“When you have experienced the Holy Ghost as I have, you would see that it is difficult to turn back.”
When the lively fervor of nineteenth century revivalism endangers the staid customs of the Amish community in the lush but rugged Kishacoquillas Valley of central Pennsylvania in 1847, the Amish church must deal with a divisive question: What is a genuine spiritual experience?
The question turns personal when Susanna’s beloved cousin Noah begins preaching while under trances and even though he is not a minister he gives long sermons that attract increasing attention. Curious, she helps to keep Noah safe during his trances. At the same time Adam, Susanna's intended, feels pressure from the bishop to speak out against the ways of revivalism.
Susanna and Adam are pushed to opposite sides of a controversy that threatens their traditional Amish faith.. Now they must grapple with whether love is possible...even if they come to different conclusions.
When Noah goes missing at a time of day when he often preaches while asleep, circumstances thrust community members with divergent opinions into a crisis that demands they recognize the humanity they share regardless of beliefs. But can strong-held opinions be softened by the truths that shape their lives?
More in the Amish Turns of Time Series:
Meek and Mild
Brightest and Best
Hope in the Land
About the Author
Olivia Newport’s novels twist through time to find where faith and passions meet. Her husband and twentysomething children provide welcome distraction from the people stomping through her head on their way into her books. She chases joy in stunning Colorado at the foot of the Rockies, where daylilies grow as tall as she is.
Read an Excerpt
Gladden the Heart
Amish Turns of Time
By Olivia Newport
Barbour Publishing, Inc.Copyright © 2017 Olivia Newport
All rights reserved.
Kishacoquillas Valley, Pennsylvania, 1847
A tent in July seemed overdone, but the English had their ways. At least the white canvas intercepted the sun, and sagging gaps in the tent walls just below the ceiling permitted an exchange of air. One more step could not hurt. On the day the tent went up, in anticipation of the Reverend Baxton's revival meeting, Susanna Hooley passed through the grassy clearing three times. The usual course of her day would have given her the opportunity, and collecting roots and wildflowers from the edge of the forest allowed her to watch the progress. She could not help but calculate how many people the benches within the tent could accommodate.
Most people traversed the narrows alongside the river at least once a month — far more often if they had produce or wares to sell in the town square in Lewistown. The narrows made Susanna feel as if her head was being squished, but it was not as if there were another way through the gap. Susanna was inclined to live as much of her life as possible east of the river and south of Jacks Mountain, content with where her parents had located their farm before she was born. Yeagertown, Milroy, Reedsville — they had opportunities. The Amish congregation was well settled in the valley by the time Elias and Veronica married. But they chose a wide, welcoming farm east of Lewiston, where Jacks Mountain was always part of the view, and if Susanna had any distance to drive, she had the Old Arch Bridge to look forward to.
Susanna slid a scuffed, square-toed brown shoe forward, nearer the tent. Her fingers found a gap between the panels hanging from a scaffold of metal rods, and she moved one panel to the right about three inches. Curiosity got the best of Susanna, her mother always said. Susanna tilted her head so one eye could get a clear view of inside the tent. The booming preacher's voice had deterred Susanna's determination to walk an aloof swath around the tent on her way home. She did not have to see him to be certain the voice did not belong to the only English minister she knew, Reverend Baxton — who was an open-air preacher, a Methodist circuit rider, and her friend Patsy's father. The tent, and the afternoon revival meeting rather than an early-morning sermon, distinguished the guest preacher Reverend Baxton had invited to come all the way from New York to the central Kishacoquillas Valley. Under the circumstances, curiosity seemed reasonable.
She would not go inside, of course. Even curiosity had limits. Susanna was a grown woman of twenty-one, but she knew well the scowl lines of her mother's face, and she had no interest in explaining that she had gone inside a Methodist revival tent. Besides, she could hear quite well from outside the tent. Did the preacher always speak this way, or did he have a particular voice for sermons, as some of the Amish ministers did?
"Do you know that God desires the repentance of your heart?" The man's words smashed through the air. "Do you know that offering God your repentance will open new lands of mercy and grace to you? Let this be the day that you surrender to Jesus, so that on Judgment Day, when you stand face-to-face with God, you will know that Jesus has already stood there in your place."
In the far corner of the tent, a low voice began to sing. Soon others joined. Hymns started this way in the Amish church services as well, a lone male voice singing the first line or two before the congregation joined. The only hymns Susanna knew were in German, and her brain stumbled for a few seconds trying to make sense of English words in church singing.
"Rock of Ages, cleft for me," the congregation sang. "Let me hide myself in Thee. Let the water and the blood, from Thy wounded side which flowed, be of sin the double cure; save from wrath and make me pure."
With rocky ridges as the backdrop to the tent's site, the choice of hymn was apt. Swelling voices were no hindrance for the preacher, whose own intonations ascended above the harmonies with a plea for the sinner to hide in the safety of Jesus, the Rock.
Susanna's feet had no urge to "go forward," as her friend Patsy called it, but she could not dispute the conviction and persuasion that filled the tent. If she kept watching, perhaps she would discover whether it was true that people rolled and twitched during these meetings.
