The following is an excerpt from The Miracle by Nathan Monk. It’s a featured Speakeasy selection, and there are still limited review copies available for qualified reviewers.
I don’t remember leaving the doctor’s office or going down the elevator or getting into the car. I do remember the drive home. She played “Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison over the Bluetooth in the car. We laughed and danced until we cried.
That night, after dinner, we sat the girls down. Penny was 15, Millie was 12, and Emily was 10. We were married at just 20 years old. We got pregnant on our wedding night. Nearly our whole life had been raising these girls. They cried. We cried. That night we held each other and made ice cream and watched The Notebook. I realized I would never see Rebecca old.
I hated God.
There’s no direct memory in my mind of when someone taught me about God. He had always been there, hovering around in my head. I didn’t like Him very much from the beginning. I had a very different feeling about Jesus. I understood that they were both God and I understood the concepts of the Trinity, a hotly debated topic amongst the Assembly of God congregations. I remember someone showing me how the Trinity worked at a youth camp. They took out a hotplate and a skillet. They had the twenty or so of us stand around the counter the hotplate was on. They dropped a piece of ice into the center of the skillet. It hissed and a small puddle of water began to boil about it; steam began to rise.
“You see that?” the youth pastor asked. “That is how the Trinity works. Everything you see in front of you is the same substance. They are all H20. But they are in three separate and distinct forms. Ice. Water. Steam. God is the same way. He is the same but the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit present themselves to us as three distinct persons.”
The Holy Spirit always seemed flighty and dangerous. My father used the Spirit as a weapon. Sometimes I felt like the Spirit was whispering in his ear, telling everyone’s secrets. The Father, I saw Him like I saw my own father, a man who was determined, had a plan, didn’t want us to get stuck on His past, and would do whatever was necessary to get His way no matter who it harmed. And then there was Jesus. I had spent hours of my youth walking the creek and the woods talking to Jesus like He was my older brother. I told Jesus everything. I imagined Him standing in between me and our Father, making excuses on my behalf. Promising I would do better. Asking God to give me another chance.
In my mind, I could feel Him walking there with me. I told my big brother everything. Sometimes I would tell Him things I couldn’t even tell Rebecca. Sins and fears and delusions. I never prayed, at least not in the way my father prayed, I would just talk. I’m not even sure I had an image of Him in my head. Probably I did, like a white Jesus with blue eyes and a beard wearing a long white robe. But He was blurrier than that in my brain. Like He was there and He wasn’t. I never pretended like He actually spoke to me. Though I had often heard people at church insinuate that God had given them a word or prophesy, I had a hard time believing it. God seemed to always like what they liked and hate what they hated. I had a hard time finding that Jesus in the Bible when I took the time to read it. I suppose the Jesus I spoke to along those walks through the woods I had made Him up too, to fit my own liking. I was not different, just because I had made my Jesus gentler. I was still not taking the time to listen. I was just giving Him my laundry list of fears and anxieties.
I felt better about myself because I didn’t beat my chest or add syllables to words like my father did, ever the showman that he was. I thought that made me better since my conversations were long and intimate and spontaneous. The words I spoke sounded genuine. In the end, I think we were all just making God in our own image. That’s why in my mind the Father looked so much like my father. I had been worshiping an idea of my own dad each Sunday. I guess, in the same way, the Jesus that didn’t rush through the door that day at the doctor to save us all from life was also made in my image. It’s what I would have done. If I were God, I would have rushed to my defense. I would have saved us from all this pain. I wouldn’t let someone who loved me so much, like Rebecca did, suffer in this way. Because I wouldn’t do it, I couldn’t understand how this Heavenly Father would let us feel so much pain. Wasn’t killing his Son enough of a sacrifice to feed his bloodlust? I judged the whole Trinity that day for not being more like me.
That night, as I brushed my teeth, I hit the floor hard and I cried out to my brother, the only God I wanted to talk to just then. I cried out to Him for the first time in a long time, the way I did on those long walks with Him when I was a child. I let out all the pretenses I had built up as a preacher, now made in my father’s image, and I let out my heart before the only one who could truly save us from all this. At least if He wanted to He could. If He would just be a little bit more like me and less like the great mystery. I cried out, “Jesus, if there is a way. If you have ever loved me, please.” That was all I could get out, and I lay there, on the soap-scummed floor. Auburn hairs lacing the corners of this old bathroom. Soon, this mess of hair would be all I had left of her.
