I left Danny on a cold Saturday night in December, knowing that he’d seek comfort from his new friend, Jesus, at church the next morning. In my spiteful state of mind, I wondered if Danny would find refuge in the bearded and sandaled Jesus who first pulled him away from me, or with that ridiculously haloed baby, waving its chubby hand from a straw-filled manger.
We’d only been married six months. Our barefooted wedding in a wildflower-bedecked meadow had celebrated not only our love for each other, but for earth, air, water, and sky, and above all for animals—our fat bulldog, Twinkie, wore a chain of daisies and carried our polished cedar rings dangling from her neck. In our vows, we promised to believe always in our own love and in the harmony of all living things. My friend Jade married us, having procured a license online.
Do you get the idea? We were Danny and Elyse, the Happy Agnostics, and we scoffed at the religious trappings of church, synagogue, and mosque equally and with our own kind of fervor.
And yet, in October, Danny found a new love. It started with an evening of playing guitars with his co-worker, Sam. That led to a few hours at Sam’s church, fiddling with the sound system. Then he went with Sam on a Sunday morning—“They need my help, Elyse, no one there understands sound.” And they got him there—seduced him with microphones and B minor chords.
He told me about it sheepishly, using words we’d always made fun of like saved and born again and personal Savior. Had they given him a little glossary when they brainwashed him? Over the weeks, his vocabulary changed as much as his personality; we no longer knew what to talk about over our hummus. I grew to detest Danny’s alternating zeal for religion and his pathetic longing for me to join him.
Time for me to fly.
So now it is almost Christmas, a holiday I persist in celebrating despite the remnants of Christianity that cling to it. I’ve been in this tiny apartment for three weeks now, and I’ve gotten to know the neighbors a little bit. We are a sad and lonely assortment of misfits: Mrs. Strahan is hiding two cats—Mr. Flynn’s daughter hasn’t visited him in months—little Annie Willis puts Pepsi in her baby’s bottle and smokes too much.
Today, I’ve decided to indulge in some Bread Therapy—there’s something very satisfying in punching and kneading a yeasty dough—and I firmly believe that you don’t have to be a Christian to be charitable during this season. I have a recipe for cinnamon bread that should fill our hallway with delicious smells, and I’ll take a loaf to each apartment while it’s still warm, with the icing slipping down the sides.
Four loaves of cinnamon bread—with each punch and knead, my frustration flows from my heart to my fingers.
Why did you have to take Danny from me? Don’t you have enough people to love you? And I had Danny, only Danny…couldn’t you just let me keep him? Danny didn’t need your salvation…he’s good and kind and funny, not some druggie on the street. But he needs me. Who’s telling him what tie goes with what shirt? Who’s making sure there are no black olives in his pita? I thought you were all about love…but who loves Danny now? Who loves me?
As I pause to rest my aching hands, another thought comes to me—Who are you talking to, Elyse?
I laugh out loud at the absurdity of carrying on a conversation with a god who does not exist. And yet the thought persists—Elyse, who are you talking to?
“Dammit!” I actually shout it, aiming for the vicinity of the ceiling. “I’m talking to you!” I shove the loaves into the oven and turn the stereo on full blast.
When they’ve baked, I slather them with a powdered sugar icing and travel the hallway with my warm offerings. A smiling woman answers Mr. Flynn’s door and introduces herself as his daughter. Annie Willis shows me her nicotine patch, and her baby graces me with a two-toothed grin. Mrs. Strahan insists that I take a plate of frosted and sprinkled sugar cookies in exchange for the cinnamon loaf, while a tenor sings “O Holy Night” on her scratchy record player.
I find myself buffeted by hope.
I think I’ll take the fourth loaf to Danny.
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