The Night Terrors V

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The last of my advocates brought my hammered dulcimer and set it up and seated me before it. Then he mounted the pulpit and said, “He is reputed to be something of a musician, Your Honor.”

At the sight of my instrument my spirits rose unexpectedly. I picked up the hammers and with them lightly touched the silver strings. In the loft I saw O’ Carolan’s face brighten as he turned blind eyes toward the enchanting sound.

“The timpan!” he whispered with a smile. Then he took up his harp once more and began to play “O’ Carolan’s Concerto.” I was familiar with the tune, and began to play with him, strong and confident at first, as the combined sounds of the two instruments floated and flew around the length and breadth of the sanctuary and swept upward to the ceiling like two butterflies in bright flight. But halfway into the second section of the tune I lost my place. I could not keep up with the furious pace he set. I faltered, fumbled, and paused; then struck a series of blaringly wrong notes in a desperate attempt to save myself; then stopped dead. O’ Carolan stopped too, and turned a blank, bewildered face in my direction.

“Please, sir,” I said after an awkward silence, “that’s a tune I don’t know well. Can we try another?”

George MacDonald leaned forward in his seat. “‘The Flooers o’ the Forest!’” he eagerly suggested. “Can ye play ‘The Flooers o’ the Forest,’ laddie?”

“N-no, sir,” I stammered, much embarrassed. “I’m afraid I don’t know that one either. But I have been working awfully hard on ‘The Flowers of Edinburgh.’”

“Then play it, by all means!” the old Scotsman said enthusiastically.

So I lifted my hammers once again, and once again let them fall. But though I had practiced it untold times, this time I could not play ‘The Flowers of Edinburgh’ – no, not to save my life. My hands forgot what little skill they had. All the wrong notes rang out strong and clear. The few that were right struck dead as wood on wood. I laid the hammers down and looked up in time to see MacDonald bow his head in dismay.

* * * * * * * *


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Oh, the unmitigated curse of controversy! Oh, the detestable passions that corrections and contradictions kindle up to fury in the proud heart of man! Eschew controversy, my brethren, as you would eschew the entrance to hell itself! Let them have it their own way. Let them talk, let them write, let them correct you, let them traduce you. Let them judge and condemn you, let them slay you. Rather let the truth of God suffer than that love suffer. You have not enough of the Divine nature in you to be a controversialist.

    —  Alexander Whyte, Exposition of Job (quoted in David McCasland’s Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God)  

The Night Terrors IV

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With rumblings and rustlings and the shutting of many books, everyone sat down again; but I remained standing before the table and heard the judge’s voice spill down over me from above:

“Let the counsel for the defense come forward,” he said.

A few members of my family timidly approached the chancel. They had no formal representation. Instead, one by one they mounted the pulpit, which had been made to serve as the witness stand, and spoke a few words on my behalf.

One of them had brought along a wheelbarrow load of boxes – boxes full of my notebooks, papers, and manuscripts of every kind. Depositing these before the bench as evidence, he said, “Your Honor, this man is a scholar and teacher. He has led many Bible studies.”

A white-wigged, black-jacketed clerk at a desk to one side of the table took note of this, looking unimpressed.

Another of my defenders took a sheaf of papers from one of these boxes and laid it directly on the clerk’s desk.

“He also aspires to write,” he said.

The clerk raised his black, bushy eyebrows and frowned.   Then he instructed the bailiff to take the manuscripts to MacDonald and Bunyan in the choir loft. I saw with what eagerness and good will those two venerable authors received my writings; with what an honest display of hopefulness they opened them and examined their contents. But it was not long before they returned them to the bailiff with looks of bleak disappointment.

* * * * * * * *


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“Force is that which makes a thing of whoever submits to it.  Exercised to the extreme, it makes the human being a thing quite literally, that is, a dead body.  Someone was there and, the next moment, no one …

“How much more varied in operation, how much more stunning in effect, is that other sort of force, that which does not kill, or rather does not kill just yet …  From the power to change a human being into a thing by making him die there comes another power, in its way more monstrous, that of making a still living being into a thing …

“As pitilessly as force annihilates, equally without pity it intoxicates those who possess or believe they possess it.  In reality, no one possesses it.”

     — Simone Weil, The Iliad or The Poem of Force 

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We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness …

     – Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“Forgiveness is surrendering my right to hurt you back if you hurt me,” writes psychologist Dr. Archibald Hart.*

This suggests that forgiveness, the most recent of the core Pilgrim values to be considered in this context, is closely allied with the next:  meekness.  The connection is in fact one of inclusive subordination:  that is to say, forgiveness is simply a sub-category or sub-species of meekness.  For in the language of the New Testament, meekness is all about surrendering rights – not just my right to hurt you back, but any right whatsoever.

“Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild,” cynically caricatured by the poet Swinburne as the “pale Galilean,” is not a popular figure with most of us.  We prefer the bold and brawny Christ of Ezra Pound:  the whip-wielding Cleanser of the Temple.  This is all well and good as far as it goes.  But it fails to take into account that the Master Himself used the word meek (Greek praus, “gentle or mild”) to describe the Blessed inheritors of the earth.  It was a rash, senseless, absurd thing to say in face of the kosmic wisdom which asserts that nothing is gained or “inherited” apart from self-assertiveness.

Give up your rights and gain the whole world.  What an idea!  This upside-down view of reality is difficult for most us to swallow.  After all, rights are the foundation and capstone of the American worldview.  Rights have been our Creed and Mantra from beginning to end.  We have a right to demand our rights because they are rightfully ours.  And we know – the lesson having been pounded into our heads time and time again – that rights and freedoms are not free:  no, they must be wrested violently from the hands of enemies, tyrants, and villains.  Rights have to be seized, preserved, and protected by sheer brute force.  Once secured, we have an obligation to fight and kill in order to retain them.  And why?  Because our rights, for reasons we’ve never even stopped to examine, are what human existence is all about.

Or are they?

Apparently Moses didn’t think so.  When his own brother and sister, Aaron and Miriam, stood up and questioned his right to lead the people of Israel, Moses spoke never a word in his own defense.  Instead, he stepped aside and let God plead his cause.  That’s why the writer of the Book of Numbers was able to say, “Now the man Moses was very meek, meeker than all men who were on the face of the earth.”

Paul of Tarsus, too, though not the sort of man anyone could accuse of being ”the meekest on the face of the earth,” had a firm grasp of this principle.  In his first letter to the Christians at Corinth, he wrote that, as an apostle, he had a right to expect physical and financial support from the church.  “Nevertheless,” he said, “we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ.”

Forfeiting my rights for the sake of others and in service to a greater design — this is what it means to be meek.  And meekness is a vital feature of the Pilgrim way.  Can we possibly understand this – we who dwell in a land where children are regularly sacrificed in order that adults might secure to themselves the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?”  Can we ever hope to walk this path — we who believe so fervently in the practice of politics, which is in essence nothing but the active grasping, holding, and wielding of self-interested power?

Sometimes one has to give up rights in order to do what’s right.


* Archibald Hart, Unlocking The Mystery Of Your Emotions. 

The Night Terrors III

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We marched straight down the center aisle. The pews were filled, and every face in every pew turned slowly to regard my slow approach. I knew them all, and they knew me; but if ever my eyes met theirs, they suddenly dropped their gaze. It was an expression of shame – shame, not of themselves, but of me.

At last I stood before the chancel. On a lofty platform above me stood the Lord’s Table, draped in a cloth of purest linen that cascaded to my feet in glistening folds of white. So high and elevated was the table that I could not see over the top of it.

A golden-winged angel, robed in white, approached and blew a blast upon a silver trumpet. “All rise!” he cried, and the congregation thundered to its feet. A small door at one side of the chancel opened and a black-robed figure emerged. Such was my position in relation to his that I could not see his face, only his back as he entered. But even his back was terrifying, broad as northern wastes, broad and unfathomable as earth and sea and sky combined, black and deep as night. Over his back rolled the heavy scrolls of his long white wig, white as wool, rippling down like a mighty waterfall. He climbed some steps at the back of the great table and took his seat on a bench behind it.

In the choir loft sat the twelve jurors. They were drawn from among my friends, relations, neighbors, acquaintances, and mentors. Included in their number were Luther, MacDonald, Bunyan, and O’ Carolan, the blind Irish harper.

A bailiff, dressed in cloth-of-gold, came forward and addressed me:

“You have been brought here to stand trial,” he said. “This day the measure of your worth is to be determined.”

At this, O’ Carolan took up his harp. Hymnals were opened, and the congregation sang “Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee,” and “Who is on the Lord’s side? Who for Him will go?” Last of all they sang a hymn with words like these:


O Jesus, Thou art standing outside the fast-closed door,

In lowly patience waiting to pass the threshold o’er.

Shame on us, Christian brothers, His name and sign who bear,

O shame, thrice shame upon us, to keep Him standing there!


* * * * * * * *

Truth and Light

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Let the governments have possession of the school, the church, the press, billions of rubles, and millions of disciplined men turned into machines. All that apparently terrible organization of rude force is nothing in comparison with recognition of the truth, which arises in the heart of one man who knows its force and is communicated by this man to another, just as an endless number of candles are lighted from one. The light need only burn, and this seemingly powerful organization will waste away like wax before the fire.

— Leo Tolstoy, “Christianity and Patriotism”

The Night Terrors II

The Prophet 001


At my question an ancient-looking man pushed his way to me through the crowd. His beard was of a shocking white in contrast with the nut-brown wrinkle of his face. His robe was of rough homespun, woven throughout and seamless. His eyes were blue and clear as the desert sky as he planted his staff upon the ground between us and spoke.

