In May of 1971, Marge and I were in Germany, celebrating the second half of our month-long Honeymoon. We’d been in the wonderful city of Garmisch, staying in a hotel on the shores of the Eibsee lake, at the foot of the Zugspitze mountain. We were going back to the home of our hosts in northern Germany.
We were traveling north on the Autobahn and stopped for lunch when we saw the sign for Dachau. The piece that follows is partly real, partly imagined. I’ll never forget.
“Visit Dachau, the 1200 years old artists’ centre with its castle and surrounding park offering a splendid view over the country.”
Sign along the Autobahn, May 1971.
It seemed the appropriate thing –
after Munich’s beer halls,
toward the marching torchlights of Nuremberg,
filled with Bavarian spring glory;
– as a traveling artist might
for schnitzel and beer;
for a May afternoon,
where so many lived their lives
“We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds . . ..” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Houses and shops stand like unmoving spectators
edging medieval streets
whose cobbles pound our tires,
slamming in rhythmic thumps,
echoing from claustrophobic walls
like jackboots at quick march.
The gasthaus windows hold blurry leaded panes,
ancient as its yellowed mortar and bricks.
It slumbers the days beside shops with newer glass
-a comfortable quiet neighbor,
as old as evil.
Our host, bespectacled and fat,
knows us for Americans,
and waves aside our bookish German,
welcoming in robust English.
We sit in sturdy oak chairs,
before a round, hand-made table
under shelves with pewter plates and tankards
high above, on clean white walls.
Dark lager (cold for tourists),
and bratwurst with potato dumplings
blend with holiday gemutlichkeit,
filling us with stealthy languor
until the question
stops genial smiles,
stops talk that had eddied in holiday air
like swirls of pipe smoke.
where is the prison camp?”
The Nazi concentration camp.
He doesn’t know,
can hardly understand;
-business keeps him close,
perhaps another can tell,
good-bye, thank you,
The waitress has heard;
-is young, with a dirndl only for work.
Follow the old railroad;
look where a branch splits in weeds to a siding
where things were once unloaded.
We will see chimneys,
then, the road inside is near.
She tells us a story she had heard;
when only a youth,
had crept silently in the night
to throw loaves of bread over the walls.
It was always closer than we knew.
From any higher vantage,
-a public building, standing tall
or church with a strong steeple,
we might have seen the camp before,
but persistent soot darkened their windows,
hiding the sight.
We traveled on the prison road
before we knew where it led.
once bright, hard German steel
that barely flexed under loaded cattle cars—
lie obscured now,
camouflaged in rust and silence.
“ARBEIT MACHT FREI”
Work will make you free,
the sign above the gate promised every morning.
Everyone worked then,
The Fuehrer led us to our tasks.
I typed and filed for the SS Doctors;
crimes against The Reich,
cross indexed by tattoo number
All the family has poor vision,
-I’m almost blind without heavy glasses
given me by the party-
but wanted to wear the black shirt;
had envied hordes of SS ranks at Nuremberg,
following swastika standards,
stepping to the pagan roll of kettle drums,
emblazoned with lightning and death-heads.
That night in thirty-four, my family joined the march;
bearing our torches toward The Fuerher’s stand,
down that dark path
where a column of spotlights pointed skyward,
and disappeared in emptiness.
The doctors gave me the storm trooper shirt
pinned with silver runes and skulls
-made me one of them
as an honor,
after I assisted in a medical experiment.
-I only followed orders,
only kept records.
They called him their Test Pilot,
-laughed at the irony of a Jew
dressed in Luftwaffe flight gear,
testing North Atlantic water survival
beneath the walls of Dachau.
He sat in a wooden tub,
chained to his task,
submerged to the neck in icy brine
that mocked the life vest he wore.
How long, the doctors had asked,
should we search for pilots
downed at sea in winter?
-How long, they wanted to know,
would it take the Jew to die?
I held the stopwatch.
watching both hands circle,
until his work had made him free.
Late in the night,
as the SS doctors drank and ate,
telling stories and laughing in our gasthaus,
I stole bread from the kitchen,
found my way in darkness,
and threw loaves over the wall.
The picture hangs in the camp museum;
-part of the records we kept-
A doctor counts the Jew’s slowing pulse,
another ensures the water is cold enough.
Two others watch.
I stand away, to one side,
wearing the SS shirt that doesn’t fit,
looking down at stopwatch and clipboard.
Everyone else looks at the camera.
and the Test Pilot.
No one in town knows
who that young clerk was.
Now, the path into the camp;
-a long entranceway,
whose high, whitewashed walls,
blank and mute,
keeps all sights enclosed.
One blind guard tower watches the gate.
It could be a schoolhouse,
an innocent white frame building,
where children hang bright crayon drawings
down long hallways with fragrant oiled floors.
It was once camp headquarters.
Inside, we submerge into the Third Reich:
black and white pictures clamped in iron racks,
enlarged beyond reality,
stare back at us.
Hitler points and screams,
his grainy, sightless, long-dead eyes
storm from the poster
with erupting blackness
like a sudden rush of vulture’s wings.
–a man chained in a wooden tub,
freezes in ice water.
Doctors in SS uniform watch.
–a “Test Person” locked in a steel tank,
– a series of pictures
taken through a small thick window,
panics as his air is sucked out,
claws his face,
contorted in the vacuum,
until his lungs rupture.
–bodies, living and dead,
like stick-figures drawn by an insane child,
stare out from their wooden sleeping bins,
or lie stacked in a pit;
arms, legs, necks jutting in broken angles.
written in a precise hand
translated on another book to English,
to French, to Russian,
as exact transcripts of torture and death
-a daily journal
of ordinary horrors
–a long, slatted oak table,
concave across its breadth,
specially made for beatings,
-stained from its work,
stands highlighted by a sudden shaft of sunlight.
I am only a simple carpenter
my thoughts lie in my hands,
and follow the grain of German wood.
I could not see the crooked Nazi design
beneath the lines and print that held their plan.
They used my work
…stained my pride,
bloodied the pores of clear young oak,
shaming the art of my ancient trade.
I am only one man,
…a poor carver of wood,
I made the tables where they drank at night,
-and whipping tables for their prey.
What would you have me do?
Is a carpenter,
the son of a carpenter,
-to try to save the world?
We see nearly all of it now,
tall schoolhouse windows admit the sight.
The May sun is still not warm enough,
but we surface into newer air,
limestone gravel crunches and echoes as we walk.
Only one hut stands,
a replica from new wood,
For the rest,
empty ranks of concrete foundations,
like indelible tracks from an army of giants,
stand squarely aligned in stone formation;
like casts of dinosaur footprints,
of what once stood here.
