Walking Away From “Wise Guys”: A Devotional Reflection on Corinthians 1:18-31

The elegant simplicity of faith is defined and symbolized in the cross.

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There can be no parsing of the message it represents.  It represents our separation from the God who created the universe; life and us.  Yet, at the same time, it is the means by which we are again made one with Him.

It is fitting that Paul’s letter to the Corinthians should be the conveyor of this message.  Corinth, in modern terms was, at the time of Paul’s writing, the most “cosmopolitan” of biblical cities, being comprised of many nationalities; social classes and particular denominations of Christianity.  Its  geography made it a crossroads of trade for all corners of the known world at that time.

Can you say “diversity”?

The power of Rome; the collected wisdom of Greek philosophy and the clamor of the marketplace must surely have constituted a habitat for faith not so much different from that which exists today.  That is to say, sectarian; diverse; driven by and catering to many ‘special’ interests competing for power and influence.

What better a time and place for Paul to shepherd them back to the Gospel and its meaning for a fallen mankind?

Paul cites Isaiah (29:14) from the Old Testament:  “The wisdom of the wise will perish”.  Those professing faith in Corinth could not deny their acceptance of this piece of Scripture.  That being the case, Paul continues, is it not folly to lose ourselves in using logic or knowledge to discern the nature of God?

Likewise, Paul notes that the Jews “seek signs”.  Their prayers for a conquering Messiah, more powerful than any pharaoh or king or emperor, are for  an ultimate conquest over enemies.   This belief that a true Messiah should be proof that “might makes right” is, again, folly.

For human logic and human strength or power are but that:  human.  To try to attain righteousness; sanctification and redemption with our God through these means alone is hubris at best, and sinful pride at worst.

This sinful folly, born of Adam, and rampant still in our warring and factious society, is what has separated us from Him.  And only He could make Himself flesh through Jesus Christ; and splay Himself on a cross to shoulder our sin as one of us out of  His love for all of us.  His death and resurrection unite us into His Spirit.

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We need only accept this, not due to any ” logic”,  nor even out of deference to ” power”.  This world, and our living in it, is proof enough of His power.  Accept the cross, and its meaning, and know that there is neither wisdom nor power that can understand; discern or measure His amazing Grace.

Boast not of what you can do for God or your fellow man, ….boast of what God has done for you.

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Walking the Showrooms With Stefan: (Epilogue: Casting Out the ‘Devil in the Details’)

Stefan smiled as he got into the Rambler that morning for the drive to church.  His duties as Assistant Treasurer for the congregation involved a weekly session of checking account balancing;  the vouchering  and payment of invoices to vendors; and payroll.  Like his trips to work, this task was more enjoyable lately, as it involved driving his ‘new ride’.

The Rambler had, indeed been running fairly well.  He’d been driving it to and from work almost every day, except when rain was in the forecasts.  On one day, he had taken the route which consisted mainly of interstate, and he had again experienced the abrupt and violent hesitation and bucking of the drive-train, forcing him to the berm for a ritual purging of the fuel filter under the hood.

Since then, he had opted for the more direct and ‘scenic’ route, which took him through the Cuyahoga Valley and along side of the old Ohio Canal.  This picturesque and historic route wound lazily south from his home and, at no more than 40 m.p.h., was, except for an occasional ‘hiccup’ from the engine, free of mechanical drama.  He had begun to avoid the highways, and to spend his time in the technical threads of Ramble forums and conversing with mechanically minded acquaintances about the possible sources of  the problem.

This research had continued through both Pentecost and Trinity Sundays, and it was now almost a full two weeks since he had made his odyssey home.  Between drives to work and to local car shows and ‘cruise-ins’, he had adjusted and cleaned the carburetorand replaced the distributor cap.   He had run a modest amount of additives and cleaners through the fuel system, in the hope that the problem was moisture or corrosion related.   The car ran “well enough for government work”, but the occasional hesitations were troublesome.

As he arrived at the church, he was hailed by the janitor, a man Stefan’s age or a little older, and they both talked and smiled as he told him about the originality of the car, its’ mileage, and…..the ordeal of the 440-mile trip home from Syracuse.  It was early morning, and the rays of the sun beamed down on them like the ‘tongues of fire’ manifesting the Holy Spirits’ descending upon the Apostles.

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They talked for a while, and then each proceeded to his duties.  As Stefan cut checks; ran posting reports and ran envelopes through the postage machine, he felt a tinge of guilt.  The Rambler was basically sound.  His research; correspondence on technical forums; and, even his discussions with his more mechanically inclined brothers, all pointed to either a corroded fuel line allowing air to enter the fuel, or, a failing fuel pump.  He had priced the fuel pump, which was about a hundred and sixty dollars, as it was both a fuel and a vacuum pump, supplying not only fuel to the carburetor, but vacuum to both the wiper motor and the advance mechanism on the distributor.   His cheap Ukrainian heart recoiled in horror at such an expenditure.   He had yet to crawl underneath to check the condition of the fuel lines.   He had been lazy, rationalizing that his faith in the Holy Spirit would remove the Rambler’s ‘affliction’.  His laziness was based on the fact that the car actually did run “well enough”.

And then, as he left for the post office with the Church’s mail, tooting the horn at the smiling, waving janitor, he proceeded to the end of the driveway.

The car died.  ‘Affliction’ had reared it’s gruesome head, yet again.  He restarted the car, and limped on to the post office, and then home.  A sense of affliction spurred him out of his laziness.  Within minutes, the floor-jack was out, and the trouble-light glowed:

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His first examination was of the less expensive of the two probable sources of his problem….the fuel line.  Crawling beneath the car, he was surprised to find that the line, from a point only nine inches from the fuel tank, all the way to a point some nine inches from the fuel pump, was shiny and, ……new.

