Gail Godwin

Book Excerpt

Evensong Evensong
A Novel

Published 1999


Shield the Joyous

It all began on a Friday evening. I mean "began" in the old storytelling sense, for oftener than not what we call beginnings are fulfillments of things set in motion a long time ago.

It was the Friday evening before the first Sunday in Advent, that season of spiritual expectation in the Church calendar: a clear, frosty evening at the end of November, with a bite to it. Winter in the Great Smokies would shortly be upon us, the winter that would see us into the next century and the new millennium. Other things were on their way to us as well, things we neither anticipated nor, in some cases, could even imagine. This is the story of how we met them and were changed by them.

My husband and I had eaten an early supper together, some of his chili, perfected during his extended bachelor years, and then he was off to the school again. I was rinsing our dishes under the tap, brooding -- but with a fair amount of equanimity by this time -- over the fact that he had neglected to kiss me again. I heard his car start, but it didn't go anywhere, and then there he was, back in the kitchen, his face already ruddy from the cold.

"Stubborn girl. You were supposed to lock the door behind me."

"What did you forget?" To kiss you, I was hoping he would say.

'Time for my wool cap. 'While the earth remaineth, summer at winter shall not cease,' and the bald head shall cry anew for its covering." Adrian liked to improvise on scripture. "Now where did I --"

"All your hats and gloves are in the box in the hall closet. Labeled 'Winter.'"

"The things you do for me, Margaret."

I did it for myself, too. My winter things are in there along with yours."

During the minute or so that it took him to dash down the hall, locate his old Navy watch cap, and return to the kitchen in the act of pulling it snugly down to his eyebrows, I was granted a little blip of respite. Things had not been well between us since last summer, but during this momentary spot of light, I entered a different kind of time. Significant memories pressed close with the intensity felt when living them, and recalled to me how much I had wanted this life with this man and how equally much I had feared it would never come to pass. And yet here we were in it, "for better for worse." in the wedding service the four words exist as a unit, unseparated by even so much as a comma. Had I expected to live only in the better side of the phrase? Into this wider perspective hope was allowed room, and something of it must have communicated to Adrian, because he now remembered what he had forgotten his first time out the door.

"Well," he said, touching his lips to mine and actually looking at me as if I was there with him, "hold the fort, as your father used to say. And please lock up this time."

"My father and I never locked the rectory back in Romulus. I don't think the vestry ever bothered to give him a key."

"Those were more trusting times, before people started blasting each other to smithereens over parking places. And your father's rectory wasn't so near the bus station that any fruitcake on foot could be at your door in five minutes."

"No, but once in Romulus I came back from church and found a woman upstairs in my bedroom closet, going through the pockets of my clothes."

"You never told me this." He looked intrigued. His hands stayed on my shoulders. "What was she doing in your closet?"

"She said she was looking for cigarette butts." "Was she a parishioner?"

"No, she'd just showed up at church. But she never came back after that."

"Well, I don't wonder." His eyes rolled upward and I knew he was picturing the scene. Then he laughed, a typical Adrian-laugh. The surprised laugh of a reserved man ambushed by the gift of ludicrousness. Making me wish I had ten more such anecdotes stashed away to keep him standing there holding onto me and laughing. But then it was over and I could tell from his face he was already out at the school. "I'm not going to carry over my flannel pajamas yet," he said, releasing me, "That would be capitulating to winter too soon."

He'd taken to spending most weekends out at Fair Haven School, where he was chaplain -- and now acting headmaster, since the sudden death of Dr. Sandlin late last spring. All faculty who lived off campus took turns spending nights at the school, along with the resident staff. A founding principle of Dr. Sandlin's had been the importance of consistent family routines for these seventy-five disaffected teenagers whose parents preferred to maintain them long distance via their checkbooks. Some of the students came from backgrounds so unfamiliar that even meals in common were foreign to them. "You have to force them to do things with others," Adrian was always saying.

As I passed the hall closet on the way to my study, to finish my sermon for Gus and Charles's wedding tomorrow, I sniffed the lingering cedar odor from the briefly opened box in which our all-cotton clerical shirts from Wippell's in England crossed the Atlantic together, and where our winter things now snuggled side by side even if we no longer did, and I was mystified anew by this whole thing we humans do when we take it into our heads to love one particular person.

