He crooked a finger under her chin and bent to kiss her. When she realized what he was about, she closed her eyes and parted her lips a little.
“Ah-ah-aah!” came the admonition in a friendly feminine voice. “None of that here!”
Drummond straightened and Dolly opened her eyes. “If not here, then where?” Drummond asked.
“Why in one of my temples!” Aphrodite quipped in answer to Drummond.
Dolly gasped in surprise and blurted out, “Nana! Papa!”
And, of course, it was. Aphrodite and Hephaestus, dressed a tad formally, but appropriately nonetheless.
“What are you doing here?” Dolly asked.
“Here in Cincinnati, or here at a Christian festival celebration?” Hephaestus answered Dolly’s question with another.
“Yes,” Dolly answered. Drummond just smirked at his god mother.
“Well, we’re in Cincinnati for the festival and we’re at the festival for you, my little munchkin.”
“Pour moi?” Dolly said, pressing her fingertips to her chest in mock-surprise.
“Pour vous,” Aphrodite replied.
“But won’t Jehovah, like, strike us dead or something?”
“Why,” Drummond interrupted. “Because we know for a fact what most Christians take on faith? I don’t think so.” He turned back to Aphrodite and Hephaestus. “Could you two go on in and find us a pew?”
Taking the hint, Aphrodite nodded, a mischievous glint in her eye, and dragged Hephaestus off into the church.
“OK. Real quick, ’cause it’s getting close to time. You’re gonna be expected to kneel and cross yourself, and sing along with hymns and participate in call-and-response prayers and catechisms.”
Dolly’s jaw dropped. “I don’t even know what half of that stuff is.”
“It’s OK,” Drummond said. “I don’t either. I was raised a Protestant. But the form of the service is pretty similar across sects. What I was gonna say is just watch everybody else and follow their lead. Since you can sight read music and have perfect pitch, you’re light years ahead of the rest of us, who can only mumble the words and sing the tune really bad whilst trying to fake it. Don’t worry. The important stuff is in the hands of the pros.
“But before we go in, I want to try to get you into an open frame of mind. Try to empty yourself. Let it wash over you.”
“Not in your case,” he said dryly. “But do try to keep yourself open to the experience. It won’t hurt you.”
“OK.” She centered herself remarkably quickly. Within a minute or two, she was breathing lightly and evenly and her vibrations had damped to nil. “Let’s go,” she said.
And then Drummond had to spoil it by keeping up a running commentary all the way into the church.
“I picked this church because they’re doing an all-Bach service. This should be great. The music Bach wrote is mathematically precise, but is nevertheless some of the most spiritually moving music ever written. The boys’ choir is going to do a special arrangement of “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring.”
They got inside the door and had to wait at the rear of a crowd backed up trying to get into the sanctuary from the hallway. Dolly was entranced by the tiers of votive candles, each in its own tiny glass cup. Drummond made a way for her through the crowd and showed her the tapers and the collection box.
He put a bill in the box and whispered to her, “Think of a prayer.”
“Like what?” she whispered back.
“Oh, blessings for the soul of a departed loved one are really common. Good fortune for some endeavor, like a new business or a charitable organization.”
“What about that clone that the aliens killed and you thought it was me?”
That, as Dolly was able to do to Drummond several times daily, rocked Drummond back on his heels. The theological arguments about whether the clone possessed a soul aside, it was… “A very good idea. For the girl we never knew.” And he handed her a taper, then took her hand in his as he helped her light two candles.
“So, Jehovah watches all the candles and filters the requests and like that?”
“Well, no. Not exactly. There are a lot of reasons for this. Some of it is seeking help from God; although direct intervention is never seen as likely, it’s believed that God can influence events in ways that a perceptive person can take advantage of. There’s also the aspect of sharing the emotional burden…
“But you, you little scamp! No more questions until after. Understand?”
She tried to pull off a pout, but couldn’t. She stuck out her tongue in a saucy gesture admitting defeat and then blessed him with her megawatt smile.
As they were waiting to go in, Dolly was watching those ahead of them in the crowd at the door. Genuflecting, crossing themselves, dipping fingers in the font.
“What’s all that?” she asked.
“You genuflect as a gesture of respect. That’s the kneeling thing. You cross yourself or not, according to your own beliefs. It marks you as a non-Catholic if you don’t, but nobody really cares, especially if you leave money in the collection basket. You do not touch the holy water unless you are eligible for communion, which you are not. I’ll explain later. Trust me.”
Dolly nodded confirmation. She genuflected at the door, but did not cross herself. As Drummond, who was behind her, went through his own ritual, she located Aphrodite and Hephaestus and waved to them. Drummond stood and she took his hand and pulled him along in that direction.
Now it came to pass in those days, there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment made when Quirnius was governor of Syria. And all went to enroll themselves, every one to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to enroll himself with Mary, who was betrothed to him, being great with child. And it came to pass while they were there, the days were fulfilled that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son; and she wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were shepherds in the same country, abiding in the field and keeping watch by night over their flocks. And an angel of the Lord stood by them and the glory of the Lord shone round about them and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good tidings of joy which shall be to all the people; for there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord. And this is the sign unto you; you shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest. And on earth, peace among men in whom he is well pleased.
Dolly didn’t understand it all intellectually. It would be years before she did. But that night, she finally understood the simple truth of faith. It is noteworthy that she became a more tolerant individual thereafter.
Love and Peace from both of us.
Merry Christmas to you and yours.
Drummond and Dolly, 12/24/99
To be concluded…