I’ve heard the old stories
How they temper the hubris of humankind
On a hot summer night
Lot’s wife looked back on Sodom
Arachne in her conceit boasted
I can only see through a glass, darkly
I shake my fist at heaven…
How did I offend Thee?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t seethe with confusion
Yeah, I wanted to bake that cake
Perhaps I was a charter member of the
Or maybe I was GI Joe home from the war
Sometimes I wonder whether it goes back farther than that
I finally saw the truth
Then, wise Tiresias appeared to me in a dream
So why don’t you take a bite of this apple?
You’ve been blessed, not punished!
Climbing Mt. Maslow
I fear Nothing
I know this because
I am always running from emptiness
Because I thirst...
Because I’m hungry...
Because I’m horny...
Because I’m lonely...
And I can pray today, sure that God knows me
You know, sometimes I avoid the void with empty calories
A blaring television all night long
Oh please, God make me rich quick
And, when I’m afraid my life is bleak and meaningless
But really, what does a psychic know of me?
My life, the emptiness
Can it draw to me the light of God?
I went to kill myself in Paradise
I followed my vision of death to a precipice
Kids go there to party
I had gun to head, ready to shoot
But the lake was dry
Paradise is only a slice of heaven
What if I had a parachute accident
What if I was accused of a crime
What if I lost my mind
Paradise is only partial, not complete
I stared into the lake bottom cracks
This place called paradise
I could roll a seven
I’d probably crap out
The bell tower of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd rose above the Close. Victor Walker liked to gaze at the late 19th Century Gothic Architecture and the line of brownstone buildings almost two centuries old. He knew he was going to be a shepherd of his own flock someday, and he loved looking out at the small seminary campus. Sometimes, on a clear day, the chapel tower was the first thing he saw upon waking. He only had to raise his head to see the brick arches looming outside his 3rd floor flat.
He read the passage, rather recited it from memory, head bowed in pious submission, waiting for God to release him from temptation, “For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.”
But his prayers didn’t work. His erection demanded attention. Yeah, he thought, the devil is making me do it.
Feeling helpless, ready to give in, Walker reached over to his right and pressed the On button at the bottom of his television. He needed some kind of distraction. Most of the seminary students forsook televisions in their personal apartments. If they watched TV at all, they did so in the common area on campus. Mostly, they watched sporting events and news broadcasts. Sometimes, they watched movies and discussed the theological implications of their themes, trying to find a way to balance the realities of the culture at large with the demands of their faith.
Walker liked to watch the fiery sermons of televangelists, an unpopular pastime among most of his peers. That’s why he bought a small TV set at a thrift store, one with old fashioned twist knobs and antennae. It could only pick up the local VHF stations, so he turned it to Channel 14 and waited for the picture to focus. Maybe, he hoped, he could catch a bit of inspiration from a passionate preacher, or maybe (he laughed to himself) he would see one of those gaudy Christian ladies with bad hair and much too much makeup. Certainly, he thought, one of those women could make a man’s erection wilt away. Perhaps, he realized, women like that did it on purpose – a deliberate ploy to keep their husbands’ passions at bay. It must have worked with Tammy Faye, but Jimmy had to do it with Jessica and then their ministry crumbled to pieces. Walker cursed his sex drive. He hated his animalistic impulses, the weakness of the flesh that spells ruin for so many men of God.
After the television screen focused and stabilized he saw Kathy Lee sitting on a couch talking to good pastor John.
“What a beauty,” Walker gushed. Even at fifty, she was still beautiful. He had often fantasized about marrying a woman like Kathy Lee, a woman in love with God, a woman devoted to family, and a woman filled with the Holy Spirit. Plus, it would be an added benefit if she was as gorgeous as Kathy Lee, what a nice person to hang on his arm. He could see the billboards advertising his church, he and Kathy Lee projecting marital bliss and spiritual fulfillment. He loved her quirkiness, her positive presence, her bouncy, shiny blond hair, her lips, her pout, her… shapely body… the swell of her breasts, the tiny peak of cleavage just above her plunging neckline. A pendant at the end of her necklace dipped between her breasts, a cross, and Walker imagined himself nailed to that cross. He shook his head, cursing his blasphemous imagination, but he couldn’t keep from looking again. This time he saw a bit of knee beneath the fabric of her red dress, and he felt his mind swirling into a frenetic vortex of erotic attraction. Then, mercifully, she crossed her legs and pulled the hemline below her knees.