It would be the first marriage for Gus (Augusta) Eubanks, a local architect, and the second for Charles Tye, the medical director of our local health clinic, whose wife had left him and their daughter three years before. We'd had the wedding rehearsal this afternoon, precocious twelve-year-old Jennifer Tye strutting about like a proud mother hen. Jennifer was convinced that her efforts had brought about this match, and to a large extent she was right. Gus and Charles were both extremely busy people who tended to neglect their personal lives, she had explained to me, and so after she determined Gus would be ideal for her father -- and herself -- she had plotted to make sure they got together. Like many children of alcoholics (in Charles's case, a recovering one), Jennifer felt she was responsible for everybody in the world. After the rehearsal, I discovered that she had gone around to all the pews and inserted white ribbons with the numbers 1, 2, and 3 into the appropriate pages of the hymnals so tomorrow's wedding guests would be sure to find their places quickly for the chosen hymns.

Through the closed windows of my study I could hear the muted scrape-scrape of fallen leaves on the weathered bricks of the garth that connected the rectory to the church. Dry, tentative agitations similar in tone to those of my well-bred parishioners, shuffling and murmuring among themselves at coffee hour over the latest assault (usually mine) on All Saints High Balsam's time-honored customs, or deploring the fast-crumbling status of the world as they'd always known it. I scribbled a reminder to myself to get someone to clean our gutters before the snow came. Otherwise Adrian would be up there on the tall ladder, and he already had more jobs than he could handle.

What form, if any, was Gus's prenuptial nervousness taking? Was it different when you were forty-two? Six years ago I had been twenty-seven and terrified my marriage still might not come to pass because I desired it so much.

On the eve of my wedding, I sat in my seminary room, almost afraid to move, and said a certain collect for evening prayer over and over until I knew it by heart.

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen.

That final entreaty never fails to arrest me. Shield the joyous. The very arrangement of the words calls up joy's end even as you're evoking pictures of its many manifestations.

What else to do but pray for the person on the verge of realizing a cherished hope, for the couple about to consummate their love, for those children running on sure feet toward a mother's open arms? The future arches above us all like a giant question mark, looming or embracing by whims and turns. Just as in those medieval drawings, the wheel of fortune inexorably revolves, pitching today's celebrity into tomorrow's trash heap and raising yesterday's beggar to the throne. Rapture gets smothered in the rumple of dailiness; the clean, passionate pledge becomes choked with weedy extenuations. Children stumble and hurt themselves and cry, and even die. Mothers and fathers go away and never come back.

Or just imagine the elation of that first Cherokee scout when he reached the summit of High Balsam in whose shadow our community now barricades itself complacently. I see him gazing out incredulously upon the vast blue sweep and swell of peaks beneath the sky vault. He gains his breath, utters a prayer of thanksgiving to the Great Spirits, then lightfoots back down through bounties of bark and berries and flashings of game to tell the others: there's no one else here! All this is ours because we found it.

Surrounded by such uncertainties, whether they play themselves out in a year, or ten, or a thousand, what else can we do but appeal for mercy and protection to a love beyond clocks and calendars and mortal frailties, a love wise and faithful beyond all imagining. Yet somehow, over eons, we have become able to imagine it -- in part. And sometimes even to practice it -- in brief spurts.

When Adrian and I were driving through Yorkshire on our honeymoon, the landscape was dotted with newborn lambs. Up and down the green slopes they raced, tottering on their wobbly legs, deviling one another, nipping at their mothers' undersides. Though we must have seen hundreds, we never tired of the sight. The lambs were of the same vintage as our own beginnings. Then one windy day we stopped for lunch at an inn up in Blanchland and Adrian innocently asked the only other person in the big drafty dining room, "What will become of all those lambs?" "Oh, we keep the females with black faces for breeding," said the man. "The rest will live out their carefree lives until September, after which you might well make the acquaintance of one on your dinner plate." He spoke in a languorous, educated, sarcastic voice. At first we'd taken him, in his tweeds and brogans, for an elderly English academic, touring the north country like ourselves. While we waited for our lunch, which was slow in coming, he'd walked us over to a huge empty fireplace and pointed out an ancient shelf built high up inside the gigantic flue. The shelf was furnished with a table, chair, and oil lamp. "Priest's hole . . . more of 'em around here than mouse holes, you know. This village began as an abbey." That's when Adrian had asked casually about the lambs, and it turned out the man himself was a sheep farmer, in town on some errands. After he'd made the remark about the dinner plate, he glanced at me, probably expecting some squeamish protest, and quickly added: "They're stunned with darts, you know; don't feel a thing. We take them over to the abattoir. However, my wife . . ." and here his crusty old face grew charmingly defenseless. "Every year she takes a fancy to one of the lambkins and pleads for his life. As a result, we have a bachelors' club of useless old rams braying about our place."

