A Sanctuary from the Coming Storm

A home when the storm clouds fill the sky. Photograph: J Gerald Crawford
A home when the storm clouds fill the sky. Photograph: J Gerald Crawford

IT WAS SUNDOWN, and the day was dying.

He had been walking down a dirt road for hours.

Maybe it had been days.

He was tired.

He was thirsty.

The clouds had hidden the sun.

The day wasn’t cool.

But it was comfortable.

In the distance, he heard the roar of thunder before he saw the dry lightning write his name in the sky.

It was there only an instant.

Then it was gone.

It was a sign, he thought.

No, he decided.

Maybe it was an omen.

John had quit his job two months ago.

He left town and didn’t look back.

He had nothing there anymore.

His wife was gone.

She took the kids.

The bottle was empty.

The rent was paid until Monday.

He didn’t care about the rent.

He wasn’t going back.

He sold his car in Dimmitt to have eating money.

And he started walking.

“Where you going?” asked the man who bought his car.

“East.”

“Got family there?”

“No.”

“Catching a bus?”

“I’ll walk.”

“It might be a long way.”

“It usually is.”

The clouds grew thicker and darker.

The thunder grew louder.

The lightning tips raced along the ground, and dust scattered.

He could smell the rain.

Sweet.

The scent of flowers.

He looked around him.

Flowers hadn’t bloomed in West Texas for a long time.

A little church lay at the far end of the road.

He saw the steeple and ignored the sign.

Didn’t care who worshipped there.

Might be Baptists.

Might be Pentecostals.

Might be somewhere in between.

All John knew was that its roof would keep the rain out of his face.

He walked inside.

The sanctuary was dark.

No sun touched the stained glass windows.

If the Lord wasn’t there, John knew he was alone.

He had been alone for a long time, even in a crowd.

Didn’t like it.

Was used to it.

He sat down in a pew and heard the voice behind him.

It was a whisper.

“I’m glad you came today,” the voice said.

John turned around.

The man behind him was old, gray-haired, and a little too plump.

He wore overalls and a frayed white shirt.

His eyes were a faded blue.

“Who are you?”

For John, it was the obvious question.

“I take care of God’s house,” the man said.

“He ever come?”

The man smiled.

“He never leaves,” he said.

John laughed.

“What kind of church is it?” he asked.

“I thought you knew.”

“I have no idea.”

The man smiled again.

“It’s your church,” he said.

“I don’t have a church.”

“Pick up the Bible,” the man said. “It’s in the pew beside you.”

“Why?”

“It has your name in it.”

John laughed again.

“Where?”

“On page ninety-four.” The old man laughed softly. “Right behind Matthew, Mark, and Luke.”

There it was on page ninety-four, just like the old man said.

The Book of John.

“How did you know my name?”

Silence.

John turned around.

The old man was gone.

John never left the town.

John seldom left the church house.

It had been a long walk.

It had been a long time.

John was home.

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