A Lesson

Heidi Heitz


The desk, the carpet, and the walls were all gray. The boy looked up, his eyes filled by the man's broad wool suit-covered torso. The man paced the small office in silence, slowly circling the massive desk that was its centerpiece, passing closely in front of the boy each time. The boy kept his eyes on the ground, inspecting the carpeting until the man suddenly spoke.

"This is indefensible." His voice was at once grave, even, and forceful. The boy's eyes trailed to the carpet again as the man made a few more turns round the room, his feet going in and out of the boy's field of vision. They were large to match his large but spare frame. "Tell me John do you know why you're here?"

"I was not quiet during devotions," said the boy.

"That's true-but there's much more to it than that, John." The man continued to pace. The subtle smell of his perspiration reached the boy. The boy thought of lemons.

The man continued, "You were the only one in the devotions auditorium who was not able to maintain the proper attitude of respect-the proper posture-today."

"I am sorry sir," said the boy.

"This does not concern me John. This is a matter between you and God. It is because you can't yet recognize that-that I am here. Tell me, John, what is the purpose of devotions?"

"To pray," said the boy. "-to rededicate ourselves daily to God." He found it difficult to look the man in the eye. Instead he studied the man's shoes. While the man's eyes were steel-toothed, hair-triggered traps, his feet almost looked pretty in their hand-tooled, tawny leather shoes. Almost everything about the man-his hair the skin of his face, neck, and hands, his gray woolen suit, and white cotton dress shirt-was impeccably arranged. He had a fašade of firmness and smoothness interrupted only by the intermittent flare of his eyes and, far below, the dishevelment of the surface of his shoes: the irregular texture of their leather-the scuffs around their periphery and the trailing of delicate creases over where his toe joints must be.

"Those of us in administrative positions here at the Academy take our jobs very seriously, John," said the man. "Of all the skills of inquiry and exposition we try to foster in you boys, by far the most important is a skill that combines both inquiry and exposition. This is proper devotional prayer. You are to inquire into the deepest core of yourself, probing for the seeds of sin. And then you are to expose-to lay before God-what you have found, and to ask Him to guide you in rooting out all remnants of those seeds. This is a constant process, John, and there are many complexities involved-and that is why we set aside time here at the Academy for you boys to practice devotions. That is why we have video cameras in the devotions auditorium allowing us to watch you boys as you hear the sermon and then settle into your own silent prayers.

"You see, John, the human body is the vessel of the spirit. But it is a special kind of vessel. It is elastic in a way-malleable. Movements of the spirit cause the vessel-the body-to change and move. The state of our spirits-our own spiritual hygiene-can be observed in the posture, carriage, and actions of our bodies."


The man had been standing still for some time now-straight as a post-looking directly at the boy. He continued "John, we have video cameras positioned at strategic locations-well-positioned to take care of any contingency-that is, John, any problem that might arise. Your faltering during prayer today is just that sort of problem. The obvious relaxation of your back and neck muscles suggested to me a laxness in your spirit. It is the sort of thing that can be the beginning of spiritual disaster."

"Yes sir-It's like the school's motto-'pray hard,'" said the boy.

"That's right boy-we must pray hard."

Euphemism Campus Box 4240 Illinois State University, Normal, IL 61790-4240