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His heart sank to the concrete slab beneath him, as he realized he would soon be one hundred-sixty dollars less affluent; at the mercy of  UPS; and, possibly at the mercy of the quality-control habits of vendors dealing in parts a half-century old.    And he remembered some quotes that had struck him in Pirsig’s ‘Zen’

“The test of the machine is the satisfaction it gives you. There isn’t any other test. If the machine produces tranquility it’s right. If it disturbs you it’s wrong until either the machine or your mind is changed.” — (Robt. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:  An Inquiry into Values“)

“The real cycle you’re working on is a cycle called yourself.” — (Robt. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:  An Inquiry into Values”)

And, he also remembered some readings on Pentecost and Trinity Sunday; how the Spirit is not an insurance policy against affliction, fostering confidence and calm, but rather is that part of the Holy Trinity which faithfully responds when those of faith are afflicted, giving wings to our hearts, removing them from our afflictions, instead of indemnifying us for our losses by removing the affliction.

He held up the trouble-light once more, searching the recesses around and beyond the perimeter of the fuel tank.   And then he noticed…..almost out of sight, mere inches from the outlet of the tank, was a second ‘in-line’ fuel filter.  He squinted through his bifocals and noted that, while it did not appear ‘new’, neither did it appear clogged or overly dirty.  He decided to remove it for inspection anyway.

Selecting two pairs of vice-grips from the peg-board on the wall of the garage, he returned beneath the tank and used them, with wadded paper as cushions to protect the soft fuel line from being torn by the teeth of the grips, to crimp the line on either end of this superfluous and redundant filter.  Using the screwdriver to loosen the clamps, it was soon off.

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Emptied of fuel:  blown through with his lips in the ritual repeatedly practiced on the trip home mere weeks before, it seemed to function properly.  Just as he was about to return beneath the car, he experienced a “Eureka!” moment.  He scarcely believed his eyes, but…yes,   it was true!   The white ‘cap’ on the filter had been toward the tank.  The ‘arrow’ (noted in picture above)  on the casing of the filter, he knew from decades of experience with old VW’s; Fords; Chevys and….Ramblers, was in place to instruct the mechanic on the proper orientation of the filter.  This filter, however prudently added, (perhaps out of concern for the age of  the car and how little it had been driven per year) , had been put on backwards !!

The physics of the situation ran through his head at lightening speed.  This mistake had required the fuel pump to over-exert itself;  i.e., to suction the fuel from the tank through the paper element before it could collect in the canister around the element and continue on its’ way to the engine compartment. It was as if one had to suck a soda out of a sponge, instead of out of a can.

Within minutes he had replaced it with the spare he had purchased a few days after driving the car home and placed in the trunk of the Rambler.  The white ‘cap’ was now toward the front of the car, and the embossed arrow on its canister was aligned with the proper flow of fuel.  The canister would now will fill directly from the tank, unimpeded by the paper element, and would from there be drawn as needed through the check-valve at the core of the filter.

The vice-grips were removed, and skidded across the floor.  The rear of the car came down with an urgency matched only by Richard Petty’s pit crew.

No one was home, but he did not even stop to close the garage as he backed down the driveway to test-drive the modification.  As he drove around the block, then onto the main street of his town, and then, to the highway entrance ramp, he was as giddy with joy as he remembered being when he had raced home to tell his dad that he no longer needed training wheels affixed to his bike. (He had finally noticed that they had loosened, and were, unbeknownst to him, no longer functioning to keep him upright in the corner at the bottom of the hill  which his boyhood home sat atop).

As he motored happily down the fast-lane, tooting his horn and waving to startled Prius and Caravan drivers, he realized that, had he not found this hidden demon in the Rambler’s tank, he would eventually have burned out not only the current fuel pump; but most probably, would have burned out any replacement fuel pump as well.   The engine felt powerful, as its’ ‘heart’ had been removed from the affliction of the demon filter.  Its’ evil configuration had been cast out, and the Rambler was now well-behaved; more civil;  less intimidating to drive, and….. ‘happy‘.

He knew that the change in fuel pressure would warrant a readjustment of the carburetor mixture screw, and he resolved to finally remove, clean and re-gap the spark plugs,  as he must have been running ‘lean’ for lack of adequate fuel to the combustion chambers.  He realized that this must have been the source of the temperature issues he had had to cope with on the trip home, as he had learned in ‘Transportation I” in high school, a ‘lean’ mixture will run hot.

So many issues, so simple a cause.

The original phone-book sized ‘Technical Service Manual’  he had gotten with the car could never have addressed the true affliction the Rambler had experienced.  (In fact, the chapter on testing the fuel pump might very well have resulted in a passing grade for this robust, if overworked component of the fuel system.)  No internet forum had any threads related to “locating improperly installed equipment”.   It was, Stefan mused, the Holy Spirit at work, responding to affliction by addressing the heart.

Both the Rambler’s heart, and,……his.

He decided to work on the carburetor and the plugs another day.  Today, he would wash the Rambler.

He looked up at the sun.  It was still morning.  He had cast out the demons in the heart of the Rambler, and had succeeded in using his heart to do so.

He felt blessed.  In fact, he felt full of ‘blessings’.

 

He decided to call his blessings:  “Legion”

 

 

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Walking the Showrooms With Stefan: (Part 3–Taking Delivery; Accepting Deliverance)

Stefan packed his  ‘Jack Bauer‘  bag that Sunday night with methodical care, checking off the items as  they found their places in its’ confines.

The jumper cables; the tire pressure gauge; the Leatherman multi-purpose tool; the portfolio of Mapquest print-outs; the bottle of ‘lead-substitute’ for the gasoline he would consume; the Garmin and  it’s power cable; the phone charger, and, of course…..Magnetic Mary.   The sandwich; the pear and the breakfast-bars were ready in the refrigerator, and he allotted space for them in the center of the coiled jumper cables.  He counted, then recounted the wad of fifty and twenty-dollar bills, and divided them into three roughly equal, smaller wads.  Dispersing these among his wallet and two of the pockets of his jeans, he reached for the old poplin jacket he would be wearing.

The ten days or so since his test-drive of the Rambler had passed like so many months.  After an attempt to make the trip the prior Friday had been made impractical by a nearly forgotten commitment to drive his mother-in-law to a medical appointment, he had had to call the seller and reschedule to Monday.  He was glad he had left a substantial deposit on the car, as, even while he was in Syracuse, others had stopped to look at the Rambler even as he was adjusting its’  mirrors for his test run.  He did not want time to erode the details of the bargain that had been struck.

