Olivia Douglass is undecided about becoming a priest even after she has completed seminary. She is adopted and for most of her life, she has had a curse over her that she has held secret. In order to help her find out whether or not she is led to the priesthood, her parish priest gives her an assignment – to pray with an inmate on death row. The relationship with the inmate makes her curious about her own life before she was adopted. Before he is executed, the inmate asks for Olivia’s help and in honoring his personal request, she discovers something in her past that threatens to uproot her ordinary life with her adopted family and causes her to desperately struggle to hold on to her persona and position.
|Publisher:||Black Rose Writing|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)|
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On the day after Olivia Douglas had completed her requirements at the Virginia Seminary, she made an appointment to see her parish priest, Fr. Wilson. Olivia now sat in the reverend's spacious outer office in St. Luke's Episcopal Church waiting to see him. Even though she knew she had to tell him, the waiting and anticipation made her apprehensive. She had to take her attention off the meeting. She stood and turned to a wall covered with frames and read the certificates, honors and elegantly framed letters of commendation. On the other wall, she read a letter from a parishioner who was obviously elated with the outreach program. When her mind was clearer, she sat down and hummed to the organ music playing softly from the overhead speakers.
The office, with its three stained-glass windows that curved at the ceiling and its English décor — sturdy, high-back, hand-carved birch chairs and furniture, dark oak paneling — gave her a feeling of reverence, and she eased forward on her satin-covered seat, stopped humming, closed her eyes, and prayed that she would not be deterred. She would be strong and tell Fr. Wilson why she wanted to meet with him. Then she sat back in her chair, her body less taut, and feeling happier with herself.
Olivia had asked to see the reverend to tell him that she had decided not to take that final step — her ordination to become a priest. He had gone to great lengths to support and encourage her, she understood that. But she had no choice but to conclude that she will not become a priest. Telling him in person was daunting and she now wished she had just sent him a letter.
Aside from what she wanted to talk about with Fr. Wilson, she worried about telling her parents who adopted her and who would be coming from England to her graduation. She had absolutely no idea what she would tell Fr. Wilson. She never thought she would ever be in a position where she would have to tell anyone. She had always been so careful not to do or say anything that would make her have to acknowledge and explain that "feeling." Even though Fr. Wilson may be able to offer her advice, she couldn't reveal herself, expose this problem, or this curse that had been hanging over her most of her life. So far, she hadn't told a single soul about this "feeling," not even her parents, and certainly not Kara, her sister.
"Can I get you some water or coffee?" the secretary asked.
"No, thank you," Olivia said. She gave the secretary a smile and stepped out into the dimly lit, narrow hallway where she took deep breaths to keep herself relaxed. Olivia worried that she would forget her well planned speech and she would allow Fr. Wilson to council her into changing her mind. She had to hold strong. She knew what she had to do and she couldn't make more of this conference than she had to. All she had to do was just go in to his office and tell him. She wouldn't have to offer an explanation, and even if he asked her, she would just say she had none and leave it at that. She went back into the office and took her seat.
Fr. Wilson opened the door to his office and a man she did not recognize came out. He shook hands with the Reverend and left. Olivia let out a long sigh. "Tell him and get out of there," she silently reminded herself.
"Olivia Douglass. Come in, come in," Fr. Wilson said; a wide smile on his face. He waved her in.
She stood, "Hello Fr. Wilson. Thank you for seeing me," and stepped past him, into the office, which was strikingly different from the outer office. Fr. Wilson's office with a set of stained glass windows across one wall was not only bright and cheery, but also a mass of unorganized books, papers, and magazines. He'd run out of shelves, and several stacks of magazines and books sat on the floor around the periphery of the unusually small office. Fr. Wilson seemed unaware of the mess as he stepped over a stack of magazines and slid into a contemporary leather chair behind his cluttered desk.
Olivia sat in a hand-carved birch wood armchair opposite him. She brushed her beige wool skirt as if cleaning dirt from it, then stretched the material, trying to pull it down to cover her knees. She straightened herself in the chair. She would upset him, and she was now ready for that. During their last meeting, he told her how much he was looking forward to having her at his church and then discontinued his search for an associate priest.
"I'm sure I've said it already, but you're on your way to becoming a fine priest." He moved some papers around on his desk and sat back in his chair.
She tried to keep her perspective by reminding herself about the discussion in the adult Sunday school class she'd led last Sunday. She was sure he heard her comment about the church community. Rumors about that must have gotten to everyone in the church by now and possibly out in the neighborhood.
The memory was certainly clear in her mind. She had expected seven or eight people, ten at the most. Just as she started her talk, the parishioners filed into the room with coffee and donuts in hand until all of the fifty seats were taken. She stopped speaking when she saw people searching for seats and shifting from chair to chair to make room. After everything was settled, she gazed down at her notes to find her place and began again. When she looked up from her notes, she saw four or five people in the front row pointing to their ears.