Two chapels at the far end,
grown on this dead ground
like bright fungus
leaching sustenance from a fallen tree,
Even from this vantage,
where once we would have smelled them,
we still cannot see gas chambers
THE CHAPELS AT DACHAU
Like constructs from an alien reality,
the chapels sit on this barren ground
along the path to gas chambers.
Catholic and Protestant, they lie
unaligned with the vacant, squared foundation ranks.
Their modern concrete,
sweeps in flowing curves,
and brown rock from distant quarries,
artfully forms a vertical cylinder,
holding its sheltered crucifix behind a steel fence
with points like tips of bayonets.
comfortable backdrops for pictures,
or sites for occasional brief prayer
by pious tourists who come to visit.
These would have been a place to pause,
where those driven down this trail,
could kneel in meager comfort,
before a cross whose arms were not deformed
into a swastika.
But this dead earth lay unblessed,
churches and their architects — distant:
the Vatican tending her own affairs,
and preachers, heeding the voice of Luther,
could not see
beyond the Nazi walls.
We finally make our turn,
where the walls seemed to break,
what we knew without seeing.
The gas chamber,
three tall brick chimneys;
by later production standards
-at Auschwitz, at Buchenwald,
Short, thick, white candles,
burn in stretcher-shaped iron beds,
-that had committed the flesh to the flames-
sending thin guttering smoke
up chimneys still crusted inside with darker soot.
Like an oasis,
like water in desert places,
standing aside from the “Fumigation Chamber”
surrounded by greenery, flowers and grass
a small statue of a small man,
dressed in tatters and a too-large coat
focuses tired, resigned bronze eyes
on a place beyond our view.
A symbol, the sign says,
of all who suffered here.
There were always the walls,
as a man, I could never see Germany beyond the ghetto,
could only hear the rhythmic stamp of boots,
grinding whine and clank of tanks,
shouts and commands of Nazi officers;
noises in the distance,
My violin, my brother, Bach, and other friends
made music a comforting blanket
covering our small spaces in practiced familiar sound.
Then the night of torch lights,
doors smashed open,
armed men cursing, laughing,
their dogs growling, snapping,
herding us down streets we no longer knew
shoving my twin against me,
packing a boxcar in a strange rail yard,
new in the town
where I was born.
Wind and train whistle screamed,
tracks of the Reich hurried from our origins,
distance stretching terror inside like violin gut,
bowed with constant rushing slap of steel to steel,
moaning in discordant minor keys.
Brought at last to Dachau,
because we were twins
because our hair was red,
because we were “untermenschen”
because we were Jews;
we piqued the Nazi curiosity
we made amusing subjects
for the doctors’ experiments.
I am Nathan.
I was here,
stacked like cordwood
waiting for fire.
My life was dirt
beneath the Nazi boots.
Fire transformed the last of sinew and skin
The grinding wheel of years made me dust.
Dust, with all the others.
I am Nathan,
I am here.
I am dust.
Dust on your shoes you will carry away;
dust you breathe
-even as you try to hold your breath
my dust with the dust of millions coats your lungs,
seeps in your veins
I will be here
I will be with you
Today is the last day for this freebie. Enjoy the book and look at some of the others.
Here’s the cover, BTW.
Don’t forget; this is a limited-time offering as a late Christmas freebie. The book is free Jan. 3rd though the 5th.
I’ll hope that you like it and, if you have questions, contact me by a PM on facebook or send an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are no strings or obligations. No one will be tracking your order but Amazon (they track all orders, BTW).
Happy New Year!
Several years ago, a now-defunct publishing company convinced me to place my first novel, Piety and Murder with them. The company provided editing; a fine book cover and a so-so trailer. They, of course, expected me to provide most of the marketing and publicity.
The book collected some excellent reviews and I was encouraged to write more about the principal characters. Instead of starting a sequel, I wrote a Vietnam war story as a prequel. It is the book, Where There Were No Innocents.
The original publisher went bankrupt and sold all the books it had under contract to another publisher. That company was not at all a good fit for my book, and after some time, I got the rights to the book back.
I rewrote the book, and renamed it. The book is now called Murder and The Preacher. Here is the synopsis from Amazon.
Something was wrong—terribly wrong… Murder and kidnapping were just the beginning!
After a late-night shootout on the Lake Ponchartrain Bridge, retired Green Beret soldier Mack Brinson, calls in his old war buddies to help him catch a killer.
The evil mastermind, a shadowy entity who has links to Brinson and his friends going back to their time in the Vietnam war, appears to always be one step ahead.
Will Mack catch the killer in time, or will he lose the new love of his life?
The book is free. Absolutely free on Amazon, in the digital version, January 3rd through 5th of 2019. No strings. Just a gift, hoping you’ll like it and some of the others.
The Amazon URL is: https://amzn.to/2R0rx7O
Happy New Year!
This is the second, and concluding section of the imagined story of the midwife, Judith, who assisted Mary as Jesus was born.
The story is pure imagination, except for the names of the Holy Family, but it’s how I imagine the scene could have happened.
If you haven’t read the initial segment, scroll back to yesterday’s post.
God bless you all with a peaceful and happy Christmas.
Sarah went to the inn to get Joseph and bring him to see the baby, that was now wrapped in clean cloths and lying on a bed of sweet hay in the feeding trough. When she came back, Sarah came with them and brought more cloths for the infant and several blankets for the family and two for Judith and Susanna.
Judith watched closely as the man—who she thought was the father of the baby—came in. After all, he had correctly said that the infant would be a boy. There were fifty-percent odds that he would have guessed properly on that. But, he had said that he’d been told the child would be an “exceptional man.”
Told how, and by whom?
Many men, who were new fathers she’d watched, approached their newborns with a kind of awe, as if they were astonished that the child before them was theirs. This man, Joseph, was different.
He regarded the infant boy, with what appeared to Judith, to be reverence. The exact words he’d used were, “…Please take good care of Mary. Her son, I have been told, will be an exceptional man.”
Her son? Not our son? And, “an exceptional man.”
Judith was sitting on one of the wool blankets Sarah had brought. She’d spread it on the hay the innkeeper had provided, and covered her shoulders with another blanket. Her knees and ankles were still flexible and felt strong. There was no pain.
“Mother, I’m going back to our house to brew some herbal tea for Mary and I’ll bring some food and tea for you, too,” Susanna said.
Judith nodded and then reminded her daughter which herbs she used in the tea she prepared for new mothers.
