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Land of the Brave and the Free
By Michael Phillips
Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLCCopyright © 1993 Michael Phillips
All rights reserved.
It's been sixteen days now.
Sometimes I feel that my prayers go unheard. There is no change. The peaceful face still sleeps, only sleeps. I continue to sit here, gazing upon those features, wondering who this is—who and why and how did it happen ... what does it mean? And I continue to pray.
But I grow fainthearted. I wonder if God does truly mean to restore and heal and make alive again, or is this the time when he has stepped across, as he does in every life, into the tide of man's affairs to take another soul of his making unto himself?
If indeed this is such a moment, then my prayers are in opposition to his will and plan. Do I pray in opposition to his sovereignty?
Such difficult questions always seem to plague me—whether it be about an unknown face with sleeping countenance, or about mysteries in your Word or uncertainties concerning your work among men and those who call themselves your people. No answers are quick to come.
And still the compelling in my heart grows stronger and stronger concerning this one whose being is presently in my hands, that pray I must. Surely this precious life about which I yet know nothing—surely it is not time for it to end.
My thoughts, as they so often do, beckoned me outside to the hills and fields and streams and trees I so dearly love. I grabbed up my New Testament, knowing that Mrs. Timms would watch over my charge well, and went out.
It was early afternoon. The sun was high and I wondered where its warmth had gone from the summer of such a few short months ago.
I left the house and took the path eastward, then abandoned it altogether. I jumped the fence bordering it, struck out across the wide pasture where some cows were grazing at the far end, working my way up the slight incline to the thin wood about half a mile away. Notwithstanding the early November chill that hinted at snows and storms and fierce blasts of hail even now beginning their slow journeys down from the arctic, the day was a glorious one to be out. The thin breeze that kicked up every now and then foreshadowed almost more by odor than by feel the approaching winter, adding a tingling sensation in both nose and skin to the warmth of the sun's rays that was purely and deliciously pleasant. The great vault of blue overhead was unbroken save by a few slender wisps of white from the chimneys of some of the surrounding farms, but even these had diffused into nothingness before reaching a third of the way up against the horizon. Straight above me was nothing but the infinitude of distance, stretching into regions of space unknown by man, into the very heart of God himself.
I threw myself down in the springy, sun-warmed and sun-softened grass, breathed in deeply with pleasure, and let my eyes drift into the unknowable blue depth above me.
"Lord God," I whispered, "where are you up there? Where is your home in the heavens that people are so fond of talking about in the pious tones of their prayers, when I feel you so vitally alive in the tiny place within my own being I call my heart? Do they know you there too, Lord? Or do they look up and speak of you with such lofty grandeur because they have not yet learned to look for you in the still quiet places within their own beings?"
All about me was quiet except for an occasional distant baritone low of a contentedly feeding cow. God's voice is never easy to hear, never so readily discernible to the inner ears of my being as the sounds of his creatures are to the outer ears of my head. I often wonder why he made it so—that if he wants us to heed every whisper of his voice, why that voice is so soft to our human senses. But perhaps what he wants more even than our hearing him is our obeying him when we do not hear him. If his voice were too loud and his commands too unmistakable, perhaps the requirement upon our own wills would not be so great, and our obedience would thus be less.
Again, I found myself lost in obscure regions of God's unknowable purposes. And one thing I did know, that I mustn't lose sight of my purpose, which was clear enough, nor tarry too long before returning to it. I jumped up and continued my way toward the wood.
As I walked, my thoughts returned, as they often did, to reflecting on this terrible war and its claim on human life, on the untold suffering it has caused ... and once again, as how many times before, to the question which haunts me: Did I make the right decision? Was my stand one that God desired me to take? Or was I then, and am I still, wrong and out of step with the rest of God's people? If God did indeed speak with his still small voice into my mind and thoughts, into my heart and convictions, then why did no one understand? Why was their denunciation of me so unequivocal and vicious simply because I—one of their own, a comrade, a fellow member in the brotherhood of God's family—spoke out the truth I felt compelled to voice? If I was indeed wrong, as they say, why did they not take me tenderly to their bosom and, in gentlest love, seek to help me discover my error? If perchance I was right, why did they not humble themselves to hear my words and themselves seek truth beyond their own selfish interests? But to cast me adrift with their heartless and cruel accusations, without so much as an inlet wherein to tether the leaking vessel of my faith, full of doubt and uncertain of the calling I was so sure of only a few short years before ...
