HOW DOES A CATHOLIC WRITER’S IMAGINATION WORK?

I

Along with the present moment, each human person carries a past and a vision for their future, These can be brought to the forefront by our human imagination and allow us to better understand our lives. But the Christian imagination and its belief in God presents an even wider view. We have a purpose in being here. Yes, we are here on this earth for a reason.

Without belief in God, comes the perception that what is real is only available through the senses, and that we were created through a chaotic combination of unlikely accidents. If a person thinks this way, God is negated because admitting God creates that purpose beyond the senses. It creates an invisible world, a spiritual world, that is truer and more lasting than the sensual world we can see.

The Catholic vision, the Catholic imagination, understands that –just beside our physical world — there is a spiritual world — and an ongoing battle between good and evil in both. In this battle, we often let go of God, even with the magnificent destiny promised us — eternal life in the presence of God. And yet, in spite of ourselves, we have been given hope.

I

One Common Denominator

The Incarnation

The common denominator, the sole reason, behind Catholic fiction produced by a Catholic imagination, is belief in the Incarnation. God became man, suffered for our sins, and died for love of us. In Catholic novels, God and sin (good and evil) are the forward-moving thrusts. God pursing the sinner is key, and therefore, the revelation that God’s love reaches out to all, not just the righteous.

At first glance, stories that come from the Catholic Imagination may not always be beautiful in our usual sense of the word, because the actions of people are not always beautiful. In fact, they are often plainly ugly. But when the Catholic fiction writer shows the presence of God in our world, the Truth comes out. Ugliness can be redeemed. If this is not sincerely believed by the writer, it shows, and the work falls apart.

II

Subjective Thinking

The fiction writer with a Catholic imagination writes about what is personal to himself. He/she is a subjective thinker, writing as a particular human being created by and directly related to God. For the Catholic writer, human beings exist only because God exists. The writer views himself as a child with a Father who loves him, a child who is often disobedient, and yet, at times completely in line. And he understands that the Father’s love does not disappear in either situation. When a Catholic writer believes himself to be both ugly and beautiful, but nevertheless loved, his imagination will transfer that human mystery to Story.

III

Mystery

The Catholic imagination shines out the existence of a good God even when the human deficiencies of a character keeps that character from recognizing it. The Catholic imagination also shines out evil. Evil is not simply a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be endured. (Flannery O’Connor) A Catholic fiction writer presents a truth that is higher than anything material, an intangible truth, and a mystery that some will not accept.

IV

Becoming

A writer’s characters and their dilemmas are always becoming something either higher, or lower, than before. The becoming is a mystery, too. Key to that mystery is weaving authenticity into the story. Everything in the universe is connected and forever on the move; this is concrete science. The Catholic writer uses the concrete, but aims beyond it through immaterial Truths.

This is a quote from Catholic novelist Walker Percy’s 1983 address to the trainee priests graduating from St Josephs College Seminary in Louisiana. I would add that it speaks also to all who write with a Catholic imagination. The address ended with these words:

Never has there been such loneliness in the midst of crowds, never such hunger in the face of satiation. Never has there been a more fertile ground for the seed and the harvest the Lord spoke of. All that is needed is a bearer of the Good News who speaks it with such authenticity that it can penetrate the most exhausted hearing, revive the most jaded language.

Authenticity is the key word here. The realization that sinners, like each of us, can be redeemed. Think of the beauty in that! Think of how the world is changed when even one sinner is touched by the grace of God!

The Stink in the Sink

Posted: August 27, 2022 in World On The Edge


Sometimes we’re concerned only about appearances; the outside of things. We stuff closets with things we don’t want any visitor to see. We cover our faces with make-up, and our bodies with just the right clothes to make a favorable impression. We say all the things people want to hear whether we believe in them or not. We all do this to some extent.

On the surface it may be harmless–unless we are covering-up–and yes, hiding– an ugliness going on inside us. When we are concerned only with what others think about us, we have no principles. When we say one thing in daylight when everyone is watching, but do another thing in the dark when no one sees us, then we are hypocritical, self-serving, and false human beings who should not be trusted.

Isn’t this what we despise about politicians? Their dishonesty. Their hypocrisy. Their self-grabbing. Politicians polish up the outside of themselves so that they appear to care for the downtrodden, when the downtrodden are only a means to votes.

We see this today, as far as I’m concerned, in the Democratic Party where nothing is too sacred to use for their own selfish gain.

The repugnant and ugly disregard for the American people is increasing. The Democrat Party can no long hide the stink of its hypocrisy. 

Those on the far left of this party are crusted over with hatred, incivility, and an actual call for violence against those they disagree with. They are completely self-serving, without regard for our country. Where are those principled stops that ought to be there?

There are times when any of us may consider an action that is completely self-serving, BUT we don’t, because some life-principle we believe in, stops us. However, there seems to be no life-principle to stop the self-aggrandizement of the left-wingers in this party. No lies they will not tell, no people they will not use, no person they would go out of their way to honestly help.

For nearly two years they have been in a position to actually help the American people and yet they have helped only themselves –. And today? We are losing everything, including our American values upon which this country was built.

Not long ago, our country was finally making gains–big gains of respect which had been so lacking throughout the world, gains in our pocketbooks due to jobs in a booming economy, and a burgeoning strength for Americans of all races–not pitting one race against the other, or one gender against the other to get votes.

In the upcoming congressional election, we the people–all the people, have the ability to keep moving forward. Don’t let the left-wingers destroy our country.

Inside each of us, is the potentiality to do right, or to do wrong. By our life principles we choose the path for one or the other. And before doing so, we make must make judgments, especially when we VOTE.

If there is no judgment, then evil is good and good is evil.–Fulton J. Sheen

I must judge the left-wingers in this party. As an American Citizen and VOTER, I must ask: where are their principles? Where is their path taking America??

I suggest it is not the right path. I suggest that time and time again it has been the wrong path of plunder, self-indulgence, and complete hypocrisy. I see an uncontrolled border –over two million illegals now ‘somewhere in America,’ with more to come. I see deadly drugs, violent gangs, and the abuse of young children, all because we have NO border.

I see an unbelievable rise in inflation–and yet they say there’s no inflation. Over eighty thousand new US tax agents hired who ‘must be proficient with guns.’ What??? I thought they were against guns–but that’s only for us, not them.

I watched the unbelievable nastiness of their lies in the Kavanaugh confirmation, as I’m sure you did. The lengths they would go to in order to get their way was abominable! I hear them legislate death for new born babies who have survived abortions! I see the streets of the cities they run piled with homeless people living in squalor. I see crime run rampart and nothing done about it. And I hear their so-called progressive claims that they are more compassionate, more intelligent, more moral than conservatives. It is obvious that they are NONE of these things. They are the party that if given more power will spread their deadly bacteria and finally bring an end to America, the greatest nation on Earth. I cannot vote for anyone in such a contaminated political party. Can You?

