I don’t want you to get the impression that the Saint Maggie Series is all about Eli and his tug-of-war with the Almighty. His story is a secondary plot. But it’s one I wanted to investigate in my blog – mainly because the story line grew organically within each novel and I wanted to lay things out, so I could see them. All of which means this probably is helping me more than it’s helping you. But, hey, welcome to the ride.
At the beginning of A Time to Heal, Eli and his oldest sister Becky are on the road to Gettysburg to deliver food donated by Becky’s Meeting to the people living in the old Smith house and others. It is during the journey that Becky asks her brother a question.
Becky stared at the dirt road stretching out before them. “Elijah, what does thee plan to do now?”
He was feeling petulant. “I plan to stop having nightmares if that’s possible. I plan to let my wife have our baby in peace and safety. And I plan to be the father my son deserves. Any other questions?”
“Yes. When does thee plan on taming thy tongue?”
Nothing like an older sister to put you in your place.
Anyway, Eli’s plans are just that… plans. As Alan Saunders is credited of saying (in the January 1957 issue of Reader’s Digest): “Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.” I know the line appears in a song by John Lennon, and I"m a big Lennon fan. But facts are facts, and someone else said it first.
God is what happens to Eli while he is making other plans.
After having several unusual experiences, Eli finally tells Maggie:
“…the first night we were at the Millhouse farm, this thing happened. It was as if I suddenly saw myself from the perspective of the Divine. I had a clear sense that I was loved simply because I exist, like the way I love our little baby, only more so. And the other day that sense came back right in the middle of the barnyard. Bam! Hello, Elijah! You’re loved! You’re blessed! And then it took off. It never stays around. It always disappears. And so I don’t know. Is it God? Or is it my addled imagination?”
Maggie asks a simple question: “Eli, what do you need?”
“I need a Meeting. I want, I need to sit in silence with a few people and see what happens.”
Having been raised as a Friend, and having sat in silence First Day (Sunday) after First Day, it is natural for Eli to need that kind of environment to work things out. So, they a few willing members of the household in the parlor, Frankie reads a passage of scripture, and they fall into silence.
Time passed. For some the quiet and the waiting were difficult. There was a bit of shifting and re-positioning at first, a cough sounded here and there. However, the Bible reading did offer images on which they could meditate: community, miracles, love, healing, sharing, giving, generosity, singing praises, and growth. Soon everyone relaxed and fell into contemplation.
Eli found himself focusing on growth – amazing, generous, unexpected growth. It was as if a mighty tree was springing to life before his mind’s eyes. He sank deeper into the image. Suddenly he found himself on his feet. His eyes flew open. He had gotten up smoothly as if he had been pulled up by a string through his head.
What happened next completely stunned him – he opened his mouth and spoke.
“I saw a shoot.”
What was he doing? Frankie was supposed to get inspired and speak. That’s what he expected. He was supposed to just sit and take it in.
Evidently, the Spirit had other plans.
“The shoot was coming out of a dead stump. And it was green and healthy and alive.” He took a breath. The next thing he knew words were tumbling out. “Friends, that shoot is hope. One day our brothers and sisters will be free and equal. Until then, we need to continue our work. Don’t be discouraged. Don’t become weary. We need to reach out to others and love them, regardless of who they are and what they believe, even if we are reviled and persecuted for it. Wait patiently for the day when things change. And remember the shoot.”
When they were through, Maggie put her arm through Eli’s. “God has blessed you,” she whispered.
“Why me?” he whispered back.
In good Quaker tradition, the Spirit moves and speaks through the one who is listening, but Eli is an unlikely vessel. He is a man who suffers from nightmares, guilt, and anger. What the heck is going on?
The final blog is tomorrow, but don’t think it’s the end of this theme in Eli’s story line. Not by a long shot.