God ate breakfast and dinner with Hannah Delaney. God was invoked when her aunt caught cancer, when her cousin was born deaf. God was invoked when the radiation treatments worked, when her cousin was accepted to St. Augustine School for the Deaf and Blind, when the cancer returned, when the Cochlear implant made her cousin hear. God could send a station wagon to kill a beloved pet, God could ease psoriasis, God could inspire good people to do great works.
On Sundays, Hannah Delaney’s parents took her to the big gym outside of town, almost twenty minutes away. Downtown offered so many great churches, miniature versions of the old European cathedrals, stone hulks that swallowed city blocks, with stained glass windows, copper roofs turning green, doors gleaming red. She didn’t know why her family picked folding chairs in a gym over any of those.
Every Sunday Hannah listened to the tall, thin, white-haired preacher talk about God and life, about television and family, about fellowship and temptation. With his smooth timbre and bright tone he sounded like a commercial himself, a Voice You Could Trust stumping for the Life You Should Lead.
Every speech ended with the flock bowing their heads. The preacher would talk to God hard, his voice low and urgent. He invited people to raise their hands if they wanted to be saved. Yes, I see that hand, the preacher would murmur in a tone like molasses. Yes, I see that hand. Praise God. Yes, I see that hand…
Hannah wanted to see if people were really raising their hands or if the preacher was just trying to make it seem like dozens of people chose to be saved each week, but she never opened her eyes. It would have been the easiest thing in the world, but it felt like cheating. The idea of raising her own hand built over several months of Sundays. She kept her head bowed and her eyes closed, but the idea was like a lost toy buried in sand, the preacher’s honeyed tones a steady tide wiggling it free.
One day when the preacher called upon anyone who wanted God to enter his heart to raise his hand, Hannah’s arm lifted as if pulled by invisible strings. She kept her eyes shut tight, her legs clenched together, her hand waving slightly.
“Yes, I see that hand,” the preacher murmured, sending a flush of pleasure from the pit of her stomach through her entire body. She would have liked to sit with that feeling for a time, but he’d already moved on to the next person longing for salvation. Yes, I see that hand… The moment came suddenly, and ended just as fast. If her parents, bookending her as usual, felt her move, they didn’t remark on it.
Hannah found time to explore the feeling she’d discovered in church, when the preacher singled her out. She told her parents about it, how she’d lie down on her stomach and clench her legs, making her thighs hard and soft until the glory of God entered her body. The Delaneys didn’t condemn her; they didn’t go to the big stone churches in the town proper, they sat in folding chairs in a gym. But they made it clear to Hannah that the Tingle Game was private, for her alone.
Soon the Tingle Game felt like more than a game. God’s glory thundered through her, so powerful that she cried out. She would hold a pillow, wedge a hand between her legs, clench and unclench her thighs for what felt like hours. Soon her hand stopped being a pressure point and began to explore on its own. She found a locus, a place from where the feeling flowed. While her fingers moved, she sometimes heard the preacher’s voice.
When she turned thirteen, Hannah attended youth group. Youth group took place on Tuesday nights in the chapel instead of the gym. Hannah wished the church had never outgrown the original building. The chapel was round, built of wood so dark it was nearly black. The sky was visible through a glass spire on top, which became a glass wall behind the stage. The podium was the same black wood, the stage small, the cross gold. She knew growth was a good thing, that sooner or later there’d be enough Christians to save the world, but she never felt as close to God in the gym as she felt in the old chapel.
Shellee, the youth group leader, talked about the temptations of secular life. She talked about the difficulty of being a Christian. She talked about leading others to Christ by example. Once Shellee tried to explain that masturbation was a sin. Hannah pointed out that the passage Shellee referred to warned against spilling seed, so it must have been intended only for men. Further, Onan was interrupting sex with his brother’s wife, not masturbating, so Genesis didn’t really apply at all. Beyond flushing to the brown roots of her blonde hair, Shellee had no answer.
The next week, Shellee asked Hannah whether she ruled her body, or her body ruled her. Hannah responded that she glorified God in her body, and didn’t spill any seed in the process.
A week later, Shellee told Hannah to flee from sin, that she who commits immorality sins against her own body. Hannah said that by testing she might determine what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Three months after starting youth group, Shellee asked Hannah to meet the preacher in his private office.
Hanna, thanks for joining me. Please sit down. How are your parents? Is school going well?
There, with light streaming in the bare windows, listening to the deep rumble of his voice lowered in conspiratorial counsel, she couldn’t keep her legs still.
I understand some questions have come up in your Youth Group…
In the chapel, watching Shellee’s discomfort made her bold. Here it was something else, a shy tingle like the one she first felt when the preacher responded to her raised hand.
As you get older your body matures. It’s normal and natural for children your age to change and to wonder about those changes, but trust in Jesus. It’s not the changes, but how you deal with them which matters…
Trapped in the little office with the preacher’s voice, Hannah could barely breathe. She closed her eyes in what the preacher at first took for contrition. She clung to the arms of her chair. Her thighs tightened then loosened, tightened then loosened, like when she was a younger child.
It’s a confusing time. You’ll be filled with questions. Maybe even fear. But remember, you’re not alone. Others have been through these changes before you, and they can help guide you. You can talk to Shellee about anything. She loves you, and she is a great listener. Or your mother. You’ve been blessed with a gift, you have a mother who loves Jesus…
As the preacher spoke, the tingle in her belly grew into a honeyed bubble. Her mouth fell open. The bubble in her belly became an explosion of light. The only way to stop from exploding herself was to let the feeling pour from her open throat, a mindless sound of wonder and joy.
When Hannah opened her eyes, the preacher’s expression brought her down quickly. He looked sad, appalled, and scared all at once. The air in his office didn’t feel like air, it felt like gas ready to explode. There was no knowing what would set it off.
After a time, the preacher risked a few words.
“Hannah, please leave,” he said softly. It was the last time she heard his beautiful voice.
The church hadn’t finished construction before they exiled the Delaneys. Hannah never knew if the new chapel was as grand as the preacher always promised, or as warm and beautiful as the old one.
Eventually, she didn’t care.