What I came to know and believe at about four years of age, have held fast to, and has carried through is this: Jesus Christ was and is who and what the Bible says He was and is, and always will be: my Savior, Redeemer, Protector, Provider, my Resurrection and my Life. He is who I am, my “friend who sticketh closer than a brother.”
Methinks, possibly, the abundance of “double-mindedness” may well be the cause of a great amount of dis-ease and chaos in a high percentage of humanity. I am referring to the vast difference between those who, for instance, are “God minded” versus those who choose to “mind God” through a process of repentance, of changing one’s mind and turning from sin, and then pursuing the Godliness described in Galatians, as the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, patience, gentleness, goodness, meekness, temperance and faith). These traits have no law against them -they are above the law. If one understands their importance -and practices them – one will grow into maturity of the Spirit. Such traits are actually manifestations of the love of God. This love received in us, in turn flows out from us.
The reason, if I needed one, why I deliberately choose to live life as a Christian is a very selfish reason. I love the benefits. I have a personal daily guide, a peaceful heart, and a fearless, hopeful future. When I look in the mirror, the reflection shows only a fully forgiven, loved, redeemed face peering back at me, encouraging me to continue to choose life and to live it in a positive and forgiving manner. I can then turn and walk through the day, knowing I will be walking in the joy of sins forgiven personally, and have the strength of “joy unspeakable and full of glory” to face any difficult, or even seemingly impossible, situation which may arise, and I can be sure something will, for just as “sure as the sparks fly upwards are the troubles of this life.” What’s more, I can meet those situations or troubles with an understanding, compassion and forgiveness which appear to be almost lost in and to our present society, as if they are just ideas of the way people used to be or ought to be, though such things, ways of behaving and being, are still abundantly available. Faith and trust in a true and living God mean I can live this life, with all it has to offer, good or bad, forgiven and forgiving.
“And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
In reference to a recently posted blog titled “We Shall Know,” I am smiling as I recall the fun I had writing it, as a loosely formed riddle, especially after living this particular week, which has been referred to, by many, as the Holy Week. This week culminates in Maundy Thursday’s foot-washing, commemorating Christ washing the feet of his disciples; Good Friday, the crucifixion; and Sunday, his resurrection.
My son and I started out this week with a road trip around Pure Michigan, over to and following northward the east coast of Michigan, across the straits to Sault St. Marie, along the coast of Lake Superior, beyond Marquette, down to Escanaba, eastward to St. Ignace and down to Cedar Springs. All of this we did with a lot of exploration each day, reading historical markings, eating ethnic food, taking spectacular pictures, leaving some beckoning trails and side roads untraveled because they were still snow covered. Our exploration was relaxed, no time pressure, no schedule, just moving quietly, slowly, through each day, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, but as Thursday dawned and slowly moved along, it somehow became Friday to both of us, and as it progressed through each hour, it also became the last day of our road trip, ending with pizza from Jets in my cozy little kitchen. We were home before dark, early Friday evening, after a very enjoyable five-day road trip, or so we thought. We were remembering together delightful moments of the days, so rich in recent memory: what special foods we had, the mocha latte coffees and where we stayed each night. At that point, we both became aware that we could not remember one of the nights. Where had we stayed? It must have been between Sault St. Marie and Escanaba. To clear my thinking, and better jog our memory, I referred to my notebook, in which I had journaled each day, with still no real confirmation of the one missing night, until I looked at the calendar hanging on the wall, knowing it was April 14th. After all, I had been seeing that date each time I turned on my phone, all day, supposing it to be, and living as if it were, Friday the 14th, and knowing tomorrow, the 15th, was my daughter’s birthday. All of this until I looked at the wall calendar. April 14th was clearly on a Thursday, and we both had been living Maundy Thursday as if it were Good Friday! We didn’t live Monday as Friday, the riddle of my previous blog post, but we did clearly live Thursday as though it were Friday, thus proving the riddle, that it can be done. The last and final day of our road trip was not spent on the road. Breakfast was left-over pizza. We brewed our own coffee, and enjoyed each other’s company at home, on Good Friday proper.
This love I have experienced throughout my lifetime is indescribable, yet here I am trying to use words to describe it. How many others have tried? Countless others, including gifted authors, thoughtful poets, talented musicians have tried, in multiple ways, to rightly or adequately express the all-encompassing, unfathomable magnitude of love. One word. Sometimes I feel as though I am the only one who has ever had the blessing of it -because of the wonder and consistency of it. That the numberless, nameless one who spoke the whole world and all that is in it into existence would make himself known to an innocent four-year-old, using the voice of a mother who told about a book in Heaven which would someday be opened and it would have names in it. If I were a good girl, my name would be there, on a white page, and that would mean that I could go to Heaven, but if I were a bad girl, my name would be on a black page and that would mean I couldn’t go to Heaven. I also had an elderly aunt who owned a copy of Dante’s Inferno and she didn’t hesitate to let me know where bad girls, whose names appeared on the black page, would go.
