Mary's Picture
by Pete Haynes

(listen to this read)

Jolene just could not find a baby sitter that night. Oh, she could stay home with Mary and use it as an excuse to get out of another meeting at church. But she had committed herself to be on this goals committee, and felt strongly that she should be there. So, she bundled up Mary for the cold ride to the church and took off. Perhaps the paper and crayons would keep Mary occupied for most of the meeting.

* * * * *

Sid arrived at the church early, even before the pastor. He wanted time to arrange his thoughts before he took on the responsibility of arranging a meeting so that all opinions could be voiced. With the lights on, and his notes placed in proper order at his spot around the table, Sid wandered over to the sanctuary.

As he walked through that dimly lit room he thought about this congregation in which he had been raised. Memories from childhood flooded his mind. There was grandpa up at the pulpit back in the days of the free ministry. There was grandma sitting on the third row with her head covered and her heart wide open, ready to announce the latest mission of the ladies aid. The church had been so important to them.

It was important also to him and he had raised his children in the vision he had received from grandpa and grandma, and mother and dad. Where was that vision now? The pressures of life at the end of the century seemed to squeeze out any sense of the past. The church was foundering, the last few years had been pretty lame, stumbling around without a clear sense of direction.

Sid sat on the first pew and began to pray for this meeting tonight, and for the church.

* * * * *

Evelyn pulled to a stop at the light, a pause in heavy traffic that allowed her to gather her thoughts. She was excited about this meeting. It has been her idea from the start to get together a representative group from the church to discuss future goals. The church sure needed it. Nobody really knew which way to go. As a high school English teacher, she felt strongly that the church should be able to articulate its sense of direction.

"We should know where we are going, and it should be congruent with what we believe," she spoke out repeatedly, knowing the old Morris in the back row had no idea what "congruent" meant. He just nodded his head every time she said it.

People in this church are so wishy-washy, she thought. The old ones are stuck in a theology as old as the church. Old Morris would stand every week and say, "I believe in the virgin birth," or some such, even though she knew he had little idea what those words meant, or how the young folks could pick up what they meant.

The parents in the church concerned themselves with everything BUT what they believed. Education was Evelyn's passion, and in-depth study of church doctrine was her answer to the church's ills. As the light changed to green she said a little prayer for the church she loved.

* * * * *

Carl lived just a few doors down from the church, so he trudged through the snow to get to the meeting. He liked to walk, not only was it good for the body, it was good for the soul. The cold air in his lungs made him feel alive - something he wished for his church, a feeling of being alive.

"Things are rather dead around here anymore," he thought. "Oh, we talk a great deal, but we don't do much of anything. Amend that last thought. We do DO many things, but they aren't really the right things.

"Young people sure have changed alot. The church used to be strong in its stance against liquor. Now . . . well, we're just like everyone else. Furthermore, we used to be strong on the peace witness. When was the last time one of our young men went into alternative service? Or, when was the last time we ever sent anyone into service work, or mission work?

"Faith without works is dead," Carl sighed, remembering that passage from the book of James that had encouraged him to give a part of his life to the Lord's work. "We sure could use a little more faith in action around here," he thought as he stomped up the steps of the church, saying a prayer as he went.

* * * * *

Laura turned off the television and wished her church could be like that. "We seem so dead when we gather for worship Sunday morning" she thought. "You'd think it was a funeral instead of a celebration." She wasn't sure she wanted a church where people would stand with arms raised to the ceiling, or where they would clap for just about everything. Couldn't it be just a little more alive?

"We sure could use a bit more enthusiasm. After all, it's God that we're praising. We get more excited about our church softball team, than we do about God. That's the reason we gather: to worship. We need to invest more time and energy in this area of church life."

Maybe if things pick up a bit more on Sunday mornings, Dave would bother to get out of bed and come to church. "Listen," he told her last week, "I have enough to do each week with my work. I need Sunday to rest, rather than be bored to death." Laura hated coming to church alone. There were a few things she intended to say at that meeting tonight.

"The meeting, O my gosh, I forgot the meeting." So, she ran to the closet, threw on her coat, blew a kiss to Dave and headed out the door, saying a quick prayer as she went.

* * * * *

The meeting had already started when Laura rushed in, out of breath, and found a seat around the table. There were thirteen people gathered now in that room. All but one were members of the goals committee.That one was eight year old Mary, sitting next to her mother Jolene.

