Woodcraft: A Reminiscence

13 10 2017

Woodcraft shares reminiscences of childhood experience, dating back to the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, as if told by a grandfather to his grandchildren during meals, just before bedtime, and while walking in the woods.

As may be surmised, the stories come through the perspective of a member of America’s Boomer generation. Many Boomers remember hearing stories from those in the previous Builder generation about their childhoods. We heard the now-cliché, “I used to go to school every day in sub-zero weather, knee-deep in snow, walking two miles uphill, both ways.” This anecdote would usually be employed by people who had experienced the Great Depression and World War 2 to remind younger people to put experience into context. Indeed, the Boomers have been among the most privileged generations in human history.

From time to time those of every generation ask themselves, “Which of the aspects of our past ought to be relegated to the rubbish heap of history, and which are valuable heirlooms that ought to be passed forward into the future?”

Jesus said, “Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household who brings out of his treasure things new and old”  (Matthew 13:52 NAU). Not everything old-fashioned is old. Not everything old is old-fashioned, which is to say that not everything old is obsolete and out-of-date. Indeed, some things old are better than the same things new.

Consider a tree. What’s an old tree got that a new tree hasn’t? Plenty. More leaves for air-conditioning shade and for the release of air-improving oxygen. More wood, and often more wood of a higher quality, for the production of lumber. More sap for the manufacture of syrup or naval stores. More nuts, more fruit for use as food by wildlife and by humans and their livestock. More seeds for the reproduction of forests.

Woodcraft does more than ring chords of nostalgia. It looks back not just to induce good feelings of old vibrations, but to remind that some things old ought to remain because they are vibrant and vivacious and vital, because they remain new.

Woodcraft may itself be a new kind of writing in its blend of literary fiction and creative non-fiction. It deals with facts of faith, with theology and philosophy and ethics. It also touches upon a number of other subjects: German-American history, mathematics, music, carpentry, woodworking, forest ecology, plant physiology, silviculture, and popular culture now half a century old. The entire story celebrates education in matters both natural and supernatural, temporal and eternal, physical and spiritual.

The narrative reflects the traditional human desire to pass knowledge and wisdom from one generation to next. More specifically, in this narrative a boy hears and learns things from his father and grandfather about the extended family enterprise. The author realizes that many contemporary readers will not care much about that enterprise. The author has, therefore, chosen to publish the text in an unusual format.  The essential story is printed using 14-point type. That which may be termed scholastic detailing is printed in 12-point type. This format makes it possible for a reader easily to skip over what may be considered TMI (too much information) and track the mainline of the story. Others more inquisitive can read the finer print.

Radio producer David Isay has said that, in a culture that idolizes athletes, popular singers, movie stars, and fashion models, it’s good to hear the stories of ordinary people because their lives and contributions are at least as important, if not more so. Certainly, while celebrities may stand in the limelight, the people who stand in our memories with greater significance are parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, best friends, and mentors. Most of these people have likely been, employing a couple words spoken by the late Andy Griffith, “just folks.” Yet they have been the ones who made the big differences in our lives.

The big difference in Woodcraft is this: a grandfather employs lessons in arboriculture to teach his grandson the meaning of “I in Christ, and Christ in me.”

For those who don’t cotton to Christianity, try tolerating it here. If nothing else (and that’s a big if), remember that Christianity has been woven into the warp and woof of the American experience from the first days of the Plymouth Colony. Recall how fundamental Christianity has been in the lives of great Americans from George Washington to George Washington Carver, as well as so many others before and after them. Realize the past pervasiveness of Christianity in the cultures of various communities. The culture of the state of Wisconsin, for example, cannot be appreciated without at least apprehending the massive influences of Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Methodist, and Baptist forms of Christianity. Consider this reading, then, an exercise in cross-cultural appreciation.

Now available at Amazon as a paperback and as an e-book. If you like what you read, do tell others. Feel free to let these words inspire you to tell your own stories to the members of your own household, stories that edify and encourage and enlighten.

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Steeds 38

3 06 2017

A tall woman opened the door of the Sheriff’s Department and stepped halfway through. She stopped to look back while the wind blew her long garments as if they were laundry on a clothesline. “That is the most beautiful horse I have ever seen,” she said in a voice that had command timbre.

The nun continued into the building and shut the door. She had noticed Lee sitting at his desk prior to her assessment. “Are you the sheriff?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Lee answered after standing. “I am Sheriff Leall.”