After Susanna left, Judith leaned back into the soft hay, wrapped in her blankets. The hour was late and she was weary. Sleep began to embrace her like another blanket.
Then there were voices and more light. When she sat up, looking toward the feeding trough where the infant lay, she saw four strangers. They were dressed in the rough clothes of shepherds. Even in the confines of the stable, the scent of the sheep they guarded rose from their robes.
Judith started to order them away from the newborn boy, but Joseph welcomed them, and Mary smiled, but said nothing as they drew close. The men were all talking at once, their voices rising as they told their story. Their eyes were gleaming as they approached the trough where the baby slept.
Then, they dropped to their knees.
After long minutes, they rose and turned to Mary bowing in humility. One of them assumed the role of spokesman. Judith listened to his story, watching the other shepherds, as well as Joseph and Mary.
This is the story he told.
“ We have been living out in the pastures with our flocks for weeks. We were sitting around our campfire when suddenly a creature of the most brilliant light appeared. We were terrified! It was like nothing we’d ever seen before,” he said.
Another shepherd, unable to contain his words spoke.
“But the creature spoke to us in a voice that calmed our fears. The angel—that’s what it must have been—told us not to be afraid. He said that a child had been born who would be our savior, The Messiah,” he said.
The first man picked up the narrative again.
“The angel said that, when we looked for the newborn Christ child, we would find him, wrapped in baby cloths and lying in a manger. We searched the stables until we came here. Now, we are blessed men to be in the presence of the Messiah.”
A third shepherd added more to the story.
“The angel had hardly finished telling us about the baby when an army of angels joined him. They were praising God and telling of peace on earth and good will to mankind,” he said.
The fourth shepherd had been silent. Now he could no longer hold his voice.
“We came here as quickly as we could, leaving our flocks with only a boy to guard them. We couldn’t wait. Now that we have seen the Savior, we will go back to the fields, telling everyone we meet what we have seen and heard,” he said.
After the shepherds were gone, the only sounds in the stable were those the animals made as they snuffled and grunted.
Mary was drowsing, recovering her strength, with the baby boy held close to her breast.
In the yellow, flickering light of a single olive oil lamp, Joseph sat in the hay beside his wife, his gaze locked on her and the infant. For him, sleep was still far away.
Susanna returned with the tea she’d brewed according to Judith’s instructions.
“Shhh. Wrap the pot in some cloths to keep it warm. The young mother is resting, as she needs to do. When she awakens, she’ll have her tea. Now, where’s our tea and food? I’m hungry, even though the birthing went so easily,” Judith said.
“Since everything is so peaceful here, let’s go to our home, have our breakfast and return at dawn. I think the mother and child will be safe with Joseph, until we return,” Susanna said.
Judith offered food and tea to Joseph. He accepted them, smiling, and resumed his vigil, all attention centered on Mary and the baby.
The midwife and her daughter went to their house, washed themselves and had a quick breakfast; dawn was just beginning to glimmer over the eastern mountains when Judith returned, alone, to the stable. Susanna would come, by midday to check and relieve her.
Judith was surprised to see a young boy in the stable. He was obviously accepted by the family and was dressed in robes common to shepherds. The young mother touched his hair as he knelt before her and the baby. There was something curious she noticed later. The boy seemed to be listening to a voice that only he could hear.
The midwife dismissed her curiosity about the boy as he retreated into the shadows of the stable. She focused on the mother and baby.
After Mary drank the tea and ate a light breakfast, Judith suggested a brief nap after the baby had nursed. The new mother was peaceful, but weary, and agreed.
Judith, spelled by Susanna for part of the time, stayed with Mary in the stable, for another day—making sure that the young woman and her son were doing well.
Judith was at home the morning of the third day, when Sarah, the innkeeper’s daughter, arrived at the stable, bringing a man with her.
“Joseph, my father now has a room for you in the inn. As soon as it became vacant, he held it for you. I will help Mary and the baby as we move to the room, and my helper will assist you in moving your belongings. Of course, your donkey can stay here in the stable,” she said.
The family moved into a clean, spacious room in the inn and Susanna went home to give Judith the happy news.
“There is something quite unusual about the family and their baby. I’ve told you about the amazing way my knees and ankles have become pain-free and flexible. You, also, have felt the peace that envelops us in the presence of the infant. You watched the shepherds as they fell down in reverence.”
Susanna nodded, but said nothing. There was more.
“I haven’t told you everything.”
Judith paused as if making a decision. Then, speaking as if she was whispering in her daughter’s ear, she said.
“When Sarah was about to escort Joseph out of the stable to wait for the child’s delivery, he introduced himself to me and said, ‘…Please take good care of Mary. Her son, I have been told, will be an exceptional man.’”
Susanna’s eyes widened, but she silently leaned closer to her mother.
“He didn’t say ‘our son’, and he stressed that the child would be ‘an exceptional man.’”
“Did he say who told him that?” Susanna said.
“No, and I didn’t ask. At the time I was so consumed by the imminent delivery of the child that, although the words seemed peculiar, I dismissed them. Then when my joints became free and strong again, I kept hearing Joseph’s words. They were almost singing in my head like the chorus of a song.”
“Do you want to go visit them in their room at the inn?” Susanna said.
“No. I think they need privacy, but let’s be sure to go to the temple when the boy is one month old, for his consecration. Unless Mary needs us before that time, we’ll see them then.”
Judith and Susanna went to the inn and followed Mary and Joseph as they took the boy—now named Jesus, after his circumcision—to the temple complex. The couple bought a pair of doves as an offering to the Lord, at the boy’s consecration.
Suddenly, those in attendance were surprised by the appearance of an elderly man, Simeon— known to be a righteous man— who held out his arms, silently asking Mary for permission to hold the baby.
Although amazed, she felt an assurance that no harm would come to her son and laid the infant into the old man’s arms.
Simeon’s prayer astounded everyone there. He had told the priests that God had told him that he would not die before seeing the Messiah.
“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.
according to thy word:
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people
Then Simeon blessed them and said unto Mary his mother,
“Behold this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:29-35, KJV)
Joseph and Mary were speechless, but since they had both been visited by angels about the birth of Jesus, they accepted this event in wonderment.
As Judith and Susanna watched and listened, their eyes met and the words Joseph had said sounded like a refrain from a hymn. “Please take good care of Mary. Her son, I have been told, will be an exceptional man.”
As the two women walked back to their home, their words were few, but their hearts and minds were filled with the knowledge that they had played a part in bringing the Messiah into the world.
The following is a bonus fable to accompany the story of Joshua, the shepherd boy from the story, The Shepherd Left Behind.
