On What Matters

Entry by: Tauren

12th January 2017
“The Lord God in his firmament has only one thing on his mind,” the reverend Jacob said, leaning his tall broad frame over the pulpit, pointing a finger upwards towards heaven. A hundred pairs of eyes following it, seeing only the tent canopy, “And do you know what that is, do you know upon what matter the Almighty ponders so gravely?”
A smattering of muttered, “No`s,” greeted his question.

“Do you think the Almighty concerns himself with the order of the stars?” he asked.
This was answered with more vocal “No`s.”

“Do you think the orbits of the planets disturb him one jot?”
The crowd, louder now, “NO.”

“Does the behaviour of the beasts in the fields cause him to reflect on his creation?”
There was a creaking of seats as the flock leaned forward in the folding chairs and almost roared, “NO!”

The pastor stepped to his left, out from behind the pulpit, “No,” he exclaimed loudly, “No the Almighty is concerned with only one thing….. SIN,” the last word bursting from him in a hiss.

He strode back and forth across the altar, “Yes Brother`s and Sister`s it is Sin, S.I.N. that is his business, and we are all sinners, oh yes we are, even me,” this pronouncement was greeted with scattered female cries of, “No,”

“Oh yes Brother`s and Sister`s I stand before you today ashamed, for I am a sinner,” this was met with more denials. “Oh yes my brethren I must confess, for only through confession can we unburden ourselves, I have sinned.”
“I have deceived others,”
“Oh yes, I have deceived others and worse, I have stolen.
“Oh yes, and worse, I have fornicated with women, I have been a drunk and a gambler and worse, oh so much worse, for I was issued forth in a city of sin…… Chicago.”
Each confessed sin was greeted with louder and louder exclamations of denial until the whole tent was shouting “NO.”

He went on as if they hadn’t spoken, luxuriating in the fact that he could confess even to murder and they would deny him his guilt.
“I was lower than a snake, lower even than a worm, reached a point where I thought I was surely hell bound, so sure that one night I stole a gun and put it to my head.” He put the first two fingers of his right hand to his temple, mimicking a gun and said, “Lord I am not worthy of the life you gave me.” He paused allowing the tension to build, each of them teetering on the edge of their seats, every eye fixed on him.

“And do you know what happened next?” he asked; transfixed, no-one made a sound, too terrified, as if in doing so they might break some spell.

“I pulled the trigger,” he said, and dropped his cocked thumb. “Oh Lord Jesus in heaven,” a woman near the front cried, going into an exaggerated swoon.

“But the good Lord spared me,” he said, “for it was he who prevented the gun from firing, and he visited me then, and I, knowing I was not worthy could not face him in my shame.”
He dropped to his knees, shoulders slumped, head bowed, hands clasped in supplication, “And he said to me, “Brother Jacob look at me,” but I could not raise my face to him, and he said, “I have a place for you by my side, if you will do my work.”

“And I replied, but Lord I am a sinner, I am unworthy, that devil Lucifer has possession of my soul, what can I do to regain it, say it and it shall be done.”

“And he said to me, “Repent my son, deny that demon, do you repent?” Slowly he raised his head, straightening his back as he did, a half-smile on his face.

“And I said, yes Lord yes I repent, I confess to you that I am a sinner, but your will be done.” He rolled back onto the balls of his feet, bouncing upright in one easy movement, casting his arms wide, “And in that moment,” he said, “In that moment I felt Lucifer`s grip on me slacken and I knew I was free.”

“Hallelujah,” some of the congregation cried.
“Yes Brother`s and Sister`s Hallelujah indeed, and the task he set me was to go forth and spread his word, to go among the godless and spread his gospel, to show them the way to his light, for in repentance ye shall find forgiveness, in confession ye shall find comfort, can I get a Hallelujah?”

The crowd responded with a lusty “Hallelujah!”

He shook his head, “I say-ad can I get a Hallelujah?”

This time the whole flock roared, “HALLELUJAH!!!”

“Amen Brother`s and Sister`s,” he said.

“Ah wants ta be say-yevd,” a woman`s voice cried from an aisle seat half way down. A heavy woman struggled from her seat, sweat slicked her short brown hair to her head, leaving stained creases in her dress where it had been trapped between rolls of fat, “Ah wants ta be say-yevd,” she repeated as she waddled up the aisle, before collapsing to her knees in front of him, wheezing from the effort, head bowed hands clasped over her chest.