He's still in love with her, I thought. The sarcastic old sheep farmer was still in love with his wife. And I glanced sideways at Adrian, imagining how we, too, would grow old together and joke with strangers about each other's foibles, and I was profoundly stirred.

One spring weekend when I was a senior at the University of Virginia, I had come home to see my father and was cutting his hair in the garden behind the rectory when a man sauntered around the side of the house, carrying two books under his arm. My father introduced him as a new friend, an associate priest at the other Episcopal church in town. Then my father went inside to change his shirt after the haircut, and the man and I stood in the garden and talked. Before the sun had gone down on that afternoon I had set my heart on Adrian Bonner.

By Easter my father was dead of a stroke suffered on Good Friday during a reconsecration service for our church's vandalized outdoor crucifix. I graduated from college in May, moved out of the rectory to make way for the interim priest, and by the end of summer was living in New York with my mother's friend, Madelyn Farley, the set designer and creator of controversial theater pieces. That I had chosen to go off and make my home with this person who had destroyed my father's marriage, scandalized our parish, and robbed me of my mother when I was six, offended or baffled everyone who knew me. My oldest friend, Harriet, declared my act deranged. "Remember that nasty old witch you told me about? The one you were scared would drag you off into the closet and make you live with her when you were little? So what's the first thing you do when you grow up and get free of the closet? You look up the witch, you call her up on the telephone, and go and live with her."

There was truth in what Harriet said, but, like that other literal-minded friend, Horatio, she left a lot out.

The two years I stayed with Madelyn in Greenwich Village were, certainly from Horatio's viewpoint, the other side of the moon from the Virginia parish life in which I'd been reared. But beneath its surface irregularities, my living with this person my mother had gone away with was a natural and constructive progression. Having experienced Madelyn Farley throughout my girlhood as the enemy and the witch, I now as a woman needed to understand how my mother had experienced Madelyn as artist and agent of transformation. And in doing this I believe I came closer to discovering real glimpses of the person my mother had been, rather than tending the sputtering embers of the myth my father and I had made of her after she left us.

Those supercharged late suppers in Madelyn's loft with her artist-friends: how strange and intoxicating they must have been to my mother, Ruth Gower, who had gone straight from her Southern women's college to her older husband's rectory. Madelyn wasn't interested in food for itself, only as fuel for her artistic energies, or as an incentive to gather others around her for lively conversation. Except for her famous "energy grains," often gobbled like dry candy straight out of the jar, she existed happily on work, wine, and talk. Her young assistant, Shaun, who built exquisite and precise table models of her sets and then oversaw their life-sized construction for the stage, usually made a third at our long refectory table, where sketches and swatches of material and notes for Madelyn's latest theater piece were shoved to the far end to make room for pizzas or take-out Chinese. But frequently there were other friends: theater people or poets or painters, most of them gay men. They definitely did care about food, and would bring jumbo-sized containers of delicious things from their local delis or from their own kitchens.

I had never, at home or at college, partaken of get-togethers quite like these, where everybody was fair game for irreverent dismantlements. Anything at all, sacred or profane, was eligible to be zestfully ripped apart -- and then just as enthusiastically restored to life in some unlikely new form. Of course, tearing things up and reassembling them in shocking ways was Madelyn Farley's forte, it was how she had made her fame in the theater world. The first time I ever met her, she could hardly wait to announce to my father that she was wearing a shirt a costume-designer friend had made for her out of a cut-up altar frontal.

I imagined my mother, a sheltered female of twenty-eight when she left us, suddenly transposed to Madelyn's loft and set down in the middle of these saucy rollicks. Ruth's whole life had been spent among people who spoke in low-voiced, careful codes, the very cadences and word choices of their speech calculated to talk around things: to smooth over, prettify, or exclude. Had she at first found Madelyn and her friends ill-mannered -- even blasphemous? But perhaps, given my mother's own play of mind and her aptitude for parody and caricature, which she'd had to squash in her role as rector's wife, she had simply discovered herself to be home at last.

I remember one evening in particular, the evening of Madelyn's "new birthday." She had proclaimed that from now on she would celebrate her birthday on the date of her successful triple bypass the previous year, when she had been born again.

