Posts Tagged ‘God’

My father lives in a different world than me.

He lives in Mallorca, Spain and the traditions are different in many ways. I always like to hear of the festivities for different occasions, so I sent an email asking him about Christmastide, and whether they decorate Christmas trees.  I received this long message which I want to pass on to my readers, complete with links and photos.  I am especially amazed by the snowflake lights.  At the bottom of the post you can listen to the song my father refers to in this message, sung by a child.

I hope you all have a meaningful Christmas celebration in honor of the Son of God who came to Earth to save us all.

Shalom,

Sister Olive

~♥~

Dear Dottir,

In the last decade or so, yes, Christmas trees, Santa Claus, elves and any commercialization possible has taken over.  Even here in this small village, in the little plaza up in town there is a Christmas tree with decorations.

Before this northern invasion, Christmas Eve was celebrated in the church, or quietly in the home, no tree, no gifts just a celebration of the birth and the mother.  Here on Mallorca and in Catalunya, they had another very strange custom. A young child sings the Sybila, a song of the Judgment Day. You can read about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Song_of_the_Sibyl 

I have heard it sung many times over the years, because when I directed the church choir we were up in the organ loft, waiting for our turn to sing various Christmas songs from the region.  It is a haunting melody, very difficult for a child to sing, so they practice it for weeks before, no accompaniment of any kind, just that pure “white voice” as they call unchanged voices here. Here it is sung in a little church by a woman: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfirOs1RGIc

In the Cathedral of Palma they make a real production of it, with full choir, organ and a young woman singing http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8aYV_Kqv44g– these may be beautiful, but I prefer the single child in the Deya church, innocently singing about the end of the world.  Every year a different child is chosen.

Before also, the decorations were basically “nerulas” or white paper cutouts like snowflakes, hung across the nave of the church and in houses.  The streets still are blazoned with lights, as traditionally – I first saw them in Barcelona in 1969 and was amazed. Take a look https://www.google.es/search?q=christmas+lights+in+Barcelona&hl=en&tbo=u&tbm=isch&source=univ&sa=X&ei=nZfRULDuGOyY0QWeuICoBA&ved=0CEMQsAQ&biw=1024&bih=614

As for myself, you know me – Stephanie and I would sometimes walk and look at the world, especially the stars which are exceptionally bright in winter, just appreciating Creation, perhaps lamenting its ultimate passing…

I will be doing that alone this year for sure, and will send my love to you all.  What I see from my balcony is this:

 Poppy's Window View

Where Chopin stayed in 1838 for the winter, so I have good company.

At night it is lit up, blocking the stars until late, when they are turned off.

 Poppy's View at Night

What will you be doing?  Have you found a compatible church where you can enjoy the songs of Christmas?

Lots of love,

Poppy

~♥~

Here is the link for the solo sung by a child, my favorite of the versions so far:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nANDw8XOHhU

 ~♥~

The Song of the Sibyl

On the Day of Judgment
The good go to heaven for their services.

An eternal King cometh
Dressed in our mortal flesh
He certainly will come from heaven
To judge the century.

Before the judgment is passed
A great sign will show itself
The sun will lose its shine
The earth will tremble with fear.

Then comes a mighty thunder
The sign of a great anger
In a hellish confusion
Rays and cries resound.

A great fire will fall from the sky
In a stench of sulfur
And the earth will burn furiously
And a great terror afflict people.

Then comes the terrible signal
A major earthquake
The rocks will break
And the mountains will collapse.

Then nobody will have gold pieces
Silver or wealth
And all await sentencing.

Death will leave you penniless
And all collide
Only men remain crying
And sadness will cover the world.

The plains and peaks are all the same
Good and bad will be achieved
Kings, dukes, earls and barons
They will have to account for their actions.

And then comes, unexpected
The son of God Almighty
He will judge the living and the dead
The good go to heaven.

The Unborn
Cry from the wombs of their mothers
And with her cries say
“Help us God Almighty”

Mother of God, pray for us
You, the Mother of All Sins
You have the judgment merciful
You have that paradise is open to us.

You who have heard it all
Pray to God with devotion
With all your heart and fervor
That should save us.

 ~♥~

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I know an elder who used to tell me that thoughts are like birds that fly over your head.  You have no control over them, but you can prevent them from building a nest in your hair.  I always liked that analogy, and I seem to have more birds fly over than I can handle.  They come when I least expect them, sometimes in flocks and sometimes one at a time. So I just write about them.  Today this silly little bird flew over and reminded me about the nondenominational cookies.

English: Plateful of Christmas CookiesWhen I was employed at a bank some time ago, I had co-workers of many different beliefs. One of them did not believe in celebrating holidays.  So another young lady from a Baptist church came in one day with fancy home-baked Christmas cookies to give to everyone.  When she approached the woman who didn’t celebrate such occasions, she set the little plate of cookies down politely in her window.  She said with a smile “I know you don’t celebrate Christmas, but these cookies are nondenominational.”  The two women smiled and spoke politely to each other  and I enjoyed watching the meekness and affection between them.

I wish more people had that recipe and baked those nondenominational cookies.  They look prettier on the plate because they are not all the same kind. They taste better because they are seasoned to perfection, they are softer, and they don’t bite back.

~♥~

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The Hand of God?

NASA Space Telescope Spots the ‘Hand Of God’ After Incredible Star Explosion.

All I can say is…WOW!

Shalom,

Sister Olive

~♥~

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Page 100v: Healing of the blind man of Jericho...

Page 100v: Healing of the blind man of Jericho, Lc 18:35-43 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was digging through some old Bible study notes, and came across a series by a very humble pastor in our community named “Brother Bob.”  This series was about seven of the miracles of Jesus from the Gospels which proved His divinity.

I occasionally meet people who follow other spiritual teachers. I can’t imagine why someone would prefer any leader over Jesus. Sometimes I argue my case in a gentle way, and Brother Bob gave me a bit more evidence to show that Jesus was God in the flesh! Here are a few of the miracles that Brother Bob talked about one night:

First, the Bible says in John 20:30-31 that not everything is written down, and that these things were written so that the reader might believe that Jesus is the Christ.

Here are some of the miracles that were recorded in The Gospel According to Saint John:

1. Water To Wine (Chapter 2):  Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding feast when all of the wine had run out. He did this to increase joy and to show that He has power over nature.

2. Healing of Nobleman’s Son (Chapter 4):  Jesus healed the young man to show that He has power over disease.

3. Healing of the Lame Man on the Sabbath (Chapter 5):  After this miracle, He told the man to avoid sin so that nothing worse would befall him. He did these things to show He can heal both body and soul, and that He has more authority than the Law.

4. Feeding of the 5000 men plus women and children (Chapter 6):  To show that God is compassionate and to prove that He is the Bread of Life.

5. Walked On Water (same chapter):  To show that He has power over Nature and over Fear (Be Not Afraid)

6. Healed the Blind Man on the Sabbath (Chapter 9): To illustrate that He is the Light of the World and that He is not subject to the Law.

7. Raised Lazarus from the dead (Chapter 11): To show that He has human compassion (Jesus wept) and power over Death and that He is the Resurrection and the Life.

Peace and Grace be with you,

“Sister Olive”

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English: "The Little Match Girl"For most of my life, I have felt like The Little Match Girl waiting for an angel to come and rescue her from the streets, or Cinderella scrubbing the floors while her stepsisters dress up for the ball.  But something is changing since I visited my illustrious father in Spain.

I feel like Alice upon returning home from Wonderland to tell her adventures, or the little girl who first noticed The Leaf from Heaven, or The Ugly Duckling finding out about her swan-hood. My soul is transforming from that of a poor little gypsy to a noblewoman, because I’m connected to something special.

There’s no wealth or fame in this story, just a sense of treading closer to the Earth, rather than feeling like a ghost who passes by and reaches out with invisible fingers.

Peace & Grace,

“Sister Olive”

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So, daughter, inasmuch as it concerns you so closely to set forth on this devout journey under good guidance, do you pray most earnestly to God to supply you with a guide after His Own Heart, and never doubt but that He will grant you one who is wise and faithful, even should He send you an angel from Heaven…

The simple style of this bishop (Saint Francis de Sales) really speaks to me… This book on the devout life is a series of his letters to a married woman who earnestly desires to grow closer to God…

Ponder Jacob’s ladder:–it is a true picture of the devout life…Consider, too, who they are who trod this ladder; men with angels’ hearts, or angels with human forms. They are not youthful, but they seem to be so by reason of their vigour and spiritual activity. They have wings wherewith to fly, and attain to God in holy prayer, but they have likewise feet wherewith to tread in human paths…

Here is one of my favorite passages from Chapter 3 where the writer explains that where God is concerned, no one “falls through the cracks” if the heart is sincere and humble…

A different exercise of devotion is required of each–the noble, the artisan, the servant, the prince, the maiden and the wife; and furthermore such practice must be modified according to the strength, the calling, and the duties of each individual…

No indeed, my child, the devotion which is true hinders nothing, but on the contrary it perfects everything; and that which runs counter to the rightful vocation of any one is, you may be sure, a spurious devotion. Aristotle says that the bee sucks honey from flowers without damaging them, leaving them as whole and fresh as it found them;–but true devotion does better still, for it not only hinders no manner of vocation or duty, but, contrariwise, it adorns and beautifies all.

~♥~

St. Francis de Sales, the gentleman saint and ...

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Devout LifeI have started reading this book as sort of a spiritual self-improvement course, and on the first page of the introduction, I found this lovely passage that I want to share with you… I feel already that this angelic fellow is speaking directly to my heart.  It’s a little spooky, especially when he keeps writing to someone that he refers to as “daughter”… I am very excited about what I will learn!

Almost all those who have written concerning the devout life have had chiefly in view persons who have altogether quitted the world; or at any rate they have taught a manner of devotion which would lead to such total retirement. But my object is to teach those who are living in towns, at court, in their own households, and whose calling obliges them to a social life, so far as externals are concerned. Such persons are apt to reject all attempt to lead a devout life under the plea of impossibility; imagining that like as no animal presumes to eat of the plant commonly called Palma Christi, so no one who is immersed in the tide of temporal affairs ought to presume to seek the palm of Christian piety.

And so I have shown them that, like as the mother-of-pearl lives in the sea without ever absorbing one drop of salt water; and as near the Chelidonian Isles springs of sweet water start forth in the midst of the ocean and as the firemoth hovers in the flames without burning her wings; even so a true stedfast soul may live in the world untainted by worldly breath, finding a well-spring of holy piety amid the bitter waves of society, and hovering amid the flames of earthly lusts without singeing the wings of its devout life. Of a truth this is not easy, and for that very reason I would have Christians bestow more care and energy than heretofore on the attempt, and thus it is that, while conscious of my own weakness, I endeavour by this book to afford some help to those who are undertaking this noble work with a generous heart.

~♥~

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I really enjoyed the post today by the Blue Hermit,  It is about Jonathan who was a true friend to David, and preferred to be a friend rather than the next king. He was not competitive or jealous of his friend, and stood up for him at the risk of his own life.  It made me think about whether I am a true friend to people I know…I hope that you are inspired to contemplate the same.

Click the link below to read the post:

http://brotherdismas.blogspot.com/2013/06/wednesday-of-12th-week-in-ordinary-time.html#comment-form

Peace & Grace,

Sister Olive

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Sandro Botticelli, Magnificat, 1480-81, temper...

I love and enjoy the Holy Scriptures, and there are passages throughout that I have special fondness for.  I love how Peter writes that God chooses the stones that the builder rejects.  I love Hebrews 11 where the writer describes the great patriarchs of faith.  And there are several parts of the Bible which lend themselves perfectly to prayer: I love to pray the 23rd Psalm and The Lord’s Prayer.

The styles and tone of the battle king and the fishermen and the converted Pharisee are all distinctive and strong and hard-hitting, but one passage gently strums the strings of my heart because of its graceful feminine voice.  Nothing “speaks to my condition” like the Magnificat, expressions from the soul of a woman who humbly loved God. It affects me on a very personal level as a daughter of God, and I love to recite it in my prayers:

My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior, for He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden, for behold from henceforth shall all generations call me blessed, for He that is mighty hath done unto me great things, and Holy is His Name. 

(Luke 1:46-55)

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jrrtolkien

All that is gold does not glitter

Not all those who wander are lost

The old that is strong does not wither

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken

A light from the shadows shall spring

Renewed shall be the blade that was broken

The crownless shall again be king.

~♥~

I suppose someone might wonder why I love this poem.  First of all, it’s Tolkien, of course- the Christian literary genius who invented all kinds of crazy languages and imaginary worlds!  The first time I read The Hobbit, I was completely swept away by this dapper fellow with the pipe who puffed magical smoke rings, and I had to read everything else he wrote, even the lesser known stories such as Farmer Giles of Ham and The Smith of Wootton Major

But this particular poem is a favorite of mine for several reasons:  first, because it appears in one of the first letters from Gandalf to the hobbits in Bree, and also because it is a lovely metaphorical mixture of prophecy and wisdom.

Here are some of the little treasures hidden in it:  1)There are many things more precious than gold that the world doesn’t recognize, contrary to the words of Led Zeppelin’s song.  2) Some people appear to be wandering because they are just on a different path.  3) Withering is only a physical occurrence that doesn’t affect the soul.  4) When the roots of faith are deep, they are incorruptible and untouchable by the frost of desire or trouble.

Then in the second stanza is an illustrated prophecy about a crownless King who will return and bring light and renewal back from among the shadows.  Sounds like Jesus to me!

Light and Peace to Thee,

Sister Olive

~♥~

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Palm Sunday was yesterday, and today the snow falls upon the white pear blossoms.  Tree brooms sweep the grey clouds across the sky. The daffodils have become clusters of snow cones, and a confused robin hops in circles with his beak pointing heavenward, flicking the snowflakes from his wings.

We are officially in the season of SPRINTER!

Peace be with You this Holy Week,

“Sister Olive”

Flowers (in this instance marigolds) strewn ab...

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Too late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient, O Beauty so new. Too late have I loved you!  You were within me but I was outside myself, and there I sought you! In my weakness I ran after the beauty of the things you have made. You were with me, and I was not with you. The things you have made kept me from you – the things which would have no being unless they existed in you! You have called, you have cried, and you have pierced my deafness. You have radiated forth, you have shined out brightly, and you have dispelled my blindness. You have sent forth your fragrance, and I have breathed it in, and I long for you. I have tasted you, and I hunger and thirst for you. You have touched me, and I ardently desire your peace.

Prayers of Saint Augustine, X, 27, 38

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The Way of the HeartOur society is not a community radiant with the love of Christ, but a dangerous network of domination and manipulation in which we can easily get entangled and lose our soul. The basic question is whether we ministers of Jesus Christ have not already been so deeply molded by the seductive powers of our dark world that we have become blind to our own and other people’s fatal state.

Just look for a moment at our daily routine. In general, we are very busy people. We have many meetings to attend, many visits to make, many services to lead. Our calendars are filled with appointments, our days and weeks are filled with engagements, and our years filled with plans and projects. There is seldom a period in which we do not know what to do and we move through life in such a distracted way that we do not ever take the time and rest to wonder if any of the things we think, say or do are worth thinking, saying or doing. We simply go along with the many “musts” and “oughts” that have been handed on to us. People must be motivated to come to Church, youth must be entertained, money must be raised and, above all, everyone must be happy. Moreover, we ought to be on good terms with the Church and civil authorities; we ought to be liked or at least respected by a fair majority of our parishioners; we ought to move up in the ranks according to schedule; and we ought to have enough vacation and salary to live a comfortable life. Thus we are busy people just like all other busy people, rewarded with the rewards which are rewarded to busy people.

All this is simply to suggest how horrendously secular our ministerial lives tend to be. Why is this so? The answer is quite simple. Our identity, our sense of self, is at stake. Secularity is a way of being dependent on the responses of our milieu. The secular or false self is the self which is fabricated by social compulsions. “Compulsive” is indeed the best adjective for the false self. It points to the need for ongoing and increasing affirmation.

Passage from “The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence” by Henri Nouwen

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Cover of "The Inner Voice of Love"

When I first read this passage in Henri Nouwen’s book The Inner Voice of Love, I felt as if the Holy Ghost was speaking directly to me and that I was seeing myself for the first time in a magnified mirror.  I suddenly realized that I have been searching for my father for most of my life; in sweethearts, friends, professors, and spiritual leaders. Perhaps some of you can identify with this battle:

 “You have to let your father and father figures go. You must stop seeing yourself through their eyes and trying to make them proud of you.

For as long as you can remember, you have been a pleaser, depending on others to give you an identity. You need not look at that only in a negative way. You wanted to give your heart to others, and you did so quickly and easily. But now you are being asked to let go of all these self-made props and trust that God is enough for you. You must stop being a pleaser and reclaim your identity as a free self.”

Excerpt from “The Inner Voice of Love:  A Journey through Anguish to Freedom” by Henri Nouwen

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This a new blog from Mallorca and I’m looking forward to reading it regularly!

Mallorca Observed

The traditional white paper doilies in Mallorca used as a Christmas decoration are called Neules.

Many moons ago, neules were hung in churches from a main lamp called the Solomon. Then, neules functioned as a kind of religious calendar helping the priest to let the poblers (villagers) know how many weeks and days would pass in that particular year, from Christmas Day to Dimecres de Cendra (Ash Wednesday), the first day of Cuaresma (Latin: quadragesima, Lent). Either the same number of neules were hung in the church as days were left until the first day of Lent, or larger neules were used for the number of weeks, with smaller neules being used for the remaining days. As the ecumenical year progressed towards Cuaresma, neules were removed one by one to give the faithful congregation a clearer impression of the period getting shorter by the day…

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I attended Mass recently, and I found the lyrics to this song to be haunting:

People, look east. The time is near 
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way.

Furrows, be glad. Though earth is bare,
One more seed is planted there:
Give up your strength the seed to nourish,
That in course the flower may flourish.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the rose, is on the way.

Birds, though you long have ceased to build,
Guard the nest that must be filled.
Even the hour when wings are frozen
God for fledging time has chosen.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the bird, is on the way.

Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim
One more light the bowl shall brim,
Shining beyond the frosty weather,
Bright as sun and moon together.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the star, is on the way.

Angels, announce with shouts of mirth
Christ who brings new life to earth.
Set every peak and valley humming
With the word, the Lord is coming.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Lord, is on the way.

People, Look East” was written by Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965) and was first published as “Carol of Advent”

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But of that day or hour no man knoweth, neither the angels
in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father. 
(Mark 13:32)

I visited an Episcopal church recently, and I asked a lady the meaning of the last line of the Doxology that says “World without end.”  She was a bit embarrassed and said she wasn’t sure, because she wasn’t really “up” on theology.  Then she approached a Sunday school teacher who didn’t seem to know either, although he tried to wing it.

I guess I’m funny that way.  I like to know exactly what I’m singing and saying in my prayers.  Whose world are we referring to?  Surely it doesn’t mean our world will never end.  Or does it?  Everyone thought the world was going to end yesterday, but it didn’t! Big surprise…

Jesus said He doesn’t even know when the end of time will be, so it strikes me as funny that people keep trying to figure it out.  Why do we play these guessing games? If only Christians would read the Bible more. Christ said the end would be like a thief in the night, and that’s a pretty straightforward analogy.  He said if you knew when a thief was coming, you could bust ’em quick.  But it’s not like that…we don’t know, so we’ve got to always be prepared. It’s aggravating, I know, but that’s just how it is.

P.S.  If you know what “world without end” means, please tell me…okay? I love to learn new stuff.

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“And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.”  Genesis 32:25

An angel simply touched Jacob’s thigh and dislocated it. Perhaps some angel touched our brows and dislocated our memory of why we had to come here and what we have to do.  Thomas Merton implied that this earth is Purgatory in his book Seven Storey Mountain. I sometimes think that we are fallen angels sent to Earth to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.”

The scriptures say a lot about what becomes of us after death, and what we are to do while in our bodies, but very little is said about why we came to this planet in the first place.  God told Jeremiah “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” (1:5)  The birth of the Messiah was predicted in the TaNaKh.  But I am pretty sure that most of us were not appointed to any sort of greatness.

I remember the seventies when my friends and I would smoke pot and drop LSD and sit around for hours asking questions like, “Why are we here?” and “Where did we come from?”

I don’t believe that all of us are simply the result of a big bang between two people.  Our flesh came about that way, but our mind and our spirit were designed for something higher. We are spiritual beings living in mortal bodies. No two of us are the same, and we all have this amazing potential to commune with the Divine.

Even Christ said very little about why each of us was born in the first place. He said we have to be born again of the Spirit.  He said “He that liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:26).  He said, “I am the resurrection and the life.”  He talked about the rich man and Lazarus going to separate places after death.  But He never told us why we came here, to a certain country and a certain time period and certain parents.  He never said it was all an illusion or a dream.  I find it somewhat surprising that none of His disciples asked Him about this.  They addressed so many subjects, but not that one.

I read somewhere that the rich are here to help the poor, and poor are here to save the rich. I also have read that good and evil angels are constantly involved in the affairs of men, and often wear disguises.  For me, one of the most terrifying stories in the Bible is of Nebuchadnezzar being spied upon by watcher angels because of his arrogance and his judgment finally being pronounced. For the whole story, read Daniel chapter 4, but here are a few verses:

I saw in the visions of my head upon my bed, and, behold, a watcher and an holy one came down from heaven; He cried aloud, and said thus…Let his heart be changed from man’s, and let a beast’s heart be given unto him; and let seven times pass over him. This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones: to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men…The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar: and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles’ feathers, and his nails like birds’ claws.

I wonder why this doesn’t happen more often…we certainly have enough evil dictators. It is interesting to me that in the Bible many of the military and political figures are fallen angels. Ezekiel writes about the King of Tyrus “Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God (28:13).”  Daniel reports about the Prince of Persia who battled with a messenger angel for twenty-one days before being defeated by the archangel Michael. (10:13)

People laugh at me sometimes for believing “this stuff” but I find it much more imaginative to be an atheist. I felt terribly sorry for Hunter S. Thompson, even though he was a fantastic writer.  Take this statement of his:

“I have never seen much point in getting heavy with stupid people or Jesus freaks, just as long as they don’t bother me. In a world as weird and cruel as this one we have made for ourselves, I figure anybody who can find peace and personal happiness without ripping off somebody else deserves to be left alone. They will not inherit the earth, but then neither will I.”

How would he know about my inheritance, anyway?  Only the child knows what the father has prepared for him or her.  It’s a personal affair.  That’s why the scriptures say:

The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.  (Deuteronomy 29:29)

Should I believe the promises of Jesus or or the ramblings of Hunter S. Thompson?  That’s a tough one. Let me ponder that. Everyone who met or knew Jesus found Him to be faultless. He loved everybody, even the people that no one else understood or liked. (He would have loved Hunter S. Thompson.)

Jesus walked on water. He fed five thousand men (and their families) with five loaves of bread and seven fish. He ordered a storm on the ocean to calm down and it did. He healed people of all kinds of diseases. He raised Lazarus and others from the dead. After His crucifixion, He raised His own body from the tomb, and met His disciples down by the sea. He cooked fish for them after His resurrection! He wasn’t a ghost! His whole body went into heaven.

I think I’ll believe Jesus. I can’t see what there is to dislike about Him. I understand if people don’t approve of His so-called followers, but that’s a whole different matter.

There are lots of things I don’t know, but I know I am in good hands with Jesus, and I will understand it all someday.