Jacob got to one knee before her and asked, “What is your name Sister?”
“Abigail,” she replied softly.
He got down on both knees folding his hands over hers, “Will you pray with me Sister Abigail?”
She nodded without looking up at him.
“Look at me Sister,” he commanded loudly. Timidly she raised her head; her eyes glistened bright with expectation and fire. He felt her hands begin to quiver under his own, no he realised not just her hands her whole body was shaking, like an enormous bowl of jello in an earthquake, he smiled at her, feeling the shudder of pleasure as it passed through her.
“Do you confess your sins?” he said.
“Yes,” she replied softly.
“I said,” He thundered, “Do you confess your sins Sister?”
“Yes, yes I am a sinner,” she nearly shouted back
“And do you repent?” he asked.
“Oh yes, yes I repent; save me reverend.”
He released her hands, placing both of his on her forehead shouting, “In the name of God I cast thee out Lucifer, begone, this woman is pure once more,” and shoved, she fell backwards her eyes rolling, shuddering in an orgasm of ecstasy.

Jacob hopped to his feet, threw his hands in the air and shouted, “Hallelujah she is saved, praise Jesus.”

The congregation responded in kind as two ushers helped the woman back to her seat. Taking her cue Sister Claire began to play `bringing in the sheep` on the bellows organ, Sister Angela beating time on a tambourine, the crowd singing and clapping along.

“Bringing in the sheep, bringing in the sheep, we shall go rejoicing bringing in the sheep,”

Jacob turned away to face the ten foot high cross at the rear of the altar, once more dropping to his knees, head bent as four more ushers worked the aisles, passing the collection plates along the rows. Jacob was not, as he seemed deep in prayer, but listening for the clink of coins, in the nearly ten years he`d been working the circuit he`d never been able to disguise the tick of annoyance on his face when he heard the sound of coin on coin, so instead he pretended to be praying. Jacob was a man with a vision, a vision that could not be nickel and dimed into existence, he had plans of swapping the teepee for the T.V. and airtime cost money.

An hour later, once services were over and the last of the people were trickling out he saw the young woman standing alone near the exit, eyeing him coyly, her ankle length dress, despite the oppressive August swelter, chastely buttoned to her throat. He turned to one of the ushers, “Gimme ten minutes,” he murmured to Dayle, tilting his head towards the woman. Dayle smiled back at him, “Sure boss,” and wandered over to her to tell her that she was going to have a private audience with the good reverend.

In his trailer Jacob stripped to his skivvies, wiping himself down a damp towel from the ice-box, revelling in its sting as he wiped the sweat from his skin.

He had not been christened Jacob but Brian, Brian O`Hannigan, son of Irish immigrants, who had what his mother called "the gift of the gab." she liked to claim that her own father had not only kissed the Blarney stone; but swallowed a piece of it whole, that he could, “Charm the paint off the walls,” and that Brian had inherited this gift.

At seventeen the young Brian had been sent to stay with his mother`s cousins in Tennessee and it was there that he encountered the reverend Bob Willis. His mother`s cousin, a devout born again Christian had taken him to a tent revival one evening and he had sat enthralled watching the silver haired old man mesmerise the crowd, saw dirt poor farmers dropping dollar bills, money they could ill afford to spend, into the collection plates as they were passed around and knew he`d found his calling.

He returned night after night, begging reverend Bob to take him on. The old man, seeing a mirror of himself in the younger man finally agreed, starting him as an usher while schooling him in the art of preaching. Night after night Brian studied the Bible, paying particular attention to the fire and brimstone passages, copying them out so he could memorise them.

It would have astonished his teachers to see him so diligent in his studies, particularly Brother Thomas, who had identified him as a lollygagger early on and took pleasure in punishing him at every opportunity. In the tenth grade one steamy September afternoon as Brother Thomas reached for the leather, Brian, now a full head taller than the teacher decided enough was enough and hit the old man with the first thing that came handy, which in this case was a chair, breaking the old man`s jaw, knocking out four of his teeth in the process, which was why he`d had to move south.

After two years Reverend Bob let him do midweek sermons and two years later the old preacher retired, giving tent and trailer to his apprentice in return for ten per-cent of the weekly take, passing away in Miami later that year with a smile on his face while under the ministrations of a prostitute.

It had been ten months previously, while watching a man in a black suit advertising cars on the T.V. that the idea had struck, he was no different than that man. He was a salesman too, selling hopes of a life in the hereafter instead of Buicks and Fords, but selling is selling, God or autos there was no difference when you came right down to it. A religious man might have called it a revelation, but despite his boundless knowledge of the good book, the only Almighty Brian, or Jacob believed in, was the almighty dollar.

He was just fastening the collar of a fresh shirt when there was a soft hesitant knock on the trailer door, damn, he thought and took his position, kneeling before the small altar, running his hands through his hair to slick it back.

“Come in,” he said.

The pretty girl from the tent saw him kneeling when she entered and blurted, “Oh reverend I`m sorry…” almost backing out again.

“It`s okay Sister,” he said blessing himself, “I was just finishing.”

He turned and was a little disappointed to see she had already undone the top three buttons of the dress; he preferred it when they made a show of protesting their innocence.

“Won`t you pray with me?” he said, reaching out, resting his hands on her hips, pulling her to him.
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