He had considered impinging on the good graces of his fetching spouse to accompany him to Syracuse, and to follow him back, but her work schedule; her obligations at church and in her mothers’ garden, along with her discomfort on long trips which did not allow for frequent stops,  made this option impractical.  A second option, that of renting a car in Cleveland and dropping it off in Syracuse was indeed feasible, but when its’ cost, added to the fuel he would need to purchase for it, and the ridiculous deposit he would need to leave was considered, he had opted for option “number three’:

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He had opted for the bus route which would take him to Buffalo for a 30-minute layover and a change of buses before continuing to Syracuse.

He had purchased the ticket the night before, after waiting in a line that contained only him for fifty minutes while the lone ticket agent had her lunch.  He had held his vexation in check as he listened to the rules of the bus-line; the admonition that the ticket was ‘non-refundable’;  and the procedures regarding luggage.  He would need to arrive an hour early, 4:00 a.m., for the 5:05 a.m. departure to be ensured of a seat, refundable ticket or not.

It was dark when he finally left the station. It would be dark when his wife returned him there at 4:00 a.m. the next morning.

He placed the ticket in the interior breast-pocket of the poplin jacket, and retired to bed at midnight.  He would need to rise at three a.m., and he hoped he could sleep.  The sleep he did get was fitful, filled with half-dreams of ‘dealer-trade’ road trips past; of manually-shifted antique autos he had owned and loved; of  the Rambler he had owned when he met his wife, and of the Rambler he had owned when they married.

“You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge.

(― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values)

He dreamt also of working again with his hands; of setting points; gapping sparkplugs; adjusting timing, fuel mixtures and idle-speeds; and of weekend drives down country roads to share experiences and swap stories with the owners of other ancient vehicles, whose perceptions of “value” were, like his, measured in the heart instead of an auction value.   (Old Mustangs and Chevelles, though old, are legion…they are less the expression of an inner value than they are the donning of a silk-screened t-shirt or the acquisition of a tattoo.  They shout not: “This is me!!”, but rather:  “Me too!!”    They are worked on only to sell, and purchased only to show.)

“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”

(― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values)

The alarm ended his reverie, and he kissed his wife awake.  As she drove him downtown to the bus station; he thanked her repeatedly, between gulps of his coffee.  She responded, repeatedly, by making him promise to eat at least three times on the trip back.   He punctuated the final promise with a peck on her cheek as she deposited him at the station entrance.  He would call her from Buffalo during the layover, to make sure she was up in time for work.

He slung his bag over his shoulder, patted his chest for his ticket, and stepped through the door to the counter.  Three or four buses were leaving, and he was directed to the proper line for boarding:

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There was little, if any conversation; small talk; or banter of any kind, even to ask someone to “save their place” in line if they needed to use the restroom or to get a coffee.  They would simply claim their ‘turf’ with their bag and leave.  “Social media”, thought Stefan, was big on technology but small on ‘social”.

He initiated some small talk about the destinations of those in front of and behind him, but any responses were not followed by mutual inquiries as to his.  He sat down Indian-style, and scanned The Weather Channel on his Windows Phone for the forecast in upstate New York.  Upon boarding, he claimed a window-seat, claimed the aisle seat next to him with the ‘Jack Bauer’ bag, and settled in.

The ride was uneventful, and noteworthy only for the setting of the air-conditioning, which would have allowed a deli owner to transport  a large bundle of gefilte fish in the overhead luggage bin all the way to New York City in a state of perfect preservation.  As the sun came up, he resolved that it would not be prudent to nap or doze, as many young ‘fellow travelers’ were using the restroom behind him with the alarming frequency of people three times their age.  He passed the time monitoring the progress of their travel on his GPS, and reading a 1962 Road & Track issue he had brought along because it had a road test of a Rambler.

His Rambler.

He had already eaten his sandwich and fruit by the time they hit Buffalo:

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He spent the twenty minutes stretching his legs, and perusing the aisles at a truck-stop next door for things he might use on his trip home, like a plastic cup-holder, or even a unique key-chain.  He found nothing unique, and walked back out into the blessedly warm morning air.          After a small amount of idle chatter with other riders about how cold it was on the bus, they re-boarded and rode on.  It was 8:30 a.m., and he surmised that they would be in Syracuse at around noon.  He texted the seller, who had agreed to pick him up at the station in Syracuse, that he was only slightly behind schedule.

As he gazed out at the landscape around him and the passing cars beneath his vantage point on the Greyhound, he was amazed at the number of drivers ‘texting’ as they drove.  At 65 m.p.h., he decided that, at least in this usage, ‘social media’ was indeed ‘anti-social’ in the risk it presented.

At slightly after noon, he alit from the Greyhound and answered the toot of the horn from the seller’s car in the parking lot.  In fifteen minutes they were at the seller’s home.  They settled at the dining room table and consummated the deal.  The cash was counted, the paperwork signed.  Stefan was particularly thankful for the seller’s agreement to allow him the use of his plates on the way home.  The seller was a ‘car-nut’ too, and had a beautiful ’55 Chevy pick-up truck in his garage, with wooden slats in the bed so pristine in their varnished glory that a person could eat off of them.  They traded some stories of  cars they had owned and purchased out-of-state, returning home either with no plates, or with paper 30-day tags which had blown off in the wind.  Their shared spirit of their love for cars was bond enough for his promise to mail the plates back immediately upon his return home.

At slightly after two o’clock, he realized he needed to start back.  He wanted to be home at around nine p.m..  He placed the jumper cables and the lead-substitute in the trunk, suction-cupped the Garmin to the windshield; and affixed Magnetic Mary to the flat metallic expanse of the dashboard.  The car started immediately.  The gas tank was only slightly less than half full.  He tooted the horn, eased into first gear, and was off.:

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He decided to take the same route home that he had taken in, ten days prior, in the Cavalier.

