A Higher Purpose
I kneel in prayer before the gold cross at the altar. I can feel the warmth on my back of the first ray of sunshine streaming through the large stained glass windows, but I keep my eyes firmly shut as I fervently utter my restitutions, gripping my rosary until my knuckles turn white. "Father, God. Almighty Lord and protector. Please forgive me of my trespasses and leading others to sin. I bow in penitence to your holy throne and beg your mercy." Over and over I pray, but I still feel the full weight of my curse still crushing my soul. A single tear falls from the tip of my nose and onto my fingers.
During the night, the storm clouds still lingered and had blocked out the moonlight. I thought for a moment I could step outside to enjoy the sweet autumn air filled with the scent of pine and wet dirt. It had been so long since I have gone outside out of fear, but I thought the darkness would hide me from prying eyes. Little did I know, a man had gotten lost stumbling home after a night at the local pub, drinking himself into a stupor. I was sitting near the visage of the Virgin Mary when he came crashing out of the bushes. I shrieked, and he quickly held up his lamp to see me better.
The change took him immediately, his inhibitions already lowered from the copious amounts of alcohol. The drunk man's eyes widened, pupils dilating to almost conceal the color, licking his lips in a seductive and ravenous gesture, body tensing, and he lunged at me. I screamed again for help, tearing at the dirt as he wrestled with my legs to hold me still. I begged God to protect me, but He was silent as I clawed at the stone and dirt, desperately trying to get away. The man flipped me over and slammed my arms against the ground painfully, pinning me motionless. My sobs intensified as he leaned down and started kissing and licking my neck, tearing away at the top of my habit. His rank breath rolled over me like a noxious fog, staining my skin and hair.
A light came on near me, and I saw a flurry of black and white as two other nuns began beating and yelling at the man. He raised his arms to protect himself from their clawing hands, and I managed to slip out from under him, sprinting for the convent door, holding up the shreds of my torn garb. I didn't stop until I had burst into my room and slammed the door shut, blocking it with my cot and chair. I curled up on the floor like that and cried until my eyes became hot and irritated, my chest still heaving in great gulps of air. I whispered in a croaky voice, "Thank you, Lord, for my sisters' protection... Thank you, Lord, for rescuing me from the lion's den..." I was eventually able to calm myself enough, I could sit up and dress myself in one of my old habits, tossing the torn one to the corner of the room.
My legs and knees are sore from kneeling before the sanctuary for hours, but I'm resolute in cleansing myself before the Lord. Ten years ago, I dedicated my life to the Church and have dedicated countless hours service to sharing the gospel of Christ, but my curse still haunts me every day. How I wish I could be normal, but I know the Lord made me this way for His greater purpose, so I must be still and know that my God is guiding me. I hear someone enter behind me and walking slowly up the aisle. I recognize the footsteps as Sister Katherine, or Kat as she likes to be called. I've had to learn how to recognize people by the sound of their movements and voices, else risking a man seeing me.
I hear her walk up behind me, and she waits for me to reach the end of my prayer, "- and in Your holy arms, Father, my soul finds rest and forgiveness. Amen." "Amen," she repeats after me and places a calm hand on my shoulder, "Are you hurt, Sister?" I wipe my nose and shake my head. She continues, "Do you wish to speak about it?" I shake my head again, choking down a fresh wave of tears. Kat then knelt down beside me and rested a hand on my head, "Lord, Father, thank you for the gift of Your daughter, Tamar. May she feel Your love in her time of need. Please comfort her, and remind how much she is loved, respected, and adored by her sisters, her Church, and by You. Amen." Kat lifted her head, smiling at me in a motherly way as I collapsed into her lap, letting the endless tears run hot down my face. She shushed and cooed to me, patting my head and squeezing my shoulders. I felt like a small child. Kat whispered to me, "God has not forgotten you, Sister. Sometimes our darkest times come right before our brightest moments."
I sit up, cleaning my face with my sleeve, "I know. I just... I thought I could..." Kat took my hand, "No one blames you for what happened last night. That man would not do evil unless there was evil intentions in his heart. You are the victim-" I took my hand away a little too roughly, "It doesn't matter, Kat. I lead another man to sin, and I am at fault in God's eyes." Kat was silent for a moment, then said in the calm voice she used when teaching the children, "Do you remember the story of Dinah?" I mumbled, "She was raped." Kat nodded, "That is correct. Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, was stolen from her family and raped in another city. When her brothers found out, they tricked the tribe and then slaughtered them all in outrage. Think of it, an entire war broke out over one act of violence. Do you think God blamed his daughter for the crime?"
