Posts Tagged ‘spirituality’

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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My father sent me these lovely neules from Mallorca for Christmas!

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20141216_164038They are paper cuts made by nuns there during holiday season, and they are not only decorative but practical. They are hung in the cathedrals in Spain to help illiterate people keep track of the seasons and festivals during the year. They look like snowflakes hanging from the chandeliers and the slightest breeze makes them float and twirl.

20141217_113806I will always treasure them.

Peace be with you,

Sister Olive

~♥~

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~♥~

The name Mediterranean is derived from the Latin mediterraneus, meaning “inland” or “in the middle of the land” (from medius, “middle” and terra, “land”). –Wikipedia

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Today marks the one-year anniversary of our beautiful trip to Mallorca, Spain to visit my lost-and-found father. So I have decided to re-post some of my series entitled Spanishoeprints.  At the top of the screen, you can also click on the page with the same title for an assortment of photographs and journal writings from our trip.

I will never forget that day when we looked out of the airplane window and saw Mallorca for the first time from the sky. First we saw the pure and blue Mediterranean sea, then what appeared to be Middle Earth in the art of Tolkien.

imagesIt was a magical three-dimensional game board- green and terracotta with the curves of stone streets and walls, the hammered out cliffs, the pencil lines of fields, square and triangular pastures, and the dots of sheep and almond trees.  The game pieces were steeples and palaces and monasteries set in spirals that rose gently with the slopes to the tops of mountains.

I will never forget that feeling of being a Hobbit in the Shire for three magical weeks with my father and my son. I still dream of the place and long for the time when I can return…Sometimes I try to pretend it wasn’t real because the hollowness I feel becomes almost unbearable. Please pray for me that I may continue to “follow the light unflinchingly”.

Peace & Grace,

“Sister Olive”

image036

~♥~

“A single dream is more powerful than a thousand realities.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

 

 

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 Poppy 3

“My father lives in Spain.” “My father is a science fiction author.” “My father founded an international music festival in Mallorca.” “My father tours in Europe with a chamber music orchestra.” “I love to hear my father play Spanish guitar.”
I love to tell people about my father, because I am a bit like Rumpelstiltskin. I try to spin the straw of my life into gold. During my childhood, my father’s letters came to me in thin red-and-white air mail envelopes from a village called Galilea. I thought it sounded like Galilee and imagined this to be symbolic somehow. I hoped it meant he would save me and take me to his world someday.
He would write that he lived in a villa near the cliffs of the Mediterranean Sea, and that from his open windows he could hear sheep bells tinkling and smell the apricot and almond groves. He would say that his friends were all writers, musicians, composers, and artists. When he sent photographs, I thought the island looked like Paradise beside the crystal sea.
He wrote that he wanted to come and take my sister and me from the orphanage to live with him and his new wife. I told all of the other girls in my cottage about my amazing father and his letters, and I began to envision him with legendary proportions. So when I watched television and saw certain dark-haired characters on the screen, I would replace their faces with my father’s. He became James West and The Lone Ranger and Zorro and The Count of Monte Cristo and The Fighting Prince of Donegal. I believed that he would come and rescue me from the horrors of my childhood. But he never did. He was only a charming mysterious stranger who made promises and never kept them. As the years swam past me like slippery fish, I realized that he would never arrive.

Poppy 5 (2)He didn’t arrive for my elementary or junior high years. He didn’t arrive when I dropped out of school. He showed up for a few days while I was living on the streets as a teenager, and then vanished again for years. He didn’t arrive for my wedding or college graduation or the birth of any of my sons. I knew he was out there in the fog somewhere, but I lost sight of his face in my mind.
Then suddenly during his recovery after his first heart attack he began to write to me, so I began to send questions to him about my childhood. I am not angry but I need to know who I am and who my parents are. So now he sends me emails whenever I send him questions. My first message was to find out about the car accident during my childhood, and this was his answer:

May ’60? Studebaker broke down, bought Chevy Bel Air Saturday, accident Sunday on the road to Apopka. Car salesman had lied, saying insurance was good until Monday, but not so. The drunks who ran into us were on their last binge before going into the US Army, no insurance. Chevy a total loss, but at least I managed to avoid killing the Negro children leaving their church just off the road.

He says that he left my mother in 1960 (when I was two) because he “unraveled” from all of their problems:

I had lost both my jobs, an unfortunate car wreck wiped us out financially, and I could see no way out. Of course, fate and the desire for literary and artistic adventure and travel, instilled in us all at university, these things sent me sailing away with Mari to Europe within a couple of years. (The last thing I remember in the house on Julian Street: you were looking out the window from your crib and said: Why is the moon blowing the clouds away?)

Soon after his departure, I was sent to a crippled children’s home in Florida had an operation and wore a full body cast for about a year. My father came to visit when I was there:

About this time (1960?), I made a visit to Florida from NY, and you were in Umatilla Children’s Hospital with braces between your ankles to straighten your hip joint. Your mother of course knows a lot more about this than I do. (You poor thing, all smiling, with a pleated light blue skirt, scooting around with fantastic energy and will.)

He also recalls visiting us in a one-room apartment where we stayed briefly with mother. I remember the place, but not his visit:

1961 Spring- visited you all in your grandfather’s garage apartment in Indialantic, soon after which I left New York for Paris.
Summer 62 – summer 64: I was in Europe and Turkey with Mari, until she had her nervous breakdown in Germany.

He came for Margaret and me during his second marriage, and we stayed with him in Missouri. He published his first story for a science fiction magazine while we were there.

I think in autumn 64 (maybe 65, since when we first returned, Mari spent several months in the Nevada Mental Hospital south of Kansas City) she and I drove to pick up you kids from the house in the country (NC?) You three spent part of that summer with us in Pleasant Hill, Mo.
December 1965 Analog published my first story: Countercommandment. I began writing sci-fi regularly, and when I had sold a few more, and when Mari was working and healthy again, I left for New York. (Her family did not like me, and blamed me for her breakdown.) A year later I went to Mexico for a divorce.

I asked my father where he was when we were placed in the custody of the state of North Carolina, and he replied:

In 1967-68 I was working for the Welfare Department in Brooklyn, caring for unwed mothers and abandoned families, ironically. My supervisor convinced me I could get custody of you guys. Shortly after that, my new wife and I visited you girls in NC, with a view to perhaps taking you with us when we got married (May 1968.)
By that time, not sure when, James was already adopted by your grandparents. When your mother learned my plan, she sent a telegram asking me please not to take you. She was about ready to bring you home with her, I guess.

This message made me rather downcast, because I believe things would have been much better for me and Margaret with our father, but we were destined to return to our mother instead. I ended up in Gainesville alone at the age of thirteen. My father appeared one day when I was living on the streets.

I visited you in Gainesville, staying with Grant. You said somewhere I turned you on to LSD on one of these visits – I always thought it was the other way around, though definitely I remember walking around Gainesville with you, stoned. You visited your trunk on somebody’s porch. I believe you were living in the woods? Reading Shakespeare and Chaucer? Learning guitar? Writing poetry? This is the way it comes to memory.

Wow! Did I really turn my father on to drugs for the first time? Maybe so, but I am sure he made the purchase. I asked him if he or my mother had ever experimented with drugs and he answered:

Your mother and I never used any drugs, did not smoke cigarettes, and only occasionally drank wine with a meal. I first smoked when I started working in night clubs, and drank the occasional Scotch. It wasn’t until I was caring for drug addicts in the NY welfare dept that I discovered marijuana, say in 1967-68.
As for the hippies, yippies, and yuppies, maybe, briefly, from 1968 to 1978: smoking dope, magic mushrooms, long hair, beard, improvising music and life in general. But that is behind me.

After my father’s visit in 1974, I did not see him again until he was appointed by the Spanish government to visit Saint Augustine in 1988. He claims to have lost track of me when I moved to Oregon to attend college, but I remember asking him to “give me away” at my wedding, and sending him birth announcements for each of his grandsons.

I lost track of you when you went to Oregon, or so I believe, and the next thing I knew you were married to a Quaker baker, and had children. When did all this happen? While I was in Galilea?

My father visited me in Saint Augustine during the Christmas holidays just before my sons had reached school age. He had never seen them. He kept hugging them and reading them stories and singing to them. He was just as charming as ever, with his slender body and warm resonant voice and goatee. He told us that he wanted to be part of our lives from then on and promised to keep in contact with us after he went back to Spain.
One night, he went out with a lady from the local cultural events committee and had a few drinks, and began to tell her about what a terrible father he had been to me. The lady quoted him as saying, “I can’t believe my daughter even lets me in the house or speaks to me. But she invites me in with a smile, and gives me homemade pumpkin pie, and lets me help decorate the Christmas tree. I just can’t stand it.”
During this visit my father told me his version of what happened during my childhood. He spoke again of the car accident and my hip defect and how the medical bills began to flood in. He said that while he was working all day and going to school in the evenings, my mother was busy hanging out with her friends. No food was ever prepared for him and the sink was always full of dishes and we were always in our cribs crying in our dirty diapers. After a long exhausting day he had to change our diapers and do dishes and find food to eat. So one night after the anger had been building in him for a long time he came home and found the sink full of dishes.
He called my mother into the kitchen and pulled a dish out of the sink and asked her, “Are you going to wash it?” She stared at him with those cold icy eyes that I know so well, and said nothing. He threw the dish on to the floor where it shattered. He picked up another dish and asked her again, “Are you going to wash this?” Again, no answer. He threw this one on the floor and continued until every dish was broken on the floor.
At least now I know where one of my tragic personality flaws came from. I cannot stand for a man to tell me what to do. Perhaps this is what was wrong with Eve in the garden. Maybe she resented Adam’s authority.
The night my father left he says that Margaret and I heard him threatening to leave our mother. So we tied his shoelaces together and hid his shoes. When he was ready to walk out he had to search for his shoes and untangle the knotted up laces. When I heard this I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry.
My father says that he returned a year or two later and tried to reconcile with Mother but it didn’t work out. But why did he throw his children away?
I am told that he had an abusive alcoholic father so perhaps he passed on the neglect he experienced as a boy. I am fairly certain we had two parents who did not wish to be parents.
My father was in Saint Augustine for a week or two and returned to Spain where he promptly forgot about us again for many years. My three sons are now in college and he still asks me their names whenever he gets around to calling. Now that he is elderly and his companion is gone he is in touch a bit more. He wants forgiveness but he can still be terribly insensitive.
I have tried to tell him that it’s never too late to start being a father. Once I became weary of him wounding me and cut off all communication with him for over a year. It was the first time he ever had to grovel for attention. During this time his email messages to me completely changed. He had always expected me to address him by his first name, but he started writing them with the greeting “Dear Daughter” and signed off with “Love, Papa.” He had never tasted his own poison before. The poison of neglect and loneliness.
My father tells me he has lived his life well and to its fullest. I have barely survived and suffered tremendously. I cannot imagine bringing children into this world and doing nothing for them in your whole life. I would hate to take that to my grave or to my God. I am not so angry with him now but I feel very sorry for him. He will become very lonely one of these nights. It is his karma.
In a recent telephone conversation my father said, “I feel so guilty because I have had such a good life but I have not been good. I didn’t deserve any of the things I’ve enjoyed. But if you live long enough your evil ways will catch up to you. Mine are catching up to me now.” I felt a warm wave of comfort splash upon the shores of my mind as he said these words to me, a feeling I cannot fully describe.
My father still cares about my mother and he always inquires about her. He loves to look at photos of her and he says that he will never forget the day that he climbed into the back seat of a friend’s car and met a woman with long blonde hair, a low-cut dress, and a classic face like a goddess. I asked my father if he and Mother were beatniks and he sent me this reply:

Well, it was the age of beatniks, all right. But I didn’t know that. When I hitched at age 17 from Florida to Michigan and on to Seattle, to go for a summer job working in the Coos Bay Lumber Camp in Oregon, I had no idea Kerouac was also on the road. And when the lumberjacks went on strike, I turned in my boots and bought the second book I ever bought, The Old Man and the Sea, which was brand new, and best of all, very short.
I went on to San Francisco, but when I went to the City Lights Bookstore, I didn’t know that Gregory Corso, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and the whole bunch were going to be so important. I bought a couple of books, moved over to Berkeley Bowl to set pins in the alley for a couple of weeks before heading on back to Tallahassee to start college.
I did buy my clothes in the Army surplus, and copying a self-portrait of Van Gogh, wore a woolen cap and smoked a stub pipe, walking around the campus with my buddy David Wade, quoting Dylan Thomas to each other, and generally staying independent of all the usual college guy stuff.
Your mom was of the same ilk. She hung out with the art crowd, let the famous Karl Zerbe make a plaster cast of her face, and while he was at it, he pulled her top down, so she said. I wouldn’t blame him. She wore strapless elastic gingham dresses that tested gravity and the will power of mankind itself.

Now I address my father as “Poppy” because it implies both toxicity and endearment. Our communication is much better these days and because of him I know a few things about my parents that I can laugh about.

