"For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together."1 ..."Shining in the center...my Lord in the center... Jesus in the center...revolving around Him, always revolving around Him..."
Was it all a dream? It seems like it now. But then it also seems so real. More real than anything I've ever experienced when awake. But I was not awake. At least I don't think I was. I don't know - maybe I'm going crazy. But I must write it down before it all disappears, or I will go crazy. It was one night in July - very hot. So hot I couldn't sleep. The steady drone of traffic punctuated by an occasional screeching of brakes or a blaring horn didn't help. After tossing and turning in my bed for what seemed like hours, I finally got up, stumbled over to the window and looked outside. I was shocked. There were no cars, no trucks, no streetlights. No neon signs. No expressway. The overpass by which I crossed over the train tracks every day was gone. The train tracks were gone too. The entire city had disappeared and had been replaced by a tiny village stretched out peacefully under a canopy of twinkling stars and black space. It was like something out of a book. I brushed back the curtains around my window and stepped tentatively out onto the fire escape to get a better view of this strange transformation. As my feet touched the strips of rusty steel, the normally rough surface felt soft and wet, more like the ground on a hillside covered with slick green grass than a rickety old fire escape. I turned around and saw the walls of my apartment house melt away, and I was standing all alone on the serene hillside. All was quiet except for what sounded like the baaing of sheep in the distance. No sooner had the calm and stillness of this scene settled over me, than I sensed movement in the sky above. Looking up, I saw a great gathering of clouds. Ominous clouds they were, dark and swirling, constantly moving, and in the roar of their gathering, flashes of light appeared for a moment and were gone. Then, as quickly as it began, the activity ceased, and another foreboding stillness fell. Now the only sound was the gentle wind that rustled in the tall grass of the field in which I stood. But I knew the calm would only last for a moment. Then, it happened. An awful crack of lightning exploded, shattering the silence and shaking the earth so terribly that I fell to my knees.
I looked up and thought I saw words etched in the black sky with fading streaks of lighting-like light: "What is Man that Thou art mindful of him?" What I then saw is impossible to describe. It was at once terrible and beautiful. It was as if the universe were being recreated before me. In the darkness where the glow from the strange writing had now melted away, a succession of fantastic explosions of stars erupted. Cascades of spectacular colors and brilliant lights tumbled over one another. Forms and shapes emerged out of chaotic disorder and then disappeared. Amidst this this roaring confusion of stars, I thought I saw another strange event take place. Slowly, it took on the form of what looked like a fetus. Then, in a sudden flash of transformation, it was a fetus growing and developing into an infant ready to be born, pushing at the membrane of clouds and dust that enfolded it like the rings of Saturn. It was at that moment that the loudest of the screaming solar explosions shouted through the universe, and for an instant the entire sky was a blinding field of white light. Then - blackout.
All was instantly silent and calm and dark again. Nothing stirred except for a single luminous star that moved gently across the heavens and came to rest over the sleeping village below me. In that moment I knew that God had to be mindful of man and that the question that was now being asked by a Voice as still and as small as the village below could not have been made up in my own mind. It was from outside of me, infinitely greater than I was:
"Who is on the Throne?" the Voice asked.
I could not answer. I was paralyzed with fear. But an answer came:
"The King of Kings and Lord of Lords."
As the sound of the voice died away, I decided to walk down the hill toward the village. It was then that I first heard the shrill cry of an alarm, enveloping and insistent. The sound was almost deafening an a began to run to escape its strident shrieking. As I approached the small, peaceful village, I realized it had changed into a great dark and silent city. With the alarm now only a painful ringing in my ears, I stood before the gates of this city where a sign announced the ironic name of the place: "Light of the World." It had to be some sort of bizarre joke, as the only light emanating from it was dim and pallid.
I knew that I was back in my own time, now, although I didn't recognize this city. A tangle of electric wires wound their way like multicolored snakes above the buildings, and I could almost feel the tingling current running through them. I entered the gate and began to walk the silent streets. I heard nothing, except the sound of my own footsteps and the eerie trickle and drip of water from old rusted pipes. I saw no one. "Perhaps they are all asleep," I thought to myself. But the silence had the feel of death. I felt cold and somehow very sad. It was then that the Voice I had heard on the hill spoke again. I stood still; I could not help but do so.
"But if you warn the righteous man not to sin," said the Voice, "and he does not sin he will surely live, because he took warning."
As I heard these words, I felt as though I had begun to understand something. I still wasn't sure what it was.
"If the salt loses its savor," continued the Voice, "it is therefore good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under the foot of man."
I now knew the meaning of the Alarm I had first heard on my approach to the city, and the words I had read in a book somewhere long ago seemed to echo the words of the unseen Voice.
"And I urge you brothers, WARN those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak..."