“I am Sister Margaret Mary. Is that your horse outside the window?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“She is fabulous. Does she have a name?”

“Yes, ma’am. Her name is Freyja.”

“A pagan name.”

“You yourself said she is beautiful.”

Sister Margaret stepped closer to Lee’s desk. “I understand Philip Redman serves as an officer of the law here.”

“He is my deputy, yes.”

“May I speak with him, please?”

“Yes, ma’am, but you’ll have to wait quite a while. He’s conducting an investigation in the southwest part of the county at present. I don’t expect him back for a few hours at the earliest. May I be of assistance?”

“I was rather hoping to speak with him. I was also hoping to greet him face-to-face. It has been some time since our last encounter.”

“I suspect, Sister, that you are somehow connected with the orphanage where he spent his childhood.”

“Indeed. Has Philip said much to you about his experience?”

“Only bits and pieces now and then.”

Sister Margaret looked about the office. “I wish he were here. As it is, I cannot wait an untold number of hours for his return. I am on way by train from Lake Delton to Germantown, whence I wish to go to Holy Hill. I stopped in Uttica specifically to see Philip. I catch the next train going southeast to continue my pilgrimage.” She reached into a pocket to remove a watch. “And that in seventy-three minutes.”

“You are welcome to wait here on the small chance Philip may return sooner than I expect.”

“I don’t believe in chance, Sheriff.”

“I believe in Providence myself,” Lee said. “However, it is written ‘that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.’ ”

“Are you Catholic, Sheriff?”

“I am a Christian, but I am not a Roman Catholic Christian, Sister.”

“Then perhaps you ought not call me your sister.”

“What do you prefer, ma’am?”

“Margaret will do. And what of Philip? Has he remained obedient to the Church?”

“He is, of course, quite familiar with St. Wenceslaus Church here in Uttica. The vicar is Benedict Ziemcewicz. Do you know him?”

“I have heard of him.”

“Would you like to have a chair, ma’am? And perhaps some coffee or tea? Another of my deputies has made a good snack cake using the first strawberries of the season.”

“One would think a man who bakes should be working in a restaurant.”

“Dorothy Oakley is not a man.”

“You have a female deputy?”

“She and her husband, Chester, serve as my jailors.”

“You subject a woman to the riff-raff and ruffians of society?”

“The women of the Sisters of Charity, some two hundred and thirty of them, went from Emmitsburg to Gettysburg to set up a hospital in a Methodist church building, where they subjected themselves to the blood and guts of hundreds of soldiers who had been, shall we say, roughed up.”

“You heard of that. Were you there?”

“I fought down south, not back east. The brother of the two women who are my landladies died at Gettysburg in the care of one of those nuns.”

“I will have some tea and cake. Thank you.”

Lee stepped to the small gate in the railing that divided the office in half and opened it. He then pointed at the chair next to his desk.

Sister Margaret swept through.

Lee went into the jail. In a few minutes, he returned with a tray holding cups, saucers, and plates. “This isn’t fine china. It isn’t even simple clay dishware.”

“Tin and steel are fine enough,” said Sister Margaret. “Tell me, please, about Philip.”

“Among other things, Deputy Redman is a good officer of the law.”

“And the other things?”

“He is a fine horseman.”

“Of that I am aware. He showed such aptitude as a lad when he worked on the farm.”

“The orphanage is located on a farm?”

“No. The farm is within the parish, and some of our orphans work with the farm family. All our charges are employed in some capacity when they are ready.”

Lee nodded.

“Has Philip found his place here?”

“I would like to think so. This may not be permanent, but he seems to have settled in.”

Sister Margaret paused and then said, “I must interrupt myself. Do forgive me, because I have been overcome by curiosity. I saw that piece of paper on your desk, and the calligraphy caught my attention, so I have been impudent enough to examine it while you were in back.”

“No harm done, I suspect,” said Lee.

“The note is written in cursive, as is usual and customary. The style of the cursive, however, is what drew me to it. It looks very much like the cursive taught to our charges by Sister Mary Catherine over the years.”

Lee looked at the note. “I am a police officer, and so you have now aroused my curiosity. I know there are differences in handwriting, as there are differences in script, and in calligraphy, and in typestyle. You are saying this looks like something your co-worker wrote?”

“Not quite. It looks like something she would have taught a child to write: a style of cursive handwriting. Place the paper here, please, and I’ll show you.”

Lee slid the paper between them.