I sniffed again, "It's not the same." Kat shook her head with a smile, "And I suppose the Bible was also wrong to say 'But if in the field the man finds the girl who is engaged, and the man forces her and lies with her, then only the man who lies with her shall die. But you shall do nothing to the girl; there is no sin in the girl worthy of death, for just as a man rises against his neighbor and murders him, so is this case. When he found her in the field, the engaged girl cried out, but there was no one to save her.' I suppose that isn't the same in this case, either?" I pound my lap with my clenched fists, "Those women were human! Look at me, Sister! Do you really think God wanted to include a monster? A succubus who leads men astray and dances in Hell with the devil?" Kat's voice became firm and resolute, "You are a person, Tamar. You are God's creation and beloved by your creator. God looked at you and calls you perfect." I fight back my tears, but my frustration is abated, "How can God use someone meant for sin to do His work?" Kat put a gentle hand against my cheek so I would look at her, her eyes were sparkling with life in contrast with her lined face, "That is the whole point of humanity's story. God delights in you and will use you for something amazing."
Taking my hands, she helped me stand to my feet, leading me gently out of the nave. Speaking quietly to one another about casual things, I was glad to be off the subject for the time being. I even felt my spirits lift as I passed the front entrance and saw the blazing morning sun shining through the multitudes of colored glass, the reflections and refraction bouncing around the room in a breath-taking display. This had always been my favorite part of the convent. As we walked towards the dining area, we were joined by other sisters, all smiling and whispering to one another. There was to be no loud speaking in the corridor, so many other girls approached me and squeezed my hand with expressions of kindness and concern for me. I would smile back at each of them, but felt a little like I was lying about my light-heartedness. I wanted to go back to my room and hide, but that was no proper behavior for a nun.
We all sat for our morning meal and waited for Father Newman to lead the morning prayers. He was an elderly man with white tufts of fluffy hair still clinging to his bald scalp, which he brushed back with careful deliberation. Still, every once in awhile, one tuft would stick out in an unceremonious fashion and would attract the giggles of the younger initiates. Father John Henry Newman was one of the only men who could approach me without being overwhelmed with desire. He was actually the one I had met when first being dumped into the Church orphanage by my negligent father. She had almost no memory of the man but have satisfied myself with my heavenly Father. I have no inkling, nor do any others who have been questioned in the city of the identity of my mother. I do hope to see her one day and ask about how I became the... person... I am today, but I fear this particular prayer may go unanswered.
Roiling in my thoughts, it took me a moment to see that everyone else was already eating. I took up my fork when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked up to see Father Newman smiling at me, "It is good to see you awake and happy this morning, my child. God's blessing on you," and he crossed me and anointed my forehead. I thanked him and felt a sudden calmness wash over me, making me realize how hungry I had become. There are many false teachers and arrogant priests in the world, but Father Newman was one of the few who could easily be called a saint. Although, you would never hear him accept such compliments.
We finished our breakfast and went about helping to clean and prepare for the morning Mass. Afterwards, those who did not teach children or the women's groups would sit and observe Father Newman's teachings. I had a special blind set up for me in the darkest corner of the nave, and it was one of the few places I felt totally safe. I loved to be able to listen to murmurings of the crowds, the laughter of friends, and feel the overall togetherness of the Church community. "Hello? You in there, Tam?" My smile widened, "Yes, Rebekah. I'm here." My best friend, Rebekah, joined the convent around the same time I did. We were raised in the orphanage together, went to classes together, were ordained together, and sat together during every Mass.
I heard her whispering by the veil that served as a wall, "I heard about last night. I'm so sorry, Tam." I found the small slit in the veil and reached my hand out to clasp hers. She gripped my hand tightly and protectively, "Oh, that criminal should be so glad I wasn't there. I would have taught him a thing or two about the wrath of God." I stifled a giggle, "Rebekah, such behavior is deplorable to a lady of the church." I heard her scoff, "Jael drove a tent spike through her enemy's head. She was hailed as a hero." I giggle again, "My lioness of Judah." She squeezed my hand again. We sat there together, listening to Father Newman's lessons, and I found myself relaxing and the evening's events leaving my memory. I was in God's house with His people, and I am protected by His wings.
After the closing prayer, Father Newman spoke up to the congregation, "I would also like to address the appearance of yet another house of flesh being erected in the city limits." There was a murmur of disdain, and a poorly hidden hiss of 'faithless heathens.' Father Newman held up a hand, "I bring this up not to condemn, my flock, but to remind all of God's people that were we not also once living a life of sin, lost in the lies of our old ways? We you not too once trapped in the addictions of your heart and misguidance by the world? Who are you to judge those who would enter and work in a brothel? Who will cast the first stone against these people?" Father Newman paused for a long while, but no one spoke up. I could imagine everyone looking away or anywhere but at Father Newman's resolute eyes. "Jesus tells us that God's greatest commandment is to love God with all of our hearts and all of our minds. We are also to love our neighbor as ourselves. Even though our Church doctrine states that sexual immorality is a sin, it is also a sin to harbor hatred and judgement against our brothers. And so, I challenge the congregation today to ask God how you can show love and compassion to those in the brothel. How can you serve them? How can you show them the love of Christ? Any mortal or beast can harbor hatred for the one who does not follow his own morals, but it is the delight and honor as a follower of Christ to show love and acceptance to those who need it most."
