Short Story: Faith of her Fathers

Emily at AtH asked about Commander Ni Drako’s conversion to Christianity, and I offered to post this story. I wrote it some time ago, but opted not to work it into the Cat books. It takes place during her early days with the 58th Regiment of Foot.

Brigadier General Joschka Graf von Hohen-Drachenburg sorted through his mail one morning and found a note from England. He set it aside for the moment. When he remembered to open it that afternoon, he found a brief message from his associate Brigadier Jonathon Eastman of the British Branch. “Joschka, Rachel’s gone native. Joined the Church of England on September 29. Am waiting for the rabbi to serve bacon-wrapped lobster at break-fast on Yom Kippur or for Liverpool to win the European Cup. Johnny.”

Joschka stared at the note. “I don’t believe it,” he whispered. Except he did. But how, and why, would she abandon whatever faith she had in favor of Christianity? Adopting the Azdhag religion made more sense. Then he remembered: she’d told him once that the Azdhagi practiced ancestor worship. His mouth twitched as he imagined Rachel invoking “father, whoever you were.” But that still left the question of what on Earth or in Heaven had caused her to pick the Church of England. He could hardly wait to ask Johnny in person.

He got his chance a few months later. Eastman played with his empty wine glass and shook his head. “It surprised me, Joschka, it truly did.”

 

Father Tom Pryce-Wade heard an unfamiliar voice as he strolled past the rear of the main headquarters building and paused, then stopped. One of the last things he expected to hear around a military base during duty hours was singing and yet a tune sung by a lovely lyric soprano voice, if he judged correctly, floated on the morning breeze. The soaring composition stopped, and the singer began a new tune. Father Tom couldn’t make out the words but the sprightly, infectious melody made him want to dance. Now exceedingly curious, the chaplain retraced his steps and followed the sound to the open windows of the laboratory.

He had not met the lab’s occupant and on impulse Father Tom walked up and knocked on the back door. The music ceased abruptly and after a few seconds a petite woman opened the door. “Um, hello?” She said, obviously nonplussed by the man with thinning mousy-brown hair, pale blue eyes, and a “dog collar” instead of standard uniform blouse who appeared on the back step.

“Good morning. I’m Father Tom Pryce-Wade, the new chaplain. I don’t want to disturb you, but I heard you singing,” he started.

She flushed a bit, because as he learned much later, the lyrics he’d heard were not the sort one usually sang around clergy. “Ah, come in, please. You’re not interrupting anything.” He followed her into the compact and well-organized lab. She shut the door and introduced herself as Commander Rachel Na Gael, the Xenology Specialist. Both her youth and her missing right eye and scarred cheek surprised him, but Father Tom had been a military chaplain since shortly after taking holy orders, so injuries didn’t disturb him anymore.

“Commander, do you sing choral music?”

She looked puzzled for some reason. “Choral music? Oh, you mean singing in parts with other people?”

“Yes, exactly that,” he agreed.

“I have, but only a few times. I tend not to frequent places where that’s done. And you’ll have to excuse my ignorance, Father. British English is not my first language,” she gave an apologetic smile.

Father Tom couldn’t say later why he asked his next question, except for the prompting of the Holy Spirit. “Would you like to sing in the chapel choir I’m organizing? You’d only sing two Sundays a month and on major feasts.”

“Er, um,” the woman stammered, “ah, I don’t belong to your religion. Whichever one it is.”

Now it was the priest’s turn to flush a little. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize,” he started.

“No, really, it’s quite all right. You couldn’t know,” and they were interrupted by the intercom. “Excuse me.” He took the opportunity to go back out and finish his walk, mulling over the meeting.

Once presented with a challenge, Father Tom rose to the occasion. And here was a challenge indeed! Although he couldn’t sing that well, he knew a good voice when he heard one, and the priest imagined the different motets and hymns he and the small choir could do with the support of a second decent treble.  However, he needed to know more about Commander Na Gael if he was going to persuade her to join the choir. The adjutant, Capt. Elizabeth FitzWilliam, sang alto and would be in a position to help him. “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation,” he quoted as he made his plans.[1]

Captain FitzWilliam was as puzzled as Father Tom. “No, I had no idea that she sang, Father. She doesn’t come to any of the services, as far as I’ve seen or heard, but then I don’t think anyone has ever invited her.”