Stefan smiled as the Rambler easily attained 65 to 70 m.p.h. on the highway once he had worked his way through the suburbs of Syracuse.  He was ecstatic with the way the sun accentuated the chrome and aluminum trim on the car, and the way the wide whitewalls set off the powder-blue hue of the sheet metal.  The rush of air through the front vent windows and the gentle moan of the old engine were a symphony, and it simply didn’t matter to him that the radio was presently not picking up a signal.  After almost an hour of this bliss, he decided to exit the highway for fuel.

At the end of the exit ramp, the red  ‘BATT’ and TEMP” lights both came on.  The car died.

The car started again easily enough, but he noted a slight roughness to the idle as he glided into the gas station.  Surely, a full tank of ‘premium’ would help to work out any corrosion or water which might have, understandably, given the cars’ age, accumulated over time.  After all, the original 57,000 miles traveled by this vehicle averaged out to only slightly more than 1,000 miles per year.  As passers-by smiled and asked him about the car, he shrugged off this slight ‘glitch,’ and concentrated instead on  the gallons he was pumping, so he could judge the accuracy of the fuel gauge.

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Noting the gallons pumped and the position of the needle on the fuel gauge in the notebook he had brought along, he resumed his odyssey.  Other than an occasional ‘shuddering’ he sensed through the seat of his pants; his hands and his feet; the Rambler seemed to be perfectly at home at over 60 m.p.h..  He motored on, admiring the countryside and appreciating the long-forgotten sensation of lazily gripping the wheel with his left hand and draping his right arm over the seat-back of the bench seat as if he were on a couch in a living room.:

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And then, it happened….

The car began to buck, and lurch, and hesitate with alarming intensity.  It was as if he were repeatedly turning off the ignition and immediately switching it back on.  The sensation was that of the car crashing through heavy wooden fences, moving through them only by virtue of the force of its’ weight and momentum.  He pulled off to the berm, and noted the red lights, ‘BATT” and TEMP” come on again.   He noted he could restart the engine, but that it would not idle without repeatedly ‘feathering’ the gas pedal.  He got out of the car and opened the hood.  He inspected the connections of the spark-plug and coil wires, and removed the distributor cap to inspect it for cracks and the rotor for wear.  All seemed normal with the electrics.

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He turned his attention to the fuel system.  He removed the air cleaner.  The fuel bowl had a transparent front cover and he noted an adequate fuel level in the bowl.  However….the fuel in it was bubbling, percolating, even.  He directed his attention to the in-line fuel filter, and noted that there was but a small amount of fuel in the bowl.  As the same filter was in use on virtually every air-cooled VW he had ever owned, he was used to the level being higher.

Out came his Leatherman.  The pliers therein enabled him to quickly remove the clips holding the filters’ ends to the fuel line so he could remove it.  It seemed rather new.  He emptied it out onto the roadside, and performed a ritual last utilized decades ago, putting its’ stem to his lips and blowing through it to ensure he could feel the force of his breath through the other end of the filter onto his palm.  Satisfied it was not clogged, he replaced it.  The car started; even idled normally, and he was soon back up to sixty m.p.h. on the thruway.

Another fifty or so miles, and he noted the temperature gauge starting to climb.  He knew he had enough coolant, and decided that the Rambler needed to rest.  He exited and stopped at a Burger King for a meal.  The car died again at the end of the exit, and he again had to ‘feather’ the throttle to get it into the parking lot.  As he drank his shake and ate his meal, acknowledging with nods and smiles the comments and ‘thumbs-up’ gestures from fellow patrons, he reflected on the problem.  Was the Rambler ‘bridling’ at the length and the average speed of his trip, after being used for decades only for parades and Sunday drives?   He thought not.  The seller had spent considerable money ensuring the ignition components; tires; alignment and suspension were all inspected thoroughly, and replaced as needed.   He decided that the issue was debris or corrosion in the ancient fuel tank being dislodged by the velocity of his travel, and interfering with either the fuel pump or the carburetor inlet valve, or even the jets in the carburetor.

He finished his meal, and got back on the road.  Another 50 miles on, and the lurching commenced anew.  The afternoon was dwindling, and he again used the Leatherman to perform the cleansing ritual of the filter.  He was alone on the road.  Tension was mounting.  He emptied his bladder alongside of the fuel from the filter into the grass along the berm.  He said a ‘Hail Mary’ and crossed himself as he checked the mirror before re-entering the roadway.  He had broken down many times in many other older cars.  He was resolved that improvisation; gumption; and faith would overcome these maladies.

After all, …..they always had.

When not idling or at an intersection, the car, under power, ran well enough.  When the temperature gauge began to climb, he would turn on the heater and set the blower motor to ‘high’.  The added radiation of heat from the heater core invariably brought the needle back down to more normal ranges.  He crossed himself and smiled.  He was actually beginning to enjoy the tribulations; to welcome the trials.  He knew in his heart that the car was sound in the basic structure of its’ drive-train.  He had faith in it, and, he was gratified to rediscover some faith in himself.

He could not help but enjoy the countryside as it rolled beneath his whitewalls:

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His wife began to call.  He let her know where he was, and that he expected to be home by 10:30 p.m. or so.  He alluded to a ‘few glitches’ but assured her everything was ‘copacetic’; that he loved her, and would call her when he hit the Ohio border.

As the day wore on, he and Mary shared the vistas’ changing hues as the sun lowered in the sky:

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As he neared that part of his plotted route which would cut the northwest corner of Pennsylvania onto the main highway in Ohio, he decided that a change in course was warranted.  The interstate through northern Ohio, he knew from his recent trips, was periodically marked by long, ten to fifteen mile long stretches of east and west lanes of travel merging onto one side of the median or the other as construction ensued in the lanes opposite.

This meant no berms.  He would be unable to perform any filter ‘ritual’s, and would risk either blocking traffic, or worse….causing an accident in the twilight hours as drivers  behind him misjudged the speed of his lurching vehicle.  However stubborn and self-confident he might be, Stefan wasn’t foolhardy enough to risk the life and limb of those around him or, (now that he finally thought about it)….his own.