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. (I Timothy 3:16)

~♥~

Work Cited:

Hunter S. Thompson, The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time

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I found this devotional by Oswald Chambers to be really meaningful in my own life.  It is so human to cling tightly to other people, even to spiritual leaders who are just as flawed as I am.

This passage encourages me to cherish my Heavenly Father above all other relationships, because He alone will remain with me when I am facing my own Jordan’s.

Growing in Grace,

“Sister Olive”

This Experience Must Come

Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha . . . saw him no more —2 Kings 2:11-12

It is not wrong for you to depend on your “Elijah” for as long as God gives him to you. But remember that the time will come when he must leave and will no longer be your guide and your leader, because God does not intend for him to stay. Even the thought of that causes you to say, “I cannot continue without my ’Elijah.’ ” Yet God says you must continue.

Alone at Your “Jordan” (2 Kings 2:14). The Jordan River represents the type of separation where you have no fellowship with anyone else, and where no one else can take your responsibility from you. You now have to put to the test what you learned when you were with your “Elijah.” You have been to the Jordan over and over again with Elijah, but now you are facing it alone. There is no use in saying that you cannot go— the experience is here, and you must go. If you truly want to know whether or not God is the God your faith believes Him to be, then go through your “Jordan” alone.

Alone at Your “Jericho” (2 Kings 2:15). Jericho represents the place where you have seen your “Elijah” do great things. Yet when you come alone to your “Jericho,” you have a strong reluctance to take the initiative and trust in God, wanting, instead, for someone else to take it for you. But if you remain true to what you learned while with your “Elijah,” you will receive a sign, as Elisha did, that God is with you.

Alone at Your “Bethel” (2 Kings 2:23). At your “Bethel” you will find yourself at your wits’ end but at the beginning of God’s wisdom. When you come to your wits’ end and feel inclined to panic— don’t! Stand true to God and He will bring out His truth in a way that will make your life an expression of worship. Put into practice what you learned while with your “Elijah”— use his mantle and pray (see 2 Kings 2:13-14). Make a determination to trust in God, and do not even look for Elijah anymore.

This Experience Must Come | My Utmost For His Highest.

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And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”  Luke 18:19

I am haunted by my past, ashamed of my numerous failures, and constantly battling my self-serving nature.  I am afflicted with a disease called the human condition.  Christians refer to this as sin, the force that prevents our communion with a perfect God.

I can’t help but wonder:  If Jesus didn’t view Himself as good, then how do well-seasoned Christians tend to become so self-righteous?

I married a very religious Quaker baker when I was twenty-four who brought me to church to straighten me out.  He said that it took “the patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomon” to put up with me.  I can attest to the fact that it’s true.  But he wasn’t perfect either, although he thought he was. I tried to fit in by changing the way I dressed, the way I talked, the way I behaved.  I became fluent in the Christianese language.  But no matter where I went or how well I performed, I was still there…darn!

The truth is that I felt much more comfortable with my hippie friends than I’ve ever felt in any church. And church people have been very good to me. I just happen to enjoy the company of people who are really really real. I would rather attend a “love-in” or “rap session” any day over a church potluck.  (Without the dope and sex.)  Because among my friends, I could play an out-of-tune guitar and sing Donovan songs and recite T.S. Eliot and dance like a confused child until I almost fell down, and I still felt accepted and loved.

I’ll bet Jesus and those sinners had some great rap sessions when He was on Earth.  He accepted and loved people with all of their strange ways, and that is why I still adore Him even when His followers are disappointing.

I know I’m half-crazy, but could there be a problem with the church too? As Leonard Cohen asserts, “One of us cannot be wrong.”

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English: A door in Morocco in 2010.

When I first read this poem, I felt that the author was a kindred spirit, because I have always tried to stay near the door too.  I try not to drive anyone away, or send them in the wrong direction…Friends, pray for me.

Peace & Grace, “Sister Olive”

~♥~

I stay near the door.
I neither go too far in, nor stay too far out.
The door is the most important door in the world –
It is the door through which men walk when they find God.
There’s no use my going way inside, and staying there,
When so many are still outside, and they, as much as I,
Crave to know where the door is.
And all that so many ever find
Is only the wall where a door ought to be.
They creep along the wall like blind men,
With outstretched, groping hands,
Feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door,
Yet they never find it –
So I stay near the door.

The most tremendous thing in the world
Is for men to find that door – the door to God.
The most important thing any man can do
Is to take hold of one of those blind, groping hands,
And put it on the latch – the latch that only clicks
And opens to the man’s own touch.
Men die outside that door, as starving beggars die
On cold nights in cruel cities in the dead of winter –
Die for want of what is within their grasp.
They live, on the other side of it – because they have found it.
Nothing else matters compared to helping them find it,
And open it, and walk in, and find Him –
So I stay near the door.

Go in, great saints, go all the way in –
Go way down into the cavernous cellars,
And way up into the spacious attics –
It is a vast, roomy house, this house where God is.
Go into the deepest of hidden casements,
Of withdrawal, of silence, or sainthood.
Some must inhabit those inner rooms,
And know the depths and heights of God,
And call outside to the rest of us how wonderful it is.
Sometimes I take a deeper look in,
Sometimes venture a little farther;
But my place seems closer to the opening –
So I stay near the door.

There is another reason why I stay there.
Some people get part way in and become afraid
Lest God and the zeal of His house devour them;
For God is so very great, and asks all of us.
And these people feel a cosmic claustrophobia.
And want to get out. “Let me out!” they cry.
And the people way inside only terrify them more.
Somebody must be by the door to tell them that they are spoiled
For the old life, they have seen too much;
Once taste God, and nothing but God will do any more.
Somebody must be watching for the frightened
Who seek to sneak out just where they came in,
To tell them how much better it is inside.

The people too far in do not see how near these are
To leaving–preoccupied with the wonder of it all.
Somebody must watch for those who have entered the door,
But would like to run away. So for them too,
I stay near the door.

I admire the people who go way in.
But I wish they would not forget how it was
Before they got in. Then they would be able to help
The people who have not yet even found the door,
Or the people who want to run away again from God.
You can go in too deeply, and stay too long,
And forget the people outside the door.
As for me, I shall take my old accustomed place,
Near enough to God to hear Him, and know He is there,
But not so far from men as not to hear them,
And remember they are there, too.
Where? Outside the door –
Thousands of them, millions of them.
But – more important for me –
One of them, two of them, ten of them,
Whose hands I am intended to put on the latch.
For those, I shall stay by the door and wait
For those who seek it.
“I had rather be a door-keeper…”
So I stay near the door.

By the Reverend Samuel Moor Shoemaker, Jr.

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To read the entire “Divine Doorkeepers” essay as one continuous page, please click on this link:

https://olivetwist.wordpress.com/essays/divine-doorkeepers/

I hope you have enjoyed this series.

Peace & Grace to You,

“Sister Olive”

~♥~

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“Divine Doorkeepers:  How Mystical Authors Usher Readers into the Spirit Realm” is a study of evangelical writers and how they use literary devices such as metaphor and simile to usher the reader in the door to experience the supernatural realm.  The books examined for this extended essay will come from Christian evangelical writers, revivalists, and reformers such as George Fox, Charles Finney, Dwight Moody, Charles Spurgeon, and continuing with writers to the present day.  The essay is an analysis of how they portray God and the workings of the Spirit to readers.

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 (In the process of posting this, I lost my MLA formatting)

Claiborne, Shane. The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2006. Print.

Claiborne, Shane, and Chris Haw. Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals. Grand Rapids, MI: The Simple Way, 2008. Print.

Edwards, Jonathan. “A Faithful Narrative.” The Works of Jonathan Edwards. Ed. C. C. Goen. New Haven, CT.: Yale UP, 1972. Print.

Finney, Charles. “Charles Finney Systematic Theology.” Finney’s Revivals of Religion: Lecture 3 on How to Promote a Revival. Didaskalos Ministries, n.d. Web. 4 Nov 2010. <http://www.bibleteacher.org/finrev1b.htm#LEC3&gt;.

—. The Autobiography of Charles G. Finney. Condensed and Edited by Helen Wessel. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1977. Print.

Fox, George.”Selected Epistles of George Fox.” Renascence Editions. U of Oregon, 1998.Web. 4 Nov 2010. <http://www.luminarium.org/renascence-editions/foxep.htm&gt;.

—. The Journal of George Fox.  Edited by Rufus Jones. Richmond, IN: Friends UP, 1976. Print.

Graves, Michael P. “Functions of Key Metaphors in Early Quaker Sermons, 1671-1700.” The Quarterly Journal of Speech 69.4 (1983): 364-378. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Web. 24 Nov. 2010.

Hosek, Dr. Pavel. “How Does C.S. Lewis do Apologetics?” (2003): n. pag. European Leadership Forum Research Center. Web. 20 Dec 2010. <http://www.euroleadershipresources.org/resource.php?ID=76&gt;.

Jarman, Mark. “To Make the Final Unity: Metaphor’s Matter and Spirit.” 301-318. Southern Review, 2007. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 24 Nov. 2010.

Kierkegaard, Søren. Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard. Ed. Charles E. Moore.  Farmington, PA:  Plough, 2002. eBook.

—. Kierkegaard Spiritual Writings: A New Translation and Selection by George Pattison. New York: Harper Collins, 2010. 57. eBook.

—. The Journals of Kierkegaard (edited by Alexander Dru. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1959), 324.

Lewis, C. S., The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics. New York: Harper One, 2002. Print.

McKeever, Dr. Joe. “Why We Need Parables.” (2009): n. pag. Web. 20 Dec 2010. <http://www.biblestudytools.com/pastor-resources/11610729.html&gt;.

Miller, Donald. Searching for God Knows What. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004. Print.

Miller, Donald, and John Macmurray. To Own a Dragon: Reflections on Growing Up Without a Father. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2006. Print.

Moody, Dwight L. The Best of Dwight L. Moody. 6th Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1971. Print.

Savant, John. “Follow that Metaphor.” Commonweal 132.20 (2005): 17-19. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 24 Nov. 2010.

Spurgeon, Charles H. “Songs in the Night.” Spurgeon Collection on Bible Bulletin Board.  Tony Capoccia, 2004. Web. 4 Nov 2010. <http://www.biblebb.com/files/spurgeon/2558.htm&gt;.

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(Excerpt from “Divine Doorkeepers”)

The writers and orators in this essay were chosen because of their tireless efforts in the furtherance of God’s kingdom, with particular emphasis on revival and reform.  All of them address people with truthful compassion and concern for their souls, and none of them conform to the status quo religion of the day or are crowd-pleasers. While these authors seldom mention each other, they all are concerned with the common purpose of advancing the Kingdom of God, many of them at the expense of their own comforts and livelihoods.

At times their messages and styles bear striking resemblances to each other. Fox and Claiborne are iconoclasts, seeking to tear down the “graven images” of empty religion and draw believers to a deeper personal spirituality. Spurgeon and Moody both have a gentle chiding style in their writings and sermons. Kierkegaard and Lewis tend to personify God to establish our kinship with him, and they have a more argumentative and logical style which is well-suited for dealing with more scholarly audiences. Like Miller, they are also fond of humor and satire to illustrate their teachings.  Lewis, Fox and Kierkegaard enjoy using fantasy-like style to create fables and allegorical tales. The sense of a hero on a spiritual journey can be found in the writings of several of the mentioned authors, including Fox, Lewis, Miller, and Claiborne, who write their memoirs in a way that the reader can travel with them on their path as they seek answers to life’s questions.

Through artful literary devices, these spiritual authors coax unbelievers to contemplate the divine. Savant states that through metaphor we can open the doorway to the supernatural realm: “Precisely because metaphor suggests meaning or sensibilities beyond quantification–beyond plain-speaking and common sense–it serves as a tool, however imperfect, with which we can open up the mysterious in human life and destiny” (18). While earlier writers used farming and weather images to address people who lived on farms and dealt with seasons, seed times, and harvests, modern authors have evolved and become more scientific, industrial, and sociological. Though the metaphors of spiritual writers change to suit their audience, they continue to recognize that stories and illustrations are a powerful tool to make God and the Spirit realm more tangible.

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(Excerpt from “Divine Doorkeepers”)

Shane Claiborne is one of the founders of a New Monastic community called the Potter Street Community (formerly The Simple Way) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Claiborne worked with Mother Teresa during a ten-week term in Calcutta, and worked in Baghdad with the Iraq Peace Team.

Shane Claiborne was raised in East Tennessee where he and his family attended an old-fashioned Methodist church.  Being both idealistic and intelligent, he began at an early age to question what all of the activities and programs in his church had to do with Jesus or being a disciple. His sincerity and earnestness toward God are reminiscent of George Fox as a young man, going about questioning the authorities in religion and seeking for the true meaning of “taking up the cross” of Christ. In one of his books called The Irresistible Revolution, he speaks of wanting to follow Christ but not knowing where he could buy a staff.  By merely mentioning the staff in the context of modern life, he accomplishes two things:  He makes the reader laugh, and he puts forth the concept of embarking on a spiritual pilgrimage without the proper equipment.

Most of his writings evoke a sense of conflict internally and externally.  Claiborne uses a metaphor in his chapter entitled “Spiritual Bulimia” to illustrate the growing hunger for God and the fact that he was not being “fed” by the church:

I developed a common ailment that haunts Western Christianity.  I call it spiritual bulimia.  Bulimia, of course, is a tragic eating disorder, largely linked to identity and image, where folks consume large amounts of food but vomit it up before it has a chance to digest.  I developed a spiritual form of it where I did my devotions, read all the new Christian books and saw the Christian movies, and then vomited information up to friends, small groups, and pastors.  But it never had a chance to digest.  I had gorged myself on all the products of the Christian industrial complex but was spiritually starving to death.  I was marked by an overconsumptive but malnourished spirituality, suffocated by Christianity but thirsty for God. (Revolution 39)

Claiborne strengthens his analogy with strong verb metaphors such as “gorged”, “vomited”, “starving”, and “suffocated” as well as strong adjectives like “overconsumptive” and “malnourished”.  These all enhance the metaphor of the spiritual sickness that was tormenting him so that he could not “digest” the truth.

Claiborne uses Babylon as a metaphor for the worldly kingdom that wars with the kingdom of Heaven in his book entitled Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals.  In the chapter “The Empire has No Clothes,” he talks about the spiritual marriage of believers to God and the problem of the church lusting after the world system which is represented in this passage as a prostitute:

John’s language couldn’t be clearer:  we are to “come out” of her literally to pull ourselves out.  Let’s be honest here: this is rated R…Scholars point out that this is erotic language and that the words John uses are the same ones used for coitus interruptus— to interrupt sexual intercourse before climax.  As John is speaking of this steamy love affair with the empire, he calls the church to “pull out of her”– to leave romance with the world and be wooed by God, to remember our first love, to say no to all other lovers. (150)

After quoting John’s metaphor, Claiborne compares worldly desire to a whore who tempts believers into spiritual adultery, and Christ is portrayed as the one true love to whom a believer must always be faithful. This is a very powerful juxtaposition which is easily understood by the reader with all of its connotations.  Claiborne uses his illustrations in attempt to be a catalyst in the church system which he considers to be largely in conflict Christ’s teachings.  Like Bonhoeffer, he advocates monastic life within the secular community, not in an isolated place.

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(Excerpt from “Divine Doorkeepers”)

Donald Miller is a best-selling American author and public speaker from Portland, Oregon. He founded “The Mentoring Project,” a non-profit agency that works with local churches to help fatherless young men. In his memoirs, Miller seems like a literary ringmaster entertaining the reader in a three-ring circus that consists of humor, sensitivity, and spirituality.  In To Own a Dragon, he writes about the emotional problems that are experienced by young men who are raised in the absence of a father figure. He begins by describing a documentary pertaining to elephants in which the narrator describes how young male elephants that lose their fathers become particularly violent and aggressive during their “musth cycle” (puberty):

Occasionally, two elephants in a musth would meet, and the encounter was always violent, going so far as to uproot trees in the fray of their brawl…I couldn’t help but identify…I mean, there were feelings, sometimes anger, sometimes depression, sometimes raging lust, and I was never sure what any of it was about.  I just felt like killing somebody, or sleeping with some girl, or decking a guy in a bar, and I didn’t know what to do with any of these feelings. (32)

Miller juggles sensitivity and humor in this passage, causing the reader to laugh about problems that aren’t innately funny.  He uses the angry young elephants as an analogy for adolescent young men who need paternal care in their lives. He describes how mature male elephants “adopt” young elephants and have a calming effect on them: “The green pus running down his hind leg and his smell like fresh-cut grass alerts an older, fully mature male, that this is a young elephant in need of guidance.  Upon finding a mentor, the young elephant’s musth cycle ends” (33).  Miller then writes of an older male mentor coming into his own life and offering guidance, and extends the analogy into the spiritual realm, explaining that the Heavenly Father can also assume the role of adoptive father and resolve many of these issues for men.

In another of his books entitled Searching for God Knows What Miller describes his own spiritual journey, prefacing the book with a story of being born in a circus surrounded by clowns:

Sometimes I feel as if I were born in a circus, come out of my mother’s womb like a man from a cannon, pitched toward the ceiling of the tent, all the doctors and nurses clapping in delight from the grandstands, the band going great guns in trombones and drums…the smell of popcorn in the air…and all the people chanting my name as my arms come out like wings…the center ring growing enormous beneath my falling weight.

And that is precisely when it occurs to me that there is no net…who is going to rescue me? (ix)

Through the absurd he illustrates the fears about life that surround people from their youth.  He creates the sense of terror by depicting the man coming out of the cannon and discovering he has no net to catch him, and wittily embarks upon the subjects of desperation and divine intervention when he raises the question of who will rescue him.  Miller always performs a graceful balancing act of seriousness and humor, making his writings entertaining and yet profoundly meaningful.

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(Excerpt from “Divine Doorkeepers”)

Clive Staples Lewis was a highly acclaimed Christian apologist.  He was born and raised in Ireland and as an adult became a faculty member at Oxford University in England. Lewis had been baptized in the Church of Ireland at birth, but gave up his faith during adolescence. Because of Tolkien and other close friends, Lewis returned to Christianity when he was thirty-two. He became known for his strong intellect and ability to debate with spokesmen of different faiths and philosophies.  In an article entitled “How Does C.S.Lewis do Apologetics?” Dr. Pavel Hosek describes Lewis’ appealing style:

As no one else he succeeded in attracting the mind of the unbelieving reader…Many Christians testify that they only learned to really look for heaven after reading Lewis’ books. The way he is able to picture heaven and the spiritual world in general very often enables the reader to taste the heavenly quality, its atmosphere, beauty and splendor (par 11).

Having been an atheist in his younger years, he was especially capable to address a broader audience than most Christian writers, and to consider questions that people ask about God and faith.  While Fox seemed to be an alchemist, and Finney seemed to be a lawyer, Lewis speaks with the voice of a professor addressing other scholars.  He uses metaphor and personification throughout his books, to enable the reader to comprehend the complexities of good and evil in a fallen world.

In Mere Christianity, he illustrates many of his concepts with comparisons to people.  In this segment, he describes what true pride is as compared to humility.  First he says that “Pride leads to every other vice; it is the complete anti-god state of mind.” Then he uses the metaphor of a young girl to illustrate the nature of pride: “What makes a pretty girl spread misery wherever she goes by collecting admirers?  Certainly not her sexual instinct: that kind of girl is quite often sexually frigid.  It is Pride” (Classics 103-104).  The way that Lewis personifies Pride as a careless woman enables the reader to see the true nature of this vice as being senselessly competitive and self-centered.

In his essay called “The Obstinate Tin Soldiers”, he compares people who avoid God to toy soldiers who, like Pinocchio, have come to life:

Did you ever think, when you were a child, what fun it would be if your toys could come to life?  Well suppose you could really have brought them to life.  Imagine turning a tin soldier into a real little man…And suppose the tin soldier did not like it…all he sees is that the tin is being spoilt.  He thinks you are killing him. (Classics146)

Lewis is using the story to explain how people fear that their lives will be ruined if they allow God to take charge and kill their sinful natures, which really brings them to life. The irony here is hilarious and Kierkegaardian in style, because the toy which was never alive in the first place thinks he has been killed, and was made better but thinks he is ruined. It is humorous to imagine the soldier worrying about its tin being damaged. The story makes it seem silly that humans can feel so threatened by God.  Lewis is the master of creating imaginative metaphors that allow people to laugh at themselves.

In The Great Divorce, Lewis responds to William Blake’s book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and uses the metaphor of divorce to show that good and evil are opposing forces that can never be reconciled.  He uses a simile of a tree whose branches keep separating to illustrate this spiritual principle:

We are not living in a world where all roads are radii of a circle and where all, if followed long enough, will therefore draw gradually nearer and finally meet at the centre: rather in a world where every road, after a few miles, forks into two, and each of those into two again, and at each fork, you must make a decision…life is not like a river but like a tree.  It does not move towards unity but away from it and the creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection. (Classics 465)

In this example, Lewis illustrates his belief that all roads don’t lead to Heaven and Christ is not merely another “great teacher.”  Like Kierkegaard, Lewis always seems to be in debating mode and tries to challenge those who think they are too intelligent for God. He always is seeking dialogue with his readers.

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(Excerpt from “Divine Doorkeepers”)

Dwight Lyman Moody was born in Northfield, Massachusetts and was one of nine children. His father, a poor farmer and stonemason, died at the age of forty-one while praying on his knees when Dwight was four years old.

Moody was a shoe salesman before he became a missionary. He acquired great fame as an evangelist in England in 1872. He was invited by Spurgeon for speaking engagements and was also promoted by him. Moody mentions Fox and Finney in his writings, referring to them as great leaders in reforming and reviving God’s work among the slumbering churches. He had a soul-searching tone that was similar to Finney’s, and he had a gift for spinning stories in such a way that calls upon the reader to extend the tales and draw more conclusions on their own.

For instance, he asserts that the spiritual needs of humans are as real and treatable as physical ailments. In The Best of Dwight Moody, he writes of the importance of fellowship by using a medical simile:  “Church attendance is as vital to a disciple as a transfusion of rich, healthy blood to a sick man.”  This statement is effective because he shows in the statement that even a disciple can become spiritually ill if he does not maintain his “health” by following the precepts of God and being in a community of encouragers.  It also allows the reader to conclude that the disciple could die in a spiritual sense from lack of encouragement and fellowship. He juxtaposes the physical man and the spiritual man and alludes to the healing blood of Christ through the transfusion simile.  By being inconclusive in his stories, he allows the reader to make more associations.

Moody believed in using simple and plain style. In Dr. Joe McKeever’s article called “Why We Need Parables”, he writes:  “Dwight L. Moody used to remind pastors to ‘put the cookies on the bottom shelf so everyone could reach them.’ What he meant–and what he practiced as well as it could be done–was, ‘Keep the message simple.’ Make it accessible to everyone” (par 1).  Moody, like Finney, used the idea of a courtroom when explaining why flowery speech was not his method for addressing an audience of unbelievers.

My friend, we have too many orators.  I am tired and sick of your “silver-tongued orators.”  I used to mourn because I couldn’t be an orator…

Take a witness in court and let him try his oratorical powers in the witness-box, and see how quickly the judge will rule him out.  It is the man who tells the plain, simple truth that has the most influence with the jury (Best 198).