A man sitting on the back row shrugged his shoulders. "Can you speak up?"
"We can't hear you." One woman yelled out at the same time.
"Yeah, we can't hear a thing with the heater humming," another said.
"I can't turn my hearing aid up any higher," an older man said.
Olivia stuttered out a weak "I'm sorry. Can you hear me now?" as she spoke louder. She tried to remember to speak louder as she continued, but she lowered her voice again and a few parishioners signaled her again. Before she realized what was happening and was able to stop herself, she let slip out, "There's no need to come to church." What she meant to say was, "There is a reason to be part of a church community." She realized her mistake when she heard the moans and groans from the participants. In her nervousness, she tried to figure out a way to correct her error. She sought help from her fiancé, Claude, sitting in the front row, but he shrugged his shoulders. Then he looked at her as if to say, "Don't ask me. I don't know what to do." Still she needed his help. He could have asked her to repeat what she said or explained to everyone what she meant. But not Claude. Claude sat there shaking his head and making faces at her. She should have realized that he wouldn't have supported her. He had already told her he thought she was taking on too much wanting to be a priest, anyway. Then Wesley Johns stood up.
"You started telling us about a need for a church community. Can you tell us more about that?"
"Sure. The meaning and need for a church is not a simple topic. Many authors have written on this subject in much detail. But for now, it is a way for us to understand the death of Jesus. We do this by sharing in his death. Christ loved the church and he gave himself up for her (it). Read Ephesians chapter 5 verse 25."
Wesley had given her a chance to save herself. At the end, several people clapped for her and told her she had done a nice job.
Surely, that mistake was enough for anyone to reassess the situation. She had, and realized that she was just not cut out to be a priest. She'd wanted to offer people direction, discernment, help them see God's purpose, but instead, she'd brought them confusion, frustration, and misunderstanding.
Olivia had to decide whether she should bring it up now or allow Fr. Wilson to bring it up.
"Being a priest. That's what I want to talk about." She had hoped that she wouldn't have to talk about it. She just wanted to tell him and get out of there.
"Is it the procedure? You know you have to do six months of diaconal training before you can be ordained, and if you're planning to start now, which would be good, you can finish the training by July and be ordained in early fall." His was a warm, welcoming smile that should have made her feel comfortable.
Olivia regarded him carefully. His finely chiseled features gave him the appearance of a movie star. She wondered why, with looks like his, he had become a priest. He rocked slightly in his chair, his movements sure and steady. He could have become a movie star, but he became a priest instead. She recognized her own lack of self-assurances and wondered if he'd noticed.
"No, Fr. Wilson, it's not the procedure. It's just that I don't believe that being a priest is what I'm supposed to be. I don't have the character and I'm just not prepared to go any further." She would need to give Fr. Wilson a reason for her decision, and this was where she was stuck. She had to withhold the truth. No one would believe such a thing, absolutely no one.
"I see, you have doubts. Many graduates have doubts." He lowered his voice, and the words seemed to ease out of his mouth, rested in the air. "You needn't worry about that; I'd worry if you didn't have doubts."
"I do have doubts, but not the way we were told in seminary. I have serious doubts about me. Something feels wrong and I can't describe what it is. Maybe I just don't have the right attitude or the right character." She had to skirt the real problem and her nervousness returned. Perspiration rolled down the sides of her head and she hoped her shoulder-length dark hair hid it from his view.
"What do you mean, 'the right attitude'?" His voice was still low, as if he wanted to understand.
"I don't trust that my faith is strong enough, and sometimes I question whether there truly is a God. How can I lead others if I'm unsure about my own faith?" Even though she had to mention her faith, one of the biggest doubts that seminarians had that kept them from going into the priesthood and a doubt that was not very substantial, she was a little less tense.
"Entering the priesthood is a serious step." He glanced at the papers on his desk in front of him. "And from what I have here, you seem to have done well enough to go on. You'll do well."
She tried forming the words to tell him the truth. Her heartbeat sped up and her hands shook. She just could not make herself tell Fr. Wilson. She had to keep it to herself. Not even her parents and certainly not her fiancé, Claude, knew anything about this. After all, how would it make her seem? She was always afraid that telling someone, especially her parents who adopted her and loved her, would cause them to see her as some kind of aberrant, someone with bizarre notions, and then they would steer away from her. Fr. Wilson would do the same.
"Fr. Wilson, I've made up my mind about this. I'm sorry if you feel I've wasted your time, or caused you any problems, but after serious consideration and praying about this over the past few months, I see that I shouldn't become a priest." She wanted this to be enough for him. She wanted him to trust her and accept her decision.
"Olivia, what led you here?"
"What do you mean?"
