Upon the wheels it turned and turned—
The marred-up piece of clotted clay;
Beneath the hand that pressed and burned
With diverse touches day by day.
Upon the stool he sat and sat—
The Potter in the potter’s house;
A quiet, patient, Sovereign act
To shape that clod and smooth its doubts.
“This marred-up clay... this stiffened piece,”
The Potter to himself then said;
“I cannot to my plan release—
Its stubborn flesh is not yet dead.”
Up stood the Potter, strong and tall,
That ugly clot clasped in his hand;
“A desperate fate you shant befall—
My vessel—if you’ll just withstand.”
So straightway crushed between his palm
The Potter’s hand that clod of earth,
“Cannot I do with thee and calm
Thy stubborn heart, O child of worth?
“I have made, and I will carry,
Thou fearful lump that writhes and kicks;
I will bear the wounds you burry
If you’ll resist no more the pricks.”
That stiffened clump, it softened then
Upon the wheels that turned and turned,
Beneath the Hand that moulds all men
Who let their dross by God be burned.
“Ask no more Why,” the Potter said,
“The reason I have made you thus;
Not might, nor pow’r but Spirit led
Will turn hard lumps to hearts of trust.”
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” – II Corinthians 10:3 – 5
The spiritual world is real. Perhaps more real than is generally acknowledged by many Christians of today. But whether we believe the spiritual realm exists or not, the reality is that it does. True, we may not see it with our eyes… but then, there are many things we cannot see with our eyes (II Corinthians 4:18, Hebrews 11:1). If we don’t acknowledge the reality and power of the spiritual realm, wouldn’t it follow that we must also deny the fact that “God himself is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth”? (John 4:24 and II Corinthians 3:17).
What warrior steps onto the battlefield unless he has first received years of rigorous physical and mental training and has equipped himself with the armour and weapons necessary to meet his foe and win the victory over him? As Christian soldiers, are we any different? Daily, we seek to overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil. But have we equipped ourselves with “the armour of God” that we may successfully do so? (Ephesians 6:10-20). Hosea 4:6 forebodes that God’s people “are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”
Just as laws govern the natural realm, laws govern the spiritual realm as well. God abides by these laws. Evil spirits are subject to these same laws – therefore, they can only begin their manipulative tactics on man’s being if he first gives them ground. But how does man “give ground” to the enemy? Is it wittingly, or is it through deception – or is it both? Let us ask the question with 20th-century evangelist, writer, and Christian martyr Watchman Nee: “What, then are the conditions for the working of the enemy?… This is the crucial question. The Bible characterizes such conditions as “place” or “opportunity” or “ground.” (Ephesians. 4:27). To put it simply, the ground or territory which the believer furnishes to the evil spirits is sin.” (p. 91 Passivity and its Dangers.) But what is “sin”? 1 John 3:4 explains that, “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” (Exodus 20:1-17, Deuteronomy 27-28, Matthew 15:18-20, Mark 7:20-23, Romans 7:7, Galatians 5:14-21, I Corinthians 6:9-11, James 1:14-15, Revelation 21:7-8).
In his three-volume book The Spiritual Man, Watchman Nee gives readers a comprehensive, Scripturally-sound explanation of the workings and laws governing the spiritual world. Romans 7:14, which tells us, “that the law is spiritual,” resounds within the scope of his book. “Christians nowadays,” says Nee, “generally are lacking in two kinds of knowledge: (1) a knowledge of the conditions by which evil spirits work; and (2) a knowledge of the principles of spiritual life. Ignorance here is furnishing Satan and his evil spirits an incredible advantage and is inflicting enormous harm on the church of God.” (p. 90 Passivity and its Dangers).
Watchman Nee was born in China in 1903 to a second-generation Christian family. He was born-again, saved through the precious blood of Jesus, at age seventeen and was engaged in a passionate ministry of writing and speaking until his arrest for the gospel in 1952, which was followed by an unjust trial that sentenced him to 15 years of imprisonment that ended at his death in 1972. The life and works of this faithful disciple of Jesus remain a powerful testimony and source of revelation to believers all over the world. “God’s purpose,” says Nee, “is that His children are to be delivered wholly from the old creation and are to enter fully into the new creation. No matter how the old creation may appear to man, it is utterly condemned by God. If we workers know what ought to be destroyed and what ought to be built, then we are not the blind leading the blind.” (p. 12 Preface). “To be filled with might in the inner man,” Nee goes on, “is the urgent need of Christians. However, unless they appreciate how feeble theirs is they will not ask for the invigoration of the Holy Spirit.” (p. 26 A Spiritual Man).
Stalwartly backed by Scripture, harmonizing with the same commission delivered to other writers and testators of the faith such as Andrew Murray, F. B. Meyer, Otto Stockmayer, Jessie Penn-Lewis, Evan Roberts, and Madame Guyon, Watchman Nee shares with us the wisdom gleaned from personal experience, his thorough study of the Word of God, and the revelation of the Holy Spirit.
