Two Bishop Applicants
Dreamed 1984/11/21 by Chris Wayan
I'm in Stanford University's Old Quad, sitting in a pew in Stanford Cathedral, a pseudo-medieval masterpiece with a famous pipe organ. Why's a pagan sitting in a pew? Well, a position as bishop here has just opened up. It's a prestige job and they got lots of applicants, but after checking their references, only two look really good. I know know some of the hiring-committee members, and on a hunch, I asked to sit in. (Of course there's a hiring committee. This is Stanford. Everything has a committee.)
Candidate One, Philip, is a pudgy, pompous, middle-aged man from Oxford. A sharp, cultured mind, though put to no good use, I think. Dissolute, that's the word. I don't like him--for no good reason, I admit. He knows his stuff.
He gives a sample sermon, "The Power of the Word." As he scrawls examples on a blackboard, his handwriting alone shows he's a true Oxfordian: he crosses his T's with a downward slanting slash that centers to the right of the stem, not on it. And sometimes instead of the standard t-stem he writes the Russian one, that looks just like a lowercase m, but still with his slanting cross-bar. Takes some getting used to! Unique to the Oxford colleges.
Soon as he's written the Words he plans to demonstrate, he scurries down from the pulpit and shepherds us out to a safe place to manifest the Word: out front, in the Old Quad. As we blink in the California sun at the palms and sandstone arches and Spanish tile rooves, the Candidate patters on like a magician waiting for the girl to slip out of the concealed chamber and pop out of the birdcage...
The Holy Words he chose were: "unicycle", "veal," "mousse," and "scream."
With a bounce and a clatter, the unicycle falls from Heaven onto the cobbles. He strolls over, hauls the thing upright, and pedals around in a clumsy, halting circle. Okay, it's a job skill. On my form, I check the box for "balance".
Another rubbery thud, but smaller this time. Thud. Thudthud. A drumming as the Quad dances in veal cutlets like hailstones. As an ethical vegetarian I feel creepy about these tons of meat--especially veal! Animal torture! Well, maybe not: this was the Word made manifest. Maybe he did it to prove a point--it's straight from God, not cages and slaughterhouses. "Still" I think, "picking veal shows what Oxfordian privilege will do to you. Kind of insensitive!"
Then comes the mousse. Ugh, ugh, ugh. Big dark bird-shits splat all over, cover us all with chocolate mud, glazing the meat-heaps with goo. When the storm lulls at last, he explains "I chose this Word to show how precisely God fulfills our prayers. First, God can spell. We did not get a rain of moose." Thank you thank you THANK you, God and Philip! "And second: God notes context! What follows a main course of veal: dessert, or hair gel?"
Then the screaming begins. I jam my fingers in my ears but it still hurts. The sound of angels being tortured, just to answer this man's prayer, so he can get a job. We're all shaking when the last sobs and moans die away.
The hills of meat and pudding, though, stay. The first jays land and start pecking curiously. I see why we stepped outside. God's word is eternal, too. None of your fairy gold here! This garbage isn't fading away at dawn. His Word has consequences.
Shaken but impressed by the first candidate, we adjourn for lunch, though I just go home and shower and change. After his demo, I don't feel much like eating.
The heap is still there, under a shimmering, squirming, screeching feather-quilt of blue jays and brown sparrows and black ravens, feasting on veal and mousse, when we return to the Quad for candidate number two. We assemble in the Church, but the candidate's late. We hung a CLOSED sign on the door, but a child wanders into the nave. No, not wanders. She climbs the steps to the pulpit. She's about ten, frail and birdlike, with dark straight hair and pale skin.
THIS is our second candidate? Yes. Jane.
Jane speaks nervously to us--no, to God directly, just loud enough for us to overhear. "I tell the truth, God. Everything I say is true. It's too much power. What am I to do?" She sounds troubled by her hotline to God. After the last guy we don't doubt it's real, but I wonder if she means God tells her the truth, making her a living oracle able to answer any question... or if what she says COMES true--not single words, but everything she says.
No need to guess; she shows us. "Hitler's war was terrible," she murmurs, "but at least his advisors talked him out of exterminating the Jews." And as she says it, it's not just true now, but in the past: I remember the Holocaust only as a science-fictional notion, an unlikely dystopia used for satire in Norman Spinrad's book The Iron Dream. The death camps were never built; Europe's bustling with Jews; no Israel, just Palestine from the sea to the borders of Iraq, a parliamentary monarchy under young King Hussein...
Jane calls from the pulpit "How..." and my head swims for a minute as I'm pulled back here and now, and again as I realize how much here-and-now's been edited. "How can ANYONE use such power responsibly? I could turn the Old Hexagon into a Quadrangle, with a word." The earth shudders, and I nearly dart for the door--I grew up here, with California quakes.
But this isn't geology. Just a child talking with God. I force myself to wait till she's done before walking slowly, calmly, out, listening to the committee members say "I don't know; she's very powerful, but not exactly respectable."
As we file out, into the Old Hex.
A NOTES NEXT MORNING
Whew. How embarrassing. I interviewed my own mind! Pompous jerk. But powerful, I notice. The jays would vote for him.
And then Jane, my timid, dangerously powerful soul, scared of the responsibility, but, I notice, using the power freely, and pretty constructively. Though for an inner child, she's not very New Age. Classic Witch is more her thing. What a wicked taste in puns! "The Old Hex", indeed.
A NOTE TWENTY-EIGHT YEARS LATER
Looking back on this surreal dream of my workplace--I filed catalog cards fifty yards away in the old wing of Green Library--I now see it as a prompt to get out and get on with my real life. Not as a catalog filer, or (at the time it seemed a big step up) a professor--or preacher.
As a witch.
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