"What led you toward the priesthood? You have to examine that for yourself. Find the truth as to why you entered the seminary, why you took that first step. What were you searching for?"
She reflected for a moment.
"Right after college, I went from job to job for a few months. Each job seemed to lead me closer to the seminary. And then, I woke up one morning and realized that I wanted to be a priest." Inward, she asked the Lord to forgive her for such a bold sin, or at best, a half lie, but she just couldn't tell Fr. Wilson about that curse that surrounded her.
He studied her as if he expected her to change her answer. She remained silent. He spoke.
"So, you do feel called. That's important."
She hadn't thought about it as a calling. She had to escape that feeling. She thought that by immersing herself deeply in religion and being close to God, those feelings would disappear, but they hadn't.
"Olivia, many graduates stop at this point. For one reason or another, they decide not to go any further. Some come and want to talk about it, others write a letter. What you're doing is common. I suspect something else going on, something you're afraid to tell me. I have summaries of your records here, your performance on the final exams, the recommendations from the bishop, the vestry, your course information, and statements from your seminary priests, and they all indicate that you'll do well. What is your true purpose today?"
She was out of words. Was this why she came? Was it faith in herself or faith in God she lacked? Was it the same thing?
"Father, I —"
"If you don't want to continue with the training, I hope you'll continue leading our prayer team. Olivia, you can always remain a deacon if you decide not to go any further. As a deacon, you may want to consider pastoral counseling or something along those lines. Then again, maybe in time, you'll change your mind." He looked up at her as if expecting her to respond.
She looked down in her lap.
"Search for the truth, Olivia. You may be feeling lost, but you were led down this road for a reason. Maybe you were asked to continue and maybe you were called in another direction. Pray and ask for enlightenment and guidance." He paused as if he wanted to say more but had second thoughts.
Olivia thought the meeting was over when he began again.
"Meanwhile, as our prayer team leader, I have an opportunity that I think will help you. I hope you'll accept it." He said, watching her.
She looked at him as if he knew her curse. Is he asking her to get prayer for it? She wanted prayer, badly, but that would mean that she would have to tell someone about the curse. She wished she had someone to pray with. It would help her get rid of it.
"Yes, I have no plans to leave this church."
"Good, then. I received a request from the men's prison in Virginia, a short ways over the Maryland state line. An inmate is asking for someone to pray with him. He's on death row and will be executed in," he moved a few papers about, sought out his hand-written notes, "two weeks."
"Death row? But, Father, I don't know anything about ... this is ... I'm not qualified to do anything like that. This is too huge."
"We all are." He peered at the paper again. "All he wants is to have someone pray with him. You're good at prayer, Olivia. Help this man; pray with him."
She had taken a special interest in praying and healing prayer and had taken on the position as prayer team leader several months ago at St. Luke's Church. She had also taken training in prayer and healing outside of her coursework in seminary and had asked permission from her advisor to attend several training workshops while she was in seminary. Olivia figured that Fr. Wilson knew about her interest and had a list of those courses and seminars she'd taken among his many papers.
"Isn't it dangerous? What did he do?"
"I don't know, and of course, you know you don't need to know what he did. God knows, and that's all that matters. If it helps you at all, I've done this in the past, and I'm certain you'll be okay. He just has two weeks. This should take a day or two, three at most. You go there, and we'll get someone to drive you the first day, meet him, find out what he wants so you can direct your prayers, and pray with him."
"You make it sound so simple."
"It's not as simple as it sounds, but it's not difficult, either."
"Will I have to go inside the prison?" She heard her own voice filled with irritation and complaint; she feared closed-in places.
"Olivia, you'll be okay."
"I ... don't ... think ..." She began to panic, again. It took all she was able to muster up to keep herself under control.
"Even inmates have a right to prayer, Olivia. Surely you don't believe otherwise."
"No, it's not that. Will I have a partner to help with what to do and say?"
"Your Partner will already be there, ready and waiting on you. He's all you need. The only person who is trained is Eva and she's on vacation. You won't need another person to tell you what to do. Open your heart and God will provide the words. He knows everything about this man. Just open your heart."
Olivia was quiet for a moment, taking in the prodigious request.
"Be here at noon tomorrow. I'll get Will to drive you. He has always driven me. Visiting hours begin at 2:00. It's about a two-hour driving time. You'll be fine," he said as he stood, letting her know the meeting was over.
She stood, but she was no longer ready to leave.
"Keep me posted. Call my secretary when you go, and let her know what you're doing, if you have to. I'll get the messages. I'll always make myself available for you in the unlikely event you need anything. Meanwhile, this will give you a chance to do more in the line of counseling. This may help you find yourself, and find direction."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Blessings and Curses"
Copyright © 2018 Judy Kelly.
Excerpted by permission of Black Rose Writing.
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