He stopped at a small town just long enough to stretch, and to re-set the Garmin.  He set it not only to avoid ‘tollways’, but all interstates altogether.  As darkness fell, he began to travel south into Pennsylvania.  The route would take him some 70 miles to a state route which would connect with a ‘straight shot’ into Ohio and then home .  Berms would abound.  Texting drivers would travel unhindered by any of  his breakdowns.

The calls from his wife became more frequent.  He made the mistake of confessing that, at the point of one such call, he didn’t know if  he was still in New York or had finally entered Pennsylvania.   He explained the reason for his diversion and assured her he would call her from the Ohio line.

As towns became more frequent, the stop lights and intersections necessitated a dance on the pedals; left foot  on the clutch to shift into neutral, and a quick shift of the left foot over to the brake, so the right foot could remain free to feather the gas pedal and avoid stalling.

“Is it hard?’
Not if you have the right attitudes. Its having the right attitudes that’s hard.” 

― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values

When Stefan finally crossed the state line, it was after 11:00 p.m.  The road was dark and straight.  An occasional, poorly marked ‘detour’ made the ‘dance of the feathering throttle’ even more difficult, especially when it involved making three-point turns without power steering in the middle of a country lane.  A knot of tension began to grow at the base of his neck that felt like a softball.    (His wife’s calls invariably came in the midst of one of these maneuvers).

The mosquitoes and other insects he had killed were beginning to seem as thick as whitewash on a fence from Huckleberry Finn when careless oncoming drivers would not dim their high-beams.  He came to regard the few dozen deer he surprised (or had they surprised him?) as tail-less, antlered  monkeys sent by some wicked witch to fly into his path and to intercept some cache of rubies  hidden in his trunk without his knowledge.

He kept going; doing his dance and checking his gauges until, at last he rounded the final corner to the street where he lived. It was after midnight.   His wife was on him before he could even get out of the car, hugging him; kissing him; telling him how worried she had been all through the night.

He shut the door and returned her embrace.  He knew in his heart no other result could have been possible.  He had done it before, and now he knew why.  The Grace of God, as truly endowed upon us through the Holy Spirit, does not function to calm us or to remove affliction from our hearts, but rather, to remove our hearts from our afflictions.

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The Rambler was his; was home and was the source of a peace he had not felt for a long time.

He promised himself he would share it.

“Peace of mind produces right values, right values produce right thoughts. Right thoughts produce right actions and right actions produce work which will be a material reflection for others to see of the serenity at the center of it all.” 
― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

One Step in the Walk to the Essence of Faith

As I called the cats to their daily treats, I noted the one who did not respond, and confess that I am now convinced of the essential basis for faith; salvation and Grace during this Holy season.

It is, simply, God saying to his children, essentially this:

“Chump don’t want no treats? Chump don’t get no treats!”

Celebrate the Walk of Jesus this season by assessing the direction of the walk you take through life.

god

god (Photo credit: the|G|™)

Don’t be a ‘chump’.   Don’t make Jesus do all the walking.

‘Treats’ abound in Heaven.  The walk you take to its’ glory is yours, and yours alone….

 

“Walking the Line” and “Living the Dream” with my Pals, Sal and Al

Si comprehendis, non est Deus.” (If you understand it, it’s not God.) – Augustine of Hippo (4th century)

 

 

Perhaps the most misunderstood issue of today, philosophically; theologically and, (unfortunately) this summer, politically,  is Faith.

It would be easy to focus on the media or the liberal intelligentsia for their demonization of those who continue to “cling to their faith and their guns”  here, but I believe it necessary to cast a wider net in this thesis.  I cannot help but see examples every day that, the concept of  “faith”  is misconstrued not only by media pundits and relativist agnostics, but also by many who profess to have it.  It is easy to weekly pay homage to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  It is quite another thing, though, to ‘walk the talk’;  ‘live the dream’  or even to truly comprehend the concept inherent in faith….that it embraces the unknown; the unseen; the incomprehensible.  It knows no logic and suffers no doubt.  To ask for, or even to attempt to provide, “proof”…is to deny it.

Most Christians, even if only as the result of rote and repetition, will readily communicate their understanding of the basic tenets of scripture: Love God; ….and love thy neighbor as thyself.  Simple.  No sweat.  A substantial subset of these “believers” also acknowledge and profess understanding of the amazing Grace afforded to us by a God who sacrificed his only son, His Being  made flesh, for our salvation from death through sin.  Doesn’t take an ‘Einstein”  to get our brains around that one, either.

But then, there’s this “Spirit” thing.  That one’s a little trickier.  Is it a dove?  Is it a light?  Is it in the water of the baptismal font?  Or is it some theological artifice made necessary to preserve the virginity of  the Mother of Jesus?

It is all of those things and it is none of those things.  It can only be described as a “force”.  (I am not a fan of Star Wars…. cannot avoid the allegory, though…).  It is the ‘spark’  in us that  can, should we let it, enable us to take the next step in our fleeting existence in time and space; to finally supplant  ‘reason’ as the only distinction between us and the animal world.

The other night, frustrated with the “Theology/Faith” categories of several internet forums I frequent, I took a ‘stroll” over to one of my favorite ‘art’ sites and came across the YouTube video you can access below.  Aside from the amusement it afforded me and the respite it provided from the arcane and insipid “prove it”  and “why pray?” threads I had been perusing, it “spoke”to me.  I saved it to my ‘favorites’ and went to bed.

And then I had a dream.

 

The dream began as those few other dreams I can actually remember upon waking…with me walking, searching for a place; a vehicle; a person, to no avail.  I came upon a tavern in some ‘inner city’ neighborhood, and it was not until I entered it to rest my feet that I recognized it as “Sindy’s”: an establishment owned and operated by a man named Sindella in my hometown.  It was the place my parents frequented while dating and engaged.  Pinball machines clicked and jangled. A large fan hummed and droned and circulated the tobacco smoke up past the swinging coils of flypaper to some place above.

I had not the money for a beer.  I asked if there was a pool table.  The portly bar-tend grunted, and without looking up from his crossword puzzle, gestured to a room in the back.  Going back, I selected a high stool against the wall, sat down and idly fingered an empty glass, looking for a “mark” with whom to wager a friendly game.