I was a little past four years of age when I was occasioned to be in a church service one Sunday, perhaps it was Easter, with my family. As we entered the service, a young lady offered to keep me entertained and quiet at the back of the church, which she did. So however involved as I was, my ears were tuned into the preacher’s strong and vivid, full and complete description of the crucifixion of Christ and all that led up to it. After his sermon, he offered Communion. As the young girl led me up to the front of the church, I strongly opposed the revolting offer to eat Christ’s flesh or drink his blood, and proceeded to make a decision only a four year old child might be inclined to make with four year old logic: I will never be a party to anything that would hurt him any more than he has already been hurt. Kicking and screaming, I refused communion. I don’t remember my parents ever attending services after that.
At four, what wisdom caused me to make a decision which has lasted a lifetime, certainly not always lived out as in totally faithful to the exact description of a vow, or, as others may say, to the letter of the law, but always in what I call the core of me, my inmost self, I have endeavored to be true. I have had a desirable and powerful ability to cling to that which was implanted within me at four, but do I know how to describe it? I can only conclude it must have been this indescribable thing called love. That four-year-old’s decision has made all the difference in my life.
Consider some differences close to a century makes. I recently read the Introduction to a book entitled “The Best Loved Poems of the American People,” published by Doubleday in 1936. I reproduce it here, almost in total, to illustrate some of those differences.
Particularly noteworthy, to me, is the stark contrast between how difficult it was, in the 1930’s, the decade of my birth, and in the absence of digital databases, computer networks and search engines, for people, in this case primarily poetry lovers and the publisher of the New York Times, Adolph Ochs himself, to identify published works of interest with little more to rely upon than a fragmentary memory, a half-remembered line or stanza.
Now, with a smartphone in hand, we can have, in an instant, what required a collective search, time lag, postage stamps, the incentive of financial reward and a Queries and Answers desk at the Times to then maybe produce. Even in this, my entry, I embed links to websites as support.
At the bottom, I also include the poem, in its entirety, that Adolph Ochs was so wanting to find. It is brief and one wonders why, what reminiscences, perhaps, a busy publisher may have been chasing when he initiated his search, why it so haunted him, as he put it. Strangely enough, though, online, the poem is attributed to an anonymous author, in my hardcover book it is found on page 323, and beneath the poem is written:
“Unknown. Originally signed ‘Beatrice’
The Best Loved Poems of the American People
This book began in the heart of a little newsboy in Knoxville, Tennessee. He loved poetry.
To him poetry meant music -and ideas. It sang to him and it spoke to him. It inspired him.
Particularly did it inspire him.
The boy grew up. He continued selling newspapers -all his life.
He was Adolph S. Ochs [in remembrance of whom the book was published], publisher of the New York Times.
Throughout his life Mr. Ochs loved poetry. He was keenly interested in the number of inquiries regarding it that came to the editorial rooms of The New York Times Book Review, and he started the Queries and Answers page to handle them.
The selection of verses that are here collected under the title Best Loved Poems of the American People is based on the most frequently requested items that have cleared through these columns over a period of three decades.
During a large part of this time, Hazel Felleman has been the editor of Queries and Answers. From every state in the Union, and even beyond its borders, have come countless letters asking for this poem or that, or for the complete poem whose theme is such-and-such, or the song whose refrain is thus-and-so.
Miss Felleman has long had her finger on the poetry pulse of the nation. Its heartbeats are truly registered in this, her book.
One day, Mr. Ochs appeared at Miss Felleman's desk and said: "There's a line that has been running through my head lately, and I wish I could get the whole poem. I read it when I was a boy, and I don't remember the author's name. It begins: 'I am a stranger in the land where my forefathers trod. [poem below]' See if you can find it through your Queries and Answers page.' "
So a search was begun.
Weeks passed, and no one had answered the query. But the publisher was not satisfied. He said: "Offer five dollars to anyone who will send a copy of the complete poem. If that doesn't produce results, offer ten dollars. And if necessary offer as high as twenty-five. I simply must have that poem -it haunts me."
For various reasons, most of them obvious, Adolph Och's name did not appear in connection with these offers. As in most undertakings, however, he was successful in his quest. After several months a copy of the poem, found by a reader in an old magazine in the Yale University library, was sent to Miss Felleman, who turned it over to her chief.
Today poetry is an absolute necessity. The world needs it for its vitalizing strength. Poetry came into being because of this need, and it is perpetuated for the same reason.
The critic tells you what you ought to read. Miss Felleman, out of a knowledge of and sympathy with your likes and dislikes, has provided the poems you want to read.
How else have certain poems become classic except through the fact that they struck a responsive chord in the breast of the average man or woman? Some of Bobbie [Robert] Burns's poems -notably the one in which he says,
Oh, wad some power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us -
are not kept alive and in print by the supercritical. Nor will it be such who will some day make classics of various poems by Edgar A. Guest, Margaret E. Sangster, Ella Wheeler Wilcox, and many a lesser known poet. It is the preference of the people, after all, that gives permanency to poetry.
In a sense, this book has been edited by the American people who love poetry. Miss Felleman is the liaison officer who has co-ordinated [sic] the poetry preferences of the nation. She has assembled the results in orderly fashion and given them back in an enduring and friendly form.
