Friday, September 30, 2005

Amy Carmichael: A breath may be a prayer

Amy Carmichael, the courageous mystic and missionary to India, is one of my favorite persons, a true heroine of the faith…her brilliant life burned like a star across the darkened sky of history, one who counted the cost to attain the calling…of her true self and her God. I could sing her praises on so many levels, but will let her own words praise her -- were she alive, she would not take human praise anyway. In one of her little books, "His Thoughts Said... His Father Said..." she has riveting dialogues between a human and God. Of course, the words are from her own conversation with God: she uses a generic masculine pronoun for subject, out of deep spiritual humility. But the words are hers, so I recount them here, using “her” rather than “his.” For me, it is not a matter of humility, but rather authenticity. She was the spiritual person of this dialogue – it is disingenuous to pretend otherwise. May her words and person inspire you in your own relation with God!

Leave that book

Her thoughts said, “I have been reading a spiritual book and I am confused and tired with trying to understand.”

Her Father said, “Leave that book and read the Book that thou lovest best; thou wilt find it much simpler.”

Two flies

Her thoughts said, “When I would seek Him whom my soul loveth, confusions like flies buzz about me.”

Her Father said, “Press through these confusions as thou wouldest press through a swarm of gnats. Take no notice of them. Be not stayed by them. Be not occupied with them. Be not entangled by them.”

Ye shall be trusted

The daughter knew that if she came to serve the Lord she must prepare her soul for temptation; but she had never expected the particular temptation that confronted her now.

Her Father asked her if she had expected to choose her temptations. The daughter said, “No,” but she longed to have done with temptation for ever!

Her Father said, “One day it shall be so.” “As a dream when one awaketh, so it will be… But thou must learn to endure and to conquer. Blessed is the one who endureth temptation.”

And He told her of hidden manna prepared for the overcomer. “Watch for the hidden manna,” He said, “It will come in hidden ways.”

Then to the daughter it was given to taste of the manna hidden in a word she had not found before: ‘Put your trust in the Lord God, and you shall be trusted.’ The daughter was greatly delighted with that word, and she prayed that she might be made worthy of so great a thing as the trust of her Father!

A breath may be a prayer

Her thoughts said, “Suddenly a question is asked, suddenly a decision must be made. The answer and the decision affect the lives of others. In me is no wisdom at all. Sometimes it is as if I could not even pray.”

Her Father said, “A breath may be a prayer; I hide not Mine ear at thy breathing. But be a simple child with Me. Ask for the thing you need most. I will not upbraid you. [I will not criticize you.] If any lack wisdom, let her ask. And as thou goest on thy way thou shalt do as occasion serve thee; for God is with thee. Do you lack strength? The Lord of hosts will be strength to them that turn the battle at the gate.”

Wearied with His journey

Her thoughts said, “I could do better work for my Lord if it were not that I'm tired. I am tired of being tired.”

Her Father said, “Jesus, being wearied with His journey, sat thus on the well. Are you not willing to be wearied with your journey? Many are wearied in the service of self, the world, earthly glory -- you are loosed from that bondage. Rejoice in the liberty to be weary for God's sake, the One who loved you and gave Himself for you. Abide in His love, and you will learn to give as He gave, even in weariness; to live as He lived, more than conqueror over the flesh.”

The age-long minute

Thou art the Lord who slept upon the pillow,
Thou are the Lord who soothed the furious sea,
What matter beating wind and tossing billow
If only we are in the boat with Thee?
Hold us in quiet through the age-long minute
While Thou art silent, and the wind is shrill:
Can the boat sink while Thou, dear Lord, art in it?
Can the heart faint that waiteth on Thy will?



Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Apocalypse now

The beginning of sorrows

Mark 13:7ff But when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled; for such things must happen, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines and troubles. These are the beginnings of sorrows.

Revelation 8:5ff Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake. So the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.

Always remain in a state of repentance…for we know not the day or the hour at which the Lord will come.
St. Nilus of Sinai

Facing apocalypse with faith

The rush of natural disasters, hurricanes, wind and fire…the march of terror and war, the hint of economic crash…these images we can no longer ignore. People now ask me, “Is this the beginning of the end?”

It is a serious question.

I try to answer it in biblical terms, without obscuring the intent of revelation. Scripture never emphasizes the when of apocalypse, but always emphasizes the what of apocalypse, as in, “What should be our response in such a time as this?”

“How then should we live?” is the recurring drumbeat of revelation, regarding apocalypse.

The Hebraic prophets called for repentance when faced with national disaster.

One must ask, “Why?” Why did the prophets link morality with physical disaster? Is there some causal link?

The answer, unequivocally, is yes. Yes, our spiritual thoughts, our mental and internal status, affect physical reality. It is a spiritual universe. All that is, is held together by the Spirit of God. ‘In Him we live and move and have our being.’ ‘And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.

When people repent, they bring their lives into line with the Spirit that holds the whole together. When people worship God with their internal and daily lives, bringing God’s presence into the details through prayer and obedience, an actual connection with the eternal occurs – realized or unrealized.

This is why it is no mere child’s game to say that our prayers affect even physical disasters, such as hurricanes. The prophets emphasized this, repeatedly. And they were only applying the specific covenant promise of God.
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

There the LORD made for them a statute and a rule, and there He tested them, saying, ‘If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in His eyes, and give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, your healer.’

The power of penitence and prayer

Penitence and prayer thus become the most powerful things in the universe – things fluffed off or devalued by modern spirituality, but nonetheless the divine weapons of inner power…strong enough to still a storm or stop an act of terror, if accessed in faith.

Sara Yoheved Rigler
, talks of this Hebraic principle of penitential prayer:
A person stealing $100 in Tel Aviv lowers the moral fiber in Mexico City and could encourage massive embezzlement in Melbourne. Conversely, a person doing a mitzvah in Haifa may avert an auto accident in London or prevent complications during open-heart surgery in Los Angeles. The spiritual channels of effect run far below the surface, untraceable but powerful.

Spiritual forces, like ocean waves, do not lose their power over distance.

And this is not the doctrine of karma, but rather, repentance. Karma means you get what you deserve, period. Covenant repentance, on the other hand, means that the power of God comes to bear, to forgive past offenses and grant healing…as God promised himself as healer and deliverer.