While I was considering  which of the two tables to approach, a man sat down on the stool next to me.  Ignoring him at first, I could not help but feel something rubbing against my shin.  Looking down, I gasped.

“Is that an aardvark?”

“No.”, said the man.  “It is an anteater.”  

I looked up and faced the animals’  keeper.  It was Salvador Dali.                                                                            

“Shoot pool?”, I queried.

“No.  But he does.”, He gestured toward the anteater.

“Are you nuts?”, said I.

He said nothing, but, levitating to the top of the far wall of the pool room, took out a huge brush and, dipping it into a mug of beer, painted the following in bold cursive letters across the wall:

 “There is only one difference between a madman and me. I am not mad.”

He hovered backward, admired his work, and floated back to his perch beside me.

Lighting a cigarette, he matter-of-factly declared:  “People say that surrealism is destructive.  What they do not see is that it it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision“.  He bent down to stroke the anteater.  “People do not see the shackles…. nor are they even curious.”

With this, he rose, adjusted his cape about his shoulders, and walked the anteater out of the pool room.  He had left the beer.

A table had opened up.  I noticed a few quarters on the rail, and inserted them.  I dropped the balls and racked them slowly, perusing the periphery of the room for a likely adversary.  In a dim corner, there sat an older gentleman with a shock of gray-white hair and a walrus mustache.   I called over.

“Care to play?”

“Ja”, he replied.  He rose and ambled over.

As he selected a cue from a rack on the wall I sensed I knew him.  When he turned to approach the table, I saw that I would be playing eight-ball with none other than Albert Einstein.

“You break.”, I said.  He placed his schnapps on the rail.  Taking a piece of blackboard chalk out of his pocket, he applied it to the butt-end of the cue-stick.  “Tremendous”, I thought to myself.  Not only was I going to be facing an adversary who had revolutionized physics, but he was going to exacerbate my imminent defeat by using carnival ‘trick-shot’ artistry.  I decided not to offer a wager of a beer on the game.

His shots were sure.  The game was short.  There was a glimmer of hope for me when, after he sank the last striped ball, the cue-ball came to rest in a position which placed several of my ‘solid’-colored balls directly between it and the eight-ball.  I took a sip of Dali’s beer and began to chalk my cue for my next shot.

It was for naught.

He tapped the rail with the butt-end of his cue.  The smooth flat expanse of the green felt transformed into a three-dimensional surface, a topography of rolling hills and valleys, among which discernible river-like fissures meandered around the hills.  He gave the cue-ball a tap.  It rolled a winding path around each of my ‘solids’ and nudged  the eight-ball toward a corner pocket.  It accelerated rapidly, and entered the pocket with such force that it created a vacuum of sorts.  Not only the rest of the balls on the table, but all of the chairs in the room followed it.  Then the tables. Then the walls around us.  When the maelstrom passed, I was standing alone with Albert on a surrealistic purple plain.

I understated, “Nice shot!”

“Danke schön” , he replied.  ” I call it my “black hole’ bank-shot”.  “It kept me  from starving when I was attending the Swiss Federal Polytechnic in Zurich.”

He sat down on a rock and took off a sandal.  Producing a pipe from a pocket, he struck it with the sandal to empty the ashes.  As he began to pack it with fresh tobacco, he glanced up at me and asked, “Whats your line?”.

Seeing my confusion, he restated, “What do you do?”

I lit a cigarette.  “I have done many things, but these days I just work a menial job and am trying to become a writer.  It’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”

I proceeded to tell him about my blog, its’ categories, and my fears  that, in  concentrating so heavily on ‘faith,’  I was limiting myself.

“You are wrong” , he replied.  “That is really all there is which is of any consequence.”

He pulled out a wallet.  From it he pulled a worn and tattered folded piece of newsprint.  As he  unfolded it, a small piece of paper became dislodged from it and fluttered to the ground.  I picked it up, and in handing it back to him, could not help but notice that upon it was a scribbled phone number…….for an ‘M. Monroe’.

He stuffed it quickly back into his wallet, and, clearing his throat, asked me to read the newsprint.

It read:   A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty – it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man. (Albert Einstein)”

“It has always been my goal to satisfy a curiosity about life and the universe.  When I was a boy, I called my copy of “Euclid’s Elements” my “holy little geometry book”.

He continued.  “Reason; knowledge; even physical ‘laws’ are inherently limiting in that they are conceived and experienced by our limited identities as human organisms.  To have faith in a greater power or entity which is the source of light; of beauty and of comfort for our psyches is a prerequisite to the fulfilling exercise of our talents, whatever those talents may be.”

He took a puff from his freshly-lit pipe and exhaled a fragrant and beautiful wisp of smoke, which grew in body and volume and began to disperse itself across the orange sky above us.  It hovered and formed the words which follow:

“A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. The true value of a human being is determined by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive. (Albert Einstein, 1954)

Overcome with emotion as I took this in, I cried, “Al!   You should write sermons!”.

He did not answer.  When I looked over to where he had been perched on the rock, he was gone.

 

The dream ended.

 

Upon waking, I tried to make some sense out of it.  And I began to grasp the essence of  “The Holy Spirit”.

The least limiting and the most effective way to comfort those around us is to use our talents, (our “lines”), to harness and channel those smoky wisps of  the Holy Spirit which waft their way around and among us so that we share the Light and witness the Word in ways and manners which are unbridled by societal shackles; unfettered by convention; unlimited by dimension.  Our talents and our efforts must be exercised with no regard for anything but the love which God has for each of us.

The substance, the mass,  of our talents and the exercise of our “lines” ,when truly unshackled by our mortal limitations, can bend light; warp time and maybe, in the end, help those around us to acknowledge the Spirit.                                                          

Surrealism” is not so much a genre of art as it is  an acknowledgement of  our mortal limitations in perceiving what is around us.  That “surrelativity” may be the result of research by the next Stephen Hawking is not beyond the realm of possibility.  If to truly obey God’s commandments to love Him and to evince that love by loving each and every other is to be perceived as some sort of “surreligiosity” , it is entirely possible that even those of professed “faith” can endeavor to witness it “outside of the box” of the church.