Gospel MT 23:23-26

Jesus said:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin,
and have neglected the weightier things of the law:
judgment and mercy and fidelity.
But these you should have done, without neglecting the others.
Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You cleanse the outside of cup and dish,
but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence.
Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup,
so that the outside also may be clean.”

We must pray for America. We must pray for life, for the family, for honesty in government, and in ourselves. And WE MUST VOTE IN THE CONGRESSIONAL ELECTIONS for those who will give us an honest, non-convoluted, adherence to our United States Constitution.

History of Heaven’s Gate Graveyard

How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.

— Genesis 28:16-17

Some places in this world are sacred. Upon entering, one bows with respect because the hallowed lie here, one day to be made eternally whole. Just outside the fictional town of Bethel, in the shadow of Bethel Mountain, lies Heaven’s Gate Graveyard. It is much older than the town—some say as old as the Chattahoochee River that winds and bends and runs alongside it. Others say its very earth was set here by God, after Noah and the flood, as if to place heaven’s portal on earth. It is a beautiful place traced by tall trees—pine, soapberry, chinaberry, and magnolias. During summer, liriope with spiked purple blooms edge the borders, with camellias and gardenias taking their places as the seasons turn. But despite its beauty, heaven’s portal brings few people joy.

Near the end of the Civil War, there was a battle near Bethel between invading Union soldiers and Confederates, old men and boys by then, holding on to their homes. Dozens of Confederates from all around Bethel, and some Federals from who knows where, were buried here, side by side. No disagreements now. The graves all look alike. There are no flags waving above them; no one can tell the difference between friend and enemy.

Sightings of phantom soldiers are not uncommon in Heaven’s Gate Graveyard. Neither are the smells of gunpowder and awful shrieks from the pain of death. People often report apparitions of dirty, disheveled children calling for their mothers, calling for their fathers, or hearing children giggle when there are none about. The most famous reported sightings are of four children, two from the South and two from the North.

The first is a fatherless boy of twelve from Georgia who served the Southern army because he was found alone in the woods and taken by the dreaded Confederate Guard; a boy with a limp from birth who’d held the Confederate flag; a courageous boy with a mother and brothers who loved him; a boy who died in a battle that was not his.

The second is a motherless girl of ten from Alabama, who came with her father to war because her home had been set on fire, her mother burned to death, and there was no one else to watch over her; a girl who tended the dying; a tender-hearted girl who was loved by the soldiers; a girl who died in a battle that was not hers.

The third is a fatherless boy from Ohio who enlisted as a drummer and died at the age of eleven when a fragment from a shrapnel shell crashed through his drum as he played it; a boy whose father deserted him before he was born; a boy who loved his big brother enough to follow him into war; a boy who died in a battle that was not his.

The fourth is a motherless teenage girl from Pennsylvania who, while she was helping to load a cannon, saw her father lying wounded on a battlefield; a girl who ran through a hail of bullets to get to him; a girl who was shot three times as she threw her arms around her father; a girl who died in a battle that was not hers.

Those children and others, motherless and fatherless, have often been seen playing around the high statue dedicated to them—a statue of two children standing side by side and entitled, The Children of Battles. No one knows why the children are smiling and holding hands after going through such labors. And no one knows who sculpted the statue. Neither is it known when the statue was erected. It just appeared one day. The words on its pedestal read:

THE CHILDREN OF BATTLES

All the children could remember beyond the wooden bars of their cribs was betrayal.

All the children could see in every direction was the bright blue sky turning drab.

All the children could feel were rough roots waiting beneath the grass to scrape into their skin.

All the children could hear was the song they tried to sing and the slap of hands that ended it.

All the children could taste was a bitter broth of falsity from foul mouths.

All the children could smell was the stench of putrid flesh decomposing in an unkempt orchard.

All the children could imagine was a splendid gift as a reward for their struggle.

All the children hoped for was a faithful embrace, to be pressed to a breast and suckled in love.

But thats not the way it happened.

A Story Of Betrayal

THE MORE COMPLICATED THE PRESENT, THE MORE FRIGHTENING THE FUTURE, THE MORE WE REMEMBER THE PAST.

The following short piece is about the past, the Civil War. It is not in my novel, “Shooting at Heaven’s Gate.” But the destructiveness of a particular kind of war is present in the novel — those battles going on in a single human mind and fought alone.

Verbally handed down to family by my great grandmother, Sarah, who despite the excruciating loss of husband, children, land and home, never failed to use stories from her past to illustrate a positive point. This story is about the betrayal of war, and about the first child — Sarah’s child– mentioned in the reported sightings of children seen playing around the statue in Heaven’s Gate Graveyard.

SARAH’S SONS

They stand beside each other in Heaven’s Gate Graveyard, the bent old woman and her great-grand daughter, a fresh-faced girl of eleven, looking up at the Children of Battles statue. “Why do wars happen?’ the girl asks.

“Wars come from human greed, pride, and revenge; the great betrayers,” the old woman says in an ancient voice, shaking her head sadly. “Under the darkest of skies, all wars hang humanity on a cross.”

“On a cross like Jesus?” the girl asks, after Judas betrayed Him?”

The old woman nods, yes. “War is always about betrayal; of country, mother, father, child, or friend. It brings lifelong consequences, and of course, death. This graveyard has many stories to tell.”

“Tell me one,” the girl says eagerly, and the old woman smiles.

“Picture it,” the old woman says, raising her fragile hands as if they held an invisible occurrence; fingers straight as she can make them, thumbs touching. “Picture my own grandmother, your third great grandmother. Sarah was her name. See her? Picture her blue eyes, once crystal-lit, now drab from sorrow. It is 1865. Wilkinson County Georgia near the end of the Civil War, after General Sherman’s men have ravaged home after home. Sarah stands in the corner of the dining room of her war-battered house, little Patrick clinging to her skirt, as she watches the latest band of ragged, boyish men around her table. Three of them.

“Yankees?”

No, they are faces she’s never seen before yet knows well. They are not Yankees. They are from the feared Confederate Home Guard, but in the minds of many southern women, they are almost as bad. They’ve been sent to capture any deserting Confederate soldier, and worse for Sarah, to gather young boys for the dwindling Southern Army. Boys like her headstrong son, twelve-year-old Frank, born with one leg shorter than the other, and a limp he would never get rid of.

Picture the elbows of the hungry Guard, angled like the wings of chicken hawks guarding the prey in their bowls, while they eat and eat. Thin fingers, like talons lifting flesh. They eat hurriedly, cautiously, as if Sarah might take it all back; the last stewed apples, the roasted sweet potatoes, the cornbread made from the last handful she has left. They are Confederate sons, like her own, but Sarah feels no empathy. She knows why they have come.

