R is for Reverence

by Kristen Carson

The teacher’s scriptures drape heavily over her hand as she instructs the Sunday School class to turn to verse eighty-one. Zippers zip and pages flip, then the room is as quiet as a temple foyer. Someone behind me yawns with a small, soft pop. A door in back opens with a restrained click. It is so quiet I can hear the light breath of the air conditioning. Then my stomach starts to growl. It is a little clarinet dirge: doleful, insistent, full of all the sorrows of the world.

I hate fast Sunday.

I’m not complaining about the temptations, though the food in the newspaper ads looks more scrumptious that day. The chocolate-chip cookies are twinklier, the Hot Pockets gooier, the apple pies more golden brown. Nor am I grumbling about the slow movement of the clock as I raise my head from my pillow all afternoon to check the approach of the dinner hour. By then, I’m feeling humble indeed, drowsy beyond belief. Actually, I would not check the clock at all except that my gut keeps waking me up. But hey, I am woman enough to endure it all.

I just don’t like enduring it at church.

That is where my neighbors aim their ears like satellite dishes picking up the signal. They stare suspiciously at my lap. They giggle.

I have tried, when my stomach rumbles, to stare suspiciously at their laps, but nobody lets me get away with that. I stand alone, the ward’s one-woman reverence problem. This is humility? I don’t think so. Try humiliation.

I don’t know what it is about a noisy gut that inspires giggles. As body noises go, this one is less annoying than a sniffle, less messy than a sneeze, and certainly less room-clearing than, um, gas. Still, a couple teenagers I know assure me that it is nearly as funny as your pants falling down.

One could regard it as a badge of honor. It proves that I gave up my Cocoa Puffs that morning. But when my clarinet begins to whine and the faces of my friends crack into smiles, I wonder why God rewards me this way when I chose Him over Cocoa Puffs.

And why don’t I hear other clarinets? Or am I the only one around here who’s righteously famished?

Maybe all the others are blessed with low-noise stomachs. Maybe their rumbles are as faint as a radio in the next room, fading out before folks are sure they heard anything at all.

As for me, I measure my problem by its breadth. Did I disturb a one-neighbor radius today? A two-neighbor swath? More?

One Sunday I sat in Young Women while a blonde Mia Maid stood at the front of the room expressing the depth of her faith. I could feel my little clarinet tuning up. I squirmed in my seat, wondering how bad it would be.

It struck just as the girl paused to gather her thoughts. And on that day, my stomach was no lonely little woodwind. It was the entire orchestra. As soon as the strings finished, in charged the brass, and together they played a complete movie score. We had raging battle scenes, storms at sea, horses thundering across the prairie.

And what of the nonmember mother visiting us that day? She never came back. Nobody blamed me—not out loud, anyway. But we all know it’s best to serve our faith sunny-side up.

I, too, debated whether I would come back. No doubt my stomach would roar again, seeing as how fast Sunday just keeps rolling around. And what could I do? Run from the room five times during a class? Give up fasting and face the wrath of the rest of the family? Join a new ward every month (hard to do when you live east of Denver—waaaay east)?

Somewhere in all that worrying, my brain pulled up a picture filed away years ago: a beaker full of pink bubbles; a pill dropped in that “stops acid five times faster than the leading brand.”

“Do you think,” I asked my husband, “that one of those pills would help?”

“Oh,” said he, “you mean my little fast-day secret?” He pulled a stack of Rolaids from his suit pocket.

What? Married seventeen years and I never knew?

I put one of his pills on my tongue, feeling the letter R on its surface.

I know what the R stands for.

It stands for reverence.

Kristen Carson is in the middle of moving from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to Indianapolis. Her work has appeared in Indianapolis Monthly, Fourth Genre, Gettysburg Review, and Dialogue.