In Volume I of The Spiritual Man – which we will explore here in Part 1 of this Book Review Series– Nee exhorts readers to a careful reading of Romans 6 through 8, and unpacks such questions as:
What is the difference between the spirit, soul, and body—and why must the spirit and soul (aka: “flesh”) be “divided”?
What are the marks of a “carnal” Christian vs. a “spiritual” one, and why is co-death with Christ necessary in order to “mortify the deeds of the body,” (Romans 8:13), overcome the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21 and Revelation 2-3), and put on “the new man” (Ephesians 2:15, 4:24) that our our minds and spirits may be “quickened”? (John 6:63, Romans 8:11, I Corinthians 15:36, I Peter 3:18, Ephesians 2).
As believers, how can we allow the Spirit of God to perform its deeper work of true circumcision by way of the cross? (Deuteronomy 30:6 and Philippians 3:3)
What is “self” – how can we identify it, overcome it, and deny it entirely by “taking up our cross daily” (Luke 9:23)?
What dangers do believer’s encounter when living “a soulish life”?
What are the tactics employed by evil spirits to introduce misunderstandings and prejudices in man against God and others?
How can we gain deliverance from sin and the soul life?
What is the difference between labouring in our soul strength verses labouring in the Spirit’s strength? (Zechariah 4:6-7)
Why must the soul come under the spirit’s control, and how does a believer’s “rent-curtain experience” refer back to Mark 15:38, when the curtain of the temple was torn “from top to bottom”?
What is the relationship of the Holy Spirit with the believer’s spirit, and how can we attain the promise of the Spirit through faith? (Galatians 3:14, I Corinthians 6:19-20)
What is the responsibility man must discharge in order for his inner man to be strengthened with power by the Holy Spirit?
How can we attain a walk with God that is deep, firm, and spiritual?
With thorough, Biblically-backed explanations, we learn that man is essentially separated into two parts: the “inner man” (spirit) and the “outer man” (soul). These two elements are contained within the “outermost man” (body). In illustrating the differences between the spirit and the soul, Nee draws upon such teachings as Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Nee commentates: “As the priest of old split the sacrifice, so our High Priest today divides our soul and spirit… God’s Word leads His people into a realm more profound than one of mere sensation; it brings them into the realm of the eternal spirit… The Holy Spirit alone can teach us what is soul life and what is spirit life.” (p. 197 Spiritual Believers and the Soul).
While delving into various passages in Paul’s epistles to the Corinthians, Nee explains the plight of the carnally-minded Christians of Corinth (I Corinthians 1), drawing a helpful picture for us to learn from in our own spiritual walk: “Genuine spiritual knowledge lies not in wonderful and mysterious thoughts but in actual spiritual experience through union of the believer’s life with truth. Cleverness is useless here, while eagerness for truth is insufficient too; the sine qua non is a path of perfect obedience to the Holy Spirit Who alone truly teaches us. All else is merely the transmission of knowledge from one mind to another. Such data will not render a fleshly person spiritual; on the contrary, his carnal walk actually will turn all his “spiritual” knowledge into that which is fleshly. What he needs is not increased spiritual teaching but an obedient heart which is willing to yield his life to the Holy Spirit and go the way of the cross according to the Spirit’s command.” (p. 86 The Fleshly or Carnal Believer. See also John 14:26 and Romans 8:9-17).
In reference to Romans 13:14, Nee says: “For the flesh to operate it needs a harbinger. That is why no provision ought to be made for it. If the flesh is to be kept confined to the place of curse, we must be watchful always.” But what is “the flesh”? Galatians 5:19-20 tells us that “the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like.” While confirming the teaching of Jesus in Mark 7:20-23, Nee continues: “We must examine our thoughts continually to see whether or not we harbour the least self-conceit, for certainly such an attitude will give great opportunity to the flesh. Our thoughts are most important here because what is provided for in the secrecy of our thought life will come forth openly in words and deeds.” (p. 131 The Believer’s Ultimate Attitude Toward the Flesh).
Nee then explores the contrast of the spirit and the flesh while pointing to the cross and the deeper work of the Holy Spirit: “Because the flesh is grossly deceitful,” says Nee, “the believer requires the cross and the Holy Spirit. Once having discerned how his flesh stands before God, he must experience each moment the deeper work of the cross through the Holy Spirit.” (p. 124 The Believer’s Ultimate Attitude Toward the Flesh). Such a work will surely bring forth the Spirit’s fruit of “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” spoken of in Galatians 5:22-24 and cross-referenced with John 15 where we learn of our need to “abide in Christ,” Who is our “vine,” and without Whom we “can do nothing.” Romans 8:4-7 explains our need of this miracle in our lives: “That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.”
