvis, Mere Christianity, Night, Lions and Lambs, Blue Like Jazz, a bound set of Sister Theresa’s letters on doubt, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the Chuck Klosterman Box Set (Fargo, Rock City/Sex, Drugs, & Coco Puffs/Dying to Live/IV), and six copies of 40 Days of Purpose. Shelf three holds eight novels: A Son Comes Home, Big Sur, The Bridge of San Luis Ray, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Heart of the Matter, The End of the Affair, The Pelican Brief, and Wonderboys. Shelf four houses three editions of World Magazine, six editions of Time, three editions of Mother Jones, and six editions of Christianity Today. It also holds several notebooks of Scott’s own writing: two detailed accounts of his sins, seven sets of notes from his personal studies, three separate novels in progress, one complete screenplay, four collections of quotes he finds meaningful, and ten of the most horrific moments of being a pastor. Jesse would someday be eleven when Scott can make himself write it down.
By the bottom of the case, Scott is calm again, although two or three of the books he expected to find aren’t there and he assumes his secretary has stolen them. Of course, she didn’t. But still. He looks out a window at the midday sun and wishes for sunset instead. The sofa below it is covered by the blanket he slept under the night before and his clothes for the service—dark brown slacks, white dress shirt, white undershirt, brown and gold tie—rest over its back. He walks over, chemical detachment evaporating, and glances sadly at the coffee pot on the knee-level teak coffee table. Its orange power light glows and the full pot steams. Dropping a Hershey’s Kiss into the mug, Scott pours coffee over it and then, without stirring, takes a drink and immediately burns his tongue. The cactus prickle pain deepens his sadness.
Setting the cup down to cool, he drops his shorts and slides on the slacks, their cotton scratching like wire brush. He glances longingly at the board shorts next to his green and white surfboard he wishes he was paddling out on and then pulls on an equally scratchy undershirt. His eyes stray along the far wall as he finishes dressing, stopping briefly on each object: signed pictures of him with North County celebrities Eddie Vedder, Tony Hawk, Jon Foreman; medium-sized mini-fridge with twelve-inch Gumby and Pokey figures on top; Powell & Peralta hat on the floor next to it; 1982 Chargers calendar on the wall; a Zimbabwean walking stick from a mission trip in the far corner. Each item holds a comfort he’s too tired to feel.
Through the solid oak door, Scott hears the movement of people filing past toward the sanctuary. He imagines them, awkward in steps and words because they must force away silence. The sanctuary was already set when he arrived, Jesse’s body boxed in dark-stained maple on the stage to the right of the pulpit. No flowers, though. Not the kid’s style. Instead, dozens of supermarket candy bouquets with Snickers bars and boxes of Milk Duds on sticks in place of sunflowers or roses. That way everyone leaves with something sweet, Jesse’s mother said through tears as they planned the service. Sliding bare feet into his dress sandals, Scott moves back through the room, weaving in the space between two visitor chairs. The corner of the desk catches his thigh and he almost goes down, managing, barely, to stay on his feet and limp back around to his chair. An immediate knot forms in the meat of his thigh.
Seated, he finds the mechanics of reopening his laptop ungainly. His fingers move independent of intention, at odds with each other like unclasping a bra for the first time. Finally, with a permanent crunch, he manages to lift the screen. Gina’s face reappears while the internal components power back up and then a picture of his face grins out from under a jumble of desktop icons he keeps telling himself to organize. He can’t remember feeling as genuine as that smile seems. He hits print. As soon as the printer wheels squeakily eject three sparse pages outlining a life, Scott shuts the computer down completely. It complies, but takes its time doing so. Scott swears he hears it mutter something vaguely threatening just before the blue power light is extinguished.
The throbbing radiating from deep in his face refuses to be ignored any longer as he snatches up the notes, like his sinuses have crystallized and are shattering into razor shards behind his eyes. Noting the bottle of pain killer next to his forgotten coffee, he groans out of his chair and tucks his notes into a pocket as he walks to the table. They’re just points to riff on and Bible verses long memorized. He eats three aspirin dry, the metallic tang of the pills matching the flavor in his mouth before turning to paste in the back of his throat. Scott swallows hard and then collects the rest of what he needs for the service.