Not everyone was comfortable with Mary there. She was a different child. No one had ever heard her say a word, even her parents. She just sat there and rocked back and forth, or drew pictures that no one could figure out. She apparently liked colors, and would meticulously color in every inch of a paper with all sorts of weird designs that made absolutely no sense.

Hopefully, coloring would absorb all the energy of this autistic child, so that the meeting might go undisrupted. At first, the sound of her coloring was about all the noise there was. It always takes folks a while to get comfortable enough to talk.

After a while, discussion opened up, though one could sense an underlying tension. People were talking politely, not really saying what they truly wanted to say. Furthermore, they were politely listening, like they listened to the preacher Sunday after Sunday. Old Morris was nodding his head, but it wasn't because he agreed with anything said. With a warm room and a full stomach, his head was just a bit heavy.

Finally Sid, who knew he should reserve his words because he was chairman, spoke up. He was, after all, a member of this committee, like everyone else. He spoke of grandpa and grandma and how the church had lost the vision of its founding fathers and mothers.

His flowery words about the past were not to the liking of Wally, whose memories of days gone by were not so enjoyable. Sid's grandpa had been the one who nearly kicked him out of the church for wearing a tie to worship. Wally wanted no part in returning to the vision of the "good old days." This he said very emphatically in response to Sid.

Everyone was quiet for a bit after that. One of those "tense" moments, you might say. Finally, Carl got up the nerve to speak, which wasn't very hard for Carl. He talked at length about how the church no longer lived out what it believed.

Talking about the peace issue rankled the nerves of the veterans around the table. Talking about the drinking issue nearly made Joe get up and leave. When Carl spoke out about how few have given time to service or mission work, many around the table felt he was being a bit self-righteous. "That's the problem," Carl concluded, "we no longer live out what we believe! Faith without works is dead!"

"O, get off your soap box, Carl," Evelyn replied, "the problem is we really don't know what we believe in the first place, or why we believe it." So Evelyn proceeded to get onto her soap box, which Carl would have liked to point out. He didn't need to. Evelyn had spoken up enough times so that everyone knew what she was going to say even before she said it. They listened politely, but few minds were swayed. Instead, the tension only seemed to build.

"Doctrine, Doctrine, Doctrine," Laura finally interrupted. "That's all you talk about. It's not doctrine that sets the Church on fire. It's the Holy Spirit. If we only spent half the energy on worship that we spend on dry teaching, people like my husband Dave would be on fire for the church instead of asleep in bed. "Worship here is dead, we sing the songs half-heartedly, and we listen and fall asleep to sermons that are too long and boring."

At that remark the Pastor cleared his throat, and everyone was afraid that either his feelings would be hurt, or he would get on a soap box of his own. He'd been here long enough to know everybody's problems, but not quite long enough for people to trust him with the solutions, if there were any.

What followed was not exactly a shouting match, for these were respectable Christians who, deep down, really cared for one another. All the divisions that had ever been within the walls of the church erupted around this table. Everyone was trying to talk and no one was really trying to listen.

* * * * *

Jolene was afraid that Mary would become disturbed by all the raised voices and go into a catatonic state. While she was trying to choose the right words with which to excuse herself, Jolene just happened to look down at what Mary had been drawing. There, clear as could be, was a picture of a cross, surrounded by bright reds and oranges.

She had no idea whether Mary knew what she had drawn, but it stuck her how appropriate that drawing was to this meeting. Jesus Christ had died for every person around this table. Here they were, like the soldiers at the foot of the cross, trying to divide what was left of him. They were trying to break up Christ, to divide him into little pieces. "What was the meaning of the cross," she thought, "if it did not apply to times just like this?"

Jolene then picked up Mary's picture and replaced it with another sheet of paper, which Mary started to color, not even lifting her eyes. This picture of the cross she passed to Carl next to her. He looked at it, long and hard, and then passed it on. As the picture made its way around the table - the talking ceased.

Everyone was touched beyond words by a drawing of a little girl who never before had been able to communicate anything that made any sense. Never before in their lives had they felt the power of God, the power of the cross, more than they had this night.

* * * * *

Such a moment inspired a new direction for the church of Jolene and Mary, Sid and Evelyn, Old Morris and Carl, Laura and Dave, Wally and Joe, the church of these "Brethren," the church, the body of Jesus Christ... That picture was given a frame, and was placed up in the front of the sanctuary for all to see.

Their prayers had been answered.

1987 Peter L. Haynes

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