This passage depicts the urgency that the evangelist feels to “plead his case” and why it is so important to be understood as opposed to merely sounding lofty and educated.  It also carries the reader to think upon the consequences of being “ruled out” and the injustices that may result, and he juxtaposes earthly and divine judgment.

He uses a similar method in this passage where he tells the story of a little boy who catches a sparrow, and he uses it as an allegory for redemption:

A friend in Ireland once met a little Irish boy who had caught a sparrow.  The poor little bird was trembling in his hand, and seemed very anxious to escape.  The gentleman begged the boy to let it go…but the boy said he would not, for he had chased it for three hours before he could catch it.  He tried to reason it out with the boy, but in vain.  At last he offered to buy the bird.  The boy agreed to the price and it was paid.  Then the gentleman took the poor little thing, and held it out on his hand…in a little while, it flew away chirping (Best 16).

The purchase and release of the sparrow represents the redemption of souls by the grace of God. Moody also allows the reader make other associations, and think of the weakness of the little bird being like humans without the strength of Christ, and wondering if the sparrow fully appreciated its freedom.  One might also contemplate how the sparrow had no concept of what had transpired, and thus could not feel truly grateful, and that man is often the same way towards God. The reader continues to make associations beyond what the writer develops in the piece, and this is artistic because by understatement, the author causes the reader to think further on the matter.

Moody uses a balloon analogy to speak to believers about how to walk in a manner that is pleasing to God and allows them to meet their full potential:

You know, when a man is going up in a balloon, he takes in sand as ballast, and when he wants to mount a little higher, he throws out some of it, and then he will mount a little higher; he throws out a little more ballast, and he mounts still higher; and the more he throws out the higher he gets, and so the more we have to throw out of the things of this world the nearer we get to God (Best 72).

This analogy is very thought-provoking and clear. The balloon was a familiar mode of travel during Moody’s day which makes it appropriate, and it gives readers a sense of the time period the writer is speaking from. One can also visually see the effect of abstinence and self-denial through this portrayal of the man in the balloon, and how the level of spirituality a man reaches is determined by what he lets go of.  This matter of weight works well in association with the subject of burdens and encumbrances, and the balloon connotes lightness of heart and freedom.  The writer allows the reader to visualize so they can comprehend the principle more clearly, which is quite superior to merely explaining the concept without the illustration.

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(Excerpt from “Divine Doorkeepers”)

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was a British Baptist preacher, but his style stirred the interest of Christians of all denominations.  He is referred to by many as the “Prince of Preachers”.  He was born in Kelvedon, Essex and was converted on January 6, 1850. His conversion occurred when a snow storm cut one of his journeys short and he stopped into a Primitive Methodist chapel in Colchester.

Spurgeon preached up to ten times per week in different locations during his years of ministry. He was the pastor of the New Park Street Chapel (later the Metropolitan Tabernacle) in London for thirty-eight years and was a prolific author of many types of works.  He wrote sermons, an autobiography, devotions, poetry,a hymnist, prayer books,and more. Many of his sermons were transcribed as he spoke and translated into many languages.

Charles Spurgeon has a graceful poetic style in his writing and speaking, and his voice is elevated and lyrical.  He has a remarkably sensitive and gentle voice by comparison to other evangelical authors and preachers, as he is full of comfort and encouragement.  His writing is melodious and flowing and almost angelic in its tone, and his metaphors evoke a sense of divine music.  One of his most “musical” transcribed sermons is his aptly titled “Songs in the Night” (Job 35:10, KJV).    He begins by exhorting the reader about how to maintain good cheer in the midst of distress:

Anyone can sing in the day. When the cup is full, one draws inspiration from it; when wealth rolls in abundance around them, anyone can sing to the praise of a God who gives an abundant harvest.  It is easy to sing when we can read the notes by daylight; but the skillful singer is the one who can sing when there is not a ray of light to read by—who sings from their heart, and not from a book that they can see. (Songs I-1)

This passage contains many of the poetic elements used by Fox in his epistles, such as the contrast of light and darkness, and the exhortation to sing in the thick night. The songs represent joy and the night represents times of adversity. The full cup and the harvest are images of abundance. He uses them to clarify that it takes no strength of character to be cheerful when one has wealth and comfort.

Then his images shift when he speaks of singing without any light to read the notes by, from an inward book which cannot be seen. The darkness is a symbol for the times when things appear bleak to us and we have to grope for happiness.  The “skillful singer” is a graceful metaphor for the one who can retain joy in times of tribulation, and memorizing the words as opposed to reading them re-emphasizes the skill of the vocalist. The passage is richly sensual, engaging both sight and hearing and also full of contrasts of light and darkness, joy and pain, music and silence.  Rather than merely telling the reader of joy in the midst of trials, he paints glorious pictures and makes lofty music to illustrate his message.

 Let all things go as I please—I will weave songs, weave them wherever I go, with the flowers that grow along my path; but put me in a desert, where there are no flowers, and how will I weave a chorus of praise to God? How will I make a crown for him? Let this voice be free, and this body be full of health, and I can sing God’s praise; but stop this tongue, lay me on the bed of suffering, and it is not so easy to sing from the bed, and chant high praises in the fires…confine me, chain my spirit, clip my wings, make me very sad, so that I become old like the eagle—ah! Then it is hard to sing. (Songs I-1)

His flowing musical style creates a tone of worship.  The coupling of the verb metaphor “weaving” with “songs” is aesthetically pleasing as weaving is rhythmic like musical notes.  “Chanting praises in the fire” is remarkably visual and conjures up an image of strong faith.  He writes that the desert has no flowers to weave a chorus and then asks how to make a crown of praise for God; these two sentences make the reader associate weaving with crowns, and this seems to imply the crown of thorns.  The old eagle is similar to T. S. Eliot’s verse from “Ash Wednesday” about the aged eagle that no longer stretches its wings, and both authors are speaking about mortality and loss of dreams.

While making melody can produce comfort in a troubled mind, Spurgeon is not referring to a real song, but to a supernatural state of mind which he asserts can be retained through the Spirit, which makes people resilient beyond the limits of human fortitude. The unfruitful fig tree is symbolic of the times of struggle, and the divine song represents an attitude of acceptance and peace.

He then speaks of not trying to create joy but to simply ask for it, and he uses a metaphor of an old well pump:

So, then, poor Christian, you needn’t go pumping up your poor heart to make it glad. Go to your Maker, and ask him to give you a song in the night. You are a poor dry well: you have heard it said, that when a pump is dry, you must pour water down it first of all, to prime the pump, and then you will get some up; and so, Christian, when you are dry, go to God, ask him to pour some joy down you, and then you will get some joy up from your own heart. (Songs I-2)

The water Spurgeon refers to is a metaphor for joy, and he tells readers that they are “poor dry wells.”  The old well pump was a familiar household appliance during the days in which he preached, and he uses it as a symbol for striving to find joy when the heart is troubled.  He tells his audience not to work at it on their own or “pump the well” because God can pour down the joy upon His people.

Spurgeon refers to God as the great composer of songs, meaning that God is the one who creates the joy that man cannot find inside of himself.

It may be darkness now; but I know the promises were sweet; I know I had blessed seasons in his church. I am quite sure of this; I used to enjoy myself in the ways of the Lord; and though now my paths are strewn with thorns, I know it is the King’s highway. It was a way of pleasantness once; it will be a way of pleasantness again… Christian, perhaps the best song you can sing, to cheer you in the night, is the song of yesterday morning. (Songs Part II-1)

Spurgeon suggests that people should encourage themselves by remembrance of better times, and he presents the notion of life having seasons.  Seasons illustrate that “pleasantness” will always circle around again after a time in which the path is covered in thorns. The thorns were used by Fox in his writings as well, and they are a symbol of piercing anguish and suffering in the human heart.  The King’s highway is another example of metaphor suggesting a pilgrimage. Spurgeon’s language and tone are effective, because rather than trying to appeal to the heart through abstractions, he creates imagery and music and moods through his flowing style and use of lyrical metaphors.

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(Excerpt from “Divine Doorkeepers”)

Søren Kierkegaard was a renowned Danish philosopher, theologian and religious author. He was born to an affluent family in Copenhagen, and his mother was employed as a maid in the household before marrying his father.

Kierkegaard was greatly influenced by Socrates and the Socratic method of thinking. His theological writings primarily focus on the flaws in the church institution and the crowd-driven mentality of believers. He was strongly opposed to the way that theology and organized religion had tarnished the Gospel message, and he believed that seminaries taught Christians to think and talk about God rather than to take any kind of action. His writings beg for soul-searching and an active response from the reader.

Dr. George Pattison writes of the author’s style in his introduction to Kierkegaard’s Spiritual Writings: “The discourses are not plodding expositions of ready-made dogmas, but have an almost conversational feel, sometimes serious, sometimes playful, but always seeking to open a dialogue with the reader, whose own response is anticipated and responded to” (57).

Kierkegaard tells stories about God humanizing Himself willingly out of His great love for people.  He depicts Christians as thieves and cheaters who twist the gospel to suit their own agenda. Here he portrays the struggle between worldly religion and true spirituality:  “…The Bible is very easy to understand.  But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers.  We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly…Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament” (Provocations 201). His representation of religious folks as “scheming swindlers” is a piercing metaphor that suggests deception and misuse of something valuable.

In one of his letters, Kierkegaard presents God as being a creator who fashioned humans in His own image, and loved them so deeply that He placed Himself into their lives. He asserts that the Incarnated God taught people about service to others by His own example.  In this passage he uses an analogy pertaining to artists and their productions to illustrate how even God lowered Himself out of compassion for humans:

If a poet or an artist puts himself into his Productions he is criticized. But that is exactly what God does, he does so in Christ. And precisely that is Christianity. The creation was really only completed when God included himself in it. Before the coming of Christ, God was certainly in the creation, but as an invisible sign, like the watermark in paper. But the creation was completed by the Incarnation because God thereby included himself in it. (Journals 324)

This statement bears resemblance to one of the parables of Jesus, in which God finally arrives on the scene Himself when his workers have rebelled against Him in the vineyard where he hired them to work (Mark 12:1-10, NKJV). These stories have power because they present the idea that God is one of our kind and that He loved us enough to get involved in our drama of sorrow and suffering and even our mortality.  Kierkegaard’s comparison to the creation without Christ as being as a watermark on paper adds a touch of mystery, because it portrays the idea that we don’t see everything that exists.

In the chapter from Provocations entitled “Behold the Birds of the Air,” Kierkegaard spins a fable about wood doves.  Using an opening like his fellow Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen, he writes of one wild dove that refuses to live in a dovecote under the care of a kind farmer: “Once upon a time there was a wood dove. It had its nest in the fearsome forest, where wonder and apprehension dwelt together, among the erect, lonely trees. But nearby, where the smoke rises up from the farmer’s house, lived some tame doves” (148). The wild dove is a metaphor for a person who chooses to live without divine authority.  The “fearsome forest” where “wonder and apprehension” live together is an aesthetic way of portraying the world and the conflicts that beset us each day.  The reader is hereby summoned into a sense of inner tension which Kierkegaard evokes to show the awful state of man without God. Through interactions between the wild dove and the tame ones, the writer portrays the inner friction between faith and the natural mind:

From now on, the wood dove began to worry. His feathers lost their glint of color, his flight lost buoyancy. He was no longer joyful; indeed, he was almost envious of the rich, tame doves… In worrying about his needs he had trapped himself in a snare in which no birdcatcher could have trapped him, trapped as only a free creature can trap himself. (Provocations 148)

The “tame doves” depict the faithful who don’t live unto themselves and need not worry about their livelihood or their future. Kierkegaard uses artful paradoxes and images to represent the anxiety that began to trouble the “free” dove, describing the loss of luster in his feathers and how he felt weighted down when he attempted to fly. The glossy feathers and lightness are symbols for joy and peace, and the lack of them implies strain and encumbrances.  The wild dove that “has trapped himself…as only a free creature can trap himself” is an apt representation for a man who cannot extricate himself from his ways because his ego is at stake. The author creates irony in that the tame birds are free and the wild bird is in bondage.

Kierkegaard was accomplished in the art of addressing controversial subjects with satire and paradox and allegorical tales, and by using graceful metaphors to illustrate his views in an evocative manner.

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(Excerpt from “Divine Doorkeepers”)

Jonathan Edwards was a great American evangelist and revivalist.  He was born in East Windsor, Connecticut and was the fifth of eleven children.  He and his siblings were all well-educated.  Edwards was not only a preacher, theologian, and missionary, but he was also considered a great intellectual.  He was very active in the First Great Awakening in the American colonies, and oversaw some of the earliest revivals in 1733–1735 in Northampton, Massachusetts.

In many of his memoirs, he seems to be a divine journalist and mystical meteorologist, reporting the amazing works of God in various communities.  Like Fox, he is fond of weather imagery and refers to a revival as a “shower of divine blessing” (Narrative 155), and a spiritual awakening among the youth as being “like a flash of lightning upon the hearts of young people all over the town” (Narrative149). These kinds of images shift the focus from the evangelists to God and enable the reader to visualize what the Spirit is doing.  The author also implies that preachers have no more control over revivals than they have over the making of weather.

Edwards depicts God in terms of supernatural strength and energy, using His strong arm to smite and jerk and awaken humans from spiritual slumber. He describes the revival in Northampton using many exercise metaphors and he emphasizes concrete verbs showing physical exertion to illustrate God’s presence in the towns. He refers to revivals as “works” and “awakenings”, and describes the Spirit striving vigorously to win over the hearts of people.

Throughout his memoirs in A Faithful Narrative, he uses language that creates a sense of motion and strife and physical strain. Upon witnessing a great urgency towards spiritual matters in one community he writes: “…the Spirit of God began to extraordinarily set in, and wonderfully to work amongst us…and some of them wrought upon in a very remarkable manner: The only thing in their view was to get into the kingdom of heaven, and everyone appeared pressing into it” (150). The language connoting physical activity in these passages gives the reader a sense of movement and people straining to get closer to God.  In the last sentence, you can envision a crowd trying to squeeze through a door, pressing against each other in desperation to get in first.

Edwards describes the supernatural swiftness of the conversion of souls during this time, and how humans could not possibly have accomplished this on their own:

God has also seemed to go out of His usual way in the quickness of His work, and the swift progress the Spirit has made in His operations on the hearts of many…seized with strong convictions of their guilt and misery…

The work of God’s Spirit seemed to be at its greatest height in this town…When God in so remarkable a manner took the work into His own hands, there was as much done in a day or two at ordinary times, with all endeavors that men can use, and with such a blessing as we commonly have, is done in a year. (159)

Edwards humanizes God, and then creates a sense of tension between Him and people.  He puts flesh and bones on the Spirit, and allows the reader to see God at work in the souls of men. The reader gets the sense of men being sleepwalkers who God is sharply awakening from slumber. He juxtaposes physical strength and supernatural power, thus allowing the reader to sense the activity of God.

1832 republication of "A Faithful Narrati...

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(Excerpt from “Divine Doorkeepers”)

George Fox was a renowned seventeenth century English dissenter who founded the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).  He traveled throughout Britain, challenging the “hireling preachers” of his time and suffering tremendous persecution.  Fox was born in Leicestershire, England (now known as Fenny Drayton). George was the eldest of four children of Christopher Fox, a successful weaver.

In his journals and other writings, Fox frequently uses surreal imagery to portray God. He presents his life story in a way that leads the reader to believe that he was born into a world of powers far greater than himself, and was chosen to carry divine seed to a parched and weary Earth.  He artfully uses ocean waves and clouds, elements and stars, and sparkling fiery seeds to depict the movement of the Spirit.  His memoirs seem to have been written with a magic quill, because they twinkle with a fantasy-like quality.  His poetic style is reminiscent of Bunyan in that he depicts himself as a seeking hero on a spiritual journey. He creates a mystical sense of place by applying geographical dimensions and weather patterns to abstractions such as good and evil. Michael Graves asserts that this kind of language enables the reader to visualize and vicariously “travel” with the author:

…to name life a Pilgrimage overlays a gloss of geographic factors which may have never occurred to the person who hears the metaphor applied to life for the first time.  At the very least, the idea of pilgrimage may call forth associations which have lain dormant… [e.g., living in an evil place; finding a straight path; traveling light (and in the light), etc.]…( 364)

Fox had visions from his youth, which he referred to as “openings” because his eyes were opened to the spiritual.  He contrasts light and darkness to show the spiritual battle within man’s heart and on the earth:  “I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death; but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness.  In that also I saw the infinite love of God, and I had great openings” (Journal 87).  He uses the ocean to portray the vastness of the forces of evil and good, and a sense of overwhelming waters inwardly and outwardly.  Darkness is a metaphor for death, and light is the symbol for the love of God.  Fox effectively uses alliteration here as well to couple “darkness” with “death” and “light” with “love”, while making the infinite into something finite and visible. Nature and elements were commonly used by Fox as to describe spiritual revelations. In his journal, he records an experience of being within a mystical cloud:

One morning as I was sitting by the fire, a great cloud came over me, and a temptation beset me; and I sat still.  It was said “All things come by nature”; and the elements and stars came over me, so that I was in a manner quite clouded with it.  But as I sat still under it and let it alone, a living hope and a true voice arose in me, which said, “There is a living God who made all things.”  Immediately the cloud and temptation vanished away, and life rose over it; my heart was glad, and I praised the living God. (Journal 94)

The visionary cloaked in cloud is reminiscent of the story of Moses. The imagery works because it shows that Fox was alone with God and people could not see what was taking place as they communed.  Then he creates the sense of light piercing through the cloud when the “true voice” speaks.  Elements and stars and clouds are real but uncontrollable things in the universe, and the juxtaposition helps readers to understand God as having the same unfathomable power. Fox writes of God sending him into the world with a message, in a manner that bears resemblance to Dante embarking upon his journey:

Some time after the Lord commanded me to go abroad into the world, which was like a briery, thorny wilderness.  When I came in the Lord’s mighty power with the Word of life into the world, the world swelled, and made a noise like the great raging waves of the sea.  Priests and professors, magistrates and people, were all like the sea when I came to proclaim the day of the Lord amongst them, and to preach repentance unto them. (Journal 102)

The words “world” and “Word” flow together in this description of the world swelling and raging as he is sent with divine power.  He creates with his language a sense of two great powers raging against one another, and the sense of this overwhelming task that the preacher has been commissioned to carry out. The analogy of the sea evokes a sense of great power behind him as he goes forth. Fox often writes about the “Seed of God” that he is “sowing” around Europe.  He describes his sense of God having prepared the soil in Scotland before he arrives with divine seed:

For when I first set my horse’s foot upon Scottish ground I felt the Seed of God to sparkle about me, like innumerable sparks of fire.

Not but that there is abundance of the thick, cloddy earth of hypocrisy and falseness above, and a briery, brambly nature, which is to be burnt up with God’s Word, and ploughed up with His spiritual plough, before God’s Seed brings forth heavenly and spiritual fruit to his glory.  But the husbandman is to wait in patience. (Journal 316)

This scene of the author’s horse touching Scottish ground could be expected to come from the pages of King Arthur or “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Like Jack, the hero sets out on a journey with only some magic beans and has to battle with evil giants as he climbs toward heaven. The sparkling seeds around his feet give a touch of mystique to his divine calling and the fire is a metaphor for the Spirit.  He uses the thick clods of earth and the thorns to show the resistance that he expects to encounter, and the condition of people’s minds before they have been tilled with patience. The mystical plough of God has been given to him as the gardener, and he is expected to work diligently.  Like Rumpelstiltskin in the Brothers Grimm tale, Fox seems to be able to “spin straw into gold.”  He transfigures the properties of earthly things into heavenly things by using fantasy-like literary devices.

John in the New Testament addressed new believers as “little children” in his letters, and Fox uses a similar style in his epistles. In one of his letters, he refers to converts as “children of the light”:

Sing and rejoice, ye children of the Day and of the Light, for the Lord is at work in this thick night of Darkness that may be felt; and Truth doth flourish as the rose, and the lilies do grow among the thorns, and the plants atop of the hills, and upon them the lambs do skip and play.  And never heed the tempests nor the storms, floods nor rains, for the Seed of Christ is over all and doth reign. (Epistle 227)

This passage is illuminated and lyrical, and the style evokes a sense of reverence. The tempests, floods, and rains are metaphors for the evils that can drown out the “Seed of Christ”.  The Truth is depicted as the rose, and as lilies among thorns, because they are flowers that are recognized as fragrant and lovely.  The lambs skipping represent the purity of children of God, and the tops of the hills indicate that believers transcend the world and its ways.  The elevated tone adds to the sense of being in this place of light and truth with the writer.

Fox’s metaphors, similes, and analogies depict might, authority, and movement, and a sense of light and beauty.  Through his poetic and magical style, he draws the reader into a sense of being in the presence of something glowing and desirable.

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When I was attending graduate school for my Master of Fine Arts, I was asked to write an extended critical essay of at least thirty pages, and I thought I would share it with my readers in small doses- starting with the introduction.

My mentor was quite impressed with the research for this piece, and asked me how long it had taken me to find all of the passages cited in the work. I told him that I had started gathering my material one semester early.

My father laughed when I mentioned it to him and asked me, “Did you tell him you’ve actually been doing this since you were twelve years old?”  Good ol’ Poppy, always making a good joke at my expense…oh well. I was pegged early on as the “religious one” in the family.

So, let’s move on to the essay itself, which I hope you enjoy and gain some insight from.

Peace be with you,

Olive Twist

~♥~

Abstract

“Divine Doorkeepers:  How Mystical Authors Usher Readers into the Spirit Realm” is a study of evangelical writers and how they use literary devices such as metaphor and simile to usher the reader in the door to experience the supernatural realm.  The books examined for this extended essay will come from Christian evangelical writers, revivalists, and reformers such as George Fox, Charles Finney, Dwight Moody, Charles Spurgeon, and continuing with writers to the present day.  The essay is an analysis of how they portray God and the workings of the Spirit to readers.

~♥~

Divine Doorkeepers: 

How Mystical Authors Usher Readers into the Spirit Realm

“Lift up your heads, O you gates! And be lifted up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in” (Psalm 24:7).

If you were trying to write or speak about a world that cannot be apprehended with the senses, what method would you use to be most effective?  How would you make it possible for someone to touch the intangible world, or illuminate the invisible mystical realm for the human eye?

Evangelists, revivalists, and religious reformers have always been particularly fond of metaphor in their writings to make God and spiritual matters clear to their readers.  Rather than merely stating abstract concepts in an ethereal way, they build a sense of God being tangible. They use stories like soldiers to round up and captivate the minds of skeptics and unbelievers. In an essay entitled “To Make the Final Unity: Metaphor’s Matter and Spirit,” Mark Jarman writes about this process of presenting the mystical to people in a natural way:  “If it sounds too religious to call metaphor an incarnation, then let’s call it a manifestation, for it makes available to the senses what is often intangible, invisible, unknown, obscure; metaphor brings to light, it reveals, it unifies the fragmented, it is an act of creation, indeed” (301).

Christian writers have historically used physical activity, images of nature and weather, and human characteristics to describe the mystical world, enabling people to apprehend God with their senses instead of in an abstract manner.  Perhaps for some of these writers, the spiritual dimension is as real as the physical realm.

By using strong verb metaphors, evangelical writers enable the reader to see the activity of the Spirit during times of revival and religious change. By using stories about nature they allow the reader to understand complex visions and theologies.  By applying human traits to God, they give readers a sense of the humanity of God and a feeling of kinship with Him.  Spiritual writers weave metaphor through their messages and writing in such a way that makes the supernatural seems natural, and the metaphysical seems like physical activity.

