There was a crowd of two hundred or so people, mostly men and women, in the hallowed old church. They had come to hear a young man and woman condemned for fornicating in the small woods beyond the outskirts of the town, where a prying old woman had spotted them. The two sinners were in front, where they had been brought by the local police—she, taller than most, chin lifted, gold-haired, a bright silver ribbon springing from her pony tail, a little pale of face, yet with lips firm, light blue eyes lighting to the youth beside her; he, tall, straight, hard-shouldered, with a mature countenance above his young years. His blue eyes were calm, his whole demeanor at ease.
As the great preacher entered an awed hush fell over the crowd, with a keen sense of expectancy. They knew his voice, had heard the strong, severe, totally certain, booming brass syllables blast the air many a time before. They waited for God’s triumphal justice to begin. A kind of gleeful fear shone on most of their mouse-like faces.
An objective onlooker might think, “Was this the whole of their belief? Was a dominant, self-confident sounding voice, which, of course, had been artificially developed, with much practice, in a theological school, the main thing that motivated their minds and souls and secured their allegiance, their chosen submission?
Solemnly, with hard anger in his eyes and on his face—an anger that seemed to be fiercely held within—his reddish brown eyes looking like the coals of Hell itself; solemnly, slowly, with each step sounding like the tread of God as he mounted up to the top of the dais overlooking his flock, the preacher rose above them. He was garbed in black from toe to chin, bareheaded, with thin brown hair on a square-like block of a skull. His shoulders were broad. He looked invincible. Everyone, except the two foremost, cringed a little at his formidable presence.
He stood there, looking out over them, looking as if his eyes—the spirit of God—were boring into each and every soul, looking into each and every secret, hidden act of selfish shame and guilt. Then he stopped looking and opened his mouth. “Brothers and sisters, my people! Strong in faith! Mighty in sacrifice! Powerful in suffering! Men and women of God!! You who follow in the path of righteousness shall hear me and abide by me, for I am the instrument of the Lord God Almighty!”
The great, swelling, vibrant tone of his voice left no one in doubt that he was God’s chosen servant, and that they would do whatever he told them to do. He shifted his great block of a head and looked straight at the young couple before him, noticing, with a very slight sense of alarm (a wee crack in the wood), that they, mostly the man, did not look quite as abashed as was proper. The young man, not far past boyhood, looked straight at him with sky-blue eyes intent. At least he was paying proper heed to his moral superior.
The preacher, with still mighty voice began again, “You two young sinners here before us in the sight of God have been found guilty of…”
Then it happened. Before he could name their crime the young man cut him off, saying, “Selfish, beautiful, wonderful, overpowering, towering, flowering love!” What astonished everyone, and the preacher most of all, was not the content of what the boy, man, said, but the bare clean fact that his voice overpowered the preacher’s. It rolled up deep and strong, yet with a vein of sweetness in it; it battered the walls, the ceiling, their ears and even their eyes! Never was such a voice heard before. And more than that, it carried total moral conviction. It was still echoing and reverberating when the young man resumed, as in his mountain high echo-chamber: “We have loved, and that is our glory and our innocence. We have been true to our hearts, yes, and to our bodies, integrated and one, supreme and indivisible! We are guilty of nothing, for we are as we have made us, not as you, in fear and envy, and in your mean disapproval, have wanted us to be. We are the light of joy and triumph, true masters of ourselves, beholden to no preacher with a big voice, beholden to none of you who shrink and cower. Yea, verily I say unto you, I am a man and this is my woman!”
The crowd was shocked even more deeply astonished; then, muttering, as logs in a fire turning to ashes and breaking apart, began to break hurriedly out of the church. The preacher had slivered onto the floor. The two lovers, arm in arm, walked out a side door onto a shaft of golden sunlight. And the sparrows chirped and tweeted.