 One of the soldiers–he finishes first–wipes a grimy forearm across his mouth adding sweet potatoes to the mud on his homespun shirt. “Thank you, ma’m,” he says, and winks at Thomas Marion who is staring at the soldier’s left thigh. The thigh is wrapped with a dingy, cotton cloth. There is some staining on the cloth, red brown, like the clay Thomas Marion helped his big brothers till when they put in the patch last spring before the enticement to war overtook them, that luring decoy to manhood and glory. But the red staining is not from clay. They are blood stains. The notorious Confederate Home Guard has its troubles, too.

“How old are you, boy?” The soldier shifts in the ladder-back chair with a grimace.

“Nine.”

“Well suh, too bad you ain’t just a mite bigger,” he grins. “We’d take you with us to fight the Yanks.”     

“I got big brothers fightin’ the Yanks,” Thomas Marion says. Sarah’s body stiffens. Don’t talk about your brothers, she’s thinking. Please don’t mention Frank!

“Sure ‘nuf?” the soldier teases. “How many big brothers you got battling for the cause?”

“Three.” Sarah sees pride puff up in her son’s face, a face pretty enough to have been a girl’s, and prays, Please don’t mention Frank!

“Where they at?” another soldier asks.

Thomas Marion turns toward the soldier and shrugs his slim shoulders.

“Well, who’re they fightin’ with?”

“The Rebs,” says Thomas Marion.

The men laugh. Thomas Marion’s pretty face pinkens.

“I mean what brigade they in?” the soldier chuckles.

Sarah speaks at once. “They were sent to Virginia, on the train, to Atlanta. All three of them.”    

No one asks the names of her sons, and she does not ask for the names around her table. Tonight, they are simply Confederate soldiers that she, as a southern woman, is expected to trust, expected to feed with food she cannot spare.

“We ain’t been to Virginia yet,” one of them says. He watches Thomas Marion remove a bowl from the table. Thomas Marion circles a finger inside the blue-flowered porcelain, but the soldier has already done that himself; there is nothing left. Thomas Marion looks coldly at the soldier, and sniffs.   

The soldier with the bound leg asks Sarah in a kindly tone, “Your husband gone to Virginia, too?”          

“My husband fought in the Battle of Atlanta with my oldest son. They are dead now.” She unwinds Patrick’s arms from around her skirts, and squeezing back tears, swings the thin, little boy to her hip, and speaks softly; Thomas Marion does not yet know the fate of his brothers. “My fourteen and fifteen year-old sons were killed, too, at the Battle of Chickamauga.” She emphasizes their ages, thinking that if the Confederate guard should find Frank, they would have pity on her, and see that she’s already sacrificed enough.

“Sorry,” the soldier says. He clicks his tongue against his front teeth and shakes his head slowly. “You wimm’in folk are the real soldiers. You runnin’ the place by yerself?”

Sarah nods, yes, thinking again of Frank, thinking of the daily sweat on his brow and the nightly ache in his bones, doing the work of three grown men.

“I guess you waited a while ‘fore ya had them two? He tilts his head toward Thomas Marion, then back to Patrick in her arms.

“A while,” Sarah says.

Except there is Frank, hidden in the woods; twelve, and too tall for his age. Tall enough to carry a gun, the Confederate Guard would say. Those were Frank’s words, too. He wanted to sign up. He wanted to fight. Sarah forbade it. “I’ve already lost a husband and three sons. I will not lose you, too! You are still only a boy.” Except, he is more than clever, his limp never deters him, and he runs the farm like a man.

A slight clap of thunder snaps in the distance and a cooling breeze flushes the still air from the dining room. Sarah faces the open window. Through it, the fading light of a sinking sun dims the faces of her sons, and the sons of the Confederate Guard. She lights the lamp. Please Lord, don’t let them find Frank. And if they do, make him resist. Don’t let him get it in his stubborn head that he should go with them.      

“Reckon it’s starting ter rain, agin,” one of the soldiers says, his words without expression, his voice as routine as the rain has been. “You got an old barn we could sleep in ’till mornin’?” He looks toward the soldier with the wounded leg. “We ain’t go’n find no recruits tonight.”

The wounded soldier says nothing; he watches Sarah and waits for her response.    

She knows they’ve seen the barn. They had to have passed it on their way in. If she lets them stay there, they’ll take what’s left of the corn to feed their haggard horses. Yet they expect her extended hospitality. The injured one has been taught well though. She sizes him up as one who would not ask for extra favors. He will allow her to offer the use of the barn, knowing that she will offer it.

“Down past the hill,” she says. “You’re welcome to stay.”

Sarah, Thomas Marion, and Patrick watch from the porch as the soldiers lead their horses the half mile down to the barn. The wounded soldier rides. He bends over the tangled mane and lays his face on the horse’s neck, stroking him, as if apologizing for being its master. Beyond the barn are the woods where she has hidden Frank. He must be still, must be quiet. Don’t let them find him!

She will not be able to get to him until after the soldiers are gone. And now it is raining again on the already soaked ground. She is certain her boy is cold and hungry, but she prays he will not move from beneath the big live oak where she leaves him, almost ritually now. Last week, four evenings out of seven, she has been right. Tomorrow will be no different. More soldiers will come, mostly General Wheeler’s men, still believing in victory, that it’s not a lost cause. So, daily, she will hide her son in the woods and feed the soldiers until they leave the next morning with bellies full as they can get them on the meager food Sarah has left.

The next morning, Patrick wakes her. He is crying for food. Thomas Marion comes in, hungry, too. She gives them a little corn meal and water, then makes some for Frank. From the window, she can see that the soldiers are gone, so, Sarah and her young ones set out for the woods where she hid her boy beneath the live oak. He is not there!

“Frank!” she calls and circles the trunk of the great tree, once then twice. “Frank! No! No! No!”

Did the Confederate Guard capture him, or had he volunteered to go with them? Either way, she is betrayed, not only by the now-divided country for which her ancestors fought in the American Revolution, not only by the Confederate Guard, but perhaps even by the son she adores. She drops to the ground, holding onto her last two boys, and cries, deep, deafening howls that would ransack any heart.

There are several moments of silence after the old woman finishes the story when her great-granddaughter does not speak. The girl is too young to remember any of these people. Still, Sarah and her sons were family members, and their story brings tears to her young eyes.

“Let it be a lesson,” the old woman tells the girl. “Be careful where you put your faith. Even someone you’ve been told to trust can betray you. Sarah shouldn’t have trusted those soldiers, even if they were Confederates. They were as threatening as the Yankees who’d already razed her fields, stolen her pigs, and left her only one cow. The Home Guard didn’t give a hoot about her. She was only the means to a meal or two, and a place to spend the night. And then they left, taking another piece of her heart.”

