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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 14

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  1. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 1
  2. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 10
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 11
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 12
  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 13
  6. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 15
  7. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 16
  8. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 2
  9. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 3

what we see in the BibleJesus doesn't go around claiming to be God."

" ' I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father,

but by me,'" Justus quoted. "John, 14:6."

"There's also evidence in the gospels that Jesus appeared in different

forms to different people," Fletcher said. "The apostle James talks about

seeing Jesus standing on the shore in the form of a child. He points it out

to John, who thinks he's nuts, because the person on the shore isn't a child

but a handsome young man. They go to investigate, and although one sees

an old, bald man, the other sees a young guy with a beard."

Reverend Justus frowned. "I can quote the Gospel of John forward and

backward," he said, "and that's not in there."

Fletcher smiled. "I never said it was from the Gospel of John. I said it

was from a gospel. A Gnostic one, called the Acts of John."

"There's no Acts of John in the Bible," Justus huffed. "He's making this

up."

"The reverend's rightit's not in the Bible. And there are dozens of

others like it. Through a series of editorial decisions, they were excluded

and considered heresy by the early Christian church."

"That's because the Bible is the Word of God, period," Justus said.

"Actually, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John weren't even written by the

apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They were written in Greek, by

authors who had a modicum of educationunlike Jesus's fishermen disciples,

who were illiterate, like ninety percent of the population. Mark is

based on the apostle Peter's preaching. Matthew's author was probably a

Jewish Christian from Antioch, Syria. The Gospel of Luke was allegedly

written by a doctor. And the author of the Gospel of John never mentions

his own name . . . but it was the latest of the four synoptic gospels to be

written, roughly around A.D. 100. If the apostle John was the author, he

would have been extremely old."

"Smoke and mirrors," Reverend Justus said. "He's using rhetoric to distract

us from the basic truth here."

"Which is?" King asked.



"Do you truly believe that if the Lord chose to grace us with his earthly

presence againand that is a big if, in my humble opinionhe would willingly

choose to inhabit a convicted murderer, two times over?"

My hot water started to boil, and I disconnected the stinger. Then I

turned off the television without hearing Fletcher's answer. Why would

God choose to inhabit any of us?

What if it was the other way around . . . if we were the ones who inhabited

God?

 

M I C H A EL

During the drive to Maggie's parents' home, I wallowed in various degrees

of guilt. I had let down Father Walter and St. Catherine's. I'd

made a fool of myself on TV. And although I'd started to tell Maggie that

Shay and I had some history between us that he didn't know aboutI

had chickened out. Again.

"So here's the thing," Maggie said, distracting me from my thoughts

as we pulled into the driveway. "My parents are going to be a little excited

when they see you in my car."

I glanced around at the quiet, wooded retreat. "Don't get much

company here?"

"Don't get many dates is more like it."



"I don't want to burst your bubble, but I'm not exactly boyfriend

material."

Maggie laughed. "Yeah, thanks, but I'd like to think even I'm not

that desperate. It's just that my mother's got radar or somethingshe

can sniff out a Y chromosome from miles away."

As if Maggie had conjured her, a woman stepped out of the house. She

was petite and blond, with her hair cut into a neat bob and pearls at her

neck. Either she'd just come home from work, or she was headed outmy

mother, on a Friday night, would have been wearing one of my dad's flannel

shirts with the sleeves rolled up, and what she called her Weekend Fat

Jeans. She squinted, glimpsing me through the windshield. "Maggie!" she

cried. "You didn't tell us you were bringing a Mend for dinner."

Just the way she said the word friend made me feel a rush of sympathy

for Maggie.

"Joel!" she called into the house behind her. "Maggie's brought a

guest!"

I stepped out of the car and adjusted my collar. "Hello," I said. I'm

Father Michael."

Maggie's mother's hand went to her throat. "Oh, God."

"Close," I replied, "but no cigar."

At that moment, Maggie's father came hurrying out the front door,

tucking in his dress shirt. "Mags," he said, folding her into a bear hug,

which was when I noticed his yarmulke. Then he turned to me and

held out a hand. I'm Rabbi Bloom."

"You could have told me your father was a rabbi," I whispered to

Maggie.

"You didn't ask." She looped her arm through her father's. "Daddy,

this is Father Michael. He's a heretic."

"Please tell me you're not dating him," Mrs. Bloom murmured.

"Ma, he's a priest. Of course I'm not." Maggie laughed as they

headed toward the house. "But I bet that street performer who asked

me out is starting to look a lot more palatable to you ..."