It was then that I heard footsteps behind me. I turned and beheld a stranger limping toward me. He was haggard and bent, wrapped in a cloak of tattered gray, so that I could not see his face. Strangely enough, he did not see me, however. I began to realize that I was somehow invisible to all but myself in this world. The man passed almost straight through me, and made his way to the entrance place of a dark towering building which rose to my left. I saw the stranger knock at the stranger knock at the heavy oak door of that building for several minutes, and for a time I felt no one would heed his desperate rapping, until I heard the sound of moving bolts and saw the door gradually swing open. In the doorway there now stood and immense fat man, dressed in what appeared to be a full-length coat of fur, and about his neck and upon his fingers I could make out the glitter of fine jewelry. He wore one ring that was particularly striking. It had an elaborately-cut garnet-like stone, larger than any gem I had ever seen - and it glowed with an uncanny purplish blood-red glow. From behind him came the sound of many voices and much laughter, and there was some strange music playing as well. Just to hear a melody, no matter how strange, was somehow comforting in that haunting city. But the melody slowly grew irritating and dissonant - almost painful to listen to. I wanted it to stop as I felt my mind being confused and actually pained by the strange sounds of those instruments. Then the dull glow which issued from almost every window I had seen thus far in the city exposed the hallway of this building and cast a dingy halo of yellow light around the huge silhouette of the fat man standing there.
The look on the fat man's face was one of contempt and revulsion at the sight of the pathetic creature that stood, small and misshapen, before him. From where I stood, I could not make out the words of the beggar. But I knew he was pleading, his thin, gnarled hands trembling with urgency as they reached out in desperation to the recoiling fat man. The door slammed in the midst of the beggars plea, and I saw the poor vagabond's arms drop hopelessly to his sides. His head fell forward slightly in despair. He now turned from from the wooden barrier and shuffled slowly away, his back turned toward me. Darkness had almost taken him from my sight, when without ever looking back, he spoke these words that were unmistakably meant for my own ears:
"For I was hungry and you gave my nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison, and you would not look after me."
I was deeply shaken by his words and began to weep. I knew that voice. I had first heard it upon a distant hilltop, where I had once watched a single luminous star hovering over a sleeping village. I reached up to clear my eyes of the stinging tears when I saw my hands were covered with rings and were glowing with a purplish blood-red glow.
"(The Truth Gets) Colored By"
"If anyone teaches false doctrine and does not agree to the sound instruction of Our Lord Jesus Christ, he is conceited and understanding nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and arguments that result in envy, quarreling, malicious talk, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of corrupt mind..."2
"Therefore, do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival or a sabbath day. These are a shadow of things that were to come; THE REALITY HOWEVER IS FOUND IN CHRIST."3
The distant sound of some fervent electronic oration now echoed through the streets. Still dazed by my strange encounter, I made my way toward the sound of the strident voices. When I had walked some distance, the words of the speaker became increasingly clear. I rounded a corner and was suddenly in the midst of a large crowd of people gathered around a platform. There on the stage stood a middle-aged man, tall and slender, dark-haired and dark-eyed, who spoke through a hand-held speaker in a voice so commanding that he captivated his audience. He was literally spell-binding. I cannot recall all he said, except that at times his words were taken directly from the Scripture. Then, at other times, he would begin to talk in what sounded like nonsense syllables, suddenly interjecting an hysterical command so ridiculous, it would have made me laugh, had it not been so vehement. "Take off your shoes! Take off your shoes!" he was screaming as though this ridiculous request was the fundamental scriptural commandment. "Take off your shoes!" he screamed again. The falsity of his tirade seemed so apparent to me, that I felt the entire crowd must realize the ridiculousness of this situation and the lunacy of the speaker. I was certain that now that he had shown his madness, the crowd would disperse and ignore his ravings. But it was not to be. I saw that looks of guilt and shame covered the faces of those closest to me, and they, along with many others, actually began removing their shoes in accordance with the insistent command still being bellowed from the stage. At last, when all the crowd had removed their shoes, the leader stopped his harangue, and stood silent and smiling above his barefoot and obedient flock.
"Now," he said gently, raising one hand in a gesture of blessing, "Go out into the world, and teach others to do likewise."
The crowd quietly began to disperse. I saw the leader step down from the stage and disappear through a curtain, though not before I had seen him take a large roll of cash from his bulging pockets (money he had apparently collected from the people). He began to count it even before he was out of sight. The sea of shoes that the people left behind suddenly began to melt like wax in a flame, forming a glowing river of purplish red that crept through the streets to the city.
I was so disturbed by all this that my immediate thought was that I must take the stage and set the Truth in order. I must call the people back and warn them of the strange disguises that had distorted the truth of scriptural teachings; I had to warn them to abandon these silly habits and traditions that obscured the real truth and meaning that those outside the city are seeking.