[Signed:]Edward Frank Allen"
The poem which Adolph Ochs both sought and found:
"I am a stranger in the land
Where my forefathers trod;
A stranger I unto each heart,
But not unto my God!
I pass along the crowded streets,
Unrecognized my name;
This thought will come amid regrets--
My God is still the same!
I seek with joy my childhood's home,
But strangers claim the sod;
Not knowing where my kindred roam,
Still present is my God!
They tell me that my friends all sleep
Beneath the valley clod;
Oh, is not faith submissive sweet!
I have no friend save God!"
What is it about a story? Everyone has one, and it’s true. Wherever we go, whomever we meet, a story may be found. I recently read a phrase which gave me pause as I considered it, and I quote: “God surely must love a story.”
Each story takes a different form: sometimes just a text message, a poem, a song, an essay or a book. Stories are founded in factual and sometimes imaginary experiences by the story teller. A well expressed story may have profound impact on one listener, but may not be heard at all by another. It is our way. It is what we have.
A few years ago, I overheard a poignant short story told by my elderly husband, quietly, as if to himself:
"I can't see or hear you [Beatrice]. I can see your shadow. Don't forget, George, you're 90 years old and God has been good to you."
Whose is this voice I hear,
this voice inside of me?
"It's only your thoughts," you say.
If that be true, then I say to me,
"Who taught you to think these thoughts?
What wordsmith, what teacher, what master?
Where is he, who is he, when was he here?"
Methinks it must be the voice of God.
Are your thoughts that different from what I hear? Is it also difficult for you to always find words to express your thoughts as purely as they are given: untainted, untarnished, unbiased and unfeigned?
I consider and am grateful for the numerous words I have heard and continue to hear spoken, written and sung -gifts I have accepted into myself and reuse, re-read or speak as though they were my own to make known my thoughts, expressions and ideas. Here are some examples:
"Sweeter as the Years Go By"
"Be still and know that I am God"
"Come to me and rest"
"Fear not, little flock, for it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom"
"Think not that I have come to destroy the law, but I have come to fulfill it"
"Cast all your care"
"Peace, be still"
"It shall not come nigh unto thee"
"Under His wings my soul shall abide"
"He hideth my soul"
"Remember now thy creator"
"I will rejoice over thee with singing"
"His mercies are new and fresh every morning"
"Today is the day of salvation, now is the accepted time"
"By grace are you saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God"
"Faith cometh by hearing"
It is very likely that, in our thoughts, there lies that measure of faith which may be found through words we’ve heard or read.
Thank God for the gifts of language and understanding and an ability to use those gifts to think our thoughts and enrich our lives.
When I say or write the word, commandment, what comes to your mind? Is it any different if I say or write the same word, but add an ‘s,’ commandments? When I am driving my car and I come to a red light or a Stop sign, I recognize that as a commandment. However, it is up to me if I obey it or not. If I totally ignore it, or perhaps give a cursory glance to the right or left, I might survive the potential accident, and I might do that successfully time after time, thus coming up with a philosophy similar to: that light or sign doesn’t really mean that. It just means “be careful,” if I consider it has any meaning at all.
You may rightfully be asking yourself, right now, where is she going with this idea. It would be totally bizarre to think you could do that consistently and survive. I would applaud you for coming to that conclusion.
Yes, it would be considered bizarre to come to a philosophical conclusion that ridiculous. A stop light is more than a suggestion.
Think about the other word, commandments, those specific 10 listed in the book of Exodus. These are also more than mere suggestions and serve the same purpose as a stop light. All of them are for the purpose of protection and a more enjoyable environment in which to live life on planet Earth.
Don’t try to live Monday as if it were Friday. Or was it: don’t try to live Friday as if it were Monday?
As you readers perhaps have noticed, I enjoy a riddle. However, figuring it out often eludes my ability or patience or whatever that is which is needed to make it make sense. Isn’t that what we are always trying to do – make sense of our everyday lives? Often I ask myself, “what’s it all about, Alfie.” Does it always have to be only the backward glance where the answer lies? If so, then memory is the greatest and most marvelous attribute we have. Memories. That’s it. That’s all, up to now.
After now is only a speculation, a riddle yet to be experienced. All future memories to be made are concocted possibilities anchored in our yesterdays and all of its variations. So live Monday and wait for Friday. It will all be clear.
“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
Something else I’m noticing along this homeward stretch: the use of a couple of newly formed words, usta and wuzza. I say newly formed as I recognize “used to” and “was a.”
I am quite certain many of us who have reached the three-score and ten years and beyond are aware of hearing them, using them, and perhaps incorporating them into our vocabulary.
These two new words seem to replace other phrases of years gone by, when it was easier to say, “I am going to, I will, I am, I should, I did, I won’t, I tried, I believe, I can, I hope, I wish, I want; I am so busy, if I just had time I would …” Now I do have time, but the odd thing is I don’t remember what it was, exactly, I was planning to do.
But I wuzza a homemaker, wife and mother, and I usta be very busy.
It was a very good time
I find today a very good time
If tomorrow comes,
I will find it to be a very good time.
“This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”