When did it happen? He wasn’t sure. Seems no one really was. No one remembered when it happened. Just that there had been a Before. Little by little, the time of Before slid into the days of the Change, but so infinitesimally no one conscientiously realized it while it was happening. Soon enough, though, those sensitive to such things had an inkling something was going on even if they couldn’t quite put their finger on it.
The thoughts of the visitor came back to the proceedings transpiring around him. The music came to a conclusion as just about everybody was in their respective seats and were eager to get the service underway. The visitor himself felt a tinge of anticipation to see just how things had changed since the time of Before.
A cloaked figure ascended the platform. From that distance, the visitor could not tell if it was a man or a woman. Many of the celebrants prided themselves on the degree to which they could blur the distinctions of such a trifling human characteristic as gender.
The celebrant smiled, “Good morning. Before we get started, I’d like to welcome those gathered to the Schauungtown Toleration Fellowship. My name is Sibling Cecilia and this is my partner Catherine.” Catherine briefly stood to wave to the congregation.
As much as she tried to downplay her natural features with the short buzz-cut and silver stud protruding from her eyebrow, the visitor concluded that “the Sibling” was in all likelihood a woman no matter how much “she” did not want to admit it. At times, even ideology had to yield to biology, but for whatever reason, the most dedicated celebrants within the Toleration Fellowship insisted upon expressing their devotion to Oneness by using the title “Sibling” rather than more gender specific appellations such as “Brother” or “Sister” carried over from Before and still used by celebrants who --- despite their devotion --- just couldn’t seem to rid themselves of those pesky ingrained inclinations leftover from less progressive times.
Sibling Cecilia continued, “Won’t you all stand, please, as we render supplication unto Oneness.”
The congregation rose. The visitor stood along with them even though he would not be joining them in spirit. He clutched the concealed object close to his chest.
“Transcendent Oneness, we approach We now. Looking to the unity within to overcome the degraded apartness for the sake of the All. And forgive us still so ensnared by our individuality to still require the confines of language to share these aspirations between consciousnesses. In Diversity’s name, Ahumyn.”
The visitor hadn’t assented to the words as they were said aloud; but he nevertheless felt spiritually soiled upon hearing them, almost like he had no business being there. But he knew that even in this setting he was not alone, a table having been set for him in the midst of his enemies. There was work, even here, that needed to be done.
The congregation sat back down at the conclusion of the invocation. Sibling Cecilia stepped to the side of the podium.
“Now, it gives me great pleasure,” she smiled, “to introduce this morning the latest addition to our Toleration Fellowship and to welcome her into our midst. I’d like to introduce you to little Sally Witherspoon. Won’t you bring her on up, Betty and Cal?”
A young couple probably in their early 30’s stood up and brought their newborn to the front of the sanctuary. The congregation cooed with the obligatory “Awwwww!”
The family joined Cecilia at the bottom of the raised stage, slightly to the left of and below the hewn peace-symbol lectern. “As responsible parents, Betty and Cal, inform me they want to raise Sally in reverence of the values espoused by the Toleration Fellowship.
As part of this dedication ceremony, we must ask each of you a series of questions to determine your degree of sincerity in wanting little Sally to grow up in the ways of the Fellowship. So Cal and Betty, whom do you say gave you the gift of little Sally.”
Her mother responded, “The forces of nature.”
“Correct, Betty.” Cecilia replied. “And who controls the forces of Nature?”
The baby’s father answered, “The All.”
“That’s right, Cal. And how does the All manifest itself to us?” questioned the Sibling.
Betty answered, “In the form of the universe, in the Earth and our relationship with Her, and the Holy within all of us.”
Cecilia asked, “Since we are all part of the All and since we are all of one another and ultimately none unto themselves, who is it that bears final responsibility for this child?”
“The Community,” both parents answered without hesitation.
“Realizing such, do you swear to abide by the wisdom and decisions of the Community --- in all its diversity --- in having the final authority over your fami......” Cecilia caught herself. “...excuse me, domestic collective.”
Cal responded, “Yes, without the Community, we are nothing.”
Cecilia smiled. “I now present to you the latest component of our communal body.”
The “domestic collective” turned around smiling to face the congregation. They dutifully returned to their seats. Cecilia took her place behind the distinctively-shaped podium. She fiddled through her note cards as she prepared to begin her homily.
“The ceremony we were just privileged to experience spoke to one of the universal suggestions which me must all recognize: the fundamental realization that we as mere humyns are nothing without the approval and sanction of the Community.”
