An unremarkable ray of sunlight spilled through the stained glass windows and onto the floor near the alter. A gray-haired, white-robed clergyman delivered his sermon to a restless congregation. The priest’s voice droned on in an a precise, efficient, and monotone manner, casting a suffocating aura around the half-listening mass of people.
“Blessed are the productive, for they will build great things.”
“Blessed are the obedient, for they will make good workers.”
“Blessed are the efficient, for they will waste no time.”
“Blessed are the rule-followers, for they will provide stability.”
By the time he had finished the sermon, people were already checking their phones, most of them wearing sharp business attire, their minds half-focused on the jobs they would begin later that day. The priest, now standing with outstretched arms, spoke again.
“Let us now make our daily transaction with our neighbor.”
This caused considerable irritation and groaning as the congregation begrudgingly exchanged business cards with the people nearest to them. However, after a few seconds, the priest smiled, stretching out his arms again and looking skyward.
“Almighty Corporation, most productive and efficient, we gather here to follow in your footsteps, to obey without hesitation, and to imitate your business model so that we might share in your productivity and join in union with your great Company forever and ever, Amen.”
The congregation responded with a forced but resounding “Amen” as the priest lowered his arms and let his hands rest at his side. An automated bell sounded, signaling the time for communion. The congregation now shifted anxiously again, their eyes flashing up and down between the priest and their phones.
The priest then opened a small vault in the corner of the church and began to remove the ancient artifacts with the sleeve of his robe, careful not to touch them with his hands. A few businessmen wearing gloves departed from the congregation and walked toward the alter. As the priest descended, he carefully handed the ancient artifacts to the gloved businessmen.
The congregation, marked with individual numbers, walked in single file down their assigned isles and toward the alter. When they reached the front of the church, the gloved businessmen briefly held up the artifacts to members of the congregation, whispering something softly as the faithful nodded their heads and kissed the blessed paper, which was sealed in plastic.
Each member proceeded in an orderly and efficient manner, making their way back to the church pews and briefly bowing their heads before checking their phones once again. Almost every person had taken communion except one: a curious and imaginative child from an otherwise normal family.
When everyone else would check their phones, she would always close her eyes and imagine she was in far-off places she hadn’t been. And even when the priest held up the artifacts, she wondered why they were so important anyway. After all, they looked old and wrinkled – hardly something she was interested in. If she couldn’t touch it, play with it, or share it with her friends, what use did it have? She thought it was like an old hat that nobody could wear, though nobody would even want to wear it.
As she drew closer to the alter, staring at the back of a rather pale and sad looking man, her mind began to wander. She imagined that she was walking in an open meadow surrounded by woods, and that the line she was walking was a secret path that would lead her to buried treasure – to toys and gifts of nature that would bring her joy. She could feel the gentle pull of the breeze and the warmth of the sun. In her mind she was smiling and laughing. She heard the call of the universe and felt at one with it.
Then suddenly she was falling. Her foot had caught the heel of the sad man in front of her, and she headed toward the ground, throwing out her hands in wild desperation. She fell forward, bumping her head hard on the stairs that surrounded the alter. Everyone in the church gasped. Her head was bleeding, but this wasn’t really why the churchgoers had gasped, for on her way to the ground she had grabbed hold of one of the sacred artifacts and brought it down with her.
The girl, now wincing in pain, stared curiously at the object she had mistakenly grabbed. Something was different. The plastic that had originally encased the precious artifact was missing. The girl’s blood now dripped onto the strange, wrinkled paper, eliciting more gasps from the congregation.
Just then, a rather remarkable ray of sunlight shone through the stained glass window, illuminating the girl’s fallen body and the blood-stained dollar bill she clutched in her hand. And as her senses began to leave her, all she could think was that she finally got to touch the piece of wrinkled old paper that everybody cared so much about, but that somehow it made her feel empty.