Winner of the Langston Hughes Creative Writing Award, 2004
Published in Coal City Review, January 2005

Spring, Sunday morning, and a friend has just called with terrible news: her childhood priest murdered, left to die alone on the floor of his new apartment a week or longer, a startling testament this lovely morning, prisms of light and shadow revolving in the treetops, silver leaves clattering in the wind, sheer blue sky, Sunday morning, day of reverence, day to recognize the sanctity of all of this, all, all, Sunday morning, spring, then the phone call, terrible news, news of the cold heartedness of God, of His sick sense of humor, what we feared most shown true. Left to die alone a death that may have lasted an hour, may have lasted a week, and the thought of him, whom I never knew, lying in that city apartment, an apartment that had been lived in and lived in and lived in but in which he would not live long, the thought makes me wonder who he was and who He is, these two Fathers at once, the Father who was and the Father who is, as it must have made him wonder, sent him from this life wondering, who was this God who had destined such a death for him? Was it this God who knocked? It was predicted he would knock—behold, I stand at the door and knock—behold, behold. All his life had been a straining to behold. Now he heard a knock. Late in the evening, Holy Thursday, he’d just returned from what to him was the most beautiful of masses, he sat in a pew toward the back remembering when it had been he who washed the feet as Jesus washed the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper, showing that divine love expressed itself not in being served but in serving. As the priest—his replacement—moved down the aisle washing the feet of the fold, ordinary, human feet, as he watched he remembered cradling the foot in the white cloth, dipping his fingers in the chalice to catch holy water and sending it in droplets onto the foot. But he was no longer a priest, he was an ex-priest, starting over in the middle of his life in a new city and for this reason he could not imagine who was knocking, for he knew few people yet in the city that crawled and pulsed and throbbed all hours of the day and night, most days as he traversed the concrete he felt husklike, a skin of garlic, transparent and drifting in his lay clothes, insubstantial khakis and a white button-down. He was not used to the anonymity of the city, of course. He had grown up and spent the first twenty years of his priesthood, the second twenty years of his life, in a small rural city in Iowa, where eventually everyone knew him, where he became someone, always, with dimension, the full bulb and weight and swell of personhood about him. He was known, and he enjoyed this fullness for so long, he did not resist it, in fact he never resisted it, but in the end it resisted him, for underneath in him, things had started moving, shifting, spreading, and these pressed against the borders by which he was known, which were, perhaps, the only ways one could be known. That was how it was with God, for instance, we could never know the totality of God—Enoch walked with God and was not—only by His outlines did we know Him, His manifestations in the world. Similarly he was known by his fold, known and known until there was no one else he could be—he was Father Bren (Irish), forty-four, entered the priesthood at twenty, youngish yet, studious as a priest should be, always reading, drove the white Audi, family in Cedar Rapids. He was their Father Bren. His sheep became his possessors, he the shepherd their possessed. Then, suddenly, it seemed, he no longer knew the Father they knew, he didn’t know who they were speaking to when they spoke to him, he had different answers when they came to him in confession or private counsel about their faithlessness, their betrayals, their doubts, their confusion, their lack of awe—their deficiencies, more often what they had discovered missing in themselves than what was there, and he began to suspect this was part of the problem, maybe all of it, and he told them this, suggested it, that is, and no, they didn’t like it.

You can find the complete story in “Certain Dawn, Inevitable Dawn” by Tasha. Buy Now