The visitor both listened and tried to gauge the reactions of those seated around him in the congregation.
Cecilia continued, “In the time of Before, it was often believed the individual possessed a certain status apart from that bestowed by the Community. As strange as that sounds to us, in those days many believed their value and worth was something found within themselves. Some thinking this way even believed certain social privileges they called rights came from God rather than from the Community.”
The visitor could hear the faint, audible gasps and sighs of disbelief of a few of those seated around him.
“That’s right,” Cecilia continued, “at one time quite a number believed God stood above the Community and even above Nature itself instead of believing as we do that the concept once understood as ‘God’ arises from the intersection of the totality of All.
Those living under such a disjointed perspective were alienated from reality by such an absolutist hierarchy that they failed to recognize their own, shall we say ‘god within’.
Instead, of realizing that as a part of the All that all that happened also happened to themselves, they would compete with one another --- even inflicting harm upon one another --- in hopes of bettering their status or acquiring additional resources. They failed to realize that by harming others they were harming themselves.
Today we have overcome such primitive notions from the time of Before. And even though we still come across an occasional misguided individual holding to these notions to be pitied and assisted in anyway possible in helping them achieve the awakening that comes so easily to some but not to others, most of us have embraced our cosmic and communal obligation to accept whatever place the Community, in its unquestionable wisdom assigns to us, in its pursuit of actualizing the All.”
Cecilia stopped, lowered her head, and intoned as the congregation stood, “Dear Oneness, we come before ourselves now as the glorious manifestation and embodiment of the All asking ourselves to muster the power within to do as the Community requires of us, no matter how low it might seem through our perceptions of individuality and by submitting to its wisdom find fulfillment as part of the greater social organism. In Diversity’s name, Ahumyn.”
The congregation opened their eyes knowing that the service had now concluded. The visitor knew his moment to act, the reason he came here this day, had arrived.
The visitor looked down at the leather-bound object concealed in his hand. Amid the bustle of activity as members of the congregation bid farewell to their friends for the day and probably the week, the visitor found the opportune moment of anonymity to carry out his mission as those around him were too caught up in their own conversations to notice a congenial but quiet stranger.
The visitor held the black leather rectangle to his chest a moment longer as he quickly bowed his head for a moment. He gently placed the object on the seat he just occupied and slyly exited the pew.
With others making their way out the door or so engrossed in their conversations so as not to have to notice those making their way out the door, the visitor extricated himself unnoticed under such chattering cover. He hoped, however, that the small rectangular object he left behind would not go as unnoticed.
Worshippers continued to linger in the sanctuary for awhile after the visitor had slipped away. The object the visitor left behind occupied the same seat as the visitor with the same quiet dignity as the one in whose hand it had just previously rested.
But whereas most had avoided making contact with the visitor out of shyness or a desire simply not to be bothered, most passing by the rectangular object could not resist the urge to take a quick glance at it. But since few could really make out what it was, they just kept walking.
Eventually, the final barriers of reluctance eroded as one college-aged student lingered a little longer than most to catch a good glimpse of the object. He stopped and edged closer towards it.
He bent over and scooped it up. His eyes focused on the unfamiliar words printed across the textured leather.
“Holy Bible,” he read. The words seemed strange yet familiar all at the same time. For some reason, they conjured images in his mind of dignified yet loving grandmothers: judgment yet acceptance. A sense of well-being swept over him as a tinge of terror also panged deep within his soul.
The young man wanted to run. Instead he yielded to an even more compelling urge to study the book further.
He carefully opened the cover. The message scribbled across the title page caught his eye.
The young man felt overwhelmed with confusion. He called out, “Sibling Cecilia, I think you need to see this.”
“What is it?” She rushed over to the miniscule throng gathering in the vicinity of the now-empty pew. They stood aside to make way for their spiritual leader.
Cecilia took the mysterious book into her hands and read the message scribbled across the title page: “To whom it may concern: It is obvious that the words contained within these pages are desperately needed within this place. It is my prayer that this book will serve as an island of truth amidst this sea of error. Courtesy of the Bible Peddler.”
So much anger began to well up within her normally composed facade that the piercing above her eyebrow began to jingle. “By Tolerance, how dare this filth undermine this Community’s diversity and inclusion!”
The congregation watched and wondered as she frantically ripped pages from the book and threw them across hall built as an expression of the equality of all ideas.
Copyright 2004 by Frederick Meekins