A Mormon Story

“And he came to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ And he took Peter, Jacob, and John with him, and he began to be amazed and troubled. And he said to them, ‘My soul is sorrowful to the point of death. Stay here and be watchful.’”

“The Gospel of Mark” 14:32-34, The New Testament: A New Translation for Latter-day Saints, by Thomas A. Wayment

Sometimes Fellow took the stone out of his pocket at the local pub. He would place it next to his empty shot glass, recently filled with black-label whisky. He would gaze at it, even as strangers glanced over. If anyone asked Fellow about the stone, he would say, “It’s my kid’s pet rock. I promised to babysit it while she’s off at camp.” Fellow had no children. The bartender alone knew the stone’s actual purpose, but never pestered him about it. Fellow tipped well.

The vision came after wolfing down one of the pub’s third-pound Blue Cheese Bacon Burgers and a fat order of steak fries served with garlic aioli. After falsely claiming to the college girl busing tables that he was a descendant of James Joyce, Fellow drank a shot of whisky in three ritual sips. Then he took another. Lastly, he produced the dark-gray pyramidal pebble from the fraying pocket of his jeans and placed it next to the shot glass.

As Fellow took a deep centering breath, the bartender asked him if he wanted another shot. He replied, “No. Just some ice-water please.” It was good Fellow was no alcoholic.

“And he went a little way and fell on the ground and prayed that if it were possible that the hour would pass by him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you; take this cup from me. Not as I desire, but as you desire.”

“The Gospel of Mark” 14:35-36

The vision burst upon Fellow almost immediately—even as the lingering oak-barrel burn dissipated in his throat. The stone became a woman’s narrow face: deep-set eyes, long slender nose, chin like the slimmer end of an egg. Mary? Surely it was the Magdalene. This face, firm and without apology, could be the face of one who had seen an angel, the face of one who feared no Roman guards—the first and great special witness. She was beautiful.

No! Something about the vision changed. Now Fellow understood the face belonged to John the Beloved. Fellow’s eyes and brain did their magic. The cluttered bar’s countertop, the baby blue light refracting through a row of tumblers, even the brass rail softened into blurred and muddy brushstrokes on a canvas. Only the stone remained perfectly in-focus. Crowned with shadow, John the Beloved’s weary face looked up into the starry night sky.

Unlike the other two disciples, John never fell asleep. He heard Jesus’s entire prayer to his dad. John alone knew that no angel, certainly not Michael the Archangel, came that night to strengthen his dear master. When Jesus’s bloodlike drops began falling, John turned his head away. He looked up at the stars and wished to sleep and never wake. Nothing about the future seemed inviting. No meal, no lover, no political or social victory.

Fellow broke himself free of the vision for a moment. He lifted the shot glass to his lips and waited for a lingering drop of whisky to slide into his mouth. When the drop came, he pressed it up into his hard palate, squeezing its sweet burn out onto the inner sides of his mouth. It was good Fellow was no alcoholic.

“And the Lord said unto me: John, my beloved, what desirest thou? For if you shall ask what you will, it shall be granted unto you. And I said unto him: Lord, give unto me power over death, that I may live and bring souls unto thee. And the Lord said unto me: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, because thou desirest this thou shalt tarry until I come in my glory, and shalt prophesy before nations, kindreds, tongues and people.”

Doctrine and Covenants 7:1-3

John’s gaze remained locked on the stars near the sky’s pinnacle. At some point, he heard Jesus whimper. The master’s tone sounded pouty, rather pathetic, like a child deprived of candy by his mother. Cold, damp fear descended on Gethsemane. Visions of imprisonment and death rode on the breeze and penetrated the Beloved’s mind. He shrank from his senses, only to be mocked by them with increasing force.

As Fellow watched John through the stone, the air around them grew heavy, pressing firmer and firmer. The stone itself blurred in his vision. John twitched, then convulsed, rolling onto his side. The young man heaved red wine onto the soil.

As dry tears stung his eyeballs, the Beloved felt a warm hand on his shoulder. The tender voice above him said, “You’re doing so well, John. Hang in there. You’re doing so well.”

“Here’s your water,” said the bartender. Fellow looked up from his stone into the bartender’s brown eyes. She smiled.

Fellow watched her turn and walk away. A few steps down the bar, she faced a trio of boisterous fraternity brothers. She waited calmly for them to finish hollering at the game playing on a big-screen TV above her. Incandescent lighting brought out the golden in her cheeks. Her hair shimmered like a crown. She said, “I’m guessing you boys want a round of Three Wisemen.” They hollered in the affirmative. Placing a glass in front of each young man, she set to mixing the spirits. All eyes gazed down at her hands, admiring the way she seemingly made the bottles float in the air—crystals rolling on their wings above a garden of spilt beer and soaked napkins. So much blood.

Fellow decided to order one more drink, but nothing too stiff, only a light beer this time. It was good he was no alcoholic.

Story Notes

The above story is the third in a series of posts prompted by Lenten meditations I’ve been participating in through the Community of Christ. Here are the previous two:

  1. If Jesus Took Satan’s Offer
  2. A Trinity Within the Stone

Reactions are welcome in the comments section below. In addition to responding to the story, do you celebrate Lent? If so, how are you using this Christian season to explore the life and teachings of Jesus? How are you using it to develop your own spirituality?