Jonathan Worthyman, wearing a plain white robe of humility, entered the quiet stone chapel. Trembling with nervousness, he prostrated himself in front of the massive wooden altar, his forehead heavy on the marble floor. His voice echoed in the gloomy room as he spoke the ritual words, "My Lord, I have sinned."
Bishop Linsey Archibald, an elderly, silver haired man in an embroidered white robe of authority, put his hands on the ancient sacrificial table and gave the ritual answer, "My child, you have. Are you ready to be cleansed?"
"Yes, my Lord," Jonathan said.
The men’s bishop sighed. "Jon, I’ve known you almost since you were conceived. You’re like a son to me. Why did you do it?" he asked, breaking the ritual. The priest walked around the altar and looked down at the abased man. "I’ve always been so proud of you. You were a model Covenant student and youth missionary leader. Now you’re a conscientious father and a respected schoolteacher. So why did you betray the Church? Why were you unchaste?"
Bright sunlight penetrated the stained glass windows, illuminating the altar and the bishop’s head with yellow and red, but leaving the penitent in even deeper shadow. Jonathan said only, "I was weak, my Lord," and pressed his forehead more firmly against the hard stone. His neck ached.
"What happened, Jonathan? How can I help if you don’t tell me what’s wrong?"
The penitent closed his eyes. "My wife Karen has not, has not ... She has refused me for the past six months, My Lord."
The bishop raised his eyebrows. "Does that justify adultery?"
Jon answered quickly. "No, my Lord. Of course not. Forgive me for suggesting that."
The bishop’s smile was faint. "You’re forgiven. I’m not trying to enmesh you further. And the woman’s bishop has told me about the problems in your marriage. We can help the two of you, but only if you come to us." Archibald sighed and returned to the other side of the altar.
"Sexual union is one of David’s greatest gifts, but only within the bond of holy matrimony. Let’s get on with it. Are you ready to be cleansed?"
"Yes my Lord."
"Which are the sins that torment your soul?"
"Adultery, my Lord. I betrayed the trust of my loving wife."
"Do you repent?"
"Most humbly my Lord." Those words were easy to say, but they were in fact true. In spite of sexual frustration, Jon wished with all his heart that he had not yielded to temptation.
"The Church is forgiving. For penance you must literally crawl on your knees in front of your wife and beg her forgiveness, if, indeed, she will take you back."
Jonathan’s eyes opened wide. Was that all? "Thank you, my Lord."
"However, that same adulterous act betrayed the trust of the Church, and lowered the Sacred Body in the eyes of the heathen."
Uh oh. "Yes, my lord."
"For this you are officially expelled from the community."
The sunlight disappeared, abandoning the sanctuary once more to unrelieved gloom. A steel band squeezed Jonathan’s chest and he couldn’t breathe. "What?"
"You heard me."
"Bishop Archibald, I’ve lived my whole life in the church. I’ve never even been outside of the Citadel, except for missionary work. Everyone I know is in the Sacred Body. How can I survive exile?"
"But, Jon, after such a sin, how could we let you back?"
Jonathan’s mind raced. The bishop had asked how he might come back instead of saying outright that it wouldn’t happen. "My Lord, is there any way I could do penance for my sin?"
"Yes, my child." The priest chuckled softly. "Bring two souls to David Koresh and you will be forgiven."
"Two souls, my Lord?" Oh David, this priest was serious.
"Two souls to pledge their love for David. Just to pledge, sincerely, not for food or money or the like. They don’t have to actually join us, but until they make the pledge, you must stay in the supervisors’ room at the missionary dorm. When you’ve found two souls, then you may return to your home in the Citadel."
Jonathan thought of his missionary days. Getting people simply to pledge wasn’t too difficult. "Thank you my Lord."
"But Jonathan, they have to come from the Loveless Zone."
The Loveless Zone. That was where drunks, whores, and thieves fought to survive. Jonathan paled. A cool head, a quick mind and Karate had gotten him through the zone before. He could survive it again, but he certainly would repent before the task was finished. That is, he would repent if he came through with his sanity intact...
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Copyright 2010 by Zvi Zaks
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