That left two of us, men of God, standing awkwardly on the driveway.

Rabbi Bloom led the way into the house, toward his study. "So,"

he said. "Where's your congregation?"

"Concord," I said. "St. Catherine's."

"And you met my daughter how?"

I'm Shay Bourne's spiritual advisor."

He glanced up. "That must be unnerving."

"It is," I said. "On many levels."

"So is he or isn't he?"

"Donating his heart? That's going to be up to your daughter, I think."

The rabbi shook his head. "No, no. Maggie, she could move a

mountain if she wanted to, one molecule at a time. I meant is he or isn't

he Jesus?"

I blinked. "I never figured I'd hear that question from a rabbi."

"Jesus was a Jewish man, after all. Just look at the evidence: he

lived at home, went into his dad's business, thought his mother was a

virgin, and his mother thought he was God." Rabbi Bloom grinned, and

I started to smile.

"Well, Shay's not preaching what Jesus did."

The rabbi laughed. "And you were around the first time to know

this for sure?"

"I know what it says in scripture."

"I never understood peopleJewish or Christianwho read the

Bible as if it were hard evidence. Gospel means good news. It's a way

to update the story, to fit the audience you're telling it to."

"I don't know if I'd say that Shay Bourne's here to update the story

of Christ for the modem generation," I replied.

"It makes you wonder, then, why so many people have jumped on

his bandwagon. It's almost like who he is matters less than what all of

them need him to be." Rabbi Bloom began to scour his bookshelves, finally

lighting on one dusty tome, which he skimmed through until he

found a certain page. "Jesus said to his disciples, 'Compare me to someone

and tell me whom I am like.' Simon Peter said to him, 'You are like

a righteous angel.' Matthew said to him, 'You are like a wise philosopher.'

Thomas said to him, 'Master, my mouth is wholly incapable of

saying whom you are like.' Jesus said, 'I am not your master. Because

you have drunk, you have become intoxicated from the bubbling spring

which I have measured out.'"

He snapped the book shut again as I tried to place the scripture.

"History's always written by the winners," Rabbi Bloom said. "This was

one of the losers." He handed me the book just as Maggie poked her

head into the room.

"Dad, you're not trying to pawn off another copy of The Best Jewish

Knock-Knock Jokes, are you?"

"Unbelievably, Father Michael already has a signed copy. Is dinner

ready?"

"Yes."

"Thank goodness. I was beginning to think your mother had cremated

the tilapia." As Maggie ducked back into the kitchen. Rabbi

Bloom turned to me. "Well, in spite of how Maggie introduced you, you

don't seem like a heretic to me."

"It's a long story."

"I'm sure you already know that heresy comes from the Greek word

for choice." He shrugged. "Makes you wonder. What if the ideas that

have always been considered sacrilegious aren't sacrilegious at alljust

ideas we haven't come across before? Or ideas we haven't been allowed

to come across?"

In my hands, the book the rabbi had given me felt as if it were

burning. "You hungry?" Bloom asked.

"Starving," I admitted, and I let him lead the way.

 

 

June

When I was pregnant with Claire, I was told that I had gestational

diabetes. I still don't think that was true, franklyan hour before I

had the test, I'd taken Elizabeth to McDonald's and finished her

orange Hi-C drink, which is enough to put anyone into a sugar

coma. However, when the obstetrician told me the results, I did

what I had to do: stuck to a strict diet that left me hungry all the

time, got blood drawn twice a week, held my breath at every visit

while my doctor checked the baby's growth.

The silver lining? I was treated to numerous ultrasounds.

Long after most moms-to-be had gotten their twenty-week preview

of the baby inside them, I continued to get updated portraits.

It got to be so commonplace for Kurt and I to see our

baby that he stopped coming to the weekly OB visits. He'd

watch Elizabeth while I drove to the hospital, lifted up my

shirt, and let the wand roll over my belly, illuminating on a

monitor a foot, an elbow, the slope of this new child's nose. By

then, in my eighth month, the picture wasn't the stick-figure

skeleton you see at twenty weeksyou could see her hair, the

ridges on her thumb, the curve of her cheek. She looked so real

on the ultrasound screen that sometimes I'd forget she was still

inside me.

"Not much longer," the technician had said to me that last day

as she wiped the gel off my belly with a warm washcloth.

"Easy for you to say," I told her. "You're not the one chasing

around a seven-year-old in your eighth month."

"Been there done that," she said, and she reached beneath the

screen to hand me that day's printout of the baby's face.