After writing the story of the shepherd, it occurred to me that midwives commonly assisted mothers as their babies came into the world.
Joseph was an honorable man, and would have wanted the best for his beloved Mary. The story is in the First Chapter of the Gospel of Matthew.
“18Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
19Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.
20But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
21And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
22Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
23Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
24Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:
25And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.” (KJV)
This is the first of two parts to the story. The concluding segment will be posted tomorrow, Dec. 16, 2018.
The Midwife’s Story
“Judith, come quickly, a woman needs you—now!”
Judith rolled over in her bed to face the door where someone was making so much noise in the middle of the night. Dragging her mind out of sleep, where dreams still echoed, was like pulling strands of sticky filament off her face after walking into a spider’s web.
“Judith, can you hear me? Wake up! A woman needs you and your daughter!” the voice said.
The voice was female, and young sounding. Good. Her detractors—or enemies—in the Physician’s Guild probably wouldn’t send a young woman to summon her. They would send one of their own, a male.
“I’m here. Quit yelling and beating on the door. I’ll come soon,” Judith said.
The noise from the door stopped, but the silence was the sort that could easily be broken again. It was almost as if Judith could hear the owner of the loud voice inhaling, preparing to shout again.
She pushed up from her bed, using both hands and held the frame as she stood. Her knees and ankles reminded her, as she crossed the room, that they needed more sleep. She dressed in a robe that would protect her against the chill outdoors.
Thank God my hands, arms and shoulders are still flexible and pain free. I’d not be able to help the women, otherwise.
Yes, of course a woman needs me. Men don’t personally require the services of midwives. Recent days in Bethlehem have been unusually busy ones. It seems that every tenth woman who comes into the city to register, under Caesar’s census edict, has been pregnant and about to deliver. I need sleep, but they need me even more.
She limped across the room to where her daughter slept. The younger woman’s back was toward her. Her breathing was deep and regular. The frantic noise from the door hadn’t awakened her.
The dark room was as familiar to Judith as the fingers on each hand. She found an oil lamp on a table near her daughter’s bed.
After lighting it, Judith touched the sleeping woman’s shoulder.
“Susanna, wake up, someone needs us. Dress and get the birthing stool. I’ll find out who’s at the door and where we need to go.”
She lit another olive oil lamp and made her way to the entrance of their small house
As she lifted the bar to open the door the sound of heavy breathing was obvious. When the thick, wooden portal swung outward, the lamp illuminated a familiar face—the innkeeper’s daughter.
“Sarah, why are you out here calling for me in the middle of the night? Am I needed to help some woman staying in your father’s lodging place?”
Sarah didn’t immediately answer. She looked down the dark street and up at the sky before turning back to Judith. The lamp she carried was guttering, almost out of oil.
“The woman who needs you isn’t staying in the inn. The family came up from Nazareth and was late arriving. There are so many people who have come to Bethlehem to comply with Caesar’s registration decree that by the time the man, Joseph, came in, all the rooms were taken,” Sarah said.
“So what did your father do? Did he tell them to go rent a tent?”
“No, the man is an honorable man, a carpenter, and the woman, Mary, seems so gentle and sweet—as well as being very pregnant— that my father did the best he could. He let them stay, without cost, in the stable behind the inn. It’s secure and built into the side of a hill to protect our animals from the weather— so they’ll be safe and sheltered, though not truly comfortable.”
Susanna came to the door. She was carrying an oil lamp and the birthing stool. She had her long hair pulled back. She smiled as she recognized Sarah.
“Well, good morning. Are we going to the inn?” she said.
Sarah repeated the story she’d told Judith and began to walk down the dark street toward her father’s inn. Judith closed and latched her door and followed. The two younger women walked ahead. They slowed their normal pace so that Judith would not be left behind.
As they walked, the midwife watched her daughter and the innkeeper’s daughter.
Suzanna, her daughter, was almost eighteen. Her dark auburn hair was tied back and swung, side to side, as she walked. She was tall and had the wide, strong shoulders and classical profile her Greek father had bequeathed. He had been a physician trained in the best of the schools of Alexandria. He had taught her to read and had also taught her the profession of midwifery. After he passed away at only forty-two, Judith had become Bethlehem’s most popular midwife. That created a problem in the collective mind of the city’s Physician’s Guild. They wanted her to leave.
Sarah, the innkeeper’s daughter, was probably four years younger. She wore a robe of tan with dark green stripes. She had trouble slowing her stride, and not only because of her excitement. Her legs were long and her stride covered the ground easily. She would soon be as tall as Susanna. Her black hair bounced on her shoulders as she walked.
Judith’s thoughts were interrupted.
“Judith, we are almost to the stable. Please don’t be put off by the surroundings. The woman you will be helping seems to be unusually sweet and kind.”
The midwife wondered if Sarah could see her expression in the dim light. From most people the admonition would be insulting. From Sarah, whose dark eyes flickered in the lamplight, it was simply an eagerness to help.
“No worries, Sarah, I’ve helped many women in locations as bad or worse than this.”
She could have added that, in secret, she had attended many a grand lady who was the wife of a member of the nobility or even the Physician’s Guild.
The stable was, as Sarah had said, a cave—whether natural or manmade—cut into the side of the hill on which the inn sat. Two heavy oxen stood behind a wooden fence near the opening and Judith’s nose immediately told her that there were also sheep nearby.
Inside, down an aisle formed by the wooden rails of pens, there was a steady light ahead. Sarah and Suzanna led the way.
A sturdy man with curly brown hair sat on a stool used for milking. He was holding the hand of a beautiful young woman whose breathing betrayed, to the practiced ear of the midwife, the final stages of labor.
“Madam, I’m Judith and I’m a midwife. I’ve come, with my daughter, to help you bring your child safely into the world.
“I’m Mary. Thank you.”
Susanna turned to the man.
“Sir, please step outside and wait. This is women’s business. On second thought…”
“Sarah, can you take him to the porch of the inn and get him some water while he waits.”
The man’s brown eyes betrayed concern and the sort of helpless confusion common to expectant fathers.
“I’m Joseph. Please take good care of Mary. Her son, I have been told, will be an exceptional man.”
He followed Sarah as Susanna had requested.
Judith and her daughter moved to Mary with practiced expertise and positioned her carefully on the birthing stool. Susanna stood behind, holding Mary’s shoulders.
What did that man mean? He’s “…been told…her son…”? Who could tell him those things? He seems rational and a solid man. No time to wonder.
Judith had dreaded, from the moment she’d heard there was a woman needing her help, crouching down to receive the newborn infant. Her knees and ankles had complained with every step, coming to the stable. Now, she was going to try to squat, flexing her knees and stressing her ankles as she faced the woman sitting on the stool.