Jesus Himself said, “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matthew 13:13, ESV). Spiritual authors have continued in His style, using allegorical stories or parables to illustrate the spiritual world. In his essay “Follow that Metaphor”, John Savant writes:

“For a person of Christian faith, the Gospels are a similar tool, teaching more through experience and story than through argument or explanation. The Gospels work by juxtaposition, indirection, comparison, and suggestion: they are, in other words, poetic and metaphoric” (18).

In this essay, I wish to examine the kinds of metaphors that are traditionally used to illustrate spiritual events, such as (1) depicting a hero with divine weapons on a spiritual journey, (2) humanizing God in order to give the reader a sense of identification with Him, (3) using weather and nature to depict God’s power and activity, (4) using magical realism in order to “spin straw into gold” and carry the reader into a new dimension, (5) using illustrations that show God striving with man, and (6) using metaphors that relate to the lifestyles and occupations of ordinary people.  The authors addressed in this essay are George Fox, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney, Søren Kierkegaard, Charles Spurgeon, Dwight Moody, C. S. Lewis, Donald Miller, and Shane Claiborne.

~♥~

George Fox (1624-1691): Divine Alchemist

George Fox was a well known English dissenter who founded the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).  He traveled throughout Britain, challenging the “hireling preachers” of his time and suffering tremendous persecution.  Fox was born in Leicestershire, England (now known as Fenny Drayton). George was the eldest of four children of Christopher Fox, a successful weaver.

Fox frequently uses surreal imagery to portray God. He presents his life story in a way that leads the reader to believe that he was born into a world of powers far greater than himself, and was chosen to carry divine seed to a parched and weary Earth.  He artfully uses ocean waves and clouds, elements and stars, and sparkling fiery seeds to depict the movement of the Spirit.  His memoirs seem to have been written with a magic quill, because they twinkle with a fantasy-like quality.  His poetic style is reminiscent of Bunyan in that he depicts himself as a seeking hero on a spiritual journey. He creates a mystical sense of place by applying geographical dimensions and weather patterns to abstractions such as good and evil. Michael Graves asserts that creating using this kind of language enables the reader to visualize and vicariously “travel” with the author:

…to name life a Pilgrimage overlays a gloss of geographic factors which may have never occurred to the person who hears the metaphor applied to life for the first time.  At the very least, the idea of pilgrimage may call forth associations which have lain dormant… [e.g., living in an evil place; finding a straight path; traveling light (and in the light), etc.]…( 364)

Fox had visions from his youth, which he referred to as “openings” because his eyes were opened to the spiritual.  He contrasts light and darkness to show the spiritual battle within man’s heart and on the earth:  “I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death; but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness.  In that also I saw the infinite love of God, and I had great openings” (Journal 87).  He uses the ocean to portray the vastness of the forces of evil and good, and a sense of overwhelming waters inwardly and outwardly.  Darkness is a metaphor for death, and light is the symbol for the love of God.  Fox effectively uses alliteration here as well to couple “darkness” with “death” and “light” with “love”, while making the infinite into something finite and visible. Nature and elements were commonly used by Fox as to describe spiritual revelations. In his journal, he records an experience of being within a mystical cloud:

One morning as I was sitting by the fire, a great cloud came over me, and a temptation beset me; and I sat still.  It was said “All things come by nature”; and the elements and stars came over me, so that I was in a manner quite clouded with it.  But as I sat still under it and let it alone, a living hope and a true voice arose in me, which said, “There is a living God who made all things.”  Immediately the cloud and temptation vanished away, and life rose over it; my heart was glad, and I praised the living God. (Journal 94)

The visionary cloaked in cloud is reminiscent of the story of Moses. The imagery works because it shows that Fox was alone with God and people could not see what was taking place as they communed.  Then he creates the sense of light piercing through the cloud when the “true voice” speaks.  Elements and stars and clouds are real but uncontrollable things in the universe, and the juxtaposition helps readers to understand God as having the same unfathomable power. Fox writes of God sending him into the world with a message, in a manner that bears resemblance to Dante embarking upon his journey:

Some time after the Lord commanded me to go abroad into the world, which was like a briery, thorny wilderness.  When I came in the Lord’s mighty power with the Word of life into the world, the world swelled, and made a noise like the great raging waves of the sea.  Priests and professors, magistrates and people, were all like the sea when I came to proclaim the day of the Lord amongst them, and to preach repentance unto them. (Journal 102)

The words “world” and “Word” flow together in this description of the world swelling and raging as he is sent with divine power.  He creates with his language a sense of two great powers raging against one another, and the sense of this overwhelming task that the preacher has been commissioned to carry out. The analogy of the sea evokes a sense of great power behind him as he goes forth. Fox often writes about the “Seed of God” that he is “sowing” around Europe.  He describes his sense of God having prepared the soil in Scotland before he arrives with divine seed:

For when I first set my horse’s foot upon Scottish ground I felt the Seed of God to sparkle about me, like innumerable sparks of fire.

Not but that there is abundance of the thick, cloddy earth of hypocrisy and falseness above, and a briery, brambly nature, which is to be burnt up with God’s Word, and ploughed up with His spiritual plough, before God’s Seed brings forth heavenly and spiritual fruit to his glory.  But the husbandman is to wait in patience. (Journal 316)

This scene of the author’s horse touching Scottish ground could be expected to come from the pages of King Arthur or “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Like Jack, the hero sets out on a journey with only some magic beans and has to battle with evil giants as he climbs toward heaven. The sparkling seeds around his feet give a touch of mystique to his divine calling and the fire is a metaphor for the Spirit.  He uses the thick clods of earth and the thorns to show the resistance that he expects to encounter, and the condition of people’s minds before they have been tilled with patience. The mystical plough of God has been given to him as the gardener, and he is expected to work diligently.  Like Rumpelstiltskin in the Brothers Grimm tale, Fox seems to be able to “spin straw into gold.”  He transfigures the properties of earthly things into heavenly things by using fantasy-like literary devices.

John in the New Testament addressed new believers as “little children” in his letters, and Fox uses a similar style in his epistles. In one of his letters, he refers to converts as “children of the light”:

Sing and rejoice, ye children of the Day and of the Light, for the Lord is at work in this thick night of Darkness that may be felt; and Truth doth flourish as the rose, and the lilies do grow among the thorns, and the plants atop of the hills, and upon them the lambs do skip and play.  And never heed the tempests nor the storms, floods nor rains, for the Seed of Christ is over all and doth reign. (Epistle 227)

This passage is illuminated and lyrical, and the style evokes a sense of reverence. The tempests, floods, and rains are metaphors for the evils that can drown out the “Seed of Christ”.  The Truth is depicted as the rose, and as lilies among thorns, because they are flowers that are recognized as fragrant and lovely.  The lambs skipping represent the purity of children of God, and the tops of the hills indicate that believers transcend the world and its ways.  The elevated tone adds to the sense of being in this place of light and truth with the writer.

Fox’s metaphors, similes, and analogies depict might, authority, and movement, and a sense of light and beauty.  Through his poetic and magical style, he draws the reader into a sense of being in the presence of something glowing and desirable.

~♥~

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758): The Town Crier

Jonathan Edwards was a great American evangelist and revivalist.  He was born in East Windsor, Connecticut and was the fifth of eleven children.  He and his siblings were all well-educated.  Edwards was not only a preacher, theologian, and missionary, but he was also considered a great intellectual.  He was very active in the First Great Awakening in the American colonies, and oversaw some of the earliest revivals in 1733–1735 in Northampton, Massachusetts.

In many of his memoirs, he seems to be a divine journalist and mystical meteorologist, reporting the amazing works of God in various communities.  Like Fox, he is fond of weather imagery and refers to a revival as a “shower of divine blessing”(Narrative 155), and a spiritual awakening among the youth as being “like a flash of lightning upon the hearts of young people all over the town” (Narrative149). These kinds of images shift the focus from the evangelists to God and enable the reader to visualize what the Spirit is doing.  The author also implies that preachers have no more control over revivals than they have over the making of weather.

Edwards depicts God in terms of supernatural strength and energy, using His strong arm to smite and jerk and awaken humans from spiritual slumber. He describes the revival in Northampton using many exercise metaphors and he emphasizes concrete verbs showing physical exertion to illustrate God’s presence in the towns. He refers to revivals as “works” and “awakenings”, and describes the Spirit striving vigorously to win over the hearts of people. Throughout his memoirs in A Faithful Narrative, he uses language that creates a sense of motion and strife and physical strain. Upon witnessing a great urgency towards spiritual matters in one community he writes: “…the Spirit of God began to extraordinarily set in, and wonderfully to work amongst us…and some of them wrought upon in a very remarkable manner: The only thing in their view was to get into the kingdom of heaven, and everyone appeared pressing into it” (150). The language connoting physical activity in these passages gives the reader a sense of motion and people straining to get closer to God.  In the last sentence, you can envision a crowd trying to squeeze through a door at the same time, pressing against each other in desperation to get in first.

Edwards describes the supernatural swiftness of the conversion of souls during this time, and how humans could not possibly have accomplished this on their own:

God has also seemed to go out of His usual way in the quickness of His work, and the swift progress the Spirit has made in His operations on the hearts of many…seized with strong convictions of their guilt and misery…

The work of God’s Spirit seemed to be at its greatest height in this town…When God in so remarkable a manner took the work into His own hands, there was as much done in a day or two at ordinary times, with all endeavors that men can use, and with such a blessing as we commonly have, is done in a year. (159)

Edwards humanizes God, and then creates a sense of tension between Him and people.  He puts flesh and bones on the Spirit, and allows the reader to see God at work in the souls of men. The reader gets the sense of men being sleepwalkers who God is sharply awakening from slumber. He juxtaposes physical strength and supernatural power, thus allowing the reader to sense the activity of God.

~♥~

Charles Finney (1792-1875):  Retained by God

Charles Grandison Finney was born in Warren, Connecticut, and was the youngest of fifteen children. As a son of farmers, Finney never attended college, but he apprenticed to become a lawyer. After his conversion, he became an important figure in the Second Great Awakening which swept over the northern states, especially upstate New York.  Finney believed that the revivals did not have great impact in the Southern states because of the evil of slavery. He has been called The Father of Modern Revivalism and he was famous for sermons that were preached without notes and without memorization, also known as “extemporaneous preaching.”  He developed the custom of the “anxious bench” for people who were anxious about their souls and wanted guidance.

Finney was a tireless spiritual leader who worked to bring about revivals in many communities in America and Europe.  Having been a lawyer before his conversion, he was well-suited to “plead the case of Christ”.  He was often told that his style was like a lawyer at the bar talking to a jury, because he was powerfully direct, searching, and persuasive in his language. Finney was criticized by other preachers in his time for his straightforward and plain style, and his illustrations that were directed at common people in ordinary occupations. He was told that his sermons were an embarrassment to the ministerial profession.  But he replied by saying, “Great sermons lead people to praise the preacher.  Good sermons lead people to praise the Savior” (Autobiography 74).  He frequently had to defend his style: “Among farmers and mechanics, and other classes of men, I borrowed my illustrations from their various occupations.  I tried to use language they would understand… my object was not to cultivate a style of oratory that should soar above the heads of the people, but to make myself understood” (Autobiography 70).

In one of his lectures recorded in the book Revivals of Religion, he uses the analogy of hardened ground to represent the hardness of the human heart that resists the gospel message.  Like George Fox, he refers to himself as the divine gardener that has been appointed by God to labor in the field and plant holy seed:

Fallow ground is ground that has once been tilled, but which now lies waste, and needs to be broken up and mellowed, before it is suited to receive grain.  I shall show, as it respects a revival in the church…

To break up the fallow ground, is to break up your heart, to prepare your minds to bring forth fruit unto God.  The mind of man is often compared in the Bible to ground, and the Word of God to seed sown therein, the fruit representing the actions and affections of those who receive it…

Sometimes your hearts get matted down, hard and dry, till there is no such thing as getting fruit from them till they are broken up…It is that softening of the heart, so as to make it feel the truth, which the prophet calls breaking up your fallow ground (32-33).

Fox previously used the analogy of “thick cloddy earth” in a similar manner. Finney explains that tilling represents self-examination which allows the heart and mind to become tender and receptive. He explains that no preacher can “sow seed” or have any effect until a man prepares his heart on his own first.

Finney also depicts the movement of the Spirit with language pertaining to weaponry.  For instance, he spoke of the Word of God as an arrow: “The Word of God had wonderful power…and I was surprised to find that a few words spoken to an individual would stick in his heart like an arrow” (Autobiography 32).  He refers to preaching as being like a sword:  “I concluded with such pointed remarks as were intended to make the subject go home…The sword of the Lord slew them on the right hand and on the left” (Autobiography 63).  The “pointed remarks” and the sword represent the effect of the truth on the minds of people, piercing them with self-awareness and “slaying” their evil natures.

Finney was disillusioned that many ministers in his day had been trained in such a way that diminished their spiritual potency and hindered their growth.  He writes of one such minister in his autobiography: “The fact is that Mr. Gale’s education for the ministry had been entirely defective. He had imbibed a set of opinions, both theological and practical, that were a straitjacket to him” (Autobiography 50).  The straitjacket is used as a symbol for a condition of being restrained and weakened in faith.

Charles Finney uses simple stories and style in a way that is persuasive and authoritative, and draws readers into a stronger understanding of their own spiritual condition and the workings of God.

~♥~

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855):  Thinking Outside the Crowd

Søren Kierkegaard was a renowned Danish philosopher, theologian and religious author. He was born to an affluent family in Copenhagen, and his mother was employed as a maid in the household before marrying his father.

Kierkegaard was greatly influenced by Socrates and the Socratic method of thinking. His theological writings primarily focus on the flaws in the church institution and the crowd-driven mentality of believers. He was strongly opposed to the way that theology and organized religion had tarnished the Gospel message, and he believed that seminaries taught Christians to think and talk about God rather than to take any kind of action. His writings beg for soul-searching and an active response from the reader.

Dr. George Pattison writes of the author’s style in his introduction to Kierkegaard’s Spiritual Writings: “The discourses are not plodding expositions of ready-made dogmas, but have an almost conversational feel, sometimes serious, sometimes playful, but always seeking to open a dialogue with the reader, whose own response is anticipated and responded to” (57).

Kierkegaard tells stories about God humanizing Himself willingly out of His great love for people.  He depicts Christians as thieves and cheaters who twist the gospel to suit their own agenda. Here he portrays the struggle between worldly religion and true spirituality:  “…The Bible is very easy to understand.  But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers.  We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly…Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament” (Provocations 201). His representation of religious folks as “scheming swindlers” is a piercing metaphor that suggests deception and misuse of something valuable.

In one of his letters, Kierkegaard presents God as being a creator who fashioned humans in His own image, and loved them so deeply that He placed Himself into their lives. He asserts that the Incarnated God taught people about service to others by His own example.  In this passage he uses an analogy pertaining to artists and their productions to illustrate how even God lowered Himself out of compassion for humans:

If a poet or an artist puts himself into his Productions he is criticized. But that is exactly what God does, he does so in Christ. And precisely that is Christianity. The creation was really only completed when God included himself in it. Before the coming of Christ, God was certainly in the creation, but as an invisible sign, like the watermark in paper. But the creation was completed by the Incarnation because God thereby included himself in it. (Journals 324)

This statement bears resemblance to one of the parables of Jesus, in which God finally arrives on the scene Himself when his workers have rebelled against Him in the vineyard where he hired them to work (Mark 12:1-10, NKJV). These stories have power because they present the idea that God is one of our kind and that He loved us enough to get involved in our drama of sorrow and suffering and even our mortality.  Kierkegaard’s comparison to the creation without Christ as being as a watermark on paper adds a touch of mystery, because it portrays the idea that we don’t see everything that exists.

In the chapter from Provocations entitled “Behold the Birds of the Air,” Kierkegaard spins a fable about wood doves.  Using an opening like his fellow Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen, he writes of one wild dove that refuses to live in a dovecote under the care of a kind farmer: “Once upon a time there was a wood dove. It had its nest in the fearsome forest, where wonder and apprehension dwelt together, among the erect, lonely trees. But nearby, where the smoke rises up from the farmer’s house, lived some tame doves” (148). The wild dove is a metaphor for a person who chooses to live without divine authority.  The “fearsome forest” where “wonder and apprehension” live together is an aesthetic way of portraying the world and the conflicts that beset us each day.  The reader is hereby summoned into a sense of inner tension which Kierkegaard evokes to show the awful state of man without God. Through interactions between the wild dove and the tame ones, the writer portrays the inner friction between faith and the natural mind:

From now on, the wood dove began to worry. His feathers lost their glint of color, his flight lost buoyancy. He was no longer joyful; indeed, he was almost envious of the rich, tame doves… In worrying about his needs he had trapped himself in a snare in which no birdcatcher could have trapped him, trapped as only a free creature can trap himself. (Provocations148)

The “tame doves” depict the faithful who don’t live unto themselves and need not worry about their livelihood or their future. Kierkegaard uses artful paradoxes and images to represent the anxiety that began to trouble the “free” dove, describing the loss of luster in his feathers and how he felt weighted down when he attempted to fly. The glossy feathers and lightness are symbols for joy and peace, and the lack of them implies strain and encumbrances.  The wild dove that “has trapped himself…as only a free creature can trap himself” is an apt representation for a man cannot extricate himself from his ways because his ego is at stake. The author creates irony in that the tame birds are free and the wild bird is in bondage.

Kierkegaard was accomplished in the art of addressing controversial subjects with satire and paradox and allegorical tales, and by using graceful metaphors to illustrate his views in an evocative manner.

~♥~

Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892):  Spiritual Lyricist

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was a British Baptist preacher, but his style stirred the interest of Christians of all denominations.  He is referred to by many as the “Prince of Preachers”.  He was born in Kelvedon, Essex and was converted on January 6, 1850. His conversion occurred when a snow storm cut one of his journeys short and he stopped into a Primitive Methodist chapel in Colchester.

Spurgeon preached up to ten times per week in different locations during his years of ministry. He was the pastor of the New Park Street Chapel (later the Metropolitan Tabernacle) in London for thirty-eight years and was a prolific author of many types of works.  He wrote sermons, an autobiography, devotions, poetry,a hymnist, prayer books,and more. Many of his sermons were transcribed as he spoke and translated into many languages.

Charles Spurgeon has a graceful poetic style in his writing and speaking, and his voice is elevated and lyrical.  He has a remarkably sensitive and gentle voice by comparison to other evangelical authors and preachers, as he is full of comfort and encouragement.  His writing is melodious and flowing and almost angelic in its tone, and his metaphors evoke a sense of divine music.  One of his most “musical” transcribed sermons is his aptly titled “Songs in the Night” (Job 35:10, KJV).    He begins by exhorting the reader about how to maintain good cheer in the midst of distress:

Anyone can sing in the day. When the cup is full, one draws inspiration from it; when wealth rolls in abundance around them, anyone can sing to the praise of a God who gives an abundant harvest.  It is easy to sing when we can read the notes by daylight; but the skillful singer is the one who can sing when there is not a ray of light to read by—who sings from their heart, and not from a book that they can see. (Songs I-1)

This passage contains many of the poetic elements used by Fox in his epistles, such as the contrast of light and darkness, and the exhortation to sing in the thick night. The songs represent joy and the night represents times of adversity. The full cup and the harvest are images of abundance. He uses them to clarify that it takes no strength of character to be cheerful when one has wealth and comfort.

Then his images shift when he speaks of singing without any light to read the notes by, from an inward book which cannot be seen. The darkness is a symbol for the times when things appear bleak to us and we have to grope for happiness.  The “skillful singer” is a graceful metaphor for the one who can retain joy in times of tribulation, and memorizing the words as opposed to reading them re-emphasizes the skill of the vocalist. The passage is richly sensual, engaging both sight and hearing and also full of contrasts of light and darkness, joy and pain, music and silence.  Rather than merely telling the reader of joy in the midst of trials, he paints glorious pictures and makes lofty music to illustrate his message.

Let all things go as I please—I will weave songs, weave them wherever I go, with the flowers that grow along my path; but put me in a desert, where there are no flowers, and how will I weave a chorus of praise to God? How will I make a crown for him? Let this voice be free, and this body be full of health, and I can sing God’s praise; but stop this tongue, lay me on the bed of suffering, and it is not so easy to sing from the bed, and chant high praises in the fires…confine me, chain my spirit, clip my wings, make me very sad, so that I become old like the eagle—ah! Then it is hard to sing. (Songs I-1)

His flowing musical style creates a tone of worship.  The coupling of the verb metaphor “weaving” with “songs” is aesthetically pleasing as weaving is rhythmic like musical notes.  “Chanting praises in the fire” is remarkably visual and conjures up an image of strong faith.  He writes that the desert has no flowers to weave a chorus and then asks how to make a crown of praise for God; these two sentences make the reader associate weaving with crowns, and this seems to imply the crown of thorns.  The old eagle is similar to T. S. Eliot’s verse from “Ash Wednesday” about the aged eagle that no longer stretches its wings, and both authors are speaking about mortality and loss of dreams.

While making melody can produce comfort in a troubled mind, Spurgeon is not referring to a real song, but to a supernatural state of mind which he asserts can be retained through the Spirit, which makes people resilient beyond the limits of human fortitude. The unfruitful fig tree is symbolic of the times of struggle, and the divine song represents an attitude of acceptance and peace.

He then speaks of not trying to create joy but to simply ask for it, and he uses a metaphor of an old well pump:

So, then, poor Christian, you needn’t go pumping up your poor heart to make it glad. Go to your Maker, and ask him to give you a song in the night. You are a poor dry well: you have heard it said, that when a pump is dry, you must pour water down it first of all, to prime the pump, and then you will get some up; and so, Christian, when you are dry, go to God, ask him to pour some joy down you, and then you will get some joy up from your own heart. (Songs I-2)

The water Spurgeon refers to is a metaphor for joy, and he tells readers that they are “poor dry wells.”  The old well pump was a familiar household appliance during the days in which he preached, and he uses it as a symbol for striving to find joy when the heart is troubled.  He tells his audience not to work at it on their own or “pump the well” because God can pour down the joy upon His people.

Spurgeon refers to God as the great composer of songs, meaning that God is the one who creates the joy that man cannot find inside of himself.

It may be darkness now; but I know the promises were sweet; I know I had blessed seasons in his church. I am quite sure of this; I used to enjoy myself in the ways of the Lord; and though now my paths are strewn with thorns, I know it is the King’s highway. It was a way of pleasantness once; it will be a way of pleasantness again… Christian, perhaps the best song you can sing, to cheer you in the night, is the song of yesterday morning. (Songs Part II-1)

Spurgeon suggests that people should encourage themselves by remembrance of better times, and he presents the notion of life having seasons.  Seasons illustrate that “pleasantness” will always circle around again after a time in which the path is covered in thorns. The thorns were used by Fox in his writings as well, and they are a symbol of piercing anguish and suffering in the human heart.  The King’s highway is another example of metaphor suggesting a pilgrimage. Spurgeon’s language and tone are effective, because rather than trying to appeal to the heart through abstractions, he creates imagery and music and moods through his flowing style and use of lyrical metaphors.