“This is a day of reckoning,” he croaked. “A day of darkness and not of light; a day of sorrow and not of rejoicing.”

Then, when he had produced chains and shackles from the voluminous folds of his mantle, I was swiftly bound hand and foot. Like an implacable and relentless shepherd he drove me with his staff at the head of that silent multitude, up a massively paved road that led straight from the quay to a city set upon a hill. All along that road, larger than life, stood marble statues of the apostles, saints, and martyrs: Peter, head-downward on the cross; Paul, bowing before the sword; Stephen, Antipas, and James the brother of John; Hus and Cranmer and George Eagles called Trudgeover-the-World. They all stood still and watched me pass, and regarded my going with troubled looks.

At the foot of the hill we began to climb a marble stair that rose by twelve flights of seven steps each to the level of the shining city above. The irons on my arms and legs chafed and cut me and grew heavier with each successive step. At the very top of the stair I saw, when I raised my eyes, a church of many spires and towers looming above me, dignified, forbidding, reverend.

At length we reached the top and stood within the twisted and fluted columns of the church’s portico. At last, a fresh breath of sea air reached me there and ruffled my hair and cooled my sweating head. Then the doors were swung open and I was led inside.

* * * * * * * *

Lion in a Land of Make-Believe

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I once met a Lion in a land of make-believe

And His mane seemed to fill the earth

Like the wind in the trees.

He smiled like the sunrise

And His roar was like the sea,

And He spoke with a world of tongues

And one was right for me.


And Lucy’s in the sky but she don’t need diamonds,

Flying while His eyes seem to flash like lightning,

Looking at the world from a different point of view;

And Peter’s got a sword, but he won’t misuse it,

Once you’ve found the truth, then you don’t want to lose it,

He can speak a word that will pierce your soul straight through.


I once saw a Lion on a road beyond the years,

And He scalded my eyes with a light

That could burn away my tears.

We plunged through a looking-glass

That overhung my mind,

And He showed me the truth at last

That had seemed so hard to find.


And Lucy’s in the sky but she don’t need diamonds,

Flying while His eyes seem to flash like lightning,

Looking at the world from a different point of view;

And Peter’s got a sword, but he won’t misuse it,

Once you’ve found the truth, then you don’t want to lose it,

He can speak a word that will pierce your soul straight through.


I once met a Lion in a land of make-believe,

And He told me He’d lead me beyond

If only I’d believe.

His jaws they were gentle

And His teeth they did not bite,

His yoke it is easy

And His burden is light.

* * * * * * * * * *

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The Night Terrors I

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It is said that one cannot dream one’s own death and wake to tell the tale. This is a matter of some concern to me, for if this rule holds true, then I am either dead or dreaming still. Be that as it may, for the time being I choose to live in the often desperate hope that there is in fact a third possibility: that in truth I have passed through the darkest part of the night and planted one foot on the shore of a newly dawning day.

My story begins like this:

When the night was darkest, then I slept. And in my sleep I dreamed a dream. And in my dream I looked, and the sea, dark and alive and flecked with foam, stretched out at my feet and away to a shadowy horizon. I stood in the bows of a little black boat that drove of its own accord through glassy black troughs and over frothy crests of waves.

The char-black sky paled to shades of blue, and as my boat pushed on, without my will or aid, jagged shapes of land rose up before these lighter hues. Dim along the water’s edge I saw, as the curling breakers thrust me to the shore, wharfs and quays of somber iron gray, like battle ships drawn up in warlike array. And all along these quays silent faces watched my approach with deliberate, solemn stares.

At last the boat scraped up against the barnacle-encrusted pilings. Firm and gentle hands reached down and pulled me up and set me on my feet upon the landing. I stood amazed, for every one of the hundreds of faces ranged about me was familiar in some degree. There were friends and family, neighbors and acquaintances, teachers and pastors, leaders and followers. Even the authors of the books that had most influenced me were there: Lewis and Luther, Bunyan and MacDonald, Chesterton and Calvin, Foxe and Blaise Pascal. They all stood so still, as if holding their breath, as if in anxious and silent agreement that I must be the first to speak.

“What day is this?” I blurted out, not knowing why …

* * * * *

A Final Note on “The Sword of Paracelsus”

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The story is now finished, but on the off chance that someone may still be interested in reading it, it will remain in the Archives of the Pilgrimagination website.  To access it, simply navigate to “Categories” in the left-hand margin of this page, click on “Sword and Stone,” scroll down to the bottom to find the Prologue and first chapter, and work your way up.

The Stone of Destiny, the prequel and companion volume to The Sword of Paracelsus, is, as far as I’m aware, still available from David C. Cook Publishers.

Thanks to all who have taken an interest in this project.

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