Sara describes this difference between Judaism [Hebraic Scriptures] and eastern teachings:
Judaism, on the contrary, teaches the concept of teshuva. Teshuva means that a person can regret and change his/her mode of conduct, and when s/he does, the past actions are spiritually erased. In fact, if one does teshuva from pure love of God, the subterranean channel, the river of fire, turns into a positive force, a river of sweet water.

This is precisely what Judaism endorses as a response to disaster. The Talmud says that when one suffers, one should scrutinize one's deeds, implying that teshuva for wrong conduct can change one's fortune. And what if one is not directly affected, but only hears about a disaster that occurred in a distant place? The Talmud asserts that if a person even hears about a disaster such as an earthquake, one must relate to the tragedy by examining one's own deeds.

This makes sense because of the causal link between spiritual and physical reality. This is why the prophets call for repentance!

The fall of Constantinople as spiritual lesson

In the mid-fifteenth century, Constantinople wallowed in spiritual torpor and creature comforts. The golden capital of the Roman Empire and ‘Christendom,’ Constantinople only reflected a society in love with success and material gain. Aristocrats and commoners alike lived in spiritual ignorance, devoting their lives to getting along in social strata. Christianity was the going thing…mega churches were in full sway, with vast crowds and crafted worship performances.

But it was Christianity to manage Christ, and religious ceremony to build walls against God’s transformative power in daily life.

The monk St. Joseph Vryennios tried to save the city. He preached impassioned sermons, and prayed until his heart would break. Joseph preached in the Palace to the emperor, his entourage, the generals, councils and thousands of people.
People asked him, “Are you happy with the thousands of people listening to your sermons?” He answered, “They may be listening, but they neither abandon their sins nor do they repent. They come for entertainment. It is for this reason that I am returning to my cell to cry for my sins and the sins of the people, because the city will become Turkic.” [1]

Upon hearing of Joseph’s condemnation of the city, the Grand Duke protested: ‘Surely God will not judge us! Why look at all our churches, monks, nuns and clergy!’
The Grand Duke Doucas Notaras…replied to St. Joseph, “It is written [in Genesis] that even if a city has fifty righteous people, God will not destroy it. Wouldn’t we find twenty or even ten people in our empire, from all the thousands of monks, nuns and clergy, to hold back the wrath of God?” [2]

St. Joseph replied, “Unfortunately there is not even five.”

Those words, ‘not even five righteous’ in the empire were not hollow words [as events would soon show]. Joseph described how each person in the empire – emperor, patriarch, generals, clergy, parents and teachers – were either directly or indirectly responsible for the evil in the empire, as they ignored the will of God in daily life. He returned to his monk’s cell to pray, and ‘fell asleep in the Lord shortly before the fall of the city.’

The city fell in 1453, to Mohammed II, ‘the Conqueror’ of the Ottoman Empire. Mohammed II celebrated the victory in the palaces of the Byzantines, finding enough gold in the personal coffers of the citizens that would have saved the Roman Empire many times over…

Even more significant and mysterious…the conquerors saw an ominous spiritual sign in the midst of their celebration. Reminiscent of the hand writing on the wall in Babylon, in the Book of Daniel, these Moslem conquerors saw a fearful hand with five fingers flying about the room.
Whilst celebrating, the conquerors saw a hand with five fingers flying around the room they were gathered in, but they could not stop or contain it. The Islamic dream-readers could not interpret this vision, so they asked for Orthodox holy men to interpret it. The Roman chosen to interpret the sign happened to be Gennadius Scholarios. Gennadius then fasted for a week with prayer before the sign was revealed to him. He returned to Mohammed II and told him that the sign meant, “Even if there had been five worthy people in the empire, the empire would have been spared.” [3]

“Even if there had been five worthy people in the empire, the empire would have been spared.”

Such a mystical, tragic account gives a salient question for our time: “If for five righteous people the empire would have been spared, what does it mean to be righteous?” “What does it mean to be ‘worthy?’?”

The penitence of seeking God in daily life

Righteousness is related to the will, to daily life. And, most seriously, today, just as in the time of Constantinople, Christianity often opposes this actual life of the will, in God.

Kierkegaard is prophetic, here:
All our Bible learning has become nothing but a fortress of excuses and escapes. When it comes to existence, to obedience there is always something else we have to first take care of. We live under the illusion that we must first have the interpretation right or the belief in perfect form before we can begin to live – that is, we never get around to doing what the Word says...

Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close.

We use religion, good works, even worship, mission and giving as excuses for not doing the will of God, for not living out daily life in the calling of God.

Here is the practical denial of God. Here is the practical excusing of God from internal, daily life.

Francois de Fenelon addresses this, in the difference between ‘great acts of virtue’ and ‘small things.’
To do small things that are right continually, without being noticed, is much more important [than doing 'great things']. These small acts attack your pride, your laziness, your self-centeredness, and your oversensitive nature. It is much more appealing to make great sacrifices to God, however hard they might be, so that you might do whatever you want with the small decisions of life. Faithfulness in the little things better proves your love for God. It is the slow, plodding path rather than a passing fit of enthusiasm that matters....

You may need courage to attend to small things at first. It may not be easy. Accept the difficulty as God's discipline which will bring you peace. Things will get easier.

Righteousness is letting God into the small things, and then realizing that He owns all things.

Simply, being worthy or righteous does not mean being perfect. It merely means letting God into the details of daily life. It means that we no longer create “Christianity” and theologies that banish God from the little decisions of life, as if we are in control of daily things, and just reference God for things we can’t figure out on our own.

Here Kierkegaard has the last word:
Biblical Christianity is concerned with our will, with changing the will. Everything touches this, all the instructions [renouncing the world, denying one’s self, dying to the world, and so on, also to hate oneself, to love God] are connected with this fundamental idea: the transformation of the will.

Righteousness is permitting God into the will, partnering with the calling in the details of personal life…refusing to erect religious barriers against His voice.

Our defense against the day of apocalypse is the action of this day. This day! ‘Today, if you will hear my voice,’ says the Lord. ‘Harden not your heart as in the day of provocation…’ ‘Now is the appointed time. Today is the day of salvation…’



Saturday, September 24, 2005

Guardsmen sense ghostly presence in NO

Shadows and ghosts

In a CBS article by Janet Yee, members of the U.S. military are quoted as saying that something spooky is going on, that "it's not just images of death and destruction that haunt them."
By all accounts, the Sophie B. Wright Middle School in New Orleans sits empty and evacuated except for military personnel who have taken over the campus as a staging site for missions around the battered city.