I began to run toward the platform, but I had not gone far, when I realized "my mission" was finished before it was begun. I remembered that I was invisible. I could not be seen, and I realized then that I also could not be heard.
I had no choice but to watch and listen. I was angry. Now I realized my calling, but had no way of implementing it. I had spent most of my time in my own world as a quiet, somewhat confused person. But here my appointment seemed so clear and my calling so important. As crazy as all this seemed to me, I knew I was the only sane mind in this mad world. I felt I had remembered what was true, could see through the masks of these impostors who were selling their lies a truth. But I could do nothing about it.
I was alone again, dazed by these bizarre occurrences. I had hardly noticed the light breeze that began to stir through the abandoned streets, and which gradually increased in force. It was not until I was in the midst of storm-like winds that I realized what was happening. I ran desperately through the streets in order to find shelter. After running only a short distance, I fell to the ground, feeling it tremble beneath me. I heard through the squall what sounded like great hammers striking the earth. What made me turn back to look back, I cannot say, but what I saw was terrible. Looming high on the horizon, one-eyed and gruesome, was an immense giant that towered over the city's tallest building, destroying whatever was in his path. His breath was the source of the city's tempest, and the sounds I heard were the sounds of rage and destruction. He was coming toward me, and for a moment I was paralyzed with fear. I knew that had I been able to move, I was still powerless to warn anyone. Suddenly, my paralysis was somehow broken and I felt a source of strength tingling through my body that I knew was not my own. I did what seemed futile, and ran as fast as I could from the shadow of this giant of destruction. I was invisible, but I knew I was not invulnerable.
I ran. I ran until I could run no further. I collapsed on the ground, my lungs burning with fear and fatigue. I looked up and saw that I had fallen right in front of the entrance to a small white stuccoed church. The sign outside the door read:
The Church of the Divine Dilettante
Sermons Day and Night by
Reverend James Cursory
With the giant not too far behind me, his breath hot and powerful on my back, I rushed into the church, passing unnoticed and invisible through the closed doors. Exhausted and breathless, I felt for some reason momentarily safe within the refuge of the church. I took a seat at the back of the sanctuary. The room was filled with the congregation's singing. The words of the song, I vaguely recall went something like this:
"We harmonize, we harmonize,
We know it's real, we know it's real."
I noticed that all of the people were neatly groomed, and extremely well dressed. From a television set hanging over the pulpit at the front of the church there appeared the face of a man, rather plain-looking, undistinguished except for the constant smile upon his pudgy face. The singing ended, and the man led the congregation in a prayer, after which he started his sermon.
"Welcome, friends," he began in a sing-songy cadence. "My name is Reverend James Cursory, and I am speaking to you from the studios located here in the heart of our beloved city. This broadcast is beamed around the world this very moment via satellite. With our program, we hope to reach a world gripped in sin."
I couldn't help but think of the grip of the giant I had just escaped, but I pushed the thought out of my mind. The reverend went on speaking.
"Yes, people are indeed seeking peace, but they are seeking it in temporal things; things that fade and leave a hollow emptiness. Now these same people may tell themselves that death will hold back its hand, that they will lead long prosperous lives, but truly life is like a vapor, and one day we shall surely meet our maker. Only those things done in and for Him will stand the fire that will test our works."
This all sounded more reasonable to me than the man I had just heard in the streets, but I was disturbed by something in Reverend Cursory's manner. It was intensified by my attempts to forget the giant outside. His memory kept invading my mind although his monstrous image seemed so strange and unreal in the serenity and harmony of this church service.
"Now, the title of today's lesson," continued the Reverend, "is 'Overcoming Fear'. My dear friends, fear is largely the product of our own imaginings. We imagine there are giants outside; the giants of circumstance that we can never overcome. We feel helpless in the grip of fear."
The giant again. I knew the giant I had seen was no product of my imagination - at least no more than the Reverend James Cursory was.
"This does not have to be. There is a solution to overcoming our fears, and that solution has already been evidenced in our service this evening. Song is the answer, my friends! Why, only a moment ago you felt the joy of singing, and in it you felt the power of positive approaches to the problems of this earthly life.
"So I say, sing!, sing!, sing! To make a joyful noise is to overcome the giants of our imagined fears. Singing is our David; circumstances, our Goliath; our 'rock and sling' is the ability to ignore the circumstances which confront us, and hide in the shelter of a song!"