“Can you tell me where she comes from, Captain? She commented that English isn’t her first language and the words I heard were in a foreign language. Her accent sounds half-German, half-Scottish.”

“Commander Na Gael isn’t really from anywhere, according to her records. You’ll probably have to ask Brigadier Eastman, since he’s the one who hired her,” FitzWilliam said, skimming an appointment book. “He doesn’t have anything scheduled for this afternoon at 1500, if you’d like me to have the sergeant pencil you in.”

“Please do. Thank you, Captain. The Lord be with you,” he said.

“And with thy spirit, Father.”

General “Johnny” Eastman laughed, dark eyes dancing as he heard Father Tom’s account of the early morning meeting. “I should have introduced you before, Father. And this goes no farther than this office, understand?”

Since he already held Most Secret clearances, Father Tom nodded. “I understand, sir.”

“Rachel’s not from this planet and she’s not human. She says that the name of her species translates into English as ‘the Wanderers’. ” He stopped to let the information sink in as Father Tom blinked, hard.

“That’s a first,” the priest managed. “But she still has a lovely voice.”

“I’ve never heard it, since she keeps herself to herself. I think she’s still not quite comfortable around us, Father.”

Now it was Father Tom’s turn to laugh. “Then I can use ‘learning how to act like a normal person’ as a lure into the choir. But how to approach her?”

“Work through Lieutenant Khan,” Eastman suggested. “She knows him and he’s familiar enough with her to be able to persuade her.”

And so they did. Rachel listened to Father Tom’s and Rahoul Khan’s arguments and invitations, said she’d think about it, and appeared in the chapel promptly at twenty-one hundred hours that Thursday. She had not seen musical notation before, but learned how to read music within the space of the week. Rahoul explained about the Eucharist and Father Tom encouraged her to stay through mass but remain in the choir seats. One of the sergeants, a bass, sat with her. He belonged to an African Pentecostal denomination that only took communion on Easter. Commander Na Gael expressed little interest in Christianity, but she certainly added depth to the small choir and Father Tom, General Johnny, and others encouraged her to keep singing. That state of affairs continued until late that fall.

 

Christ the King Sunday had just passed and Father Tom sat in his cluttered office, getting ready for the Advent season, reviewing a proposed schedule of masses and services as he sipped his morning coffee, a legacy of a stint in the United States. He pondered substituting a Ladymass on Gaudete Sunday, the third of Advent, then decided against it because of the hazard of last-minute changes. Then her heard a knock at his door.

“Come in.”

A brown-haired figure peered around the corner. “Father, do you have a few minutes to answer some questions?”

He cleared a space on the desk, “Certainly Commander, come in.” She did as asked and he noticed that she had a hymnal and a Bible with her. She sat down and looked a bit uncomfortable, then started.

“I’m confused about this Trinity and Jesus idea, Father. I’m used to three gods, so that part makes sense. But what I don’t understand is how your version works,” and she opened the hymnal to the Nicene Creed. “Begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. . . We believe in the holy Spirit, the Lord the Giver of Life who proceeds from the Father and the Son. . .” she recited.

“You would pick the hard bit, wouldn’t you,” the priest smiled. “We believe that God is only one God. However, He sent part of Himself to be born as human, in order to redeem the world from sin. In the same way He sends part of Himself as the Holy Spirit to guide and advise us. Think of it as three coins made of the same metal. They are all gold coins from one ingot, but each has a slightly different stamp and wear on it.”[2]

“God becomes mortal?” She sounded dubious.

“Here. Turn to Luke 1: 26-38. That’s what you are singing about all of this Advent season,” Father Tom said.

She read the Annunciation story and then looked up. “That’s impossible.”

He smiled wider, “That’s the point. Nothing is impossible for God, especially a God who loves us enough to come and become mortal.”