I stared, open-mouthed at the blank veil in front of me. I can't explain the feeling, but I felt a sudden warmth and confidence begin to rise within me. I could feel my heart begin to pound, and ideas began racing through my brain. "Tam, you're hurting my hand," came the pained whisper beside me. "Sorry, Rebekah. I think... I think I know how God wants to use me." "What?" came the only answer. I was practically shaking to be let out of my blind, but I had to force myself to wait patiently for the crowd to leave. Rebekah gave me the all clear, and I burst out and began rushing towards the corridor. Rebekah chased after me, "Tam? Tamar!? Where are you going?" I looked back to her, smiling wildly, "I think I know how God wants to use me. I think I know why He made me this way." "How!?" was her only response, but I continued down the corridor. I practically ran into Father Newman as he exited from his office. I skidded to a halt, and he was surprised to see me, "Oh! Sister Tamar, you really must slow down. An old man like me could take a nasty fall," his smile told me he was teasing. In huffing breathes, I told him, "I want to go and evangelize to the women in the brothels!"
Father Newman just stood and blinked at me a moment. He then opened his office door further, inviting me in. I stepped in after him and gave Rebekah, who was standing bewildered in the hall, a reassuring smile. Father Newman sat behind his desk and steepled his fingers, "Ok.. Tell me everything." It all came out in a flurry, and he listened to every word with rapt attention, "I want to go a evangelize at the brothels! I want to share God's word, show them that God loves them, and I want to help the women who feel like they're trapped there! I keep thinking that God had made me a monster, because He was angry with me or my parents did something horrendous, but what if God made me the way I am because He knew only someone like me could reach those women!?" Father Newman waited a moment to see if I had anything else to say, and began slowly, "This is a very complex and possibly dangerous situation for you to walk into. People who are customers of these establishments won't take kindly to you presenting a moral lesson instead of sexual favors. How do you intend to avoid falling into temptation to have intercourse with these customers? How do you intend to protect yourself from violent outbursts? What will you do if these people reject you?"
I had expected Father Newman to be more supportive or at least excited to hear my idea, but I didn't let it curb my enthusiasm, "I know it will be dangerous. I know I will be tempted to fall into the traps of sexual sin, but Father, I have been lusted after for my entire life." I placed my hands on the desk, "My entire life, Father. You know more than anyone how much I've been abused and attacked just because I look this way. But why should my fear and trials come between myself and possibly sharing God's love with those who need it most." Father Newman rubbed at his forehead, "Oh, to have my own words used against me. Save me, Lord, from hubris." He slowly looked up at me, his face still showing deep skepticism. I sat down in the seat across from his desk so that I could look him in the eye, "Father... I know that this path is very dangerous, but I'm confident that I can survive and overcome whatever the world throws at me. I've already survived all of the worst days of my life. I have no desire to sell my body nor to break the commands that I've loved and held so dear to my heart. But what if... just what if... I could use this burden laid upon me to help others in my situation find the love and salvation I have."
Father Newman let out a long sigh, sitting back in his chair, looking me over. He left out a soft chuckle, "I knew from the first day you showed up on our doorstep, you would be a challenge. But I never thought I could be as proud of you as I am right now." My heart swelled with affection and appreciation for the old man, "You've been the closest thing to an earthly father I've had. You've always made sure I am protected and well cared for. Allow me to leave the convent and share that love with others." Father Newman's eyes seemed to tear up for a moment, but he didn't let them fall, "Of course, my child. Go with my blessing. I will help make all the preparations, and I still expect to see you everyday for Mass." I nodded enthusiastically and stood up to leave. I was reaching for the door when a question popped into my head, "Father?" "Hmm?" He looked up from the stack of papers he was rummaging in. I paused but I continued, "Why do you think God allowed you to see me without... you know." At this Father Newman smiled sadly, "That is a long story, and I will tell you one day, but my heart isn't ready to share it in this moment." "Oh," I replied, "I'm sorry if I-" "No! No, child. I will tell you that I was once deeply in love. I was with someone for many years." "Oh," I was surprised to hear this, "What... what happened to her?" Father Newman smiled, "He passed away." I stood in his doorway for a moment, then let myself out. I hurried down the corridor, eager to begin packing and preparing to take on this new adventure. I pondered what Father Newman had said, and his words gave me even more hope for what I was about to embark on. If God can inspire a homosexual to become the most respected priest, then he can surely allow a succubus to turn people away from prostitution.