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“No! Not that! No way! I’ve no time for this! I’m outa here!”

Most squirm in the face of suffering as denial stomps with one-hundred-pound boots. Heart racing, breathing labored, shoulders tensed, the escape into palliatives, of whatever kind, is underway, until the distress is dulled within a soporific. Few are the individuals who explore their setbacks and learn from them.

One of these is Karen Armstrong, British author, world lecturer, and winner of the 2008 TED Prize. Her memoir, The Spiral Staircase – My Climb out of Darkness (2004) weaves thirteen years of daunting reversals within the first verse of T. S. Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday:” it reveals the paradox of progress from circular stairs that appear to go nowhere.

What seemed like missteps in Karen’s beginnings—leaving the convent, failing her doctoral orals at Oxford, researching and writing scripts on Christianity and Islam and interviewing notables for BBC television in the Holy Land, teaching college and high school students, flipping out with an undiagnosed frontal lobe epilepsy—were, in fact, priming her psyche toward compassion, a discovery that wrought her conversion to the God of her understanding. It became the lens through which she viewed her God, inherent within all religions.

So she took to her writing desk and produced A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (1993). Its publication changed her life. Her clipped voice, heard in lecture halls and YouTube, still carries the incisive ring for God’s compassion in our world. The question remains, is anyone listening?

 

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The timbered great door stands ajar. Silence infiltrates the light brilliancing the hardwood floor with its intrusion into darkness: So unexpected, so frightening, an irritant to eyes accustomed to living within the grip of shadows.

No one seems around.

The urge to explore this new realm discomforts. A response is called for, despite peppering fears similar to nail guns securing tiles to tar-papered roofs—It’s safer to remain with the familiar, however outworn. That’s what everyone says. Yet, the light persists, the light beckons, the light warms.

How many times have I stood upon such a threshold? Let go of opportunities for growth? Settled for less rather than embracing the necessary sacrifice to forge ahead? For too many years have I chosen the half-light, but no more. My senior years are thinning, and my friends are diminishing through death and disease. Even my energies are like spend-saver salt.

The paradox of this diminishment opens me even more to the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. He is the open door to Light’s abundance. “Anyone who enters through me will be safe.” (John 10:9) This, alone, satisfies, even now.

 

The night split by lightening, roiled by thunder, throttled by high winds, and drenched by slanting rains feels like menacing spirits on rampage.

Yet with morning, sunlight seeps within the crevices of the pavers in my backyard and begins germinating the seeds deposited by trickster winds. After a few days, the inevitable happens. Patches of crabgrass sprawl aimlessly like the disorders that crop up in my psyche: resentments, fears, self-centeredness, and irritation. Beneath such eruptions lie rioting instincts. Ferreting them out continues to be a humbling practice because of their deep-rootedness.

The question, from whence come these disorders leads to a deeper one: the evil that exists both within and without us.

Jesus speaks to this fact in the parable of the weeds and wheat (Mt. 13). During the night an enemy cast noxious seeds into a farmer’s wheat field; in time, ugly weeds sprouted. Alarmed by this discovery, his servants asked for direction. Lest they pull up the wheat, they were told to leave the weeds alone until the harvest. Then, a reckoning would occur.

Jesus likens the wheat field to the Kingdom of God; the sower, to the Son of Man; the enemy, to the evil one; and the harvest, to the end of the world. Indeed, there will be a reckoning. “The Son of Man will send his angels and they will gather out of his kingdom all… who do evil and throw them into the blazing furnace….”

Thus Jesus’s followers are not to lose heart by evil that serves to hone their skills of Kingdom-living: “They will shine like the sun.…”

 

 

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