Each one of us longs for rest in our souls. Unrest attacks us from a million different sources; but true rest comes from only One source. In his discussion on Spiritual Believers and the Soul, Nee points out: “The reason for our hurt feelings lies in the fact that we are not amenable to being treated as our Lord was and are loathe to submit ourselves to the will and ordering of God. Were we to deliver our natural energies to death and capitulate entirely to the Lord, our soul, though so nervously sensitive, would rest in the Lord and not misunderstand Him. The soul which comes under the Holy Spirit’s authority is a restful one.” (p. 205. See also Matthew 11:28-30).
Great affliction visited Watchman Nee during his writing of this book. In his preface to the first edition, written from Shanghai in June of 1927, he says that his book The Spiritual Man was written to serve as a guide, “not so much to urge individuals to seek the spiritual way as to help those who are seeking to know the way.” (p. 9). In light of the powerful insights and practical help his book offers to Christians, it is perhaps not surprising to learn that he endured much suffering prior to the completion of his book. “For many months while writing the book,” he says, “I lived in the jaws of Satan. What battling! What withstanding! All my powers of spirit, soul and body were summoned to contend with hell.” (p. 9 Preface).
He exhorts readers to “Pray as you read; pray that God will cover you with the helmet of salvation lest you forget what you read or simply fill your mind with innumerable theories.” In his second Preface he expresses that, because of the enemy’s hatred toward the spreading of God’s truth, he had been attacked and assaulted incessantly (p. 15). He did not want the teachings in his book to be thought of as a treatise on the theory of spiritual life and warfare (p. 16-17). They were instead intended to assist the individual in discerning the workings of God, man’s will and volition in his soul, the dangers and deception of living in the flesh, and the splendour and strength of walking in the Spirit.
Have you read The Spiritual Man? Are you facing a spiritual battle in your life right now? Are you seeking to grow in your knowledge of God’s Word and your understanding of spiritual warfare? Are you—or someone you know—seeking deliverance from evil spirits? Do you long for freedom? If your answer is Yes, then I highly recommend that you READ THIS BOOK! You can purchase The Spiritual Man HERE: Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
“That he [the Lord Jesus Christ] would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengththened with might by his Spirit in the inner man.” – Ephesians 3:16
END OF BOOK REVIEW SERIES: Part 1 of 3 for The Spiritual Man. STAY-TUNED FOR PART 2 OF 3 where we will ask questions and explore some of Watchman Nee’s commentary relating to Prayer and Warfare, Intuition, the Believer and Emotion, Affection, Desire, Communion with the Lord, the workings and function of man’s Conscience, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Photo courtesy: Wikipedia – “Salvator rosa, san giorgio e il drago” by Salvator Rosa (1615 –1673)
Should I with tongues of men and angles speak, And with my arms and hands uphold the weak; And though a prophet I should walk in fame, And garner all men’s praises to my name, But have not love - What am I?
Should all my faith abound to shift a hill Into the sea, and make its splash be still; Or should I throw my body to the flames And care not that my face should suffer shames, Yet give no love— What am I?
And should my understanding shake the proud, And all my goods be sold to feed a crowd; Or should my gifts of pen and talent reach Beyond the stars, my daily efforts teach The young— But without love, What am I?
Love suffers—and it suffers long; It is not bitter when it endures wrong, And though it knows its talents rare may be Love finds no joy though all the world should see. It sees a need—and then it serves; It does not force the love that it deserves, And even when its patience is provoked Will not behave on feelings ill-evoked.
It’s mind is clear—rejecting lies; No matter every failure, still love tries To live in hope, and bear its burden still Though hell should tempt each angle of its will. Love’s back is strong; its hands are rough From doing more for needs than is enough Because it knows the seeds it sows through God Will reap a harvest in the path it trod.
Perfection love will not demand; It only asks for care behind the hand That gives, and heart behind the words that spill A stream of life, and stems the words that kill. But love like this—where shall we ever find? For we behind this darkened glass are blind And see not as the Perfect One sees us, Perhaps it is His love that we must trust…
To be the Hands, the Voice we cannot be In our own strength of “man’s own good” in me That rivals best in God, until it sees its need And casts itself beneath the Hands that bleed. O Love, upon that jagged cross of wood! That spoke “It’s done!” though it was me who stood Beneath its shadow, in my crippled state Resigned to perish in a devil’s fate!
How shall my mouth and hands accept such good As flows in torrents off that cross of wood, And strikes the lintel of my poor, weak heart And all the love of God to me imparts? “Please help me, Lord, believe and bear in love; Accept in meekness Your life from above, And let my flesh with Christ be crucified And every motive in You sanctified.”
Thus let me walk in quiet unity Along life’s path, forsaking vanity As fixing eyes upon the Saviour’s face My helplessness bespeaks His work of grace, And “self” becomes a theme of nothingness That blends into His flawless plan of bliss While every action speaks of virtues three— Sweet faith, fair hope, And ageless charity.