~♥~

Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899):  Soul-Winning Storyteller

Dwight Lyman Moody was born in Northfield, Massachusetts and was one of nine children. His father, a poor farmer and stonemason, died at the age of forty-one while praying on his knees when Dwight was four years old.

Moody was a shoe salesman before he became a missionary. He acquired great fame as an evangelist in England in 1872. He was invited by Spurgeon for speaking engagements and was also promoted by him. Moody mentions Fox and Finney in some of his writings, referring to them as great leaders in reforming and reviving God’s work among the slumbering churches. He had a soul-searching tone that was similar to Finney’s, and he had a gift for spinning stories in such a way that calls upon the reader to extend the tales and draw more conclusions on their own.

For instance, he asserts that the spiritual needs of humans are as real and treatable as physical ailments. In The Best of Dwight Moody, he writes of the importance of fellowship by using a medical simile:  “Church attendance is as vital to a disciple as a transfusion of rich, healthy blood to a sick man.”  This statement is effective because he shows in the statement that even a disciple can become spiritually ill if he does not maintain his “health” by following the precepts of God and being in a community of encouragers.  It also allows the reader to conclude that the disciple could die in a spiritual sense from lack of encouragement and fellowship. He juxtaposes the physical man and the spiritual man and alludes to the healing blood of Christ through the transfusion simile.  By being inconclusive in his stories, he allows the reader to make more associations.

Moody believed in using simple and plain style. In Dr. Joe McKeever’s article called “Why We Need Parables”, he writes:  “Dwight L. Moody used to remind pastors to ‘put the cookies on the bottom shelf so everyone could reach them.’ What he meant–and what he practiced as well as it could be done–was, ‘Keep the message simple.’ Make it accessible to everyone” (par 1).  Moody, like Finney, used the idea of a courtroom when explaining why flowery speech was not his method for addressing an audience of unbelievers.

My friend, we have too many orators.  I am tired and sick of your “silver-tongued orators.”  I used to mourn because I couldn’t be an orator…

Take a witness in court and let him try his oratorical powers in the witness-box, and see how quickly the judge will rule him out.  It is the man who tells the plain, simple truth that has the most influence with the jury (Best 198).

This passage depicts the urgency that the evangelist feels to “plead his case” and why it is so important to be understood as opposed to merely sounding lofty and educated.  It also carries the reader to think upon the consequences of being “ruled out” and the injustices that may result, and he juxtaposes earthly and divine judgment.

He uses a similar method in this passage where he tells the story of a little boy who catches a sparrow, and he uses it as an allegory for redemption:

A friend in Ireland once met a little Irish boy who had caught a sparrow.  The poor little bird was trembling in his hand, and seemed very anxious to escape.  The gentleman begged the boy to let it go…but the boy said he would not, for he had chased it for three hours before he could catch it.  He tried to reason it out with the boy, but in vain.  At last he offered to buy the bird.  The boy agreed to the price and it was paid.  Then the gentleman took the poor little thing, and held it out on his hand…in a little while, it flew away chirping (Best 16).

The purchase and release of the sparrow represents the redemption of souls by the grace of God. Moody also allows the reader make other associations, and think of the weakness of the little bird being like humans without the strength of Christ, and wondering if the sparrow fully appreciated its freedom.  One might also contemplate how the sparrow had no concept of what had transpired, and thus could not feel truly grateful, and that man is often the same way towards God. The reader continues to make associations beyond what the writer develops in the piece, and this is artistic because by understatement, the author causes the reader to think further on the matter.

Moody uses a balloon analogy to speak to believers about how to walk in a manner that is pleasing to God and allows them to meet their full potential:

You know, when a man is going up in a balloon, he takes in sand as ballast, and when he wants to mount a little higher, he throws out some of it, and then he will mount a little higher; he throws out a little more ballast, and he mounts still higher; and the more he throws out the higher he gets, and so the more we have to throw out of the things of this world the nearer we get to God (Best 72).

This analogy is very thought-provoking and clear. The balloon was a familiar mode of travel during Moody’s day which makes it appropriate, and it gives readers a sense of the time period the writer is speaking from. One can also visually see the effect of abstinence and self-denial through this portrayal of the man in the balloon, and how the level of spirituality a man reaches is determined by what he lets go of.  This matter of weight works well in association with the subject of burdens and encumbrances, and the balloon connotes lightness of heart and freedom.  The writer allows the reader to visualize so they can comprehend the principle more clearly, which is quite superior to merely explaining the concept without the illustration.

~♥~

C. S. Lewis (1898-1963):  Scholar of the Divine

Clive Staples Lewis was a highly acclaimed Christian apologist.  He was born and raised in Ireland and as an adult became a faculty member at Oxford University in England. Lewis had been baptized in the Church of Ireland at birth, but gave up his faith during adolescence. Because of Tolkien and other close friends, Lewis returned to Christianity when he was thirty-two. He became known for his strong intellect and ability to debate with spokesmen of different faiths and philosophies.  In an article entitled “How Does C.S.Lewis do Apologetics?” Dr. Pavel Hosek describes Lewis’ appealing style:

As no one else he succeeded in attracting the mind of the unbelieving reader…Many Christians testify that they only learned to really look for heaven after reading Lewis’ books. The way he is able to picture heaven and the spiritual world in general very often enables the reader to taste the heavenly quality, its atmosphere, beauty and splendor (par 11).

Having been an atheist in his younger years, he was especially capable to address a broader audience than most Christian writers, and to consider questions that people ask about God and faith.  While Fox seemed to be an alchemist, and Finney seemed to be a lawyer, Lewis speaks with the voice of a professor addressing other scholars.  He uses metaphor and personification throughout his books, to enable the reader to comprehend the complexities of good and evil in a fallen world.

In Mere Christianity, he illustrates many of his concepts with comparisons to people.  In this segment, he describes what true pride is as compared to humility.  First he says that “Pride leads to every other vice; it is the complete anti-god state of mind.” Then he uses the metaphor of a young girl to illustrate the nature of pride: “What makes a pretty girl spread misery wherever she goes by collecting admirers?  Certainly not her sexual instinct: that kind of girl is quite often sexually frigid.  It is Pride” (Classics 103-104).  The way that Lewis personifies Pride as a careless woman enables the reader to see the true nature of this vice as being senselessly competitive and self-centered.

In his essay called “The Obstinate Tin Soldiers”, he compares people who avoid God to toy soldiers who, like Pinocchio, have come to life:

Did you ever think, when you were a child, what fun it would be if your toys could come to life?  Well suppose you could really have brought them to life.  Imagine turning a tin soldier into a real little man…And suppose the tin soldier did not like it…all he sees is that the tin is being spoilt.  He thinks you are killing him. (Classics 146)

Lewis is using the story to explain how people fear that their lives will be ruined if they allow God to take charge and kill their sinful natures, which really brings them to life. The irony here is hilarious and Kierkegaardian in style, because the toy which was never alive in the first place thinks he has been killed, and was made better but thinks he is ruined. It is humorous to imagine the soldier worrying about its tin being damaged. The story makes it seem silly that humans can feel so threatened by God.  Lewis is the master of creating imaginative metaphors that allow people to laugh at themselves.

In The Great Divorce, Lewis responds to William Blake’s book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and uses the metaphor of divorce to show that good and evil are opposing forces that can never be reconciled.  He uses a simile of a tree whose branches keep separating to illustrate this spiritual principle:

We are not living in a world where all roads are radii of a circle and where all, if followed long enough, will therefore draw gradually nearer and finally meet at the centre: rather in a world where every road, after a few miles, forks into two, and each of those into two again, and at each fork, you must make a decision…life is not like a river but like a tree.  It does not move towards unity but away from it and the creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection. (Classics 465)

In this example, Lewis illustrates his belief that all roads don’t lead to Heaven and Christ is not merely another “great teacher.”  Like Kierkegaard, Lewis always seems to be in debating mode and tries to challenge those who think they are too intelligent for God. He always is seeking dialogue with his readers.

~♥~

Donald Miller (1971- present):  Mystical Ringmaster

Donald Miller is a best-selling American author and public speaker from Portland, Oregon. He founded “The Mentoring Project,” a non-profit agency that works with local churches to help fatherless young men. In his memoirs, Miller seems like a literary ringmaster entertaining the reader in a three-ring circus that consists of humor, sensitivity, and spirituality.  In To Own a Dragon, he writes about the emotional problems that are experienced by young men who are raised in the absence of a father figure. He begins by describing a documentary pertaining to elephants in which the narrator describes how young male elephants that lose their fathers become particularly violent and aggressive during their “musth cycle” (puberty):

Occasionally, two elephants in a musth would meet, and the encounter was always violent, going so far as to uproot trees in the fray of their brawl…I couldn’t help but identify…I mean, there were feelings, sometimes anger, sometimes depression, sometimes raging lust, and I was never sure what any of it was about.  I just felt like killing somebody, or sleeping with some girl, or decking a guy in a bar, and I didn’t know what to do with any of these feelings. (32)

Miller juggles sensitivity and humor in this passage, causing the reader to laugh about problems that aren’t innately funny.  He uses the angry young elephants as an analogy for adolescent young men who need paternal care in their lives. He describes how mature male elephants “adopt” young elephants and have a calming effect on them: “The green pus running down his hind leg and his smell like fresh-cut grass alerts an older, fully mature male, that this is a young elephant in need of guidance.  Upon finding a mentor, the young elephant’s musth cycle ends” (33).  Miller then writes of an older male mentor coming into his own life and offering guidance, and extends the analogy into the spiritual realm, explaining that the Heavenly Father can also assume the role of adoptive father and resolve many of these issues for men.

In another of his books entitled Searching for God Knows What Miller describes his own spiritual journey, prefacing the book with a story of being born in a circus surrounded by clowns:

Sometimes I feel as if I were born in a circus, come out of my mother’s womb like a man from a cannon, pitched toward the ceiling of the tent, all the doctors and nurses clapping in delight from the grandstands, the band going great guns in trombones and drums…the smell of popcorn in the air…and all the people chanting my name as my arms come out like wings…the center ring growing enormous beneath my falling weight.

And that is precisely when it occurs to me that there is no net…who is going to rescue me? (ix)

Through the absurd he illustrates the fears about life that surround people from their youth.  He creates the sense of terror by depicting the man coming out of the cannon and discovering he has no net to catch him, and wittily embarks upon the subjects of desperation and divine intervention when he raises the question of who will rescue him.  Miller always performs a graceful balancing act of seriousness and humor, making his writings entertaining and yet profoundly meaningful.

~♥~

Shane Claiborne (1975- present):  Gentle Revolutionary

Shane Claiborne is one of the founders of a New Monastic community called the Potter Street Community (formerly The Simple Way) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Claiborne worked with Mother Teresa during a ten-week term in Calcutta, worked in Baghdad with the Iraq Peace Team.

Shane Claiborne was raised in East Tennessee where he and his family attended an old-fashioned Methodist church.  Being both idealistic and intelligent, he began at an early age to question what all of the activities and programs in his church had to do with Jesus or being a disciple. His sincerity and earnestness toward God are reminiscent of George Fox as a young man, going about questioning the authorities in religion and seeking for the true meaning of “taking up the cross” of Christ. In one of his books called The Irresistible Revolution, he speaks of wanting to follow Christ but not knowing where he could buy a staff.  By merely mentioning the staff in the context of modern life, he accomplishes two things:  He makes the reader laugh, and he puts forth the concept of embarking on a spiritual pilgrimage without the proper equipment.

Most of his writings evoke a sense of conflict internally and externally.  Claiborne uses a metaphor in his chapter entitled “Spiritual Bulimia” to illustrate the growing hunger for God and the fact that he was not being “fed” by the church:

I developed a common ailment that haunts Western Christianity.  I call it spiritual bulimia.  Bulimia, of course, is a tragic eating disorder, largely linked to identity and image, where folks consume large amounts of food but vomit it up before it has a chance to digest.  I developed a spiritual form of it where I did my devotions, read all the new Christian books and saw the Christian movies, and then vomited information up to friends, small groups, and pastors.  But it never had a chance to digest.  I had gorged myself on all the products of the Christian industrial complex but was spiritually starving to death.  I was marked by an overconsumptive but malnourished spirituality, suffocated by Christianity but thirsty for God. (Revolution 39)

Claiborne strengthens his analogy with strong verb metaphors such as “gorged”, “vomited”, “starving”, and “suffocated” as well as strong adjectives like “overconsumptive” and “malnourished”.  These all enhance the metaphor of the spiritual sickness that was tormenting him so that he could not “digest” the truth.

Claiborne uses Babylon as a metaphor for the worldly kingdom that wars with the kingdom of Heaven in his book entitled Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals.  In the chapter “The Empire has No Clothes,” he talks about the spiritual marriage of believers to God and the problem of the church lusting after the world system which is represented in this passage as a prostitute:

John’s language couldn’t be clearer:  we are to “come out” of her literally to pull ourselves out.  Let’s be honest here: this is rated R…Scholars point out that this is erotic language and that the words John uses are the same ones used for coitus interruptus– to interrupt sexual intercourse before climax.  As John is speaking of this steamy love affair with the empire, he calls the church to “pull out of her”– to leave romance with the world and be wooed by God, to remember our first love, to say no to all other lovers. (150)

After quoting John’s metaphor, Claiborne compares worldly desire to a whore who tempts believers into spiritual adultery, and Christ is portrayed as the one true love to whom a believer must always be faithful. This is a very powerful juxtaposition which is easily understood by the reader with all of its connotations.  Claiborne uses his illustrations in attempt to be a catalyst in the church system which he considers to be largely in conflict Christ’s teachings.  Like Bonhoeffer, he advocates monastic life within the secular community, not in an isolated place.

~♥~

Concluding Remarks

The writers and orators in this essay were chosen because of their tireless efforts in the furtherance of God’s kingdom, with particular emphasis on revival and reform.  All of them address people with truthful compassion and concern for their souls, and none of them conform to the status quo religion of the day or are crowd-pleasers. While these authors seldom mention each other, they all are concerned with the common purpose of advancing the Kingdom of God, many of them at the expense of their own comforts and livelihoods.

At times their messages and styles bear striking resemblances to each other. Fox and Claiborne are iconoclasts, seeking to tear down the “graven images” of empty religion and draw believers to a deeper personal spirituality. Spurgeon and Moody both have a gentle chiding style in their writings and sermons. Kierkegaard and Lewis tend to personify God to establish our kinship with him, and they have a more argumentative and logical style which is well-suited for dealing with more scholarly audiences. Like Miller, they are also fond of humor and satire to illustrate their teachings.  Lewis, Fox and Kierkegaard enjoy using fantasy-like style to create fables and allegorical tales. The sense of a hero on a spiritual journey can be found in the writings of several of the mentioned authors, including Fox, Lewis, Miller, and Claiborne, who write their memoirs in a way that the reader can travel with them on their path as they seek answers to life’s questions.

Through artful literary devices, these spiritual authors coax unbelievers to contemplate the divine. Savant states that through metaphor we can open the doorway to the supernatural realm: “Precisely because metaphor suggests meaning or sensibilities beyond quantification–beyond plain-speaking and common sense–it serves as a tool, however imperfect, with which we can open up the mysterious in human life and destiny” (18). While earlier writers used farming and weather images to address people who lived on farms and dealt with seasons, seed times, and harvests, modern authors have evolved and become more scientific, industrial, and sociological. Though the metaphors of spiritual writers change to suit their audience, they continue to recognize that stories and illustrations are a powerful tool to make God and the Spirit realm more tangible.

~♥~

Works Cited

Claiborne, Shane. The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2006. Print.

Claiborne, Shane, and Chris Haw. Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals. Grand Rapids, MI: The Simple Way, 2008. Print.

Edwards, Jonathan. “A Faithful Narrative.” The Works of Jonathan Edwards. Ed. C. C. Goen. New Haven, CT.: Yale UP, 1972. Print.

Finney, Charles. “Charles Finney Systematic Theology.” Finney’s Revivals of Religion: Lecture 3 on How to Promote a Revival. Didaskalos Ministries, n.d. Web. 4 Nov 2010. <http://www.bibleteacher.org/finrev1b.htm#LEC3&gt;.

—. The Autobiography of Charles G. Finney. Condensed and Edited by Helen Wessel. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1977. Print.

Fox, George.”Selected Epistles of George Fox.” Renascence Editions. U of Oregon, 1998.Web. 4 Nov 2010. <http://www.luminarium.org/renascence-editions/foxep.htm&gt;.

—. The Journal of George Fox.  Edited by Rufus Jones. Richmond, IN: Friends UP, 1976. Print.

Graves, Michael P. “Functions of Key Metaphors in Early Quaker Sermons, 1671-1700.” The Quarterly Journal of Speech 69.4 (1983): 364-378. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Web. 24 Nov. 2010.

Hosek, Dr. Pavel. “How Does C.S. Lewis do Apologetics?” (2003): n. pag. European Leadership Forum Research Center. Web. 20 Dec 2010. <http://www.euroleadershipresources.org/resource.php?ID=76&gt;.

Jarman, Mark. “To Make the Final Unity: Metaphor’s Matter and Spirit.” 301-318. Southern Review, 2007. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 24 Nov. 2010.

Kierkegaard, Søren. Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard. Ed. Charles E. Moore.  Farmington, PA:  Plough, 2002. eBook.

—. Kierkegaard Spiritual Writings: A New Translation and Selection by George Pattison. New York: Harper Collins, 2010. 57. eBook.

—. The Journals of Kierkegaard (edited by Alexander Dru. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1959), 324.

Lewis, C. S., The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics. New York: Harper One, 2002. Print.

McKeever, Dr. Joe. “Why We Need Parables.” (2009): n. pag. Web. 20 Dec 2010. <http://www.biblestudytools.com/pastor-resources/11610729.html&gt;.

Miller, Donald. Searching for God Knows What. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004. Print.

Miller, Donald, and John Macmurray. To Own a Dragon: Reflections on Growing Up Without a Father. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2006. Print.

Moody, Dwight L. The Best of Dwight L. Moody. 6th Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1971. Print.

Savant, John. “Follow that Metaphor.” Commonweal 132.20 (2005): 17-19. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 24 Nov. 2010.

Spurgeon, Charles H. “Songs in the Night.” Spurgeon Collection on Bible Bulletin Board.  Tony Capoccia, 2004. Web. 4 Nov 2010. <http://www.biblebb.com/files/spurgeon/2558.htm&gt;.

~♥~

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Several missionary families lived in a village in South America where there was great civil unrest.  They all inhabited one large building together. One day the families were told that there would be fighting during the night hours.  So they all gathered together in one room with their children, and prayed for God’s protection.

As darkness fell, they heard the noise of shouting and fighting and gunshots outside.  They all suffered through a very stressful and sleepless night.

The next morning, after things had become quiet, the men slipped out of the building to see if everything was safe again.  Gradually, the women and children began to venture out into the village.

During that day, the natives kept questioning them saying, “Who were those men in white standing around your house last night while the fighting was going on?”  They learned that their building had been surrounded by powerful looking men in white apparel, who seemed to be guarding their little fortress.  The families soon realized that God had dispatched angels to protect them that night.

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A young American missionary couple rode their bicycles together down a muddy road in Africa after a heavy rain. The woman was pregnant and was due to give birth soon.  The mud became so thick that their bicycle wheels could not turn in the mud, and they could not maneuver through the tall roadside grass either.  It was dusk, and the wife was becoming exhausted. They were worried that wild animals would start to come out of hiding.

Two tall strong men with tribal markings on their faces appeared out of nowhere, and asked if they could help them.  First they gave them tall boots, and the woman was astonished by how effortlessly they were able to stride through the mud. Then the native men offered to carry their bicycles back to their huts. The missionary couple thanked them, and the tall men lifted the bicycles across their shoulders and strode away gracefully.

When the couple returned to the village, they were approached by several people in the village and asked about the two men who had left the bicycles at their hut.  To their surprise, the natives said they did not recognize the tribal markings on the faces of the men.  That seemed strange, since all of the tribes in the region were very familiar with each other.

The Spirit revealed to the missionaries that the two tall men were angels who had been sent to help and protect them when they were in trouble.

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A seventeenth century Quaker missionary was told by the Spirit to go and preach the gospel to a certain house.  He walked to the house and knocked at the door which swung open.  He called out a few times, and he saw through the doorway that no one was home.

So he thought to himself, “The Spirit clearly told me to preach the gospel to this house.”  So he proceeded to preach to the empty house.  After he was done, he departed with a clear conscience.

A couple days later, the missionary was at the marketplace and a man approached him.  He said that he had been in the back yard of the house where the missionary had preached, because he had stopped by to pick up some tools his neighbor had offered to loan him.  Since the front and back doors were open, he heard the gospel message from the back yard.  He gave his life to the Christ that day, because the missionary had been obedient to the Spirit, and had preached to the empty house.

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“The Ministry Of The Unnoticed” : My Utmost For His Highest : HEARTLIGHT ®.

This devotional really resonated with me, especially after reading the latest post by Brother James entitled “Letting Go of Fear” in which he addresses our worries over what people think of us.

Today many people seem to attend church with an agenda of some kind rather than simply to worship, and some use the Gospel and the House of God to magnify themselves instead of God. This passage speaks of the humility that is essential to a true walk with Christ. 

To read Brother James’ thought-provoking and beautiful blog, please visit http://dominicanes.me/.

~♥~

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(From EvangeLegends)

A young college student sat alone in his study and his eyes scanned a globe, when suddenly one little spot on it seemed to light up. He touched it with the tip of his finger. The Spirit told him to go to that place, a remote jungle in South America, to share the Gospel with whoever lived there.  The leading was so clear and certain, that he decided to depart right away.

His parents and friends were terrified about his safety, and tried to persuade him not to go. He only had enough money for a one-way ticket, but he was not concerned.  He packed a small backpack with a few food items and articles of clothing, and bought a plane ticket to the airport nearest to the spot where God told him to go.

When he arrived at the lonely airport and stepped off the plane, he was still a good distance from the spot where he had been told to go.  So he set out walking into the jungle in the middle of nowhere, by himself. After walking for several hours, he became very tired and hungry.  He reached into his backpack for a can of tuna fish he had packed, and he realized that he had not remembered to bring a can opener.  So he picked up various rocks, and tried to use them to open the can.  Nothing seemed to work, but he kept trying.  All he could do was to crush the can, so that the oily liquid from the tuna leaked out.  He drank the juice in discouragement, and continued on his journey.  Soon thereafter, his stomach became very upset and he felt like he might need to vomit.

Just then, a group of small men came running through the trees, and surrounded him.  Their bows and arrows were drawn tight and ready to shoot.  The young man did not know that it was the custom for the eldest member of the tribe to shoot first.  All of the younger men looked at the oldest man, as if waiting for him.  The old man said something in their language, looked at the others disapprovingly, and would not shoot.

The young missionary learned later that the tribe also did not believe in harming anyone who was already ill.  The oldest member of the tribe had told the others in their language “He looks sick to me.” God had made the student forget the can opener and had used that can of tuna to save his life. He otherwise would have been killed by the tribe he sought to minister to.

The natives took him back to their village to help him get well, and they all became very fond of him.  He learned their language and customs, and taught them about Jesus.  The entire tribe eagerly received and believed the Gospel message, and the Word spread throughout the region.

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(From EvangeLegends)

A Quaker missionary went to preach the gospel in a remote part of Alaska, and he found that the Eskimos could not understand the parable of the Good Shepherd, because they had never seen sheep.  As he was trying to figure out how to solve this problem, the Spirit reminded the missionary that the natives herded seals.  So he changed the parable to say, “I am the good seal herder, and I lay down my life for the seals.”  After that, the natives understood the parable perfectly.