When I saw it, I drew in my breath: that's how much this new

baby looked like Kurtcompletely unlike me, unlike Elizabeth.

This new baby had his wide-set eyes, his dimples, the point of his

chin. I folded the picture into my purse so that I could show it to

him, and then I drove home.

There were cars backed up on the street leading to mine. I assumed

it was construction; they'd been repaving the roads around

here. We sat in a line, idling, listening to the radio. After five minutes,

I started to worryKurt was on duty today, and had taken

his lunch break early so that I could go to the ultrasound without

dragging Elizabeth along. If I didn't get home soon, he'd be late

for work.

"Thank God," I said when the traffic slowly began to move.

But as I drew closer, I saw the detour signs set up at the end of my

block, the police car sprawled sideways across the street. I felt that

small tumble in my heart, the way you do when you see a fire

engine racing toward the general vicinity of your home.

Roger, an officer I knew only marginally, was diverting traffic.

I unrolled my window. "I live here," I said. "I'm married to Kurt

Nea"

Before I could finish, his face froze, and that was how I knew

something had happened. I'd seen Kurt's face do the same thing

when he'd told me that my first husband had been killed in the car

wreck.

I snapped off my seat belt and pushed my way out of the car,

ungainly and awkward in my pregnancy. "Where is she?" I cried,

the car still running. "Where's Elizabeth?"

"June," Roger said as he wrapped an arm around me firmly.

"Why don't you just come with me?"

He walked me down the road where I lived, until I could see

what I hadn't been able to from the crossroads: the glare of police

cruiser lights, blinking like a holiday. The yawning mouths of the

ambulances. The door to my house wide open. One officer held

the dog in his arms; when Dudley saw me, he began to bark like

mad.

"Elizabeth!" I yelled, and I shoved away from Roger, running

as fast as I could given my shape and size. "Elizabeth!!"

I was intercepted by someone who knocked the breath from

methe chief of police. "June," he said softly. "Come with me."

I struggled against Irvscratching, kicking, pleading. I

thought maybe if I put up a fight, it would keep me from hearing

what he was about to say. "Elizabeth?" I whispered.

"She's been shot, June."

I waited for him to say But she'll be just fine, except he didn't.

He shook his head. Later, I would remember that he had been

crying.

"I want to see her," I sobbed.

"There's something else," Irv said, and as I watched, a brace of

paramedics wheeled Kurt out on a stretcher. His face was white,

leached of bloodall of which seemed to be soaking the makeshift

bandage around his midsection.

I reached for Kurt's hand, and he turned toward me, his eyes

glassy. "I'm sorry," he choked out. "I'm so sorry."

"What happened?" I shrieked, frantic. "Sorry for what? What

happened to her!"

"Ma'am," a paramedic said, "we've got to get him to a hospital."

Another paramedic pulled me back. I watched them take Kurt

away from me.

As Irv led me to the steps of another ambulance, he spoke,

words that at the time felt as solid and square as bricks, layered

sentence upon sentence to build a wall between life as I'd known

it and the one I would now be forced to lead. Kurt gave us a statement

.. .found the carpenter sexually abusing Elizabeth ... standoff...

shots were fired ... Elizabeth got in the way.

Elizabeth, I used to say, when she was following me around the

tiny kitchen as I cooked dinner, I'm tripping over you.

Elizabeth, your father and I are trying to have a conversation.

Elizabeth, not now.

Never.

My legs were numb as Irv led me into a second ambulance.

"She's the mother," he said as one of the paramedics came forward.

A small form lay on a stretcher in the central cavity of the

ambulance, covered with a thick gray blanket. I reached out, shaking,

and pulled the cloth down. As soon as I saw Elizabeth, my

knees gave out; if not for Irv, I would have fallen.

She looked like she was sleeping. Her hands were tucked on

either side of her body; her cheeks were flushed.

They'd made a mistake, that was all.

I leaned over the stretcher, touching her face. Her skin was still

warm. "Elizabeth," I whispered, the way I did on school days to

wake her. "Elizabeth, time to get up."

But she didn't stir; she didn't hear me. I broke down over her

body, pulling her against me. The blood on her chest was garish. I

tried to draw her closer, but I couldn'tthis baby inside me was in

the way. "Don't go," I whispered. "Please don't go."

"June," Irv said, touching my shoulder. "You can ride with

them if you want, but you'll have to put her down."

I did not understand the great hurry to take her to a hospital;

later, I would learn that only a doctor could pronounce Elizabeth

dead, no matter how obvious it was.

