Margaret Zamos-Monteith


Forget Caleb. Forget Saul ignoring his chosen one. I was his chosen one. Sail across the ocean, send rockets to the Moon, and set your cities on a hill, but paradise isn’t a place you can get back into. I’ve tried. Forget Onan spilling his seed or the tiny pillar of salt that was Lot’s wife. Overlook Eden and the garden of Gethsemane. Ignore those minor characters to the plot and consider eternal banishment. Not cheap vermillion flames painted in Gothic tempera, but the colorless lunar side B.

I was his Lucifer, light bearer and bringer of dawn. I hung low in the morning sky, content as the brightest spot in the gray and grainy crack of day. But he spread that rainbow overhead with an arc of his sleeve, his lips trembling with the pitch like some blushing corporate recruiter. “Face it,” he cajoled. “You will never rise higher than the Sun. You will always follow the Moon.” Who wouldn’t pine for more?

I am washed into the church, a flood of people flanking me on either side. The inside is like an auditorium. They take their seats and I stand amongst the musicians on the stage. I look out at the masses in stadium seating then clear my throat. The lights dim as I exhort them to call upon the Lord. I throw my head back whooping, “Hallelujah!” The crowd goes wild, shouts in adulation. I smile widely, run my hands through my thinning hair and reel them in saying, “Welcome my friends. Welcome! I am here tonight to tell you that my father is the most handsome man in the world!” A cheer goes up from the crowd, their adoring eyes upon me, their hands lifting towards me. I hear the musicians holler as I ask, “And do you know what that means?”

“Our father is the most handsome man in the world!” the crowd retorts.

“Yessir, he is.  The Lord is beautiful and so are we all in the glow of our belief. Praise you, Father, for bringing us together to honor you in this glorious town,” I holler. “To rock with you in this exquisite space and thank you for bringing,” and here I pick a name from the prayer list, “David to our attention tonight.  One of your lost sheep is returning to the flock, hallelujah. Praise the Lord!”

They tell you I sit in my chamber, a mass of molten lava and flame forever rotting, but I don’t melt and I don’t rot.  You can’t burn me up or send me away. I am everywhere you can see, just like him.  The crowd sings with me, mouths quivering, eyes raised up, limbs elongated.  “Praise the Lord” runs through the assembly and as its last dying strains dissolve, I command them, “I know your deeds, how your end shall be judged according to your works!” and they worry.  Oh how they worry for their souls.  So he created the material world that passes away: so what?  I can work their thoughts.  I can give the illusion of material success in exchange for that soul, tempt his son with the world and it isn’t even mine to give.  I offer end time rants, warn, “He knows you are neither cold nor hot and if you are lukewarm, he will spit you out!”  I finish the words, pause, then I shout, “Are we going to be spit out?”

“No!” rings the crowd.

“Why not?” I cry.

“Because we are hot!” they shout back and I laugh.  I feel beads of sweat forming on my back, warmth that makes me forget the frosty sweep of his hand, the sensation of falling through limitless space that replays in my dreams, goose bumps spiking body hairs while I sunk further and further and God’s arm fell quietly back to his side.

“That’s right.  We are on fire!  We burn for the Lord. He will stand at the door, waiting to answer our knock.  He will hear and allow us to enter his great kingdom.” I stamp my feet, do a jig in glee knowing that he will not hear our voices and he will not let us in because I have been trying to get back in that door for three thousand years.

“We will knock on that door!” the voices reply.  I see young women rapt, eyes shut, arms stretching skyward so their shirts pull up, the soft curve of their stomachs peeking out, a small silver slice of a belly piercing shining.

“Then he will give you the right to sit with him on his throne,” I tell these girls, their mothers and grandparents, a stout older woman with a loose auburn mane, torrential make-up, her red, bloated fingers clutching a Bible.

They moan, “Hallelujah,” in unison, like fans at a concert, singing familiar lyrics and raising lighters to the band.  My eyes, dark and dense as obsidian, bore into them. “Does it matter what we believe?” I ask.  “Probably not if there is no life after death,” I add with a chuckle, wipe my brow.  I can feel their heat surrounding me, warming me as the crowd laughs, heckles death.  The stunning boys, shiny hair tickling their shoulders, a Celtic cross like a dark green vein traversing a well-formed calf.  I make them forget to feed the hungry, tell them they need not give drink to the thirsty because the Lord helps those who help themselves.  Rather than providing shelter to strangers, they ask for passports and put up barbed wire fences.  I advise them that disease is the wrath of a loving god and instead of ministering to prisoners, they mock harmony, charity, and justice; demand vengeance fast and complete.  They watch their passion play with fancy lighting and special effects, flogging their muscular, sweaty Christs and how they rejoice to see his pain, yearn for it with tight chests.  They look to the bloody cross and forget all about pathways to peace, or that the meek will inherit the earth.

“You may be thinking,” I tell them, “I am young; I am healthy; I will not die. I have no patience for that! You are going to die, but I am not trying to scare you about your expiration date. Death does not have to be scary, but a lack of faith is.”  I fall to my knees, the wooden stage rubbing my shins, and they fall in unison around me.

Do I mind the curses heaped on my name?  Of course not.  I have power. A mother holds out her baby and I take the boy, grip him to my chest.  They see my face and trust me with their offspring.  I am handsome, but not so handsome as you might surmise.  Athletic, but not a contender.  Neither young nor old, neither short nor tall:  I am as attractive as you want me to be.  I feel that infant’s small beating heart, breathe in soy formula and freshly laundered cotton as I tell them about evil and its presence in the world. ”See this child,” I say.  “As blameless as the baby Christ.  Beloved by our Lord Jesus.  But there are those,” I shudder, “those who would act in the basest way.  Harm this child; teach him to lust; tell him to look to the daylight, where there is no need for the Lord, rather than guide him to the light that shines in darkness.”  They shake their heads, imagine what can be done to the innocent. “You need not stumble in the night, escape into your dreams,” I tell them.  “For like Jesus with Lazarus, I am here to wake you up.”

But I don’t wake them up.  I don’t say, He left you to your devices in the time of Noah and you are as likely to converse with him as touch a rainbow. I sympathize with them, thinking God has anymore to do with human actions than the wind considers the movements of a bee.

“This is an evil time,” I counsel.  What time isn’t evil, but these people, they only feel in present tense.”Be a soldier for the cross! Marching onward as to war!” I sing, my arms undulating, their arms undulating, heaving together like seaweed on the ocean floor. “You have been given the ability, the power, to wage battle for the Lord. The doubters are unqualified for the Lord’s great call to arms, the warfare that is the lot of believers. Put on the armor of God to withstand the foul day,” I warn, clench my fists, repeat.

I inform them that Satanism is reported to be flourishing in the former Soviet Union; invent the Rapture Index when they have been told he will come like a thief in the night.  They can never really know, but oh how they need to know, and who wants to hear that the rasping upon the walls, the fright in the night, is a tree branch?  Scientific solutions to their myth-making tendencies lack story. They buy another alarm system; pick up weapons in the name of God; invoke his good name as they bilk his earth. “There will be no calm, no truce,” I coax and they nod.  “No halfway for this small vessel of God.” I look through a desperate and withered man, his forehead violet with sweat, “Amen, brother!” he trembles as I pass the cooing infant back to his mother, her eyes glazed and blind.