Sister Margaret removed some papers from a satchel she had with her. “Turnabout is fair play, I have heard.” She placed the selected pages on the desk. “I daresay,” said Margaret, “that you have had the experience of being unable to read another person’s writing.”

“Certainly. More times than I can recall.”

“School teachers do their best to teach children at an early age how to write neatly and legibly. They teach those who have the freedom and privilege to go to school, that is. Again, as you have noticed, the children, despite what they have been taught, do not all write alike.”

“True.”

“Perhaps you also realize that at least some children have some difficulty reading the letters they are supposed to be writing, especially in cursive. Look at these examples. Think how similar are the capitals I and J and L in some styles of cursive. O and Q. I and T. T and F.

“Now think of how easy it is to confuse certain uncials when writing many styles of cursive: z and g and q, h and b and k. If a child isn’t careful, those letters can look too much alike when written.

“Add the similarity between the number 2 and the capital Z; the numeral 0 and the capital O; the numeral 1, the uncial l, and the capital I; the numeral 1 and the numeral 7.

“All our children are sent to school. Some are better at it than others, of course. Some last longer and go farther than others. But all are afforded the opportunity. And to help the children defend themselves against charges of misspelling and illegibility by their teacher, Sister Mary Catherine took it upon herself to develop a cursive script that makes all letters and numbers as distinctive as possible, both in the eyes and minds of our children, and after those symbols leave little fingers and attach to paper.”

“It sounds as though you have had some experience in teaching children,” said Lee.

“I have. Education is the reason for my pilgrimage. I go to Holy Hill to pray for guidance and provision. Then I go to see the bishop in Madison to petition for a school of our own in Lake Delton.”

“Dominican or Jesuit?” Lee asked.

Sister Margaret’s face took on a look of mild surprise.

“The Roman Catholic bishop of the diocese of Madison is Jesuit,” said Lee. “I see by your attire that you are Dominican.”

“I pray you are not a lapsed Catholic.”

“Benedict Ziemcewicz and I are friends. Besides, I said I served in the south during the war. The bishop in Nashville was Dominican, and he had a school there operated by Dominican Sisters of St. Mary, who left Ohio before hostilities arrived in Tennessee to perform that ministry.”

“Shall I pray that you become Catholic?”

“If I were Catholic, I would probably be Jansenist.”

“I’m sorry.” Sister Margaret tapped the desktop. “This sheet of yours certainly appears to be a result of Sister Mary Catherine’s tutelage.”

Lee looked at Sister Margaret. “This sheet comes to me as part of an investigation I am conducting regarding a number of horse thefts here in Tuscumbia County. This comes to me from a woman I have been told is an orphan. Helen Vrechek. Would she happen to have been one of your charges?”

“Helen Vrechek? Yes. That name is familiar.”

“She is a school teacher now … in Doylestown.”

“Ah, yes. And, yes, it should come as no surprise that her writing would look like this.” Sister Margaret pointed to Lee’s paper.

“The thing is, she didn’t write this note. It came from an anonymous author.”

Sister Margaret took the sheet in hand and looked more closely. “Well, I am all but convinced, if Helen did not write this, then another of our charges did.”

“You’re sure.”

“Quite confident. Sister Mary Catherine was most attentive in examining British, German, and Latin texts, and she was quite inventive at developing an alternative American cursive. It would probably not win any prizes in a calligraphy contest, but it works, and it is I believe unique.”

“Do you happen to recognize that handwriting?” Lee asked.

“Do I know who wrote this?” Sister Margaret studied the note. “No. We have had too many children over the years. I am sorry, but I am not that well acquainted with the idiosyncrasies of their individual handwriting. Indeed, I am sorry to say I have not been as well acquainted with each individual child as I would like.”

“But one of your children wrote this, or someone who was once one of your children?”

“I believe so, yes.”

Lee stood and strode to the door between the office and the jail. “Dorothy!”

“Yes, sir.”

“Please pack some food for me. I ride immediately for Doylestown.”





Steeds 33

26 05 2017

Lee leaned back in his chair. “Tell me about your horse business.”

“What horse business?” Gomer asked.

“The business in which you and a few ‘good men’ round up ‘strays’ and ship them to Milwaukee to sell to anyone needing work horses cheap and fast, with few questions asked.”

“Sounds like a good scheme. I should look into it.”

“Sounds to me as though you came here looking to expand it.”

“What are you tryin’ to accuse me of now?”

“How many horses have you or your men found here in Tuscumbia County?”

“Is that the name these parts go by?”