CITATIONS & SUGGESTED READING:
1 CORINTHIANS 13
1 JOHN 4:7-21
HEBREWS 2:10; 7:11, 19; 13:20-21
GALATIANS 5:22-26; 6:9, 14-15
EPHESPIANS 2:7-16; 4:13-16, 29-32
My Utmost for His Highest: “December 9th: The Offence of the Natural” by Oswald Chambers
Dedicated to the memory of WWII Veterans Mr. Roy Wingfield and Mr. Alex Grotkowski;
And to the known and unknown soldiers of today who lay down their lives in loyalty to truth, justice, and freedom.
The wind is cold and bitter is the blast
That bows across these desolate plains,
Where the Grim Reaper in gloom o’er passed
The bodies which fell on the Battle’s domain.
But the weary wind through the pine boughs blowing
Is weeping with tears neither hollow nor dearth,
It glides as a phantom and speaks to the earth,
Saying, “This is the place where their blood was flowing.
“Fearest thou death? O stranger come hither,
And behold with thine eye – tremble not!
Canst thou not hear through the echoing years
The combats loud din, see the dreadful feud fought?
Hark ye the cry of the stout, bold, and brave,
Canada’s troops who stepped forward to save,
‘For country, for sovereignty - cut through the fray!
For pride of dominion – though death be our pay!’
Charged they fearless to the battlefield,
Forward! Forward! They gallantly strode!
Though a bloody fight for them was sealed,
Though for some certain death was the ill forebode...
Now they lay silent, poppies shelter their grave,
These warriors fought for us – stout, bold and brave!
They suffered, they died, in the tumult of war,
The friend and the foe sided by side in the gore.”
Tarnish not worth as time duly passes
O’er their bodies and memories,
For still the wind blows through these fading grasses
Asking us now to reverence their stories...
“They died in their glory, for honour and fame,
Their brave-hearted work let us ever proclaim;
Forget not their blood, the crimson turf staining,
And remember their lives... in silence remaining.”
Originally published November 2012 by WISDOM Family Magazine
It has been said that sometimes the loving shepherd must break the leg of his wandering lamb, and then carry him on his shoulders, that the lamb may bond to the shepherd, and learn to not stray again from the safety of the fold.
"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." -Isaiah 53:6
Along a craggy edifice of stone
A little lamb trod, restless and alone
Where chill winds roamed and cried and writhed and crashed
Along the naked gorge where lightnings lashed
With thunderous voices plunging caverns long
In blackness, where the lamb did not belong.
Alone, alone, down narrow stair and height
Where fear struck blind the little lamb’s clear sight
And made him wish himself back in the fold
From which he’d wandered when his heart was cold;
He’d done it so before these many times,
And knew each pitfall of the treacherous climes.
Why had he left?—why left the gentle side
Of Shepherd dear whose rod had never lied
When guiding him so often back to home
And saved him from the danger when to roam
Thrice left him helpless, bleeding in the way
Where Shepherd found him at the end of day?
Yet now the night was dark, the blackness worse
Than any night before—was it a curse?
A wolf along that ridge!—it howled long,
And shadows swallowed up its eerie song,
While trembling faint the lamb looked down the ledge
And wished himself back safely in the hedge.
But he was lost—lost in a frightful mine,
A labyrinth of lies where souls repine
For guilt, and fear, and unresolved regret
For oft repeated warnings he had set
Himself against but wished that he had not—
For who could tell?—now death must be his lot!
He sank himself the precipice along,
And willed his heart admit he had been wrong
To leave again… his voice in bleating rent
The silent tomb the earth had to him lent
To be his own. He shuddered—even still
This grief could never break his stubborn will!
On rocks and thistles there he lay in shame
When drifting on a gust he heard his name…
Was it? or had he merely dreamed the sound?
Perchance the wolf him for his repast found!
Oh listen—footsteps on the jagged path!
Wolf or Shepherd—both would deal him wrath!
“Little lamb, why hast thou wandered off?
Why left again, my leading thus to scoff?
I watched for thee, and left the fold at last
Because I knew you’d not withstand the blast
Of this foul storm—you’re weak and foolish still;
I know the stubborn nature of your will,
So thus I came, with rod and staff to save
You from yourself by virtue of my stave.”
The Shepherd! Stooping down he took the lamb
Into his arms—it seemed the tears of man
Ran down his face and drenched the sullied wool
That stank with mud and dung and blood—the whole
To cleanse, it seemed, the layers of regret
Away, and leave it white and clean and kept.
“And now, my own,” the Shepherd gently said—
And then the lamb looked in his eyes and read:
“The next step doubtless will leave you in pain
But trust my love—the good shall then remain.”