“Do you think Frank chose to go with them?” the girl asks.

“No one will ever know if he chose to go, or whether the Guard found him and simply snatched him up, but he ended up carrying the Confederate flag for Georgia’s Seventh Regiment, limping all the way. The Confederates called it their final effort of the War. And it was surely final for Frank. He wound up in Petersburg Virginia where he, and hundreds more, were killed.”

“But then, the war was over,” the girl says, always hoping for a happy ending.

“There is no end to war, except for the dead. By then, much of the south was in ruins.”

“What happened to Sarah?”

“She scratched a living from the ground for her two remaining sons because she was strong-minded, and lived to be an old lady like me. She didn’t forgot those she’d lost, or the betrayers on both sides, but in the end, she forgave them. “

“I would never forgive them!”

The old woman smiles. “You might change your mind when you’re older. I was your age when Sarah told me the story I’ve just told, and I said the same to Sarah, “I would never forgive them!” Then Sarah looked back at me through very old eyes. ” We each have our crosses and particular battles to bear, but Jesus forgave His betrayers as He hung dying from His Cross. He calls us to do no less.”

The girl looks upward, her eyes anxious. The shadow of Bethel Mountain falls over her face, then sweeps over the graveyard. The old woman wraps an arm around the girl’s slim shoulders to pull her close. “But remember, Jesus rose from His tomb. And one day, you will rise from yours. Everybody in their bones knows that something is eternal. So, don’t be sad, little angel. Life on earth is a hard climb. The devil is always at your heels wanting to trip you up. You’ll have many betrayals, crosses, and struggles on your way to Heaven’s Gate, but after you’ve entered it? Well, that’s when your real life begins.

Sarah’s Sons, copyright 2022, Kaye Park Hinckley


P.S. The song title and these beautiful lyrics are perfect! Can’t believe I found them. Produced by Kevin Costner, and his daughter, Lily Costner, is singing. Season 2- Ep 7 of YELLOWSTONE features the track “Heaven’s Gate” (feat Lily Costner) it will also be included on KCMW’s upcoming release “Tales From Yellowstone.” Writing Credits Lily Costner (Lily Mae and Margerie/BMI) Teddy Morgan (Teddy Morgan Music/BMI, Admin by BMG) Jack Williams (Songs of LGME!/ASCAP, Admin by Ole Music Group)

SOME PEOPLE TRY TO BE TALL BY CUTTING OFF THE HEADS OF OTHERS.— Paramahansa Yogananda

“What I wanna know is who’s in charge?” one woman says to the other. She is shaking
her head as if speaking of something too horrible to be believed.
“Well, today it’s a scary world. Who is in charge of anything these days? You can take
all the precautions you want, but things still happen,” the other comments. “Mama said she
heard on Big Bam radio the guy went crazy and started shooting at everybody in the clinic.
People killed for no reason at all. You can’t predict something like that.”
“Yeah, just innocent bystanders doing their jobs, and some nut-case in a face-mask walks
in with a gun.”
“What’s worse, he got away! Who knows if they’ll ever find him?” She gives a depressing
sigh. “We live in a dangerous world.”

How could it happen?

In An Age of Mass Shootings, This Psychological, Southern Gothic Novel, Considers the Answers.

I thought about writing this novel, “Shooting at Heaven’s Gate,” several years ago after being shocked that in a small town near mine, a disillusioned and angry young man took up his shotgun and killed many of his family and co-workers. Why had he done it? Jealousy, greed, revenge, drugs, or some mental disfunction? Why had he destroyed the people he most cared for? Seemingly senseless shootings/murders like these seem to be becoming more prevalent. But the reasons behind them are ancient.

Most of us can retell the story of Cain and Abel, a story of one brother murdering the other. Genesis 4. When the Father (God) favored Abel’s gift over Cain’s, a few narcissistic traits began to itch in Cain, and then finally took him over — jealousy, greed, anger, and revenge, leading to Cain’s murder of Abel. Did God love Cain? Of course. But the sin of Cain separated him from God, just as sin separates us today from God.

Jealousy, Greed, Anger, and Revenge

I have no idea what caused the shootings in this nearby small town, but I suspect some of the above narcissistic traits were involved.

Our life is an ongoing drama between God and each of us. Whether we accept it or not, no matter who we are or what we do, each of us has an inborn, spiritual relationship with the God who created us, the God who loves us infinitely. We can deny it or shout our disagreement. We can act out in reprehensible ways to destroy God’s sovereignty over us. Our God-given free will allows that behavior. But truth cannot be altered. We were made to be good. We live in a world that God made to be good. And yet moral and physical evil exists in spite of the goodness — and therefore, human suffering exists. Yet, God is still merciful.

Goodness Left Behind

In the novel, “Shooting at Heaven’s Gate, goodness is left behind for a time, and evil runs rampart in Bethel, Alabama. Dr. Malcolm J. Hawkins, III, narcissistic, arrogant head of psychology at Bethel University feels his position and his credibility threatened by the impressive, up-and-coming English professor, Ginnie Gillan, because that is the way of narcissists.

Good and evil do not exist when searching for the best way to scratch an itch. The only question is, Can I get away with it? “says Dr. Malcolm J. Hawkins, PH. D.

If someone threatens Mal’s narcissist’s ego, he shifts into a war-like predator mode and scratches that ‘itch.’ Jealousy, greed, anger and revenge take over him, and Mal decides to use Ginnie’s husband Edmund’s fear and weakness against her. Feeding Edmund a steady diet of drugs and manipulation, Mal then lights the fuse of the greatest tragedy Bethel has ever known. Beyond understanding? Yes!

And yet there are explanations.

Expositions of Mal’s behavior: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/insight-is-2020/201807/what-makes-some-narcissists-mean-competitive-and-jealous

How Edmund fits as Mal’s victim: https://www.thenarcissisticabuser.com/what-is-narcissist/

Though Edmund acts from a motive of jealousy and anger, he is not a ruthless man, but a victim of Hawkins, and of his own sad life story. Out of an impotence that leads to drugs and the easy way out, Edmund K. Gillan gives himself over to Dr. Hawkins’s control in an effort to relieve his debilitating headaches, stemming from his childhood.

Edmund Gillan is outwardly unassertive and weak, a person who’s never won first-place in any contest because he never asked to play the game. Inside, he yearns to be decisive and strong as is his well-liked wife, Ginnie. Edmund is an assistant Sociology professor, raised by his grandfather, a Holiness preacher whose condemning voice Edmund still hears, though the old man is now dead. From the time he was a student at Bethel College until the present, Edmund has allowed himself to be under the heavy thumb of Dr. Hawkins; frequently visiting him for the kind of numbing relief the psychologist provides. Hawkins pretends to listen to Edmund, gradually hooking him on drugs, just as he has many other students who afterwards, never fail to tout him, stroking his unfathomable ego–just what Hawkins is after.