There can be no harm in using our talents to “pay forward” the comfort and the joy of being faithful to everyone around us.  Earnestly practiced and broadened in focus to not only our families and communities, but to everyone, these talents may help those who doubt or question to reflect on whether it could make a difference in their lives to share that faith.

 

Or, at least, to be curious about it.

 

 

 

 

 

Walking Your Next Mile in the Shoes of Another

Racism, homophobia, “class warfare” etc. ….

These are not so much problems as they are the symptoms of a deeper issue. As a friend in a forum I belong to so succinctly points out: “But wouldn’t it be great if instead of pushing down and trying to take from the others, we could teach ourselves to create and be something bigger?”

Whatever your faith or religion, it cannot be denied that Jesus articulated two basic tenets of harmony: First, that we should love our God; and second, that we should demonstrate our love for our Maker by loving each other as we do ourselves.

Those guilty of ignoring these tenets are members of every race; all ‘genders’; every political party and all religious denominations. Those who strive to enhance their self-perception and regard by noting their own ‘superiority’ via vilification of “the other” are the truly bigoted villains of a healthy society.

It will not be until the ‘second coming’ that these faults can be finally erased from the human condition.

I majored in History. I watched the live coverage of hoses and dogs being used in the South in the ’60’s. “Strange Fruit“, a tale of lynching sung by Billie Holiday, is my favorite song by her. I do not see how anyone can be homophobic about a genre of personalities that include Somerset Maugham and Cole Porter.

Ever seen the films Traffic or Colors?   These powerful depictions of the folly of “otherness” address the basic issue more aptly than any focus group or sensitivity curriculum ever could or will.

Would that everyone could view and comprehend the message of these films. And by “everyone” I mean just that. Yes, caucasian males are the handiest whipping boys on whom to pin the badge of racism and homophobia, but again, the mindset of “otherness” is not confined to just us ‘pinkish prudes’. I note, from personal experience, that:

** My mother still uses the ‘n’-word’. It is reflexive in her and unchecked by the practice of…faith. (The ‘unknown’ as “the other”)

** I’ve worked with middle-aged, well-groomed black female professionals who matter-of-factly related to me their detesting of Condoleeza Rice when she was Secretary of State. They were certain she was the concubine of the elder Bush, and afforded no weight to her obvious intelligence and acumen. (‘Accomplishment and success’ as “the other”)

** I’ve been kicked out of gay bars for having brought a female who danced a bit too flagrantly for the tastes of the attending clientele. (The ‘difficult to pigeon-hole’ as “the other”)

**I’ve been turned down for a position at a former employer who, informed me that my background and qualifications were so good, that it might be “intimidating” to the younger, female prospective co-workers. Since I was securely employed in my current position, it seemed there would be no harm or foul in indulging in excluding ‘the graying male’ (as “the other”).

**At that same large employer, I was reported to security after inserting my hand into the closing doors of an elevator after a break. The refined Jewish female I shared the car with eyed me up and down from my shoes to my straw “Max Cady” fedora. Though I wore the mandated photo ID on my shirt, it was clear she regarded me as an interloper at best, and a public menace at worst.  After disembarking and returning to my desk, I predicted to my team-mates that I would be visited by a security officer soon.  And I was. After satisfying the security officer that I was a bona fide employee, I remarked to them that “I been profiled!” A directory search and a phone call, out of courtesy to my fellow employee in the elevator, did not elicit an apology. (the assertive and ‘severe-looking’ male as “the other”)

** My own former habit of disdaining those who come to church in jeans and sweatshirts has been conquered after working with and talking with these individuals and enjoying their company and contributions. (The ‘less holy than I’ as “the other”)

I could go on for days. My point is that, without the comprehension of, and adherence to,the Golden Rule, all this crap about racism and bigotry and homophobia will continue to be exploited as the favored elements of the arsenal of power politics. ” Divide and Conquer”,…that’s the ticket!!   Always has been, and always will be.

Love yourself!!  Love your neighbor by calling out the charlatans who would divide us by demonizing the other color; the other sexual preference; the other income bracket; the other political party; the other faith.

Resist being counted as ‘sheep”  by brokers of media power and influence.   Only God Almighty can view us as ‘sheep’.  We must all let “the other” shoe drop and finally walk to our own conscience rather than to the cadence of the drums of division.  The’ Golden Rule‘ is not a high-wire.  Its’ path is wide enough for all who shun the politics of division and recognize the Holy Spirit in each  of us as children of God.

Walking Away from Darkness

Stefan walked to the end of the driveway.  He collected the upended trash can from the tree lawn and paused to look up at the gray November sky.

It was nevertheless a glorious day, which crowned the events of a memorable week.

He walked the can to the garage and paused to scan the upper floors of the houses behind his.  The perimeter secured, he ambled back to the house and sat down on the back porch.

The sigh he sighed brought him a peace and serenity which both surprised and delighted him.  He took stock of the events of the past week….

Last week he had been a financial services representative with a major insurance company.  After months of agonizing, he had submitted his resignation to his manager , his compliance officer, and the firm’s managing director.  He was pleasantly surprised at their efforts to accommodate him by offering him time to think it over.  They offered their understanding of  the difficulties of having lost a father and a father-in-law in quick succession and maintained that their granting of a ‘family leave’ hiatus would allow him to ‘recharge his batteries’.  But he was adamant.  He was proud of his talents and his contributions to the firm, but in the end, as an independent contractor running his own business, had decided to ‘fire myself”.   After all, that he was able to last five years in a business  where ‘success’ is being able to last two was little comfort to a psyche which was long on attention to detail but short on marketing.  Success cannot supplant happiness.  Skill is not evidence of joy.

Last week he had wiped away a tear and held close his mother-in-law at the Sunday service which commemorated  ‘All Saints’ Day’ as he watched his wife slowly process up the aisle ringing a huge hand-bell once for each of the names of those parishioners who had passed away the previous year.  As her father’s name was read, that peal of her hand-bell pierced his soul as his mother-in-law tightened her grip on his hand.  He missed Jack.  And he remembered him saying.”Take care of my little girl.”