"God, O God—preserve me at all costs from bitterness and unforgiveness! Do not let me sink, my Father. Though I hear you not and see you not, do not leave me! Keep my soul safe and my mind clear and my heart uncluttered with hurts from the past. Lead me, O God, into your truth!"
Is truth too distant a commodity for God's people to care about? Why do one's own interests and one's own safety and one's own views and one's own future take preeminence over what is true? Surely among God's people it should not be so. Yet then why do I feel so alone and seemingly at odds with those millions of others who make up what we call the body of Christ? And what of those more millions on the other side of the fateful line between North and South who also consider themselves right? How two governments can feel it their duty to war against each other is not so difficult for me to understand. But how God's people on both sides can feel it their sacred calling to support this killing—that I will never understand. That it is right I cannot accept. That the truth of God is thus represented, I will not believe!
I sat down among the trees, took out my Testament, and opened it to the well-worn and familiar passage. I scarcely needed to read it, for the words were so deeply ingrained in my consciousness. Yet I never tired of letting the soothing words of the Master flow over me as a cool stream, my spirit uttering as I read the inarticulate longing of my deepest being that the Father of Jesus would answer, and answer mightily, the magnificent prayer of his Son.
They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.... Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
I could read no further. Every time I pondered with fresh wonder the depths of the Lord's words, I found myself lost in ever-deepening regions of sheer marvel and awe at the inescapable fact that Jesus was praying for me on the night before his death. Try as I might to think my way to the bottom of them, to peel off one more layer of their meaning, I found myself, as always, treading upon ground seemingly almost too holy to ponder, and knowing that in the prayer itself was the answer to my hunger: It is enough ... my Father knows how the fulfillment will come.
Twenty minutes more I sat, my lips unmoving—this was no time for conscious prayer—though my heart heaved with the great prayer that was the very essence of my personhood. Then finally I rose, my spirit calm again, ready to continue my vigil at the bedside, and ready again to pray and not grow weary.
I made my way back to the house as I had come.
Mrs. Timms heard my foot upon the stair and met me at the door as I walked in.
"Mr. Braxton," she said excitedly as she came up to me. "I think she may be coming awake! I heard the faintest whimper, and thought I detected a flicker of her eyelash."
She turned, and I followed her with hurried stride into the sickroom.CHAPTER 2
I walked quickly to the bedside.
At first glance there was no change. Still the sleeping form lay as I had left it. And yet, as the landlady had said, there were subtle hints of stirring.
I sat down on the edge of the bed and leaned down near the pale face whose every feature I had come to know so well. I knew those features well but their owner was still a stranger to me. I could see movement under her closed eyelids, followed by brief momentary wrinkling across her forehead. I knew she was dreaming. Though the distorted thoughts of sleep were clearly troubling, my heart leaped with the hope that they were the precursor to wakefulness.
I gently laid my hand upon the busily moving forehead.
"Father," I said softly, "I ask you one more time, in the name of your Son Jesus—heal this precious child of yours and make her whole again. Breathe your life into her entire frame, into her entire being. Restore her to the fullness of the stature and health and vibrancy which are in your heart to give all your men and women."
For a moment I was silent. Then I turned to Mrs. Timms, where she stood observing but uncomprehending. "Leave me alone with her, will you please?" I said softly and with a smile to reassure her I meant her no ill.
"Of course, Mr. Braxton."
"Mrs. Timms ... thank you for watching her so carefully while I was out. I think you are right and the time is at hand. Why don't you boil some water for tea?"
"Right away, sir," she rejoined eagerly, then left the room.
I turned again to gaze upon the face below me.
For more than two weeks I had been studying this young woman's features, wondering who she was and whom she belonged to.
What caused such love within me for each human's individuality, I do not know. No doubt the Maker of myself and my curiosity and my love altogether put it into some corner of my being. I would like to think it is a little piece of himself that he put in me. He was teaching me to look upon others of his with the smallest shadowy foretaste of what he sees when he looks into each one of us with a love unlike anything we can fathom.