Poppy 2He still lives in Mallorca and had his first heart attack a couple of years ago while sitting at a café with a doctor. He had a quadruple bypass. After he was partially recovered he broke his foot while building a chicken coop outside his villa. Poppy says his lungs have only have forty-eight percent of their capacity. He is writing more nowadays. I received an email from him when he was finally able to go out for a walk and I replied that I wished we could take a walk together.
He answered my message with these words:

You are walking with me, in spirit. Hopefully one day again in the flesh. Just the two of us on a country road, or along a river, under autumn leaves on fire with the sunlight.
Poppy

IF

~♥~

 

Addendum to “Our Father Who Art in Spain”
Since the time that I completed this story in 2009, my father purchased two plane tickets for my eldest son and me to visit him in Spain. We spent three unforgettable weeks with him there, and I have written a series of journal writings called “Spanishoeprints” about our time together.

Poppy

~♥~

 

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I learned so much among the Spanish people, not only about civility which seems to be disappearing in my own nation, but about things that make life simpler and more pleasant.  I would never intentionally shed negative light on my own country, but we could learn so much if we would be more humble and listen to our friends from other places.  My father was a wonderful guide and explained many things to me as we wandered around different villages and cities.

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For example, I love the beautiful lace curtains that hang over the doorways in Spain, and it didn’t occur to me right away that I didn’t see any screened doors or windows.  My father explained that the lace is a more fashionable way of fulfilling the same purpose. When the doors are open, the lace keeps insects out of homes. Many of the people have beaded curtains, like the ones that were so popular in the hippie days in America. Flies and other insects can sense the motion of the beads in the breeze and it frightens them away.  And the homes are more aesthetically pleasing to look at without all of the screens.

One of the most pleasant features of Spain is the remarkable cleanliness of the place. The streets in even the larger cities like Barcelona were incredibly clean.  I never saw trash cans or litter drifting around while I was in there, because the business of trash disposal and collection occurs at night.  Metal hooks are set into the stone walls beside the doors, and the people place trash bags on the hooks at dusk for the trash collectors.

In the entire time that I was in Spain, I never sat at a table in a restaurant that had spills or crumbs on it.  Even in the airport McDonald’s, the tables were kept spotlessly clean and shiny. People seem to genuinely take pride in their villages and cities.

One taxi driver in Barcelona was beaming with pride as he explained to us about the best sites to see during our visit, and he pointed out his apartment as we drove by, remarking several times as he drove that he loved living in this beautiful city.  I don’t know that I have ever seen people take such pride in their places of habitation.  In America, we are proud of our own property, but Spaniards take pride in their whole community.

After a couple of weeks in Spain, it occurred to me that I had not seen any semi-trucks on the highways even in the cities.  My father explained that they transport merchandise at night, not in the daytime.

I saw a sign in the village square which showed a picture of a hand covered in chain mail, and I asked my father about it.  He told me that is was for the butcher shop. He explained that in Spain, a butcher is required by law to wear chain mail over the hand which is holding the meat when he cuts it.  It is not only a tradition but a matter of insurance liability. More importantly, it’s good sense.

My father asked me one night if we wanted to go to a tapas bar, and I glared at him and said “What?”  Then he repeated himself, and explained that tapas are appetizers or hors d’oeuvres.  In Spain you go out for tapas when you are not ready for a full meal but you need a little something to hold you over.  I love this concept because it saves the embarrassment of going in a restaurant when you only want soup or a salad and the waiter looks at you with annoyance as if to say “cheapskate” or “there goes my tip for this table.”

I noticed that many waiters wear arm bands above the elbow that resemble garter belts made of black satin.  So one day I inquired of a dashing young waiter, “Do your arm bands represent something, or do you wear them just to look nice?”  He answered, “We adjust the length of our sleeves with them, so that our cuffs don’t come in contact with the food we serve.” What a great idea! And they look much classier than rolled-up sleeves.

I saw mostly small cars in Spain, because they are economical and more suitable for the narrow roadways and easy parking.  I did not see the gigantic gas hogs driving around there like I am accustomed to seeing here.  The people are also smaller, and I rarely saw an obese person.  The competitive over-consumptive capitalistic spirit seems to be absent from the atmosphere.

Weapons don’t mean a thing to most Spaniards.  My father says that aggression takes place everywhere, but the Spanish people don’t like fighting.  In fact, he says they don’t like to place their hands on each other at all during an argument.  When they get angry with one another, they shout mostly, but seldom push or strike one another.

My father says that there is a strong sense of community in Spain, that
there is not an attitude of every man for himself, striving against the whole world.  Spaniards think in terms of every man for himself and his neighbor.  He said that Americans think this is communist, but it isn’t. Communism is every man for the government.  What could possibly be wrong with “love thy neighbor as thyself”?

There is no charge for medical care in Spain, and if you need antibiotics, you don’t need a prescription. You walk to the pharmacy and buy it complete with instructions on dosage, warnings, etc.  You are assigned a doctor based on where you live and from there to specialists if you need them.  Spain is fourth in quality of medical care in the world, and America is around thirty-two while the care is more costly than anywhere else. My father had a quadruple bypass surgery about two years ago, and paid nothing for his care. There goes that community spirit again.

People really enjoy being together is Spain. When you meet a friend at a restaurant, you don’t sit for an hour and get your ticket from a hurried waiter. You commune with your friends for hours over food and wine presented with style and kindness. No rude service there! My father says once you sit down at a table, it is yours as long as you like and no one will take it from you.

The cathedral bells there ring out the hours of the day, the church services, special holidays, and the deaths of villagers. I loved seeing the birds flying from the bell towers when they chimed. There are unique rings for each kind of event, and the bells toll differently to signify the passing of men or women or children.

I have been dreaming of Spain ever since our departure.  My son and I wandered around the beautiful Barcelona airport for an hour or so before our departure, shopping for last minute souvenirs and gifts.  The floors were so polished that I felt as if I was walking across a pond.

When we flew into the Atlanta airport, we looked out the windows and saw trash everywhere in and around dumpsters.  As we walked inside, we smelled the dismal smell of sweat and dirt.  We were so sad that this is what foreigners experience when they arrive in America.

When will we ever learn?

~♥~

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Excerpt from Frozen Tears: Part I

Of “This World is Not My Home: A Spiritual Journey”

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My brother and sister and I were all born in The Moon of the Snowblind, an unhappy month known for unpredictable weather, evil Ides, blustery winds, cold rains, and mischievous leprechauns. We were hurled headlong into a nightmare with no one to wake us up. If only we could have found and captured just one leprechaun and demanded three wishes, perhaps we might have acquired some of that Irish luck or a pot of gold, but there were no rainbows within our darkness.

Our mother was a yellow-haired enchantress who wore dangling orb earrings, tie-dyed dresses and crocheted sandals. She derived pleasure in casting her spells upon men of the cloth, and casting them aside.

Our father was a charming cellist of Cherokee descent, who loved melancholy women and chamber music. He wore shell necklaces and tapestry vests, and wrote short stories about legless hobo angels who traveled around in boxcars.

The three of us grew from pure sparkling seeds into distorted rootless trees.

A leprechaun counts his gold in this engraving...


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Dear Readers and Seekers,

In October when I released my Kindle Book on Amazon, I gave them exclusive rights and removed all of my memoirs from this site.  But I have decided to post a few book samples for you to enjoy since that is not breaking their rules.

If you click on the “Memoirs” tab above, you can read the entire sample.  It contains excerpts from Part I, II, and III.

I have not been posting here very much lately for a variety of reasons, but I do appreciate you stopping by, and I try to visit your blogs on a regular basis as well.

Peace & Grace,

Sister Olive

~♥~

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Book Sample

From “This World is Not My Home:  A Spiritual Journey”

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Foreword by Sparrow

What a story! It’s like a combination of a Charles Dickens novel (as the author’s pseudonym suggests), an LL Cool J song and an R. Crumb comic. This picaresque tale centers on love and food, which are often intimately connected. Olive spent many years searching for both, on the creepy highways and streets of America, where exploiters and saints waited to harm or aid her.

I first met Olive in 1975 in Gainesville, Florida. A couple hundred of us drifters had gathered in the “hippest” town in Florida, where Tom Petty was (unbeknownst to us) turning up his guitar. Olive resembled three fairytale characters rolled into one: Goldilocks, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood. She had pretty golden hair, quiet blue eyes and high cheekbones. Always she wore purple (but did she own more than one purple outfit?). She lived nowhere, and was accompanied by Katy, her green-clad “Lady-in-Waiting.” Olive was a singular blend of courage, innocence and mordant wit. I never saw her wear shoes, and I remember the hardiness of her feet, like a peasant’s in a Bruegel painting.

I am Sparrow because of Olive. Another Michael had begun working at Mother Earth Natural Foods, where I bagged raisins and almonds in the back room. Someone would call, “Michael!” and both of us would rush up front. “One of you could be ‘Mike,'” Dorothy suggested. I already hated my name, but the one worse option was ‘Mike.’ So I visited the Princess of Love, humbly requesting a new identity. “You be Sparrow; you look like a sparrow” were her words; I remember them exactly. Sparrow is my name still. As “Sparrow,” I’ve been published six times in the New York Times.

I remember dancing with Olive to free concerts at the University of Florida. She moved her body like a giggling ghost. Rarely did our little group speak about our former lives. Rather we ate barley soup — cooked by Isabel — and laughed together. Only tonight, reading This World Is Not My Home, did I learn the true story of Olive Twist.

Sparrow

Phoenicia, NY

October, 2013

~~

Wounded but Winged

I am writing this story, because words have wings that lift me above sorrow. My story is not intended to blame, hurt, or offend anyone. It begins and ends with compassion, because forgiveness can take the angry and guilty thorns out of us and allow healing to begin. Everyone can benefit from forgiving and being forgiven. Through compassion, we are set free to redeem ourselves and others.

The larva of this story has twisted and languished inside its gloomy cocoon for years gnawing at the edges of my mind and awaiting release. A dark bruised butterfly comes forth with wicked truth, fluttering with tattered wings. If she lights upon you gently, I hope something good will come of it.

~~

Frozen Tears: Part I

My brother and sister and I were all born in The Moon of the Snowblind, an unhappy month known for unpredictable weather, evil Ides, blustery winds, cold rains, and mischievous leprechauns. We were hurled headlong into a nightmare with no one to wake us up. If only we could have found and captured just one leprechaun and demanded three wishes, perhaps we might have acquired some of that Irish luck or a pot of gold, but there were no rainbows within our darkness.

Our mother was a yellow-haired enchantress who wore dangling orb earrings, tie-dyed dresses and crocheted sandals. She derived pleasure in casting her spells upon men of the cloth, and casting them aside.

Our father was a charming cellist of Cherokee descent, who loved melancholy women and chamber music. He wore shell necklaces and tapestry vests, and wrote short stories about legless hobo angels who traveled around in boxcars.

The three of us grew from pure sparkling seeds into distorted rootless trees.

A leprechaun counts his gold in this engraving...

~~

Flashes: A Child Remembers

Who murdered the minutes,

The bright shining minutes,

The minutes of youth? – Joan Baez

What did I do wrong?  I have been crying for a long time. I have been hot and hungry and sad. I have been waiting for the hands that take care of me, the eyes that study me, the lips that smile and make odd sounds. But they took a long time to come.

I have been choking on my tears. The curtains are open. The sun has been burning me through the window, and the blankets have made me sweaty. I have been crying and kicking my feet against the crib rails. My room was empty for too long. Now the hands seem angry as they yank at my clothes and blankets, and short hot puffs are coming from the mouth. The eyes are flashing. What did I do wrong?

I am jumping on the bed with my sister. We love to jump. We jump and twirl and fall down, tumbling on each other. We laugh until we are breathless. This is so much fun. The pictures on the wall are jumping too and swirling around us. Our hair floats up and down. We are so happy. I wonder how the pictures look upside down. I will find out when we finish jumping and jumping and jumping. We are having a good time. Suddenly the door opens, and our mother is mad. She wants us to stop.

Tonight we all go to see a movie called “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. It is at a drive-in theatre. There are lightning bugs around our car while we watch, and the metal box in the car window makes loud music and sounds. The dwarfs and the little animals are so funny. We all laugh together. When we drive home, I pretend to fall asleep in the back seat. Daddy thinks I am asleep and picks me up in his arms to carry me into the house. I want to be carried in like a baby. But I can’t stop smiling and Mommy sees me. She and Daddy laugh, but he carries me inside anyway.

My sister and I are playing outside and Mr. Cole from next door calls for us. He is in his garage, and he says he wants to give us some candy. We love candy, so we run inside. He closes the door to his garage and sits on a chair. He holds out a bag of candy. What a nice man! We walk over and reach our hands into the bag. Suddenly he reaches his cold rough hand into my panties, smiling. What is he doing?  I look at him with questioning eyes. He touches my sister the same way. We look at each other and at him, but we are confused. Why is he doing this? The candy tastes good, but something is wrong. Maybe we better go home. We leave quickly. Mr. Cole calls out to us, “Come and see me again tomorrow.” What a nice man!