* * *
Patsy Baxton resisted the urge to fan herself with the Bible in her lap. If she had been anyone else's daughter, she might have, but her father was the Reverend Charles Baxton, and waving a Bible in desperate hope of a feeble air current was not what he meant by allowing the Holy Ghost to move through a revival. She tried to catch her father's eye and give him a signal that the temperature in the tent might mean that anyone who passed out was not slain by the Holy Ghost but simply overly warm. Surely the Holy Ghost could have blown a breeze through an open-air meeting even in the presence of a revival preacher who had learned how to give a sermon from Charles Finney himself, even if Finney was a Presbyterian and this preacher a committed Methodist.
Patsy had no intention of being the focus of such scrutiny. She needed air that moved against her face, not above her head. An onlooker might think that the hymn and plea for repentance meant the end of the meeting was near, but Patsy knew better. Another hour — or two — easily lay ahead. People came and went as they were able, and the preacher kept preaching in order that no soul would miss the call to salvation simply because of a tardy arrival. Household and business demands were bona fide. Not everyone could attend a meeting at a precise time. Once, an entire congregation turned over one soul at a time, some arriving as others left. When the preacher began again speaking his original sermon, Patsy seemed to be the only person who noticed.
Her lips moved with the words of the hymn. "Not the labors of my hands can fulfill Thy law's demands: could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and Thou alone." But as she sang, Patsy tallied the steps required to reach outside air. She would have to excuse herself as she squeezed past six people in her row to reach the center aisle, but going toward the back of the tent in the main aisle would not do when others were pressing their way forward to meet the Lord. Her father's eyebrows would remain raised all through supper if she did that. Instead, she must gather her skirts and excuse herself to ten people to reach a side aisle. When the congregation rose to sing with more fervor, many swaying with the gentle rhythm of the song, Patsy made her way toward relief.
"Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling; naked, come to Thee for dress; helpless, look to Thee for grace; foul, I to the fountain fly; wash me, Savior, or I die."
The bonnet is what gave Susanna away. Its black quilted fabric crept farther into the tent with each tilt of her head. Patsy smiled. She had said all along that Susanna could not stay away.
* * *
The load of fresh-milled white oak was too heavy to expect the team pulling the wagon to gather much speed on an incline. Adam Yotter had resigned himself to this truth more than an hour ago. The Amish mill was on the outskirts of the sprawling district, nearest the forest. Driving out to the mill, checking the order, helping to load the lumber — for furniture and trim, not the walls of a log cabin house — and driving back at a decreased speed had consumed the entire day. By the time Adam got back to the farm of his onkel, his aunti would be pressing to get supper on the table. Adam knew little of lumber and would have preferred his uncle Niklaus send his son, Adam's cousin Jonas, to fetch the order. After all, it was because of Jonas's impending marriage — not yet announced but widely suspected — that Niklaus was adding on to the family home. The youngest of Niklaus's children and the only son, Jonas would inherit the farm one day.
Adam's two years in the Kish Valley seemed like a moment, time flitting as nothing in the eyes of God. Niklaus would let him stay as long as he liked. His future would be less certain once Jonas took over the farm, but by then Adam would have a plan of his own. He hoped he would. His plan should have been firmer by now. Instead, he told any who inquired that he continued to wait on Gottes wille.
He had no wish to disturb whatever was happening under the tent. It was not his business. That was for the English, born out of a religion that marched right into the world rather than living apart as the Bible commanded. They would be responsible to God for their actions, not to a young Amish man who ought to have been married and settled by now. If he had been, his father might not have sent him off to his uncle's district.
But if he had been, he would not have met Susanna. None of the young women in his home district sparked in him what Susanna did. His father wanted Adam to marry sensibly, but if he met Susanna, surely he would see that sensibility and affection did not exclude each other.
On the slight incline approaching the tent, the horses slowed, and Adam urged them forward lest they lose the momentum required for the forward journey. As the land flattened again, details of the tent meeting came into focus. Horses and wagons were parked outside. Strains of the harmonic hymn thickened with every yard closer to their source.
Adam knew some of those horses and wagons. They belonged to the Amish. Confusion twisted through his gut. Perhaps it was simple curiosity, as Susanna said. She just wondered. Was there anything wrong with wondering? Adam could not rightly tell her there was, yet the heat in his stomach at the thought of Susanna inside the English tent betrayed that he did believe something was wrong with going where wondering might beckon into deep waters.
He scanned the array of horses, looking for an animal from the Hooley farm. Sometimes Susanna drove a cart with a sagging mare. More often she walked, if she could spare the time, because it was easier to spot wild berries or plants that she might use to create her dyes. He looked now for the basket she always carried over her arm, ever ready to collect something she might use.
There she was. She was not in the tent, but her face was.