But the men in uniform have the feeling that they're not alone. It prompted a chaplain to utter this directive: “In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you Satan to leave the dark areas of this building.”

Said Sgt. Robin Hairston of the California National Guard: “I was in my sleeping bag and I opened by eyes and in the doorway was a little girl. It wasn't my imagination.”

Hairston wasn't the only one seeing things. Spc. Rosales Leanor had her own close encounter.

"I was using the restroom and I just saw a little shadow,” Leanor said. “Kind of looming in front of me.”

Another member of the Guard unit said that she saw and heard a little girl laughing when she opened a closet that contained cleaning supplies.

It's not as if this city of New Orleans is any stranger to these kinds of stories. But coming after such powerful act of nature or God, it is thought-provoking.

Bibles opened to the Book of Revelation

Even more interesting, from a biblical or apocalyptic point of view, Bibles were found opened by the storm to the same passage in the Book of Revelation.
At a Baton Rouge marina, boats were strewn like trash, but not a shred of paper could be found. Except for the pages of a Bible that was found by a soldier. It was open to the Book of Revelation.

At a nearby church, nearly destroyed, another Bible was found, showing the exact same passage from Revelation.

At this, Janet comments cryptically, "Like the power of nature, there is a power at work in New Orleans that defies explanation."

Indeed. I'd be interested to know exactly what passage in Revelation was opened. Was it Revelation 22:15?
But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.

Or, was it Revelation 22:10-11?
And he said to me, 'Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand.

He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.'

Or, was it Revelation 8:5-6, 13?
Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake.

So the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound...

And I looked, and I heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, "Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the...angels who are about to sound!"

If we are wise, we will read the signs of the times. And lift up a voice of prayer, and intercession. Who knows but that our city might be spared? Our land granted a stay? As Abraham found before the Lord, for the sake of ten righteous…even Sodom would have been granted a stay.

The Hebrew prophets always called for confession and prayer in times of disaster. It was the default reaction for people of God. And, as Sara Yoheved Rigler noted at a prior disaster, it is for good reason…

So then let us confess and pray!

Who knows what good may yet come?

Friday, September 23, 2005

The high task of becoming an individual

The group as the abolition of conscience

Kierkegaard asks the question: Why is it that people prefer to be addressed in groups rather than individually? Is it because conscience is one of life’s greatest inconveniences, a knife that cuts too deeply?
We prefer to “be part of a group,” and to “form a party,” for if we are part of a group it means goodnight to conscience. We cannot be two or three, a “family” around a conscience. No, no. The only thing the group secures is the abolition of conscience.

It is the same with busyness. A person can very well eat lettuce before it has formed a heart, yet the tender delicacy of the heart and its lovely coil are something quite different from the leaves. Likewise, in the world of spirit, busyness, keeping up with others, hustling hither and yon, makes it almost impossible for an individual to form a heart, to become a responsible, alive self. Every life that is preoccupied with being like others is a wasted life, a lost life.

Every life that is preoccupied with being like others is a wasted life, a lost life.

A modern, comfortable person might ask: “Why such strong language?”

The answer is that such an abolition of conscience, through family or group, is a sin against God: in Christ God offers us individual relation and calling -- to avoid this through group dynamics, or preoccupation, is a sell-out of highest order.
God has been merciful to us, demonstrating his grace to the point of being willing to involve himself with every person. If we prefer to be like all the others, this amounts to high treason against God. We who simply go along are guilty, and our punishment is to be ignored by God.

The group as the abolition of true self

That is why people are lonely in crowds. They have gone to the crowd to find themselves, instead of finding themselves as an individual before God. And so in the crowd, their deepest heart knows that they are not living as true self before God…their innermost chambers are empty. The crowd by which they have defined themselves is only something that robs their true calling. And so they stand, surrounded and lonely.

This happens in families. And painfully, yes, even in marriages.

The loneliest person is the married person who married while s/he fled true self. In a fatal togetherness, bound by vows…which only help hide the individual.

Thus, the crowd is understood something in which humans hide from their true self. Some institution, some gathering, some tradition or ritual or relation which allows escape: the person defines him or her self in this collective sense, instead of answering to God for true, intended individual creation. “By forming a party, by melting into some group, we avoid not only conscience, but martyrdom.”

This is how even religion, even good church observance can destroy the true self. This is how family can be used as excuse to destroy the true self -- to shield oneself from individual responsibility before the Truth.

When asked if s/he is doing the will of God, s/he will answer: ‘I am doing what my church thinks is right.’ ‘I am doing what my family thinks is right.’ ‘I am doing what my group thinks is right.’

And hereby s/he avoids the question laid before the individual by God: But are you doing the calling of God? And s/he maintains some sense of conscience about it, because s/he has followed the group!

S/he has defined self by something other than self, in order to be happy not being a true self.

The group as the abolition of calling

Kierkegaard says, prophetically, that “wanting to hide in the crowd, to be a little fraction of the group instead of being an individual, is the most corrupt of all escapes.” It makes life easier, ‘but only does so by making it more thoughtless.’ And for this we will answer to God, who made us and calls us.
Every person must render account to God. No third person dares venture to intrude upon this accounting. God in heaven does not talk to us as to an assembly; he speaks to each individually. This is why the most ruinous evasion of all is to be hidden away in a herd in an attempt to escape God’s personal address. Adam attempted this when his guilty conscience led him to imagine that he could hide himself among the trees. Similarly, it may be easier and more convenient, and more cowardly too, to hide yourself among the crowd in hope that God will not recognize you from the others. But in eternity each shall individually render an account. Eternity will examine each person for all that he has chosen and done as an individual before God.

In this life, before God, each one of us has the ‘task of becoming an individual.’ In this is our high destiny, our calling.

Why then would anyone flee this task of becoming an individual, a true self? Because the lie is echoed, and squeezed in upon us by culture and family, that to choose apart from the family or crowd is to lose oneself.

And this lie is shouted in our ears by a hundred voices, in a thousand different ways…every one of them ‘well-meaning.’

But it only gives more meaning to Jesus’ words: “Whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.”

That which we flee from is our true self, in God.

Only in that true self before God will we be truly content. But, paradoxically, it will cost us everything to get there!

Then let us pay that price: let us lose, to find. And in finding, may we lose what keeps us from our true self before Him!




