AS A GENERAL rule, it’s a bad idea to skip church. Not only could you miss an instructive sermon, but you also risk the wrath of a vengeful God who, depending on His or Her mood on the day of your transgression, could be thumbing through the Old Testament for ideas. On a recent Sunday morning I decided to risk all and go to the gym instead.
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This was a mistake.
Distance swimming is my exercise of choice, but counting laps is about the most boring thing a person can do, aside from sitting through an instructive sermon. So I try to occupy my mind with various reveries of proven distraction. This time I had selected the Rock Star Scenario, and after a few laps my mind was fully into the altered state of being the lead guitar player at a stadium full of screaming fans. Backing me up was Paul McCartney on bass, Bruce Springsteen on rhythm guitar, and my granddaughter on drums. Despite her small size, she can lay down a driving beat and only occasionally needs to be nudged upright by stagehands. (She’s only 1 year old and tends to fall over if nobody’s watching.)
I had just launched into a blazing riff that Eric Clapton would have envied when I noticed Springsteen stepping up to the microphone. He does this a lot, and had I not checked him with a preemptive glare he would have launched into one of his boring monologues that has nothing to do with me. (Is it too much to ask that I be The Boss in my own fantasy?!)
Suddenly a huge wall of bubbles erupted in front of me, followed by the breaching of an enormous humanoid figure, clad all in black, spouting air and spray from what I assumed was a blowhole on its back. Streaming out the rear of its head was a thick strand of blond hair, presumably the undigested remains of its last victim.
In disbelief I wracked my brain for any previous sighting of foreign life forms in the pool, but only recalled a sock I once saw floating in the deep end. (Turns out it was mine. Long story.) And then, all around me, the water churned violently as a dozen more of the creatures surfaced in a loud sputtering of spray. Before transitioning to a frantic backstroke, I briefly wondered if these identical creatures were related—perhaps a family whose Christmas photo you wouldn’t want to receive—when they pulled off their head coverings to reveal various undigested human faces. (Good grief, don’t these creatures ever SWALLOW?!)
They then turned toward a solitary figure just surfacing, no doubt waiting for instructions for when to begin feeding on swimmers in the other lanes, eventually working their way to the elderly women in the hot tub, who seemed unconcerned of the approaching danger. (Hot tubs can do that to you. I never use them for fear of becoming so relaxed I might be lulled into flashbacks of my youth, when I would sometimes blissfully decide against the inconvenience of leaving my bed to go potty.)
TURNS OUT I was sharing the pool with a scuba class, and why they don’t post signs about this sort of thing is a mystery to me. Maybe pool officials assumed everybody else was at church and wouldn’t run into the Sermon-Skipping Scuba Sinners From Hell. Why they were in my lane was quickly explained by an apologetic instructor who said that the beginner’s class was working on “lateral control.” So I didn’t mention the “bladder control” issues which at that moment I was more concerned about. (Another few seconds of sea creatures and I might have had to sprint for the hot tub.)
So always go to church, my friends. God has a sense of humor and sometimes gets laughing so hard that, well you know. (Where do you think rain comes from?)
Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners.