Posts Tagged ‘writing’

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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Title page of the First Folio, 1623. Copper en...

“Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes

Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,

The bird of dawning singeth all night long.

And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad.

The nights are wholesome. Then no planets strike,

No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,

So hallowed and so gracious is that time.”

 

Hamlet, Act I, Scene I

~♥~

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“I wished to show, in little Oliver, the principle of Good surviving through every adverse circumstance, and triumphing at last.”
~ preface to Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
I came across this amazing research essay called “Oliver Twist: Divine Child” and it fascinated me because I have always identified with Oliver, and this only reminded me of the many spooky correlations with my own life. Many of the characters even bear resemblance to people from my own story. Check it out if you are interested here: http://www.academia.edu/2631456/Oliver_Twist_Divine_Child_A_Jungian_interpretation 
I hope that the author will let me know if if there are any issues with me copying the link here…
 
Peace be with you,
Olive ~♥~

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English: hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com Good_ki...

Some of my happiest Christmas memories are of times spent Christmas caroling with the Quakers.  I remember one chilly December night when a group of Friends gathered at the meetinghouse in San Jose, California before getting bundled up  in coats and scarves and mittens, then we all stepped out  to sing carols to people in several neighborhoods.

We walked merrily down the sidewalk house-to-house and stopped in front of each doorstep to sing, and many people opened their doors gratefully to listen and smile. I remember the blinking Christmas lights in the windows and the cold breeze on my cheeks and the glowing lamp posts along our path. It was invigorating and peaceful as we went a-wassailing.  In our group of carolers, we took turns letting people pick out their favorite songs.  I always loved “Good King Wenceslas” and “Here We Come A-Wassailing” and “I Saw Three Ships.”

After we had caroled outside for some time, we drove to a nearby care home for the elderly and walked through the hallways. We joined up in a social hall full of residents and continued to sing happily.

One elderly gentleman wearing his pajamas and sitting in a wheelchair seemed especially moved by the music and soon wheeled over to a kind Quaker man named Larry Wolfe, who without hesitation invited the man to join us for a Christmas party at the home of another Quaker fellow.  The resident asked Larry to approach a nurse, who helped sign him out for the evening, and Larry brought him to our post-caroling celebration.  The old man was teary-eyed with joy for the entire evening eating holiday food and sipping spiced cider while someone played the piano and friends laughed and talked.  Because I was familiar with the compassion of Larry, I’m sure it was not the last time he and the old man spent together.

I wonder if caroling is illegal by now, like so many of our former religious freedoms. I have tried for several years now to find a church that still practices the tradition of Christmas caroling in public, and have even tried unsuccessfully to coordinate a group of carolers. People make all kinds of excuses such as they can’t sing in tune or they’re too busy with their family or whatever. But the truth is that we are so self-absorbed these days, trapped in our computers and technology and our own individual versions of the American dream, that we have no time for such things anymore.

Whenever I cut on the TV and see carolers on a Christmas special, I long for those days when real people did things together face-to-face and not through digital devices such as the one I am communicating through right now.

I wish we could all coordinate non-digital days to encourage more real human socialization, so that everything meaningful in our culture is not sacrificed upon the altar of technology.

Peace and Grace,

Sister Olive

~♥~

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My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken Me?” Matthew 27: 46

Diary of a Country Priest

Diary of a Country Priest (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night I watched the French film, Diary of a Country Priest, and though it was pretty dreary and dark for the most part, there were moments that held great meaning for me. To provide you with a brief summary, the story is of a young priest who moves into a village where he is not well-received and he experiences poor health and many spiritual battles. From the beginning, he is told by an older priest that a true  priest does not expect to be loved, and also understands that all of his agonizing labors during the day are undone during the night. The young priest experiences alienation from the people he wants to bless and minister to.

As a believer, I was able to immediately identify with this young priest and his inner battles. The most powerful moment for me is after the priest concludes that God has left him and that he can no longer pray because everything in his being is fighting it, and he is thoroughly disillusioned and weary. The older priest comes to him and says that if the soul could possibly drag the body back two thousand years to be with Christ for a moment, it would carry him to one place- the olive grove. At that moment, the younger priest began to weep as he felt God’s grace fall upon him. He realized that Christ was sharing His Gethsemane experience with him- he called it “holy agony.”

That resonated with me very deeply because it is our human nature to want all of the good things but no unpleasantries- no sweat, tears, or anguish. As a believer, I would like to always be ministering and blessing people and experiencing God’s presence near me. But even Christ had to experience isolation, abandonment, and dreadful loneliness.

It made me wonder if I have been merely a “fair weather friend” to Christ or a sincere disciple. With an acquaintance, I can only share the surface of my life. But with my closest friends, I can reveal the deepest joys and agonies of my soul. So shouldn’t I feel privileged that Christ should share His deepest torments with me?

He wants us to heal and minister and share the gospel and be bold in our spiritual walk. But He also calls us to hunger and the temptation in the desert, rejection by people we love, and even the cross. The early disciples understood this and rejoiced when they were able to partake in Christ’s mental and physical suffering.

I am thankful that I have a whole new perspective today!

Peace be with you,

Sister Olive

~♥~

 

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The subject of mental dysfunction and depression is addressed by Joan Didion in “The White Album” and F. Scott Fitzgerald in “The Crack-Up”. Their treatment of this subject is similar and distinctive in several ways. Fitzgerald and Didion both reflect back to the time when they first realized that something was going awry in their minds, but Fitzgerald writes in a more straightforward and analytical manner about himself. He uses metaphor and humor more often, and Didion uses more physical description of objects and people to depict what is going on inside her mind.

 
In Fitzgerald’s essay, he writes about a nervous breakdown with an expository style, comparing his mental state to a broken plate. He tells the reader with startling honesty: “-And then, ten years this side of forty-nine, I suddenly realized that I had prematurely cracked” (140). Then he gradually reveals the details of his mental state:

I saw that for a long time I had not liked people and things, but only followed the rickety old pretense of liking. I saw that even my love for those closest to me was only an attempt to love….in the same month, I became bitter about such things as the sound of the radio, the advertisements in magazines, the screech of tracks, the dead silence of the country…hating the night when I couldn’t sleep and hating the day because it went toward night. (142)

He looks back at the warning signs that he did not recognize at the time, very clearly portraying the torments that he was experiencing, with such clarity that it almost makes the reader want to draw back, and examine whether they are familiar with such feelings. Then he describes how he began to feel a sense of worthlessness, and again uses the plate metaphor in a poignant fashion:

Sometimes, though, the cracked plate has to be retained in the pantry, has to be kept in service as a household necessity. It can never again be warmed on the stove nor shuffled with the other plates in the dishpan; it will not be brought out for company, but it will do to hold crackers late at night or to go into the ice box under leftovers. (144)

He is amazingly artful in his use of a common household object to depict himself as feeling inadequate for everyday purposes and ambitions, and it makes the reader feel sadness for the broken plate. The plate becomes almost a Disney animated character with feelings similar to “The Brave Little Toaster.”

 
Fitzgerald describes the middle of the night anxieties that are common to most humans when he writes “But at three o’clock in the morning, a forgotten package has the same tragic importance of the death sentence, and the cure doesn’t work- and in a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day” (144). This passage actually has shock effect, because the reader is brought to the horrible realization that some people experience the three o’clock a.m. agonies throughout every day. In the same expository style, he informs the reader that “Trouble has no necessary connection with discouragement- discouragement has a germ of its own, as different from trouble as arthritis is different from a stiff joint” (146). He clarifies his own condition so well, making it evident that this species of discouragement is totally irrational and based on anxieties that have no rational basis. Then he says in a humorous tone, “I have the sense of lecturing now, looking at a watch on the desk before me and seeing how many more minutes-” (147). This humor is much needed at this point in his essay, because by now the reader is feeling very labored and distressed, and needs a bit of lightness. The watch also seems to connote an attempt to regain some control of his environment by measuring the time.

 
Joan Didion also writes as one looking back upon the years when her mental struggles began to manifest themselves. She said that it all started with her beginning to question all of the things that she had held true:

I am talking here about a time when I began to doubt the premises of all the stories I had ever told myself, a common condition but one I found troubling. I suppose this period began around 1966 and continued until 1971. During those five years, I appeared, on the face of it, a competent enough member of some community or another… (421)

The vagueness of her sentences creates a feeling that truth was becoming blurry to her, that nothing is really clear any more. She visits a psychiatrist and supplies the reader with his findings:

Patient’s thematic productions on the Thematic Apperception Test emphasize her fundamentally pessimistic, fatalistic, and depressive view of the world around her. It is as though she feels deeply that all human effort is foredoomed to failure, a conviction which seems to push her further into a dependent, passive withdrawal. (423)

She is expository in a way that is similar to Fitzgerald, but she describes her depression and anxiety without the metaphor or humor. However, she later uses language to present her confusion and growing paranoia in a fashion that engages the reader with dislocated scenes and events. In this segment, she describes a night when The Doors came to her house to practice before cutting an album:

There were three of the Four Doors. There was the bass player borrowed from the Clear Light. There were the producer and engineer and the road manager and a couple of girls and a Siberian husky named Nikki with one gray eye and one gold. There were paper bags half filled with hard-boiled eggs and chicken livers and cheeseburgers and empty bottles of apple juice and California rosé. There was everything and everybody The Doors needed to cut the rest of this third album except one thing, the fourth Door…(428)

The reader is entangled in this twisted collage of mismatched people and foods and the sense of disorder. The two colors of the eyes of the husky, the empty bottles, and the half-filled bags all seem to connote the growing vacuum of confusion and tension in the mind of the author. It also creates a strong sense of the time period and a subliminal feeling of being on mind-altering drugs.

 
As a reporter, Didion often had to prepare for travel on the spur of the moment. She describes a travel list that she kept on hand during this time, a list of things to collect before she departed on her frequent trips:

It should be clear that this was a list made by someone who prized control, yearned after momentum, someone determined to play her role as if she had the script, heard her cues, knew the narrative. There is on this list one significant omission, one article I needed and never had: a watch….I didn’t know what time it was. This may be a parable, either of my life as a reporter during this period or of the period itself. (438)

Here again is the watch, the symbol of control over one’s environment. This passage bears a resemblance to Fitzgerald, in that it depicts that the author is slipping into instability and a terrifying loss of control. The missing watch is an effective metaphor to recount a restless and chaotic time, and the author’s feeling that she was a victim of this time period in many ways.

 
The styles of both Didion and Fitzgerald allow the reader to go inside their minds and feel their pain and hopelessness. While Didion writes with an unpredictable style that creates a colorful collage of experiences, Fitzgerald is more analytical and stays on a set course in his writing.

Works Cited

The Best American Essays of the Century. Ed. Joyce Carol Oates. New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 2000. Print.

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I thought my readers might enjoy a series of short critical essays I wrote during graduate school about a variety of writers and subjects.  The first one is about the article called “He Knew He was Right” by Ian Parker in which he portrays Christopher Hitchens, the infamous spokesman for atheists who has since passed away.

Be aware that my formatting seems to be lost when I post here, even though I try in various ways to keep everything in order.

I hope that you gain something from the essays, and that all is well with you as you continue your own journeys.

Shalom,

Sister Olive

Ian Parker Portrays a Man of Polarizations

In the New Yorker article He Knew He Was Right, Ian Parker brilliantly portrays the political analyst and writer Christopher Hitchens. The author raises many questions about this man of contradictions who seems to delight in controversy and keeping an air of mystery around himself.

While raising questions about “the Hitchens apostasy, which runs from revolutionary socialism to a kind of neo-conservatism (141)”, Parker artistically and visually brings Hitchens into focus for the reader:

He still writes a great deal, at a speed at which most people read. And, at fifty-seven, he still has an arrest-photograph air about him- looking like someone who, with as much dignity as possible, has smoothed his hair and straightened his collar after knocking the helmet off a policeman (137).

By contrasting the image of a mug shot photo with the man smoothing his hair and straightening his collar, the writer uses physical description to show the reader how confusing this man’s personality can be.

He then shows Hitchens transforming from one character to another, when he describes a disagreement between Hitchens and some women over former presidential candidate Howard Dean:

….His tone tightened, and his mouth shrunk like a sea anemone poked with a stick; the Hitchens face can, at moments of dialectical urgency, or when seen in an unkindly lit Fox News studio, transform from roguish to sour (139).

Parker masterfully shows how Hitchens’s facial expressions can dramatically change in a moment if something brushes up against his current opinion.

He again addresses the matter of opposing attitudes and shifting views when he writes:

…those familiar with Hitchens’s work know that he has always thrived on sectarian battles, and always looked for ‘encouraging signs of polarization,’ a phrase he borrowed from his late friend Israel Shahak, the Israeli activist (141).

He seems to be suggesting here that Hitchens merely enjoys the drama of the battle, and that he is simply a performer, who can switch roles with ease.

At other times, Parker seems to admire Hitchens as a man who simply exercises his right to change his mind or make alterations to his views as he gains more knowledge about a subject. Sometimes, he seems to present Hitchens as someone who knows too much about the inner workings and corruption in government, and is tormented by that knowledge, which causes him to drink constantly and behave in other strange ways. He shows the darker side of his subject when he says:

…I arrived just before midday, and Hitchens said that it was “time for a cocktail”; he poured a large drink. His hair flopped over his forehead, and he pushed it back using the tips of his fingers, his hand as unbending as a mannequin’s (144).

The simile of the mannequin’s hand seems to represent how cold and unyielding Hitchens can be towards people of opposing views on issues.

Parker also shows more of the complexity of Hitchens’s character when he says: “At times, Hitchens can look like a brain trying to pass as a muscle. He reads the world intellectually, but emphasizes his physical responses to it” (155). He points out that often Hitchens tries to demonstrate his masculinity in the way that he reports in physical terms, as if he is a soldier in a real war, and not just a spectator writing about a subject.

Then Parker artistically uses Hitchens’s style of writing to show how he never backs up to make concessions or compromises about his opinions even when his views have radically fluctuated over time:

…He almost never uses the backspace, delete, or cut-and-paste keys. He writes a single draft, at a speed that caused his New Statesman colleagues to place bets on how long it would take him to finish an editorial. What emerges is ready for publication, except for one weakness: he’s not an expert punctuator, which reinforces the notion that he is in the business of transcribing a lecture he can hear himself giving (164).

It is very masterful how the writer uses visual scenes and incidents to show the nuances of Hitchens and his character. By juxtaposing Hitchens’s physical demeanor with his ideological inconsistencies, the author reveals how Hitchens can be such an anomaly to everyone around him. Parker cleverly leaves the reader with no answers but only more questions- the profile ends as an unsolved mystery about a man that knows he is always right.

Works Cited

Parker, Ian. “He Knew He was Right.” Best Magazine Writing 2007. (2007): 137-167.

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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

IMG_20130511_115221

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.

image086

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”

~~ 

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”

~~

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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Black Elk SpeaksI love this description by Black Elk of his 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.” 

~♥~

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The Hand of God?

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

All I can say is…WOW!

Shalom,

Sister Olive

~♥~

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“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”  John 14:2

English: Hans Christian Andersen at the house ...

I woke up this morning from a very interesting dream.  I was sitting in a cafe talking to an American fellow, explaining why I love Europe.  I said that Europeans don’t fret about hoarding possessions and money.  Instead they read books and go to concerts and sip wine with friends.

Then I told him a fantastic tale.  I said that my father lives in a palace facing the castle of Hans Christian Andersen, and it is just across the fjord.  I told him that my father and I visit him often at his castle for tea, and that Andersen wears a tall black hat like Abraham Lincoln.

Of course in my dream it was all true, so I was a bit disappointed to wake up.  But then my mind began to ramble on this idea, that if this life is a dream, I might awaken someday in that world.

Perhaps in Heaven I shall live in My Father’s palace across from Hans Christian Andersen.  Maybe we will have tea together- in a field of flowers under the moon. Then I might climb into my little golden boat with silken sails and glide across that crystal sea to visit Søren Kierkegaard and Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Corrie Ten Boom and Mother Teresa and Black Elk…and Abraham Lincoln!

Why not?  Anything wonderful could happen in a world governed by King Jesus!

~♥~

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19th century painting of Our Lady.

I have been in Protestant circles for most of my life, and I find it curious that I have never heard a full-length sermon about the Virgin Mary, although her name pops up fleetingly and most often at Christmas.  I have often wondered why she is not properly spoken of in the context of Mother’s Day or other occasions considering that she was such a powerful and pure instrument of God. She is an amazing example of how every woman of God and mother should be. Although she was not rich or famous, she demonstrated a noble spirit and character that everyone could learn from. She remained humble even when she was chosen to perform the most amazing work for God’s plan.

Have you ever wondered why Christ didn’t just come down here on a fiery chariot like the one that Elijah departed in, or why He didn’t just walk here like Enoch or float down from Heaven on a cloud heralded by the sound of angelic trumpets? 

It seems to me that God wanted Jesus to enter here the same way that we all do, to experience being a helpless innocent child for a season.  And God wanted Him to have a mother while He was in this world as a seal of His humanity, and because there is nothing on Earth that compares to the love of a mother.

I did not care for some aspects of the movie “Passion of the Christ.” It was far too graphic for my taste, and it seemed like the director wanted to make Jesus into another Braveheart. But I did find one thing especially moving in the film:  the powerful presence of Mary. 

I had never stopped to consider what it must have been like to be the mother of Christ, to always be in His shadow observing His ministries, suffering, rejection, and death.  As a mother myself, it resonated with me in a mighty way.  I realized that God knew exactly what He was doing when He chose Mary.  She knew when to stay out of the way and when to be close.  She loved Jesus with incredible longsuffering and tenderness, and yet never interfered with God’s business.  Even at the cross, her heart was so strong and she too drank from a bitter cup that most of us would have refused. 

I don’t write this to steal any glory from Jesus the Messiah, because He is the one who willingly died to deliver us from sin and opened the door to Heaven for every soul. But I don’t think we should be afraid to talk about His earthly mother and learn from her character.  She is a Biblical woman to celebrate. Because there’s just something about Mary.

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Jesus, the Strong Man

I was moved by this post today, especially the image of Christ as the strong man who carried us all on His shoulders…It makes me imagine Him flexing His muscles under the burden of our sins.

Shalom,

Sister Olive

~♥~

Writing Sisters

roemische_krippe_simeon_480

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us . . . John 1:14

We love these words from C.S. Lewis:

The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation.  They say that God became Man.  Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this. . . .

In the Christian story God descends to re-ascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity . . . down to the very roots and sea-bed of the Nature He has created.

But He goes down to come up again and bring the ruined world up with Him. One has the picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself underneath some great complicated burden. He must stoop in order to lift, he must almost disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches…

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Butterfly for Breakfast

IMG_20131113_100244This morning I tossed my hot raisin toast on the plate, and voilà! I noticed I had created a piece of accidental art.  I’m glad it didn’t fly away before I could eat it!

Be of good cheer,

Sister Olive

~♥~

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Mandala Supernova

As Thanksgiving approaches, I have been reflecting gratefully upon the human angels that have been dispatched to me, those who helped me pass through the wilderness of my youth safely and joyfully. I wanted to take a moment to write a list of their names. I also challenged myself to find a single word to define each of them, something that represents what they taught me by their character:

Evelyn the Wise

William the Gentle

Katy the Courageous

Isabel the Nurturer

Rabbit the Whimsical

Margaret the Noble

Savage the Healer

Sparrow the Lighthearted

Gandalf the Mystical

Linda the Generous

Elizabeth the Compassionate

Today I am thankful for these and many others who have helped me in my travels.  Try writing down your own angels, if you will.

Peace & Grace,

Sister Olive

~♥~

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A Winnie the Pooh Thanksgiving

“If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you.”A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Today I spoke to my father on the phone and he said, “I am trying to keep myself alive long enough to come to the United States one more time in the spring.”  I couldn’t find any words to say in reply.  I later told my eldest son about this remark spoken so casually, and his face looked pained. “I wish he wouldn’t say things like that,” he said.

I nodded, “I feel the same way, but I think he is trying to prepare us for the inevitable. But we have hardly known him and now he is speaking of death. It hurts a lot.”

Last October, my father came from Spain and spent three days with each of his children.  After he had visited me in the South and my sister in California, she called me on the phone and said, “I almost fell over when he said he was staying for three days. That is the longest visit I’ve had with him.” It is sad but true. It was the longest in our lives.

Then winter blew in and Poppy began to ask me to come and see him in Spain, and he gave my eldest son and me a gift we will never forget.  We spent three weeks with him there in Paradise in the month of May.

Since then, I am trying not to fall apart from the longings inside, and Anger keeps whispering into my ear, saying “How could he hurt you like this after you have suffered so much already?”

But love covers a multitude of sins. I told my son, “Our battle now is to love purely and not feel bitter about the past or how late it is for him to come into our lives.  Your grandfather is reaching out to us now, and we might have never known him at all.  Many people never know their fathers or grandfathers. Think about that.” My son nodded.

So now we want to admonish Poppy that we expect him to live to be at least one hundred, and to come and stay for a longer time with us.  We have really enjoyed the tapas but now we are hungry for the plato principal.

~♥~

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One of my all-time favorite albums is Late for the Sky by Jackson Browne, and this song really “speaks to my condition” as the Quakers used to say.

Here are a few lines from it:

I’m just one or two years and a couple of changes behind you
In my lessons at love’s pain and heartache school
Where if you feel too free and you need something to remind you
There’s this loneliness springing up from your life
Like a fountain from a pool…

Fountain of sorrow, fountain of light
You’ve known that hollow sound of your own steps in flight
You’ve had to struggle, you’ve had to fight
To keep understanding and compassion in sight
You could be laughing at me, you’ve got the right
But you go on smiling so clear and so bright

-Jackson Browne

 

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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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I am feeling a peculiar mixture of emotions as I prepare to depart for Spain-  happy and overwhelmed and apprehensive to name a few of them.

I feel like Bilbo Baggins after Gandalf and the unexpected party showed up at his door and summoned him for an adventure. There is a part of me that would just as soon stay safe and snug in my hobbit hole, and let brave-hearted folks go to faraway lands to meet a dark mysterious stranger (who just happens to be my father- there’s the rub).

It has dawned on me that I really don’t know my father…but I want to so much.  Please keep praying for me that I will “go out with joy and be led forth with peace.”

“Sister Olive”

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i remember you defending me when people didn’t understand me, i remember recording your singing and drawing you art and you treating them like they were special, i remember you showing up to school trying to keep me from being bullied. i remember going to lighthouse park and climbing trees while you played tennis, i remember you buying me crystals and crushed pennies on our trips to north carolina.

~♥~

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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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Cover of "The Inner Voice of Love"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~♥~

Work Cited:

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

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(Excerpt from “Divine Doorkeepers”)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(Excerpt from “Divine Doorkeepers”)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(From EvangeLegends)

A nomadic tribe near Sudan reported a great miracle. They say they were traveling through the desert, and came upon a waterhole that was completely dry.  They always plan their journeys in such a way as to pass waterholes, because they don’t carry water with them.  They know the geographical locations of all of them very well, because they can die of thirst in the desert if they travel too long without water. So they knew that the nearest waterhole from that spot was too distant for them to make it alive. Many of the people in the tribe began to weep aloud, and some of them laid down to wait for death.

But one of the natives told the others that he had heard another tribe singing songs to a god named Jesus, whom they said could save people.  He asked if anyone had ever heard of Jesus before, and the others said no.  Then the man asked if they wanted to try singing to Jesus, to see if He could save them.  They all agreed, and they began to sing a song that the man had heard the other tribe singing.

They sang loudly and earnestly, and to their astonishment, a cloud began to form over them.  It got darker and heavier, and then it began to rain into the waterhole until it was filled up. After the people drank all the water they needed, they continued on their journey and told everyone they met about the amazing thing that had happened. They kept inquiring about Jesus, until they finally met some missionaries who told them all about Him and His teachings.  The entire tribe became Christians because they had called upon the name of Jesus and He had saved them from death.

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

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

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

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

~♥~

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(From EvangeLegends)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(From EvangeLegends)

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

~♥~

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

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(From EvangeLegends)

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

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

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

~♥~

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(Intro to EvangeLegends: A Series of Missionary Mementos)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(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”)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“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.

~♥~

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

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

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

Now, here’s a message from another doctor:

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

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

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

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

Peace & Grace, Olive

~♥~

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

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

~♥~

I am the Earth (and I am Bleeding) 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

~♥~

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My 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 whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and raw wounds…” Isaiah 1:5-6

I have read many blogs that have struck a chord with me and I have admired them very much, but one woman has opened my eyes to a world that no one should ever have to experience.

Stella Marr began visiting my blog recently, so I decided to visit hers and see what she was writing about.  I was shocked and horrified by her personal stories.  Stella is a former prostitute who writes about her ordeal with anguish and bravery, and her voice is immensely important in this time when our world has become so hypersexual. This subject resonates with me because I was molested and misused by numerous men during my childhood years.

One of Stella’s most poignant writings is entitled “An Ex-Hooker’s Letter to Her Younger Self.”  Please read it here:  http://secretlifeofamanhattancallgirl.wordpress.com/

Jesus always stood up for women who were victimized in society and He restored their dignity. As a Christian, I feel that we should encourage and comfort people like Stella who are using their voices to try to put an end to great evils, in this case the horror of sex trafficking. Because she has endured so much injustice and is brave enough to come forward with her story to try to help others, I would like to nominate her for the HUG (Hope Unites Globally) Award.

I admire you, Stella!  I pray that you will find comfort and peace in Christ and that you will hear His voice calling your name…

“Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…I am gentle and humble at heart and you shall find rest for your souls.”  Matthew 11:28

~♥~

Here are the guidelines for the award: http://ahopefortoday.com/2012/01/14/hope-unites-globally-hug-award-guidelines/

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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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I’m not sure what made me think of it just now, but I may as well write it down.

I remember years ago when I attended a Good Friday church service in Oregon, and a doctor came to speak about the medical perspective of Christ’s crucifixion.  He told us that Jesus actually died of a broken heart, not from bleeding from His wounds or excruciating pain or other factors.  Jesus must have been very strong physically.

The scriptures say that when He was pierced in the side by a soldier, blood and water gushed out.  The visiting doctor said that for water to be mixed with his blood in this way, His heart had to have burst already. Otherwise, it would have been only blood that poured out.

People all around me started weeping into tissues and handkerchiefs and I quickly joined in. My heart broke thinking of how we wounded Him with our cruelty and our ignorance and our apathy. It made me feel so ashamed.

Remember those drops of blood on His forehead in Gethsemane?  Those revealed the depth of His pain as He prayed for us in the garden. Even as a child, I understood it and whenever I considered my own pain, I remembered that bloody sweat on His brow. I understood that His sorrow was even greater than mine, and it gave me solace. I knew that His love towards me was beyond the grasp of my understanding.

It still gives me comfort today through all of my personal battles. I pray every day that I don’t break His heart again with my attitudes and actions.

OLIVE TWIST ©2012

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(The Iris Diaries)

“Visit the orphans and widows in their affliction…” (James 1:27)

A cute little woman sat in her wheelchair with a little pink crocheted cap covering her thin silver hair.  Her wrinkles branched out across her face in delicate designs, and her blue eyes were bleak and icy like her native country of Finland.  “Hello Linda”, I said.  Linda was a bit shy at first and neither of us knew what to say.  Linda’s English was a bit broken, but very clear, and she began to point out some of the Scandinavian art on her walls, and the photo of her deceased husband, and the beautiful grandfather clock on the wall, which was wound up with an old brass key.  Our first visit was a bit awkward, but we agreed to spend time together more often, and I asked if I could address her as “Grandma”.  The old woman agreed with a shy smile.

I had wanted to adopt a grandma so I visited the care home across the street and spoke with the volunteer coordinator.  There were cages with tropical birds in the sunny room with huge windows that day, and a Jamaican woman named Vida came to see me.  She told me that she knew of a woman named Linda from Finland who was very lonely.  After we talked awhile, I signed some volunteer papers.

Grandma missed her home and gardens.  When her family members took her from her home, they told her it was only for a short time but it had been years now.  She did not know what became of her home, and she said she was very old and tired of living.  Many mornings, she said she was sorry that she had survived through the night.

She read many magazines and books and sometimes children’s books with pictures she could look at.  She watched TV shows about world news and church programs.  She seemed very intelligent. But she often forgot how old she was.  One day she was ninety and the next day she was ninety-five.

My sons went with me sometimes and Linda loved it when we called her “Grandma”.  My youngest son was Grandma’s favorite, and he made origami birds and flowers and other artistic things for her to decorate her room with.  She would always say, “He is so clever”.

Sometimes I would bring her little tea cookies and ginger thins and chocolate.  Grandma said the doctors could never get over how she could eat so much and never get fat and how she seemed to have no real health problems aside from arthritis and getting more forgetful and childish as time went on.

One day I arrived and the old woman was flustered, and asked for help in finding her address book which she had lost.  She seemed very upset so I began to open drawers and cupboards looking for it, and found an old address book with a floral design on the cover.  Grandma practically grabbed it with joy when she saw it and began to look through it with a reflective expression.  She was looking for the name of someone in particular, and she asked me to look it up for her. I can’t recall who it was, but I saw that all of the names had been crossed out. I realized that Grandma had put an “X” through the addresses of all her friends and loved ones as they died. The address book was full of dead people.

Grandma deeply missed Finland where she had lived as a child.  Tears would well up in her eyes when she talked of it.  She complained about the Florida heat, and missing the wintery climate where she came from.

She loved to say things in Finnish, and to try to teach me a few phrases. My mother had a friend named Eeva Blauuw who was Finnish, and I asked my mother if the lady might be willing to write to Grandma.  The old woman was so delighted when she started receiving letters in Finnish.

One Christmas, I gave Grandma a beautiful red sweater with pine trees and pine cones and winter motifs on it.  She was very proud of it and wouldn’t take it off for a long time.  The nurses told me they were trying to get her to wear something else, but she just wouldn’t take it off.

Once I gave her a big white teddy bear made out of an old chenille bedspread.  When I offered it to her, Grandma cried with wide eyes, “Oh, I couldn’t!” Her hands were making anxious grasping motions as she said it, contradicting her words. Suddenly her hands shot out and grabbed the bear then she quickly placed it on her lap and rested her chin on its head contentedly.  As we talked Grandma began to stroke the bear and cuddle it, and laid it on her bed and covered it up.  Then she uncovered it and set it in the chair across from her wheelchair, and it seemed that she could not take her eyes off of it.  I asked her what she would name it and she said shyly that she didn’t know.

“What about ‘Snow Bear’?” I asked.

“Oh I don’t know…” said Grandma thoughtfully. “I think I’ll call him ‘Boyfriend.’”  I realized that the bear had become a companion in the old woman’s mind, and that it would soften her loneliness.

One day I came into the room to visit, and found Grandma sitting on one end of her bed with Boyfriend on the other end, and she had little Scandinavian tea cookies spread out on the bed with little napkins as if they were having a party.  When she saw me coming, she looked down at her hands with embarrassment and she said, “I am like a child in many ways.  You know that.”  I smiled and said, “Yes, I know, and that’s fine.”

As I continued to visit Grandma, the old woman seemed to talk more and more in Finnish and less and less in English. “Bilingual aphasia” can cause elderly people to completely forget one language that they have known and revert back to their native tongue.  At first, I would correct her when she switched to Finnish, but after awhile I stopped correcting her and just nodded my head as though I understood when I really didn’t.  It wasn’t important that I understood everything.  It was more important for the old woman to be able to relax and talk because she was so lonely.

Due to a new job, I found that I did not have the time to visit her as often.  When I did come, she kept forgetting me and spoke mostly in Finnish, so then I stopped visiting for awhile.  After a few weeks had passed, I received a letter in the mail.  It was from Grandma, and the handwriting was messy and in Finnish, but it made me sorry that I had not been visiting.

I was deeply touched that Grandma had taken the time with her arthritic hands to try to write to me. I knew then that I had underestimated Grandma’s mental ability to remember me, and that I had meant more than I realized.  I decided to go and visit her again.

Sadly, Grandma had died when I returned to visit her, and I worried that I might have caused her more distress and loneliness.  I was apprehensive to have Grandma’s last letter translated, because it might increase my sadness to know what the old woman was saying.  I’ll bet “Boyfriend” knew all of her innermost thoughts and feelings.  If only I could have talked to him.

OLIVE TWIST ©2012

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

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

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

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

OLIVE TWIST ©2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Journal of George Fox

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(The Iris Diaries)

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

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

So long on this road back to the wall,

I’d pray I’d die before I’d fall;

Death wish in a land of hell,

Don’t want to cry, search for the well

That gives to me the truth of truth;

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

Walking middle ground

I found my song in a silent sound

Where eyes don’t hide behind

Masks that make you laugh when you should have cried,

That let you live when you should have died.

So long on this road but I hear the call,

I see the truth and with it walk tall.

It aint the stand I’m afraid to make,

It’s the illusion the world wants me to take

That sees the light and clouds the truth

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

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

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

The one who weaves the wind

Stood grey before me.

The woods were dawn-grey

Dripping, soft, and so quiet.

The wind-weaver

Was catching shadows and mist

For her loom…[2]

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

Love is the vine

Given mankind

To help him find

His home divine.[3]

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

The flowers open

At thy feet

Beads of

Dew

Wonderful and new

O

Angel of light

How many dawns

Have I drunk from your cup?[4]

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

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

The princess in purple

Carrying her guitar…

She shares her music

With all who’ll listen

Her gentle ways could be an inspiration to all

If only they would take time.

Even her ring is purple.

I’ve seen her on the streets

I’ve seen her in the parks

Always ready to share her music

And her heart…[5]

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

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

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

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


[1] “Back to the Wall” by Jude

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

[3] By Kelly

[4] From Michael

[5] By Sunrise

[6] By Al

OLIVE TWIST ©2012

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(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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“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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(The Iris Diaries)

“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)

I had seen him before. On the way into McDonald’s he had approached my son and asked him for a hamburger to eat.  With some hesitation, I had bought him a burger and fries and sent my son to his table outside to deliver it to him.

“Why don’t you take it to him, Mom?” he asked me.

“Because I feel uncomfortable about it” I said.  My son carried the brown tray to the man and came back inside.  He said he overheard a man walk by and call him “Catfish”.

But on this day, Catfish came inside and wandered in a large loop around the restaurant without ordering any food at the counter.  As he passed me, I handed him a dollar. He wobbled to a stop and looked at me with fierce squinting blue eyes, and he almost fell forward. I realized he was drunk and I felt terribly naïve.  “It must be destiny!” he bellowed, tucking his straw-like hair under his ball cap.  He swerved to the left and staggered toward the counter, when I noticed he was digging in his jean pockets for change.  I remembered that the cheapest item on the menu was one dollar, and he would need change for tax, so I stood up to hand him one more dollar.  I didn’t know what else to do, because he would not have been able to eat otherwise.

After ordering a sandwich of some kind, he plopped on the chair at the table nearest to me and took off the wrapper. With a voice like Yosemite Sam, he leaned toward my table and yelled “What’s yer name?”

“Iris,” I replied softly.

“I’m Reverend Catfish,” he growled much too loudly.

“Nice to meet you, Catfish.”
“Ah said Rev-er-end Catfish!  From Meridian, Miss-iss-ipp-i.  I’ve married people out on them boats and everythang.”

“Really?” I asked sheepishly.

“Er you married?” he asked in a low growl with a grin on his face.

“Yes,” I answered firmly.

“Darn!  All of the good ‘uns are taken” he shouted, snapping his hairy fingers.

“What nationality er you?” he bellowed.

“Irish and Cherokee,” I replied.

“Wull, we have a lot in common!  I’m the same thang-  Arrish and Cher-o-kee!” He punched his chest with one burly fist.

I noticed a tall man with glasses getting up from the booth he was sitting in and moving to a table closer to me.  I knew he was trying to keep an eye on me, and he was watching the situation.  I was grateful for this.

“Well I know all o’ my parts is workin’ on me, and all o’ yer parts is workin’, or you wouldn’t be married,” he said laughing boisterously.  I looked down at my coffee cup, and he got up to get something from the counter.

“Hey James!” he bellowed to a stocky black man behind the counter.

“Yo, Catfish, what’s up?” asked the worker calmly.

“Ah’m talkin’ to a beautiful woman!  What er you doin’?” he said with a loud slurring sound.  He staggered back with some packets of catsup.

“Do you have any children?” I asked.

He looked into my face intensely with a mischievous expression and growled, “Yer lookin’ at a hound dog!  Ah’ve got nine dawters and five gran-dawters!  I’ve brought fourteen bee-utiful women into this world!”

The man who had moved to a closer table got up and walked by slowly, glaring at Catfish as he went, but the drunken man did not seem to notice.  Suddenly Catfish moved his chair next to me and his shoulder touched mine, and he smiled, and I shot up from my chair ever so politely, saying “Have a great day.  It was nice meeting you.”

“Ah like you!” he rumbled.

I quickly stepped to the trash can to throw some napkins in, and he was waving for me to come close.  “I wanna tell you sumthin.” He curled his finger and smiled flirtatiously, and I told him I was in a hurry.

He shouted, “You tell yer husban’ that if he aint good to you, ah’m gonna be the next one in line!” I shook my head and laughed and bolted out of there.

My son had a hearty laugh when I told him the story, then he advised me to stay away from there for awhile until Catfish disappeared. He reminded me that my style of ministry does not work with everyone.

OLIVE TWIST ©2012

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

(The Iris Diaries)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OLIVE TWIST ©2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interrupting the Silence

These are the seven rules of a monk:

In the first place, as scripture says,

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

Then, love your fellow human beings

as you love yourself.

Fast from all evil.

Never pass judgment on anyone, for any cause.

Never do evil to anyone.

Discipline yourself and purge yourself

from material and spiritual evil.

Cultivate a modest and gentle heart.

If you can do all these things

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

the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ

will be with you abundantly.

– Sayings of the Egyptian Fathers

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

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(From The Iris Diaries)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No thank you,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course,” he answered.

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

“Wow, that’s heavy” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

OLIVE TWIST ©2012

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

 

“With visible breath I am walking.

A voice I am sending as I walk.

In a sacred manner I am walking.

With visible tracks I am walking.

In a sacred manner I walk.”

Song of the Sacred Woman from Black Elk Speaks

 

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

Epistle #227 of George Fox

 

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

Mother Teresa

 

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

Mahatma Gandhi

 

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

Martin Luther King Jr.

 

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

Kierkegaard, Provocations 201

 

Letter from Birmingham Jail

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

Martin Luther King Jr.

 

Songs in the Night

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

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

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

Preached by Charles Spurgeon in the late 1800’s

 

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A Cloud Of Witnesses: Portraits of Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OLIVE TWIST ©2012

 

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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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