Then something strange happened. She felt no pain, and the strength in her talented, gentle hands was multiplied. A glow of youthful flexibility surged across her.
The delivery was remarkably simple and easy. When the boy—and it was a boy—was in her hands before she put him on his mother’s breast she felt a power emanating from him like nothing she had known and, afterward, could never completely describe.
Peace flowed from the infant and his mother like a sweet fountain, enveloping and calming her to the core.
Susanna was going about, tidying the area in which they’d worked. The new mother had reclined on a bed of fresh hay, which had been covered with clean cloths, nursing the baby. When mother and daughter’s eyes met, they shifted in unison to Mary and the boy, then back to each other with expressions of wonder. Both smiled.
The following was published by Humor Outcasts a couple of years ago. Just now, a friend posted a comment on Facebook about standing in a checkout line when two individuals behind her were arguing about place in line. The were “…cussing…” she reported.
Lots of that going around at the Christmas shopping season, I suppose…
The following is a generic rant about checking out of a grocery story.
There I stand: with two items in my hands. The express lane is closed and there are three people ahead of me. None of them have a full, wheeled basket, so maybe this won’t take too long but here’s what happens.
The first in line, a sweet-looking little old lad (SLOL) is standing there with her purse resting on the counter. Her hands are clasped on top of the purse and she has a neighborly smile.
“That’s a total of thirty-three, sixty-four,” the cashier says.
“How much?” SLOL says.
“Thirty-three, sixty-four,” the cashier says—slightly louder.
After digging in her briefcase-size purse, she looks up with a smile.
“Oh, let me see. I have two twenties here,” SLOL says.
She hands the cashier the two twenties and, before the cashier can ring up the sale, she stops the action.
“I think I have the correct change, please wait.”
The cashier stands with the two twenties, waiting. So is everyone else in the line. The SLOL now opens her little pink change purse and starts digging, looking for change.
“Oh, I guess I don’t have the correct change. All I have is three quarters. If I give them to you can you apply that against… what did you say it was? Sixty-four cents?”
“Yes, M’am. I can do that,” the cashier says
The cashier hands the SLOL $7.11 and waits while the woman turns the bills so that they are facing the same way and reopens her already-closed coin purse to deposit the eleven cents.
Meanwhile, I’m standing there with a cold half-gallon of milk and a loaf of bread. One hand is getting chilled and I’m trying not to crush the bread—waiting for the next patron to check out.
The cashier, aided by modern technology, swipes two six-packs of beer for the man. He stands silently, waiting for his total.
“Eleven, eighty-eight,” the cashier says.
The man pulls his wallet from the rear pocket of his jeans and hands the cashier a hundred-dollar bill.
She stares, at first, seeming confused then finds a special pen to drag across the face of the greenback. After it doesn’t show up as counterfeit, she hands him his change.
He’s been holding his wallet open in his left hand, waiting for his change.
The cashier hands him his $88.12 by placing the cash on his open palm and the receipt and coins on top. He has to put the billfold down; separate the receipt from the change and put the coins in a pocket. He then throws the paper back on the counter and puts the paper in his billfold. Finally, he grabs his Bud and leaves.
The woman in front of me has been reading one of those supermarket tabloids. The lead story was, “Has the Ghost of Diana Been Captured by Space Aliens?”
The woman’s cart was half-full. When the cashier has tallied all the items, she announces what shows clearly on the computer screen.
“The total is $114.56, M’am,” the cashier says.
The customer turns back and puts the tabloid back in the rack.
“How much?” the customer says?
The cashier repeats the total.
The customer then opens her purse and begins a search. After my left hand, holding the milk, is almost frostbitten, she finds a checkbook.
The process of writing a check is, of course, long and arduous.
Once she hands the check to the cashier for processing, she begins the subtraction from her check log.
By this time, three other customers have lined up behind me. There are a couple of not-so-nice comments filtering through the tense air.
“Didn’t she know how she was going to pay before she even got in line?”
“Is she having trouble spelling the grocery store’s name?”
I gratefully shift the cold—or now maybe not-so-cold—milk to the counter and slide my bank card into the machine slot.
“Debit or credit,” the cashier says.
She grins hands me a receipt and the bag boy hands me my purchases.
By the time I get my head for the car, the severe weather that caused me to shop has arrived. Lots of rain.
I’m drenched by the time I get to the car.
Shopping is an adventure.
The subject line is a subtitle for the Christmas story, The Shepherd Left Behind. It has become, among some families, a standard to read to their children or to listen to the masterful narration by Charles Kahlenberg.
Last year, I added a bonus story about an imagined midwife who helped Mary deliver the baby Jesus. This short story is not narrated in the audiobook, but readers have found this part of the fable a good, short read.
Following are the first few pages of the original story, The Shepherd Left Behind. It answers a question: do you think that shepherds who had been living in the fields with their flocks would leave them untended when they rushed off to Bethlehem to see the Messiah the angels had told them about? No, they left a nine-year-old boy, Joshua, to stay with the sheep. What happens to him is the story.
Joshua should have been cold, but the campfire was burning and he had a lamb snuggled on each side. His woolen cloak was enough. Besides, the wonders of the night still made him tingle.
The glory he had seen and the music he had heard were more than anything he’d known in all his nine years. Nothing would ever be the same.
Although he was alone with the sheep, he was not worried. After all that brilliant creature of light had said, “Don’t be afraid! I have good news for you, which will make everyone happy.”
Somehow, the deep feeling of peace had lingered. Then something pulled at his cloak and it wasn’t a lamb.
“Hello, are you lonely?”
When he turned around, Joshua saw a boy dressed in white robes smiling at him.
He was supposed to have been alone. The shepherds, including his uncle, had all gone into Bethlehem to see the glory the dazzling creatures had told them about.
“Who are you and how did you get here?” Joshua said.
“Well, I’m called Jude. I came along with Gabe to sing with the choir.”
“All those creatures are gone. They left after they sang that wonderful music.”
“Those creatures, as you call them, are angels. They, or we, came to announce the birth of God’s own Son.”
“Are you an angel?”
“Yes. After we had gone back into heaven, Gabe—more formally known as Gabriel—looked back and saw that all the shepherds had hurried away to see the baby Jesus. They left you, alone, to watch the sheep. He was concerned that you might be afraid, and sent me to be with you.”
Joshua had noticed that the robes Jude wore seemed much too white for a boy in the open country and they seemed to have a soft glow.
“I’m not scared. Not now anyway,” Joshua said.