“Good, modest woman,” Walker said in pulsating breaths. His hands moved toward his groin. The left and right hands battled each other, the left wanted to grasp while the right slapped it away. He tried to comfort himself with more scripture, “Do not let the right hand know what the left hand is doing….”
Even in the throes of spiritual battle, he knew he had somehow massacred the meaning of that scripture, had warped the context and intent. He tried to grasp the true meaning but, instead, became more and more confused. He wondered if Jesus struggled with sexual temptation, if he ever had to ring his hands with restraint.
“Get behind me, Satan!”
Walker ran into his bathroom, twisted the cold water knob in his shower and plunged into the bathtub… A cold shower, he thought, that was the answer.
The cold water gave Walker a bracing shock, but his body adjusted to the cool spray quickly. It was the end of a hot summer, and the water supplies were full of pleasantly warm water instead of the stinging, icy chill created by winter weather. The erection persisted. He stood in the shower letting his groin take the brunt of the blast hoping some cold water deep within the earth would come through the pipes to quench his flaming passion with a mighty douse. His internal inferno would not subside. He began to ache, his testicles hard as marbles, and it felt like someone had put his balls in a vice.
Walker massaged his erection meaning only to ease the pain, but it felt too good. Soon, he pumped it like an old fashioned outdoor ground spigot, tried to exercise the demon of lust that had seized him. Then, he fell against the shower wall, panting; beads of perspiration ran down his forehead. He felt a wave of humid heat pass through his body, knees weakening, and his vision narrowed until he comprehended only a single dot of bright light at the end of a long tunnel. The rush of water from the shower began to sound like air reverberating around his ears as he moved through the tunnel at a high rate of speed. Yet, the light remained far away, converging into itself like a failing star. He reached for it wanting to grasp it.
The light exploded, enveloping his entire range of vision. His body convulsed with overwhelming pleasure, raising him to his toes. He arched his back in a swoon of bliss, pitched further and further backward, dangerously close to collapse.
“Oh, my God!”
After that, reality returned. He felt water dripping down his body and heard the faucet’s long exhalation. His balance stabilized, and he felt stationary once more. When he opened his eyes he saw his left hand tenderly grasping a grateful, exhausted and wilting penis. The pressure was finally gone.
Walker stood in the shower spray for a long time. At some point, the water started feeling colder. Then, he shivered. That’s when he noticed the white jelly near his toes, could smell that curious musky mix of sweat and urine, of pheromones and plasma, the awful stuff of life. He wretched with revulsion, bent down to give his toes, ankles, legs and thighs a vigorous scrub with a rough cloth.
He turned the cold water off and released the hot water full force, stood there letting the heat scald his groin. He lingered there beyond the edge of tolerance to make sure it felt punished. Then, he fell out of the shower, collapsed on the floor cursing his weak flesh.
“God,” he shouted. “Why’d you make it feel so good?”
The hot water in the shower created a steam bath. Clouds of vapor gathered thickly, and the mirror turned misty, a vacant whiteness. Walker got up and stumbled out of the bathroom craving fresh, cool air, seething with self loathing. He shivered on the bed listening to the drone of the television. When his mind began to comprehend it, he heard Kathy Lee’s voice. She was singing a praise song, but instead of being caught up in the Holy Spirit, he felt the stirrings of arousal once again. He dove at the television, twisted the station knob to channel 13, PBS. The dry tone of public television would distract his libido, he was sure of it. He hoped for one of those inane kid shows like the Teletubbies, but he caught the channel during a break between shows.
A male voice and the buzz of New Age music teased the viewer to watch an upcoming episode. “Tune in tonight for NOVA as we explore the ingredients of life: heat, moisture, organic matter…”
The ingredients of life, Walker thought, they make it sound like a cosmic recipe. “What about the hand of God?”
His mind returned to the bathroom, the hot water, the discharge. He wondered for a moment, feeling a twinge of dread, about the beginnings of life, that primordial stew scientists talk about, the supposed great accident of existence. He wondered about the fusion of organic matter with energy and the emergent life, a new kind of material no longer passive and inert but active and moving with purpose toward self preservation and duplication. He wondered if the voice of God was nothing but a chemical reaction, protozoa of some kind seeking light.