Cf. Soren Kierkegaard, “The Task: Becoming an Individual,” in Provocations: The Spiritual Writings of Soren Kierkegaard, edited by Charles E. Moore.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Destiny in blood and fire at Gettysburg

Warrior of Providence

Piecing together the epic battle of Gettysburg, I’ve found such dramatic stories of Providence, that…in the words of one commander, ‘Only a fool or infidel could deny’ the hand of God in it all. Shelby Foote, the famous Civil War historian, once commented that it was ‘as if the very stars aligned in their courses against Lee’ at Gettysburg, to draw him into battle and then to cause him to throw his men away in Pickett’s [or Longstreet’s] charge on the third day.

And, that seems to be the case. The little details, the ‘chance’ occurrences of terrain, men and events, were arranged in such a way that the Federals won the battle. The more one studies the battle, the more these details pile up and leap out…as an avalanche of ‘improbable’ events, men and positions, piled one upon another, to turn back the Confederate tide.

Among this tide of providential details is the story of Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain and the 20th Maine.

I’ve commented before on the character of this man, and the actions of the 20th at Gettysburg. But here, I’d like to set up the context of those days in July so that readers can sense the power of events for themselves.

The battle at Gettysburg engaged on the first of July, where, by all accounts…the Confederates smashed the Federal troops, with heavy losses. The 20th Maine and the Fifth Corps spent this day marching, only to find themselves 16 or so miles from Gettysburg and the crucial battle by night’s end.

A night when the powers of another world drew nigh
July 1, 1863

The Fifth Corps marched to Hanover, Pennsylvania – Col. Chamberlain and the 20th Maine lay down by the road to get some rest…only to receive urgent orders: ‘Get up and march to Gettysburg!’
Nightfall brought us to Hanover, Pennsylvania, and to a halt. And it was the evening of the first day of July, 1863. All day we had been marching north from Maryland, searching and pushing out on all roads for the hoped-for collision with [Gen. Robert E.] Lee eagerly, hurriedly, yet cautiously, with skirmishers and flankers out to sound the first challenge, and our main body ready for the call…

Worn and famished we stacked arms in camping order, hoping to bivouac beside them… Some of the forage wagons had now got up, and there was a brief rally at their tail ends for quick justice to be dispensed. But the unregenerate fires had hardly blackened the coffee-dippers, and the hardtack hardly been hammered into working order by the bayonet shanks, when everything was stopped short by whispers of disaster away on the left: the enemy had struck our columns at Gettysburg, and driven it back with terrible loss; [John F.] Reynolds, the commander, had been killed, and the remnant scarcely able to hold on to the hillsides unless rescue came before morning. These were only rumors flitting owl-like, in the gathering shadows. We could not quite believe them, but they deepened our mood.

Suddenly the startling bugle-call from unseen headquarters! “The General!” it rang! “To the march! No moment of delay!”

Word was coming, too. Staff officers dashed from corps, to division, to brigade, to regiment, to battery and the order flew like the hawk, and not the owl. “To Gettysburg!” it said -- a forced march of sixteen miles. But what forced it? And what opposed? Not supper, nor sleep, nor sore feet and aching limbs.

In a moment, the whole corps was in marching order; rest, rations, earth itself forgotten; one thought -- to be first on that Gettysburg road. The iron-faced veterans were transformed to boys. They insisted on starting out with colors flying, so that even the night might know what manner of men were coming to redeem the day.

At a turn of the road a staff officer, with an air of authority, told each colonel as he came riding up, that McClellan was in command again, and riding ahead of us on the road. Then wild cheers rolled from the crowding column into the brooding sky, and the earth shook under the quickened tread. Now from a dark angle of the roadside came a whisper, whether from earthly or unearthly voice one cannot feel quite sure, that the august form of Washington had been seen that afternoon at sunset riding over the Gettysburg hills. Let no one smile at me! I half believed it myself -- so did the powers of the other world draw nigh![1]

So after their 12 hour march to Hanover, PA, without rest or cooked rations, they force-marched all night to reach Gettysburg by the 2nd of July.

Hold this ground at all costs!

July 2, 1863

They reached Gettysburg in the morning, and slept on their arms beside the road.

Again the bugle ordered them forward. They entered the field to general chaos and disorder. Amidst the shells and cries for help, Col. Vincent, their commanding officer, heard that Little Round Top was unprotected. Without divisional orders, immediately ordered the Fifth Corps forward, and placed the little 20th Maine on the end of the line.
Reaching the southern face of Little Round Top, I found Vincent there, with intense poise and look. He said with a voice of awe, as if translating the tables of the eternal law, ‘I place you here! This is the left of the Union line. You understand. You are to hold this ground at all costs!’

Chamberlain said that ‘he understood, but was yet to learn about costs.’ He prepared his men to fight ‘at all costs,’ i.e. to fight to the death, if need be.[2]

Captain Howard Prince later related the actions of Chamberlain in the moments before the battle:
Up and down the line, with a last word of encouragement or caution, walks the quiet man, whose calm exterior concealed the fire of the warrior and heart of steel, whose careful dispositions and ready resource, whose unswerving courage and audacious nerve in the last desperate crisis, are to crown himself and his faithful soldiers with...fadeless laurels.[3]

In less than 10 minutes they were attacked. They had literally reached the decisive point of the battle with only minutes to spare.

Immediately, members of the 4th and 47th Alabama regiments attacked their front, and the 20th Maine was hotly engaged.

During the attack, an adjutant alerted Chamberlain a movement of Confederates between the Round Tops towards his left flank. He climbed a rock to see this new development, and sure enough…behind the main attack line, the 500 man 15th Alabama under Colonel William C. Oates was stealthily moving to enfilade his left flank.

But he had no more men for the flank!

