“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race [is] not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”

~*~Ecclesiastes 9:11~*~

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Chapter Twelve, Part Two

         Elizabeth and Morgan stood shoulder-to-shoulder along the perimeter of the room with many other Children of the Rose members.  It was the same room in which Elizabeth had been baptized and promoted—a small room off one of the hallways in the church.  Elizabeth noticed how different it felt witnessing a promotion, rather than waiting anxiously in the middle of the room for a ceremony to begin, like the Level Twos who were being promoted to Level Three stood now.  She could see Jacqueline, Sandra, and Delia all standing near each other, looking anxiously at the table in front of them.  It was the same set-up from when Elizabeth had been promoted, except with light green scarves and stoles instead of the dark green of Level Two.

            Pastor Simon made his way to the front of the room and scooted behind the makeshift altar.  A distinct silence fell upon the room.  Elizabeth stole a glance around the circle of members standing along the walls.  Most of them she only recognized from seeing them at worship services.  The members of her baptism group that had moved up to Level Two with her were interspersed within the older members.  She made a note that Derek was still nowhere to be found—apparently he still hadn’t moved up to Level Two yet.  Silently, Elizabeth willed Derek to just do what he was told, so she could talk to him again.

            Pastor Simon cleared his throat, and Elizabeth brought her thoughts to a screeching halt, turning all of her attention to the front.

            “Welcome, Children, to this joyous occasion for our family.  Tonight these Level Twos have been selected to become Level Threes, and thus will become even more privy to the beliefs that we hold so close to our hearts—those beliefs that define us as the Children of the Rose,” Pastor Simon began, passing a warm glance over each member standing in the room.  Elizabeth realized that this was very close to the speech given at her promotion.  But then, of course, this was a ritual, she told herself, and there must be some level of similarity at each of the promotion ceremonies.

            “As each person standing in this room knows, we remember Romans chapter fifteen verse one at our promotion ceremonies.  If you please…” Pastor Simon rose his hands, signaling that the Children recite the passage.

            Along with the rest of the Roses in the room, Elizabeth dutifully droned, “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmaries of the weak, and not to please ourselves.”

            Pastor Simon flashed his smile and continued, “Thank you, Children.  As we all know, we remember this on the occasions of promotion because not all members of a baptism group, or promotion group, move to the next level together.  Those being promoted must be willing to be strong enough to carry the weaknesses of those Roses who are not yet mature enough to move to the next rank—they must be willing to help those Roses realize the errors of their ways and help to strengthen their church brothers and sisters.  Promotion requires that you bear the physical and moral weaknesses of the Roses not ready to move up.”  He looked carefully at the Level Twos standing in the middle of the circle.  “Are you Level Twos ready to carry these burdens as you move up to Level Three?”

            “We are,” Jacqueline, Sandra, Delia, and the rest of the Children standing in the center intoned.

            “When your name is called, you will come forward to the altar.  Remove your Level Two stole or scarf and I will put your new Level Three stole or scarf on you.  You will then join the circle of members standing around the room.  Keep your Level Two scarf as a reminder of how far you have come, and how far you have yet to go on your journey to salvation.”

            After each member had been called forward and inducted to Level Three (Sandra had been last in this group, and had proudly walked to the altar, bearing her honor like a medal), Pastor Simon passed out candles to each member.  At the front of the room, he lit the candle of the Rose closest to him, who then passed on the flame.  As the flame made its way around the room, Pastor Simon said the now very familiar speech, “We pass this light to signify the light that God gives this world, and the light that we must pass among our fellow humans by showing the one true way of the Children, the one true sect of Christianity.  We do this in remembrance of the responsibility we have to light the rest of the world, to save the rest of humanity in the true way—the way of the Children of the Rose.  However, we cannot light the rest of the world without lighting our family first.”

            Once the flame had made it around the whole circle, Pastor Simon announced, “Congratulations to our new Level Threes!”

            Every member in the room blew out their candle and rushed to congratulate those who had just been promoted.  Elizabeth quickly found Jacqueline and gave her a tight hug.

            “Congrats!” she cried.  Sandra appeared at her side then and Elizabeth gave her Rose Angel a hug as well.  “Congrats to you too, Sandra!”

            “Thanks,” both girls said in unison, smiling almost identical smiles.

            Heather appeared at Jacqueline’s side then.  Elizabeth hadn’t even noticed that she was in the room.

            “Hi, Elizabeth, it’s great to see you again!” Heather exclaimed, giving Elizabeth a hug.  She then turned and hugged Jacqueline.  “Congratulations, sweetie!”

            “Thanks, Heather!” Jacqueline said, returning the hug.

            “I’m surprised to see you here,” Elizabeth admitted.

            “Why ever would I not come?” Heather asked.  “I’m dear Jacqueline’s Rose Angel, after all.  Didn’t you know that?”  Elizabeth shook her head and Heather laughed.  “No big deal, Elizabeth!  I guess we forgot to tell you that little detail.  We just assumed you knew.”

            Elizabeth shrugged and opened her mouth to say something, but Sandra spoke first.  “We should all go out to dinner, to celebrate.”

            Half an hour later, Heather, Jacqueline, Sandra, Elizabeth, Morgan, and Delia were all seated around a table at the fast food restaurant.  The older girls were chatting animatedly about one thing or another.  Morgan and Elizabeth had dutifully eaten only a few bites of salad each before throwing the plastic bowls in the trash.  Both girls were now sipping water and staring blankly at the tabletop.

            “What’s wrong, guys?” Sandra finally asked.

            “Nothing, just tired,” Morgan answered immediately.

            “Understandable,” Heather said, smiling.

            Elizabeth continued to stare at the table, not even blinking an eye.  She was thinking intently about the conversation she and Morgan had had in the park earlier that week.

            “Elizabeth!” Sandra said sharply, snapping her fingers in front of Elizabeth’s eyes.  Finally, Elizabeth jolted out of her thoughts and blinked a few times.

            “What?” she asked lamely.

            “Where is your mind tonight?  You’ve barely said a word since we left the church.”
            “I was just thinking…” Elizabeth said, stealing a glance at Morgan out of the corner of her eyes before continuing.  “I was just thinking, don’t any of you ever wonder about your choices?  I mean, were you always so sure about your religion…about being a Rose…don’t you ever question what Pastor Simon says?”

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