“How many horses have you found?”

“Why do you ask?”

“How many horses have you and your men stolen from my neighbors over the past, what, six to eight weeks or so?”

“Don’t be a fool, man,” said Gomer. “I just got into your little hamlet yesterday.”

“Have you been here before?”

“No.”

“Do you have employees here? Or maybe partners? Sellers, if no one else.”

“Stop it. I’m not answerin’ any more questions, except maybe from my lawyer.”

“Do you have a lawyer?”

“No. But I need one.”

“I can provide you a list of names.”

“Locals?”

“Certainly.”

“Not on your life.”

“You mean your life,” Lee corrected.

“What?”

“What kind of life will you have in Waupun?”

“Waupun? Why would I go there?”

“Imprisonment.”

“What for?”

“I don’t know what you did to someone else in Wood County in the course of your duel, but stealing horses here is felony theft, on each occasion. That means years in prison.”

“I haven’t stolen any horses.”

“Has anyone in your employ?”

“No. I want my lawyer.”

“You don’t have one.”

“Get me one.”

“There are a number in town.”

“Not a local shyster.”

“Do you know one in Wisconsin Rapids?”

“I’m not sayin’ anymore.” Gomer looked at the cup in his hand. “Can I have some coffee now?”

“Sure. In your cell. While you’re taking a break, I’ll examine your belongings once my deputy brings them from the hotel. I may find I need to send an ancillary telegram.” Lee stood and walked to the shelf upon which Philip had placed the keys to the shackles well out of Gomer’s reach. He put both Gomer’s revolvers there, and then he stepped behind Gomer’s chair. “Place both hands on the desk and hold still,” Lee ordered.

Gomer did so.

Lee unlocked the shackle securing one of Gomer’s legs to an office fence post, moved it to his other ankle, and secured it. “Again, keep both hands on the desktop.” Lee unlocked the shackle securing one of Gomer’s arms to the same fence post. “Hold your right hand up high.”

Gomer did so.

Lee secured the shackle to the upraised wrist. Next he took hold of Gomer at the back of his belt. “Stand slowly.”

Gomer stood.

Lee eased the chair away. “Walk back to your cell.”

The ankle fetter was so short in the length of its chain that Gomer could move only at a third of his normal stride.

“Mrs. Oakley!” Lee called as they passed through the doorway between the office and the jail proper. “If you please.”

“Yes, sir.” Dorothy, standing at the work table, slid the dough knife she was using between her back and her apron string. She grabbed the ring of keys from a hook nearby, and then walked to the door of the steel cage in which Gomer had spent the night. After opening it, she stood at its leading edge.

Gomer shuffled toward the cell. Once in its doorway, Lee let go of Gomer’s belt. Instead of continuing to go inside, however, Gomer spun like a dancer to his left and whacked Lee across the face with the chain of his wrist fetter. He continued spinning until he was behind Dorothy. He bumped her head against the edge of the door, grabbed the dough knife, reached over her head, and brought the chain of his wrist fetter to her neck. He dragged her backward away from Lee as he put the blade of the knife against Dorothy’s throat.

Lee reached into his right vest pocket and produced his Remington.

“No need for that palm gun,” said Gomer. “You don’t know what or who you’ll hit if it goes off.”

Lee pointed it at Gomer’s head.

“You’re a fool, man,” said Gomer. “You’ll be lucky if you can shoot the back wall.”

Lee’s gun did not move. “You should know, I suppose. You’ve had practice shooting at people?”

“I said I’m not answerin’ any more questions. I’m givin’ orders, instead.”

“Who are you to give anyone any orders?”

Gomer pushed the knife slightly, and Dorothy winced. “Shut up. I ain’t goin’ back there. You’re goin’ to give me that popgun. Then you’re goin’ to unlock these shackles. Then you’re goin’ to give me back my pistols and my money, and finally you’re goin’ to give me a saddled horse.”

“Ain’t happenin’,” said Dorothy.

“What?”

Lee said, “There’s no need to go crazy, Gomer. I’m aware that some people can’t stand being in close quarters. If you can’t abide the jail cell, we’ll put you out in the courtyard.”

“What?” Gomer repeated. He shook his head as if to shake hair away from his eyes so he could better see things. “Are you tryin’ to crack jokes to make this more fun?”

“The sheriff doesn’t joke with criminals,” Dorothy said.

“You think I’m joshin’? You don’t think I’m serious?” Gomer pressed the knife again. “I ain’t goin’ back to Wood County, and I mean it.”