Jude sat beside Joshua. The lamb on that side snuggled its head in the visitor’s lap as if they were old friends.
“So now, how long are you going to stay with me?” Joshua said.
The angel looked up from stroking the lamb’s head.
“As long as you need me.”
“What will the shepherds find when they get to Bethlehem?”
“When they search, as Gabe has told them, they’ll find the Baby, his mother, Mary and her husband, Joseph. They are in a stable near the inn. There was no room for them there. After He was born, they wrapped him in baby clothes and laid him in a feed trough on some hay. When the other shepherds return, they’ll tell you all about it.”
The sky was bright with a three-quarters moon and clear. It seemed dark, though, after the blazing glory Joshua had seen.
Jude sat beside him, still stroking the head of the lamb.
“Oh, how I wish I could see it all,” Joshua said.
“Gabe thought you’d say that. He told me to show you.”
“Just remember what Gabe told the other shepherds, and look in the direction of the town.”
When Joshua followed the angel’s directions, the scene from the inn’s stable stood before him. It was certainly what Jude had described —cows, donkeys and sheep were there, along with the shepherd that had been watching over their own sheep with the boy, just hours before. They were kneeling on the dirt floor. Even the animals were quiet and seemed awed.
Inside the ramshackle building, though, a light—more powerful than candles—glowed. It came from the baby lying on the straw and gleamed in the face of his mother. The shepherds were kneeling before the wonderful mystery that Gabriel had foretold.
Now, the story really begins.
If you want to see what others think, look at Amazon’s reviews. https://www.amazon.com/Shepherd-Left-Behind-Thomas-Drinkard-ebook/dp/B017VL6LMG/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1542412720&sr=8-6&keywords=Thomas+drinkard#customerReviews
I love the Christmas season and fell in love with the people in these fables.
A friend, Ralph C. Hammond—who passed away in December of 2010 at age 94—once told me, referring to the 14th Chapter of John, “…if that’s all I had of The Bible, it would be all that I need.” Ralph had a storied life as a WWII war correspondent; a press secretary for Alabama’s governor, and president of the Alabama Writer’s Conclave as well as the State Poetry Society—then Poet Laureate of Alabama—to name a few of his literary achievements, he singled out this chapter as enough for his faith, if nothing else was available.
Looking at the chapter, the reader is immediately struck by the wonderful, comforting words, “Let not your heart be troubled, ye believe in God, believe also in Me.”
In Chapter 13, John reported that Jesus had washed his disciples’ feet, teaching them about humility. He was also preparing them for His coming crucifixion and giving them a new commandment: that they love one another. Much had been happening in a short period of time and the disciples were confused. They’d heard Jesus say that one of them would betray him, they’d seen their Master acting as a servant and Judas Iscariot had left them. Jesus had also said that Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed in the morning.
Now was the moment when Jesus comforted them and showed them the way to The Father. He told them that he was going to The Father and prepare the way for them to join him. He told them, “And whither I go, ye know the way.”
Yes they did. They knew Him. I can imagine a loving smile on his face when Thomas spoke.
“Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; how know we the way?”
The Lord then used Thomas’ question to teach them even more.
“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no one cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
When another disciple, Philip, asks to be shown The Father, Jesus’ words are again loving, and mildly reproving.
“Jesus saith unto him, ‘Have I been so long time with you, and dost thou not know me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; how sayest thou, Show us the Father?’ Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake.”
Look closely; Jesus has now definitively identified himself as one with God The Father. None of the other three (synoptic) Gospels report this declaration. In fact, Biblical scholars estimate that ninety percent of John’s Gospel is unique.
Consider the opening words of John’s Gospel, some texts call it a prologue:
“1. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2.The same was in the beginning with God.
3.All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
4.In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
5.And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”
14.And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”
Let’s go back about seven hundred years, to the prophesy of Isaiah:
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”
In John, Chapter 14, Jesus promises the Wonderful Counsellor, in Verse 16 and again in 26:
“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”
Now, in the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, we see the Wonderful Counsellor (the Holy Spirit) and the Everlasting Father present in the person of Jesus.
The next verse in John, number 27, completes the Trinity.
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
Jesus was, and is, the Prince of Peace.
In many ways my friend Ralph was right. All that Christians require is expressed in Chapter 14 of the Gospel of John: the Way to salvation through Him; the Holy Spirit for our comfort; Jesus for our savior and source of Peace in our lives.
After the Resurrection, the Romans—as well as those in the Jewish hierarchy who opposed Jesus and his ministry—said that his disciples had stolen his body away from the tomb. It came about when the chief priests bribed the soldiers who had guarded the tomb.
Matthew 28 tells the story:
“In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the
Week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchere.
And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord
descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the
door, and sat upon it.
His countenance was like lightning and his raiment white as snow:
And for fear of him the keepers did shake and became as dead men.
And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know
that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.
He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come see the place where the
And go quickly and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and,
behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo,
I have told you.”
What a story. The part about the Roman guards is amusing—in a way. There had to be a number of them, not just one or two. Notice the quote, “…the keepers did shake and became as dead men.” Also, given the high-profile nature of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, these weren’t just ordinary men. These guards, I would imagine, were handpicked, tough legionnaires.
They were so terrified when the angel came and rolled the stone back is significant when we consider the nature of the soldiers themselves. The hardened Roman warriors were shaking and paralyzed.
I’m reminded of a comment made by a preacher I knew long ago. He was talking about what happened in Gethsemane when Peter drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Jesus, rebuked Peter, telling him to put away his sword. And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.” The old preacher’s comment was, “I’ll bet that man left Gethsemane and went home!”
Notice that Matthew’s Gospel says that the angel rolled the stone away and then sat on it. How long he had been there, sitting on the stone when the two Marys arrived, we aren’t told. During that time, the tough Roman soldiers were in a state of shaking paralysis. That was the scene that the Marys found when they arrived at the tomb. It must have been shocking and frightening, but the angel said, “Do not be afraid.”
A central theme in Christianity, not just in the story of the Resurrection, is embodied in the admonition, “Do not be afraid.” Notice that Jesus said these words to the Marys as they met him. Remember that the angels, when announcing the birth of Jesus, told the shepherds, “Do not be afraid.” The angel, Gabriel, said to Mary, “Do not be afraid…” We need to remember those words and root our faith in them. Our faith needs to be strong enough to keep us from fear. Although the women were still frightened by what they’d seen, the voice of the angel and their trust in Jesus had made them stronger than the Roman soldiers who were paralyzed with terror.