An extremely envious and narcissistic man, Mal Hawkins sees every situation and person as a threat; so when he hears that Edmund’s wife, Ginnie, is seen as an upcoming superstar at the college, and may soon be a department head, Mal views her as deadly competition, and decides to bring her down, using her own husband as his pawn. Edmund loves his wife, but he also loves the drugs Mal gives him. The drugs, his headaches, and the voice of his grandfather, keep Edmund in constant conflict.

Opposition to Wickedness

Just as in a novel, there are real-life compassionate and loving people that shine in opposition to wickedness. Loving teenager, Alma Broussard, lives with her quirky mother Moline, who works in a dental office, and her feisty Aunt Pauline, who runs the chicken farm on which they live with Jose Alvarez and his teenaged daughter, Angelina who has leukemia. Their lives seem wholly separate from the feuds of academia—but again, revelations emerge, and dark secrets lurk in Moline’s past that will bring the people she loves straight into the path of a murderous madman.

Mercy

Even after Cain’s murder of his brother, God showed him mercy. The same mercy He shows not only in this novel, but upon repentance, to us as well. After Cain killed his brother Abel, God declared to Cain, “Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth” (Genesis 4:11-12). In response, Cain lamented, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me” (Genesis 4:13-14). God responded, “Not so; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him” (Genesis 4:15-16).

Shooting at Heaven’s Gate is a “Theology of the Cross” novel, a battle between good and evil. A bona fide WAR, in which genuine goodness and grace are confronted by wickedness. In the wake of death and destruction, Bethel, the town that used to be called Heaven’s Gate, will find no easy answers, but always, there is hope for mercy and redemption. 

PRIOR PRAISE for Shooting at Heaven’s Gate:

Family relations and lifelong secrets, human brokenness and the grace of transformation, mass shootings, deception, sin and forgiveness. These fundamental themes of the human search for meaning, of the challenge of faith, reconciliation and conversion, are woven throughout this story of a small town in rural Alabama. The complexities of each character, from university professors to farm hands, become the stage for an exploration of the human condition, in the style of C.S. Lewis, with echoes of T.S. Eliot, Geoffrey Chaucer, Macbeth and many others. The novel is followed by a list of themes, questions for book discussions and selected quotes, making it all the easier for study groups of any kind.Fr. Christopher Viscardi, SJ, Chair and Professor of Theology at Spring Hill College, Mobile, Alabama

Kaye Hinckley has more than earned her keep as a significant contender vying for a living Catholic literature. Joshua Hren, How to Read (and Write) Like a Catholic, Co-Founder of the MFA at University of St. Thomas, Houston

With a brisk narrative pace, Shooting at Heaven’s Gate by Kaye Park Hinckley invites readers to explore the complicated lives of characters suffering with loss, illness, addiction, and deception. The plot twists make this novel both entertaining and thought provoking with the reassurance that good does win.Johnnie Bernhard, award-winning author of Sisters of the Undertow and Hannah and Ariela.

Faith and faithlessness do battle in Kaye Park Hinckley’s thought-provoking, unsparing new novel. She reveals the hellish torments … and heavenly convictions … of everyday people in a small Alabama town in an age of mass shootings. Bring faith as you enter Heaven’s Gate. Charles McNair, author of The Epicureans

Don’t be lulled by the easy, descriptive manner of the beginning chapters. They introduce opposing characters whose thoughts and actions display the good and bad of human nature. Soon, you’ll be put on high alert, and move at lightning speed to satisfy a need to know how these characters interplay with each other. Mal, the manipulator and Edmund’s muddled loss of reality, cause the reader to begin to question, even fear what’s coming, hoping it’s the dream state of a sick, delusional man. Of course, it is no dream. Once the sound of metal is heard, the energy and climax of the book literally explode. Throughout the entire novel, the belief in salvation and forgiveness through confession, suffering, and atonement surfaces as a tenet of Catholic belief, symbolized not only in the characters, but in minute details…about flowers, and guns, geography, and history. Topics of current world concern are touched upon and mentioned briefly, without political overtones, but enough to generate reflection about good and evil, and how they come to be in the human person. A great read. – Terry Lonergan, Longtime Educator, Principal, and reader, Atlanta, Georgia

“Shooting at Heaven’ Gate is different from Hinckley’s other books as the moral themes are explicit and upfront, rather than subtle. I believe this work is a masterpiece. But then I love Kaye’s books because of how she writes (with the eloquence of angels) and for her choice of gritty topics (life is messy). “Shooting at Heaven’s Gate is not Pollyanna and cotton candy. Rather it is filled with real-world brokenness and the need for redemption, accurately painting the struggles on this side of the grave. — Denise-Marie Martin, author of the  upcoming novel, “Tangled Violets,” to be released September, 8, 2022.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem, in instructing catechumens, wrote: The dragon sits by the side of the road, watching those who pass. Beware lest he devour you. We go to the Father of Souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon. No matter what form the dragon may take, it is of this mysterious passage past him, or into his jaws, that stories of any depth will always be concerned to tell, and this being the case, it requires considerable courage at any time, in any country, not to turn away from the storyteller. — Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose)

How do you tame your dragons? Are you even aware of them, or do you hide them like most of us do? Do you know their names? More than likely, it’s one of these: envy, lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, and pride.

Throughout life, our personal dragons never really leave us. They hover very close to the things we desire, waiting to turn us in harmful directions. So often, and in various ways–through people, or events– we are warned to beware of them, but just as often, we set the warnings aside.

In my novel, SHOOTING AT HEAVEN’S GATE, envy plays a big part in several characters, but specifically in Mal Hawkins. In fact, my Prologue begins with him.

Envy is a littleness of soul, which cannot see beyond a certain point,
and if it does not occupy the whole space, feels itself excluded.

—William Hazlitt

SHOOTING AT HEAVEN’S GATE

PROLOGUE

Dr. Malcom J. Hawkins III, Professor of Psychology at Bethel University, sits at home in his favorite chair with a pompous grin on his face. His hands move ritually up and down the chair’s arms, endlessly soiling the upholstered pattern of apples and bananas. Day by day, as he rubs the arms of the chair, the smell of rot increases. Day by day, he eyes the table beside the chair and the drawer where he keeps the gun he plans to show the fool. Day by day, he patiently assesses the progress of the despicable Ginnie Gillan, wife of the fool. Why is she so admired by everyone at Bethel? How is she even a tenured professor? He read her many publications—too many, in his opinion. Nothing but drivel about spiritual warfare going on beneath the surface of all the earthly things one does. She contends that great literature portrays a battle between personified love and hate, good and evil in the flesh. In one of her silly articles, she even challenges the reader to choose a side: “Whom do you follow?”
Ha! Mal follows Me, not Thee. He is interested in a more powerful deity, one who will not allow himself to be crucified but will live and destroy all loftiness, all goodness and love, leaving only the reality of down-to-earth hatred behind. Ginnie Gillan and all her kind must be destroyed. Not by him, though. Mal will keep his own hands clean. Instead, he has chosen the perfect pawn.