During dessert someone happened to remark that we were thirteen at the table that night, and Madelyn immediately leapt astride her pet hobbyhorse, turning religion to her own purposes, and began casting us for a reenactment of the Last Supper.

She chose Shaun for John the Beloved Disciple, who languished against her shoulder.The leading role she assigned to herself ("since it is my party"). Fernando the dancer mimed his part as a creepy, supple Judas, slinking around the table to listen in on conversations and fawn over Jesus. Harvey the acid-tongued poet got to be Peter, jealous of John. ("It beats me what He sees in that mooning wimp.") Pru, the costume designer who had cut up the altar frontal to make the shirt for Madelyn all those years ago, insisted on being the woman in the kitchen making the dinner ("I think it's time we realize that supper didn't get cooked by itself! I can come out and serve it and took decorative -- and maybe wash your feet with some precious oil, Maddy"), so that meant one of the men had to play two disciples. I was cast as Thomas, Madelyn explaining that the doubting role would be good for me "after your lifetime of unquestioned belief."

As, the preacher's kid, I was also called on to supply thumbnail sketches of the lesser known disciples so the others could get into their parts: Matthew the tax collector, earnest and literal-minded Philip; Peter's brother Andrew; John's brother James; skeptical Nathaniel ("Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"); Bartholomew, who was probably the same person as Nathaniel, which was just fine since one of us had to be two people; Simon Zealot, who some say was a Palestinian revolutionary; and James the Less, who may have been Jesus' brother. With so many brothers at the table there were ripe opportunities for sibling rivalry scenes (James the Less: "Mom always gave Him the biggest piece of fish at home").

Though my judgment was no doubt affected by all the wine we'd consumed, I remember being elated by our performance that night: our inspired spur-of-the-moment dialogue, the actors fleshing out their roles with such brio. While Pru was washing Madelyn's feet in a little porcelain basin of diluted Vitabath, Shaun raised his glass to Madelyn: "Here's to you, Teacher," he said feelingly (and you felt he was Shaun saying it to Madelyn as well as John saying it to his beloved teacher), and here's to eternal companionship."

When things had reached their peak, Madelyn, with her stage sense of knowing when to quit, held up a hand and spoke the final words of our performance: "Shhh, fellows, the photographer's coming. Everybody who wants to be in the picture come and sit on this side of the table."

Our festive party turned out to be a Last Supper in its own right. That group of friends was never to gather around Madelyn's table again. Within a few months Fernando was gone, and before Madelyn's next new birthday, four more were, dead, including Madelyn herself. (Later, in seminary, when I was writing a paper on Eucharistic Celebration, I fretted for days over a worthy definition until I recalled Shaun's toast. "The Eucharist is eternal companionship," I wrote.)

As immersed as I was in Madelyn's world at that time, I kept a solid foot in my old world. I went to St. Luke's-in-the-Fields, and worked in outreach programs there. The idea of following my father's choice of work never lost its allure for me, but I was trying to heed the advice of those in his profession who urged discernment. How much of my desire to be a pastor came from a need to imitate and honor him and perhaps even to miss him less by becoming what he had been? What other life had I known? Didn't I owe it to myself to test alternative life choices outside the safe and familiar Church cycle of my girlhood before applying to seminary? I knew they had a point. I also knew that I had no choice. If I didn't accede to this trial period, they wouldn't support my candidacy for ordination.

All through this period and beyond it, Adrian Bonner remained constant in my thoughts. He was the link between the old days with my father in Romulus and my New York life. He was the one I always carried with me.

I wrote to him first, and he wrote back. Naturally, I put my best image forward in these letters, but as I grew surer that the letters were welcomed, I let more glimpses of unvarnished self slip through I confessed insecurities, elaborated on (some of) my faults. I knew he was a solitary man with an unhappy history, but I hoped to court and disarm him from a safe distance with my letters. I also used them to work out certain spiritual qualms (Madelyn's remark about my "lifetime of unquestioned beliefs" had been typical Madelyn-hyperbole). Given Adrian's interests and training, I couldn't have found a better sounding board if I'd ordered him out of a catalogue.