I notice one day that Daddy has been missing, and I ask Mommy about it several times. She won’t say anything, but she looks sad. The house seems colder and so does our mother. My sister and brother and I are wondering what is wrong.

One day, Daddy comes to visit us. He doesn’t come into the house, but we meet him on the porch. He is so handsome. He brings his brown guitar and sings songs by Peter, Paul, and Mary. He holds me on his lap and asks me to sing. I am so happy with him near me, and I have missed him.

A lady is waiting quietly for him in a car that is parked by the house. I wonder why she doesn’t get out of the car and come over too. Who is that lady? I don’t like her. I am sad when Daddy gets into the car and drives away. After he leaves, I wander into the house. My mother is playing the dulcimer and singing softly:

I never will marry.

I’ll be no man’s wife.

I wish to live single

All the days of my life.

The shells in the ocean

Will be my death bed,

The fish in the water

Swim over my head.

Her sadness washes over me and my heart tries to surface for air.

Another day, a friend of our mother comes to visit, and Mother is not home. His name is John, and he has visited our house before. He is handsome like my Daddy. He plays the guitar too and I love to hear him sing.

My sister and I tell him we are home alone. He is very friendly and says he wants to visit us anyway. He asks us if girls and boys have the same stuff in their pants. We tell him no. He says he doesn’t believe us, that everyone must have a hot dog. We laugh and tell him that girls don’t have those. He says he doesn’t believe us. We decide to show him. He comes into our bedroom, and we take off our panties. He looks surprised and says that he is glad we showed him. Then he decides to show us his. He pulls down his jeans. It is scary and we start to scream and cry.

Our brother suddenly walks in from school and sees everything going on. His face turns red and he runs back out. We pull up our pants quickly. John pulls up his pants and leaves. My brother doesn’t talk to us and we are scared, and we hide in our room when our mother comes home. We know we are in trouble. Mother comes in with a hairbrush and spanks us with it. She never says anything, but we know we did something wrong.

One night Mother is angry and puts me outside the front door in the dark. I am crying on the front step and tapping on the front door. Please let me in. I am scared. Then a man in a car stops at the end of the sidewalk. He is smiling and calls out to me. I go to his car and he asks me to get in. We go for a nice ride and he gives me candy to eat. He brings me back home after I have stopped crying. My mother is on the step when we drive up, and she looks really angry. When we go inside, I see that her face is red and sweaty. She spanks me for going for a ride with the nice man in the car.

One summer, Mother takes us to Florida to see a family there. We are so excited. We get there and Mr. and Mrs. Linebaugh have three kids too. We all play together all day long. They decide to let us stay the night to play with their kids some more. Just before our mother leaves, they decide to let us stay all weekend! Wow! We will have so much fun.

We have a great time, and the food is good and their house is so big. But our mother doesn’t come when she is supposed to. A week goes by, then a month, and then the summer is almost over, and still our mother hasn’t come. Mr. Linebaugh decides to send us home on a Greyhound bus, and tells us our mother will meet us at the station.

We have a fun ride on the bus together, and we get to the station when it is dark outside. We wait and look for our mother, but she doesn’t come. It gets very late, and the police come and take us to their station. A nice policeman feeds us sandwiches, because we are hungry. He keeps making phone calls, and after a long time in his office, our mother comes and she looks very unhappy. After a long talk with the police, she takes us home.

But people start watching us after that. A neighbor says we don’t get enough food, because they invited us over to eat, and we stuffed ourselves. We are home alone late at night, feeling scared many times. One night, I try to cook eggs for us. I turn the burner on too hot, and the pan and the eggs start to smoke. I get scared and cut off the stove. I grab the pan and set it on a chair. It burns a hole in the chair. When our mother comes home, she spanks me because of the chair.

One evening a lady comes to the door. She asks for our mother, and we tell her she isn’t home. She asks if she can come in. We open the door, and our Siamese cat scratches her leg and tears her stockings as she comes in. Her leg has blood on it, so I tell her I know where the band-aids are. I run and get her one. She asks us about our mother, and where she is. We tell her that we don’t know. She asks us to take a ride with her in her car. It has a round symbol with words I can’t read on the side of it. We ride to an office building, where some people are sitting in rooms writing out papers, and a man says they are taking us somewhere else to live. We ask when we will be going home, but no one will answer us. What did we do wrong?

~~

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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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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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For I desire mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.  Hosea 6:6

Red red wineHe sat across the table from me, eyes damp and swollen.  I could smell the soft scent of cologne and red wine as my father studied my face sorrowfully.

He pointed towards the room upstairs where my son was seated and said, “He would not exist if I had not done this awful thing to you. He was a gift sent to help you because of what I have done. He is pure gold. He loves you so much, and you love him, and that is such a blessing for both of you.  As for me, I have been punished because when I finally found my true love, we could not have any children.  That is how I was repaid for what I did to you.”  I closed my eyes and could not find any words for reply; I knew that my father needed this moment even more than I did.

When he had finished speaking, he hugged and kissed me and I climbed the stairs to my little bedroom. My heart was a giant paperweight in my chest. Only one matter is important now: to humbly participate in this redemptive work with an open and forgiving 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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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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Rabbit Letter I have an old box of handwritten letters, and occasionally I take it down from my closet. I enjoy looking through them, seeing the peculiar handwriting styles of my friends and relatives, and the stationary they selected to deliver the message or the mood. The colors of ink and crayoned images, the light scents of people’s hands, the stains of coffee or tears or dirt, the scribbled art and poems make each one a unique piece of art filled with memories.

I find it sad that letters written by hand are becoming obsolete in our modern world.  It is difficult to find beautiful quality stationary these days.  Many stores sell cards for certain occasions, but there are few tools for real letter writers who enjoy mailing sentiments to people.

I have thought a great deal about dying traditions like letter-writing, and ways that I might help to restore some of the beauty and meaning that is being lost in our technological society.

Francis

Instead of just pecking out quick emails, I want to slow down and put forth the effort to buy or create pretty stationary, take out a fancy pen and write a letter by hand in my best cursive writing, seal it into an envelope with a charming sticker or two on the outside, and lick an artistic commemorative stamp to place upon it.  Then I’ll drive to the post office and slip it into the big blue mailbox. It’s the least I can do for people I love who have enriched my life.

It’s time to look for ways to slow down and enjoy moments and people more, to dig a little deeper for meaning.  Writing letters will be one of my contributions to this cause.  And maybe I can help save the post office too.

~♥~

(I am working on a series of editorials called “Dying Traditions” to be posted here as time permits.) 

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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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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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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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“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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(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”)

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”)

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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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.

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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.

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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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It’s funny the little things that can make your day, and this was one of them for me:  seeing my blog after one reader translated it into his/her language!  I adore the little snowballs hovering over the letters and I suspect it’s Scandinavian…

Click on the link below and presto chango!

http://translate.google.se/translate?langpair=en|sv&u=https://olivetwist.wordpress.com/category/quotes/

Snowflakes of happiness have fallen upon me!

Peace & Grace,

Sister Olive

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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 “A Cloud of Witnesses”)

Today is September 14, 2008 and I am standing before the church.  I can see Elder Thomas over my right shoulder as he reclines behind the lofty pulpit on a dark carved chair with velvety red upholstery.  To my left, his wife Annie and daughter Sheilah are seated with the church mothers, facing the altar.  I see Mother Lee opening her Bible, Mother General with her handbag tied to her walker, and Mother Hendrieth with weak shaky feet walking slowly down the aisle clinging to the arm of Donquarius.  Here comes Mother Craine towards the front row. The ladies hats are circled with lace and netting and brocade and braids of gold.  Their hats nod as the women whisper softly to one another.

To my right on the other side of the altar are the brothers: Deacon Williams with his stout strong frame, Deacon Hatten leaning forward with his hands on his knees, and Deacon Ronnie  wearing orthopedic pads and braces, while his crutches lean against the pew. His brother, Deacon Sammie stands near the white-gloved ushers at the back of the church.

Directly in front of me, I see Brother and Sister Spotford, who have been married a few months.  Her shoulder rests against his and their fingers are entwined.  Sister Hatten has come in from the kitchen to sit down next to where I usually am seated.  Sister Green, slender and graceful, is surrounded by her four lovely young daughters a few rows back on the right, and her mother rests at the end of the same pew next to the wall.  Sister Angela Passmore sits just in front of her, smiling softly and Sister Bertha is walking out of the office.

These are my brothers and sisters and parents by the Spirit.  Everyone is dressed in white today, because it is Missions Sunday, the second Sunday of the month.  How appropriate it is, considering the words I have been given about the bride. They look like a wedding party.

Today I shall be a mouthpiece for my Father. I have a message from the Spirit.  Two weeks or so ago, I was in prayer when I received this Word.  With apprehension, I asked God to give me a platform if it was truly His will for me to deliver it.  I never like to speak until I am sure.

Then it happened.  Sister Thomas, the pastor’s wife, called me yesterday and asked me to be the speaker this morning.  She said she would email me with the topic and scriptures.  After checking the email several times, I called her to let her know that her message had not come through.  I only had one night to prepare and now she was away from her computer, so she said “Just go ahead and speak on whatever you like.”

That is when I knew it was time.

I prayed earnestly last night, knowing that God had indeed given me the message and the platform.  The burden of the Word weighs heavily in my mind. I have no notes except for a scripture verse on a little card which is in my Bible.  All I can do now is to pray that His Spirit will come out of my mouth and do the work. Now it is time, and I am standing before the people of God.  This moment will always be frozen in my memory, as the day God let me speak with His voice inside of me.

I thank God for this opportunity to speak with you today.  This may come as a surprise to you, but God gave me a message for His people about two or three weeks ago.  I was in prayer by my bed after tossing and turning most of the night, as I kept pondering the state of the church, and why it is so powerless and hated in the world scene. I wondered why our district elder has been in his wheelchair for eleven years, and all of the saints together cannot pray well enough to bring about his healing. I kept crying and asking God, “What is wrong with us?  Where has our power gone?” 

The next morning, I awoke crying again and knelt by my bed and said, “Lord, why am I crying like this?” 

The Spirit of God broke into my thoughts, and said, “Because my heart is breaking, and I am sharing it with you.” 

“Why?” I asked. 

“Because the hearts of My people who are called by My name are not right before me, and I can’t come into my house, because I am holy, and I can’t come into an unholy place.” 

“Why are you telling me this, Lord?” I cried. 

“Because I want you to tell my people that I am holding them responsible for this lost generation, because they are driving people away from My Kingdom.”

I told the Lord that I would speak His words if He gave me a platform, because then I would know that they were true and not just my own imaginings or emotions. 

As you can see, God confirmed his message.  Sister Thomas called me yesterday to ask me to speak, so I am doing as I promised God I would do.

I will call this message today “The Bride of Christ”.

I will begin with a scripture in which Jesus is telling the Pharisees, “It is not enough that you will not enter the Kingdom of God yourselves, but you are also preventing others from entering.  You travel over land and sea to find one convert, and then you make him twice as much a son of Hell as yourselves.” 

Today, churches are still doing the opposite of what Jesus intended them to do. We are driving people away, instead of drawing them in.  The world sees the corruption and greed in the church and wants no part of it. They see through our programs and our polish and see everything for what it is.  Who do we think we are fooling?  We aren’t fooling people.  Or God, for that matter. 

There was a time when the world came to church when they had a need that they could not deal with on their own.  When they had exhausted all of their human powers and needed divine intervention, they came to church.  But now, the church is going into the world looking for what it has to offer.  One elder I know called this “spiritual adultery.”  The church is Christ’s bride, and has no part in the world. 

But we cut on our television and let the world tell us how to dress and wear our hair, how to make more money, and how to have a better sex life.  We have learned money-making skills from the world and are using them in the church. Religion has become a business today, a highly profitable business.

But God doesn’t operate like the world does. We should be focusing on God for all of our needs and letting Him guide us, but we are learning from people who are ruled by a different set of values.  We are citizens of another Kingdom, but we are bowing to the gods of the world. 

People make many excuses for why the church is so worldly.  “The church is a human institution” they say, so it can’t be perfect. But it is not a human institution, and it is supposed to be without a spot or blemish, according to the scriptures. It is a divine institution, and the first time the word “church” appears in the Holy Scriptures is when Jesus spoke of it to Peter and said “Upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” 

The world judges Christ based upon its view of the church, and that is how it will always be, regardless of the excuses we make.  You cannot tell the world to ignore the church and look at Christ.  They know that the church is supposed to be founded upon Jesus. 

The Bride represents the Bridegroom. Married couples represent each other whether they are together in public or apart. Mrs. Spotford here represents Mr. Spotford and he represents her even when they are absent from one another.  

The church is Christ’s Holy Bride, and her only focus should be making herself as pure and beautiful as possible to meet Him. This is all that she should be concerning herself with. Pleasing Christ.

Think about a wedding you have been to.  The anticipation of the Bride is intense.  Have you ever seen a bride looking ugly or ragged?  No, the bride prepares herself to look radiant and graceful and without a blemish.  The crowd enjoys seeing the flower girls, the ring-bearer, and the bridegroom waiting there.  But all eyes are looking for the Bride to come down the aisle.  She is the centerpiece, the jewel of the ceremony.  When the piano plays the bridal march for her coming, the crowd stands and stares at her glorious elegance and beauty. Has anyone seen an ugly bride?  I never have. 

But the Bride of Christ isn’t looking good at all.  She doesn’t even look like a bride.  She looks like something else. (Chuckles come from the congregation.)

The world is looking for a suitable Bride of Christ, and cannot find her.  As long as the Bride is corrupt, the world will continue to play and behave as they do.  When the people of God get serious, the world will follow suit.  When worldly people observe the saints falling at the altar weeping and repenting, they will do the same thing.

We must address the greed and the corruption. God never said that money was a seed of the Kingdom.  The seed was the Word of God.  We must stop trying to sell Jesus and the gospel to people, and stop oppressing the poor by constantly nagging them for money.  When evangelists on television and in our pulpits tell us to sow a seed (referring to money), they just want to reap a harvest.  Jesus said the seed is the Word of God, and the harvest we are seeking is souls.  Not money.  People are being tricked by religious leaders.

Jesus said if we cause one person to stumble and turn away from Him, it would be better to have a millstone tied around our necks and to be cast into the sea.  God is not pleased with His church and the scriptures say that judgment will begin in the house of God. 

I had a dream once that I was standing in a hotel lobby and a man came running in shouting “We need a sanctuary!  We need a sanctuary!”  Then there was a sound of weeping inside one of the hotel rooms down the hallway, and the door was open so I saw the man run inside that room. 

When I awoke, the thought came to me that a hotel room is where you go when you can’t go home.  The Spirit placed the thought in my mind that God cannot go into His House anymore, so He has to go to wherever people really want Him; in the hotel room, on the street corner, in the jail, in the hospital.  

Many times I have felt like giving up on the church, because I am so weary of the lies and deception.  But I love Jesus so dearly. I also love God’s congregation, and I have a vision of the Bride of Christ glowing and drawing people to God with her radiance and beauty and gentleness and love.  I just can’t give up on this vision. I hope that you will help me make this dream come true.

I am going to kneel at the altar now, and you may join me there if you like, but first let me read this scripture from Revelation 19:7-9:

“Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb’”.

It is done and I kneel at the wooden altar, and there I leave some diamond tears as a gift for my Beloved.  He comes to my side and places His invisible hand upon me. He is pleased with my offering today.

Then I feel an arm around my waist and a cheek pressed against mine.  It is Sister Hatten who is kneeling beside me. “That was beautiful,” she says softly.  As I pull myself off my knees, Sister Michelle comes and embraces me tightly, then Brother Spotford, then the pastor.  Elder Thomas’s eyes are sparkly and wet.  “We need more messages like that,” he says with earnestness.

~♥~

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(From “A Cloud of Witnesses”)

Sister Brenda was the wife of Deacon Proctor.  I always loved to hear her rich melodious prayers, and the way she clapped her hands as she prayed on her knees.  She had a beautiful glow about her face, and fiery eyes.

She composed her own spiritual music, and I learned many of her songs.  She and her husband would say that Brenda had a terrible speech impediment before she became a believer, and she used to be ashamed to talk to people.  But she said when she was reading about Moses and his fear of speaking, the Spirit assured her that He would help her.  I couldn’t tell that she had ever had a problem, but the deacon says she stuttered badly at one time.

One day in church, Sister Brenda was testifying and said, “Sometimes when I ask people if they are saved, they tell me they are just to keep me from bothering them anymore.  So now when they say that, I ask them what they were saved from.  If they can’t answer that, they probably aren’t saved.  A person who is truly saved is always anxious to tell people what God delivered them from.”

Once Sister Brenda approached me at church and said, “I dreamed about you last night.  You were climbing up a ladder, and I was right behind you.”

“Wow, that’s a really good dream,” I said. “I hope you haven’t had any dreams about us falling into a pit or anything.”

She laughed and shook her head, saying, “Sister Olive, I would’ve called you if I had a dream like that, and I would’ve said, ‘We need to shape up and get back on track.”

Sister Brenda died before I had finished writing about her. It’s ironical that she reached the top of that ladder ahead of me, and I am still trying not to lose my balance or fall down.

She passed away suddenly one Sunday morning in June.  I was in Tennessee at the time, and Elder Foster called to tell me the bad news.  He said, “As I was driving into the parking lot, I heard sirens and saw the ambulances pulling up,” he said.  “I thought it was one of the older members who had been having health problems, but as I went in, I saw Sister Brenda on the floor in front of the altar and the paramedics working hard trying to revive her.  They finally put her on the stretcher and took her in the ambulance, and she died at the hospital the next day.”  Sister Brenda was among the youngest women in our church, so it was a terrible blow to all of us.

Deacon Proctor lost his mother several weeks after losing his wife, and is still holding on by faith and inner strength. Ella Mae tells me that she finds it almost unbearable for her to hear anyone else sing Sister Brenda’s favorite song in church.  I can still hear it right now in my mind:

Just another day that the Lord has kept me

Just another day that the Lord has kept me

He has kept me from all evil

And my mind stayed on Jesus. 

Just another day that the Lord has kept me

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Sister Shirley is a radiant saint with a gift of mercy.  I have heard her speak about how she loves to visit the elderly people in her neighborhood, and rub them down with oil and give them comfort.  She visits people in the care home and sings songs about Jesus to encourage them.  She doesn’t mind doing the dirtier jobs and dealing with the more aggravating residents who no one else has patience with.  There is one woman who always has stool under her fingernails, and a nasty disposition to go along with it, but Sister Shirley sits by her bed and cleans her nails and talks gently with her.

Sister Shirley has had a lot of tragedy in her life, such as the drowning of her son when he was a teenager.  One Sunday, Deacon Proctor asked her if it was okay for him to speak about her son and she nodded.  But as the deacon talked about being in the hospital room when Sister Shirley’s son died, I saw her glasses fogging up with a mist, and she kept taking them off to clear them.

Sister Shirley was once stabbed by a woman and was taken to the hospital.  The doctor told her that the knife had missed her heart by less than an inch, and that she could have died. The woman who stabbed her has been released from jail and Sister Shirley always speaks to her with kindness whenever she sees her at the grocery store.  The woman glares at her as if she is crazy.

Sister Shirley had a terrible marriage, but remains friends with her ex-husband and often speaks to him about Jesus.  She has a son in prison that clings to her desperately whenever she visits and often calls her just to talk.

Sister Shirley has a quiet faith, despite all of the bad things that have happened to her, and she is a beautiful example of the love and compassion of God.

 ╬

(For More Portraits like this, see “A Cloud of Witnesses” category or page.)

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“A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.” Isaiah 42:3

I first saw and heard Elder Thomas at the district services.  He was hosting a Friday night Missions service, and I had never met him before.  He stepped up to the pulpit, a dignified and well-dressed man looking over his glasses at the congregation.  Because I thought his voice to be somewhat gruff, I thought that he must be stern and irritable, and that he was someone I would not want to annoy or make angry, because he wouldn’t put up with very much.  It is funny how we perceive people at first observance.

The second time I saw Elder Thomas was at a pastor appreciation service, and suddenly he ran down from the pulpit area to the front of the altar, where he began to dance in the spirit.  My whole conception was thus thrown out the window.

The third time I saw him, he was again at a district service, and he opened the service by saying, “You’re in the Holy Ghost headquarters now.”  I laughed when he said it, and my two guests also laughed about that.  I knew then that I really liked this man, and that I needed to hear him preach.

Soon thereafter, I visited a Sunday service at his church for the first time with my son. That Sunday, Elder Thomas preached from Ecclesiastes 12, and it was one of the most enjoyable and concise teachings I had ever heard.  Not only did Elder Thomas have a gift of teaching with great clarity, but he could make people laugh and enjoy the studying of it.  Whenever I cast a sidelong glance at my son, he was smiling a broad smile or laughing.

I don’t know quite where to begin to describe the incredible giftedness of Elder  Thomas.  He is remarkable in so many ways.  He says that when he was a young boy, he knew a great evangelist in the area named Mother Benjamin, and that he sought for God to give him a portion of the Spirit that was upon her.  He says it was quite difficult even as a young man to keep up with this tireless woman.  But, like Elisha who refused to leave Elijah, he followed her to the best of his ability until she left this world.

Elder Thomas is a gifted preacher, prophet, servant, shepherd, and prayer warrior.  He has a huge heart of compassion for the lost and suffering, and has a word from the Father of Lights for every occasion and every need.  He knows how to guide God’s flock to higher and deeper faith, and to their own personal callings from the Spirit.  I have seen people line up at the altar to receive “the Word of the Lord” from his lips, and I have seen God use him as a mighty instrument of mercy.

He has truly touched my life by his earnestness about the things of God, and his desire to see his people grow, and not wax cold and stagnant.  He knows how to encourage and how to correct, and with such skill and wisdom that only God could give.

(For more portraits like this, visit the page or category entitled “A Cloud of Witnesses”)

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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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“What is the Meaning of the Person of Gandhi the Indian?”

As a man of faith, you are troubled by the thought: what will Providence do with Gandhi? And what is the meaning of the appearance of this strange person among the statesmen and politicians of our time?

A warning from God. That is surely the meaning of the leader of the great Indian nation. Through that person, Providence is showing politicians and the statesmen of the world, even Christian ones, that there are other methods in politics than skill, wiliness and violence…

Fasting, prayer and silence! There is hardly a statesman in Europe or America who would not ironically see these three secrets of the Indian statesmen as three dry twigs pointed on the battlefield against a heap of steel, lead, fire and poison. However, Gandhi succeeds with these three “spells” of his; he succeeds to the astonishment of the whole world. And whether they want to or not, political lawmakers in England and other countries will have to add a chapter into their textbooks: “Fasting, Prayer and Silence as Powerful Weapons in Politics.”…

Those are the three sources of great spiritual power which make man victorious in battle and excellent in life. Is there a man who cannot arm himself with these weapons? And which crude force in this world can defeat these weapons? Of course, these three things do not include all of the Christian faith, but are only a part of its rules, its supernatural mysteries.

Sadly, in our time, among Christians, many of these principles are disregarded, and many wonder-working mysteries are forgotten. People have started thinking that one wins only by using steel, that the hailing clouds are dispersed only by cannons, that diseases are cured only by pills, and that everything in the world can be explained simply through electricity. Spiritual and moral energies are looked upon almost as working magic.

I think that this is the reason why ever-active Providence has chosen Gandhi, an unbaptized man, to serve as a warning to the baptized, especially those baptized people who pile up one misfortune on another upon themselves and their peoples by using ruthless and harsh means.

(This letter was written by St. Nicholas Velimirovic to a British Noble named “Charles B.”)

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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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I came across these lovely quotes while reading Twice-Told Tales today, and they really spoke to me:

 The mother’s character, on the other hand, had a strain of poetry in it, a trait of unworldly beauty- a delicate and dewy flower, as it were, that had survived out of her imaginative youth, and still kept itself alive amid the dusty realities of matrimony and motherhood.

…for all through her life she had kept her heart full of childlike simplicity and faith, which was as pure and clear as crystal; and, looking at all matters through this transparent medium, she sometimes saw truths so profound, that other people laughed at them as nonsense and absurdity.

From “The Snow-Image”

English: Twice-Told Tales by Hawthorne. Printe...

(For more of Olive’s favorites, click on the “QUOTES” page or category- look above or in the sidebar)

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This message really fed my spirit today, and I wanted to pass the nourishment on to my readers…

Milk & Honey

By: St. Silvanus the Athonite

The Lord greatly loves the repenting sinner and mercifully presses him to His bosom: “Where were you, My child? I was waiting a long time for you.” The Lord calls all to Himself with the voice of the Gospel, and his voice is heard in all the world: “Come to me, my sheep. I created you, and I love you. My love for you brought Me to earth, and I suffered all things for the sake of your salvation, and I want you all to know my love, and to say, like the apostles on Tabor: Lord, it is good for us to be with You.”

Source

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Simply Orthodox ☦ – In order to enter Paradise….

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John 11:35

~♥~

It’s the shortest verse in the Bible, often memorized by children looking for an easy passage to recite in Sunday School.  But those two words are full of meaning for me.  The writer put them together tightly in a separate verse to make the reader stop and take notice, to make an impression.

I’ve read many beautiful scriptures and sayings over the years, but I can’t say that I’ve ever read that “Buddha wept” or “Krishna wept” or “Zoroaster wept.”  I admire all of these people and their ideas, but for me it’s never been the same as Jesus.  I’ve seen the depictions of Krishna with royal blue skin sitting serenely in the lotus blossom, and the golden statues of Buddha so wise and noble.

But I’ve never read of mobs plotting to kill them. I’ve never noticed any of them appearing anguished, wounded, or sweating even one drop of blood or tears. Jesus is the only one who ever seemed genuinely human to me, with no jewels or rich garments or palaces or chariots.

If that isn’t enough, He is the only one who proved His divinity to me with miracles, the greatest of which was overcoming death itself by rising after three days in the grave.  He fought an amazing and painful battle on Earth.

He is my own personal Braveheart- the only One that ever could connect with me through my own personal pain, minister to my homeless soul or shed a tear with me.  I cannot speak for others, but for myself, there is no one like Jesus.  Because Jesus wept.

Sacred Heart of Jesus Statur - St. Peter's Chu...

~♥~

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Awhile back, I was trying to remember someone’s name, or should I say the daughter of someone.  My friend, Doris, has a daughter who is woken up each day by the voice of the Spirit.  He will say her name gently, and ask her to wake up and then He will say “This is what I want you to do today…”  At least that is what I’m told.  Okay, okay, it sounds delusional, I know.  But if you really want to go there, that makes me delusional- and you might as well throw in Moses, Elijah, Daniel, and the apostles, Peter, John, and Paul just for fun.  But anyway, that’s not the story I’m telling.

So, I couldn’t remember the name of my friend’s delusional, er, spiritual daughter, and it was bugging me a lot. I was so impressed with the story of her leadings that I wanted to write it down, but I couldn’t think of her name.  I pondered it all day, and it was on the tip of my tongue-  Lolita, no, Laverne, Lucinda, Lavidia, no, no, no.  It was driving me insane.  I finally stopped thinking about it and went to work that evening.  At Hallmark.

That night, as I was bored to tears with no customers, a woman and a little girl came in.  The woman went off to look at musical cards and painted wine glasses and polka-dotted key chains.  Her daughter came over to the counter to play around. I can’t remember what she was wearing.  I only remember the sweetness of her little face with freckles across her nose, and the soft wispiness of her brown hair, and the way her voice jingled, and most of all her playfulness.

First she took the beanie toys and lined them up by categories on the counter, and pretended the birds were jumping upon the row of bears.  Then she set them all neatly back into their bins with her small dimply hands.  Then she took out all of the foil-wrapped balls of candy and sorted them out by colors on the counter. Then she took the stuffed bunnies and lambs from the shelves and pretended they were talking to each other. After she played with each item, she politely put them away. She skipped around the carpet and did a few dainty little twirls.

About this time, seismic waves were starting to reverberate through the dry crust of my exasperated soul.  Her joy was so contagious that within a matter of minutes, living water began to spout its little undercurrents through my bedrock.  I was thinking that I was beginning to understand what Christ meant that we must be as little children to enter the Kingdom of God.

I must admit I was irritated when her mother finished shopping and brought her merchandise to the counter.  As I scanned the stationary and wall plaques and photo albums, I wondered if her mother knew what a prize God had given her. I placed everything into the purple bag and passed it to the woman and leaned over the counter.  I asked the little girl “What is your name?”

“Lydia,” she replied with a voice that skipped down the sidewalk of my mind into the sunlight.

That was the name I had been struggling to remember. God had reminded me of it in such a way that I could never forget it again.  He sent me a delightful little messenger to play with me because I am His child.  Just for fun.

~♥~

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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 thought some of my readers might enjoy reading the script from my 30-minute graduation lecture that I delivered in November of 2011 for my Master of Fine Arts degree.  I hope that you gain something from it, as I certainly enjoyed studying and preparing for it. I have posted the bibliography for you and it can be found in the sidebar under “Olive’s Pages.”

The Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani

~♥~

Madmen, Mystics, and Monks:  Memoir as a Spiritual Journey

In this lecture, I intend to focus upon how authors use literary devices to persuade readers to travel with them on a mystical journey and contemplate their concepts of truth.

Mystical writers face a unique set of challenges. Richard Goodman, author of The Soul of Creative Writing says that spiritual authors use words as soldiers to captivate readers and lead them into another reality. In Flannery O’Connor’s essay “The Grotesque in Southern Fiction” she writes:

…if  the writer believes that our life is and will remain essentially mysterious, if he looks upon us as beings existing in a created order to whose laws we freely respond, then what he sees on the surface will be of interest to him only as he can go through it into an experience of mystery itself.

The spiritual writer must avoid clichés in their language, and walk a tightrope with the reader in order to perform their delicate art of persuasion. The voice must be one of compassion and humility and three elements must be present in order to retain the interest of the doubter:

  1. The writer must establish a rapport with the reader immediately.
  2. The mystical writer should illustrate abstract ideas with realism.
  3. The writer must leave the reader with a sense of longing and mystery, to make them want to embark upon their own spiritual journey.

If these three ingredients are measured out carefully, the writer may succeed in this precarious art of persuasion. In this lecture, I will provide some examples of writers who successfully use these methods to disarm the skeptic and take their readers on a spiritual journey.  The passages I am using in this lecture are on your handouts, so that you can follow along if you wish. For the benefit of our poets and fiction writers, I am including a poem by contemporary poet Luci Shaw and a fiction excerpt from Pulitzer prizewinner Marilynne Robinson.

~♥~

Let’s Begin with the first step of Establishing a Rapport with the Reader:

Dianne Aprile, author of several books including The Abbey of Gethsemani: A Place of Peace and Paradox, lectured once about the similarities between writing and walking.  As a writer, I am trying to persuade the reader to walk with me, so that we can have a conversation. In order for a skeptical reader to willingly go on a spiritual journey with an author, the narrative voice must be magnetic in some fashion that causes doubters to let down their defenses and open a friendly dialogue. Without establishing a rapport, it is impossible to be persuasive, so this is the most important element in spiritual writing.

Several methods are very effective to establish rapport. Vulnerability engages the emotions of the reader with a sense of empathy.  Reflection causes the reader to think back upon their own experiences of a similar nature.  Humor makes the reader laugh and enjoy the conversation.

The first two examples I will use are writers who make themselves accessible to their readers through vulnerability.

Black Elk Speaks, translated by John Neihardt, is the memoir of Black Elk, a famous holy man of the Oglala Sioux and second cousin of Crazy Horse, who extends his hand to the reader in such a way that one cannot help but continue with him. His voice is clear, humble and inviting:

My friend, I am going to tell you the story of my life, as you wish; and if it were only the story of my life, I think I would not tell it; for what is one man that he should make much of his winters, even when they bend him like heavy snow?  So many other men have lived and shall live that story, to be grass upon the hills. 

One of the most compelling aspects of Black Elk’s style is the sorrow of his voice, and the sense of great longing.  This is a common element in mystical writing, because it creates a sense of the helpless human condition.

Rabi Maharaj describes his own helplessness in his memoir The Death of a Guru, which was written in 1977 and translated into over 60 languages.He describes being born into the Brahman caste in India and being groomed to be a guru.  He longed to interact with his father, a renowned guru, who spent the last eight years of his life in a trancelike state.

We never shared anything in our lives.  Because of the vows he had taken before I was born, not once did he ever speak to me or pay me the slightest heed.  Just two words from him would have made me unspeakably happy.  More than anything else in the world I wanted to hear him say, “Rabi! Son!”  Just once.  But he never did.  For eight long years, he uttered not a word, not even a quiet confidence to my mother…

The writer immediately invites the reader to share his heartbreak, to have a sense of his pain and vulnerability as he continues to describe his father:

How often I stood in front of this extraordinary man, staring into his eyes until I became lost in their fathomless depths.  It was like falling through space, reaching out to grab something, calling for someone, but meeting only silence and emptiness. (15-16)

By using language referring to space and fathomless depths, the reader is able to feel that his pain defied description or quantification.  Like space, his loneliness knew no boundaries. In a style similar to Black Elk, this author has expressed his pain to establish rapport with his reader.

Another common device is the use of existential reflections, in which an author recalls the time he first questioned how he fit into the scheme of things. The next two excerpts are examples of this kind of reflection.

In Robert Finch’s article called When You Wish Upon A Star: On the Evolution of Spiritual and Moral Thought,” the author reflects upon the first time he wondered if he really had any control of his life or destiny:

When I was a boy, I read a lot of science fiction. It seemed to me the most exciting and imaginative literature of the day—and to a boy of twelve, it probably was. I have forgotten most of what I read, but there is one story, Isaac Asimov’s “Nightfall,” that made a deep impression on me…

The author has already created a tone of mystery by mentioning the story called “Nightfall” and the strong feelings that were evoked when he read it, and the reader is interested in continuing this mysterious journey:

For a long time I didn’t know why I had been so affected by it, but now I think that reading the story provided my first inkling that our lives, our deepest selves, our collective psychological identity might be shaped and controlled by stars and other manifestations of the physical universe in ways we did not understand, or even suspect…

In this passage, the writer invites the reader to identify with his early moments of questioning, and to contemplate the mystery surrounding their own lives. Doing this in the context of science fiction adds to the sense of a great void and feeling insignificant within time and space.

Neela Vaswani writes of her childhood spiritual quest in You Have Given Me a Country.  She writes about her mother being a Catholic and describes her father’s religious heritage from India.  Listen to how she sets the stage in this passage:  “He was a traditional Sindhi, part Muslim, part Sikh, part Hindu, part Buddhist, and had been educated by Jesuits.” (22)  Because of the depictions of her parents, the reader is naturally curious as to where this will all lead. Then she proceeds to describe her anxiety about being unbaptized in a later chapter: “Baptism.  Such a small motion.  Water dropped onto the head.  I decided I would baptize myself.  I didn’t want to be Catholic.  I just wanted to be rid of the word heathen.  The way it hissed and bit.” The snake metaphor at the end is very effective to describe the questions and fears she felt about being a heathen. (76) After this,  she describes her own inquisitive nature and her visits to the library:  “I took out books.  A children’s Torah, heavy as a stone.  A Koran, river-blue.  The graphic Mahabharata in Amar Chitra Katha form- two frugal staples per comic spine.  The New Catholic Bible, martyr-red, in a sleeve of thick plastic.” (79) Instead of just stating that she was preoccupied with matters of religion, Vaswani allows the reader to go with her on her search and to see and feel the sacred texts, by using colors, weight, and texture.

It is important for the spiritual author to show their pathway to truth, and not just their arrival at a specific destination.

Some spiritual authors season their writing with touches of humor to make the reader comfortable with them, and the next two authors do this very artfully.

Andre Dubus grapples with the topic of injustice in his collection of memoirs entitled Broken Vessels, and he sets the tone with an allusion to a verse in the Psalms which says, “I am forgotten as a dead man, out of mind:  I am like a broken vessel”.  Then in his first story, Out Like a Lamb, he describes being called to watch over a farm and some sheep for some friends while they are away.  He expresses surprise at how unmanageable the sheep turned out to be:

And Christ had called us his flock, his sheep; there were pictures of him holding a lamb in his arms.  His face was tender and loving, and I grew up with a sense of those feelings, of being a source of them: we were sweet and lovable sheep.  But after a few weeks in that New Hampshire house, I saw that Christ’s analogy meant something entirely different.  We were stupid helpless brutes, and without constant watching we would foolishly destroy ourselves (4).

In this playful story with heavier undertones the sheep are a metaphor for humans, and the author makes the reader feel both brevity and pity for the sheep throughout the story, portraying them as helpless victims and describing the various ways that they “destroy themselves”.  The author artfully juggles humor and heaviness.

Marilynne Robinson also mingles humor in her 2005 Pulitzer award-winning novel Gilead, describing a group of religious children who decide to baptize a litter of kittens:

…They were dusty little barn cats just steady on their legs…I myself moistened their brows, repeating the full Trinitarian formula.

Their grim old crooked-tailed mother found us baptizing away by the creek and began carrying her babies off by the napes of their necks, one and then another.  We lost track of which was which, but we were fairly sure that some of the creatures had been born away still in the darkness of paganism…

Two or three of that litter were taken home by the girls and made into fairly respectable house cats…The others lived out their feral lives, indistinguishable from their kind, whether pagan or Christian no one could ever tell…

I still remember how those warm little brows felt under the palm of my hand… (22, 23)

This passage is rich with tactile detail that allows the reader to touch the furry warm brows of the kittens and feel the moisture of the creek water. The narrator of the story reflects in a believably childlike manner about this incident and wondering what the cosmic implications were.

In each of the passages so far, the spiritual writer has effectively created a rapport with the reader through vulnerability, reflection, or humor.

~♥~

The second step that I mentioned is that the spiritual author must “Illustrate the Abstract with Realism”:

Once the spiritual writer has established a rapport and lured the reader into a conversation, they can start to gently impart their concepts of truth. Realism is a valuable tool in the hands of a mystical author, because it allows the doubter to contemplate and vicariously experience the metaphysical. Personification, analogies, and recounting of events are far better than abstract statements of theology.  I will be using a variety of different authors to illustrate this point.

Transcendental poet Luci Shaw uses images and comparisons to cause the reader to make connections between objects and ideas, in her poem called “Royalty.”  She enables the reader to envision things, with her use of rich imagery.

He was a plain man
and learned no latin.

