As Father Ring had not gotten through, Sunday morning Mass could not be said. An offering, instead, was made toward Julian's safe return—prospects for which grew bleaker with each mounting inch of snow. Even Sister Zoe's peculiar optimism paled. She led the prayers herself, a more than able stand-in for the priest. Father Ring—righteous, stern, respectable, and hopelessly unimaginative. Not unlike the Church, which still refused to ordain women—another bone of contention in Sister Zoe's unorthodox theology. So much dogma, laid down so long ago, long before the Lord's apologists had had the dimmest glimmerings of the equity of souls.

She looked across the congregation's prayer-bowed heads. Could people but perceive that all were equal in the eyes of God, that "male" and "female" were not spiritual distinctions but merely physical ones—a single chromosome's difference—how drastically the world would change... and the nun could not help thinking, 'for the better.' She sighed. Actually, it was not the long-familiar blight of chauvinism about which she was worried. A patient had been missing for close to forty-seven hours, thirty-six without her even knowing. Had only she not relaxed the surveillance or insisted that Julian keep coming for his pills. But no, she had given orders to Sister Clara to discontinue watching, and the medication was now in Julian's hands.

The voices of the faithful sang. If it seemed at times that prayer went unheard, she knew God always listened to these psalms. They were so beautiful. The notes rose, floating to the heights like liberated bits of light. Music changed the nature of the air, making it a medium through which the Word could effortlessly travel.

Coats were rustled. The few who had braved the weather, lassoed collars with their scarves. Boots were snapped, zipped, or buckled. The chapel doors were opened with a howling rush of frosted wind. And the nuns plus patients, in single file, departed... leaving Sister Zoe alone.

"Dear Lord, I am Thy servant; deeply flawed, yet ever willing to tread the path Thy loving Light has clearly shown. Thou speakest to me in words that have no letter, in sentences devoid of sound, teaching me to listen as one listens for a pulse, through touch. I throb with joy whenever I comprehend Thy holy Meaning. Lord, this day, I humbly ask for guidance. A child is lost, a child of Thine, whose life I fear has still too many questions left unasked, too many unanswered. Please bless our search, dear Lord, and, if it be Thy will, let him be found."

She crossed herself, genuflected, and left her prayer to echo in the omnipresent Consciousness of God.


A roof overhead...

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