THE CRACKED GUITAR
By Anil Z. Mathew

Made in Korea the guitar had belonged to Vinay his brother who had died of a heart attack and it had passed on as a legacy to him four years back. He had grown attached to the guitar. He would lead the singing in church the guitar notes blending so well with the consummate skill with which he strummed as they worshipped and sang together the hymns and choruses with passionate intensity, eyes closed ecstatically raising their hands, feeling the presence of God in their midst.

Pastor Soman was a young man in his early thirties. He had dedicated his whole life to the cause of the good news of Jesus Christ. A popular and indefatigable pastor who literally went about like Jesus doing good wherever he went, living out his faith in a needy world, and almost everybody in the church and neighbourhood commented on the pastor’s exemplary commitment and dedication.

Until his wife Minnie died of cerebral malaria. The high grade fever had come on with convulsions and three weeks of hospitalization and Minnie went into a coma never to recover consciousness.
But the day she died something cracked inside the Pastor. People said that he seemed to have lost his equilibrium. The congregation of St. John’s Church observed the change in Pastor Soman with dismay. He had been such an extraordinarily gifted Pastor with such a deep commitment.

The day Minnie died Soman also stopped playing the guitar. The rumour went around that he had given the guitar away. Nobody knew the truth, but people complained that he needed to be sensitive to the needs of his congregation. They felt that, as a man of God and a spiritually mature believer, he should have recovered after the customary period of mourning and should have worn his suffering and grief as a badge of honour true to his commitment to the gospel. After all, life must go on and we need to rise above our circumstances and follow our Lord through on the next part of our spiritual pilgrimage.

And people began to comment that the pastor was not as committed as they had thought, but deep inside there were weak areas in the pastor’s spiritual life which needed to be addressed. Perhaps he himself badly needed counselling, but obviously he would not listen to anyone they thought.

So gradually a sizable section of the congregation had already stopped their visits to the parsonage. Some of the Pastorate committee members were already thinking of getting him transferred, requesting the Regional Board members to assign them a new Pastor, someone strong and spiritually mature.

Now there were a few people who wondered: were these allegations against Pastor Soman really justified? They were not sure; of course there was no way of really knowing for sure. All they could say after Minnie passed away he stopped playing the guitar and his voice didn’t sound as good as it was without the accompaniment of the guitar. Something was decidedly missing. Worship at St. John’s became dull and lifeless and attendance began to dwindle. The Pastor’s sermons sounded hollow although they were still systematically presented. Someone remarked that nowadays sermons could be easily downloaded from the internet without any real preparation or effort on the part of the preacher.

All that can be said was that this state of affairs went on for some time and while these allegations against Pastor Soman continued, the poor man was beginning to feel a certain hardening taking place in his heart against his congregation. He was getting disillusioned.

Nobody really knew why he did not play his guitar anymore. This much was decidedly true; if Pastor Soman’s spiritual zeal was to be gauged by the spirit of his singing then all that can be said is that the man of God was definitely backsliding in his spiritual life, there was no doubt about that. People said the “singing” pastor had now become the “sighing” Pastor for every now and then when engaged in church activities he would let out a sigh as if his mind was elsewhere, as though some great tragedy obsessed him day and night.

Those who visited the Pastor observed how untidy his house was and the word spread that the Pastor had given up his faith and had lost his moorings. They noticed that the guitar was no longer in its customary place; no longer on its makeshift stand near the cupboard. Nobody knew what he had done with it.

Mrs. Sangeeta came to visit the Pastor. She was a widow in her mid-seventies who had been away for the last eight months with her niece’s family at Lucknow where she was recovering from heart surgery. She had lost her husband in a car accident five days after her wedding and she had never remarried. She had a catalogue of sicknesses that would have defeated anyone else in her position. She had arrived only yesterday from Lucknow and had heard about the goings- on in her church and despite her poor health had decided to visit her Pastor. She had heard about the allegations and was curious about what had taken place.

Without much ado she went about her mission with a no-nonsense urgency. Her frail body shaking as she articulated her thoughts.
Soman broke down. For the first time under her attentive concern he wept, burying his face in his hands with deep, convulsive sobs. Mrs Sangeeta listened to him as he poured out his heart to her about how Minnie and he had made plans about their future together and then this uncalled for tragedy which didn’t seem to make sense at all.

The miserable Pastor uttered loudly and tearfully, “I have many questions to ask God. Often I feel like quitting, to give up my faith. As if God had singled me out for special suffering. As if I had done something to anger him, committed some unpardonable sin for which he was disciplining me. Yet I couldn’t quite come to terms with Minnie’s absence, I wonder if I ever will, I doubt it look around me. I have no motivation, no desire to do anything.”

“You don’t know this; there were times when I was tempted to go to the bar and get drunk, to drink away my sorrows to death. I don’t know why I’m telling you all this but Minnie was my anchor, she knew everything about me. We had been married seven years. True we were hoping to have children but the Lord hadn’t been kind enough to grant us a child as yet. We were willing to adopt. But what about my Minnie why am I denied the need for my companion? I’ve asked God several times, ‘Lord what did I do wrong? Why must you punish me?’”

Soman choked as he said this. Bleary-eyed he looked up and said to her, “Can you, Mrs. Sangeeta, tell me why he took away my Minnie?”

Mrs. Sangeeta said emphatically yet gently, “No, I can’t!”

She got up to leave, “I’ll come again tomorrow around this time.” she said to him as she got up to go. As she went to the door she assured him, “There’s a group of us praying for you.”

But at the end of one month of daily visiting by Mrs. Sangeeta something did happen. Mrs. Sangeeta put a curious question to him, “Why don’t you play your guitar? Where is it?”

Soman, a little perturbed at the question, went to the kitchen, climbed up on a stool and brought out the guitar from the loft dusting it before he took it out of its case.  “Maybe I can tell you why I haven’t played it so far since Minnie’s death. The day Minnie died I had become so upset that I had accidentally knocked the guitar out of its stand and it had struck the wall and, Oh God there was a crack at the side. It isn’t damaged, of course, and I know it can be repaired but I took it as a sign. It was my way of saying to God that it was final, I would no longer play it until He explains to me, gives me a good reason why he took Minnie away.”

Mrs. Sangeeta asked him a question that made him look up, “Is that a good reason not to play?”

“Maybe not, but I won’t budge from my decision.”

Mrs. Sangeeta smiled at him and said, “Okay, let’s make a pledge.”

“What do you mean?”

“Can you promise me something?”

“What?”

“The day you find a good reason for playing your guitar, would you play it again?”

“Of course.”

“Well, thank you.” she said.  She moved towards the door unsteadily coughing noisily.

Pastor Soman woke up to the ringing of his cell phone, it was quite early for anyone to call, “This is Dr. Shah from Sanjeevini hospital calling. Is that Mr. Soman?” said an unfamiliar voice”.

“Yes.”

“Well Sir, I have some bad news for you. This is to inform you that Mrs Sangeeta Godbole passed away at 4 a.m. this morning. She died of a heart attack. She was undergoing treatment here, had a weak heart. She gave me a piece of paper with your name and phone number and told me to call you in case she didn’t recover.”

“Oh my God!”

Something cracked inside him.

The following Sunday Pastor Soman played his guitar at worship and some of the people noticed that there was an added depth and richness to the quality of his singing which had not been there before.