Having left all gold behind
he dealt out peace
to all us wild men
and the weather.

He ate fish, bread,
country wine and God’s will.

Dust sandalled his feet.

He wore purple only once
and that was an irony.

Shaw contrasts rich and poor through condensed images such as the plain man with dusty feet who left all gold behind, hung out with wild men, and wore purple only once. She cleverly lists God’s will with the foods and drink in the stanza about what Christ ate.  This allows the reader to make associations between food and drink and God’s will and to recognize all of them as sources of nourishment and strength.

Rabi Maharaj also uses physical detail as he writes about his mother in Death of a Guru, allowing the reader to fully experience the altar room:

Quiet, meditative, and deeply religious, she was not only father and mother to me but my first teacher in Hinduism.  How well I remember those early lessons learned as a little child sitting close beside her in the family prayer room in front of the altar with its numerous gods!  The heavy scent of sandalwood paste freshly marked upon the deities, the flickering deya flame attracting my eyes like a magnet, and the solemn sound of softly repeated mantras created an aura of holy mystery that held me spellbound…

Those unblinking eyes of clay and wood and brass and stone and painted paper seemed to watch me when I was not watching…(20)

The author allows the reader to smell the sandalwood paste, to see the flickering deya flame, and to hear the sound of the mantras. The images of the deities on the altar seem somewhat terrifying with their “unblinking eyes.”  By describing tangible objects, the author allows the reader to experience the intangibles.

F. Kefa Sempangi is the author of A Distant Grief which is his story of being the pastor of “The Redeemed Church” in Uganda in the 70’s during the brutal reign of Idi Amin.  He describes a church having an identity crisis because of western leadership. Sempangi beautifully depicts one of their prophetic leaders becoming frustrated.  In some sense, he uses the character of Katongole to personify the Holy Ghost:

On this day, Katongole wore the long white traditional robe of the Baganda men and we talked together for several hours about the present crisis in the Ugandan church.  The longer we talked the more angry Katongole became.  Finally, he could contain himself no longer.  He stood up from his chair and, glaring with wisdom, delivered an impassioned lecture.

“The church has made many mistakes,” Katangole said, pronouncing each word distinctly. “We have had political independence for 10 years and the church is not yet free.”

The physical description of Katongole is powerful with rich phrases such as “glaring with wisdom” and the way that he was “pronouncing each word distinctly.” The image of a stately black man in a long white robe is in itself compelling and the reader can almost hear his voice. The deep sigh of the prophet is important because it causes the reader to pause, and adds drama to his message.

Katongole took a deep breath and continued speaking.  “We are like Samuel and Eli in the Bible,” he said.  “For all of Samuel’s life he worked in the Temple and all his life, Eli stood between him and God… Samuel could not believe that God wanted to talk to him alone…

Instead of hearing God’s message to us as Africans, we have heard an enculturated gospel.  We cannot believe that God wants to speak to us in our own language. (40-41)

Rather than merely writing a factual narrative about the identity problem in the African church, Sempangi paints an exquisite portrait of a spiritual event. The reader can see and hear the leadings of the Spirit in Africa at that moment.

Black Elk also uses strong images and metaphors in the telling of his spiritual journey. He awakens all of the reader’s senses and his writings pulse with creatures and plants and landscapes. Here he describes a vision in which he saw the son of Wanekia, the Great Spirit:

They led me to the center of the circle where once more I saw the holy tree all full of leaves and blooming…Against the tree there was a man with arms held wide in front of him.  I looked hard at him, and I could not tell what people he came from.  He was not a Wasichu (white man) and he was not an Indian.  His hair was long and hanging loose, and on the left side of his head he wore an eagle feather.  His body was strong and good to see, and it was painted red…while I was staring hard at him, his body began to change and became very beautiful with all colors of light…He spoke like singing:  “My life is such that all earthly beings and growing things belong to me.  Your father, the Great Spirit, has said this.  You too must say this.”  (188)

It is appropriate for the visionary to use elevated language and vivid imagery. The serenity of his voice shows the enormity of his faith and adds credibility to his belief in a parallel earth where he and his people will finally dwell in peace.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian and Lutheran pastor who was executed for his resistance to Hitler and the Third Reich.  In his collection of essays entitled The Cost of Discipleship he uses analogies to explain theological concepts.  In this passage, he writes about the difference between what he calls cheap grace and costly grace:

Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares.  The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices…grace without price, grace without cost! 

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again…the door at which a man must knock.   (Bonhoeffer, 43, 45)

These analogies allow the reader to understand Bonhoeffer’s assertions.  His usage of metaphor is effective because it is easy to understand that something priceless should not be sold at discount prices. Anyone can understand that you must knock before entering someone’s house, and that if you found a treasure hidden in a field, you would happily sell your belongings to purchase the field and acquire it.  That is why realism works so well to describe complex philosophical ideas.

Saint Augustine artfully juxtaposes physical description with the metaphysical in his Sermon for Christmas # 13, in which he describes the birth of Christ:

He nudges the stars, but nurses from the breast.

He fills the Angels, speaks in His Father’s bosom, says nothing in His mother’s lap…

Look at how he miniaturized Himself so that He could lie in that manger.  That doesn’t mean He had to leave something behind in order to fit.  He just received what He wasn’t while remaining what He was.

Augustine presents the impossible so casually and physically that it almost sounds logical and scientific, presenting the notion of the divine presence being in many settings at once.

In each of the examples in this section the writer uses realism to depict the spiritual realm, allowing the intangibles to become tangible to readers.

 ~♥~

Now we come to final step, which is to Leave the Reader with a Sense of Longing and Mystery:

An effective spiritual writer will leave the reader with questions and a desire to embark upon their own truth-seeking journey.  The writer must present their pilgrimage as an ongoing process as opposed to a creating a sense of finality.

Luis Bunuel, the iconoclastic Spanish filmmaker and surrealist writer expresses his dislike of those who become too smug about their religion in his autobiography:

I have always been on the side of those who seek the truth, but I part ways when they think they have found it.  They often become fanatics, which I detest, or if not, then ideologues:  I am not an intellectual and their speeches send me running.  Like all speeches.  For me, the best orator is the one who from the first phrase takes a pair of pistols from his pockets and fires upon the audience.

This illustrates why it behooves the spiritual writer to be open about all of his human frailties, and leave the reader with a sense that he is still progressing, but has not arrived. There must be an air of mystery in order to stimulate the reader’s desire to seek truth on their own.  I will use very different sources to demonstrate the importance of ending with a sense of mystery.

Saint Augustine describes his limited capacity to understand the divine in one of his sermons about the incarnation, remarking:  “Well, how should I know?  I’m only a human being.  I don’t know why God was begotten.  I’ve labored to find out, I must say.” 

Donald Miller writes in his book Blue Like Jazz that he used to dislike jazz because of its lack of structure and the fact that it doesn’t resolve.  But he ends his memoir with a comparison between spirituality and jazz music:

The first generation out of slavery invented jazz music.  It is music birthed out of freedom.  And that is the closest thing I know to Christian spirituality.  A music birthed out of freedom.  Everybody sings their song the way they feel it, everybody closes their eyes and lifts up their hands.

He implies that everyone finds spirituality in their own way, not through conformity with traditions. He invites readers to seek God in their own style.

I will close with one final example of how C. S. Lewis successfully leaves the reader with a sense of longing, in this passage from The Four Loves.  Lewis uses a voice of humility, admitting that we humans often delude ourselves into thinking we are closer to God than we really are:

Those like myself whose imagination far exceeds their obedience are subject to a just penalty; we easily imagine conditions far higher than we have really reached.  If we describe what we have imagined, we may make others and make ourselves believe that we have really been there…

Then the author proceeds to describe the unfulfilled longings we carry around in our innermost being, using beautiful similes, and an analogy of dreaming and waking:

If we cannot “practice the presence of God”, it is something to practice the absence of God, to become increasingly aware of our unawareness till we feel like men who should stand beside a great waterfall and hear no noise, or like a man in a story who looks in a mirror and finds no face there, or a man in a dream who stretches out his hand to visible objects and gets no sensation of touch.  To know that one is dreaming is to be no longer perfectly asleep.  But for news of the fully waking world, you must go to my betters.

OLIVE TWIST ©2011

~♥~


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I had a dream that I was standing in the grass behind a great Victorian style mansion with a woman who healed animals.  It was a gusty and cloudy day. The sky was full of birds soaring through a web of branches and wind, and she could just reach out her hand and catch a bird.

She held them and turned them over lovingly, inspecting their stomachs and legs and wings for wounds or diseases.  As she touched their infirmities with her beautiful graceful hands, they were instantly healed.  Then she opened her hands and released them.

She also attended to a small sick kitten, feeding it green grapes as part of its healing.  I knew something spiritual was happening, because a predator was eating fruit.

Isaiah the prophet wrote of how “there would be no hurt or harm” in the Holy Mountain, and I can’t help but notice there seem to be more animals than humans there, and more children than adults:

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9)

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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 father told me a beautiful story of how they celebrate and reenact Good Friday and Easter in Mallorca, Spain where he lives.  First, they choose a young man from the village to portray Christ.  Then they choose other villagers to play the Roman soldiers and the two thieves and other important characters.

The young man in his complete costume with his robe and crown of thorns carries the cross throughout the village and he pauses to reenact the stations of the cross.  When he arrives at “Golgotha” he is crucified between the two thieves, and when he dies, all of the village churches darken their lights until Sunday morning.  On Easter morning, the bells chime and all the lights are cut on for sunrise services.

When I heard this story, I thought how sad it is that in America, which is known throughout the world for freedom, we are restricted from religious festivities in public places, and how much I would love to see such a beautiful event in my own country.

I want to wish everyone a meaningful Good Friday and Easter, as we commemorate the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ in our own hearts.  These events are so inexplicable and unspeakably beautiful that I will not even attempt to compete with greater minds on this subject.  I will simply ask that you contemplate the force of divine love behind these events this weekend with me and others around the world, and give thanks for all that was accomplished by Christ for every one of us.

As it says in one of my favorite hymns:

They bound the hands of Jesus in the garden where He prayed,

They led Him through the streets in shame,

They spat upon my Savior, so pure and free from sin,

They said “Crucify Him! He’s to blame.”

 

Upon His precious head they placed a crown of thorns,

They laughed and said behold the King,

They struck Him and they pierced Him, and they mocked His holy Name,

Alone He suffered everything.

 

(Chorus)

He could have called ten thousand angels

To destroy the world and set Him free.

He could have called ten thousand angels

But He died alone for you and me.

~♥~

 

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This is a beautiful song written by an old friend of mine named Tim, and I loved it from the first time I heard him sing it at a Christian coffeehouse in Oregon, accompanied by his faithful guitar. He started out by saying “This song is based on the last words of Jesus to His disciples…”  After that, I used to request it again whenever he came, and I learned to sing and play it on my own.  I have played and sung it in quite a few churches since that day:

~♥~

Won’t you tell me, please,

Do you love me more than these,

More than the wealth of things that you possess?

Don’t you realize

You’ve got to open up your eyes?

Listen now, to my last request.

 

(Chorus)

If you love me, feed my sheep,

If you care, feed my lambs,

If you’re my friends,

Take care of my little ones.

 

For their angels are constantly before my father.

Suffer little children to come unto me.

For if you give a cup of water only in my name,

A reward will come unto thee.

(Repeat Chorus)

 

If anyone should cause the least of my disciples

To stumble and to turn his back on me,

It would be better to have a millstone tied around his neck,

And to be cast into the deepest sea.

(Repeat Chorus)

 

So, if you still think that things are so important,

Then you’re blind, just as blind as you can be.

For if you still think that things are so important,

Tell me, where will you spend eternity?

~♥~

By Tim Peters

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Here’s another poem from one of my “Paper Angels”

~♥~

I saw the omnipotent’s flaming pioneers

Over the flaming verge which turns towards life

Come crowding down the amber stairs of birth;

Forerunners of a divine multitude,

Out of the morning star they came

Into the little room of mortal life.

I saw them cross the twilight of an age,

The sun-eyed children of a marvelous dawn,

The great creators with wide brows of calm,

The massive barrier breakers of the world,

And wrestlers with destiny in her lists of will,

The labourers in the quarries of the gods,

The messengers of the Incommunicable,

The architects of immortality.

Into the fallen human sphere they came,

Faces that wore the immortal glory still,

Voices that communed still with the thoughts of God,

Bodies made beautiful by the spirit’s light,

Carrying the magic word, the mystic fire,

Carrying the Dionysian cup of joy,

Approaching eyes of a diviner man,

Lips chanting an unknown anthem of the soul,

Feet echoing in the corridors of Time.

High priests of wisdom, sweetness, might, and bliss,

Discoverers of beauty’s sunlit ways,

And swimmers of Love’s laughing fiery floods,

And dancers within rapture’s golden doors,

Their tread shall one day change the suffering earth,

And justify the light on Nature’s face.