It’s a fairly standard memorial. Some of Jesse’s favorite music will accompany a slideshow on the screen behind the choir loft. People will be moved at the sight of him at the beach or playing soccer or leading the junior high group on his guitar. Scott watched the show the night before, imagining a bullet hole marring the kid’s face in each. He hopes people will latch onto the significance of the opening scripture—John 17:13–19—because a prayer for protection against what the world does to people seems like something they all need. After a short time for sharing memories, Jesse’s parents will read a statement, and then the viewing will start. Scott hopes the make-up artist did a good job. Then, they’ll sing “It Will Be Worth It All That Day,” he’ll give a fifteen-minute sermon, and Jesse’s best friend Kate will close in prayer. Even on paper, Scott isn’t sure he’ll make it through the service. A second knock scuttles those thoughts.
“It’s time Pastor.” Scott is struck once again by how polite his congregation is; how they only get him when he’s really needed.
“Be there in one minute,” he says, his voice so hollow it cracks.
“Alright, I’ll start the PowerPoint.”
Footsteps move away and he slides the desk drawer open, taking out all he really has left of Jesse and sliding it into his left pocket. He wants its weight against his leg, pictures the five bullets he’d loaded into it the night before and the one chamber left empty. He puts a picture into his shirt pocket and sweeps up the newspaper article as well. He plans to use the headline as part of his sermon, but may change his mind. For a second, he stops and stretches his neck, rolling his head around on his shoulders and opening his mouth wide to loosen his clenched jaw. His cheeks are raw and his teeth hurt from grinding.
As he does, Scott hears music still coming from the speaker on the top of his bookshelf. Picking up the teak box from the desk with his free hand, he walks over slowly, noting the song, “Fragile” by Sting, is the last on the “Jesse’s Day” playlist he made yesterday. The realization does nothing for him. He places the box in front of the speaker and turns off the music on his phone. The sting of twin disappointments—at the drugs’ ineffectiveness and in himself—mingle in his stomach like food poisoning.
For a second he picks at his nails and rubs his head, the sensation of spiders crawling just beneath his scalp. He’s still sweating, but now it makes him shiver. Absence always comes too soon, always before he’s braced himself for it. Grabbing the aluminum water bottle that keeps his mouth from cottoning up, Scott goes to the door, the tiny silver cross that belonged to his father tinkling against the gun as they bang against his thigh in the same pocket. Pausing at the lock on his office door for a second, he imagines leaving, walking out the side door of the church just across from his office, firing up his bike, and never returning. But there is no freedom in that dream and it dies instantly. He shakes his head, unlocks the door, and walks into the hall, praying for something more than he has to offer.
Entering the sanctuary at just the moment the first slide show ends, Scott walks directly to the pulpit, takes the gun from his pocket but not his notes, and plants his feet underneath himself. He hears a gasp from the pews, but presses on, setting the nickel-plated revolver on the top of the podium so that it is visible to everyone in the room. Everything he had planned drains from his mind, like a plug at the base of his skull has been pulled. For a moment, he waits, terrified there will be nothing left. And then it stops, every thought gone but one. Scott inhales deeply and then leans into the microphone in front of him.
“When he was still alive, I believed that with God’s help I could save Jesse. The fact that we are here today proves how much of a lie I was telling myself.” He picks up the gun and holds it in the air above his head. “His death is no lesson, no parable. But I have learned something from it.” He cocks the gun and watches eyes go wide across the room. “Death is like this gun. It has one purpose. And it’s waiting on us. Where then will we find grace in the shadow of that reality?”
Lowering the gun slowly, Scott sets it back down and the room shudders with a collective convulsion of relief. He looks out on the room, considering his next words. None of this is planned.
“Maybe Jesse knew better than the rest of us. Maybe he was begging us to be honest…with ourselves and each other. Or maybe this was as senseless as it feels. Faith isn’t a salve designed to make us feel better. It’s the wound itself, healing when we believe the bleeding will never stop.”
Scanning the faces looking back at him, Scott sees only confusion in their eyes. Picking up the gun again, he flips the revolver to the left and then upright and the bullets tumble from their chambers, clattering one by one against the wooden stage.
“But for the wounds of love to begin that healing, we have to be honest, with ourselves, with each other, and with God. Only then will we see where the bleeding is coming from.”
Michael Dean Clark is an author of fiction and non-fiction whose work has appeared most recently in Drunk Monkeys, Jabberwock Review, Punctuate and The Other Journal, among others. Editor of the book Black Was Not a Label (Pronto) and co-editor of Bloomsbury Academic Collection's Creative Writing in the Digital Age (2015), Creative Writing Innovations (2017) and Imaginative Teaching (2021), he lives and works in the Los Angeles, California, area.
The author wrote the following about this story on his Twitter account @MDeanClark (15 February 2021):
I wrote and workshopped the first version of this 11 years ago and have seen it rejected more than 30 times over the years. It gets at something I think about a lot. The dishonesty some call hope, and the real thing in the midst of real pain.