At times our letters seemed to me like a fascinating correspondence course; except that always behind them was the physical memory of the neat, solidly built man I had been drawn to in my father's garden, with his wide-spaced gray eyes and tough-boy's chipped front tooth, who spoke in terse, ruminative sentences -- such a contrast to my father's agile cascades and embellishments. Our theological discussions came effortlessly, being as old as our acquaintance. That first afternoon, the word "sin" was dropped casually into the conversation, and I asked if he had a definition of it. "A falling short from your totality," he said after thinking for a good hard minute. "Choosing to live in ways that interfere with the harmony of that totality." I liked the way you could watch his whole square-jawed countenance working up a thought. He wasn't one of those wishful pietists whose assurances roll smugly off their tongues. He made it seem that my presence helped to shape his answers. In his letters he sometimes sounded as though I was guiding him.

"Where is God in all this?" I once typed angrily to him from seminary, after a week on the third-floor ward at St. Luke's Hospital when I was doing my Clinical Pastoral Education. "Twenty-five beds filled with rape, shooting, and dope victims, and here's this young woman of eighteen, born to be beautiful, with oozing, fresh razor scars all over her face and sickle cell anemia, and the nurse in charge is withholding her morphine simply because she's a sadist exercising her power. I was able to intervene about the morphine, but I never could look directly at this young woman's slashed-up beauty without fighting down the urge to run out of that ward and forsake my presumptuous dreams of improving the world."

He wrote back, by return mail that time:

Your question may be the only one that matters. Despite all the convoluted guesswork of theologians ever since job's friends hunched beside him on the dung heap, "Where is God in this?" (just the question itself alone, I mean) may be enough to keep us busy down here. Maybe the thing we're required to do is simply keep asking the question, as Job did -- asking it faithfully over and over, whatever ghastly thing is happening around us at the time -- until God begins to reveal himself through the ways we are changed by the answering silence.

As for your follow-up question, after your week in that hell-hole (I also did my CPE at St. Luke's, you know): how can you be sure that ministry is your vocation? I can only offer this conjecture. Something's your vocation if it keeps making more of you. Neither I nor anyone can tell you whether the ministry will ultimately do that for you. Look at my own case: at seventeen I ran away to the monks, but quickly found out their life wasn't for me; I'd already had enough submitting to the wills of others at the orphanage and then with my sadistic adoptive parents. After the Navy I did theology at Chicago until I realized I didn't want to spend the rest of my life teaching other people's theories of what God was like. Then the Jungian route to self-knowledge beckoned and off I went to Zurich. After analysis unshackled me in certain (but by no means all!) respects, I fully expected to end my days as an analyst, until I happened to attend a lecture in Zurich on "The Trinity Working in Human History" by an American theologian named Ferguson Stroup. And that, as you know, led me back home to General Seminary and ordination, and from there to my job as pastoral counselor at St. Matthias in Romulus, where I was fortunate enough to find your father across town at St. Cuthbert's. Like Stroup, Walter Gower turned out to be another prod toward transformation. Your father did so much for those in his care, even when suffering from such intense disbelief in himself. His example set me to wondering whether I, too, might risk serving others with parts of myself I had kept under wraps. Will it surprise you, Margaret, if I tell you that even as I'm writing to you now, I'm not sure I've found the right job yet?

Something else was happening in our correspondence. As Adrian was my link with the old days, I was his link to my father, who had been his spiritual director in Romulus. Judging from the revelations that accumulated with the letters, I suspected he was transferring some of his admiration of my father to me. The lonely orphan boy inside Adrian romanticized the family life my father and I had led. The orphan stood outside the window of St. Cuthbert's rectory and hungrily spied in retrospect on Daddy and me discussing esoteric spiritual subjects over wholesome suppers; he saw me growing up as part of a dedicated father-daughter team serving a parish and a community. (The first afternoon I met him, he had described my father to me as someone who "lived by the grace of daily obligation.") He knew of course about Daddy's depressions, everybody in town did -- my father's parishioners called him "Father Melancholy" behind his back -- but despite all the allusions I made to my own dark, resentful moods as a motherless girl, I think Adrian continued to idealize my upbringing and to credit me with more wisdom and maturity than I had.

But what pursuing lover regrets an advantage? If I had fears that I might disillusion him later, I'd deal with it when the time came, I told myself. If I could just have him. And, though I had been scrupulous about admitting some of my shortcomings, to prove I was only human, I had chosen those shared shortcomings judiciously. I omitted to offer to him one aspect of my life as a young woman, and for this I would pay up later. But right now it was: if I can just have him.

Madelyn used to groan when I got his letters. "Here we have it, ladies and gentlemen: a textbook case of the daughter flinging herself into her mother's frying pan."

"What do you mean?" I'd demand eagerly. Madelyn's warnings were to me then the sweetest of predictions.