She pondered a bit longer as he finished his coffee. “Oh, and that’s another question Father. The hymn the Americans like so much, ‘Come Thou Fount,’ has a verse about ‘oh to Grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be.’ That matches my religion but doesn’t fit with the rest of the song.”

Father Tom seized the chance. “Tell me about your religion, Rachel, and maybe we can see where the differences and similarities are.”

“The Traders believe in three gods. If I translate their names into English, they come out as the Bookkeeper, the Paymaster, and the Debt Collector, although there are meanings in their names that your words don’t express. The Bookkeeper makes the tally of your debits and credits from your birth until death, totaling the results at the very end. If you have more credits than debts to your account, then the Paymaster rewards you after you die. But if there are still unpaid debts, the Debt Collector pursues you for eternity, and your best hope is to be born again and allowed to try to build up more credits to offset your earlier debt. If he catches you, then it’s like the human concept of Hell,” she explained. “There is more to it than that, but I, ah, I set out on my own before I was taught the mysteries.”

“Interesting, Rachel. Is there a way to know how you stand in the debit/credit lists?”

“Not that I’ve ever heard of, Father. You try to keep up on your own, but there’s always a chance that you missed something, usually a debt. Some people try to build up credits in advance of doing something they know will cost them, like insulting the head of the tarqi or cheating another Trader, but it’s not recommended. So I understand the debtor part of the verse, but not the rest,” and she pointed to the line.

Father Tom read, “‘May thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee. Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love, Here’s my heart, oh take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.’ Yes, I can see where that would be confusing. What do you understand about grace?”

An hour or so later, the office door opened fully and Rachel walked out, a very thoughtful expression on her face. “Please come back when you have more questions, Rachel. It’s a rare chance I get to discuss theology and church history!” Father Tom encouraged her as she drifted off, surrounded by a cloud of new ideas.

Between Christmas and Easter Rachel continued to sing with the choir, as she and they were able to meet, and visited Father Tom three or four more times with questions about religion and Christianity. He could tell that the whole concept of “faith in a personal God” was problematic for her and didn’t push her in any way. She did have interesting questions, though, and he enjoyed the opportunity she presented.

It was just after Easter when Capt. FitzWilliam approached him. “Father Tom, have you talked to Commander Na Gael recently?”

“No, not since the middle of Lent. Why?”

“She asked if it would be a problem if she came to the Methodist service in the village with me. And Lt. Khan says that she’s asked him about some church things and his understanding of Christianity.” The pink-cheeked captain glanced around and leaned forward. “Do you think she might be considering converting?”

Father Tom rocked back a bit. “I don’t know, Captain. But I’ll pray about it, and please let me know how things progress.”

He gave it some thought later on. The only obstacle he could think of was if she reacted poorly to the idea of special creation, that God had chosen humans as His own, of all the creatures in the Universe. Although, since that had been devised long before anyone had a hint that there might be other intelligent forms of life in Creation, he could explain it away. This would be a bit of a coup—an alien converting to the Church of England! However, she could just be doing research into how different people worshiped, which would explain everything as well as would a true interest in conversion.

The Anglican priest didn’t see his part-time chorister much that summer, but then no one else saw her much, either. She took a long leave of absence in June and July and two scientists from Cambridge came in part-time to cover for her. Rachel reappeared in late August, but aside from choir practice didn’t seek out the chaplain.

In early September she knocked on his door, expression troubled. “Father Tom, do you have time to talk?”

This didn’t sound like a theological matter and he promptly cancelled his earlier plans. “Yes, please, come in. What’s going on?”

She bit her lip and then ventured, “Psalm 69. I was reading through those Psalm things as a way to learn more so I would quit stumbling through the liturgy and I found that one. It bothers me.”

He turned to the offending chapter. “Save me, o God; for the waters are come in unto my soul.”

She shook her head. “No, farther on. Four and eight.”

“They that hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of mine head; they that would destroy me, being mine enemies wrongfully, are mighty.” He read through to, “I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother’s children.” He looked up from his reading. “It is a bitter cry, Rachel. Is that why it bothers you?”

“No, what I want to know is how does He know about me? About my situation?” She hunched over a bit and continued, “So much of this one sounds like my life that it’s a little scary, Father.”