It also sits with the loneliness pastors often feel (something I watched growing up in the home of one and the presence of many others). When the needs of people are your full-time job, your own needs can get lost or even spiritualized away as burdens one bears in silence.
I guess this also came out of my own wrestling with a sense of loneliness, a disconnect in rooms where I should have felt connection. Even still, there was hope.
I am grateful, then, that the folks at @foreshadow_mag gave this story a home after such a long journey. I hope it finds you well, but if not, please know you're not alone.
'The Kingdom of God' by Edna Dean Proctor
Through storm and sun the age draws on
When Heaven and earth shall meet,
For the Lord has said that glorious
He will make the place of His feet;
And the grass may die on the summer hills,
The flower fade by the river,
But our God is the same through endless years,
And His word shall stand forever.
And they shall meet in love that knows
Nor race nor creed nor clime,
For the world shall be one brotherhood
In that celestial time;
And happiness shall be the air,
And righteousness the sod,
And earth go singing on her way
About the throne of God!
"What of the night?" O Watchman set
To mark dawn's earliest ray:
"The wind blows fair from the morning star,
Fair from the gates of day;
And over sorrow and sighing shines
The Dream of Galilee--
The Kingdom of God that shall fill the earth
As the waters fill the sea."
Edna Dean Proctor (1829–1923) was an American author and poet.
By Kay Harkins
Perhaps you remember that time
you opened one of those fold-out
timelines of history,
feeling your fingers slowly glide over the paper,
feeling its creases cross over
the expanse of time
from the Pleistocene era to the
How suddenly time got jangled up
and disconnected, and your fingers
flew up to the middle of your forehead.
You felt a little like your four year old,
who, having first intently perused
her parents’ wedding album asked,
“Who kept me during all of this?”
There were other times, of course,
in a field of flowers,
on a busy corner in LA,
or that old gazing into the night sky
when time melted and souls merged.
You have a place, but it’s not the center,
it’s somewhere along a vein, a vine, a branch,
out on a limb, but not alone.
How many more times will you need
to see you didn’t get here by yourself?
That you didn’t write your own story;
you were authored, then became co-author,
your story dancing among all stories:
Joan of Arc,
Harriet Tubman (worth far more than a $20).
No. You’ll just need to keep stepping into silence,
as dizzy as you were that moment with the time-line,
the earth spinning among the galaxies,
losing your balance, falling, necessarily,
like all those before you,
into the arms of eternal,
immense, agape Love.
Kay Harkins is a writer, educator, artist and musician living in San Diego, California. Retired from a career teaching writing and literature, she continues to collaborate with other writers, artists and musicians and tends to her rose garden, her rescued greyhound Lazarus and the home she shares with her husband, to whom she has been married for over fifty years. She holds an MFA from Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont. Her most recent book is Queen of the Leaves: A Memoir of Lost and Found (2020).
By Rick Hill
Stan, that short kid hooked on Sci-Fi novels,
begins to inexplicably grow—first
slowly, then much faster. He suffers hells:
tall-guy japes, flood pants jokes, and raging thirst
(he can’t bend low enough to reach the school
drinking fountain). Bumps his head everywhere,
can’t squeeze in his prom tux—then constant stares,
scared mobs, paparazzi: “KIMI’S New Fool:
Star Caught Kissing Nine-Foot Boy Toy!” He escapes
to NorCal, a shack in the Sierras,
but grows twelve meters by the first snow drape--
Even Sasquatch locals run in terror.
Stan rises ten stories tall by spring. He eats
oak trees like broccoli; roams the foothills
naked all summer. Grown nine-hundred feet,
he peers down on checkerboard fields and pill-
like cars. What’s that in the distance? A mass
of dark mountain with hillocks like muscles
on a lion’s back. He hears the rustle
of what rough beast from a boring lit class . . .
Does it live, this one thing larger than he?
Stan lumbers to find out; sidesteps a lake
but crushes a dam as ant people flee.
Suddenly, those muscles really do quake--
Its mountain head turns—the Thing, all-knowing,
ravenous, slouches toward him. But then it’s
mere kitten size, for Stan is still growing:
soon he’s Everest height, then his head splits
Earth’s atmosphere—he sees stars, reaches high,
and crushes a handful that was the moon.
He steps to Mars, then Jupiter, Neptune--
galaxies swarm like electron fireflies;
the universe: like one atom of this God
who plops Stan in a highchair. “BIG BOY” is
stenciled on his bib, but he’s overawed
by that incoming spoon and airplane noise.