Coolly, he ordered his men to keep firing, and take several steps to the left. In this manner he lengthened the thin line, then doubled them back at a right angle. In military terms, this is called ‘refusing the line.’ And he did it under extreme fire, totally outmanned. When the 15th Alabama charged in, instead of crushing an unprotected line, they met a volley of fire, which stunned them and threw them back. “The execution of this difficult maneuver while under fire is a tribute to the regiment’s training and discipline and to Chamberlain’s resourcefulness.”[4]

However, this move, as brilliant as it was, only postponed the inevitable. The 20th Maine just simply didn’t’ have enough men or firepower to hold the position. Their line was spread too thin, and now almost doubled back upon itself.
The roar of all this tumult reached us on the left, and heightened the intensity of our resolve. Meanwhile the flanking column worked around to our left and joined with those before us in a fierce assault, which lasted with increasing fury for an intense hour. The two lines met and broke and mingled in the shock. The crush of musketry gave way to cuts and thrusts, grapplings and wrestlings. The edge of conflict swayed to and from, with wild whirlpools and eddies. At times I saw around me more of the enemy than of my own men: gaps opening, swallowing, closing again with sharp convulsive energy; squads of stalwart men who had cut their way through us, disappearing as if translated. All around, strange, mingled roar-shouts of defiance, rally, and desperation; and underneath, murmured entreaty and stifled moans; gasping prayers, snatches of Sabbath song, whispers of loved names; everywhere men torn and broken, staggering, creeping quivering on the earth, and dead faces with strangely fixed eyes staring stark into the sky. Things which cannot be told -- nor dreamed.

How men held on, each one knows, not I. But manhood commands admiration.

There was one fine young fellow, who had been cut down early in the fight with a ghastly wound across his forehead, and who I had thought might possibly be saved with prompt attention. So I had sent him back to our little field hospital, at least to die in peace. Within a half-hour, in a desperate rally I saw that noble youth amidst the rolling smoke as an apparition from the dead, with bloody bandage for the only covering of his head, in the thick of the fight, high-borne and pressing on as they that shall see death no more. I shall know him when I see him again, on whatever shore![5]

After an hour and a half of this desperate fighting, the little 20th Maine had nothing left to give. Facing 3-1 or 4-1 odds, on little sleep, two-days march, and low ammunition, they could not stand another blow. Six times the enemy had assaulted them. Five times their thin line had been penetrated and almost shattered. The seventh assault would be their last.
Our thin line was broken, and the enemy were in rear of the whole Round Top defense -- infantry, artillery, humanity itself -- with the Round Top and the day theirs. Now, too, our fire was slackening; our last rounds of shot had been fired; what I had sent for could not get to us. I saw the faces of my men one after another, when they had fired their last cartridge, turn anxiously towards mine for a moment; then square to the front again. To the front for them lay death; to the rear what they would die to save…

In his battle report, Chamberlain described it this way:
The enemy seemed to have gathered all their energies for their final assault. We had gotten our thin line into as good a shape as possible, when a strong force emerged from the scrub wood in the valley, as well as I could judge, in two lines in echelon by the right, and, opening a heavy fire, the first line came on as if they meant to sweep everything before them. We opened on them as well as we could with our scanty ammunition snatched from the field.

It did not seem possible to withstand another shock like this now coming on. Our loss had been severe. One-half of my left wing had fallen, and a third of my regiment lay just behind us, dead or badly wounded. At this moment my anxiety was increased by a great roar of musketry in my rear, on the farther or northerly slope of Little Round Top, apparently on the flank of the regular brigade, which was in support of Hazlett's battery on the crest behind us. The bullets from this attack struck into my left rear, and I feared that the enemy might have nearly surrounded the Little Round Top, and only a desperate chance was left for us. My ammunition was soon exhausted. My men were firing their last shot and getting ready to “club” their muskets.

It was imperative to strike before we were struck by this overwhelming force in a hand-to-hand fight, which we could not probably have withstood or survived. At that crisis, I ordered the bayonet. The word was enough. It ran like fire along the line, from man to man, and rose into a shout, with which they sprang forward upon the enemy, now not 30 yards away. The effect was surprising; many of the enemy's first line threw down their arms and surrendered. An officer fired his pistol at my head with one hand, while he handed me his sword with the other. Holding fast by our right, and swinging forward our left, we made an extended “right wheel,” before which the enemy's second line broke and fell back, fighting from tree to tree, many being captured, until we had swept the valley and cleared the front of nearly our entire brigade.[6]

It was a glorious, improbable victory. Entering the fight with 358 men, only 200 remained for the charge… In the charge, these 200 took 400 prisoners, from 5 different Confederate regiments…which gives a sense of the magnitude of the assault force before them – battle hardened regiments from Hood’s and Longstreet’s divisions yielding to a thin blue Federal line bereft of ammunition!

Colonel Oates of the 15th Alabama would later write: “There never were harder fighters than the 20th Maine men and their gallant Colonel. His skill and persistency and the great bravery of his men saved Little Round Top and the Army of the Potomac from defeat. Great events sometimes turn on comparatively small affairs.”[7]

Singular guidance of Providence

  • A scholar and professor, Chamberlain should not have been in battle. His college did not permit him to join, so he took several days leave of absence and signed up!
  • He was not West Point trained; yet he trained himself and the regiment into one of the best in the Union Army.
  • God gifted him with a brilliant mind, trained in classics, half dozen languages, and professor of logic, rhetoric and theology. He turned this brilliance toward understanding the art of war, and understanding men…gifted with the intuitive ability to react instantly to crucial battle demands. Chamberlain commented in a letter to his wife Fanny: “I study, I tell you, every military work I can find. And it is no small labor to master the evolutions of a Battalion and Brigade. I am bound to understand everything.”
  • Of all the Federal officers, none were more creatively equipped than Chamberlain -- intellectually, spiritually or martially -- to be in this exact position that July day in Gettysburg.
  • Of all the Federal regiments, none were more able, man for man, than the 20th Maine [who reflected the leadership of their Col., and trusted him implicitly] to be on the end of the line at Little Round Top.
  • Twice during the battle Chamberlain was wounded. And several times, seemingly protected by Providence: 1. An opposing officer fired a pistol in his face, point blank, only to have it misfire; 2. An opposing Alabama marksman twice had something ‘queer’ come down on him, when he had Chamberlain in his sights.
    Dear Sir: I want to tell you of a little passage in the battle of Round Top, Gettysburg concerning you and me, which I am now glad of. Twice in that fight I had your life in my hands. I got a safe place between two rocks, and drew bead fair and square on you. You were standing in the open behind the center of your line, full exposed. I knew your rank by your uniform and your actions, and I thought it a mighty good thing to put you out of the way. I rested my gun on the rock and took steady aim. I started to pull the trigger, but some queer notion stopped me. Then I got ashamed of my weakness and went through the same motions again. I had you, perfectly certain. But that same queer something shut right down on me. I couldn’t pull the trigger, and gave it up - that is, your life. I am glad of it now, and hope you are.[8]
The proving ground of tough circumstances