Oh yes, beware of people like Malcolm Hawkins. See them for what/who they truthfully are, for they can destroy you.

Some of my characters are often shocking, flamboyant, disturbed, unkind. And yet others are merciful, gracious, empathic, loving. My characters demonstrate the dualities of human nature. Edmund, in “Shooting at Heaven’s Gate,” allows himself to be used by evil. Rather than condemn his actions, I would like my readers to acknowledge the frailties of the human heart. We all are capable of doing great evil, but how do we come to that? I like to show reasons. And hopefully you will find reasons in this novel.

So, don’t seek clearly defined protagonists and antagonists here, however. These characters are complicated. They’ve done horrible things, witnessed horrible things, been the victims of horrible things, yet they continue rising each morning and putting one foot in front of the other. They fulfill their obligations to each other while these horrible things gnaw at them from the inside out. But while presenting the repulsiveness of my character’s actions, my goal is to also present the opportunity they have to recognize the truth in supernatural grace, and to allow its better-urge, that distinct drive toward love.

Shooting at Heaven’s Gate, published by Chrism Press. https://chrismpress.com/books/shooting-at-heavens-gate/

EVIL NEVER GIVES UP

Posted: August 4, 2022 in World On The Edge

EXCEPT GOD IS STRONGER THAN EVIL …

“When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock — to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.” ~ Flannery O’Connor

Am I shouting loud enough to be heard through my writing?

I often wonder–because it’s what I want to do.

I want to portray the world I see through a Christian lens, and the world I see is not a sweet and fluffy world. Not anymore, if it ever was. So don’t expect that in my NOVELS.

Ours has become a raw world, on the edge of losing the reality of absolute Truth–which by the way is not defined as our opinion. And each of us is individually guilty of nudging society toward the Lie.

When our goal in life is only whatever makes US feel good. When it’s all about ME. When my ambitions always go ahead of others. My satisfactions. My addictions. My face, and only my face, in front of the crowd, or the camera, or the photographer. When YOUR face doesn’t matter because the goal of MY life is ME. When those we look up to–leaders from every facet of society–do the same; we promote the Lie that says, I am God. It is a Lie that will literally kill us, individually, and as a nation.

My stories reflect these deadly, human attitudes, but I hope they reflect something else, too. That we can re-discover the Truth about who we were created to be. Because we are meant to be more than examples of humanity’s flaws. We are meant to be, and to live, as if we are children of a flawless God. Our attempt to do this–to allow God’s Grace to work within us–can re-spark us, until in Truth, we are alive again.

But when we feel the world crashing down upon us, when we are worried about the future of our families and country, we are fearful. We search for answers to our problems. We want to fix them, right here and now, except we may not be in control of the solution. What a relief it is to allow someone else to lead us, someone we TRUST; and then, with confidence, follow their lead.

The most secure place to put our trust is in God. And when we trust in Him, He will lead us. When we let go, like a frightened child standing on the pool’s edge, and jump into our Father’s arms with faith; he will not only catch us and keep us from drowning, he will teach us to swim.

Of course, it takes courage to overcome fear with faith. Will we jump anyway?

I have seen God’s work in my own life. I have experienced His loving leadership through events I thought I could not possibly survive, physically or emotionally.  When I tried to handle everything on my own, I was closing off God’s presence in my life, and couldn’t take advantage of the grace He offered me when I needed it most. And I surely needed that grace!

I found that trusting in God is a continuous mindset–always a first ‘go to’ — that brings a real peace.

Everyone on the earth is born with two, innate possibilities for living out his or her time here. It’s our choice. Will we live out goodness, or evil? My stories are about the choice we all have, and how an individual character handles it. I hope you’ll read them. And if you like, critique them, too.

History of Heaven’s Gate Graveyard

How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.

— Genesis 28:16-17

Some places in this world are sacred. Upon entering, one bows with respect because the hallowed lie here, one day to be made eternally whole. Just outside the fictional town of Bethel, in the shadow of Bethel Mountain, lies Heaven’s Gate Graveyard. It is much older than the town—some say as old as the Chattahoochee River that winds and bends and runs alongside it. Others say its very earth was set here by God, after Noah and the flood, as if to place heaven’s portal on earth. It is a beautiful place traced by tall trees—pine, soapberry, chinaberry, and magnolias. During summer, liriope with spiked purple blooms edge the borders, with camellias and gardenias taking their places as the seasons turn. But despite its beauty, heaven’s portal brings few people joy.

Near the end of the Civil War, there was a battle near Bethel between invading Union soldiers and Confederates, old men and boys by then, holding on to their homes. Dozens of Confederates from all around Bethel, and some Federals from who knows where, were buried here, side by side. No disagreements now. The graves all look alike. There are no flags waving above them; no one can tell the difference between friend and enemy.

Sightings of phantom soldiers are not uncommon in Heaven’s Gate Graveyard. Neither are the smells of gunpowder and awful shrieks from the pain of death. People often report apparitions of dirty, disheveled children calling for their mothers, calling for their fathers, or hearing children giggle when there are none about. The most famous reported sightings are of four children, two from the South and two from the North.

The first is a fatherless boy of twelve from Georgia who served the Southern army because he was found alone in the woods and taken by the dreaded Confederate Guard; a boy with a limp from birth who’d held the Confederate flag; a courageous boy with a mother and brothers who loved him; a boy who died in a battle that was not his.

The second is a motherless girl of ten from Alabama, who came with her father to war because her home had been set on fire, her mother burned to death, and there was no one else to watch over her; a girl who tended the dying; a tender-hearted girl who was loved by the soldiers; a girl who died in a battle that was not hers.

The third is a fatherless boy from Ohio who enlisted as a drummer and died at the age of eleven when a fragment from a shrapnel shell crashed through his drum as he played it; a boy whose father deserted him before he was born; a boy who loved his big brother enough to follow him into war; a boy who died in a battle that was not his.

The fourth is a motherless teenage girl from Pennsylvania who, while she was helping to load a cannon, saw her father lying wounded on a battlefield; a girl who ran through a hail of bullets to get to him; a girl who was shot three times as she threw her arms around her father; a girl who died in a battle that was not hers.

Those children and others, motherless and fatherless, have often been seen playing around the high statue dedicated to them—a statue of two children standing side by side and entitled, The Children of Battles. No one knows why the children are smiling and holding hands after going through such labors. And no one knows who sculpted the statue. Neither is it known when the statue was erected. It just appeared one day. The words on its pedestal read:

THE CHILDREN OF BATTLES

All the children could remember beyond the wooden bars of their cribs was betrayal.