Rick Hill has published poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction and essays in a variety of books and journals, and has won several awards for his writing. A graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz, the Iowa Writers Workshop and the University of Louisiana, he taught creative writing and literature for over 30 years as a professor at Point Loma Nazarene University until he retired in 2018. He plays guitar and harmonica, likes wilderness backpacking, is an avid gardener and keeps one or more surfboards handy in his 1993 GMC van.
'The Kingdom of God' by Francis Thompson
O world invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!
Does the fish soar to find the ocean,
The eagle plunge to find the air--
That we ask of the stars in motion
If they have rumor of thee there?
Not where the wheeling systems darken,
And our benumbed conceiving soars!--
The drift of pinions, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.
The angels keep their ancient places--
Turn but a stone and start a wing!
'Tis ye, 'tis your estrangèd faces,
That miss the many-splendored thing.
But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry--and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob's ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.
Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry--clinging to Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water,
Not of Genesareth, but Thames!
Francis Thompson (1859–1907) was an English and Catholic poet.
By Kelcey Ellis
How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He would give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.
There are many reasons I chose this song as my children’s lullaby. The song I sing over them as they get drowsy. When they wake up scared in the middle of the night. What I hum in their ear as we slow dance together in the middle of the living room. In addition to the overarching theme of a deep love I pray they will one day come to know, one of the big reasons is that it’s not all sunshine and smiles. Because neither is this life we live.
We recently became foster parents to a 'little bug' that puts our household at #2under3. Parenting is tough. Parenting when you are not legally the parent is even more tough. Fostering is not for the faint of heart, friends. It brings out such a complexity of emotions that I struggle to know how to respond when people ask how it’s going.
We are filled with love for this precious bundle of life that brings such joy to such uncertain times. We are hopeful our son has a sibling, however long that is, to learn how to share and love and be with. We are exhausted with middle-of-the-night feedings, naps that won’t be had, toddler tantrums trying to understand why another person came out of nowhere to take away our attention. We are angry at the system that has little bug, just six months this side of the womb in the second foster home, fifth overworked social worker, navigating Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) benefits and monthly social worker visits and doctor’s visits and cardiologist appointments and bi-weekly infant massage appointments and...
Parent visits make this even more complicated. My heart breaks as another mom, across the screen from me, wipes away tears as she smiles at her child that rests in my arms. As she asks, “Do you think my baby knows who I am?”
Tears flow as I put a picture of this precious babe in an ornament that says “Baby’s first Christmas” and stash it in the backpack to travel onward with him, treasuring our matching family pajamas and smiles under the Christmas tree.
The cruelty of our situation is that I get to daily squish those cheeks and rub those little toes, and all she can do is watch through a screen. The cry in my heart over the brokenness that existed for mom and little bug to be separated echoes across the brokenness of humanity that existed for the Father to send His Son to the cross. “Searing loss,” another phrase from my children's lullaby, is a vividly accurate description.
We didn’t celebrate the day little bug came into our home. No baby shower or fanfare. Just a mama and a dada with hearts overflowing for someone so small that has already gone through so much trauma.
We don’t know what the future will hold for little bug and mom. The brokenness that brought little bug to us may keep him with us for a long time. Mom may go through all the steps she needs to bring little bug back into her arms for good. Or we may get the privilege of being his forever family someday. But the one thing we do know is that we love little bug with all that we are and, as long as he is with us, he is home.
For those who worry that we will get too attached: yes, we already are. And yes, the grief will be overwhelming when or if little bug leaves our home. We love little bug fiercely and want what is going to be best for him, whether that means staying with his biological parents or going to a blood relative or folding him into our forever family. And with the example of a Father who demonstrated His love for us by placing His Son with adoptive parents so that we could be adopted into His family, what other response do we have?
A wise man whose father recently unexpectedly died shared these words that resonate with my heart right now as I process the loss that was, the loss that is, and the loss that is yet to come: “What we love in those who are dear to us is a divine gift, too, and so it is right and good for us to love the Creator through loving those for whom we care and those we have lost. And in this sense, without erasing or ignoring the loss, our love comes to rest in the One who cannot be lost.”
Oh for us to find our rest in the deep, deep love of the One who cannot be lost.
 Copyright © 2021, Thankyou Music, firstname.lastname@example.org. Used by permission.
 Words by Tim Gaines, inspired by St Augustine.
Kelcey Ellis works in education as a Program Director supporting individuals with executive functioning skill needs. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Family Life Studies, a Masters of Public Health and a Mild/Moderate Education Specialist credential. She, her husband, their two-year-old and foster kids live in San Diego, California.