  • The 20th Maine formed at Camp Mason in Portland, and under Colonel Ames. Colonel Ames was a notoriously brutal commander, who drilled the men so hard that Chamberlain’s younger brother, Tom, feared that the men would shoot Ames at the first chance, commenting thus: “...Colonel Ames takes the men out to drill and he will damn them up hill and down... I tell you he is about as savage a man you ever saw.” Only after their first combat did the men realize that this over-the-top discipline ensured their survival. Their training made them as close to an elite fighting force as the Civil War knew.
  • The 20th Maine came to Gettysburg after enduring some of the most deadly fighting of the war, at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. Originally mustering close to 900 men, they reported to the line at Gettysburg with 358 men and 28 officers, and this including the addition of 120 court-martialed men from the 2nd Maine, whom Chamberlain convinced to fight with them.
  • The 20th Maine was the Marine Corps of the Federals: trained and proven in the harshest circumstances, almost as if for a single moment in time…holding the line on the rocky slopes of Little Round Top.

The spiritual nature of sacrifice for others

Chamberlain insisted, with great passion, that the sacrifice of his men at Gettysburg and on other fields, be characterized in spiritual terms, as part of the glorious cosmic war against darkness. For this honor, this high chivalry, he paid a price.

Some have said that his stubborn ethics, his code of valor cost him the Senate, and perhaps Presidency…as political enemies undermined him, since they couldn’t control him. But that’s just the kind of man he was. He would not sell out…no, not even for the Senate or President’s power.

The picture of the man is seen, years later, sitting on Little Round Top:
I sat there alone, on the storied crest, till the sun went down as it did before over the misty hills, and the darkness crept up the slopes, till from all earthly sight I was buried as with those before. But oh, what radiant companionship rose around, what steadfast ranks of power, what bearing of heroic souls. Oh, the glory that beamed through those nights and days. Nobody will ever know it here! I am sorry most of all for that the proud young valor that rose above the mortal, and then at last was mortal after all; the chivalry of hand and heart that in other days and other lands would have sent their names ringing down in song and story!

They did not know it themselves -- those boys of ours whose remembered faces in every home should be cherished symbols of the true, for life or death -- what were their lofty deeds of body, mind, heart, soul on that tremendous day.

Unknown -- but kept! The earth itself shall be its treasurer. It holds something of ours besides graves. These strange influences of material nature, its mountains and seas, its sunset skies and nights of stars, its colors and tones and odors, carry something of the mutual, reciprocal. It is a sympathy. On that other side it is represented to us as suffering: The whole creation travailing in pain together, in earnest expectation, waiting for the adoption -- having the right, then, to something which is to be its own.

And so these Gettysburg hills which lifted up such splendid valor, and drank in such high heart's blood, shall hold the mighty secret in their bosom till the great day of revelation and recompense, when these heights shall flame again with transfigured light -- they, too, have part in that adoption, which is the manifestation of the sons of God!

Rutherford B. Johnson comments:
Such characteristics of subordinating one's own selfish ends to the furtherance of a noble, important, and often life-and-death cause are sorely lacking in today's mainstream society. It is not that they do not exist, but rather that those feeling likewise are fewer today than in certain previous times, and often those feelings are greatly suppressed by popular culture. Yet, in this struggle for the preservation of freedom and indeed our very existence, such characteristics are most essential. Chief among these is moral courage and an inclination to carry out actions, when called, which, no matter how unpleasant or self-endangering, are essential to achieving victory.[9]

It is an abiding lesson of courage, and living to ‘the limits of the soul’s ideal.’

Such Providence, in making the man, and bringing the man to bear in these circumstances, should cause us to reflect on our own greatness, and place in the cosmic war between good and evil.

We were not at Gettysburg. But the good done in private, by a good man or woman, carries on the sacrifice…it ensures that the deeds of valor done on this field, and others, for freedom…were not done in vain. It also echoes again that that highest of deeds from the greatest Warrior of all time…on the Cross…still speaks for victory!

Brave hearts, good hearts, continue still…

Dust of heroes, we will know you...on whatever shore!

“In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls. And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! The shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.”


1 Joshua L. Chamberlain, Through Blood and Fire at Gettysburg, published in Gettysburg Magazine No. 6, January 1992 and also published online.
This casual hint of Chamberlain, ‘so did the powers of the other world draw nigh,’ intimates the first real ghost story of Gettysburg: The form of Gen. Washington, dead for 63 years, was reported on the road to Gettysburg, at a crossroads; and then, on the battlefield, at the crucial moment of the bayonet charge: So many of the 15th Alabama claimed to have seen the form of Washington leading the charge that the War Department investigated following the war. And, again, Chamberlain cryptically comments, “Those brave Alabama fellows-- none braver or better in either army--were victims…of their quick and mobile imagination.”
2 Michael Nugent comments:
Chamberlain fully understood the criticality of his mission. If the Confederate forces were able to flank his position, they would gain the rear of the entire Union line with disastrous results… What Chamberlain could not have known, was that in the event of a significant Confederate victory during General Robert E. Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania, the leaders of the Confederacy intended to present President Lincoln with an offer to pursue a negotiated peace, potentially dividing the Country permanently. [Nugent, “Joshua L. Chamberlain: a Biographical Essay,” Military History Online .
3 Recounted by Pat Finegan, To the Limits of the Soul’s Ideal: My Tribute to Major General Joshua L. Chamberlain.
4 Nugent, “Chamberlain.”
5 Joshua L. Chamberlain, Through Blood and Fire at Gettysburg, published in Gettysburg Magazine No. 6, January 1992 and online.
6 Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain's Report of the Battle of Gettysburg (20th Maine), The American Civil War.
7 Quoted by Nugent, “Chamberlain.”
8 Chamberlain, Through Blood and Fire at Gettysburg.
9 Rutherford B. Johnson, A Personal Essay about Chamberlain's Philosophy, and its Modern Application.

Key resources for further study:

Joshua L. Chamberlain, Bayonet! Forward: My Civil War Reminences, Stan Clark Military Books, 1994. The opening picture of Chamberlain on the horse, colors behind him, is from the cover of this book.