"A young woman in college who's lost both her parents initiates a correspondence with a crusty old bachelor priest who came to her school to lead a retreat. He writes back, they discuss metaphysical poetry and high-minded topics, and the next thing you know she's Mrs. Crusty Old Priest, trapped in a Gothic Revival rectory in the Southern boondocks."

"Well, I'm not in college like Ruth was; I'm out on my own. And Adrian isn't crusty. Neither was my father, for that matter. If anything, Adrian is rather boyish --"

"Okay, a bald bachelor boy, twenty years older than you. Sixteen years wasn't enough, you had to go Ruth one better."

"He's not bald. You've never even seen him."

"You've described him enough times. Not tall, thin hair on top, chipped right front tooth -- you find it 'rakish' -- and pensive, 'wide-set' gray eyes. Balding people do eventually become bald, so I'm within my prophetic rights."

"He has a beautiful head and I couldn't care less about the hair. He has a strong, square, manly face that can stand by itself."

"Ha, but what about the rest of him, can it stand by itself? At least Walter was able to make a baby with Ruth."

"Oh, Madelyn, don't be gross."

"I'm just being practical. If Ruth were alive to talk you out of this gloomy infatuation, she'd have said the same thing."

"Do you really think so?"

Madelyn always gained a point when she threw out one of her Ruth-would-have-saids. In the year they'd lived together, before Ruth was killed in the accident, Madelyn would have learned much about my mother that I wouldn't have picked up on as a child.

"She'd have said it her way, of course. 'Now, Margaret honey, have you, um, given any thought to what might transpire in your all's bedroom?'"

I had given a great deal of thought to it in my nighttime fantasies, but I certainly wasn't going to share the details with Madelyn. Her arch hints that she could see around to the backsides of the stage sets people presented as their lives had irked me ever since I was six years old and she had swaggered up our front walk bragging to my mother that she had known beforehand our house was going to look "Gothic." Yet here she had just resurrected Ruth with a single quote. I could hear my mother's voice saying it.

It was in the paradoxical nature of my relationship with Madelyn Farley that I often felt gratitude and revulsion toward her at the same time.

During those two years I lived with Madelyn, I was gainfully employed. My job description was the same as Shaun's: we were her "Personal Assistants." We had workmen's compensation, disability insurance, and W-2s, all kept up-to-date by Madelyn's accountant. She was a generous employer. (My starting salary, when I became rector of All Saints High Balsam wasn't much more than Madelyn had paid me.) Whatever her faults -- and she was untidy, demanding, arrogant, rude, inconsiderate, and self-absorbed -- stinginess wasn't among them. Shaun constructed her set models (and cooked and cleaned on the side), and I shopped and ran errands and did the research for her new theater piece -- I'd given her the idea for it, in fact. I also provided stand-in daughter services for her cantankerous father, who lived a hundred miles upstate, with whom she squabbled constantly until old Farley painted his last moonscape, put his brushes to soak, and either had a heart attack or fell asleep and froze to death on his front porch.

I was the one who found him, having driven up to Overlook that December weekend to check on him at Madelyn's request. He was toppled stiffly sidewise on a tattered sofa on the porch, his brushes held upright by a thin crust of ice in the jar. Madelyn insisted I keep the little gouache painting, a December moon scudding between clouds in the night sky. It hangs in my study now, and whenever I look at it I am awestruck that Madelyn's selfish, foul-mouthed old parent could have produced a work of such rapturous delight.

Just as I was touched with wonderment when Madelyn was dying and asked me to read aloud her extensive sketches for the unfinished theater piece, "Abbess of Motherwit," about St. Hilda of Whitby, whose story I had told her when we were traveling in England after visiting the place where my mother was killed. How was it that the same person whose notorious Pas de Dieux had caused my father so much pain, based as it was on a debunking of his sacred rituals (some of which he had unwittingly coached her in himself), could so convincingly render the motions of a holy woman's mind?

Soon after Madelyn's death, I entered General Theological Seminary, sponsored in my postulancy for Holy Orders by the Committee on Ministry at St. Luke's, and with letters of recommendation from those in the profession who had urged me to disentangle my vocation from that of my father's and "test other realities" first. This second group obviously felt satisfied that my two years of living and working with a theater artist whose prize-winning works were mock burials of God and other such travesties of religious themes qualified sufficiently as an alternate lifestyle to the sheltered churched cycles of my Romulus childhood.

Ballantine Books | Paperback| 432 pages