~♥~

Parable of the Good Shepherd:  John 10:11-16

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(From EvangeLegends)

A missionary couple began to translate the Bible into the dialect of a certain tribe in Africa, and the whole village was excited when the first mimeographed sheets of the Book of Mark arrived.  The natives gathered in their huts every night to read the scriptures, and one evening they invited the missionaries to come and lead them.  The couple agreed, and after holding a study they visited informally with the people.  They asked one of the native men if he had enjoyed the meeting, and he replied, “It was good, but it isn’t what we normally do.”

“What do you usually do?” the missionary’s wife asked.

“We just read the Word, and go out and do what it says.”

~♥~

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(Intro to EvangeLegends: A Series of Missionary Mementos)

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”  Matthew 13:45-46

If a famous millionaire stood on a street corner and started throwing handfuls of dollars around, can you imagine the stir it would create?  The press would be there and headlines would cover the story and people would forget everyone around them in their desperation to grab as much cash as they could.  There would be viral videos of people trampling one another to get some money.

But very few people have the vision to press through the crowd to lay hold of Jesus, the priceless treasure. Here in America, when a preacher or missionary tells the story of Christ who offered Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, people laugh and mock and walk away.  The atheists create billboards about our sadistic God and useless Savior.

Yet missionaries willingly leave the comfort and safety of the American dream to carry the gospel to other nations.  Imagine what it would feel like to tell someone about Jesus for the very first time, someone who had never even heard of Him before.  At moments like these, the scriptures say that angels celebrate.  I sometimes imagine them leaning in to hear every word. The value of Christ is so immense that it captivates the interest of even the supernatural world.

Not only is it amazing to hear about the mystical experiences on the mission field, but also to learn of new people who have clear vision and voices, who sense His glory with fresh tender hearts.  They seem to see Jesus more purely than those of us who have sleep in our eyes.

Missionary stories have always moved me, because they light a flame of hope inside of me.  As a young student at a Christian college years ago, I hung on every word when a missionary came to chapel services or when any speaker told a story of someone on the mission field; I’ve never been able to forget the stories, even when I forgot the names or places.

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Charles Spurgeon (C.H. Spurgeon)

“If it is daylight in my heart, I can sing songs touching my graces—songs touching my sweet experience—songs touching my duties—songs touching my labors; but let the night come—my graces appear to have withered; my evidences, though they are there, are hidden; I cannot clearly read my title to my mansion in heaven. And now I have nothing left to sing of but my God. It is strange, that when God gives his children mercies, they normally set their hearts more on the mercies than on the Giver of them; but when the night comes, and he sweeps all the mercies away, then right away they say, “Now, my God, I have nothing to sing of but you; I must come to you; and to you only.”

Anyone can sing in the day. When the cup is full, one draws inspiration from it; when wealth rolls in abundance around them, anyone can sing to the praise of a God who gives an abundant harvest.  It is easy to sing when we can read the notes by daylight; but the skillful singer is the one who can sing when there is not a ray of light to read by—who sings from their heart, and not from a book that they can see.

Let all things go as I please—I will weave songs, weave them wherever I go, with the flowers that grow along my path; but put me in a desert, where there are no flowers, and how will I weave a chorus of praise to God? How will I make a crown for him? Let this voice be free, and this body be full of health, and I can sing God’s praise; but stop this tongue, lay me on the bed of suffering, and it is not so easy to sing from the bed, and chant high praises in the fires…confine me, chain my spirit, clip my wings, make me very sad, so that I become old like the eagle—ah! Then it is hard to sing.”

Excerpt from a Sermon

Preached by Charles Spurgeon in the late 1800’s

~♥~

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(From “A Cloud of Witnesses”)

The first time I saw Deacon Wayne in church, I noticed how animated and joyous he was during worship services.  He would have made a great Levite priest in the tabernacle, because they had to wear bells along the hems of their garments, and they were forbidden to stop moving.  If those bells stopped jingling, they would die instantly by the hand of God.  Deacon Wayne was slender and constantly in motion, and was immensely graceful.  His bearded face had an Abe Lincoln honesty to it, and I could always see reflections of Christ in his persona and demeanor.  A few weeks after I met him, I learned that he was the son of Elder and Mother Foster, and this made perfect sense.  He was married to my dear friend Glenda.

Deacon Wayne was an incredible vocalist with the “Men of Faith” singing group.  His voice was rich and deep, and my favorite song that he sang was “My soul loves Jesus.”  He was very modest whenever I complimented him, and would say humbly “Pray for me.”  Whenever I asked him how he was doing, he would say “I’m maintaining.”  I liked this saying very much, because we have to maintain our faith, like we maintain our yard, our car, or our marriage.

Sister Glenda has spiritual dreams, and sometimes they reveal future events. When she first recounted one of her dreams to me, her daughter Tameika was twenty-nine and unmarried and feeling that she would never find a companion.  Tameika had encouraged by her friends to look for a companion through the internet.  She was matched up through a website with a man that she visited, and she found that he was disabled and unable to work or drive.  She told her mother about the man, and Glenda told her that God had something better for her if she would just wait on Him. Tameika told her mother that maybe she should give the man a chance, but her mother discouraged the idea.  Reluctantly, Tameika listened to the advice of her mother, although still thinking of the man.

About this time, Glenda had a beautiful dream.  She dreamt that Tameika was in a gorgeous wedding gown with a huge diamond ring on her finger, and she was just floating with happiness.  In the dream, they were in a church in Blountstown.  She recounted the dream to her Tameika, who didn’t take it very seriously.

A couple of weeks later, in the month of August, Glenda and Tameika were in Blountstown, and a preacher named Christopher came to a house they were visiting. He was immediately attracted to Tameika. The two of them went on a date that same night, and when they returned, the preacher told her family that he had “met his rib”.  The whole family was shedding tears of joy. Glenda told me that the preacher was “just precious” and that she was so happy for her daughter.  Her dream had been fulfilled.  The preacher gave Tameika a ring right after Christmas, proposing to her in front of her parents and sisters.

Tameika married Christopher a few months after, and he relocated.  I had the privilege of hearing him sing in our Mother’s Day service, and he delivered the message the following Sunday.  I can only say that he is amazing and kind and humble.

Another amazing thing to me is that Tameika’s entire family is so musically talented, and so is the preacher!  I have brought my guitar for visits to their house, and we sound like a professional gospel-singing group when we get together. I have learned from them that it is better to wait on God than to try to handle things ourselves, because we can really mess things up on our own.

About a year after their marriage, Deacon Wayne suddenly died. He had just arrived at the paper mill where he worked as a supervisor, and a young woman came in to give him the shift report.  As she began to read it, his whole body began to shake, and then he just slumped over.  The woman called for emergency help, but he died before anything could be done for him.

I remember that Friday night, because the Foster’s were all called out to the hospital from church, and his wife Glenda was supposed to sing a solo that weekend at the district service.  I am told that Deacon Wayne was gone before any of his family arrived at the hospital and no one got to say one single word to him.

His wife recounted the night of his death in great sorrow:

“He worked the graveyard shift at the paper mill, and I cooked him fish for his last supper.  Oh, Sister Olive, he kept telling me he was so tired, and I was trying to encourage him.  I rubbed the bald spot on top of his head while he sat at the table and I kissed him.  I reminded him that it was only two weeks until his vacation.

“Our new home had just been finished, and we were moving everything into it.  As I think of it now, it seemed like he was in an awful hurry to fix it all up, like he knew something was going to happen.  We had been decorating it and dreaming of many years together, and hoping for new grandchildren since our daughter had just gotten married.

“I feel almost like it’s my fault, and that I should have made him stay home, or done something different.”

She described the children crying themselves to sleep at night in their rooms, and how she was torturing herself inwardly. Mother Foster shared her anguish at church openly on several occasions, and Elder Foster suffered more privately. Seeing the grief that this family suffered made me realize that we have to cherish those that we love, because we never know what can happen.  I will always remember Deacon Wayne as a great father and husband and man of God.

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(From “A Cloud of Witnesses)

“Let your speech be always with grace…”  Colossians 4:6

I especially remember Mother Gladys’s straw hat, her faded dresses, and her wooden walking cane. I loved it when she would strike the tambourine and begin singing, “Oh I want to see him, look upon His face…” or “It’s gonna be the crowning day…”  She had a resonant voice, passion for the Lord, and a sweet and humble spirit. She was tall, slender and stately with a broad smile, and it was obvious that she was lovely in her younger days. She had tremendous faith in God and had an air of holiness and grace about her.

After Mother Gladys retired from her job at the school for the deaf and blind, she became the “nurse” of her neighborhood.  People say that she would walk house to house taking care of people who were sick or elderly.  She was always poor, but if you visited her she would go straight to her garden, and give away some of her fresh vegetables.  She never refused anyone the help that they needed.

She was a great encouragement to me personally.  After we had been having tent services for several nights and I had testified a few times, she was the first one to approach me with a warm smile and a hug, and say, “There’s that missionary.”  I felt honored by the way that she said it to me.

Mother Gladys was diagnosed with cancer, but she never lost her faith.  When I went to visit her she said to me, “If the Lord wants me to get up, I will get up, and if He doesn’t, I won’t.”

Whenever people visited her, she would say that she just wanted to “have church”.  Sister Doris says that when people would ask her what songs she wanted to hear, she would say, “Anything with blood in it” (referring to the blood of Jesus).  She never complained about her suffering, because she did not want to cause her family or friends more grief.  So she just stayed in her bed at home, and gradually stopped eating and speaking.  She was a sweet and godly woman her whole life.

I did not know her for long enough, because she died soon after I joined the church. It will be amazing to see her again someday in the Kingdom of God.

~♥~

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(From “A Cloud of Witnesses”)

“Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.”  I Peter 1:23

I had heard Minister Robert Burney speak about his father and the second stroke that impaired him with almost complete paralysis.  He said that while his father was in the hospital bed a fellow preacher sent a message to him saying, “Don’t forget that you still have a tongue.”

At that time, I had never heard the Elder Burney preach, but I finally did during the January district service.

 ~♥~

Elder Burney is a broad-shouldered and well-dressed man with a warm and wise face, sitting in a wheelchair.  I have never seen such a paradox of weakness and strength in one man, and I was totally unprepared for that mighty tongue.

The elder began speaking in a gentle voice about the woman with the alabaster box of ointment who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.  He explained how the men who were present when she did this began to mock her and assault her character, but she was so in love with Jesus that she didn’t care.

In only a matter of a few minutes, I felt something stirring inside of me.  A sudden tide of joy rolled over me like an ocean wave. Before I could catch my breath, another one struck, and then another. I looked over my shoulder and realized that I was not alone. It was high tide. The waves were rolling over the congregation with such force that many people could not remain seated or keep silent.  Elder Burney said quietly, “I don’t believe in interfering with the Spirit of God.”  He sat silently as the Spirit burst forth like a tidal wave and flooded the entire room.

 ~♥~

I attended another district service a few months later, and I noticed on the program that Elder Burney was the speaker again.  I thought to myself that it couldn’t possibly be the same as the last time.  Lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice.

This time, the elder began speaking about the woman at the well, and how Jesus told her He would give her living water, and that she would never thirst again, and that it would be a well springing up into everlasting life.  Without warning, water began to flow from my eyes.  I was surprised by this, and wondered what was going on, because I was not sad.  Then the elder said, “When the Spirit gets ahold of you, water is gonna come out of your eyes when you’re not even sad.” I began to laugh with surprise.

It’s very difficult to explain but it seemed as if the Spirit flowed like waves out of the elder’s mouth as he spoke, and began to fill up the room, and then tears sprung out of my eyes.

~♥~

One great mystery is the way that the elder’s preaching lingers with me for a long time afterward.  He plants a powerful seed that germinates and flowers into a deeper understanding of God.  It reminds of the story of Jack and the beanstalk. Someone gave Jack some magic beans, and he found himself in an amazing adventure. He climbed into the sky to a new kingdom, where he slew a giant, and won an amazing treasure.  Elder Burney’s preaching is like those magic seeds that have somehow given me a new identity and purpose.

Once he preached a message about the City of God.  He said that there are twelve gates to the city, and that he believes we will enter at the Southern gates and the streets will be pure gold.  He spoke about the Tree of Life with the twelve fruits that would heal every kind of disease, and the crystal river that flowed from the throne. He said that he had resolved in his mind that he was going to go to that city, and that the power of Hell could not stop him from making it there. He said, “I look forward to seeing my mama and daddy when I get there.  But they’re gonna have to step aside so I can see Jesus.” Soon after that, I dreamed that I was searching for a city, and I saw a familiar man by side of the road.  I asked him the way to the gates of the city.  He did not speak but simply handed me a key.

In another service I attended, Elder Burney cried out, “I am rich beyond measure! Praise God, I’m rich!”  Those words began to sprout within my mind. I knew that he was speaking of heavenly riches. I read the scripture that speaks of how I belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God, so I am an heiress.  I found myself beginning to identify with Christ, and not with the world, and it began to transform my whole way of thinking. I realized that I had no need of anything, that the world had nothing to offer me. I became less worried about success and worth in the eyes of other people.  I only wanted to please Christ and bless others.

I recognize that Elder Burney has planted some divine seeds in my heart.  I am overwhelmed and humbled by the way God has used him as instrument of power and mercy in my life.

 “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field: which indeed is the least of all seeds, but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree…” (Matthew 13:31-33)

~♥~

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(Song Lyrics from Tim Peters)

Tim was one of my favorite musicians at a Christian coffeehouse when I lived in Oregon.  He had a delightful folksy style with a mix of humor and spirituality that I immensely admire.  I previously posted another one of his songs.  He is a very gifted and introverted fellow, and I have enjoyed singing his songs for many years.

Please see the “PAPER ANGELS” page or category for more songs and poems by friends of mine.

~♥~

I’ve been rich, I’ve been poor.

I’ve been thrown out head first through a closed door.

But I decided a long time ago

Aint gonna worry ‘bout it no more.

I’ve seen fools who could pass every test

And crooks that no one could arrest.

I finally took it to the Lord in prayer.

I said “Oh Lord, why must it be

Crooks in high places get off scot-free?”

He said, “Cast all your cares on Him.

Don’t worry about it, Slim.”

~♥~

But I’ve seen cheaters who were doing fine

And good men who had to walk the line.

I asked the Lord, I said, “Will it always have to be this way?”

He said, “I’ll be coming soon.

It may be in the morning, maybe on the first of June.

Don’t worry about some other guy.

He’ll get his by and by.”

I said “Oh Lord, if you’re a loving God,

Then why won’t you give me what I crave?”

He said, “Slim, what do you want with all that worldly trash?

You’ll only end up as its slave.”

~♥~

I said, “Lord, I know that you’ve said

That we must love our enemies,

Forgive if we want to be forgiven.

That’s why I’m down here on my knees.

And though I don’t know the reason why

Little children sometimes have to die,

I know they are with You in Paradise,

Don’t have to worry about it no more.”

~♥~

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~♥~

The lady doesn’t get to know Rodney very well because he starts coming to discipleship meetings only a short time before he is released.  He has a great sense of humor and lightens up the mood whenever he comes in. Iris would never have known that he had experienced so much neglect and abuse if he had not told her, because he is always so jovial.  It is always a delight to see him make the suicidal and emotionally disturbed youth laugh and play.

Like many other young men in the detention center, he has been committing crimes since the death of a family member that he deeply loved. In this case it was his stepfather, the only one who took time with him and taught him anything.

He describes how the family was all gathered at the hospital, and Rodney stepped out to use the restroom.  He came back and his “daddy” had died.  Rodney says he went crazy in the room, yelling and throwing things, and security had to take him away.  He says that he could never forget that moment because if he had known, he would have kissed his daddy on the cheek and told him he loved him first.  But he can never go back, and it hurts him deeply.

Yet Rodney is very cheerful and always expresses his gratitude to God.

He said one thing to Iris that she can never forget.

He said, “I believe that if you gave me an empty cup and asked me to drink from it, I would drink it because I know that the Holy Ghost would be in the cup and it would help me.”   The lady took out her lavender handkerchief when he said it and dabbed her eyes.  She still gets misty-eyed when she thinks of the kind of trust that he had in her.

~♥~

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This is the bibliography for my graduation lecture entitled “Madmen, Mystics, and Monks” which is also posted.  See “Olive’s Pages” in the sidebar, and look under “Essays” to see the script.

Peace and Grace,

Olive

Bibliography

Augustine, Saint. The Sermons of St. Augustine. New York, NY: Barnes and Noble , 1999. Print.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. Trans. Chr. Kaiser Verlag Munchen by R.H. Fuller. New York: Simon & Schuster (Touchstone), 1959. Print.

Bunuel, Luis. An Unspeakable Betrayal. Trans. by Garrett White. Los Angeles: U of California P, 2000. Print.

Dubus, Andre.  Broken Vessels:  Essays by Andre Dubus.   Boston, MA:  David R. Godine Publisher, Inc, 1991. Print.

Finch, Robert. “When You Wish Upon A Star: On the Evolution of Spiritual and Moral Thought.” Ecotone. Winter 2008: Print.

Lewis, C. S. The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics. New York: Harper One, 2002. Print.

Maharaj, Rabindranath, and Dave Hunt. Death of a Guru: A Remarkable True Story of One Man’s Search for Truth. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House, 1977. eBook.

Miller, Donald. Blue Like Jazz. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008. Print.

Neihardt, John.  Black Elk Speaks: as told through John Neihardt by Nicholas Black Elk.  Lincoln, NE:  U of Nebraska P, 2000. Print.

Robinson, Marilynne. Gilead. New York: Picador, 2004. Print.

Sempangi, F. Kefa. A Distant Grief. Glendale, CA: Regal Books, 1979. Print.

Shaw, Luci. “Royalty.” Witnesses to Hope. N.p., 25 Mar 2010. Web. 13 Jun 2011. <http://witnessestohope.wordpress.com/category/poetry/shaw-luci/page/2/&gt;.

Vaswani, Neela. You Have Given Me A Country. Louisville, Ky: Sarabande Books, 2010. Print.

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Simply Orthodox ☦ – In order to enter Paradise….

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I’ve had several experiences in my life that made me think of the verse “He who sits in the heavens laughs,” and this is one of them.

I was on vacation with my family one spring and we traveled to Lexington, Kentucky.  We liked visiting there from time to time to see the horse farms and the art galleries and the Henry Clay estate and other sites. We also enjoyed the lovely arboretum by the university campus, and I loved to play hide-and-go-seek with the chipmunks and rabbits. Especially the chipmunks. We didn’t have them in Florida. It sounds silly, but these little creatures were a big deal to me.

Well, during this particular vacation, I did not spy any chipmunks in their usual places.  I looked in the branches of the twisted crabapple trees and throughout the vines covering the gazebos and among the flowers.  But there were none.  I complained and complained about it several days in a row.

So, Sunday arrived and I decided to visit a Wesleyan church in the area. My son and I got all dressed up and drove to the church, and timidly we walked in and sat down among strangers. Someone handed me a program, and I started to read, when something caught my eye.  On the top of the program, it showed the pastor’s name: Chip Monck!  I pointed it out to my son and we were chuckling quietly together about how I was finally going to see a chipmunk.  But alas!  Someone stepped up to the microphone and announced that Pastor Monck was on vacation. I was destined to see no chipmunks that season…

I imagined that God was having a good laugh over the situation, and I felt a rather spooky feeling come over me…I know it sounds unbelievable but this really happened.

~♥~

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I’ve been having a few mysterious health problems, and have had some blood work and other studies lately.  I also have a phone service that transcribes my voice mail and sends it to my email.  The transcription service is not the best, but it gives me a good laugh when I need it most.  Here’s one of the messages from a doctor’s office that came to me a couple of days ago:

“Hello, this is Dr. Bishop’s office. If you could please call me back well I can just leave you a message. Your vitamin D level is very low, normal, but he does want you to start on some vitamin D and beach whales. Okay according to your hormone levels you are in the park. Or I could kill you.  Actually, your vitamin D you need to take 2000 units every day and you can buy that over the counter. I’m gonna call you and that to see.”

Wow, he’s gonna start me on some vitamin D and beach whales-  sounds a bit too heavy on the medication! Or they could kill me…that might be the cheapest solution.

Now, here’s a message from another doctor:

“Hello this message is from Dr. Johnson’s office I got your message about wanting your ultrasound results and the doctor has reviewed them and signed off on him and he says there is a small TV down on the ride. I thought your call butter’s okay and if you have any more questions give us a call.”

So I have a small TV down on the ride…that actually sounds rather serious, and I want surgery immediately.  But my call butter is okay- whew, that’s a relief!

Anyway, you get the idea.  I had to call the actual voice mail to decode the messages.

All joking aside, please pray for me and my health, and I will continue to post as much as I can.  I hope all of you out there are well.

Peace & Grace, Olive

~♥~

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I wrote this essay during the time of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  It was a terribly sad time for the planet Earth, and I still recall watching the news coverage showing the dolphins and birds and turtles drenched in oil.

Many Christians have unfortunately become “so heavenly-minded that they are of no earthly good.”  There are many contradictions in western Christianity these days, and one of them is that many believers don’t seem a bit concerned about the beautiful garden that God created for man to live in.  It says in Genesis that after each day working upon His creative masterpiece, “He saw that it was good.”

~♥~

I am the Earth (and I am Bleeding) 

My children, my children, what have you done?  I am bleeding, and there is no one who can help me now.  A blood vessel in my heart has broken, and no one can seal it.  I have given all that I can.  I am old and tired, and my wisest sons cannot find an answer to my sickness. 

You are unruly and selfish children, and you have never loved me as you should.  You only care what I can do for you.  All of your wealth and comfort has sprung from me, and you have glutted yourselves on my generosity and goodness. Now you have wounded me, and I cannot find a healer among you. 

Who will give me a transfusion when my blood has clotted and my veins are hardened?  My heart is full of sorrow for you…What shall become of you when I am dead?  When I become a dry crust of bread with no water, what will you do? 

 

We, your children, watched as your heart chamber erupted with fire and thundering and red smoke, and you began to cough up blood.  You gagged and sputtered and eleven of your children died. Your amniotic oceans are bloody and infected with yellow mucus and plasma. 

            We have violated you, like a cheap harlot.  We have thrust tubes and great spikes into your bloodstream so we can draw out your blood and sell it, and we have fought great wars over the ownership of it.  We have bludgeoned your bones with great hammers and drills, until it is pulverized into powders and dust.  With great fists, we have struck down your hills and mountains until they are flat.  We have ripped out your green thickets and vines by the roots, and tattooed you with hot black tar. We have choked you with giant concrete cigarettes puffing arrogantly in our cities.  Our greed is like a bottomless pit.

            We have become our own enemy, for we have sickened our mother. Is it too late?  You have hemorrhaged for over forty days and nights.  You cough sputum and blood onto the shores which threaten our homes and crops.  Will your infection scab over and dry up, or will it catch fire in the feverish summer heat?  We are afraid for you, but mostly for ourselves.

            A pelican dives in and gobbles up poisoned fish.  A seagull’s wings are heavy with sludge and never fly again.  Dead fish rise to the surface, cloaked in your blackened blood. 