~♥~

By Pamela

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An old friend of mine named Margaret gave me this poem years ago, and I find it to be appropriate with Spring upon us.  I don’t know if it’s just me, but I read deeper spiritual meaning into this piece, and a tale of the ongoing warfare between darkness and light. And the King reminds me of Someone too.

Margaret may not have intentionally depicted this struggle, but I’m curious if you can see it too…

~♥~

The lady of the forest rode

Beyond her green land strand.

She sought to find the king’s highway

And come upon his land.

She wished to reach the castle keep,

And speak unto the king

Who held within his castle walls

A key, a song, a ring.

She rode upon a palfrey bold

Who trappings were of chains of gold.

And in her arms she gently bore

A book of tales of old.

A sorrow lay upon her brow

That once had been so clear

And pain was grieving her swift eyes,

Leaving them cold and sere;

For the man with the twisted stick

Who hobbled through the land

Had left her trees ungreened and dead,

Had chilled them with his hand.

His beard was long and purely white,

And round his brown he wore

A frozen band of clear crystal

That glittered edge to core.

He left behind him cold white tracks

That filled with cold white snow,

And he cast aside with careless aim

Red berries there to grow.

Upon his shoulder a raven sat

As black as starless sky,

And croaked into his ancient ear

All tales of far and nigh.

The lady of the forest rode

Up to the good king’s keep,

And called and cried to be let in

To tell why she did weep.

He asked her then what was her haste

To which she did reply,

The twisted man who held a stick

Made everything to die:

He came in greyness and in white,

Was ravager of gardens,

And gentle though she always was,

She could not give him pardon.

Not knowing name for such a one,

In herself she called him grief,

For he destroyed all that he saw,

And she now sought relief.

The wise king was a gentle man,

And knew her heart’s hard plight.

He knew her love of living things,

How she guarded with her might

The heather nests of newborn fawns,

The dim dawn’s first grey light,

The fragile wings of silver moths,

The fragrance of the night.

Yet there was nothing he could to

To drive the man away,

For only Time has power enough

To make him come or stay.

And Time who waits upon the hill

Has never heeded mortal call

But sifts the sands by his own whim,

Controlling redemption, rise and fall.

The lady of the forest felt

Some comfort from the king,

For the named Old Man Winter,

He promised her that Spring

Would follow at his heels,

And dance the gardens from the ground,

For Winter had power but for awhile

To whiten sight and sound.

But Spring, renewer, giften green

Upon the weary Earth,

Would bring an end to sorrow’s rule,

To coldness, death, and dearth.

Winter, the man so bent with age,

Whose glance freezes and touch kills,

Will know the end of his long rule,

And will return to the hollow hills.

He will leave the forest and the rills,

And hobble back to the hollow hills.

By Margaret

~♥~

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(The Iris Diaries)

“And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy.” Hosea 2:19

A lady with silver hair dropped her lilac-colored slippers beside her bed, and crawled under the lavender chenille bedspread.  She dreamed that she was traveling on a familiar path with a group of hikers.  There was a deep sense of peace as they all walked together and talked with soft voices.  The grass and trees were lush and green, and they came to a brook with pebbles and rocks in it.

The lady was slower than the other hikers and afraid that her feet might slip.  The guide stopped everyone and came back to where she was struggling along.  She recognized him from another dream!  He held out his hand and walked with her through the water to the other side, and she felt the strength of his arms as he held her up.

She asked him, “Are we still headed north?”  “Yes”, he said, “sometimes it may not look like it, because the road winds around at times, but you can rest assured that we are still headed the right way.”

Then the leader addressed the group, “Some people are going to be passing us in a moment.  Just ignore them.  Don’t listen to anything they tell you.”

Just then, a strange crowd drifted by.  They were flat and fluttered in the breeze as if they were cut out of paper.  Their faces were very odd and evil in appearance.  They were headed the opposite direction, and laughed as they passed the hikers, saying, “What’s wrong with you guys?  You’re heading the wrong direction.  Can’t you see that?  How stupid can you be?”  They kept laughing wickedly, and the lady was glad when they had passed by. Everyone trusted the guide and whatever he said, and there was a beautiful sense of love and unity among the travelers.

The lady woke up with a familiar feeling of peace around her.  She had often visited this world of warmth and brightness in her dreams, and felt that she belonged in these idyllic forests and meadows with soft pastel skies and dew sparkling on the flowers.

Sometimes a beautiful fox would appear, and she would run like a child laughing out loud as she chased it. In her recurring dreams she was young and strong, and her heart would ring with joy as she ran.

One night, she dreamed that she was at a beautiful wedding banquet and she recognized a man that she knew.  He had on exquisitely lovely garments when she saw him, made of unearthly looking fabrics in rich hues.

She also dreamed once that the stones in her rings were all being removed and replaced with new stones.  She saw the most incredible gems she had ever seen, and she was told that she could pick anything that she wanted.

Once she dreamed she had been serving the familiar man, when he suddenly made her sit down and he massaged her feet, and asked her how she was doing.  She was astonished by this act of humility, because she only wanted to serve him. He gave her a diamond ring that had been glowing on his own right hand, and light was streaming from the stone in golden threads.  He said that he would only give the most beautiful gems to his daughter or his bride.

The lady woke up shivering with joy and peace, and tears sparkled in her eyes.  She loved this man more than life itself.  In a previous dream, she had asked him the way to the gates of the city, and he had handed her a key without giving directions, as if she already knew how to get there.

Now she possesses two priceless gifts- a key and a ring.

“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.”  John 14:1-4

~♥~

Photo came from Simply Orthodox ☦

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(The Iris Diaries)

“The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word the one who is weary.”(Isaiah 50:4)

I met a young woman named Amber Fox at McDonald’s one morning.  She wore a beautiful plum tie-dyed Woodstock sweatshirt that drew my attention.  Her thick auburn hair was cut over her ears and above the neckline of her shirt, and she was very shapely and slim with dark blue jeans and sporty nylon sandals.  Her eyes were large and green, and freckles dotted her cheeks.  Her voice was strong with some sort of New England accent.

For some reason, we began almost immediately to talk about God and Amber said she had a hard time with churches, because she always felt so dirty compared to everyone else, and she would end up just going for food. “I don’t think people in church are damaged enough for me” she said, stroking her hair nervously with her fingers.  “They seem so perfect and they treat me like I’m possessed or something.”

“I’ve been damaged a lot too,” I said. “But thankfully, Christ doesn’t look upon us in the way that many church people do.  Just think about the kinds of people he hung around with.I was reading yesterday about the woman who had been bleeding for years, until she touched the robe of Jesus as He walked by.  Jesus felt power go out of Him, and stopped in His tracks, and asked who had touched Him.  When I first read it, I thought Jesus was angry with the woman for touching Him without permission.  But then it came clear to me that He knew how damaged she was, how she had been a reject from the temple for many years, and He didn’t want her to disappear into the crowd without talking with her.  He just wanted to take time and minister to all of her needs before she left.”

Amber’s eyes began to fill with tears and I touched her arm. She suddenly blurted out that she had lost count of how many abortions she had had, but she remembered at least seven. Her hands were shaking from deep anguish and the doorway of her soul flung wide open. After all of the condescension she had experienced from religious people, I marveled that she was willing to make herself so open and vulnerable.  She somehow knew that I would not judge her.

“Amber, God loves brokenness in people, and the scriptures say that He never turns away a humble spirit.  When someone is broken, God can get inside and start repairing the issues of the heart.  I love mosaics, and think they are especially beautiful because they are made of broken pieces.”   As Amber wiped away tears with her hands, she said, “This is so weird, because I have been making mosaics lately.”

I read from John 14, where Jesus says to let not our hearts be troubled, because He is going to prepare a place for us, so that we can be with Him.  I talked with her about the Holy Ghost that teaches us concerning all things, and Amber asked with surprise, “You mean that you can have a direct connection?”  “Yes,” I replied, and Amber was amazed by this.

We prayed together, and I encouraged her to keep on seeking a closer walk with God and His Spirit until she finds her peace, and that it would be as clear as a cloudless day. Amber was only passing through town that day, so I knew that I would never see her again.  But I often wonder about her and how she is doing.

(Name was changed for this woman’s privacy)

~♥~

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I wish to thank my old friend, Sparrow, for this treasure he gave to me many years ago.  While the language is very simple in its style, the undercurrents are very deep and powerful.

 

You know, I’d do anything to make people think about Jesus;

I’d walk on nails or go down in the ground.

Cause when they see His face and they understand

That He’s us,

Then they’ll know that Jesus is all around.

I met a brother on the path

And he started to laugh.

He said, “This path leads in Circles,

Round and round.”

I said I had to agree,

But I asked him, “Can’t you see

That it’s not the path

But the way that you walk that counts?”

I met a sister deep in prayer

And her face was lined with care.

She said, “When will they

Let me out of this cage?”

And I told her, “The cage is you,

And you’re the keeper too.

And you’ll let yourself out

When you see there’s no one to blame.”

I’d do anything to make people think about Jesus;

I’d walk on nails and go down

In the ground.

Cause when they see His face and they understand

That He’s us,

They’ll know that Jesus is all around.

(Jesus gonna shut you down.)

Jesus is all around.

By Sparrow

~♥~

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QUESTIONS?

Don’t go ’round confused– if you have anything you wish to ask me about my faith, my life, or my statements, please ask me.  I would like to have more dialogue with my readers, and to clarify anything that may be unclear.

If I am able to answer your question, I will do so in the most conscientious manner possible. Be aware that I don’t haggle over non-essential doctrine or anything that might create unnecessary controversy or division in the Body of Christ. We need more unity, and less fragmentation.

Also, it goes without saying-  I don’t know everything…don’t ask me the stuff your two-year old is asking you, like “How did God get here in the first place?” and “How come everything isn’t perfect?”  I might try to answer and make a real fool out of myself, but you wouldn’t want that, now would you?

So now that we’ve cleared up the ground rules, I am going to start a page entitled “Dear Olive,” so you can submit your inquiries using the “comment” link.

Peace Be With You,

Sister Olive

~♥~

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As soon as I saw this wounded heart, I knew this message was going to resonate with me, and I was right!  If you’ve been hurt, you should read what this writer has to say about choosing whether to be healed or to remain injured and/or angry.

I just discovered this site today, and I hope you’ll stop in and give this author a blog-warming.  He has a beautiful style and voice.

Peace & Grace,

“Sister Olive”

~♥~

Klarion Kall

Pain is like one the universal experiences in life;not only because of how it impacts us all, but in the fact that we all will experience it.  Particularly, we all have or will experience hurt from betrayal at the hands of a friend whose words have cut us deeply. Being “stabbed in the back”, humiliated and or devastated by someone we know is an all to common phenomenon.  Pain and hurt is a straw we’ll all pull in life, but healing is not guaranteed, you have to choose it.

When the dust has settled, the liar/attacker has fled, and you don’t have to defend yourself anymore, its time to choose healing.  It can almost seem unfair that you can be innocent and injured by lies and deceit and left alone to do all the work of getting yourself back together. I’m not saying its fair, but I know we have to do it.  I’m not going to ignore God’s role in this, but I want to emphasis our…

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“And the twelve were with Him, and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities—Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him from their substance.” (Luke 8:1-3)

Of all of the women in the New Testament, I most identify with Mary Magdalene, the woman who was about to be stoned for committing adultery.  Most of you already know the story of how Jesus rebuked a group of men with stones in their hands and said that whoever was without sin should cast the first one, and they all walked away.

Jesus was not only defending the woman, but acknowledging that a woman cannot commit adultery by herself.  “Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.” After everyone had left, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you? She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”[1]

After saving her, one might have expected Him to say, “Now go and get married and be a dutiful wife from now on.”  But He released her in that moment, and she henceforth became a witness and a disciple in her own right.

After this, the Pharisees came arguing with Christ that He did not have authority to do the things He was doing.  He answered them saying, “You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one.”[2]  He said that He had the authority to judge, but chose not to exercise it.  If Jesus did not hasten to condemn, then why must Christians be so judgmental?

He told the religious leaders “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.  If the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed…”[3]

After she was liberated by Christ, Mary traveled everywhere that Jesus went and offered financial support for His ministry.  She was a very important figure who witnessed His earthly ministry, crucifixion, and burial.  She was the first person to see the resurrected Christ.

Consider the story of the woman at the well.  She was a Samaritan, and Jesus was a Jew, and by law they were not supposed to interact at all.  But Christ chose to interact with her when He humbly asked her for a drink of water.  At one point Jesus asked her to call for her husband.  She said, “I have no husband” and He replied “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.”[4]

Again, if one of the religious leaders had been there, he would have ordered her to get married or fulfill her expected role in society.  But Christ did not do this, and she also became a disciple.  She could not wait to tell everyone she knew that she had met the Messiah.  “And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’”[5]

Mary the sister of Lazarus was another great woman of God, who loved to listen to Jesus teach.  When Martha tried to get Jesus to make Mary work with her in the kitchen instead of spending time with Him, He rebuked Martha saying “Mary has chosen the better part, and that will not be taken from her.”  He clearly allowed Mary to fulfill her own heart’s desires, and this Mary also became a powerful disciple.