The paramedics gently strapped Elizabeth to the gurney and

offered me a seat beside it. "Wait," I said, and I unclasped a barrette

from my hair. "She doesn't like her bangs in her eyes," I mur

mured, and I clipped them back. I left my hand on her forehead

for a moment, a benediction.

On the interminable ride to the hospital, I looked down at my

shirt. It was stained with blood, a Rorschach of loss. But I was not

the only one who had been marked, permanently changed. It was

no surprise when a month later I gave birth to Clairean infant

who looked nothing like her father, as she had that day at the ultrasound,

but who instead was the spitting image of the sister she

would never meet.

Maggie

Oliver and I were enjoying a glass of Yellow Tail and a TiVo'd Grey's Anatomy

when there was a knock on the door. Now, this was alarming on several

counts:

1. It was Friday night, and no one ever stopped by on Friday night.

2. People who ring the doorbell at ten p.m. are either

a. stranded with a dead battery in their car

b. serial killers

c. all of the above

3. I was in my pajamas.

4. The ones with a hole on the butt, so that my underwear showed.

I looked at the rabbit. "Let's not get it," I said, but Oliver hopped off

my lap and began to sniff around the bottom of the door.

"Maggie?" I heard. "I know you're in there."

"Daddy?" I got off the couch and unlocked the door to let him in.

"Shouldn't you be at services?"

He took off his coat and hung it on an antique rack that my

mother had given me for my birthday one year, and that I really

hated, but that she looked for every time she came to my house (Oh,

Maggie, I'm so glad you've still got this!). "I stayed for the important

parts. Your mother's kibitzing with Carol; I'll probably make it home

before she will."

Carol was the cantora woman with a voice that made me think of

falling asleep in the summertime sun: strong, steady utterly relaxing. When

she wasn't singing, she collected thimbles. She went to conventions as far

away as Seattle to trade them, and had one entire forty-foot wall of her

house divvied up by a contractor into minuscule display shelves. Mom said

that Carol had more than five thousand thimbles. I didn't think I had five

thousand of anything, except maybe daily calories.

He walked into the living room and glanced at the television. "I wish

that skinny girl would just ditch McDreamy."

"You watch Grey's AnatomyT

"Your mother watches. I absorb by osmosis." He sat down on the

couch, while I mulled over the fact that I actually did have something in

common with my mother.

"I liked your friend the priest," my father said.

"He's not my friend. We work together."

"I can still like him, can't I?"

I shrugged. "Something tells me you didn't come all the way here to

tell me how fabulous Father Michael is."

"Well, in part. How come you brought him over tonight?"

"Why?" I bristled. "Did Mom complain?"

"Will you just stop with the Mom thing?" My father sighed. "I'm

asking you a question."

"He had a hard day. Being on Shay's side isn't easy for him."

My father looked at me carefully. "How about for you?"

"You told me to ask Shay what he wanted," I said. "He doesn't want

his life saved. He wants his death to mean something."

My father nodded. "A lot of Jews think you can't donate organs, because

it violates Jewish lawyou're not supposed to mutilate the body

after death; you're supposed to bury it as soon as possible. But pikkuah

nefesh takes precedence over that. It says that the duty to save life trumps

everything. Or in other wordsa Jew is required to break the law, if it

means saving a life."

"So it's okay to commit murder in order to save someone else?" I

asked.

"Well, God's not stupid; He sets parameters. But if there's any karmic

pikkuah nefesh in the world"

"To mix metaphors, no less religions . . ."

"then the fact that you can't stop an execution is at least balanced

by the fact that you'll be saving a life."

"At what cost, Daddy? Is it okay to kill someone who's a criminal,

someone society really doesn't want around anymore, so that a little girl

can live? What if it wasn't a little girl who needed that heart? What if it

was some other criminal? Or what if it wasn't Shay who had to die in

order to donate his organs? What if it was me?"

"God forbid," my father said.

"It's semantics."

"It's morality. You're doing good."

"By doing bad."

My father shook his head. "There's something else about pikkuah

nefesh . . . it clears the slate of guilt. You can't feel remorse about breaking

the law, because ethically, you're obligated to do it."

"See, that's where you're wrong. I can feel remorse. Because we're not

talking about not fasting on Yom Kippur since you happen to be sick . . .

we're talking about a man dying."

"And saving your life."

I looked up at him. "Claire's life."