“We’ve talked about this, Sheriff,” said Dorothy.

“What’s that?” Gomer asked.

“I have told the sheriff he is never to let an evil-doer loose on the people on my account, and I mean it. I still mean it.”

“Woman, you’re the one who’s crazy.”

“It is written, ‘For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.’ ”

“What did you do in Wood County, Gomer?”

“I gave you orders!”

“Ain’t happenin’,” Lee repeated. “Tell me what happened in Wood County, and maybe I can make sure you’re treated justly.”

“I shot a man. So what? He asked for it. And he cooperated. He had his chance. It was a fair fight.”

“Were there witnesses? Seconds, even?”

“Seconds, no. It wasn’t that formal. Witnesses, yes.”

“Did you kill him?”

“No.”

“But you shot him.”

“Yes.”

“Where’d you hit him?”

“In the belly. He missed me completely because I was quicker than he was.”

“Gut shot,” said Lee.

Dorothy said, “Like Mr. Garfield, he may have died later. Wound sickness. Blood poisoning. Whatever.”

“You ain’t helpin’ yourself here, woman.”

“You ain’t lettin’ this shootist go, Sheriff.”

“Tell me about stealing horses,” said Lee, “and I’ll keep you here on that account. That’ll give us time to sort things out in Wood County.”

“Now you’re crazy.”

“Grand theft means some years in prison,” Lee said. “Murder means all the years you have left in prison.”

“I ain’t goin’ to prison! I can’t! I won’t!”

“Yes, you are, if you survive. Or would you rather die than go to prison?”

“You’re not ready to meet your Maker, mister,” said Dorothy.

“Shut up!”

“This is the second time you’ve assaulted an officer of the law,” said Lee. “And this time it’s even more grave; it’s deadly.”

“Second? Who? This she-female?”

“She is my deputy.”

“No more talkin’! You have your orders! Get to them!” Gomer pushed the knife.

Dorothy hissed as if stung.

“You’re drawing blood,” Lee said.

Dorothy quietly said, “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.” Her knees buckled, and she began slumping to the floor.

Gomer’s grip was not adequate to hold her dead weight up. As she went down, more of Gomer’s body was exposed.

Lee cocked the double-barreled Deringer.

Gomer had only an instant to make a life-and-death decision. He threw the dough knife far away to his right.

“Get that fetter off my deputy!” Lee said.

Gomer complied.

Dorothy shifted to her hands and knees and crawled out of the way.

“Get in that cage!” Lee said.

Gomer hesitated.

Philip came through the doorway of the jail. “What in blazes?”

“Deputy Redman, take that man by the back of his belt and his collar and force him into his jail cell.”

“Yes, sir.” Philip made sure to stay out of Lee’s line of fire as he moved to Gomer’s rear. “What’d you do to Mrs. Oakley?”

Gomer said nothing as Philip half carried and half slid him across the floor and into the steel cage.

Dorothy answered, “He tried to give me a shave with my own knife.”

“Are you all right?” Lee asked.

Dorothy dabbed the cut on her neck with her apron. “I will be, now that I’ve recovered from that fake she-female swoon.” She stood. “That’s the first time in I-don’t-know-how-long I’ve lied to someone.”





Steeds 26

10 05 2017

“Sarah.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Isolde is retired, but she still needs exercise. Every day. It’s a fine evening. Would you like to take a ride?”

Sarah looked at Lee’s beautiful chestnut mare and smiled. “Oh, but I’m not properly dressed, sir.”

“Bah. Isolde won’t mind.”

Sarah looked at Ella, and then at Clara.

“Bah,” said Clara. “So your pretty dress smells like a pretty horse for a while. Your Aunt Ella won’t mind washing it later. She doesn’t mind washing my clothes.”

“That’s only because you don’t mind sharing the money you earn at that print shop,” said Ella. “But your Aunt Clara is correct. Go for the ride.”

Isolde stood wearing nothing but a bridle and lead rein.

Lee held a hand out in invitation.

“Yes!” said Sarah.

Lee stooped to place a book on the ground. He then put two hands together to make a stirrup so that Sarah could mount the horse. Once up, Sarah immediately leaned forward to hug Isolde around her neck. Sarah buried her face in the horse’s long, flowing, flaxen mane. Ella stepped to the horse’s left side, and Clara stepped to the horse’s right. Each made sure Sarah’s skirts were discreetly arranged.