The thunder crashed; the rain poured down in sheets:
“Now trust my love,” the Shepherd soon repeats…
“My little lamb, lie still on this green sward;
The Shepherd whom you left is still your Lord,
And He is here so that you’ll never want
Through valleys deep and rocks that horrors haunt;
His Rod is love; do not resist the blow
That it must deal—it’s done so that you’ll know
That He who loves you best will do what’s right
To draw you from your darkness into Light.”
The little lamb glanced up at the dread Rod,
Then shut his eyes as from the face of God
While down it came—fair mercy mixed with pain,
And struck against his leg and left him lame,
And writhing for a moment in his way
Repenting him his habit to betray.
And then he felt a touch—a tender Hand
Extending down into the firebrand
Of his stiff heart, and then he shuddered sore
And vowed that he would never wander more,
For this soft touch—this healing reaching down
From heaven—was it on him like a crown?
“My lamb, My own,” thus said the gentle Voice;
“The path away you wandered by your choice
When fear had planted in your mind foul seed
And made you question Me, and doubts to feed,
But still redemption waits in the strong Arm
Of One who bled to keep your soul from harm;
Receive My help in pain or passion true:
My Rod but struck to make the lame one new.”
Then taking up the lamb into His arms
The Shepherd said, “You shall not fear alarms
When by my side—My shoulders, they are strong
And there for you, to hold you up from wrong
When you are weak, or hurting your own self
They’re there to raise you up from evil’s stealth,
And be for you the substitute of legs
When your own strength is emptied to the dregs.”
So warm, so close, so near and comforting—
The shoulders of the Man absorbed the sting
At the lamb’s heart—“All thy iniquity,
O lamb, I’ve took, and laid the whole on Me.
Now wait, and watch, and pray—do not despair;
You’re lameness will remind you I am there
To suture up a heart thus gushing blood;
My Arms to lift you out of your life’s mud.”
Along the gorge and slipp’ry rocks they went
In steady haste: their focus home was bent
Without delay. No backward glance implied
That the meek lamb had to himself not died;
Instead his eyes looked onward through the storm,
And fixed themselves on promise of the morn
That’d surely come—for tears would never last!
The Shepherd came to uplift the downcast!
“He came for me! My cry did not evade
His ears—He heard, and took me from the shade
Of all my fears… I’ll trust Him now with all,
And never once again ignore His call!”
The rain at last ceased battle with the night:
And torments of his mind at last took flight.
“We’re nearly there, My precious little one!
Hold on to Me—someday you soon will run
With other lambs again up those green hills
And dash with pleasure in the stream that fills
The lake with blue, and clear, and sweet water—
One day—Yes! your steps will never falter!”
It was not long—they soon had reached the edge
Of those dark woods, and left behind the ledge
Of the deep caves and caverns bleak and cold,
And now they stood within a field of gold
Where sun and heat was flooding down the sky,
And birds were singing with a joyful cry
Through bars of light and shade and distant climes
That made the lamb forget the dreadful times.
The days went by; in love the Shepherd took
The lamb upon Himself, and in the brook
He washed him clean—each spot and ugly stain—
And with his oil anointed every pain
In leg and heart: there was no more to see
Of all the stabs the lamb would never be
To his own self again, for he was new—
The Shepherd’s Rod was faithful and was true!
“You see, My lamb, how much My heart has yearned
To see you whole in light of all you’ve learned
Through that long night when all you had was lost,
And all your life seemed what your choice had cost…
It seemed—but listen close, My fearful one:
There is an Arm that rescues the undone,
And sets them up in sovereign lights of grace,
And plans the start and end of their long race.
I know the stubborn nature of your will—
I know it, and the Rod must sometimes kill
The thing that lambs will cling to in their fear
So that they’ll know the Shepherd holds them dear…
Indeed, He holds them up next to His heart
So that they’ll never from His side depart.
And now that you are whole and run with speed,
Remember that another lamb might need
A word, a look, a gesture from your life
To lift them from the tangle of their strife.
You’ll tell them then just what I have told you
As even now you rest in love that’s true…
‘Be still, thou fondest lamb, and rest on Me:
Each wound you suffer I will bear for thee.’”
Dark clouds look like demon faces jeerin’ at me from a nightmare, an’ the shriekin’ wind lashes the icy salt spray of the Atlantic intae my eyes, addin’ tae the sting of my tears. My heart—I see half of it bleedin’ on them bonnie green shores while Ireland slips away, swallowed by fog as the clipper Narcissus dashes westward.
My petticoats freeze tae my legs an’ ankles. I shiver. Through the dark mists a tall hatless shape paces the starboard deck. He looks at them black waves that churn the hull, an’ he curses. They look back at him, an’ they laugh. He walks, but he walks in a cage.
Am I Jonah, or is he?