It has been pointed out, by the way, that the stone was not rolled away for Jesus to leave the tomb. He had already departed. The angel rolled the stone back from the tomb to show the world that “He is not here; he has risen…” We can imagine the angel pointing to the empty tomb as he spoke. We can only wonder what the trembling, catatonic Roman soldiers were thinking.
Some of them went to the chief priests and reported everything that had happened. Notice, that they did not go the military authorities or to the governor. Why, they’d probably have been flogged or executed—or both. Imagine a hard-bitten sergeant of the guards reacting to their story. “An angel, you say, came and rolled back that rock? That rock took five strong men and a donkey to put in place! Have you been drinking on duty?”
Needless to continue, but it would not have been pleasant. Now going to the chief priests was a different affair. Those were the people who feared Jesus so much that they had demanded his death. The guards correctly guessed that they, who had the most to lose from the resurrection of Jesus, and would pay for the guards’ silence. And pay they did. The chief priests apparently paid the guards handsomely to parrot a story they concocted about Jesus’ disciples stealing his body away while they were asleep. They even—probably at the insistence of the guards—promised to provide a cover story for them with the governor if he should hear the story.
Why? In most military organizations, falling asleep at one’s guard post is an extremely serious offense. In this case, the guards could—and probably would—have been executed.
Pilate was personally involved.
Pilate said, “… Ye have a watch: go your way and make it as sure as you can. So they went, and made the sepulchere sure, sealing the stone and setting a watch.” (Matthew 27:65-66)
They not only posted guards at the entrance, they tied a cord across the rock and put a clay seal on each end so that if anyone disturbed the rock, the seals—doubtlessly imprinted with an official signet—would be broken. For the soldiers to be so asleep that all the commotion involved in moving the rock didn’t wake them would have been serious dereliction of their duty.
We aren’t told what happened to the guards, but I’d imagine that they took their money and became very, very quiet men. Those who were directly paid would have had to share the money with the guards who didn’t go with them to the priests. They would also have had to tell the others the “official line,” and cautioned them to stick to it. The story concocted by the chief priests was, however, extremely thin.
Consider: They were saying that they slept through the racket of the disciples rolling back the rock. All of them!
Consider: If the disciples—those men who had run away in fear at Gethsemane and had denied Jesus in public—had planned to steal his body from the tomb, what they’d have had to take into account. First, there were a number of soldiers guarding the tomb and most of the disciples probably didn’t have swords much less shields and armor. The disciples certainly wouldn’t have been able to count on the guards being asleep! And, they were demonstrably not all that brave in the face of soldiers. Second, if there had been enough of Jesus’ disciples to pull off robbing his tomb, there’d be enough people who knew of the theft that the story would get out sooner or later.
No, the angel did not roll the stone away so that Jesus could leave the tomb. He was already gone. When we look into the empty tomb, as Peter did, we see that it was there where the empty body of Jesus had been placed, the linens, and nothing else.
Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus, and because he was a prominent citizen, Pilate granted the request. “And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulcher which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchere.” (Mark 15:46) Joseph was a wealthy and well-connected man. He would have hardly done the physical labor of moving the stone himself. Later, Mark mentions that the stone was very, very large. No problem for an angel, though.
Luke is the only gospel that describes the reaction of the apostles when Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James told them of the empty tomb and the words of Jesus and the angel.
“Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulcher; and stooping down, he beheld the linen cloths laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass.”
We call Peter, “The Rock,” and refer to “doubting Thomas.” It appears that there was enough disbelief among the apostles to go around. We consider the apostles, sometimes, as saints above us all. They were men. These were men who ran away when the soldiers came to Gethsemane. Their greatness came through their faith in Jesus. Peter’s wondering what happened was later replaced with a steadfastness that deserved the name, “The Rock.”
The empty shell that had been body of Jesus when he was alive, was placed in the rock cave, and lay there waiting until He returned and gave it new life. Jesus’ ministry and miracles included raising several people, recounted in the gospels, from the dead. A major theme of His ministry was resurrection from death—the conquering of death. Of course, the crowning event was His resurrection. Those He raised from the dead during his life on earth were people who were physically dead. Their resurrection is a bright symbol for the millions upon millions whose souls have been dead, but who may come alive again, for eternity, once Jesus enters their hearts.
Lately, some of the music I grew up hearing has been playing itself over and over in my head. Some of the old Gospel songs whose lyrics are in the form of prayers have been especially prominent. One of them is “Just A Closer Walk with Thee.” Let’s look at some of the lyrics:
“I am weak but thou art strong;
Jesus, keep me from all wrong;
I’ll be satisfied as long
As I walk, let me walk close to thee.
Just a closer walk with thee,
Grant it Jesus is my plea,
Daily walking close to thee,
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.”
Make no mistake: I love that old song. I love the idea of a Christian wanting to walk closer to our Lord. But there is a problem with the song I have only noticed in the past couple of years.
We don’t have to plead with Jesus to let us walk closer to him. He is there, always. If we aren’t close to Him, it is our own failing—we are failing to walk close to Him. The Lord wants us to walk close to Him—if we feel we are too far away—then we need to change the direction of our footsteps.
Look at some of the lyrics and listen in your mind with me to another wonderful old Gospel song; Precious Lord, Take My Hand.
“When my way groweth drear
Precious Lord, linger near
When my light is almost gone,
Hear my cry, hear my call
Hold my hand lest I fall
Take my hand, precious Lord
Lead me on
Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I am tired, I’m weak, I am worn
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand, precious Lord
Lead me home.”
We can sympathize with the writer of this song, Thomas A. Dorsey, who penned Precious Lord in reaction to his inconsolable bereavement at the death of his wife, Nettie Harper, in childbirth, and his infant son in August 1932. He needed for the Lord to help him in the darkness of his soul.
But there’s a problem here similar to that which we saw in the first song. The Lord’s hand is there, waiting for us. We can always take His hand when we reach out.
In Isaiah (41:13) the picture is clear:
“For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.”
God will hold the hand of any of us who will reach out to Him.
Often in churches and other gatherings, when a person leads the group in prayer, he or she will say, “Lord, be with us…” We all know that the person is asking the Lord to bless the assembled people with His grace. The prayer really is asking, “Bless us, Lord, with a tangible sense of your presence and love.” But consider: at the end of the book of Matthew, Jesus gave the eleven disciples the Great Commission, and the final words of Jesus reported by Matthew are the most wonderful promise we can ever know.
Jesus said, “…I am with you alway, even to the end of the world.” Matthew 28:20.
We don’t have to ask the Lord to be with us; he is, and has given us his promise that he always will be. The presence of the Lord in our lives can be compared to the electronic signal of a powerful radio station. It is always there—we simply have to tune in and listen.