Joshua L. Chamberlain, Through Blood and Fire at Gettysburg, Stan Clark Military Books, 1994. The closing, fighting action picture of Chamberlain holding the sword, with the 20th Maine on Little Round Top, is from the cover of this book.

Alice Rains Trulock. In the Hands of Providence: Joshua L. Chamberlain and the American Civil War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992.

To the limits of the soul's ideal. This is a very informative website published by Pat Finegan, on Chamberlain. Lots of nuggets here, in these pages.

Monday, September 19, 2005

A theology of ghosts

My posts on Gettysburg ghosts have raised some interest and questions. So, here I'll revisit the subject a little bit, encouraging theological dialogue. Do you have some thoughts or stories to add? If so, please do so in the comments section. If you don't want to put your name to them, that's fine...because some of these may be sensitive, surely. At any rate, enjoy!

Biblical ghost stories

Scripture treats at least one ghost sighting as objective, where Saul evidently talked with the spirit of Samuel. There are some troubling aspects to this story, as the spirit of Samuel was beckoned by a medium…so was this truly Samuel, or an entity posing as Samuel? God outlawed the practice of witchcraft in Israel -- so is this an instance where a prophet of God was contacted by a medium, against the law of God?

In spite of these issues, I think the larger point still stands: Scripture treats this spirit sighting in objective terms, as if it really happened. Secondly, it treats medium usage seriously, as if there is something really being contacted, against the will and law of God.

In considering the biblical texts, there is also the oblique reference to ghosts when the disciples sighted Jesus walking on the water of Galilee, at night. “It’s a ghost!” they cried, in mortal fear. Of course, Jesus calmly answered, “It is I,” or “I am.” Jesus did not correct their ‘ghost theology’ though, interestingly.

Also, the passage of the Transfiguration is powerful: the shining link between worlds, where the presence of Christ called forth Moses and Elijah, and they sat talking on the Mountain, to the awe of the disciples…so overwhelmed they wanted to build shrines to the event.

The hermeneutic of revelation

The church fathers treat ghost issues seriously, but not univocally [as on most theological issues, there is variance of opinion]. One thing mentioned, however, was the treatment of ghosts as malevolent, interested in possessing or controlling [live] human subjects. This is interesting…and should be a word of caution to those dabbling in ghost seeking.

I found a corollary story from Gettysburg, related to this. There are a lot of ‘spiritual junkies’ that go to Gettysburg seeking ghosts, seeking contact, both visual and auditory, with the other side. Some of these people, very unwisely, call out to things they cannot see, asking these things to reveal themselves, or to ‘come home’ with them. Very unwise. As this person found out: you have to be careful what you call on…you never know what you are opening up.

I think perhaps the wisest stance, dealing with this whole subject, is to treat it from a standpoint of a close relationship to God through Jesus Christ, the Son, and also from a standpoint of revelation, where God’s revelation informs the phenomenon, and not the phenomena informing one’s spiritual life or beliefs.

The freedom of God

We must also allow for the freedom of God to use people, places and events, both living and dead, for His good purposes. And, ever realize that the veil between worlds is limited, for our good. There is a connection, though…which we would be foolish to deny. The Book of Hebrews presents the saints of the ages, filling the cosmic grandstands, cheering us on as we run the circle track of life.

In this freedom of God, is there ever a ‘good’ ghost encounter?

I would say a potential yes, but only if it is not sought against God’s law, and only if it reflects back into the relation with God, through Christ.

J.B. Phillips and the ghost of Lewis

C.S. Lewis had some fascinating thoughts on this, and he himself appeared in one of the most celebrated and redemptive recorded ghost sightings ever: Moments after his death at Cambridge, he appeared in the bedroom of J.B. Phillips at Oxford [a dear friend of his, the one who translated the Bible in the Phillips translation. Phillips also wrote the fabulous little book, Your God is Too Small].

At the time, J. B. Phillips was in a deep depression that threatened his life. He refused to leave his chambers, refused proper food or exercise, and seriously questioned the love and election of God [in his life]. It was in this state of detachment and depression, leading to his early death…that suddenly, a ruddy and glowing Lewis stood before him, entering his room through closed doors -- a “healthy Lewis, hearty and glowing” as Phillips was later to record.

In this vision, Lewis only spoke only one sentence to Phillips: ‘J.B., it’s not as hard as you think.’ One solitary sentence, the meaning of which is debated! But what is not debated is the effect of that sentence. It snapped Phillips out of his depression, and set him again following God. After Lewis spoke that cryptic sentence, he disappeared.

Phillips came out of his chambers only to find that Lewis had died moments before the appearance, miles away. He pondered this in his heart, with wonder, and never returned to his depression. Now, was this a case of God giving a detour of a soul on the way to heaven to a special friend, to save him? Who knows? But again, it is recorded evidence of the highest order, by persons of the highest order: Lewis and Phillips. It is a ghost story, a benevolent one, to all appearances – actually, not only benevolent, but redemptive [which I would take as an element of authenticity].

Again, we must allow for the freedom of God. This is His world, after all. He set up the physical and moral laws, and yet rules over these sovereignly, in love. What is needed for His children, He spares no expense.

He granted David the very showbread of the Tabernacle, to sustain his body and soul.

Will He grant us less, according to His laws and love?

I think not!

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Autumn morning

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Amy Carmichael: Have you no scar?

Have You No Scar?

by Amy Carmichael

Jesus speaks to us:

Have you no scar? No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear you sung as mighty in the land.
I hear them hail your bright ascendant star.
Have you no scar?
Have you no wound?

Yet, I was wounded by the archers, spent, leaned me against the tree to die,
and rent -- by ravenous beasts that encompassed me
I swooned.
Have you no wound?
No wound? No scar?

Yes, as the master shall the servant be,
and pierced are the feet that follow Me,
but yours are whole.
Can he have followed far -- who has no wound? No scar?
Can she have followed far -- who has no wound? No scar?

[selah: silence]

[personal prayer]

Meditation on wounds

The Apostle James says that we are healed as we confess: Moral element to healing (5:16).

The Apostle John speaks of the one Christ told, ‘Take up your bed and walk!’ (John 5:1-9ff) Carry that which carried you: Emotional, vocational commitment to healing: Healing means that we accept God’s unknown over our comfortable [sick] known.

True healing: Willing to be weak where the world is strong; willing to be strong where the world is weak. Think about it…

God’s purposes for sickness: death (cf. 2 Kings 13:21), discipline (Heb. 12:5ff, Prov. 3:11f, et al), or the glory of God (John 9:3).