"Two birds with one stone," my father said. "Maybe it's not literal in

your case, Maggie. But this lawsuitit's fired you up. It's given you something

to look forward to." He looked around my homethe place setting

for one, the bowl of popcorn on the table, the rabbit cage.

I suppose there was a point in my life when I wanted the package deal

the chuppah, the husband, the kids, the carpoolsbut somewhere along the

line, I'd just stopped hoping. I had gotten used to living alone, to saving the

other half of the can of soup for the next night's dinner, to only changing

the pillowcases on my side of the bed. I had become overly comfortable with

myself, so much so that anyone else would have felt like an intrusion.

Pretending, it turned out, took much less effort than hoping.

One of the reasons I loved my parentsand hated themis that

they still thought I had a chance at all that. They only wanted me to be

happy; they didn't see how on earth I could be happy by myself. Which,

if you read between the lines, meant they found me just as lacking as I

did.

I could feel my eyes filling with tears. "I'm tired," I said. "You should

go now."

"Maggie"

When he reached for me, I ducked away. "Good night."

I punched buttons on the remote control until the television went

black. Oliver crept out from behind my desk to investigate, and I scooped

him up. Maybe this was why I chose to spend my free time with a rabbit:

he didn't offer unwanted advice. "You forgot one little detail," I said. "Pikkuah

nefesh doesn't apply to an atheist."

My father paused in the act of taking his coat from the world's ugliest

coat rack. He slipped it over his arm and walked toward me. "I know it

sounds strange for a rabbi," he said, "but it's never mattered to me what

you believe in, Mags, as long as you believe in yourself as much as I do."

He settled his hand on top of Oliver's back. Our fingers brushed, but I

didn't look up at him. "And that's not semantics."

"Daddy"

He held up a hand to shush me and opened the door. "I'll tell your

mother to get you new pajamas for your birthday," he said, pausing at the

threshold. "Those have a hole in the butt."

 

M I C HAEL

In 1945, two brothers were digging beneath cliffs in Nag Hammadi,

Egypt, trying to find fertilizer. OneMohammed Alistruck something

hard as he dug. He unearthed a large earthenware jug, covered with a

red dish. Afraid that a jinn would be inside it, Mohammed Ali didn't want

to open the jar. Finally, the curiosity of finding gold instead led him to

break it openonly to find thirteen papyrus books inside, bound in gazelle

leather.

Some of the books were burned for firewood. The others made

their way to religious scholars, who dated them to have been written

around A.D. 140, about thirty years after the New Testamentand deciphered

them to find the names of gospels not found in the Bible, full of

sayings that were in the New Testament... and many that weren't. In

some, Jesus spoke in riddles; in others, the Virgin birth and bodily resurrection

were dismissed. They came to be known as the Gnostic gospels,

and even today, they are given short shrift by the Church.

In seminary, we learned about the Gnostic gospels. Namely, we

learned that they were heresy. And let me tell you, when a priest hands

you a text and tells you this is what nor to believe, it colors the way you

read it. Maybe I skimmed the text, saving the careful close analysis for

the Bible. Maybe I whiffed completely and told the priest who was

teaching that course that I'd done my homework when in fact I didn't.

Whatever the excuse, that night when I cracked open Joel Bloom's

book, it was as if I'd never seen the words before, and although I

planned to only read the foreword by the scholar who'd compiled the

textsa man named Ian FletcherI found myself devouring the pages

as if it were the latest Stephen King novel and not a collection of ancient

gospels.

The book had been earmarked to the Gospel of Thomas. Any mentions

of Thomas I knew from the Bible certainly weren't flattering: He doesn't

believe Lazarus will rise from the dead. When Jesus tells His disciples to

follow Him, Thomas points out that they don't know where to go. And

when Jesus rises after the crucifixion, Thomas isn't even thereand won't

believe it until he can touch the wounds with his own hands. He's the

very definition of faithlessand the origin of the term doubting Thomas.

Yet in Rabbi Bloom's book, this page began:

These are the secret words which the living Jesus spoke, and the

twin, Didymos Judas Thomas, wrote them down.

Twin? Since when did Jesus have a twin?

The rest of the "gospel" was not a narrative of Jesus's life, like Matthew,

Mark, Luke, and John, but a collection of quotes by Jesus, all beginning

with the words Jesus said. Some were lines similar to those in

the Bible. Others were completely unfamiliar and sounded more like

logic puzzles than any scripture:

If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save

you. If you don't bring forth what is within you, what is within you will

destroy you.

I read the line over twice and rubbed my eyes. There was something

about it that made me feel as if I'd heard it before.


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