When and where and why God put it into me, these are things I need not know. But I do know that when I behold another face of man or woman, within my heart spring up depths indescribable of love for an individuality I can sense and feel is unique in all the creation of the world that I desperately want to know and experience and be part of that one. Ah, what depths of life lies unknown and undiscovered within each human soul! Undiscovered even by that soul itself. The souls of most men and women are asleep in a deeper slumber even than this young woman before my gaze at this moment. Asleep in the midst of their lives of seeming bustle and toil, even lives of seeming meaning and relationship and interaction with their fellows through the daily ebb and flow of life's events.
Yet most are asleep! They know neither themselves nor their Maker, nor those around them. They do not know life because they have never learned to live. They are locked away in dungeons of self and greed and guilt and uncertainty and fear. Their bodies and brains conduct the affairs necessary to the carrying on of what they "call" life, but because of their bondage to these inner demons with which they are afflicted, they do not truly know what that magnificent thing called life is.
My heart swells when I consider the Master's words: I am come that they might have LIFE, and, that they might have it more abundantly. What words of joy and liberty and freedom he brought us! Abundantly ... what can he have meant but the glorious sharing of his very life!
God, why do so few know this life, even so few of your own sons and daughters? Surely you do not mean it to be so!
Is this hunger within my own breast to know such life myself, and to see and discover it in others, and to bring it to those who do not know it—is this passion to know life and bring life and declare life—to live!—why my heart has so gone out to this young daughter of God who now lies in my very bed struggling literally against death itself?
From the moment my eyes fell upon her and I stooped down and picked up her frail and broken body in my arms, I knew I could stop at nothing to assist the Giver of life to bring life back to her.
Here was one who was not merely asleep of soul, but whose body itself lay at the very gates of death. And if perhaps I had been disappointed in the past, desiring to bring the words of life to those awake in body but asleep in their deepest beings, then here was one who could not turn me away because of the very desperation of her need.
I know you sent her to me, Lord—perhaps as a reminder that life is a good and precious thing to seek, even if I have often felt alone in the quest. Help me, Father, to never stop looking for the depths of life in the faces I pass by every day. Give me your words to speak, your smiles to smile, your hands of help and encouragement with which to bring your salt to the earth, and, above all, your eyes to see deeply into all men and women—most of all into myself!—into those innermost regions where you see them and you see me. Give me eyes to see as you see, Father! I desire to see into hearts and to love with a love that is yours, whether or not those I see and those I love know and see with your eyes.
Again my eyes scanned the sleeping face. It was not, I suppose, a noteworthy or remarkable face in the way the world considers remarkable. But the world's eyes look only to the surface of things, and what is a face but the outward means by which a man or woman's inner being rises to the surface and escapes into the atmosphere of relationships? Men look to the outer, and, if they are satisfied to probe no deeper, then interact with that outer shell—dare I even call it a facade?—thinking it is all there is. Thus they rarely approach the region of true personhood in their approach with other individuals with whom they have to do.
But a face for me is far more, a gateway into the regions where personhood dwells. And when I gaze upon a face long enough, what but love can sprout and grow within my bosom! For each man or woman's personhood is a precious and wondrous thing—created by the hand of Love like no other in all the universe! The eyes are the windows. Try as they might to shut their houses tight against unwanted intrusions, every face has two wide, glorious, beautiful, radiant windows whose purpose, I believe with all my heart, is only partially to enable us to see out, but equally to allow others to see in.
The face before me was full, to my eyes, of personality and adventure! Though the windows were for a time closed, I could surmise that it had been many places and had seen and known and experienced much about which I could only guess. It was a tall face, and I liked that immediately. A tall forehead above the tan eyebrows, and a chin that extended a good way down below the mouth. It was a face with room, without limitations. I found myself hoping that perhaps the owner to whom the face belonged was like that, too—large of soul, expansive, able to reach high but at the same time able to feel deeply in the low valleys of life as well. I hoped it was a tall, growing, unbounded spirit.
Excerpted from Land of the Brave and the Free by Michael Phillips. Copyright © 1993 Michael Phillips. Excerpted by permission of Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC.
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