Lee began walking, and Isolde strode at his side. “We’ll be back before the sky turns black,” he called. “When the fireflies are blinking.”

They travelled in silence for a time. Eventually, Lee said, “Your aunt says you have a question she’d like me to try answering.”

“Do animals go to heaven?”

“What does your minister say?”

“The Reverend Van Meter says no.”

“He pastors the Reformed church west of town.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And, in the words of the Apostle Paul, what saith the Scripture?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, I suppose we can start with the passage your minister probably has in mind.” Lee draped the lead rein over a shoulder and opened his book. “ ‘Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?’ ”

“That sounds familiar,” said Sarah.

“Let’s consider the question in its context. ‘I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts. For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth? Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works, for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?’

“Now I doubt seriously that the Reverend Van Meter would say to any man or woman that human beings are nothing more than beasts. I doubt that he would agree that humans have no preeminence over animals, that men and beasts die in the same manner, and that, in accordance with a shared cosmic destiny, they alike gain nothing more than decomposing into elemental dust.

“The person who wrote this book of the Bible went on a quest. In short, the challenge was this: can man declare independence from God and make a life for himself? The result: he can try, but life will be vain, futile, meaningless, lacking in significance. It is God who puts eternity into the heart of man. Without God, no life; without God, life is nothing but death and that which is as good as death.

“In this passage, the writer is positing that humans and animals are alike. He asks, ‘Who really knows whether the spirits of men go up and the spirits of animals go down?’ What saith the Scripture?”

“What does it say?” Sarah asked.

“It says that God saw everything that He had made and, behold, it was good. That includes the animals. How can anyone who bothers to behold a horse and a cat and a butterfly and a hummingbird and a bumblebee not agree that each is amazingly good?”

“I do agree,” said Sarah.

“And what artisan, what artist does not wish his work to last, to endure through all time? What artisan, what artist does not wish his work to be appreciated through all time?”

“None, I would think.”

“And what does it mean to appreciate? Welcome. Understand. Value. Respect. Esteem. Treasure. Cherish. Even love. Did you appreciate Daisy?”

“I did,” Sarah cried.

“Do you still appreciate Daisy?”

“I do!”

“Is not the God who made Daisy thus pleased?”

“I hope so.”

“If God appreciates what He has made, why wouldn’t He want it to last beyond the last? If God appreciates you, made in His image, why wouldn’t He want you to last beyond the last, and also that which you appreciate of His?

“It is written, ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life….  He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.’

“True, it is not written that animals have the offer of everlasting life. But why? I believe it is because animals are innocent; they are not evil, and they have no need of redemption.

“But can they have everlasting life? Do animals get to heaven? Are animals in heaven? What saith the Scripture? In the book of Revelation we read that Christ Jesus Himself has a horse. We read that the armies of heaven ride on horses. Now, we can debate whether what John saw is actual or fanciful, real or symbol.

“However, consider this. It is written, ‘If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?’ It is also written that, when we see the ascended Jesus, we shall be like Him. It is written that He will not be ashamed to call us brothers and sisters. This being so, even if an animal is not yet in heaven, can we not reasonably expect that God our Father will grant His children permission to bring an animal to heaven? Isn’t it possible that we, once there, can ourselves learn how to resurrect an animal? If it is impossible for God to forget how to bring the very same saint who died and decomposed thousands of years ago to a new and glorious life, is it not possible for God to teach His children to do the very same thing for creatures of His they appreciated in lives past?

“Such is my hope after this fine, but aging horse experiences death.”

 





Steeds 25

7 05 2017

“May I put something forward for your consideration, please?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Heavens to Betsy, don’t say that,” said Ella. “I’m younger than you are.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“One more time, and I’ll lay into you. I can do it, too. I had a big brother, you know.” As soon as the words got to Lee, Ella faltered. It took a couple minutes before she could say anything in addition. “You also know he died in the war.” Tears came to her eyes. “Did I tell you he served with the Iron Brigade?”

“Yes. As a soldier in the Seventh Volunteer Wisconsin Infantry Regiment. The Huckleberries.”

“I said that?”

“Yes.”

“I’m surprised I could get that far. Did I say he died at Gettysburg?”

“You did.”

Ella nodded. “You’re the only one, then, who’s heard that much. You have a way with people, not just horses.” She tried to smile. Then, “It’s not that I refuse to discuss it with anyone else. I can’t….”  Ella had to pause again to compose herself. “I still can’t. Even here and now, almost twenty years later, I still cannot.” She looked about and whispered, “Where’s Clara?”

