from the Farm
When Heaven Speaks
Miss Fannie Cratty was considered a pillar of Glenfield’s First Baptist Church, and when she spoke, people assumed that they were hearing from Heaven. In her mid-eighties, she finally acknowledged her hearing loss, and admitted to frequently falling asleep during church services. To address this issue, my mother came up with a brilliant plan, which would preserve the elderly woman's dignity and focus my attention on the sermon. I would sit next to Aunt Fannie in the front pew, and if she nodded off, I was to nudge her. If she missed what the preacher said, she would nudge me, and I was to write a brief summary.
Initially, the routine worked out quite well. Then, one Sunday when Reverend Nash was imploring the congregation to pray for the lost, I noticed that Aunt Fannie was sleeping. As I gently nudged her to consciousness, she jabbed her elbow into my ribs. Since my writing was slow and my spelling poor, I summarized as briefly as possible, "He wants you to pray." Without hesitation, she stood to her feet, bowed her head, and closed the service with a rousing benediction, only five minutes into the sermon! The confused congregation waited for a bewildered minister to respond. After a moment of silence, Rev. Nash smiled warmly, closed his Bible, and said that he believed Heaven had spoken. We were dismissed at precisely 11:20!
Naturally, I feared for my life, but surprisingly, everyone seemed mildly amused and generally pleased with being released early. My father even said that he wished Aunt Fannie would get the urge to pray more often. I agreed, and from that moment on, the duration of our church services became rather unpredictable.
At first, I was somewhat humbled by this “gift” that I had been given: the ability to cut short sermons that, otherwise, might become long-winded and boring. I determined to never abuse my power; wielding it only when there was a noble reason for getting out of church a little early. Whenever Miss Cratty would fall asleep, I knew that I should begin looking for a confirming “sign” to end the service, such as impending bad weather, restless parishioners, or any indication that Rev. Nash’s sermon was getting a little off track. When any two events came together, I would scribble an urgent note and jolt the elderly woman from her slumber. As time went on, my list of reasons for getting out early grew and the minister’s patience for the untimely interruptions dwindled. Unfortunately, I did not realize that members of the congregation, and especially my mother, were becoming suspicious that I might be at the root of the problem.
It was a perfect Autumn morning when my mother suggested we plan a family picnic directly after church. That day my elderly charge dropped off uncharacteristically early, and as soon as the offering plates were returned to the front of the church, I awoke her with an urgent message to pray. Without lifting her head, she took the note and passed it to my mother, who had moved into the pew behind us. In an instant, I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I knew that I was about to hear from Heaven, loud and clear. (Needless to say, there was not to be a family picnic that day!)
For the next three months, I worked at home, at the Cratty farm, and even at church. On the final day of my penance, I was dusting the pews when Rev. Nash quietly slid onto the bench where I was working. "What you did was wrong and very embarrassing to Miss Cratty. However," he continued, "it taught me that I occasionally need to listen to a voice other than my own. Sometimes you can hear a thousand sermons in a baby's first cry or witness a thousand miracles as winter turns to spring. And sometimes, Heaven speaks volumes in the prayers of a saintly old lady."
The years have passed, but I have never forgotten the two important life lessons I learned during that summer of my youth. First, you should never pass notes in church. And more importantly, in both the ordinary and the unusual events of life, you should always be ready to listen....... when Heaven speaks.
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Farms, Inc., 2008
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