The vessel lurches on a roarin’ breaker. I clutch the iron railin’ but my hands slip. I tear off my plaid shawl an’ lay it ’cross the iron tae get a grip, an’ I tell my heart that the cold don’t matter when the pain’s so great.
Yet guilt is a vulture. It sweeps down an’ snatches me. I struggle. I tell myself I wasnae cruel; I had nae choice but tae leave. Just a common, unmarried midwife. Och! How could the Lord ’spect a body like me tae care for the wee bairns of an adulteress?
But my conscience fashes me still, an’ each rush of black water stabs the pain down. My thoughts go four years back—back tae the Magdalene Asylum. There I stood afore the gates beneath her window, my face pressed against them icy bars, listenin’ helpless tae her cries of pain in childbirth. Only minutes afore the wee lass had stood afore me on the other side of the iron fence. For nine months she’d been locked in there—an’ ’twas hell. Nothin’ was left of her poor wee body. Her wee face—blanched like death! Her bonnie flaxen locks—matted an’ tangled! Her chill, raw-boned hands clutchin’ mine as she pressed her weddin’ ring intae my palm.
“They would take it from me and sell it for money if they knew I’d kept it!” she had whispered, in tears. “Och! Take it now—hide it for me—an’ if I die ye must give it tae my wee bairn!” She pressed her swollen belly.
Lookin’ past her tortured face, I seen two dark shapes stalkin’ up behind her through the gloom.
The nuns, comin’ tae take her away. An’ she kept cryin’.
“He won’t forgive me! Och! My dear, precious Johnny won’t forgive me! I beg him! I beg, beg, beg. And the dirty nappies of other women’s bairns I wash, and wash, and wash until my hands are raw and my heart is sick to death… But it’s not good enough for him! Not good enough for Johnny! It will never be good enough! Never good enough for him!” Bowin’ against the fence, she sobbed, scarce able to draw breath. “I love him still! I love him still… I do! I never thought he’d learn of it. Oh! But now I’m sorry. Sorry! Oh so sorry because I sinned against him and against heaven! God forgive me! O gracious God… forgive me!” She gripped my hands through the bars as though she knew the nuns were stalkin’ her. I felt the strength of a contraction shudder through her body, an’ she gasped, sayin’ desperately against the pangs, “Pray tae God for my poor wee bairns. God in heaven hears ye when ye pray—I know he does—and he knows my wee bairns need ye now. Och! Won’t ye help tae save them from this hell?”
Tears burned my eyes an’ I nodded. I took the wee gold ring an’ slipped it intae my dress pocket.
The women came. One clamped her steely hand ’round my lassie’s spare arm, then wrenched her back as my lass cried out.
“Who are you?” the woman snarled at me.
“A servant of the lassie’s family; a midwife, ma’am,” said I. “This woman is in labour, she ain’t well. Ow, please, ma’am, please! Allow me tae come in an’ help her!”
The second woman stepped close tae the fence, blocked my view. Her look was dirty. “We know how to deliver children here,” she said, then turned an’ walked away, draggin’ my lassie with them till they disappeared inside the dark walls of the asylum.
’Twas the last time I saw her face.
Five hours I had stood there. Midnight, an’ the whimper of a wee babe from the window told the child came safe from God. But the next day my lassie was gone. They say she bled tae death.
Four years rolled by. Each Monday I passed those gates on my way home from market. My heart prayed an’ my eyes searched for the wee face of the bairn I knew would look jist like my lassie—aye, they said the babe was a lass, an’ told me her name. Then one day I saw her. She was playin’ with her ball outside in the stark brown yard with three others, all stick-thin, too. I went tae the part of the fence shaded by a spreadin’ ash tree, an’ with my basket on my arm I beckoned the lass. She saw me an’ came near.
“Can ye keep a secret, lass?” said I, stealin’ the ring from my pocket.
She blinked her cornflower-blue eyes an’ nodded.
“Don’t tell naebody, ye hear? It’s from yer own mother, lass. ’Tis her weddin’ ring. Hide it safe—there in yer stockin’, see? Never tell a soul, promise?”
She gaped at me, then at the ring glitterin’ in the sun. “In my stockin’?” she whispered, leanin’ closer.
“Aye, lass, for now,” said I, then turned. If I tarried, ’twould be danger. “Run along now, lass. Aye, run!”
I hastened up the street, with one glance back. She was playin’ with the other children. But she watched me, too, like she wished tae follow.
It happened scarce two weeks ago, but weeks turn tae years for me now. My lassie’s face—her words, tears, cold hands, an’ my promise tae nae leave her bairns in that hellish place—aye, how an empty promise will turn tormentor!
“Lord God Almighty! Mercy! Mercy! Mercy!” Sweat an’ tears stream down my face. “Rattle the cage, O God! Rattle the cage!”
Can he hear me? Can he see?