The Reverend continued his message. I felt a panic rising within me. I knew for certain the people here were being ill-equipped to do battle with the giant that was waiting just outside the door. I knew that if the giant I has seen was real, no song would defeat him. At least, not the song they sang. I knew it was futile to try to tell them so - they would never hear me, even if I were able to speak. They were hearing what they wanted to hear, and that was all they could hear:
"A song is all we need, a song is all we need!" they chorused. Then I noticed they wore no shoes, and their hands were covered with the glitter of rings. Over their clothes, they wore luxuriant furs of every kind. Suddenly, in low whisper beneath their singing, I heard that familiar voice from the haggard beggar in the city. Again, he was speaking to me.
"You say, 'I am rich, I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' You do not realize you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked."
I didn't realize what all this meant until the next incident occurred.
There was a rapping at the church window. I looked out and saw a naked stick of a child standing cold and lonely in the dark, his eyes wide and clouded with delirium, his stomach bloated with famine. The congregation continued to sing, and I thought no one had noticed him.
"Please!" I said aloud. "Someone do something!" It was a useless plea. I knew I could not be heard.
Then I noticed the woman seated directly in front of me look out the same window, and seeing the poor urchin standing there, she cringed with alarm. She immediately opened her purse and began searching through it. I foolishly hoped she might be looking for food, something that might relieve the child's hunger. Instead, she took out a piece of paper and with a pen she wrote the words, "We love you!" upon it. She left her seat, walked over to the window, opened it slightly, and slipped the piece of paper out to the child. Closing the window, she turned back toward me with a sad but relieved expression. She returned to her seat where she took up with renewed enthusiasm the song of the congregation. The child had disappeared, but I needed no voice to explain what I had just witnessed. I knew the words myself, and I hardly kept back the tears as I recalled them.
"What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed', but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."
The people sang on. Then, one of the strangest occurrences yet took place: I saw them slowly begin to change before my eyes. Some shrank to the size of small children dressed up like adults. Others retained their adult size but became baby-like in their behavior - crying and drooling uncontrollably, sucking their thumbs, crawling about on the floor of the sanctuary. I was repulsed by this weird sight. I felt like Alice in a horrible world of playing card babies that took on flat, two-dimensional forms.
Suddenly the door of the church flew open and the stinking tempest of the giant's breath blew like a whirlwind through the church, knocking down and scattering the card-like infants over the floor of the church in one swift blow. Like paper cut-outs for supermarket displays, they continued to smile; no longer human beings, they were silent and macabre caricatures of themselves.
Reverend James Cursory kept up the singing until his face fell apart in a jumble of lines and static. His voice and image faded into a gray blur, then disappeared altogether from the TV screen. As the wind began to screech through the aisles of the church, the gray blur of the TV screen burst into a glow of blood-red that pulsed in laser-like intensity. Suddenly, the wind ceased for a moment, and a deafening crash shattered the silence as shards of stained glass windows exploded in every direction in a storm of broken color.
"Ghost of the Heart"
Somehow, I had escaped being cut up by the storm of broken glass, and I made my way cautiously outside the ruin of the church. The white stucco building was now just a crumbling facade.
The giant was gone, and once again I stood alone in the street. "One day," I said aloud to myself, "they will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching." Again, these words I remembered from my reading, and now I realized that the "Voice" seemed to be speaking from my own heart, and not from outside of me.
A feeling of deep longing now possessed me. I was overcome with the desire to be delivered from my earthly plight, to be free at least in the realms of heaven. It was not something I could fully explain; nevertheless I could not escape the feeling, and my eyes filled with the stinging tears of a vague but very real yearning to die in body and live on in spirit.
Suddenly, I became dizzy. The city was now a spinning, swirling whirlpool that sucked me into its vortex. The blare of sirens filled my ears, and I felt myself rocketing through time and space. Color and light flashed by like shimmering, iridescent droplets.
"What I tell you in the dark," said the Voice of my vision, "speak in the daylight. What is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the housetops!"
I knew the time would come when I would one day write down the full record of my journey, but that time would not come soon. My pilgrimage was not yet over.
I was engulfed in the streaming colors and screaming sirens. My mind was filled with voices asking broken questions. Some of the voices I knew. Others were strange to me. Some I could barely hear at all:
"Why am I...What is man...Ghost or guest...Dust is dust...Why must I...Do I mind...Why do I...Remove my shoes...Do I die...I do mind...Mind full of Him...Hymn singing...For me...The wind of doctrine...Eyes disguised by my...I...Me...For me...Who is on the throne...Why...?"
All continued to be color and light, sirens screaming. Warning. Crying. Ahead. An eerie light radiates intense, purple blood-red neon. I will myself to turn back, but I have no control over my destiny in this place. I feel I cannot bear this thing, for though I have only a vague perception of what lies ahead, even in this moment I sense the insanity which looms just this side of that blazing scarlet horizon.
I tell myself, "I must turn back. I...must...turn...back..."
1 Colossians 1:16 & 17 NIV
2 1 Timothy 3-5 NIV
3 Colossians 2:16 & 17 NIV