Praise for The Miracle
“I was pleasantly surprised by this first time novelist’s work. I enjoyed this story of redemption. I found the characters believable and compelling. As a reader, I’ve reached the age / stage where I no longer force myself to finish a novel. If I come to a point where I realize that I don’t really care what happens, I stop reading. I was eager to continue reading this one.”
“You have to read this book. I’ve been tempted to start a Facebook group called “not that kind of Christian writer” and I think Fr. Nathan Monk would fit in a group like that. Thankfully, this isn’t your typical Christian fiction fare because I hate that kind of book with an unholy passion. This book is real. I am a selfish reader, I see myself in everything I read. Reading fundamentally ch ages us. As a porn addict in recovery, as an ex-fundamentalist, this cut deep into my soul. I read it in one sitting. It’s healing and redemptive. It teaches redemption.”
“For an author’s first novel I was pleasantly surprised at how thought out, but not over thought the book was. You can feel the story flow. Well-put together, with depth that some authors need a multitude of books to reach. I’m broadening my genres of interest to see how this author progresses. Definitely looking forward to the next.”
About the Author
Nathan Monk is a social justice advocate, author, and former Orthodox priest. He lives in Pensacola, FL with his wife and three children. He is the author of Chasing the Mouse: A Memoir About Childhood Homelessness, and Charity Means Love: Transforming the Culture of How We Give. He works with nonprofits and local governments to address issues associated with homelessness, poverty, and social justice.
In Nathan Monk’s novel “The Miracle,” three characters in a recovery center seem, at first, to provide what the author identifies as “the miracle.” A rich businessman dying from cancer, a black man who identifies and dresses as a woman, and a “cam woman” who won’t let anyone touch her, befriend the fallen Apostle and confront him with their “worldly” wisdom. Are these folks angels? Probably not, as this would be a Roman Catholic image. In this story of an evangelical preacher’s fall from grace, these three new friends arise from the gritty, sexy, money-grabbing world. Also, a very successful secular, self-help guru provides care and counsel that supports the fallen Apostle’s recovery.
The author adds to the story, however, a suicide attempt by the Apostle just after he returns home to be with his three daughters. This leads to a near-death experience in which the Apostle’s deceased, beloved wife tells him how to renew his ministry. Might this experience be “the miracle” identified by the book’s title? Again, it isn’t divine love that saves the life and ministry of the fallen Apostle, but human love from new and honest friends and the love of a deceased spouse in heaven. Or, perhaps, the author is trying to tell us that this is how divine love actually works.
Missing from the novel, in my view, are the family conversations between the Apostle before his fall with his beloved wife and children. We hear his account of how his childhood love evolves into his marriage and his wife’s service in his ministry. Yet she rarely speaks for herself, until his near-death experience. And we do not even learn the names of his children until near the end when his oldest daughter, Penny, confronts the fallen-but-now-recovering-and-back-home apostle with her experience of the harshness of his parenting and lack of concern for the children he left behind during his New Orleans indulgence and his court-ordered recovery confinement.
While living, Rebecca, the Apostle’s life-long love, is simply the childhood faithful friend and then a loving wife who never seems to be critical of her husband or to have her own life as a mother and a woman. Penny seems remarkably assertive when her father returns home, which he says reminds him of her mother. We don’t, however, see her confronting Rebecca confronting her husband with “tough love” until after her death. And we have no way to understand how Penny would develop this strength through interactions with her mother.
As the only females of note in this story are Rebecca, Penny, and Mary (the cam woman the fallen Apostle comes to know in recovery), I believe the novel would be enriched by conversations involving the female members of the Apostle’s family. The Apostle tells his own story, especially before his fall, which mostly involves his interactions with other men—his father, his grandfather, the elders of the church, competing as a child with another boy, and competing with male evangelical preachers.
Only by almost complete silence does the novel suggest what might be the real “miracle” offered to a married man—the love and learning experienced by listening to his wife and children, and especially to his daughters.