All the children could see in every direction was the bright blue sky turning drab.

All the children could feel were rough roots waiting beneath the grass to scrape into their skin.

All the children could hear was the song they tried to sing and the slap of hands that ended it.

All the children could taste was a bitter broth of falsity from foul mouths.

All the children could smell was the stench of putrid flesh decomposing in an unkempt orchard.

All the children could imagine was a splendid gift as a reward for their struggle.

All the children hoped for was a faithful embrace, to be pressed to a breast and suckled in love.

But thats not the way it happened.

A Story Of Betrayal

THE MORE COMPLICATED THE PRESENT, THE MORE FRIGHTENING THE FUTURE, THE MORE WE REMEMBER THE PAST.

The following short piece is about the past, the Civil War. It is not in my novel, “Shooting at Heaven’s Gate.” But the destructiveness of a particular kind of war is present in the novel — those battles going on in a single human mind and fought alone.

Verbally handed down to family by my great grandmother, Sarah, who despite the excruciating loss of husband, children, land and home, never failed to use stories from her past to illustrate a positive point. This story is about the betrayal of war, and about the first child — Sarah’s child– mentioned in the reported sightings of children seen playing around the statue in Heaven’s Gate Graveyard.

SARAH’S SONS

They stand beside each other in Heaven’s Gate Graveyard, the bent old woman and her great-grand daughter, a fresh-faced girl of eleven, looking up at the Children of Battles statue. “Why do wars happen?’ the girl asks.

“Wars come from human greed, pride, and revenge; the great betrayers,” the old woman says in an ancient voice, shaking her head sadly. “Under the darkest of skies, all wars hang humanity on a cross.”

“On a cross like Jesus?” the girl asks, after Judas betrayed Him?”

The old woman nods, yes. “War is always about betrayal; of country, mother, father, child, or friend. It brings lifelong consequences, and of course, death. This graveyard has many stories to tell.”

“Tell me one,” the girl says eagerly, and the old woman smiles.

“Picture it,” the old woman says, raising her fragile hands as if they held an invisible occurrence; fingers straight as she can make them, thumbs touching. “Picture my own grandmother, your third great grandmother. Sarah was her name. See her? Picture her blue eyes, once crystal-lit, now drab from sorrow. It is 1865. Wilkinson County Georgia near the end of the Civil War, after General Sherman’s men have ravaged home after home. Sarah stands in the corner of the dining room of her war-battered house, little Patrick clinging to her skirt, as she watches the latest band of ragged, boyish men around her table. Three of them.

“Yankees?”

No, they are faces she’s never seen before yet knows well. They are not Yankees. They are from the feared Confederate Home Guard, but in the minds of many southern women, they are almost as bad. They’ve been sent to capture any deserting Confederate soldier, and worse for Sarah, to gather young boys for the dwindling Southern Army. Boys like her headstrong son, twelve-year-old Frank, born with one leg shorter than the other, and a limp he would never get rid of.

Picture the elbows of the hungry Guard, angled like the wings of chicken hawks guarding the prey in their bowls, while they eat and eat. Thin fingers, like talons lifting flesh. They eat hurriedly, cautiously, as if Sarah might take it all back; the last stewed apples, the roasted sweet potatoes, the cornbread made from the last handful she has left. They are Confederate sons, like her own, but Sarah feels no empathy. She knows why they have come.

 One of the soldiers–he finishes first–wipes a grimy forearm across his mouth adding sweet potatoes to the mud on his homespun shirt. “Thank you, ma’m,” he says, and winks at Thomas Marion who is staring at the soldier’s left thigh. The thigh is wrapped with a dingy, cotton cloth. There is some staining on the cloth, red brown, like the clay Thomas Marion helped his big brothers till when they put in the patch last spring before the enticement to war overtook them, that luring decoy to manhood and glory. But the red staining is not from clay. They are blood stains. The notorious Confederate Home Guard has its troubles, too.

“How old are you, boy?” The soldier shifts in the ladder-back chair with a grimace.

“Nine.”

“Well suh, too bad you ain’t just a mite bigger,” he grins. “We’d take you with us to fight the Yanks.”     

“I got big brothers fightin’ the Yanks,” Thomas Marion says. Sarah’s body stiffens. Don’t talk about your brothers, she’s thinking. Please don’t mention Frank!

“Sure ‘nuf?” the soldier teases. “How many big brothers you got battling for the cause?”

“Three.” Sarah sees pride puff up in her son’s face, a face pretty enough to have been a girl’s, and prays, Please don’t mention Frank!

“Where they at?” another soldier asks.

Thomas Marion turns toward the soldier and shrugs his slim shoulders.

“Well, who’re they fightin’ with?”

“The Rebs,” says Thomas Marion.

The men laugh. Thomas Marion’s pretty face pinkens.

“I mean what brigade they in?” the soldier chuckles.

Sarah speaks at once. “They were sent to Virginia, on the train, to Atlanta. All three of them.”    

No one asks the names of her sons, and she does not ask for the names around her table. Tonight, they are simply Confederate soldiers that she, as a southern woman, is expected to trust, expected to feed with food she cannot spare.

“We ain’t been to Virginia yet,” one of them says. He watches Thomas Marion remove a bowl from the table. Thomas Marion circles a finger inside the blue-flowered porcelain, but the soldier has already done that himself; there is nothing left. Thomas Marion looks coldly at the soldier, and sniffs.   

The soldier with the bound leg asks Sarah in a kindly tone, “Your husband gone to Virginia, too?”          

“My husband fought in the Battle of Atlanta with my oldest son. They are dead now.” She unwinds Patrick’s arms from around her skirts, and squeezing back tears, swings the thin, little boy to her hip, and speaks softly; Thomas Marion does not yet know the fate of his brothers. “My fourteen and fifteen year-old sons were killed, too, at the Battle of Chickamauga.” She emphasizes their ages, thinking that if the Confederate guard should find Frank, they would have pity on her, and see that she’s already sacrificed enough.

“Sorry,” the soldier says. He clicks his tongue against his front teeth and shakes his head slowly. “You wimm’in folk are the real soldiers. You runnin’ the place by yerself?”

Sarah nods, yes, thinking again of Frank, thinking of the daily sweat on his brow and the nightly ache in his bones, doing the work of three grown men.

“I guess you waited a while ‘fore ya had them two? He tilts his head toward Thomas Marion, then back to Patrick in her arms.

“A while,” Sarah says.