I lift my voice an’ scream intae the chill blast. “Ye’re the first an’ the last! Ye were dead, but now ye live! Ye hide from us, an’ yet ye know the thoughts of men! Ye hold the keys tae hell an’ death! The body of Jesus Christ was sacrificed once for all—I know it! I know it, an’ I thank thee! I thank thee! Now help us, Lord! Oh, help us tae understand it an’ believe ye will turn this evil for the good! O God, my God! Ye say ye give good things tae them who ask! Ye say ye open doors tae them who knock, an’ I’m knockin’ now! Och! I’m knockin’ knockin’ knockin’ like I nae have knocked afore! Hear prayer, O Lord! Hear prayer! Hear prayer!”
I bow over the railin’, bawlin’ fit tae die. But somethin’ draws me through the tempest.
I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron.
I look behind me. My russet hair snaps my cheeks, lances my eyes… I’m alone. But that voice I know like I know the beat of my own pulse. I lift my face intae the rain an’ taste sweet an’ bitter waters. “Och! Then, Lord God, look! Look down from heaven upon these sparrows! Alone, alone, alone! Draw them tae ye! Their poor mother died in that cage… I know ye forgave her, but— Och! Break the fowler’s snare! Make it so these precious bairns may escape it, an’ make them a testimony for Jesus!”
The ship tosses on a long wave. It roars. It peaks. It seems tae hang from a noose. Shadow waters swirl below. I feel sick. Then… then… Is it a touch on my shoulder? Aye, a warm touch… a hand? I strain my eyes but cannae see— jist that dizziness stirrin’ everythin’ ’round intae a midden.
Then I’m fallin’: down, down, down. All I see is black, black, black, an’ nae more.
Thank you for reading the Prologue to "Through These Dark Gates." If you enjoyed this sneak-peak into the pages of my debut historical novel, then I hope you will head over to fourseasonsnorth.com to order your copy today! For those of you in Canada, please note that we provide flat-rate shipping, so freight is the same whether you order 1 or 4 copies - thank you for your support of my work!
I want to take this opportunity to give a special shout-out to my FIRST PATRONS who have made their purchases and then went above and beyond to so generously support my book through their monetarily gifts on its release week: Bob B., Peter N., and Nathanael S. - from this indie author: THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART!
Reviews are important to every author - so drop me a line in the comments if you're inclined... as always, it's a real treat to hear from my readers!
WEBSITE: fourseasonsnorth.comFACEBOOK: At The Brook's BendINSTAGRAM: atthebrooksbendWRITER'S BLOG: atthebrooksbend.ca
Today I am thrilled to share with you the long-awaited cover reveal of my debut historical novel, THROUGH THESE DARK GATES.
After years in the trenches of research, writing, and editing – and months of trotting through the long but exciting process of cover and interior design, galleys, and proofing with the assistance of my amazing book production and proofreading team – I am pleased to introduce you to a historical saga of heartbreak, loss, redemption, and family reconciliation. The book is slated to release next month but your autographed Softcover or Hardcover copy is available now for Pre-Order HERE at FourSeasonsNorth.com.
Without further ado… more about the book (cover design courtesy of award-winning book designer Dean Pickup of Canada Book Design):
“KATHERINE FLETCHER… YOU MUST REALIZE THAT IT IS ALWAYS GOD’S WILL THAT A YOUNG GIRL OFFER HERSELF WILLINGLY UPON THE ALTAR OF SERVICE TO THE CHURCH OF ROME.”
Kate Fletcher can never forget that she is the orphaned child of an adulterous woman—it is the reason she lives at the Magdalene Asylum. Her fate as a stigmatized member of society is sealed, and it is her duty to atone for her mother’s sin by binding herself irrevocably to the Roman Catholic Church as a Sister of Mercy.
Union Sergeant John Dallington will not allow distant regrets to follow him. He is a Protestant, and a past littered with painful secrets can neither threaten his identity in the doctrines of Reformed theology nor shake the confidence inherited through his patriarchal role as father to his two children—until he meets Sister Kate.
Set against the backdrop of the nineteenth-century Irish immigration movement and the American Civil War, this fascinating story follows the lives of Kate and John as they collide amidst the turmoil and treachery of a war-torn Washington, DC, where they both are forced to grapple with questions about their pasts, their choices, and the will of God. The rebellious but furiously honest Collette Clayton, the tobacco-chewing illiterate Private Jack Gunderson, the confirmed bachelor and pragmatic skeptic Dr. Robert Hall, and the fiery Scottish midwife Ellen Kelly are just a few of the unforgettable secondary characters who play into the intriguing subplots of this rich piece of historical fiction.
Exploring themes of innocence and betrayal, slavery and free-will, and the conflict between the search for romantic fulfillment and the quest to find peace with God and oneself, Through These Dark Gates is a compelling novel about a young woman’s journey—and one man’s battle—through the labyrinths of religious skepticism and self-deception toward ultimate self-realization and the knowledge of what it means to be truly free.