Not all who are physically ill are unhealed. Some are destined to receive healing through that illness…

Receiving healing: Accepting God's future over my past and present reality

My father, Rev. G. L. Mershimer contracted polio as a boy. He should have died, they said. But the disease left him without proper use of both legs, one arm and some other muscles. Dad often talked about his polio condition, and the part it played in bringing him to the ministry. He wondered if he’d have accepted God's calling on his life if polio hadn't entered. In his heart, he didn't believe he would have followed the call without the reverses of that illness, its deep struggle and pain. If that is true…then all of his subsequent life, his travelling across the country to attend school, his meeting mom...his marriage to her as he obeyed the call, his four children, his incredible, incarnational ministry -- all of this was due to a polio condition that God used to bring blessing through. If this is true, then my very existence is due to a wound. All of my actions that echo for good, every life I touch or prayer I pray, every word I say or write...this very a continuation of the healing that God brought through a wound: actions of a child that would not have been born without polio and the call. The Mershimer family is an entity called forth by God's healing power...still echoing in the world, through one polio condition.

What is your wound?

What healing does God want to bring to you and others through the condition you are currently in? What wholeness does God want to give as you hear the call in your scar? Open to His good purpose!

Open to His calling...

For it is good...there is trueness and wholeness. New life through the wound...


Prayer: God, you can have all of me. I accept all of your purposes for me…even in my present condition, which is caught up in my past, I accept your future, your wholeness, and heed your me, in this, in all. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

How big is God?

Psalm 45:1ff To the Chief Musician.

Set to “The Lilies.”

A Song of Love.
My heart is overflowing with a good theme;
I recite my composition concerning the King;
My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.
You are fairer than the sons of men;
Grace is poured upon Your lips;
Therefore God has blessed You forever.
Gird Your sword upon Your thigh, O Mighty One,
With Your glory and Your majesty.
And in Your majesty ride on
because of truth, humility, and righteousness;
And Your right hand shall teach You awesome things!
Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the King's enemies;
The peoples fall under You.
Your throne, O God, is forever and ever;
A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom!

My heart is overflowing with a good theme. I sing my song to the King. Alleluia!

I’ve been overwhelmed recently, thinking on Providence, and the goodness of God. Specifically, how God answers prayer even when we can’t see His hand or see His action in events…still, He is there, silently, quietly and effectively, behind the scenes, working out His good purpose in and through events.

As I’ve reflected on several recent events, and meditated on the goodness of God, a song came to mind, which my mother sang to me as a child. The song asks the question, “How Big Is God?” And, for a child’s mind, it answers with comfort and good theology: “God is big enough to fill this vast universe, yet small enough to live in my heart!” Big enough to conquer, small enough to care!

In one sentence it captures the transcendence and immanence of the Holy, personal God – and puts it on a child’s level. And since I strive to be, as Jesus put it, a child in God’s eyes…the song still touches me! And it echoes in the heart of the man, whose heart ‘overflows with a good theme,’ singing the song to the King!
Though men may strive to go beyond the reach of space
To crawl beyond the distant shining stars
This world's a room so small within my Master's house --
The open sky but a portion of his yard.

How big is God, how big and wide His vast domain?
To try to tell these lips can only start
He's big enough to rule this mighty universe
Yet small enough to live within my heart.

As autumn chill may cause the tiny seed to fall…
To lie asleep till waked by summer's rain
The heart grown cold will warm and throb with life anew
The Master's touch will bring the glow again.

How big is God, how big and wide His vast domain?
To try to tell these lips can only start
He's big enough to rule this mighty universe
Yet small enough to live within my heart.


The warrior and the child. God grant the paradox will continue and grow in my heart until that final day!

I sing my song to the King, and strive to walk as a king under Him…


Thursday, September 01, 2005

That spindly bush

And God appointed a spindly bush...

It was just a spindly bush outside a tired old police station, in a small town in Mississippi. Just a scraggly bush, a wannabe tree with anemic, red-tipped branches just trying to find the sky...

A few months ago an officer plowed into the bush with the back of his car. Should'a been the end of that bush then, but it bounced back...bedraggled and bruised. And totally no respect...

"We're gonna cut that bush down," the police chief said. After all, it's an eyesore that is always in the way. Already scratched its share of cruisers...and we have a reputation to keep. "We're gonna cut it down." But somehow, the deed wasn't done, left for another day -- always a more important task on the radio.

Just a spindly bush outside a tired old police station, in a small town in Mississippi.
Just a scraggly bush, a wannabe tree with anemic, red-tipped branches just trying to find the sky...

Surely Providence didn't plan for a bush like this!

"Let's cut it down..." the good people said.

But then, the rains came down, and the floodwaters rose.

The Hurricane beat upon that small town of Waveland, and the flood tide swelled on the sea. The officers responded, as good officers will...and made their way out into the parking lot, when knee-deep waters threatened the citizens.

The officers, dispatchers and other personnel made a chain to reach high ground, and help others from distress. But the flood tide came down from wine-dark skies, 30 feet high...from the sea a mile away. Death was on the tide...

Good plans were swept away.

And they would have been gone...except for that scraggly bush!

There, at just the right spot, at just the right time, in their exact moment of need, stood the spindly bush...offering its untrimmed branches as life-saving hands, kind hands, hands worn from abuse and lack of care...but hands strong enough to hold 14 officers from their appointment with death.

For five hours, 14 officers and personnel held on to the spindly bush, and prayed for strength...strength for themselves, and strength for that bush, that it would hold in the tide.

And it held.

And they are alive.

Now a hand-carved wooden cross adorns its branches, a quiet symbol of thanks for the Life that gives new life...mysterious Providence in a storm, revealed in an unwanted bush....

Friend, what is that spindly bush in your life?

Perhaps something totally taken for granted, through which destiny will speak?

Perhaps some past token of Providence, scorned and neglected, through which your life will soar?

Perhaps some unwanted shrub in the parking lot of your life, which you've just wanted to cut down...

Look to Providence in the flood!

For He is there, and His ways past finding out. Trust those ways, and find new life...



Flood assistance:

If perhaps you would like to be a "spindly bush" to someone in need, you can donate at Feed the Children, an Oklahoma City, OK charity recommended by Allen.

Or, you can choose from a list generated by Glenn.