On one occasion, at a feast in the home of a wealthy man named Simon, Mary came in and washed Jesus feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and poured expensive perfume on his feet.  The men in the room were appalled and made mockery of her, and whispered among themselves that Christ did not know what kind of woman she was.  He knew their thoughts and harshly rebuked them.  He said that the woman would always be remembered for this act of affection that she bestowed on Him, and told Simon that he could learn a lot from her behavior about how to treat the Lord. Christ had a pattern of showing love and dignity to women, and He could not endure to see them mistreated by anyone.

In the eighth chapter of Luke, Joanna and Susanna are mentioned as women who take care of Christ’s needs “out of their substance.” A friend of mine and I had once discussed the fact that Christ had no house, chariot, money, job, or any comforts that most people enjoy, and we had wondered how His clothes were cleaned and things such as that.  Then we found our answer in this passage with the women who cared for Jesus.

Imagine the bravery of Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward, to be helping Jesus after the male babies had been slaughtered and John the Baptist had been beheaded by this same king!  In many ways, she showed more courage than the twelve disciples did. But she considered it a privilege and a joy to take care of the Lord.  Women were always coming forward to take care of things that the men were unwilling to attend to.

When the rich young ruler came and tried to argue with Christ about the law, I don’t read that he offered to contribute money to help with the ministries of Jesus and the disciples.  There are other men who said that they wanted to follow Christ, but after He told them that He was homeless, they lost interest in following Him.

But the women were always there.

After Christ was crucified, the scriptures say that the women were still lingering around the tomb weeping for Jesus when the men had given up and were complaining that Christ had not saved them from the Romans. In John 20 and 21, the disciples didn’t even recognize Christ after He appeared to them several times, and they all went out fishing.

In the early church after the resurrection of Christ, women continued to play an important role in furthering the gospel.  The apostle Paul mentions Priscilla and Aquila in his epistles, and scholars say that he mentions Priscilla first because she was recognized as being more gifted in the ministry than her husband.  Lydia the purveyor of purple cloth helped support the work of the apostles, and Dorcas was so important in one community that Paul raised her from the dead.

Kathleen Norris writes in her book The Cloister Walks that theologians have never forgiven Christ for coming through the body of a woman.  She states in her chapter about virgin martyrs that the men could not bear to kill holy women without raping them first, because they thought of them only as devices for the pleasure of men.

Today we still see this attitude within the context of Christianity, that a married woman is expected first to serve her husband and then God.  Women are considered second-rate citizen in the Kingdom of God by many denominations, and leaders take scriptures out of context to support this errant view.  As a result, women in some churches are not permitted to speak or to lead, because it is believed that their only suitable roles are child care and baking cookies.

This subject was addressed in an article entitled “The Head of the Epistles,” which appeared in Christianity Today in 1981. The writers explain that the “head” was a metaphor for the enabler of the body, not the ruler:

Paul’s word order also shows he was not thinking of chain of command: Christ, head of man; man, head of woman; God, head of Christ.  Those who make it a chain of command must rearrange Paul’s words.  In fact, Paul seems to go out of his way to show that he was not imputing authority to males when he said, “For as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman.  And all things are from God. (1 Cor 11:12)

     …As Christ is the enabler (the one who brings to completion) of the church, so the husband is to enable (bring to completion) all that his wife is meant to be.  The husband is to nourish and cherish his wife as he does his own body, even as Christ nourishes and cherishes the church. (vs.29)

It is very clear to me from reading scripture and particularly the “Parable of the Talents” that we are expected to use all of our gifts to promote the Kingdom agenda. No one should be hindered in doing their best work for Christ.

OLIVE TWIST ©2012


 http://www.godswordtowomen.org/head.htm

The Head of the Epistles was written by Berkeley and Alvera Mickelsen, professors at Bethel Theological Seminary in St. Paul, MN.  It originally appeared as an article in Christianity Today, Feb. 20, 1981.

Scripture Passages:

[1] John 8:10-11, ESV

[2] John 8:15, ESV

[3] John 8:32-36, ESV

[4] John 4:17-18, NKJV

[5] John 4:39

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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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(The Iris Diaries)

“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)

Iris follows the wind. She loves the comfort of encircling breezes and her hair being tossed about.  The wind whispers in her ear when she is resting in her bed and calls her secret name when it is time to awaken. She loves being like a leaf, with no knowledge of where he will carry her each day.  She clutches a stick in her right hand when she walks, and sometimes she uses it as a wand to weave the strands of air into shadowy shapes.

She seems to be a drifter, but Iris is always at work.  She inquires of the wind about where to go, and what to do.  She is like a flute that he plays in the canyons. Her ears are filled with music, and every day is an adventure on the windblown path.

The woman who loves the wind has many dreams. In one of them, she is wandering down a long misty road in search of a city, and she sees a familiar man by the wayside.  She asks him, “Can you tell me the way to the gates of the city?”  Without speaking, the man hands her a key.  He never gives her directions, as if she already knows the way.

“And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.”  (John 14:4)

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…

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‘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…)

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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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“A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”  John 13:34

As a newcomer to the world of blogging, I am surprised and delighted about being nominated for the Versatile Blogger award.  The love was passed on to me today by transcendental Indonesian poet Subhan Zein at: http://subhanzein.wordpress.com/.

Subhan has a radiant and sweet spirit, and when I read his works, I feel as if I am sprouting wings like a butterfly.  The experience of his poetry is like a dance, because his writing creates a sense of stirring and movement.  I particularly admire his poem entitled “Millions of Candles.”

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As part of accepting this award, I am required to tell you seven things about myself:

1.   Olive Twist is my pen name. I don’t like to talk about myself too much, but I used to entertain the idea of being a nun.  I have always loved Christ, but I have an unusual perspective on religion for several reasons. If you are curious about this, you can click on the tab that says “Olive!!” above.

2.   I love foreign and classic films, and anime by Studio Ghibli, particularly “Howl’s Moving Castle” and “Whispers of the Heart.”  I am very excited about the newest movie, “The Secret World of Arrietty.” I love Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales, because they kept me afloat upon the tempestuous seas of my childhood.

3.    I have a Master of Fine Arts degree in Writing, with my concentration in creative nonfiction.  I did my graduation lecture on how spiritual authors use literary devices to persuade readers to travel with them on a spiritual journey.

4.    My illustrious father published some science fiction stories in his younger days.

5.    I try to live according to the fifth chapter of The Gospel According to Matthew and particularly The Beatitudes.  It is not easy to walk a pure path in a crazy world.  But then again, some might say I am crazy and the world is sane.

6.    I love to read about spiritual journeys of other people, and my unfinished list of favorite books is posted under the “Essays” tab above.

7.   People often admire my “strength” when they learn of the things I have suffered, but I often think of the words of Christ:  “Don’t worry about tomorrow, because each day has enough trouble of its own.”  His teachings are the source of my “strength.”

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Now, in keeping with the spirit of this award, I wish to nominate the following people for the next Versatile Blogger Award.  I had a difficult time choosing fifteen of you, because I have only been blogging a short time and have not communicated for very long with any of you. Although I may not know you that well, the instructions say to pick recently discovered blogs, and I have tried to include writers with unique perspectives and styles.

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For this award you will have to do a couple of things as follows:

  1. Thank the award-giver and link back to them in your post.
  2. Share 7 things about yourself.
  3. Pass this award along to 15 recently discovered blogs you enjoy reading.
  4. Contact your chosen bloggers to let them know about the award.

I am so appreciative to Subhan Zein for this award, and to all of you that are taking your valuable time to follow my blog and communicate with me.  I am quite humbled and honored by your expressions each day.

Peace and Grace be with you,

Olive Twist

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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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(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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OLIVE TWIST ©2012

There was once a girl who lived on the streets.  She had quit school at the age of thirteen.  She lived in Florida where it was hot and sultry most of the year.  She always seemed to be sweating and exhausted.  Her long flax-colored hair was tangled and sweaty, and her skin was warm and tan from the sun.  Her jeans were covered with hand-sewn patches of various shapes and colors.  She loved tie-dye and shades of purple.  Sometimes she wore a tapestry headband or a bandana around her brow.  She was very thin and sometimes felt very weak and shaky from hunger and hangovers.  She stood on street corners asking for money, so that she could buy a bowl of rice and a cup of tea at the natural foods restaurant nearby.  Sometimes the pretty waitress with dimpled cheeks there would give her some free bread crusts or a piece of carrot cake that had crumbled and could not be sold.

The girl had large wilting blue eyes, which blazed wildly from the drugs she was taking.  Her friend had an apartment next door to a drug dealer who knew that she liked LSD and mescaline.  He needed someone to try out his samples before he bought very much of it, so she would try them out for him.  The drugs seemed to carry her like a feather into the wind, and her senses were awakened in other worlds where she thought perhaps she could find God or a white light or something that would make sense of her existence.  She was hurt very deeply, as if a thorn was in her that she couldn’t dig out.

She was often hungry and wandering and hitchhiking to other states.  Once she had been picked up by an old redneck farmer with a Southern accent who raped her and left her by the side of the highway in the cold winter.  She was thankful to be alive.  She always seemed to be in some kind of danger, but she didn’t seem to value her life very much.

She was taken in by men from time to time who gave her food and slept with her and used her.  Many times she didn’t even know their names, and she would wake up the next morning and find that they were gone.  She fell in love a couple of times, but she found out she was only a toy, and her heart broke like a porcelain doll.  Then she decided to avenge herself, and when men loved her, she played with their minds as if they were marionettes and sometimes had three or four of them dancing in her hand at one time.  She enjoyed watching them suffer on her account, until they grew weary of it and gave up on her.  She had become prettier and more experienced and knew how to lure them.

She loved fairy tales with happy paradoxical endings, and medieval style art. She always had a little bottle of ink and a quill pen and a little sketch book with her and she would sit on a park bench or in the grass against a tree and draw.  She would recite this poem as she scribbled:

I have wrapped my dreams in a silken cloth

And laid them away in a box of gold

Where long shall cling the lips of the moth

I have wrapped my dreams in a silken cloth.

I hide no hate, I am not even wroth

Who found the earth’s breath so keen, so cold

I have wrapped my dreams in a silken cloth

And laid them away in a box of gold.

She drew angels and gentle hands and faces of ethereal people she never met, and magical trees and flowers and birds she never saw.  She often sketched cities and forests and lovely places that she imagined existed somewhere outside of her grasp.  At one point, someone gave her a little lavender bicycle with a basket and she put her art supplies in the basket when she rode around town.  It was nicer than walking in the heat, but someone stole her sketch book out of the basket and eventually her bicycle was taken as well.

She sometimes felt that someone she had once known was calling to her, someone who truly loved her.  In one instance, she was lying on the grass in the park and she had a vision that she was standing at the foot of a gigantic wooden cross that reached into the clouds.  She was trying to see the top of it, when suddenly she felt something wet and warm like summer rain falling on her.  She held out her hands and looked at them, and they were covered with large drops of blood.  She could not see the one on the cross because the clouds were shrouding him in the sky.  But she suddenly realized that the blood was for her in particular, that she caused the death of the one who was bleeding.  She knew that his pain was even greater than her own.

She dreamed once that she was walking through the snow in a long white dress and that she was wounded somehow, and the blood was flowing onto her white dress and dripping in the snow.  She wondered if it meant that someday she would give her life to the one who gave his life for her.

Another time, she dreamed that she was wandering through a huge city and did not know where she was.  She was filthy and barefoot, and she wandered into a huge building with green glass windows.  The polished marble floors were cold under her feet.  As she walked in, she saw people staring at her with disgusted looks and hatred, but she ignored them and went straight to the elevator.  She pressed the button to go to the top, but she didn’t know why.  When the bell rang and the door opened, she stepped in, and the door shut again.  Then she realized she wasn’t alone.  A man with a long white linen robe was looking at her.  Tears were gathering around his eyes as he searched her face.  She tried to look at the floor, but she could still feel his eyes upon her.  No one had ever looked at her like that.  She felt filthy and pitiful, but she felt his love burning a hole in her chest.  She woke up before the elevator got to the top floor.  She never forgot about the man who loved her and wept for her.

This young girl was constantly overshadowed by trouble but always felt someone calling to her on the inside.  She heard him and felt his presence many times, and she loved him but was afraid of him at the same time.  She knew that one day, she would have to give in to him, but she was still bitter and angry at the world and wanted to lash out.

You may wonder how I know this girl so well.  It is because that little ragged girl was me.  I can still see her in my mind’s eye, and she will always live inside of me.

I finally became acquainted with the One who kept calling me, and realized that I am His daughter, and He has always loved me since the beginning.  Even more amazingly, He is a King and I am an heir to everything that belongs to Him, so I no longer have to live in pain and sorrow over the things that happened to me.  He has established His covenant with me, and has placed a Comforter and Counselor inside of me, so that I can always have joy and peace within, no matter what my circumstances are.

(Endnote:  Poem by Countee Cullen)

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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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