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The Day Of The Storm

Children's Story
The first thing Jack saw when he walked into church on the Sunday morning was a bright red octopus. It seemed an odd animal to be in church, but Jack's heart lifted in anticipation, for with an octopus in the offing and a bright red one at that, surely the preacher would have an exciting talk this morning.

Of course it was only a paper octopus, but nonetheless it filled Jack's mind with thoughts of the sea and strange sea creatures and coral reefs and snorkelling and all those things you never usually thought about in church.

Jack drifted through the service, imagining himself on the seabed dressed in a real diving suit, using the Swiss army knife he just happened to have with him to fight a giant octopus. The octopus was responding by squirting Jack with huge quantities of a kind of black ink, so that for the moment Jack couldn't see quite where he was going.

Then his ears picked up the words he'd been waiting for throughout the service: "Would the children like to come out?" Jack was out of his pew in a flash and first to the front of the church. A ripple of amused approval ran through the adults at this evidence of childlike devotion and Jack allowed himself to bask in a brief moment's glory. It seemed he'd done the right thing for once.

Some more children followed Jack's lead, and when there were about a dozen of them gathered together, the preacher brought over the bright red paper octopus. And Jack noticed he had in his hand lots more smaller octopuses (or should that be octopi? Jack wondered.) "Now children, " the preacher began, "do you know what day this is?"

Since none of them knew the answer, all the children were silent. The adults sat with indulgent smiles on their faces, and one or two were mouthing something incomprehensible to their offspring. Jack didn't dare look at his mother in case she was doing the same. He hoped desperately that she wasn't.

"Have we all forgotten?" the preacher asked brightly, although he'd wilted a little under the silence. Jack wondered whether it was Octopus Sunday, but he wasn't sure whether there was such a thing. He thought perhaps he'd better say something, only he didn't mean it to come out in quite the way it did.

"If you've forgotten," he asked, "how can we children know what day it is?"

The other children giggled, and there were one or two stifled smirks from some of the adults. The rest looked rather horrified. The preacher glared at Jack. Then he said, "I'll give you a clue," and waved all the little paper octopuses under their noses.

'So I was right, after all,' thought Jack. He put up his hand and said loudly, "Octopus Sunday."

The church erupted into howls of laughter while the preacher turned scarlet and looked furiously at Jack. Then Jack noticed he was holding the big octopus upside down. "You're holding it the wrong way up," he said helpfully, and the shrieks of laughter grew louder.

But the preacher wasn't amused. "This is a flame," he responded, angrily. "Today is Pentecost, the Church's birthday. Don't you know what happened at the first Pentecost? We've just had the story read to us."

Jack hadn't been listening when the Bible had been read, so he had no idea what the story had been. But he knew the preacher would tell them anyway, because that's what preachers always did. He soon learned that on the first day of Pentecost after Jesus had died, the Holy Spirit had hovered over the heads of each of the disciples, just like tongues of flame. He also learned that the preacher had spent a long time the previous evening cutting out over a hundred tongues of flame from bright red paper, and that he wasn't very pleased when Jack thought they looked like octopuses.

Then the preacher suggested that all the children took the flames and held them over the heads of each of the adults in the congregation. Jack thought he'd never heard anything so silly in all his life. "I'm not doing that," he announced, and went to sit down again with his mother. Laughing and giggling, all the other children followed him, but Jack didn't see what happened next because his mother grabbed hold of his arm and practically dragged him out of church.

Then the trouble really started for Jack. He wasn't sure quite what he'd done that was so awful, but it was like a storm raging all around him as both his parents roared at him for what they called 'his disgraceful behaviour' and 'showing up the whole family'. Jack had never seen his parents so mad, and he felt kind of trembly and frightened inside. He prayed to God to make things all right again, although he doubted whether God would listen to him since according to his parents, he'd made God very sad and that was the worst thing you could ever do.

Yet after his prayer, Jack somehow felt better. It was as though he became still and calm inside and the trembliness disappeared. He still didn't like his parents being so mad, but they didn't keep it up for too long and eventually he knew he was forgiven.

The next time he went to church Jack apologised to the preacher, and to his surprise, the preacher was really nice. "That's OK Jack," the preacher said, "I learned a whole lot from last week, too." And he smiled at Jack. Since Jack had always thought the preacher knew everything, he couldn't imagine what the preacher might have learned. But he didn't say anything. He just smiled back and nodded, glad to know the storm really was over. But inside his head he whispered, 'Thank you, God.'
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