Sunday, January 17, 2010

Father Jeremiah and the Illuminati

Father Jeremiah feared the subversive Illuminati most. He said they were the shadow government behind all governments, and most of the churches. Father Jeremiah was a Russian Orthodox priest, curt with disenchantment. He had a wizard’s beard and a monk’s hooded cloak made of black wool that smelled of stale sweat and mildew. Around his neck hung relics of a dying sect, silver-plated and peeling badly. He lived alone on Mars Hill Road in an electric blue and neon orange sanctuary whose front porch frowned at passing cars under the weight of a roof unequally distributed between its two outer posts. On one of those straining supports was tied a giant gong from Ethiopia whose other end was fastened to the house by thick nautical rope. Hanging by the front door that centered the porch was a mallet that Father Jeremiah used to wake the morning and announce the Holy days. Tied to the other post was a moon-eyed dog that wore the spotted coat of its wild desert brothers. Inside was candle-lit mostly, with a few dim bare-bulbs in the darkest halls and the bath. The walls were dark earth brown, eighteenth century icons hung like windows every six feet or so. The copper and brass images of long dead saints stared into the dark rooms through these windows and flickered with artificial life from the candles that clung to the walls between each flaking frame. In every room there were ornate canters slowly smoking incense into the air, black pepper and cloves.

The air was thick with damp, mildewing, slow-rotting wood. On the dark table in the largest room, the one with the fireplace, the sole source of heat, sat piles of undelivered newspapers. In the corner was a cot where Father Jeremiah had been sleeping off January in this one warm room with its stone hearth and picture less mantle. I was there to fix a shower drain but first was taking the makeshift tour of the musty little museum, listening to its eccentric curator reminisce about Russia and his fellow priests whose exploits of faith he would never be able to duplicate. The silence of the dead saints on the walls must have seemed to communicate their approval to Father Jeremiah for his pious humility because arbitrarily he would stop before one of them and say a silent prayer of thanks for their indulgence.

We had tea as I helped him roll and bag newspapers for the paper route he ran for some spending money. He gave me stern warnings of all the clandestine goings on of the dastardly Illuminati. I sipped my tea slowly and tried to read this man old enough to be my grandfather. What if any joy had his religion brought him? Here he was cloistered away in his tiny temple afraid and alone, the Jesus frozen in a frame on the wall unable to comfort him, unable to ease his fears. We finished our tea and the busy work that kept the lulls in conversation from being too awkward. Finally we said our polite goodbyes and I drove home a little sad for my new friend. I never saw Father Jeremiah again. My mom said he came into the drug store where she cashiered now and again to buy a case of beer, but that he never spoke and rarely ever made eye contact.

Maybe this is why our Heavenly Father warns us against graven images. Maybe it’s that Jesus becomes so familiar, so innocuous, so much a fixture in a room, that He ceases to be the risen savior that kicked the teeth out of the Beast and razed Satan’s kingdom to the ground. Or maybe it’s because Jesus becomes a fixed point in space, static and powerless to overcome our fears, our failures, our loneliness, or even the dreaded Illuminati.

I always meant to go visit Father Jeremiah again, I’m very sad and somewhat ashamed that I never did. I wish that even in my youth I could have somehow found a way that day to communicate the vibrant joy that knowing Jesus gave me. Wish I could have shared the comfort of the precious Spirit. Wish Father Jeremiah could have felt the tenderness of his heavenly Father the way I have so many wonderful times. When I close my eyes I can still see that old dog with its milky white cataracts. I can still hear the deep roar of that giant gong. And I can still smell Father Jeremiah’s mildewed robe from when we shook hands goodbye.

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