Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: The Kingdom of God (03/12/09)
TITLE: Father Alvin’s Ashes
By Anita van der Elst
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Brad and I had another fight. He’s depressed over losing his job. I tell him the bottle’s not going to hire him. So many pressures, bills, expectations. Where are the answers?
Went to church yesterday. The fire seems to have gone out. Pastor says, “Read the Bible more. Work harder. Be more submissive. BLAH-blah-BLAH-blah-blah.” The words don’t make sense, I’m too tired to work harder and I’m already covered with footprints.
Feeling a spark of hope. The Kingdom of God, the website said, is this community in the Oregon backwoods. Away from the world’s evil and life’s stress. Communicate with God. Connect with family. Told Brad, if anything can help our marriage, maybe this is it.
We’re here. Welcomed by Father Alvin—gray-haired, fiery blue eyes that hold you in an almost unbreakable gaze. Can’t remember everyone’s names or comprehend the family structure. But Father Alvin says no worries. All will become clear.
Staying with two other families in a four-room cabin. Little privacy but also little housework. Several kids. Having none of my own yet, I enjoy interacting with these.
Father Alvin took our luggage. Wearing our own clothing is too divisive. Everyone wears baggy bib overalls. But they are clean.
No time to journal. Work is unending. This place is completely self-sustaining. Even has a generator for electric lights. But not all of us are hooked up. Father Alvin says we have to earn it. I’m confused on that. Father Alvin says he will know when we’ve earned it. We’re responsible just to do the jobs he’s assigned us. Brad’s at the dairy, milking cows. By hand! Funny when I think how his fingers used to manipulate computer keys. My back aches from weed pulling. I’m the executive assistant to the green beans.
Snuck out to my favorite rock in the back forty to journal. Pretty chilly out here. Father Alvin has no use for creative expression. No books allowed either, not even the Bible. Says he is the only one who can understand God’s words and we need him to interpret that. Doesn’t sound right to me. I’ve tried obeying Father Alvin in everything; haven’t journaled all these months. I still don’t have peace. No solutions to our problems. Instead of leaving the stress behind, we brought it with us. And somehow I feel used and betrayed.
Wonder if my face is as sooty as Brad’s and the others. Sitting here on “my” rock wondering what will happen to us now. One of the sisters thinks the fire started in Father Alvin’s bedroom. Falling asleep smoking his cigar. She’d found ashes in his bed once when it was her turn to clean his house. What happened to the no smoking rule? The fire spread so fast. All the cabins—gone. No phone to call for help. Too far for the fire department to get here quick enough. Where is the Kingdom of God now? Even without the fire, my sense is that it isn’t here after all.
Brad and I have been in this motel for two weeks. He found a job at a dairy a couple miles away. Our little nest egg is almost gone so thank God for that. Had enough to pay for gas to get us this far and about a month’s rent and food.
This afternoon I sat in the Laundromat watching our overalls tumble. Felt as cold and empty as those charred cabins at Father Alvin’s, started crying. This woman reading on a bench nearby came and sat next to me. Asked me what was wrong. I don’t usually open up so quickly but there was a peace about her. Told her how we thought we found the Kingdom of God, but now there’s nothing left except for Father Alvin’s ashes. She opened up her book. One I haven’t read in nine months. She showed me something I hadn’t noticed before.
“Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”
I’m hoping this is the truth we’ve been looking for. I want to understand it better. The woman, Nancy, invited me to her home for a Bible study with some other women. I think I’ll go. Wonder if there’s a Bible study for Brad.
Luke 17:20-21 New King James Version (NKJV)
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