Walker tried to shut these thoughts from his mind, realizing how the corrupting, questioning influence of the atheistic, evolutionary nature of secular humanism had crept into his psyche. That’s when he heard something like a guttural moan emanate from the bathroom, a clicking, dripping noise in the bathtub drain. He reasoned that the noise was only the result of water trying to clear a clogged drain, but the noise lingered, a persistent chuckle echoing through the pipes, the laugh of Satan himself. A cold shiver ran through his spine and raised goose flesh on his skin. His mouth became dry with fear, and he tried to pray aloud. “Though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death…” the words trailed away. He feared the presence of a gathering evil.
Walker’s mind became distracted by images of a forlorn fetus gestating in a twist of pipe, something partially human but with tentacles, obscene prickly hairs and oozing god-awful, murky-white jelly. It had an eye, unblinking and glowering with hate and melancholy for being allowed to exist. Yet, it thrust itself up through the pipes, out from the drain. A tentacle curled repulsively upwards like the tail of a scorpion and groped for something to grab so it could hoist itself out of the darkness to search for light and sustenance. Its half-human mind wanted some kind of affirmation, an acknowledgement from its father.
Walker stared at the bathroom door seized with shame for appeasing his sexual passion. He prayed for forgiveness, began confessing his manifold sins and acts of unrighteousness. He wanted absolution for creating such a horrible beast even as he expected a tentacle to open the bathroom door, enter the bedroom and probe around until it wrapped itself around its father’s neck.
“In the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, I renounce you. I renounce you and all evil,” Walker recited, trembling with dread yet emboldened and comforted by the familiar words.
The guttural moan subsided, and silence settled in the apartment, a peaceful, welcome silence.
The Devil had retreated.
Walker approached the bathroom cautiously and carefully opened the door. He blindly felt for the light switch, the small nub protruding downward on the wall. He flicked it up and gratefully received the light as it flickered on above the mirror. At that point he had to laugh, an almost maniacal laugh fueled by nervous relief. No tentacled offspring, nothing but a sink, a toilet, and a bathtub. Moisture clung to the tiled walls like a protrusive sweat. He watched as some of the drips slid down the white porcelain surface back into the tub. A mass of hair had gathered around the drain resembling a large spider frozen in a patient crouch ready to spring upon its prey at exactly the right moment.
The spider unnerved him again, and he started to lose his courage, his former faith plagued by doubt. He opened a door beneath the sink and found a half-empty bottle of Liquid Drano. He uncapped the bottle, unable to stifle a mirthful laugh. As he tilted the bottle to pour its contents down the bathtub drain he paused.
“Could this be considered an abortion?”
The question echoed off the tiled walls, mocking him, provoking him to doubt the very basis of his faith.
Surely, he thought, God wouldn’t will such a misbegotten creature into existence. But he wasn’t sure. He had doubts. What if the scientists are right? Then, there was a chance this creature could exist, a slight chance, a very slight chance verging on the miraculous. Suddenly, the scientific view, the impersonal accidental origins of life had an appeal. The thought of an amoral universe, for the first time he could remember, became a comfort.
“Then it wouldn’t be a sin,” he surmised aloud, trying to convince himself. The echo of his out-loud thoughts sounded reassuring.
Some of the water dripping into the tub stirred one of the spider’s hairy legs. A plea for mercy?
The movement frightened Walker. Its poignant appeal for existence touched his deepest dismay and revulsion. He found no pity for the thing lying helplessly in the bathtub drain. It had to die. He poured the Liquid Drano into the tub and watched the hairy spider writhe with pain and spin down into the vortex.
With a grunt of satisfaction, he stood up and examined himself in the mirror. Standing there naked from the waist up, he looked diminished, corrupt, his slightly concave chest heaving with remnant apprehension. He needed to get dressed, he thought, looking forward to the day he could wear the clergy collar as a badge of his office. Only then, he thought, would he feel substantial enough, close enough to God to live a truly holy life. Plus, he hoped his vows to the church would offer a natural restraint. The church would be his refuge.
He stared deeply into the reflection of his eyes; saw the dark black centers as evidence of the darkness within, black holes hungry for the light of God. He gazed up at the incandescent bulbs above the mirror, winced at the brightness, but resolved not to blink. He wanted to fill himself with light, to erase the void growing in his soul.
The drain gurgled again, a mea culpa of Walker’s desire. He listened to the pipes anxiously and heard a whimpering echo emanating from the emptiness.