“She’s out with the sheep. There’s a girl with her. I saw her holding a lamb.”

“Good. I don’t want my sister to see me like this, not after so much time. Clara relies on me to be Ma and Pa and … Nate….” Ella shook her head savagely. She pounded it with both fists. She stood and began pacing the floor of her kitchen, at speed, while with crossed arms she hit herself repeatedly. “Stop it! Stop it!” she said to herself.

Lee waited in silence at the kitchen table. Once, when Ella came within range, Lee reached out to touch a forearm. She stopped flailing, but continued pacing for another couple minutes.

Ella stopped. After smoothing her apron, she asked, “More tea?”

“Please.”

Ella stepped to the cook stove in the manner in which everyone who watched her was accustomed. However, she grabbed the tea kettle with some violence. “Have you noticed that Clara is as good with sheep as are you with horses?”

“Indeed I have.”

Ella refilled Lee’s cup. “Another piece of kuchen?”

“Please.”

“The girl is our niece, Sarah. She’s visiting for a few days from her folks’ farm out yonder in Apucawa. She’s here because she’s feeling as bereft, as bereaved as we did after we got the news about…”  Ella forced it out. “Nathan. It killed our mother. That’s why Sarah’s here. Her folks―they would be Peter and Madeline Courtwright―her folks figure we can talk to her because we know what it’s like.”

“Excuse me, Ella,” said Lee. “I intend not to be indelicate, but neither Clara nor you are married, and if Nathan died in the war, how can you have a niece?”

“Oh. Well, Nate married Madeline just before he enlisted. She was going to await his return, and then she would move here from her folks’ farm―their place was out near Jolliet―and Nate and she would gradually take over more and more of the farming here while eventually taking care of Ma and Pa when they came to their dotage. Ma and Pa figured, of course, that Clara and I would move out, getting married and all.”

“But Sarah is far too young to be the daughter of Nate and Madeline,” Lee observed.

“True. She’s just going on fourteen. Madeline remarried, you see, some years after the war. Sarah is her youngest.”

“Ah.”

“Sure. Clara and I realize that Sarah’s not really our niece, except maybe in an in-law sort of way. But we took a shine to her mother, Madeline, back when. We would visit on Sunday afternoons. We’d go out there, or they’d come here, until….” Ella could not conclude the sentence.

Her hand held a knife to use in cutting a piece of cake, and it trembled. “How often have I striven with this, my mother’s pet knife?” Ella confessed. “I have been sorely tempted to strike, to smite … someone. But who? The rebels? General Lee? General Meade? President Lincoln? The slavers? Who? Do you realize that the first word we got of Nate’s death came, not from some officer in the regiment or brigade or the Army of the Potomac, not from the Department of War, but from a Roman Catholic nun? She and a number of her sisters had gone to the battlefield to render whatever mercies they could. She held Nate’s reddened, blackened hand. As for the military, if it weren’t for Mr. Lincoln stepping up and saying those few words, I would fear they thought of my brother as nothing more than a checker piece.”

Ella screamed, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” She slashed the air with the knife.

Ella then stood still. She smoothed her apron again and put both hands behind her back. With head bowed, she quietly said, “Please, Llewellyn Elias Leall. Speak to my niece, Sarah. She has lost someone dear to her: Daisy.”

“A friend?” Lee asked.

“A friend, yes. A cat. Just a cat, many would say. But Sarah’s not yet fourteen, you see, and that cat was her friend. Like Isolde. Like Freyja. A friend.”

“I understand,” said Lee.

“A friend taken suddenly, violently.”

“What happened?”

“They were mowing hay. The cat was in the field, hidden in the tall grass. All four feet got cut off.”

“Oh.”

“Daisy didn’t die. The hired man, he took her and drowned her in a water tank. Just a cat, don’t you know.”

Lee sighed.

“As I said, Sarah is bereft, bereaved. Inconsolable. They don’t know what to do.”

“Sarah’s mother has nothing to say? Nothing to share?” Lee asked.

“She’s confused. She lost a husband, but that was after a whirlwind courtship and then something like two years of absence. When she got the news of Nate’s death, she didn’t know what to think, what to feel. She watched us flood tears. She watched my mother drowning in a cloudburst of sorrow, and my father freezing in a wind that blew all the green from his farming heart. And she? She felt … shame. She felt so very ashamed of herself.”

“What can I do?” Lee asked.

