“Well, I am glad that is settled.” There was a man sitting on the park bench, their park bench, and he was reading the newspaper. Nathan did not have to guess who it was, and when the man lowered the paper, Nathan saw that he was right. “So the terrorist does not understand why he is not in paradise, and Mister Thomas thinks God owes him, and the little old lady has vanished to who knows where, no great loss there, so what is your problem?”
“None,” Nathan answered honestly.
“We’re just great,” Mya said. She stepped up and took Nathan’s arm for the first time. She was tall enough now that she could do that, and as she placed her other hand on Nathan’s bicep, she glanced down at her own breasts. She thought they were turning out just right as she imagined they were not even finished growing and she was still smiling about being called beautiful and attractive and sexy. It was heady stuff for her.
“Nothing?’ The minister asked, skeptically.
Nathan was surprised to see that the minister was hardly changed at all by the experience. He was a good looking man with a full head of black hair that was just beginning to gray a bit at the temples. He looked fit besides, like he ate all the right foods and worked out regularly at the gym. Indeed, Nathan got the impression that this was just the sort of man who would actually go to the gym. Nathan shrugged as he spoke.
“I was thinking that there have been a lot of cultures throughout history that believed the spirits of the dead could not pass fully over to the other side until they were properly buried.” He could think of no other reason for their still being there.
“Not catholic, huh? This is not purgatory, you know. There is no such thing.” The minister sounded like he knew all about it even though Nathan guessed it was his first time being dead. “So don’t you wonder why you are not in heaven, or someplace else?”
Mya and Nathan both shook their heads and laughed a little about sharing the same response. Then Mya spoke. “I assume when God is ready he will take us to where he wants us to be.”
“Blind faith.” The minister looked disgusted with that idea. “It is just one step away from ignorance. I spent my whole life fighting blind faith and trying to educate the ignorant masses about the ways of God. I regularly made profound statements from the pulpit, most of which would probably go right over your heads. And then I lived it out. That is very important, too. I fed the poor and clothed the naked and visited those who were sick or in prison. Let me tell you, the only question anyone should be asking is why I was not translated instantly to heaven to receive my reward.”
Mya cocked her head to the side a little in a very teenage maneuver. It was like she was trying to get a different perspective on the man as if that might make things clearer. “Maybe God wanted something else from you,” she suggested.
The minister got agitated. “I’ll have you know, I was called to ministry at a very early age. I have given my whole life to God since that day. Who are you to question my calling? Young woman, I’ll have you know there is probably a whole book in heaven listing the names of people that have been brought to the faith by my work alone.”
Nathan interrupted. He was feeling close enough to Mya by then that he imagined he could understand some of the ways she was thinking. “Oh, she is not questioning your calling, and I take nothing away from all of your good work and all of the names written in heaven. Nor is she questioning your intellectual honesty and no doubt brilliance. I am sure all of that is very important, and I am sure God is grateful. No, I believe she was thinking of God maybe wanting something entirely different.”
The minister’s face reddened a bit. He was getting beyond agitated, but he refused to show it which in its way was less honest than the young man they left by the gate. Nathan thought steam might come out of the minister’s head at any minute. “Like what?” The man spoke through his teeth and barely slit his lips in the process.
“Like your love,” Mya said in all sincerity as she straightened out her head. Nathan nodded his silent agreement. He could see that.
The minister turned pale for all of a minute before he responded. “Now that just proves your ignorance,” he said at last as the color began to return to his face. “We cannot love God, you see? At least we cannot love God the way he has loved us. We are not going to die for him.”
“But haven’t you just said you did that?” Nathan asked, but it was a genuine question. From Mya’s teenage lips it would have sounded flippant.
“In a sense, yes, but what I mean is the way we show our love for God is in doing what is right and good and true according to his divine will. You see, that is why I said that I lived out my faith. A faith that is only words and a matter of the mind is really no faith at all.”
“So what you are saying is it is impossible to love God, directly, I mean,” Nathan said.
“I know love by the way I feel,” Mya interrupted. “I feel my love for God. Isn’t that the way everyone knows love?” Mya’s simple innocence caused her to look up at Nathan in case she had it all wrong.
“That is exactly how we know love, sweetheart.” He patted her hand on his arm and began to move her away from there. The minster swallowed, and Nathan was quite sure without asking that the man had spent his whole life trying not to feel anything at all.
Mya looked up at Nathan and opened her big brown eyes even bigger than usual. “You called me sweetheart,” she said. It was almost an accusation.
“Because you are,” he said. “I think you have the kindest and sweetest heart of anyone I’ve ever known, and I am beginning to believe the adult world would do much better if we listened to more seven year olds.”
Mya frowned on hearing that reminder of her true age, but then she sighed and laid her head against Nathan’s arm. She was almost big enough by then to set her head against his shoulder, the place where she slept so comfortably in the night. Nathan responded by giving her hand another fatherly pat.