What is like the sand?
Stars are like the sand…
They drop a voiceless truth
On paths of trodden earth
Along the desert’s dearth
And forests rich with mirth.
Yes; stars are like the sand.
What is like the sand?
Snow is like the sand…
Its tiny sparkles left
On towering mountain cleft
To never leave bereft
Of pond’rous snowy heft.
Yes; snow is like the sand.
What is like the sand?
Rain is like the sand…
It pours a happy tide
Where silver clouds abide
And splashes down the side
Of heaven—like a slide.
Yes; rain is like the sand.
What is like the sand?
Time is like the sand…
It runs between the lines
Of space we realize
And years and age defines
Yes; time is like the sand.
What is like the sand?
Seeds are like the sand…
They settle in the clay
Upon a springtime day
And smile at the ray
Of sunlight giving way.
Yes; seeds are like the sand.
What is like the sand?
Man is like the sand…
He passes through his sphere
Of desperate hope and fear
And does his best to steer
T’ward things he holds most dear.
Yes; man is like the sand.
What is like the sand?
Thoughts are like the sand…
In countless waves they burst
With fragrance sweet, immersed;
Or floating fancies cursed,
Inflicting passion’s thirst.
Yes; thoughts are like the sand.
What is like the sand?
Pain is like the sand…
Like sharpened grit it snags
The heart—the mind it gags;
Through aching mud it drags,
And clothes man’s soul in rags.
Yes; pain is like the sand.
What is like the sand?
Faith is like the sand…
A tiny mustard grain
Implanted in the vein
Of sorrow, joy... and pain
As holy fruits sustain.
Yes; faith is like the sand.
What is like the sand?
Hope is like the sand…
It beads a steady light
Through ebon mists of night
And in faith’s strength so bright
It substitutes man’s sight.
Yes; hope is like the sand.
What is like the sand?
Love is like the sand…
A natural flame inside
Where selfless needs reside;
A tender loss of pride
Embracing joy supplied...
Yes; love is like the sand.
Greetings From the Rugged Climes of Northern Alberta:
Friends, join me today in a rather out-of-the-ordinary blog post… In celebration of having my blog chosen by the panelists of Feedspot to be listed as 1 in 20 of Canada’s top poetry blogs of 2022, I wish to thank YOU, dear readers, for your support of my work! Without you the success of my less-than-one-year-old-blog would not have been possible. I am honoured that this infantile online enterprise of original poetry and prose has been discovered and selected by what is known as “the most comprehensive list of Top 20 Canadian Poetry Blogs on the internet.”
I also want to take this opportunity to give Thanks to my Heavenly Father, who has inspired us by his Word, and who, by his magnificent foreknowledge and kindness, has given to us the gift of words to express meaningful messages of spirit and soul by way of the unassuming tools of paper and pen… and computer keys 🙂
Once again, thank you, Readers, for your continued support of my work. If you continue to enjoy the content provided on At the Brook’s Bend, please consider supporting my platform by adding your email to the subscription list, and promoting and sharing my blog with a friend. I hope you will join me in my most recent anticipation that involves the release of my debut historical novel, Through These Dark Gates – scheduled to be released late this summer – and will standby for a future post on my book’s exciting Cover Reveal!
IN LOVING MEMORY OF AGNES HILDA WALL-JANZEN-KLAASEN (January 11, 1938 – April 9, 2022)
In contemplating our family’s loss, I felt it incumbent upon me to write a tribute, not only for Grandma, but for all of her family—for our family. Each one of us will face death one day. Each one of us fights a battle. A battle with ourselves—and, sometimes, with God. Each one of us searches for relief—for solace—in one way or another. In the end, though, we will discover that there is only one place we will find it.
There is a mighty river upon a mighty shore;
There is a surging current behind an iron door;
There is a life-long battle within each living soul,
Of every surging heart-beat recorded in the Scroll.
The river—is it God’s heart? The iron portal—bars?
The surging current—lifetime? That doorway—is it ours?
And who will break the death-bands,
And burst the stubborn locks
Of all our bound-up sorrows
And all our human loss?
Who looks with eyes of pity upon our weakening frame,
And reaches down to save us from all our self-made pain?
What eyes look down the lost years
And ask us to believe
That what we thought was wreckage
Can a brand-new life receive?
A river—Yes! A River! Bursting with bright tides,
That bursts the chains of darkness, and rolls back all the lies
Of pride and envy, doubts and fears, of all our doors inside
That bound us in one lifetime, but no more shall reside—
As Jesus looks upon us, and listens to our cries,
And opens wide those flood-gates, and with our spirit flies
To new heights where His River is flowing wide and clear,
And bursting back each locked door
So Life shall know no tear.