Last week he had spent hours over the course of several days helping Vincent, a fellow parishioner and a business client.  The large machining firm where Vincent had worked  six years had laid him off the week before; and now had filed an appeal with the state to deny him his unemployment benefits, taking the position that his termination was ‘for cause’ and not due to lack of work.    “Could you help me with this paperwork, Steve?”  He debriefed Vincent on his duties, the company disciplinary procedures and the uniformity with which they were applied.  Research on the legal definition in state law of  ‘just cause’ for dismissal became the outline to responding to the company’s appeal and the ensuing questionnaire.  The goal was to keep it brief, succinct, and allowing the case worker who reviewed it to ‘hang their hat’ on the language of the response without needing to schedule a hearing to adduce missing facts or information.  It felt good to help Vincent.  Before he left, he showed him how to attach his resume to on-line job applications.

Last week he had started the interview process for a job with a major supermarket chain.   Signed in at the job fair; attended a ‘group’ interview;  called the recruiter back to inform her of his new e-mail address and to thank her for her professionalism;  and was informed that the interview had gone so well that she would be dispensing with the ‘one-on-one’ interview and making him an offer.  Part-time to start.  Room for advancement.  Honest pay for honest work.  A new career allowing time to pursue writing, or painting,  or music, or ………helping others like Vincent.

Last week he had felt  a twinge of guilt and remorse when his wife had told him….””I’m so proud of you…you’ve kept your head about issues at work; and you’re willing to work at jobs others with your experience would consider ‘beneath’ them.  You just need to forget that idiot behind us…”

The ‘idiot’ being a 19 year-old caucasian male who lived in the upper floor of a rental property diagonally behind them, two doors east.

Two months prior, while Jack was being moved to hospice, Jennifer was spending her day off doing things she loved to do:  gardening;  weeding and talking to the neighbor children.  As she tended to a bush beneath the dining room window, not six feet from the back porch; she began to hear a repeated ‘crack’ and ‘ping’ and ‘swishing’ through the branches of the large silver maple next to the garage.   After the fourth or fifth ‘crack…swish…ping’, she felt a pain on her breast,and thought at first that she had brushed against a thorn on the bush she was tending.  It burned.  She looked around, up through the tree to the third floor windows of the house behind and east of them and spotted a white male holding a rifle.  He quickly moved out of view as she walked away from her house toward the tree.

She had been stalked, targeted and shot with a high-powered air rifle.  She called the police, then dialed her husband.  “Don’t freak out” (her concern was that his penchant, increasingly controlled but still dormant in his psyche, for emotional response to trespass or injury to him and his would overcome his composure and result in actions he “might regret.”)

He had driven home, embraced her, spoken with the officers; observed one of the “b.b.’s” which had bounced off of the siding; and viewed the photos the officer had taken of the welt above her left breast.  He felt powerless.  The teachings of scripture were little solace for the son of a steelworker; a ‘mans’ man’  whose sensibilities at this juncture were those of John Wayne rather than of Jesus.  He had vowed he would not rest until this threat to his family and to the children next door was removed.  He wrestled with his desire to fulfill his duty as a loving married man to confront this ‘punk’ with a tire iron and to relieve him of his capacity to walk or to chew food.

But the love of his wife was strong, and the counsel of his Pastor was empowering.  He made himself a bargain.  “I will break no law nor commit any trespass…..but I would  not rest until this threat was removed from the neighborhood”.

The prosecutor could not press the felony charges for aggravated assault as his wife did not get a clear view of the face of her attacker.  He and his parents would not allow a search of their residence for the weapon.  The homeowner did not respond to the letter he had sent to inform her that her tenants were active on police records and should be evicted.  Time went on, and he tried to keep the embers of vengeance within him from conflagrating by starting a regimen of heightened vigilance.  He obtained the permission of the neighbor directly behind him to use the neighbor’s back yard as a vantage point from which to observe the goings-on at the ‘sniper’s nest’.  He daily scanned the windows from his upper back porch with binoculars.  He queried the neighborhood kids on his street as to their knowledge of the sniper and his sister.  (He found out they were in fact boastful of the fact that it had been ‘fun’ when they “shot her”).   A stroke of the bellows to fan the embers.

For two full months, on every drive to and from his home, he had taken to circling  the block to ‘reconnoiter’ the enemy.  After all, he made a promise to Jack  on his death-bed to “protect” his “little girl’.  But his wife worried that he was obsessing.  He began to keep his reconnaissance to himself.  Persevere.

He sighed again and looked up at the sky from his seat on the back porch.  Today, he had gone to work at a new job he did not abhor.  Today, he had received calls from associates at the insurance firm informing him they would miss him, and wished him well.  Today,  he had spoken to Vincent, who had gotten notice that the bureau of unemployment compensation was denying his former employer’s appeal, reinstating his benefits and ruling officially that his discharge was not for a reason which a reasonable man could conclude was ‘just’.  Today, he had watched the garbage truck haul away twenty-two 33-gallon bags of silver maple leaves which had taken days to collect.

And today……..the obligatory drive around the block past the sniper’s nest revealed a large and beautiful rented moving van.  The windows in the nest were open, the screen door being used was not to the ground floor of this double, but to the stairway leading to the upper rented unit.

The sniper was moving away.  The enemy was withdrawing.  The battle won, without a shot.

The Spirit had won out.  Pastoral guidance and family love and support , acknowledged regularly with every passing moment, had shown him today without a doubt that walking with and ‘putting on ‘ Jesus; that walking away from the darkness of sin and carnal envy or vengeance; indeed…….of always walking, stepping out with the Holy Spirit to share God’s Love through our talents, not just our vocations, with all we encounter; is the true path to the happiness of a life which acknowledges God’s Grace.

He sighed again, rose and went into the house.  The leaves were gone, the property secure, and his time was his.   He picked up the binoculars from the dining room window sash and carried them to their proper place in his den upstairs.

Time to write.