“Sarah has questions. Listen to her. Speak with her.”

Lee nodded.

“I would. If you won’t, I will. I must. But I am afraid of myself.”

“Why?”

Ella moved both hands from behind to before. One hand bled from gripping the blade of the knife. “ ‘I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God; in him will I trust….

“ ‘He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day.…

“ ‘A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand, but it shall not come nigh thee. Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked. Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation, there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.

“ ‘Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him.

With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation.’ So it was written. So our dear Nathan believed. He was a good man. Where was our good God?”

Lee eased the knife from Ella’s hand and gently placed it on the table. He took that hand into his own and held it close, stanching the flow of blood. “Ella,” he said. “You know that psalm contains a prophecy regarding the Messiah, our Savior and Lord.”

She nodded. “So I have been told.”

“You know He could have called twelve legions of angels to His defense, as He said. And yet, as you know, He did not. Instead….” Lee held two bloody hands up, still clasping. “He bled, He died, to take hold of us. Now consider: did the prophecy fail? Did the word of God fail the Son of God? Or was it fulfilled in a way greater, grander?”

 





The New Year

1 01 2015

Be welcome, year! with corn and sickle come;
Make poor the body, but make rich the heart:
What man that bears his sheaves, gold-nodding, home,
Will heed the paint rubbed from his groaning cart!

Nor leave behind thy fears and holy shames,
Thy sorrows on the horizon hanging low–
Gray gathered fuel for the sunset-flames
When joyous in death’s harvest-home we go.

George MacDonald





A Child’s Prayer

13 12 2014

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon a little child;
Pity my simplicity,
Suffer me to come to Thee.

Fain I would to Thee be brought,
Dearest God, forbid it not;
Give me, dearest God, a place
In the Kingdom of Thy grace.

Put Thy hands upon my head,
Let me in Thine arms be stayed,
Let me lean upon Thy breast,
Lull me, lull me, Lord to rest.

Hold me fast in Thine embrace,
Let me see Thy smiling face,
Give me, Lord, Thy blessings give,
Pray for me, and I shall live.

Lamb of God, I look to Thee,
Thou shalt my example be;
Thou art gentle, meek, and mild,
Thou wast once a little child.

Fain I would be as Thou art,
Give me Thy obedient heart;
Thou art pitiful and kind,
Let me have Thy loving mind.

Let me, above all, fulfil
God my heavenly Father’s will,
Never His good Spirit grieve;
Only to His glory live.

Thou didst live to God alone,
Thou didst never seek Thine own,
Thou Thyself didst never please:
God was all Thy happiness.

Loving Jesus, gentle Lamb,
In Thy gracious hands I am;
Make me, Saviour, what Thou art,
Live Thyself within my heart.

I shall then show forth Thy praise,
Serve Thee all my happy days;
Then the world shall always see
Christ, the Holy Child, in me.

 

Charles Wesley’s poem hearkens further back to a brief story contained in the New Testament. Here it is, as presented in one of the three Gospels that record it:

 

Mark 10:13-16  Lexham English Bible (LEB)

 And they were bringing young children to him so that he could touch them, but the disciples rebuked them.  But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant, and said to them, “Let the young children come to me. Do not forbid them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.  Truly I say to you, whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a young child will never enter into it.”  And after taking them into his arms, he blessed them, placing his hands on them.

Wesley’s poem also hearkens to a brief, but potent teaching contained in three of the four Gospels. Here is one rendering:

Matthew 18:1-4  Lexham English Bible (LEB)

At that time the disciples came up to Jesus, saying, “Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  And calling a child to himself, he had him stand in their midst and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you turn around and become like young children, you will never enter into the kingdom of heaven! Therefore whoever humbles himself like this child, this person is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

(2012 by Logos Bible Software. Lexham is a registered trademark of Logos Bible Software)

What Jesus is saying in His teaching is that a person must recognize his/her utter dependence on God the Heavenly Father. The human being is as dependent upon God as a little child is dependent upon his/her father and mother. A child may tell his parents, “I want my own way,” or “I can do it myself,” or more simply, “No!” But doing so is folly; it is foolish and as deadly as letting a child play with matches or a loaded gun or sharp knives.

Note: childlike does not mean

  • naïve,
  • simplistic,
  • ignorant,
  • uneducated,
  • unsophisticated,
  • juvenile,
  • gullible,
  • immature, and/or
  • puerile

 

Childlike does mean

  • trusting and
  • guileless

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