* * *
Susanna lost the thread of the hymn. People still sang, but now a second hymn had begun on the opposite side of the tent, and the notes and words melded, indiscernible. Jesus. Faith. Calvary. Heart. The words could have belonged to either song — or both, springing up in poetic renditions. In the beginning, the unfamiliar hymn had intrigued her enough to try to listen more carefully, but the cacophony of two songs at one time in the same tent, not to mention at least three people praying loudly from their far corners with hands raised taxed inquisitiveness. Over it all, the preacher continued, with rising urgency, the call to repentance.
Did not Genesis say that God walked in the garden in the cool of the day? Did not Elijah hear God's still, small voice? Did the Methodists think God was deaf and would hear only if the commotion were loud?
She ought to pull her head out from the opening in the tent flaps. She ought to step back and shake what she had seen and heard out of her mind. She ought to be on her way if she was going to be home to help her mamm with supper.
But Susanna did none of that. She stood still and watched. From time to time, a tearful woman or reluctant child prodded by a firm father stepped into the center aisle and went toward the front of the gathering and knelt. While the guest preacher continued, Reverend Baxton towered over each penitent sinner and placed a massive hand on a bent head. What happened then? Was this the moment the person repented? Was this when forgiveness came? Was this the way the Holy Ghost arrived? How did any recognize the moment that one was converted if it looked so little different than the usual hours of the day? None of this happened in Amish church services — and maybe not in ordinary Methodist services. Susanna would ask Patsy to explain it all.
Susanna could easily slip through the open flaps. If she watched enough, she might sort out for herself what was meant to be happening. If God was a God of order, what did He think of all this?
Just as the singing and prayers had swelled, rising from small beginnings, now the wave receded. The preacher, keenly in tune, matched his descending tones to the space opening up. His urging for repentance continued, but in timbres cushioned with assurance. If you repent, God will forgive. If you but ask for salvation, God will give it. If you but acknowledge your need, God will meet it.
Susanna jumped at the poke in her ribs.CHAPTER 2
Patsy laughed. "My apologies."
Susanna scowled. "You are not sorry at all. Have you heard even one word of the sermon on repentance?"
"Ah!" Patsy jabbed Susanna's rib again. "So you have been listening."
"You have been getting me into these situations since we were little girls."
"That's what happens when a lonely only child like me lives on a farm neighboring a big and busy family like yours."
"We might never have met over the back fence," Susanna said, "if you had not been out there chasing a cow so that you would not have to tell your father you let it out when you were not supposed to."
"I remember the day." Patsy pulled open the tent flap Susanna had been peering through. "Papa is gone so much. It was the hired hand's idea that I had to learn to manage the cows."
"You were five."
"Your mother expected no less from you when you were five."
"I will not argue with you on that point." Susanna laughed.
"What do you think of our revival meeting?" Patsy asked.
"Are all Methodist church services like this?"
Patsy shrugged. "I have not been to many church services. Papa is always on the circuit. But when he is home and we gather a few families, it's not as dramatic as this. We sing and pray and Papa gives a sermon."
"Is the preacher staying with your family?"
Patsy nodded and then looked around. "Many of your people are here."
Susanna glanced toward the rank of horses and wagons. "I recognize the rigs, but I was not sure how many of them actually went inside."
"More than you might think."
"They are hungry for the Word of God," Susanna said.
Patsy tilted her head at the remark.
"I did not mean that we do not hear the Word of God in our own sermons," Susanna said in a rush. "But can one ever receive too much of the Bible?"
"You do not think it means anything more?" "More? What else could it mean?"
Patsy looked away. She had no clear answer to the question, and no good would come from upsetting her friend with the possibilities that the church she had grown up in might not have taught her everything she needed to know for the assurance of salvation.
"What have you been up to — before listening in here?" Patsy said.
"I was just passing through," Susanna said.
"You are always just passing through somewhere."
"Bark, roots, berries, flowers." Susanna lifted her basket in evidence. "I can only grow some of what I need in my own garden. The rest I receive as a gift from God in the world He created."
"Sometimes I suspect you only began making dyes because it would give you an excuse to go out collecting supplies. You just like to be out and about at the edge of the forest."
"Shh," Susanna said. "As long as I make and sell dyes, my mamm cannot complain — too much."
Patsy laughed. "Deep down I truly like your mother. I wish she didn't dislike me." Patsy's words were sincere. Veronica Hooley was a fascinating meld of gentle, patient motherhood and fierce protector who would not allow harm, whatever its form, to threaten her children. Patsy had seen grown men back down without Veronica ever raising her voice.
"My mamm does not dislike you," Susanna said.
Patsy narrowed her eyes.
"I mean it," Susanna said. "She does not dislike you personally. It is simply that our friendship reminds her that the world is closer to our people than she wants to admit."
* * *
Patsy's eyes went murky. Susanna reached for her friend's hand.
"I am sorry," she said. "Did I hurt your feelings with my hasty words?"
Patsy shook her head. "The world is changing. It's not the same as it was a hundred years ago when your people — or mine — came to Pennsylvania."
"God does not change," Susanna said. "His ways are higher than our ways."
"But He might change our understanding of Him," Patsy said. "Perhaps we are the ones who must change."
Excerpted from Gladden the Heart by Olivia Newport. Copyright © 2017 Olivia Newport. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
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