"But why can't she attend? Most all of the other patients do."

"We've been through this before. The other patients don't have Marcy's problems."

"But she wants to come. She wants to be a nun."

"Of course she does. We represent the only life she knows. But don't you think it a bit unfair to indoctrinate the girl before she's had the chance to learn who she is?"

"You talk as if you think our faith will hurt her."

The old nun sighed. She knew full well what stood behind these fervent protestations. For though Sister Dana's reports maintained a clinical veneer, there were hints a deeper feeling was involved. And Sister Zoe had watched it happen, trusting it would not get out of hand, and at the same time hoping Marcy might respond to the loving care. But could the young nun's faith be counted on to keep her feelings within the limits of propriety? If not, the risk to each was much too great.

"On the contrary, Sister. Our faith can be quite beneficial, but only when those who would embrace it do so of their own free will."

Sister Dana searched her wits. She and Sister Zoe had argued many times. Outcomes were decided by the sounder reason, not by rank—although to date the younger nun had seldom won.

"Isn't our way the way, Sister Zoe?"

"That is our Church's teaching."

"Then isn't it our duty to encourage Marcy—for the sake of her immortal soul?"

"The issue still is one of choice. I'm sure, having been among us, Marcy will come to understand that our Savior welcomes any and all who seek Him. But we must lead her to herself if later we are to help her find our Lord."

"Well I don't see how Marcy's attending services takes away her choice. Doesn't it do just the opposite?"

The point was well taken. Sister Zoe regretted having withheld her real reason for the prohibition. Better to concede the fault, than to air unorthodox views—especially in front of the impressionable Sister Dana.

"It is not the service; it's the chapel."

Sister Dana failed to follow.

"You're familiar with Marcy's medical file. Consider it for a moment. Now think: what might be upsetting to such a patient about our chapel."

"I couldn't say. I mean, I'm not sure what you're getting at. Unless…"

The apprehension in Sister Zoe suddenly took shape for Sister Dana. The chapel's crucifix! It was, undeniably, graphic, many felt gruesome. And no less so were the Stations of the Cross. There had been a painful controversy when the works were first installed, Sister Zoe among others vehemently objecting. But the sanitarium's Board of Directors unanimously overruled. The artist had been especially commissioned. Endowment funds had been used. And it was deemed too grave a slight to vote for posthumous rejection, since, within a week of completing the works, the artist had died. Thereafter, the nuns did their level best to counteract the morbid atmosphere—keeping fresh-cut flowers in all the chapel's nooks and crannies—but, even so, it took a while before the faithful could adjust. Those uninitiated often found the chapel shocking.

"I'm sorry for doubting your judgment, Sister."

"It is I who must apologize to you, Sister Dana. Had I been open with you, this matter might have been easily resolved."

"I understand, though, Sister."

"You do, yes. I'm glad. But what about Marcy?"

"Oh."

"You told her you were coming to see me?"

"Yes."

"So she'll be disappointed if I don't change my decision. How disappointed?"

"Very, Sister."

"I should have foreseen this. When are you going to see her?"

"As soon as I leave here."

"Send her to me immediately."

"Yes, Sister. I'm sorry, Sister."

The older nun held up her hand.

"No need, no need. The fault is entirely mine."

Sister Dana rose to go. The other nun stopped her.

"By the way, you argued very well."

She flushed with pride.

"Thank you, Sister Zoe."

When she had gone the nun retreated to her chair. She was pensive. The rebuttal she had withheld came into mind. (Isn't our way the way?) She shook her head. Religion was too dear a friend to politics. And doctrine oft corroborated power. Insisting there was one and only one way to salvation was a prime example. Nonsense. If that were true, there would be no use for fertile imaginations. And would not faith be dull indeed if every searching soul trod the selfsame path. Sister Zoe believed there were as many avenues to God as there were men—and women; finding each his or her own was life's adventure.

Though how she had tailored this and other controversial views to fit her habit was at times as much a mystery to herself as to her peers. She dared question, sometimes even challenge, what most believed to be the very tenets of Catholicism. But it was her critics who suffered, not her faith—a faith grown strong from the exercise her reason gave it.

She heard a knock.

Marcy must have run. She panted hello and took the seat that Sister Zoe offered. Her hasty arrival found the nun's plan yet unformulated.

"I didn't expect you so soon. Are you all right?"

Marcy caught her breath.

"Sister Dana said, 'immediately.'"

"And here you are."

"Am I too early?"

"I don't think one can be too early for immediately. No, you're right on time. Thank you for coming."

She paused to evaluate once again this touchy situation. The girl was nervous, anxious, no doubt hopefully expectant, and hung upon the immanent decision… which the nun now made.

"I would like to invite you formally to attend our Sunday service."

Marcy was overjoyed.

"Oh, Sister!"

"You haven't seen our chapel, have you?"

"Only from the outside."

"Perhaps you'll let me show it to you."

Now, you mean? Right now?"

"Immediately."

Marcy sprang to her feet and was at the door before her escort left her chair. She had to wait, however, as the old nun took her time. Together then, they set out toward the chapel.

 

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