Except there is Frank, hidden in the woods; twelve, and too tall for his age. Tall enough to carry a gun, the Confederate Guard would say. Those were Frank’s words, too. He wanted to sign up. He wanted to fight. Sarah forbade it. “I’ve already lost a husband and three sons. I will not lose you, too! You are still only a boy.” Except, he is more than clever, his limp never deters him, and he runs the farm like a man.

A slight clap of thunder snaps in the distance and a cooling breeze flushes the still air from the dining room. Sarah faces the open window. Through it, the fading light of a sinking sun dims the faces of her sons, and the sons of the Confederate Guard. She lights the lamp. Please Lord, don’t let them find Frank. And if they do, make him resist. Don’t let him get it in his stubborn head that he should go with them.      

“Reckon it’s starting ter rain, agin,” one of the soldiers says, his words without expression, his voice as routine as the rain has been. “You got an old barn we could sleep in ’till mornin’?” He looks toward the soldier with the wounded leg. “We ain’t go’n find no recruits tonight.”

The wounded soldier says nothing; he watches Sarah and waits for her response.    

She knows they’ve seen the barn. They had to have passed it on their way in. If she lets them stay there, they’ll take what’s left of the corn to feed their haggard horses. Yet they expect her extended hospitality. The injured one has been taught well though. She sizes him up as one who would not ask for extra favors. He will allow her to offer the use of the barn, knowing that she will offer it.

“Down past the hill,” she says. “You’re welcome to stay.”

Sarah, Thomas Marion, and Patrick watch from the porch as the soldiers lead their horses the half mile down to the barn. The wounded soldier rides. He bends over the tangled mane and lays his face on the horse’s neck, stroking him, as if apologizing for being its master. Beyond the barn are the woods where she has hidden Frank. He must be still, must be quiet. Don’t let them find him!

She will not be able to get to him until after the soldiers are gone. And now it is raining again on the already soaked ground. She is certain her boy is cold and hungry, but she prays he will not move from beneath the big live oak where she leaves him, almost ritually now. Last week, four evenings out of seven, she has been right. Tomorrow will be no different. More soldiers will come, mostly General Wheeler’s men, still believing in victory, that it’s not a lost cause. So, daily, she will hide her son in the woods and feed the soldiers until they leave the next morning with bellies full as they can get them on the meager food Sarah has left.

The next morning, Patrick wakes her. He is crying for food. Thomas Marion comes in, hungry, too. She gives them a little corn meal and water, then makes some for Frank. From the window, she can see that the soldiers are gone, so, Sarah and her young ones set out for the woods where she hid her boy beneath the live oak. He is not there!

“Frank!” she calls and circles the trunk of the great tree, once then twice. “Frank! No! No! No!”

Did the Confederate Guard capture him, or had he volunteered to go with them? Either way, she is betrayed, not only by the now-divided country for which her ancestors fought in the American Revolution, not only by the Confederate Guard, but perhaps even by the son she adores. She drops to the ground, holding onto her last two boys, and cries, deep, deafening howls that would ransack any heart.

There are several moments of silence after the old woman finishes the story when her great-granddaughter does not speak. The girl is too young to remember any of these people. Still, Sarah and her sons were family members, and their story brings tears to her young eyes.

“Let it be a lesson,” the old woman tells the girl. “Be careful where you put your faith. Even someone you’ve been told to trust can betray you. Sarah shouldn’t have trusted those soldiers, even if they were Confederates. They were as threatening as the Yankees who’d already razed her fields, stolen her pigs, and left her only one cow. The Home Guard didn’t give a hoot about her. She was only the means to a meal or two, and a place to spend the night. And then they left, taking another piece of her heart.”

“Do you think Frank chose to go with them?” the girl asks.

“No one will ever know if he chose to go, or whether the Guard found him and simply snatched him up, but he ended up carrying the Confederate flag for Georgia’s Seventh Regiment, limping all the way. The Confederates called it their final effort of the War. And it was surely final for Frank. He wound up in Petersburg Virginia where he, and hundreds more, were killed.”

“But then, the war was over,” the girl says, always hoping for a happy ending.

“There is no end to war, except for the dead. By then, much of the south was in ruins.”

“What happened to Sarah?”

“She scratched a living from the ground for her two remaining sons because she was strong-minded, and lived to be an old lady like me. She didn’t forgot those she’d lost, or the betrayers on both sides, but in the end, she forgave them. “

“I would never forgive them!”

The old woman smiles. “You might change your mind when you’re older. I was your age when Sarah told me the story I’ve just told, and I said the same to Sarah, “I would never forgive them!” Then Sarah looked back at me through very old eyes. ” We each have our crosses and particular battles to bear, but Jesus forgave His betrayers as He hung dying from His Cross. He calls us to do no less.”

The girl looks upward, her eyes anxious. The shadow of Bethel Mountain falls over her face, then sweeps over the graveyard. The old woman wraps an arm around the girl’s slim shoulders to pull her close. “But remember, Jesus rose from His tomb. And one day, you will rise from yours. Everybody in their bones knows that something is eternal. So, don’t be sad, little angel. Life on earth is a hard climb. The devil is always at your heels wanting to trip you up. You’ll have many betrayals, crosses, and struggles on your way to Heaven’s Gate, but after you’ve entered it? Well, that’s when your real life begins.

Sarah’s Sons, copyright 2022, Kaye Park Hinckley


P.S. The song title and these beautiful lyrics are perfect! Can’t believe I found them. Produced by Kevin Costner, and his daughter, Lily Costner, is singing. Season 2- Ep 7 of YELLOWSTONE features the track “Heaven’s Gate” (feat Lily Costner) it will also be included on KCMW’s upcoming release “Tales From Yellowstone.” Writing Credits Lily Costner (Lily Mae and Margerie/BMI) Teddy Morgan (Teddy Morgan Music/BMI, Admin by BMG) Jack Williams (Songs of LGME!/ASCAP, Admin by Ole Music Group)

HUMAN BROKENESS CAN BE FIXED THROUGH THE GRACE OF TRANSFORMATION

For the next few days ABSENCE paperback will be at the lower price of $12.87 in order to accommodate the lovely Book Club that wants to read it. But for this short time anyone else can get it for that price as well. Check it out.

From Meggie Daly, author of Bead by Bead, and For the Sake of His Sorrowful Passion, Praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet ~”Absence” is the sixth book by Kaye Park Hinckley that I have read and loved. “Absence” and the “Wind that Shakes the Corn” are my all-time favorites. While reading “Absence,” I forced myself to go slowly to savor her sentences like an excellent meal that I didn’t want to end. The author “paints” compelling personifications of good and evil as three generations of characters battle internal demons and nature. The plot in “Absence” is intricate, layered, and surprising up until the last page. Themes of longing, abandonment, forgiveness, callousness, regret, unconditional love, and mercy will stay with the reader long after finishing the book. I can’t recommend this book highly enough—a masterpiece!