American Portraits: Man of the Cross

American Portraits: Lord of the Dance
May 3, 2013
I Reason With My Madness
May 6, 2013

“Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His love is everlasting.” Their heads raised with stiff necks, hands remained clasped, fingers interwoven.

“Thank you for the prayer, Father,” the dark-haired man uttered in second-hand English, his accent thick with the dust of the Middle East. The other—an unassuming priest tied with a golden cross around his hairy neck—nodded humbly.

“Why have you come?” the priest asked dubiously, for no son of Allah would enter a church without just cause.

“It is my son, Mohammed. He has foresworn the faith of my ancestors. He is an avowed Christian.”

“What is that to me, Selah?” the cleric countered, eyes shifting in perpetual angst. His shoulder tensed, stretching back, then pushed forward again, rocking in his decades-old orange office chair.

Selah sighed, eyeing the tears in the carpet on the floor. Without looking up, he answered: “You know well what I mean, Priest. It is a stain upon my house and my conscience that I am even here. Why do you play ignorant?”

“I confess nothing, but that a boy has found refuge in the house of God. It is my duty, my oath to the Almighty, to protect him and his faith. What more should I tell you?”

Silence interrupted. All that could be heard for minutes stretching on was the thudding of Selah’s heart, and the noisy tick of the plastic clock on the wall.

Again without looking up, Selah finally replied: “Is it any wonder there were three crusades? And yet, what Christian holds the Holy Land?”

Father sighed without moving, heaving his lungs within himself. Releasing his piously crossed hands, he dropped his chin and straightened the forever recalcitrant cross at his front. It was always crooked, it seemed. “I have nothing to say to that, Selah. I bear you no ill will, but you ask me to remove a convert from my own church—”

“—I ask you to show kindness to your neighbor,” Selah erupted, jumping out of his chair. “Is that not one of your God’s commandments?! To love and serve the other?”

“What is your son to me then?” the priest countered, remaining calm. Selah dropped his arms and mumbled incomprehensibly in Arabic. He turned to leave, then thought better of it.

“There is more at stake here, Priest,” he growled. “You wouldn’t understand. How could you possibly?!”

“I understand what is given to me to understand, Selah. And where I am ignorant, even Allah cannot hold it against me.”

“You bring shame upon my name,” Selah cried.

Father cocked his head, as though looking at him in a different light. “What would you have me do? Your son’s choice is his, not mine.”

“You are a teacher of the church, a shepherd of the flock, are you not?” Selah responded evenly. “Shepherd him back to the faith of his people, then. For you and I both know Allah and God are one and the same. Does it matter if he worships in your house or in ours?”

A laugh burst from the cleric’s barrel chest, shaking his body with an unnatural tremor. For the first time, he gazed up at Selah with a smile. “Perhaps there is most about us in common than we think, friend.” He paused, breathing deeply, once again straightening his cross. He continued with a hopeful strain: “How would it be if he worshipped sometimes here, but also with you? Would that not be possible?”

Selah considered it, though wanted to fight against the reasoned answer. He nodded slowly, his silk suit ruffling at the shoulder. “We will allow Mohammed to worship when he is not expected at the mosque.” There was no more debate, no room for negotiation in his voice.

Father nodded thoughtfully in return. He crossed his legs beneath the chair and leaned forward, the bedazzled cross at his chest now dangling freely in the air. He eyed Selah straight on. “May it be so, my friend. Go in peace, then, and may God keep you.”

“Wa ‘alaykum as-salam,” Salah intoned, bowing slightly, his hand crossing his chest. At his neck, the medallion of St. Christopher caught the light, and as he closed the door behind him, Father couldn’t help but turn a satisfied grin.

“It is finished,” he whispered to himself, and returned to the dog-eared pages of the Koran, set neatly on his desk.


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