“He knows because He knows everything, and cares for everything, Rachel. And because you are not the only person who’s ever have had problems with their family,” Father Tom pointed out.

She pondered for a while and seemed to make up her mind about something. “Father, I want to become a Christian.”

“Why? Not that I’m discouraging you,” the priest assured her, “but you realize that this is a major commitment?”

She took a deep breath before replying, “Because it feels right, Father, as if there has been something missing that this fills in. And because the prospect of something waiting after death besides more pain greatly appeals to me. By my father’s people’s tradition, to use your terms, I’m damned without any hope of redemption, no matter what I believe or how many credits I build up.” Father Tom could hear the hopelessness in her voice and offered up a plea for inspiration.

“Tell me about it Rachel, as much as you can. Whatever you say will never leave this office,” he said as he shut and locked the door. She did, leaving him shaking his head and wondering again how people could be that petty and cruel.

After giving her account, she looked up and asked, “What do I need to do to join the Church?”

“Believe in God, confess your sins, and accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. That’s all there is, if your heart and mind are truly ready,” he told her.

She bit her lip again and nodded. “I want to, no, I need to do this, Father Tom. I can’t face what’s waiting for me out there for much longer without some kind of help and hope.”

He opened the Book of Common Prayer. “I’m not going to put you through all the questions, because I know what we’ve talked about and what you’ve seen during services. Do you believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, and in His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the Holy Spirit . . ?” And they went through the confession and she gave her statement of faith.

After they finished, he embraced her, “I welcome you to the body of Christ,” and said her true name. She stiffened at the sound and he pursed his lips. “It is traditional for the baptism of children to be when they are given their names. We can adjust the rite of baptism for adults to allow you to use something other than what your people call you,” he offered, and she nodded emphatically.

“Yes, please! Because most of what they call me is not suitable for repetition in a religious service!” She managed a weak smile. “How about the name I use now?”

“Rachel is traditional and actually come from the Scriptures,” he started.

She blurted, “From Jeremiah 31:15. I chose the name because of that verse, when I was looking at names to use.”[3]

He continued as if uninterrupted. “And I have just the two people to serve as your godparents, if they are willing. Capt. FitzWilliam’s Methodism is close enough to the Church of England that I’m willing to make an exception this once, if she agrees.”

“While you are tweaking things, may I be excused from any pledges of loyalty to the Queen?” she asked hesitantly. “I don’t foresee a conflict, but since I’m not British or a citizen of a Commonwealth country . . .”

“I think it can be arranged. The bishop can be brought round on matters like that,” Father Tom assured her.

And so it was that a small notice went out that the service on September 29, the feast of St. Michael Archangel, would be a bit longer because of a baptism and confirmation. There was some speculation among the regimental parish members as to whose. No one expected Commander Na Gael, wearing a brown dress, and Capt. Elizabeth FitzWilliam and Lt. Rahoul Khan in their dress uniforms to come forward as sponsors. Father Tom smiled broadly, and began, “Dearly beloved, forasmuch as all men are conceived and born in sin . . .”

 

Eastman finished his tale. “And so the first known space alien to convert to Christianity is a devout high church Anglican.” He shook his head, smiling, and allowed the waiter to refill his glass. “This is not a bad rosé, really.”

“No, it’s not.” Joschka sipped his own wine and hid a smile. Actually, the first alien to convert was a Roman Catholic, but Johnny did not need to know that.

A small box arrived for Rachel Na Gael not long before Christmas. She opened it and discovered a message from Joschka, written in barely legible Trader, and a jewelry box from Vatican City. “Welcome to the faith, Rada.” The box held a small gold cross on a silvery chain. An even smaller St. Michael’s medallion also hung on the chain, just far enough from the cross that they would not touch each other and make noise. She put the necklace on, tucking it inside her collar so no one else would know.

[1] Psalm 95:1, New King James Version

[2] This is the argument used by Basil the Great in the homosious/ homoisious conflict in the early church in 362 AD.

[3] “. . . A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not.”

 

Advertisements

7 thoughts on “Short Story: Faith of her Fathers

Comments are closed.