Prayers of gratitude and comfort are exemplified by one of the most familiar of the Psalms. There is something that many don’t notice; the 23rd Psalm speaks partly to the reader, and partly to the Lord. Look closely.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want
He maketh me to lie down in green
pastures: he leadeth me beside the still
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in
the paths of righteousness for his name’s
Those stanzas are from David, the Psalmist, speaking to the reader.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil
for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff
they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in
the presence of mine enemies: thou
anointest my head with oil; my cup
All those lines are from David, speaking to the Lord, expressing his faith in the Lord and his gratitude for the Lord’s protection and bounty.
Then he addresses the reader again:
“Surely goodness and mercy shall
follow me all the days of my life: and I will
dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”
A verse from a song of my own, Trust Me that few have heard, takes its roots from the 23rd Psalm.
And when my courage falters, I listen for His voice, knowing that He’ll comfort and protect.
Then when I hear him speak, my joy overflows; for he restores my soul and cares for me.
Trust me, He says; be not afraid
I am your shepherd, have faith in me
Follow, though shadows darken the way.
Trust me, just trust me, He says.
That song began as hope, leaning totally on God’s love and grace. It goes to the 23rd Psalm for inspiration and shares in the joy of the Psalmist.
The simplicity of a prayer all of us probably were taught as small children can also instruct us in faith.
“Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
We don’t have to ask the Lord to take our hands; we only need to reach out to him. We don’t have to ask the Lord to grant us a closer walk with Him, we only have to make sure our feet are following the paths he has lighted for us. We don’t have to ask the Lord to be with us, he is. It is up to us to listen for his voice.
This is the first of several posts in the book that include Christian music lyrics. All the quotes are from publicly-available sites and are in the public domain.
Listen, in your mind—if you can recall the melody—to the wonderful music of the old hymn, Let the Lower Lights be Burning, as you read this piece.
Brightly beams our Father’s mercy
From His lighthouse evermore,
But to us he gives the keeping
Of the lights along the shore.
Those words, and the music that accompanied them are from one of the best-known Christian and gospel music composers in history: Philip Paul Bliss—or as you may have seen it in hymnals, P.P. Bliss. Other music by Bliss includes: Hallelujah, What a Savior; Hold the Fort; Jesus Loves Even Me; The Light of the World Is Jesus; Whosoever Will; Wonderful Words of Life and the all-time favorite invitational hymn: Almost Persuaded, but this is by no means an all-inclusive list. He also wrote the music for the song, It Is Well with My Soul, which he sang at its public introduction only a month before he and his wife were killed in a tragic train wreck in December 1876.
Bliss wrote Let the Lower Lights be Burning —which was published in 1874—after hearing D.L. Moody, the famous evangelist, tell the story of a tragic shipwreck. Moody had told of a passenger ship that was trying to reach the Cleveland, Ohio harbor from Lake Erie in a terrible storm. The ship’s pilot, Moody said, knew that he could only make the harbor safety by keeping the lower shore lights aligned with the main beacon of the lighthouse. As the ship approached the rocky shoreline, the captain of the ship knew that there was trouble and asked the pilot if he was sure that they were headed for the Cleveland harbor. The pilot told the captain that he was sure it was Cleveland, but that the lower lights were out and he was forced to try for the harbor without those guides. In the turbulence and darkness, the pilot missed the channel and the ship was hurled against the rocks and sank. Most of the passengers drowned in the cold, dark waters.
At the end of his sermon, Moody was quoted as saying, “Brethren, the Master will take care of the great lighthouse; let us keep the lower lights burning.” Bliss, who worked with the great evangelist at the time, sang the new song he had written, Let the Lower Lights be Burning at Moody’s next meeting.
The use of light in the Bible begins in Genesis 1:2-3:
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.”
Creation, then, began with God’s command for light to burn and push away the darkness. The idea of light has, in the world’s literature, stood as a metaphor for understanding and opening of the minds. The words, illumination and enlightenment come from the same basic roots.
In the Old Testament, Isaiah’s prophesy of the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, is expressed in terms of light:
Isaiah 9:2: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.”
Of course, Chapter 9 continues with the wonderful prophesy of Christ that says in verse 6:
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, The mighty God, the everlasting Father, The prince of Peace.
John begins his gospel, in Chapter 1:4, with this description of Christ:
In him was life; and the life was the light of men.” thus equating the Son of God with light and life. Then later, in 8:12, John tells us of Jesus’ words as he spoke to the people in the temple courts.
“…I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”
Jesus, though, didn’t intend that the world at large find His light on its own. In Matthew 5:14, a part of the Beatitudes, he told his disciples that:
“Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick;
And it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and Glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
These statements aren’t contradictory. Jesus was, and is the light of the world. It is only through him and by his illumination that his disciples—then and now—become lights to the world around them. When Jesus told the disciples that they were to be lights in the world it was in anticipation of his departure from this world and the need for them to carry on His ministry.
A more modern example of the concept of D.L. Moody’s sermon can be found in many settings. Imagine the scene when a friend asks you to come visit for dinner in the evening: You might drive up to the friend’s house and park your car. Looking at the house you would probably see that the lights on the front porch are turned on so that the door to the home is illuminated. Along the pathway that leads to the front steps there may be a number of small—relatively dim—lights to shine on the paving stones so you won’t stumble as you walk.
Those little lamps, are so popular these days, are solar powered. They depend on the energy from the sun to charge their batteries so that their light can last through the night. Without sunlight, the little garden lights would not shine and the path would be dark, and maybe hazardous.
The play on the words “sun” and “Son,” is relevant here: without the power and light of the Son of God, Christians could never be what Christ told his disciples to be “lights of the world.” There would be no illumination in the world’s darkness, just as there would be no illumination from solar lamps without the sun.
Remember again now, the story told by the evangelist, D.L. Moody: The pilot of the doomed ship knew that he had to keep the lower shore lights aligned with the beacon on the main lighthouse in order to safely bring the ship into the harbor. If the lower lights have gone out in today’s world, it could be because they have not drawn enough energy from the sun to fulfill their purpose. If the lower lights, themselves, are not aligned with the beam from the lighthouse, they are as unreliable as if they were dark.
Those who most need to have the path ahead of them illuminated are not yet looking up to the “Great Lighthouse” of Christ. They need the lower lights, which draw their glow from The Son to keep burning to show them the way through the treacherous waters of their lives and finally to safety on shore at the foot of the lighthouse. Christians must draw their light from Jesus and stay aligned with Him so that they will provide stable markers leading to safe harbor in His love.