What have we done, dear Mother?  Are you mortally wounded?  Now we are afraid.  If our mother dies, shall we all perish?  Who will sustain us?

Forgive us, Mother, for we don’t know what we are doing.

~♥~

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My sister really impressed me with the card and gift she sent me for my birthday, and I wanted to share it with you.

First, here is the card with the little tropical motif, and the art is entitled Shaken Not Stirred by Steve Katz.

That would make a great title for my story, because I would say I have been shaken but not stirred. It reminds me of one of my favorite Bible verses in II Corinthians 4:8-9 which says, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.”

I also enjoy the little quote from Mae West, which I can imagine her saying…

But then I had another surprise when I opened the card to find this message…

 

Whoa!  You’ve got to be kidding!  It’s even got my name printed in it!!!

I called her on the phone and asked her, “Where in the world did you find this card?”

“I couldn’t believe it either when I opened it and saw the message,” she said laughing.  “Now be looking out for your gift in the mail.”

A week later, I received a lovely package from Hicklebee’s bookstore with an artistic mailer and a label with a little elf sitting on a stack of books.  I opened the package to find this…

Brother Sun, Sister MoonSaint Francis of Assisi‘s Canticle of the Creatures

It brought tears to my eyes as I read this beautiful prayer from one of my favorite saints with the exquisite papercuts throughout the book, and all of the nature motifs and animals in it.  What a beautiful card and gift!  I don’t know what else to say…I’m at a loss for words.

~♥~

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The Atheist and the Bear

An atheist was walking through the woods.

“What majestic trees!”

“What powerful rivers!”

“What beautiful animals!”

He said to himself.

As he was walking alongside the river, he heard a rustling in the bushes behind him. He turned to look. He saw a seven-foot grizzly charge towards him. He ran as fast as he could up the path. He looked over his shoulder and saw that the bear was closing in on him.

He looked over his shoulder again, and the bear was even closer. He tripped and fell on the ground. He rolled over to pick himself up but saw that the bear was right on top of him, reaching for him with his left paw and raising his right paw to strike him.

At that instant the atheist cried out, “Oh my God!”

Time stopped.
The bear froze.
The forest was still.

As a bright light shone upon the man, a voice came out of the sky. “You deny my existence for all these years, teach others I don’t exist and even credit creation to cosmic accident. Do you expect me to help you out of this predicament? Am I to count you as a believer?”

The atheist looked directly into the light, “It would be hypocritical of me to suddenly ask You to treat me as a Christian now, but perhaps You could make the BEAR a Christian?”

“Very well,” said the Voice.

The light went out. The sounds of the forest resumed.

And the bear made the sign of the Cross, brought both paws together, bowed his head and spoke:

“Lord, bless this food and bless the hands that made it, in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen!”

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I found this little treasure here:

http://thehandmaid.wordpress.com/2012/01/23/holy-orthodoxy-bears/

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“Love all God’s creation, the whole of it and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything.  If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things.”  Fyodor Dostoevsky

 I once saw an amazing film by Spanish filmmaker Luis Bunuel entitled “Simon of the Desert” and one scene touched me profoundly.  The pure ascetic Simon bent down to bless a tiny grasshopper.  When asked about the scene during an interview, Bunuel said that a really pure person will want to bless everything around them.

Animals have always filled me with awe and a sense of mystery. These pictures of bears and tigers hanging around with monks convince me that even wild beasts can perceive purity of heart, and that Isaiah Chapter 11 is truly a glimpse of a world to come…

“For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God…For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” Romans 8:19, 22

OLIVE TWIST ©2012

Photo credits:  http://simplyorthodox.tumblr.com/

http://www.lmao.com/acting-like-animals-share-the-lunch/

https://www.google.com/search?q=tigers+and+monks&hl=en&prmd=imvns&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=0atLT5GwFNDMtgeXlL3uAg&sqi=2&ved=0CFQQsAQ&biw=1024&bih=596

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You shall seek me, and find me, when you shall search for me with all your heart.  Jeremiah 29:13

When I was very young, I read  the writings of George Fox for the first time, and I admired how this young seeker gave me permission to seek God for myself.  And I did.  To me, no one could portray his journey quite like George Fox (1624-1691):

“As I had forsaken all the priests, so I left the separate preachers also, and those called the most experienced people.  For I saw there was none among them all that could speak to my condition.  And when all my hopes in them and in all men was gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, O then, I heard a voice which said, “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition,” and when I heard it, my heart did leap for joy.  Then the Lord let me see why there was none upon the earth that could speak to my condition, namely, that I might give Him all the glory.

For all are concluded under sin and shut up in unbelief, as I had been, that Jesus Christ might have the pre-eminence, who enlightens and gives grace and faith and power… My desires after the Lord grew stronger, and zeal in the pure knowledge of God and of Christ alone, without the help of any man, book or writing.  For though I read the Scriptures that spake of Christ and of God, yet I knew Him not, but by revelations, as He who hath the key did open, and as the Father of Life drew me to His Son by His Spirit.  And then the Lord did gently lead me along, and did let me see His love, which was endless and eternal, and surpasseth all the knowledge that men have in the natural state or can get by history or books; and that love did let me see myself as I was without Him…”

From The Journal of George Fox

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(The Iris Diaries)

The wind began sending messengers to Iris when she was very young.  Wandering artisans always surrounded her, giving her poems and art and stories. One day as she sat in a café filled with smoke and laughter, a man with faded denim pants and a worn plaid shirt approached her.  He had a familiar mystical flame about his brow, and his reddish hair was curly and matted.

Iris had been inking a picture of a snake climbing up a tree in her sketchbook when he approached her, pointed at her drawing, and said, “Get rid of that snake.”  Then he handed her a piece of dirty folded up paper and went out into the street, as the wind blew open the door.  She unfolded the paper and found these words written in blue ballpoint pen:

So long on this road back to the wall,

I’d pray I’d die before I’d fall;

Death wish in a land of hell,

Don’t want to cry, search for the well

That gives to me the truth of truth;

In it’s sweet light (don’t need no proof).

Walking middle ground

I found my song in a silent sound

Where eyes don’t hide behind

Masks that make you laugh when you should have cried,

That let you live when you should have died.

So long on this road but I hear the call,

I see the truth and with it walk tall.

It aint the stand I’m afraid to make,

It’s the illusion the world wants me to take

That sees the light and clouds the truth

With its lack of faith and search for proof.[1]

She could feel soft flowing air and a rustle of wings.  There was something comforting and kind about the man.

A mysterious long-haired lady with wintery eyes handed her a poem scribbled on aged brown parchment:

The one who weaves the wind

Stood grey before me.

The woods were dawn-grey

Dripping, soft, and so quiet.

The wind-weaver

Was catching shadows and mist

For her loom…[2]

A young man wearing a purple tie-dyed shirt gave her a little poem as he passed her one day, and she sensed that protective spirit again:

Love is the vine

Given mankind

To help him find

His home divine.[3]

One breezy morning while she sat upon a squeaky porch in the ghetto, a man with soft green eyes and glasses approached her and offered her a poem:

The flowers open

At thy feet

Beads of

Dew

Wonderful and new

O

Angel of light

How many dawns

Have I drunk from your cup?[4]

The affection that the Iris evoked from strangers was disconcerting. Why did poets pop up like flowers wherever she went? She felt that someone was calling for her and wanted to be her friend.

A young man handed her this poem on a small piece of white paper with only his name “Sunrise” on the bottom:

The princess in purple

Carrying her guitar…

She shares her music

With all who’ll listen

Her gentle ways could be an inspiration to all

If only they would take time.

Even her ring is purple.

I’ve seen her on the streets

I’ve seen her in the parks

Always ready to share her music

And her heart…[5]

Iris knew that people were drawn to her, but she wondered why all of the writings were spiritual in some way.  Did people see something that she could not see at the time?

Now she can see how the wind loved her long before she knew him. He had been loyal to her in a sorrowful land, and had filled her life with meaning.

One morning she talked to a man in the donut shop where she worked.  He wore glasses and had curly blonde hair and a beard. She told him of her dream of meeting Christ in an elevator.  A few days later he visited and as she was cleaning the counter, she found a story written which he tucked under his napkin:

Immediately and noisily the doors opened, a mild shock far exceeded by the presence of a man, dressed in a loose white robe, staring directly at her out of the elevator—so directly as to imply he knew in advance where she would be standing…And so it was, and the surrounding city with it, corners dissolving into a blizzardy whiteness, glowing brilliant for a moment and then fading, edgeless as the voice of this prophet, into gray, into black, into liquid- no light, no sound, no scent, no feel, no taste- only absence, vacancy, and peace:  only the consciousness of a smile, the smile of God.[6]


[1] “Back to the Wall” by Jude

[2] “The Weaver of the Wind” by Margaret

[3] By Kelly

[4] From Michael

[5] By Sunrise

[6] By Al

OLIVE TWIST ©2012

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An old friend sent me this poem in the wee hours of the morning, saying it was on a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap and she thought of me. Good ol’ Dr. Bronner!

I almost cried when I read it along with a brief  history of the author.  It really “speaketh to my condition” as the Quakers used to say.

On the last line, I wanted to see some words about invincible women too, but I’ll deal with it somehow…

**********************************

‘if’ by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master,
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

(Well, I must concede that “you’ll be a woman, my daughter” wouldn’t rhyme or sound quite as good…)

********************************

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

“Rudyard Kipling’s inspirational poem ‘If’ first appeared in his collection ‘Rewards and Fairies’ in 1909. The poem ‘If’ is inspirational, motivational, and a set of rules for ‘grown-up’ living. Kipling’s ‘If’ contains mottos and maxims for life, and the poem is also a blueprint for personal integrity, behavior and self-development. ‘If’ is perhaps even more relevant today than when Kipling wrote it, as an ethos and a personal philosophy…

“The beauty and elegance of ‘If’ contrasts starkly with Rudyard Kipling’s largely tragic and unhappy life. He was starved of love and attention and sent away by his parents; beaten and abused by his foster mother; and a failure at a public school which sought to develop qualities that were completely alien to Kipling…”

Thanks again, Dr. Bronner!

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These are some of the most truthful and poignant words I have read describing the state of Christianity today! I am so thankful for such “voices in the wilderness!”

Salt of the Earth

What have we done? What have we done? Christ has left us. We have driven him away. Our hatreds, our pride, our pharisaical self-sufficiency have driven out the Spirit of the Gospel. And Christ has gone. Christ has gone. Oh, how satisfied we are with ourselves! We are the pure, we possess the truth, and we condemn others! But life and history go on. They are knocking at the doors of the Church, and putting ultimate questions to us. Everything is changing. The scientific revolution is advancing, it is modifying and not only man’s environment, but man himself, his education, the relationship between the sexes, his psychology, and tomorrow perhaps his heredity and character as well. Not that science and technology necessarily build a world without God, as is sometimes said. But they force man, and they will force him more and more to ask where all this is going…

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In the first sermon that Jesus delivered, He said “Blessed are the merciful.” This true story illustrates how we Christians do a lot of damage when we become too smug about our views, and place our doctrine above the souls of desperate people.

(The Iris Diaries)

I asked a nurse with cold white sterile hands scribbling on a chart to direct me to Opal’s room.  Before walking in, my eyes scanned the name on the brushed aluminum nameplate with apprehension.  I stepped in quietly, wondering what to say to her.

Opal was dying.  I knew it as soon as I looked at the old woman. A sense of urgency rattled me like unexpected thunder. It was dreadfully cold in the room.

Opal was lying thin and pale on her bed. Her face was tight like pale yellow parchment and her whole body seemed to be laboring and exhausted under the cold white sheets.  Tubes were in her nose and needles in her bruised trembling arms. Her lips and eyelids were purple, and the oxygen machine breathed like a slow steam train in a dark tunnel. Her fearful eyes opened like hollow caves when she heard me walk in. It was difficult even to look at her in such agony.

I sat down in the stiff plastic chair next to the bed and drew my shawl around my shoulders.  Focusing on the woman’s frightened face, I introduced myself and asked Opal how she was feeling.  The poor woman began to speak between heavy breaths, with the disturbing rhythm of the oxygen in the background:

“I have emphysema and I don’t expect to live long.  I smoked for most of my life, and that is why I am ill.  I have been in this hospital bed for several months, and I am scared of dying.  I am worried about my soul, and I have been asking how I can find peace with God. I rarely have a visitor since I have been here.”

(Opal has to pause for deep breaths.)  “My brother is a Mormon and he came to see me once, and I asked him what I needed to do about my soul.  He said that I would have to do missionary service for the church.  I told him that I was too sick to do anything, and he seemed very sorry that he couldn’t do anything for me.” 

“I also asked a priest who came down the hall one day to come and talk to me.  He came in and sprinkled some holy water on my forehead and made the sign of the cross over me, and told me that I was saved.  But I knew I wasn’t, because I didn’t feel any different when he left me.  I cried and cried.” (I touched her hand and asked her to rest for a moment, since speaking is exhausting for her. She pauses for a few minutes then continues.)

“The other day, a group from some church came in to visit my roommate and pray with her.  I called out to them to ask them what I needed to do to be saved, and they said I would have to be baptized.  I explained that I cannot be immersed in water, because I would die if I did.   (Opal coughs deeply.)  A man in the group apologized to me, saying that there was nothing they could do for me, and then they continued visiting my roommate and praying with her.  I felt so terrible and hopeless, and I have been so scared.”

Tears came to my eyes as the old woman was talking.  I had learned about Opal from the man who told her she would have to be baptized.  I worked with him at the office downtown. He always wore polo shirts and tortoise-edged glasses and spoke in a heated voice.

I had hoped to find Opal before it was too late.  I told her that the thief hanging on the cross next to Jesus did not have time for any rituals.  He simply asked Christ to remember him when He returned to His Kingdom, and Christ had promised “Today thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”  I explained that faith is all God requires, and asked her if she would like to pray.  Opal was very eager to, and we prayed quietly together.  Opal asked God to forgive her for everything that she had done wrong, and asked if she could be His child.

I asked Opal if she would like to have some Bible verses read to her, and she said yes.  We talked for a long time and read scriptures together, and the old woman was noticeably comforted.  Her face looked more restful and calm. I offered to come regularly and visit and study the Bible with her, and Opal was very pleased.  We did not get to be friends for very long.

After a few weeks, I went to see Opal, and the nurses said that she could no longer talk or communicate because she had lost oxygen to her brain. I asked to go into the room with her anyway, and the nurses consented.  I had heard that people can still hear others even after they can’t speak anymore, so I stood near Opal’s bed for awhile, twisting the corners of my shawl in my fingers and dabbing my tears. The oxygen was puffing loudly inside the translucent tent where Opal lay serenely.  I spoke gently and reminded her that she was a child of God, and that Jesus had promised to never forsake those who love Him. I left Opal alone in the cloudy tabernacle with God.

The next time I went to see Opal, the nurses said she couldn’t visit and that they couldn’t give any details, because I wasn’t a member of the family.  I knew then that she had left this world, and I was glad that her suffering had ended.  Opal is breathing easier now.

“To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.“(Revelation 2:17)

OLIVE TWIST ©2012

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I wanted to share the titles of some of my favorite books and other writings with you, many of which I read during my graduate studies.

Please let me know if you have any recommendations to share with me. 

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Augustine, Saint. The Confessions of St. Augustine. New York, NY: Barnes and  Noble, 1999. Print.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. Trans. Chr. Kaiser Verlag Munchen by R.H. Fuller. New York: Simon & Schuster (Touchstone), 1959. Print.

Buxbaum, Yitzhak. Jewish Tales of Holy Women. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002. Print.

Claiborne, Shane, and Chris Haw. Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals. Grand Rapids, MI: The Simple Way, 2008. 150. Print.

Claiborne, Shane. The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2006. Print.

Dubus, Andre.  Broken Vessels:  Essays by Andre Dubus.   Boston, MA:  David R. Godine Publisher, Inc, 1991. Print.

Edwards, Jonathan. The Works of Jonathan Edwards. Vol. 4. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1972. Print.

Elliot, Elisabeth. The Path of Loneliness. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1988. Print.

Finney, Charles G. The Autobiography of Charles G. Finney. Condensed and Edited by Helen Wessel. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1977. Print.

Fox, George. The Journal of George Fox.  Edited by Rufus Jones. Richmond, IN: Friends UP, 1976. Print.

—.”Selected Epistles of George Fox.” Renascence Editions. U of Oregon, 1998.Web. 4 Nov 2010. <http://www.luminarium.org/renascence-editions/foxep.htm&gt;.

Graves, Michael P. “Functions of Key Metaphors in Early Quaker Sermons, 1671-1700.” The Quarterly Journal of Speech 69.4 (1983): 364-378. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Web. 24 Nov. 2010.

Hosek, Dr. Pavel. “How Does C.S. Lewis do apologetics?.” (2003): n. pag. European Leadership Forum Research Center. Web. 20 Dec 2010. <http://www.euroleadershipresources.org/resource.php?ID=76&gt;.

Jarman, Mark. “To Make the Final Unity: Metaphor’s Matter and Spirit.” 301-318. Southern Review, 2007. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 24 Nov. 2010.

Kierkegaard, Søren. Kierkegaard Spiritual Writings: A New Translation and Selection by George Pattison. New York: Harper Collins, 2010. 57. eBook.

. Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard. Ed. Charles E. Moore.  Farmington, PA:  Plough, 2002. Print.

—.  The Present Age. Trans. Alexander Dru. New York: Harper Row (Torchbook), 1962. Print.

—. The Journals of Kierkegaard (edited by Alexander Dru. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1959), 324.

Lewis, C. S. The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics. New York: Harper One, 2002. Print.

—. The Four Loves. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1960. Print.

Maharaj, Rabindranath, and Dave Hunt. Death of a Guru: A Remarkable True Story of One Man’s Search for Truth. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House, 1977. eBook.

McKeever, Dr. Joe. “Why We Need Parables.” (2009): n. pag. Web. 20 Dec 2010. <http://www.biblestudytools.com/pastor-resources/11610729.html&gt;.

Merton, Thomas. The Seven Storey Mountain. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1948. Print.

Miller, Donald. Searching for God Knows What. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004. Print.

Miller, Donald, and John Macmurray. To Own a Dragon: Reflections on Growing Up Without a Father. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2006. Print.

Moody, Dwight L. The Best of Dwight L. Moody. 6th Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1971. Print.

Mouw, Richard J. Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2010. Print.

Neihardt, John.  Black Elk Speaks: as told through John Neihardt by Nicholas Black Elk.  Lincoln, NE:  U of Nebraska P, 2000. Print.

Nouwen, Henri J. M.  The Inner Voice of Love:  A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom. New York, NY: Image Doubleday, 1996. Print.

—. The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society. New York, NY: Image Doubleday, 1972. Print.

Norris, Kathleen. The Cloister Walk. New York: Berkley Publishing, 1996. Print.

Savant, John. “Follow that Metaphor.” Commonweal 132.20 (2005): 17-19. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 24 Nov. 2010.

Sempangi, F. Kefa. A Distant Grief. Glendale, CA: Regal Books, 1979. Print.

Spurgeon, Charles H. Finding Peace in Life’s Storms. New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 1997. Print.

—. “Songs in the Night.” Spurgeon Collection on Bible Bulletin Board.  Tony Capoccia, 2004. Web. 4 Nov 2010. <http://www.biblebb.com/files/spurgeon/2558.htm&gt;.

Ten Boom, Corrie, and C.C. Carlson. In My Father’s House. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1976. Print.

Vaswani, Neela. You Have Given Me A Country. Louisville, Ky: Sarabande Books, 2010. Print.

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I found these beautiful gospel precepts on the “Interrupting the Silence” blog by Father Michael K. Marsh, and they really summed up my philosophy about how to live in a Christlike way. They are not just useful for monks, but for anyone trying to imitate Christ.

Interrupting the Silence

These are the seven rules of a monk:

In the first place, as scripture says,

“Love God with all your soul and all your mind.”

Then, love your fellow human beings

as you love yourself.

Fast from all evil.

Never pass judgment on anyone, for any cause.

Never do evil to anyone.

Discipline yourself and purge yourself

from material and spiritual evil.

Cultivate a modest and gentle heart.

If you can do all these things

and see only your own faults, not those of others,

the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ

will be with you abundantly.

– Sayings of the Egyptian Fathers

It would be a mistake to read these rules as applicable to only “monks.” Too often we speak as if there are different spiritualities according to one’s state of life – lay, married, single, celibate, priest, monk. The truth is there is only one spirituality, that of…

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(From The Iris Diaries)

“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”(Hebrews 13:2)

I walked in to have coffee at McDonald’s and saw a very unusual young man stroll in.  He appeared to be homeless, but more youthful than other wanderers that I had seen.  A stuffed pink heart hung from a string on his backpack.  Small teddy bears clung to his shoelaces and a large seashell dangled from a cord around his waist.  Hearts were painted on the outer edges on his black-rimmed glasses.

I overheard him asking someone for money for food, and heard another man speaking to him.  I handed him a dollar. He waited in line to get breakfast, and then sat in a corner with his tray. I paid for my coffee and sat down on the other side of the dining area, but I wanted to approach the young man.  I was apprehensive because he looked so different, but I finally walked over and said hello, and asked him how he was doing.  He nervously handed me a small photo of himself, which I found rather odd, and I sat down to visit.  He told me that his name was Luke.

His fingernails were painted black with pink hearts on the index fingers, so whenever he pointed at anything, I saw them. He began to show me a scrapbook that he was keeping with cutout photos and clippings and handwritten notes. I began to turn the pages and saw poems scribbled here and there and pieces of torn paper and small paintings.  I felt as if I was reading into his soul. His artistic drive was apparent, and I was happy as he began to talk.

“There are so many negative things in the world,” he said.  “I cut out articles from newspapers and magazines that represent evil things, and then I write or draw something that offers a possible solution.”  He took a pair of scissors and a glue stick from his pocket and quickly cut out a picture from the paper, then dabbed some glue on it and stuck it in one of his sketchbooks.

“I am amazed how God always provides for me.  I scarcely think of something I need before I receive it.  The other night as I fell asleep in the park, I thought of how nice it would be to have a bicycle.  When I woke up, there was a bike just laying there with no one around.  People should trust God more than they do.”

As we talked a man came over and handed him a few dollars.  After the man left, Luke turned to me and said, “Could you use some of this money?”

“No thank you,” I said.

Luke leaned his chin on his hand thoughtfully, and said, “If we receive things, we should also give, because we must keep the cycle of grace flowing.  We should not cut off the grace by our selfishness.”

Then he began to tell me that people often seem offended by his presence and act as if they despise him for no reason.  “I am kind to everyone and I’m no threat, but people act like they hate me for no reason, just for existing.  People have trouble with anyone who is free and is not ensnared by the world.”

“That is because when we love others and are not attached to the worldly system, we will be despised like Jesus was,” I replied. “The Devil can’t stand to lose control of anyone.”

“You’re very advanced,” said the young man.

I mentioned to him that I had written my story and many stories about others in my manuscripts, but they are not published.  He suddenly said, “But they will be.  I assure you.”

“May I write about you too?” I inquired.

“Of course,” he answered.

He stroked his thick black hair for a moment and stated, “I have a word for you.  You are a midwife and a healer.  You have the ability to nurture children until they are ready to survive on their own.”  I was quite surprised and said, “That’s odd. Someone told me before that I am a spiritual mother who can labor and birth children into the kingdom of God, and nurture them. You are my confirmation.”

“Wow, that’s heavy” he said.

“Luke, you have a great mind and a pure heart,” I said.  “Is your mother like you?”

“My mother is very intelligent and is very easy to talk to. She is a midwife.” I perceived that I reminded him of his mother. I told him it was encouraging to see a young man speak well of his mother.

“I try in my own way to offset some of the evil and darkness around me,” he replied. “Most people my age talk about the terrible things happening in their families and in the world, but they don’t try to fix anything.  These little hearts I wear are just symbols of the love I am trying to spread.

“A huge demonic invasion occurred in the seventies and this is why young people have it worse than ever before.  Some people made deals with Satan before they were even born and have already lost their souls.  Some people are fallen angels, and many of them are in our government.”

I answered, “We are on the verge of a spiritual awakening and you young people will lead us into it, because your minds are still pure and they have not been polluted by money and ambition.  You still see God in terms of Spirit instead of in terms of an institution.”

We discussed how the sacred things of God have been ruined by capitalism and greed.  “Jesus did not teach capitalism”, Luke said.

“You are right”, I answered.  “I have to leave now, but this has been wonderful.”  We grasped hands tightly before parting.

 

OLIVE TWIST ©2012

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Here are some of my favorite poems, speeches, letters, sermons, and sayings. New passages will be added from time to time.

 

“With visible breath I am walking.

A voice I am sending as I walk.

In a sacred manner I am walking.

With visible tracks I am walking.

In a sacred manner I walk.”

Song of the Sacred Woman from Black Elk Speaks

 

“Sing and rejoice, ye children of the Day and of the Light, for the Lord is at work in this thick night of Darkness that may be felt; and Truth doth flourish as the rose, and the lilies do grow among the thorns, and the plants atop of the hills, and upon them the lambs do skip and play.  And never heed the tempests nor the storms, floods nor rains, for the Seed of Christ is over all and doth reign.”

Epistle #227 of George Fox

 

“We must free ourselves to be filled by God. Even God cannot fill what is full.”

Mother Teresa

 

“I like your Christ.  I do not like your Christians.  They are so unlike your Christ.”

Mahatma Gandhi

 

“At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

 

“The Bible is very easy to understand.  But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers.  We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly…Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament”

Kierkegaard, Provocations 201

 

Letter from Birmingham Jail

“I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate…who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”…Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

 

Songs in the Night

“If it is daylight in my heart, I can sing songs touching my graces—songs touching my sweet experience—songs touching my duties—songs touching my labors; but let the night come—my graces appear to have withered; my evidences, though they are there, are hidden; I cannot clearly read my title to my mansion in heaven. And now I have nothing left to sing of but my God. It is strange, that when God gives his children mercies, they normally set their hearts more on the mercies than on the Giver of them; but when the night comes, and he sweeps all the mercies away, then right away they say, “Now, my God, I have nothing to sing of but you; I must come to you; and to you only.”

Anyone can sing in the day. When the cup is full, one draws inspiration from it; when wealth rolls in abundance around them, anyone can sing to the praise of a God who gives an abundant harvest.  It is easy to sing when we can read the notes by daylight; but the skillful singer is the one who can sing when there is not a ray of light to read by—who sings from their heart, and not from a book that they can see.

Let all things go as I please—I will weave songs, weave them wherever I go, with the flowers that grow along my path; but put me in a desert, where there are no flowers, and how will I weave a chorus of praise to God? How will I make a crown for him? Let this voice be free, and this body be full of health, and I can sing God’s praise; but stop this tongue, lay me on the bed of suffering, and it is not so easy to sing from the bed, and chant high praises in the fires…confine me, chain my spirit, clip my wings, make me very sad, so that I become old like the eagle—ah! Then it is hard to sing.”

Preached by Charles Spurgeon in the late 1800’s

 

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A Cloud Of Witnesses: Portraits of Faith

“He spoke as one having authority, and not as the scribes and the Pharisees.”

Deacon Proctor has been like a spiritual brother to me for many years, and we have enjoyed deep mystical communion.  He is tall and broad with a flat top haircut and a severely twisted hand.  His black hair has an ever-widening section of white on one side, and he has suits in an array of various colors.

Once I remember him teaching about the verse in Isaiah which says “Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.”  He looked at the arms of his suit and shrugged his shoulders and said, “It’s funny, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to wear this suit today, because it has a bleach stain on the side, but it illustrates this passage. “  The suit was appropriately wine-colored, with the white spot near the pocket.

The deacon’s movements are marionette-like, the tilting of his head, the raising and lowering of his arms and shoulders.  Affectionately known by Elder Foster as “Brother Love”, he is a tremendously gifted teacher and man of faith.  He was the Sunday school teacher before I was appointed to the task, and I was quite terrified about teaching after him.

I have never heard anyone teach as Deacon Proctor does. He is like a great waiter at a restaurant.  A bad waiter can ruin even the best food.  A professional waiter can make any meal even better, by presenting it with grace and style and timing. This is how Deacon Proctor serves the Word of God.  He presents it with love, simplicity and clarity so that even a child could understand it.  It is evident that he is a man who loves to study in order to gain more wisdom.

I asked Deacon Proctor one day about his deformed right hand.  He smiled and shrugged his shoulders and said, “It was from an accident a couple of years ago.  I was working on someone’s car motor with a rag in my hand.  I got distracted while I was talking and the rag was pulled into the fan belt along with my hand. It tore my hand up but I never felt any pain. In the hospital, the doctor kept saying ‘Why don’t you quit being so macho, and let me give you some morphine?’ and I kept telling him it really didn’t hurt.  I know that God kept it from hurting.

“Two weeks before the accident happened, I had a vivid dream about a cat clawing up my hand, and I asked Mother Foster what she thought it meant.  She avoided me for a week or so after that, like she thought I was weird,” he said chuckling. “After this happened, we all understood it.  The Spirit was warning me in advance.”

Another deacon from the church told me that it was incredible to him how Deacon Proctor never complained about his hand being mutilated, or about having to live with the inconvenience of it from then on. He behaved almost as though nothing had happened.

Deacon Proctor was also in a terrible wreck while driving a huge concrete truck, and he struck the driver side of a small vehicle.  He says he jumped out and checked the man’s breathing and pulse, and he was sure the man was dead.  He said, “I began to weep and kept pointing at the man and crying, ‘You can’t die, no, you can’t die.’  The ambulance came and the medics couldn’t revive him, so helicopter came and took him.  I found out later that the man lived and he is doing fine,” he said shaking his head.  “I really believe the Holy Ghost raised the man, because I kept pointing at him and saying he couldn’t die.  He explained how Jesus told His disciples that they would do greater miracles than He did, and the scriptures say God quickens the dead and calls those things which are not as if they are.”

The deacon frequently has dreams and visions and hears the voice of the Spirit.  On one occasion when I was feeling great anxiety, I had heard an inward voice say “Trust in Me.”  I went to church the following Sunday and Deacon Proctor said to me, “The Lord told me this week that I just need to trust Him.”  This surprised me, because I had not told him about the voice that told me the same thing.

Here is one of the most interesting dreams that the deacon told me about:

I dreamed that I was at a crowded fair surrounded by games and noise and music and bright lights. A man walked up to me and said, “Follow me” and then began to walk away.  I decided to do what he said so I walked right behind him.  The man kept talking to me over his shoulder, and I kept trying to get a look at his face and to hear him better.  With all of the noise and confusion of people around me, I could hear his voice, but couldn’t understand his words.  I never got a look at the man’s face, but I kept following anyway.  The man kept walking in all different directions, and I stayed right behind him the whole time.  The moon was really large up in the sky, and it had a face on it, which seemed to be watching me.

The next day, Deacon Proctor mentioned the dream to a co-worker at his job, because he wondered what it meant.  The co-worker said quickly, “It looks to me like God just wanted you to follow him, and he wanted to see if you would or not.”  The deacon almost cried when he heard it, because he knew that it was true. I added that I thought the face on the moon was the face of God watching from above the whole time while Deacon Proctor was following Him on the ground. Even with all of the distractions and amusements that could have lured him away, he did not turn aside.  I thought the fair represented the worldly temptations that can keep us from following God.

The deacon says he was talking with Elder Foster one day when the Spirit told him to go to his son’s house and pray.  He and Elder and Mother Foster walked to the house and no one was home. So they returned to the church where coincidentally, the deacon’s son pulled up a few minutes later with his girlfriend in the car. The deacon told him about his sense of urgency to pray for him. His son was not a believer, but he accepted the prayers of the three of them.

About a week later, a sense of heaviness came over the deacon during street services, and people noticed that he was acting strangely and pacing about.  Right after services were dismissed, Deacon Proctor learned that his son had been stabbed in the neck by the girlfriend that had been in the car when they prayed for him, and he had been rushed to the hospital. The deacon hurried there to see his son and the bleeding was so bad, that the family did not think he would make it.  But miraculously he did survive, and Deacon Proctor says that it was because of the prayer of intercession that had been offered a few days before, prompted by the leading of the Spirit. He said he shudders to think of how it would have ended up if he had not obeyed the Spirit and prayed.

Deacon Proctor has encountered many trials at work and the Lord has been faithful to protect him.  He told us one day at church about a series of events that happened to him.

One of his knees was hurting very badly one day at work and he mentioned it to one of his co-workers.  The man began to mock him and said that he was just faking it to get out of working.  Deacon Proctor ignored the man, and didn’t say anything.  The next day that man came in with his knee in so much pain, that he could barely walk on it for several days.

Then one day his elbow was hurting and he complained about it to someone, and they began making jokes about it.  That person developed a pain in their elbow that became so unbearable that they ended up having surgery on it.

Then a supervisor was bragging to people about how he was going to get the deacon fired and give his job to someone else.  The next day that man was fired, and Deacon Proctor was promoted into his job.  When reports got around about these events at work, the other employees became afraid because they realized that the deacon was under divine protection.

Deacon Proctor and I talk from time to time about the need for a true revival of the church, and he told me about one that occurred years ago in Saint Augustine.  Tent services were held outside, and an evangelist named Walter Camps came to lead them.  The revival went on for a month, and the Spirit moved so intensely that all of the bars in the surrounding area had to close, because they had no customers.

The deacon said he used to mock people who fell down when touched by preachers on television and other services he had attended because he thought it was a pretense.  But at this revival he went to the altar for prayer, and Reverend Camps asked him what he wanted prayer for.  Deacon Proctor told him that he wanted prayer for his mind.  The evangelist gave him a peculiar look then he put his hand on the deacon’s forehead, and Deacon Proctor fell down unconscious.  He testifies that ever since that day, he has never been the same and he has no more of the problems that he had at the time.  He also doesn’t doubt God’s power.

I feel immensely honored to know a great man of faith such as Deacon Proctor who is so wise, and yet so humble before God and man.

OLIVE TWIST ©2012

 

(Photo from http://simplyorthodox.tumblr.com/)

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A Cloud of Witnesses:  Portraits of Faith

Elder Foster is graceful with hands that swim like fish around him as he speaks. He bows from his slender waist and lowers his head slightly, greenish brown eyes looking up to others with humility.  His caramel-colored suit is well-tailored, his shoes polished, his white shirt crisp.

Mother Foster has amazing hats and weathered hands and I have seldom seen her silver hair.  She braids it tightly against her scalp and tucks it under her hats.  Her waist is nicely trim for an elderly woman, the collar of her dress edged with white lace, her black ballerina slippers small and cozy.  Her smile is broad and warm and her eyes always seem to look upward and inward to invisible things.

Elder and Mother Foster are my spiritual parents, and I am just one of their clumsy and confused children.

Elder Foster has ministered to his church for almost forty years, and he is still the most energetic pastor I have ever seen.  He seems much younger when he preaches because he jumps and shouts and runs down from the pulpit into the congregation.  His agility is amazing at these times.

He can be so fiery during his sermons, yet he is so gentle and humble afterwards, when he shakes my hand and says, “Are you behaving yourself, Sister Olive?” or “Be encouraged, Sister Olive.” I guess this is why one preacher who visited our church refers to him as a “Gentle Giant”.

Many times Elder Foster speaks directly to me about things in my life that he has no way of knowing, and he encourages or corrects me with great gentleness. I recognize in those moments that the Spirit is speaking to me and that I have to be obedient, if I want to grow spiritually.

Elder Foster once remarked, “You know the trouble with many of us is that we trust the mailman more than we trust God. When we address a letter and put a stamp on it and place it in the mailbox, we have confidence that the mail will arrive where it’s supposed to go.  We don’t call the mailman or the postmaster to keep track of the letter, or call to make sure it arrives at its destination.

“But when we address a prayer to God, we don’t have confidence that it will get to God, or that it will accomplish the thing that we are asking.  Our lack of faith is why many of our prayers are unanswered.”

Elder Foster puts more money into the offering plate than he receives from the district for his services.  He is always speaking about people who exemplify the life of faith.  He tells of a poor preacher who had no money, but went to the grocery store and got a cart and put the food he needed in it, and he prayed and trusted God to take care of him. The preacher walked up to the cashier lane, and a man stepped up with his wallet open and said, “Pastor, let me take care of that for you.”

Our elder also speaks of a minister who heard that someone in his church had died.  The minister went to that house and the man’s wife had covered him with a sheet as she awaited the mortician.  The minister said “The Spirit didn’t say anything to me about this brother dying.”  Then he pulled back the sheet and the man got up.

One Sunday a strange man came into our church to leave an offering envelope for a family member.  As he came down the aisle, I noticed the intensity of his face and eyes as he looked around nervously.  He hurriedly handed the envelope to Sister Shirley near the altar and left.

Elder Foster was preaching later in the service, and told us that he had had a dream the night before, about being down by the fish creek and meeting a man who was demon-possessed and that he had cast the demon out of the man.  When he awoke he thought that he must have eaten something the night before that caused him indigestion and strange dreams.  But then the man from his dream walked into church and left the offering.

The elder often speaks about the importance of preaching the gospel “in season and out of season”, because you never know when that Death Angel will come around and take someone.  He says that one night a phone call came for Mother Foster from a woman that she worked with at the paper mill.  Elder Foster did not want to disturb his wife while she was sleeping, so he told the woman to call his wife another time.  Mother Foster went to work the next morning and the woman had died.

Elder Foster also recounted this story with great sorrow:  “A man came up to me one Wednesday night after the service was over, asking how to get saved.  I was in a hurry that night, and asked him to come and see me on Sunday.  When he didn’t come on Sunday, I inquired about him and found out that he had died.  I have learned never to make anyone wait again, because the Devil will try to cut them off beforehand.”

Mother Foster is an amazing spiritual leader as well.  She diligently taught all of her children about prayer and faith while they were young.  Several of the Fosters’ sons are preachers now.  Mother Foster says that one of her boys, Aaron, used to preach through the open window from his high chair when he was a baby, and would tell people about Christ.  She says she used to have terrible migraines until one of them put his tiny hands on her and prayed, when he was only a little baby boy.

She says they have never had a lot of money but they acknowledge that God always provided for their needs.  Mother Foster once testified about a woman with five children that lived down the street from her years ago. Sometimes the woman would come to her door and tell her she didn’t have any food for her children.  Mother Foster said that she always bought just enough food for her family for seven days at a time, but she would open her refrigerator, and give the woman some meat and vegetables and bread for her children.  As Mother Foster gave the bag of food to the woman, she would say to her, “Now, come back around here this evening, because I want you to see what the Lord is going to do for me, because I gave you what you needed.”  She said that without fail, someone would show up before dinnertime, and knock on the door and say, “I just caught some fish, and I have more than I need.  Would you like some?” or someone would bring her greens and vegetables from their garden.  She says that God always provided whenever she was obedient.

Mother Foster told me an amazing story about a woman who asked her to come to her house:  “I went to visit this poor woman and she told me that her husband had been abusive to her for many years, and I told her ‘God would never want anyone to place themselves in danger. So we are going to take this problem to God, and pray that your husband will leave and never come back.  First I need you to go to the closet and get a pair of his shoes, and bring them here.’ The woman went and got his shoes, and I told her to put them right in front of the door, with the toes pointed as if they were about to walk out.  She did this and then we started to pray out loud.  We prayed and prayed with all our hearts, until I had a clear feeling, and I told her that it was done.  I told her she had to believe that God was going to do answer our prayers.  I said, ‘It might not be today or tomorrow or even this week, but you have to trust God.’  Well, it turned out that her husband came home that very night, and took all of his belongings and left, and he never returned home again.”

Mother Foster taught me to pray earnestly on my knees until I sense that the work is finished, and then to believe God.  My prayers were never answered until I learned to pray in the proper way.  Mother Foster taught me that God loves to act of our behalf, when He knows that He will be glorified in it.

I have learned so much from the Foster’s about living by faith, and “pressing on” until death, and I am eternally grateful for their testimonies, and their examples.

“Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.”  (I Timothy 6:12)

OLIVE TWIST ©2012

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I have chosen this pen name, because I lived in orphanages and foster homes during my childhood years. I am a writer of spiritual memoir and character sketches, and consider myself to be sort of a “wounded healer”.  I have a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing.

I have been writing my memoirs and other true stories for many years, in order to encourage other “seekers” who may be feeling confused and hopeless. I am just beginning to post my writings and I hope that they will enable someone to find inner strength and meaning in the chaos of their own life.

I am inexperienced in blogging, so I will probably make lots of mistakes.  Please be patient with me while I am learning.  Thank you.

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OLIVE TWIST ©2012

“His voice was like a noise of many waters…” (Ezekiel 43:2)

A lady in lavender is summoned by the sea.  She steps to the shore in silver sandals.  She is alone and yet never alone. His voice rises like a wave. Only His voice can quench the fire in her bones.  She waits in peace for words from the depths of the ocean.  No one can see what she sees or hear what she hears.  A laughing gull cries, and the waves swirl around her ankles.  The sand beneath her pulls her inward.  She knows never to resist, but only to stand and wait and yield.  The sandpipers come closer and tip their heads.  The angel shells nod as they sink back into the sand.  The lady’s fingers search the sea breezes for strands and she weaves them into whispers.  “Yes” she says in reply to the ocean king.  The taste of salt is in her mouth. The waters recede and gifts are sprinkled around her feet.  She picks up crystalline shells and seaweed as intricate as ancient lace. Three seagulls cry together and she hears her secret name, given to her by the sea.  She slips her feet into her sandals and leaves the wind at her back.  Her silver hair reaches its tendrils forward, and her eyes see the path beyond the sea oats that are waving in the same direction.  “Ye are the salt of the earth, says the sea breeze.

The lady stops outside the prison door and sees herself in the two-sided glass.  She pulls her lavender shawl around her neck and shoulders to prepare for the coldness inside.  She waits for a beep and pushes the cold metal door open. She goes to the faceless woman behind the dark glass and asks to speak to the director.  A husky black man with oval glasses and a flat top haircut comes to the lobby and calls for her. He is wearing a navy blue polo with the facility name embroidered on the chest and matching khaki pants.  He talks into his walky-talky as he leads her over the scuffed floors and through bland bone-colored halls to his office.  She takes out her mother-of-pearl pen and fills out papers on his desk.  The two speak quietly in his carpeted cubicle and he shakes her hand softly.  She writes down some names of prisoners to visit, and he tells her what days she can come.  She rises from her chair and nods in gratitude to the man who opened the doors to her.  She knows the Voice who caused him to open the doors, but she always respects earthly authority. “He that is true, He that hath the key of David, He that opens and no man shuts, and shuts and no man opens…”

As she drives away, three mourning doves flutter over her windshield and light in the grass by the lake.  She smiles at the messengers and drives away.

Iris returns to the prison and is sent into a classroom with cheap plastic chairs and one grey table.  On the wall is a poster of a spreading green tree.  She remembers this tree from a dream.  She waits in silence.  An echo of footsteps and voices in the hallway makes her heart pound.  She twists the mother-of-pearl on her finger, and then rests her right hand on her knee.  She prays for power and grace. The heavy footsteps shuffle outside the doors, then a key turns the lock and in they come.  Young men in uniforms trudge in with hands behind their backs, heads low and weary.  Their brown plastic sandals scratch like chalk on a chalk board. One inmate is wearing red.  This means he could erupt in violence.  One boy is wearing orange.  This means suicidal. She sees tattoos and wrists carved with unknown symbols.  Her heart is grieved. What will she say to them?  The taste of salt comes to her mouth.  The young men sit down.  Their eyes startle her.  They seem so weak, so sad, so desperate.  She had not expected this.

Iris speaks softly with the prisoners, and the voice is inside of her.  The taste of salt is always on her tongue.  She is surprised how the young prisoners search her face, and look upon her as a mother.  She learns that it is not her, but the tides of the ocean are pulling upon them, and the living water is flowing out of her mouth and sometimes it trickles from her eyes.  Sometimes the prisoners cough up disfigured and unclean creatures upon the floor, where they writhe and squirm in their slimy grotesque forms.  When the salt water touches them, they cry out and die in agony at the lady’s feet.  The ocean king does the cleansing, yet the lady is rewarded as if she had done it herself.

Sometimes the water flows gently and softly. Sometimes it rumbles and powerful waves strike someone, and they are cast down and broken before the cleansing.  The will of the ocean determines the way the waters move and work on the souls in the room.  When the waters recede, the work is done and it is done well.

As Iris steps outside, a Great Heron watches her with one eye, from among the rushes.  The lady and bird nod reverently at one another.

The lady knows the power of stories.  If she can get a person to tell their story, a door cracks open and a sliver of light comes through, and suddenly she can touch their soul.  She has learned that anyone in the right moment, in the right place, in the right state of mind, can be persuaded to open the door of his soul.  She has learned to watch for the crack in the door.

It is a wonderful thing to be in the presence of stories.  It is a great net for catching souls. She watches the young inmates compete for a chance to tell their story.  They all rush in like seagulls with fierce eyes that spot a fish in the sea foam.  With eagerness they wait for their chance.  Her heart ripples with waves of joy at moments like these, when souls come out of their shells so raw and open.  They are all washed together in the tides of stories and passion and pain and love. Tears and smiles and songs come bursting forth, like hidden fish and shells from deep in the waters. This is the time when one might pluck a drowning soul from deep waters, like a luminous pearl.

In a room full of stories, a door springs open and God glides right in and glory takes place.  She witnessed it and it makes life worth living because souls make their statement and find their place of belonging.  It is priceless and it is real and it is satisfying beyond all words, in that realm where all souls fall silent.

“The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

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OLIVE TWIST ©2012

“It had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels… And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl…” (Revelation 21:12, 21)

These twelve fables are based upon true stories of incarcerated young men who wanted their stories to be told. Their names have all been changed and they are all adults now.

I am Iris or “the lady in lavender.”  She wears lavender because purples denote royalty. She is a daughter of “the King,” and has been divinely commissioned. The Ocean King represents God, the flowing waves are the movements of the Holy Spirit, and the salt is the healing and cleansing power that He bestows upon the lady.

 

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A Cloud of Witnesses:  Portraits of Faith

OLIVE TWIST ©2012

“It is nothing extraordinary to be holy.  You must believe it is a normal thing for everybody.” –Mother Teresa

A professor once referred to these stories as “hagiographic portraits,” and I agree with that assertion.  I am pleased to introduce my spiritual family in this fashion.  These profiles deal more with the mystical realm than the natural, but I have made every effort to enable you to see my friends in both worlds.

For those who have never had the privilege of observing holy people going about their daily lives, I am delighted to share this treasure.

“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset [us], and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

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