The Chocolate Muffin; or, Doctrine, Biblical Symbolism, and Worship–With Illustrations!

Note: I’m placing this in “Allegory” because it focuses on symbolism and I feel that creating a category solely devoted to symbolism would be counter-productive.

Sunday, 15 April 2012. It was the first time I had been to church in over six months. There was prayer, there was worship, there was a beautiful if slightly percussive rendition of “Amazing Grace”. There was Scripture reading, from a translation somewhere between the Living Bible and the Message paraphrase. The sermon was good, relatable to most, very sound. The church believed in the active gifts of the Spirit, in baptism by immersion, in the cleansing gift of salvation.

But I’m not here to talk about the church or that service. I’m here to talk about Naomi, the church bulletin, and a chocolate-chip muffin.

For months, we had been inundated by false doctrine. I shan’t go into detail here, but will say only that several churches in our area had been teaching in error. Now, Naomi and I were both so nervous and weary that we were on our guards against nearly everything. As she skimmed the bulletin that morning, a name jumped out at her–a guest speaker? A pastor? A missionary? I do quite a bit of apologetic reading, so she directed her inquiry to me. “Otis Spunkmeyer–is he sound?”

Well, as most of my readers are aware, Otis Spunkmeyer has never made himself any sort of public evangelist–at least, not that I’ve read… A closer reading of the bulletin revealed that “Coffee and Otis Spunkmeyer pastries will be served in the fellowship hall”. Well, I’ve heard of a fruit-check–the Word clearly states that men are known by their fruits–but a pastry-company check?

Looking back, I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or analyze–chuckle over the reading faux pas, or weep for the caution that drove us to such extremes. Frankly, it is a poignant moment if you’ve been so long in a fellowship wilderness that you must question every name that comes to you from a bulletin. However, I think a different course of action is in order. I don’t believe Naomi ever got her question answered, and what kind of friend would I be if I didn’t take her seriously? Does Otis Spunkmeyer, or does he not, have good theology? Let’s investigate.

Well, I know that I used to invite this gentleman into a place of worship. For several years, my home contained a room we all designated The Chapel–a place of Scripture reading, working on ministry projects, and general moments in Jesus. During several evenings in 2004, I took a cup of coffee and a chocolate-chip Otis Spunkmeyer muffin into that apartment and placed them on a low stool. Using the stool as a table, I sat on the floor near the bookcase, where I had easy access to the Bible and the CD case full of worship materials. And then, abandoning my dessert tradition before it had even begun, I would listen and read. 1 John 2:27. “Let Your Anointing Fall” by Don Moen. Prayers for more and more of His glory–rivers of living water. Feeble but heart-felt attempts at knitting a Bible case for Naomi. More worship. Purest adoration, basking in His presence. Although there were days when the coffee grew cold and the muffin dried out before I even thought to eat it, the fact of an Otis Spunkmeyer muffin in the Chapel remains. Now, I ask you, would I bring a man who wasn’t sound into these precious 2004 moments?

But all of that is personal experience. Let’s be a bit more scientific about it, shall we? We shan’t examine such things as calories and micronutrients, for those elements are never mentioned in Scripture. Instead…

* Firstly, I believe that the package designates Otis Spunkmeyer chocolate-chip muffins as Kosher dairy. Beauty, peace, and holiness! Kosher items are always sound.

* Wheat flour… What of all those wheat-related parables in Matthew 13?

* Milk products: Hmm. The Israelites were promised “a land flowing with milk and honey”, and we are told to “desire the pure milk of the Word”. More Biblical significance.

* I have no immediate access to the ingredients on a typical chocolate-chip muffin, but it would be more than reasonable for the pastries to contain salt. Symbolism: “You are the salt of the earth”…

* These muffins contain sugar, which is not nearly as Biblical as honey. However, just as no Christian is perfect, not all ingredients in food are perfectly Biblical. This symbolizes grace.

* Again, this is hearsay since I do not have access to an ingredient list, but I assume that these muffins came into contact with water at some point. I’ll let you figure that one out on your own. Naomi knows. If she ever stumbles onto this post, I will say for her benefit, “crystal-clear”.

* Of necessity, these pastries contain leavening. What of the parable of the yeast? Oh, I cherish Matthew 13!

* While certainly not present in chocolate-chip muffins, Otis Spunkmeyer cinnamon rolls contain, well, cinnamon! And did it ever occur to you, my beloved readers, that cinnamon is mentioned in Exodus and in the Song of Solomon?

* All muffins are wrapped in plastic, which isn’t Biblical in the slightest… But they are also encased in paper. Paper—parchment. Parchment–very special words, some of these being red letters. Not a direct correlation, but a vague association.

So much Scripture attached to so many ingredients. Such an abundance of joy and celebration during those prayer-closet dessert sessions.

Now, I could conclude this post one of two ways. I could play the role of a teacher and say, “My beloved readers, this is the way we must strive to think daily. Every minute of every hour, we should contemplate the things of the Lord–when we lie down and when we rise up, when we come in and when we go out. Prayer without ceasing. Whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure–think on these things. To attach Biblical significance and symbolism to mundane experiences transforms those temporal objects and brings us closer to the Lord, even in our thoughts.” I could continue in this line of lecturing for several paragraphs, but to do so would be in clear violation of the “show, don’t tell” principle. So I will take the other route and conclude that:

Yes, dear Naomi, Otis Spunkmeyer is doctrinally sound.

Addendum: This post was composed while enjoying a glass of milk and–you probably guessed it!–a chocolate-chip Otis Spunkmeyer muffin. It was written not in the Chapel, but in the Sanctuary, another one of the many prayer-closets that comprise my life.

“Alabaster Jar”: And an Exercise for Diminishing Lingering Anxiety or Fear

NOTE: I am categorizing this in Allegory because what I experienced was an allegory of the mind, something that could easily be written as the actual literary form. A pragmatic allegory, if you will, with a touch of imagination.

So, my beloved readers:

I am not a mental health specialist, and I do not play one on TV. I don’t even know what a “TV”, as named such, is–a transitive verb, perhaps? I do not act as a mental health specialist, though, either in theatres or on television. I do, however, know a sister in Christ who knows a bit about how our intricate, uniquely-wired, beautiful, fearfully-and-wonderfully-made, individualized, beloved, snowflake-like minds are constructed. She has read THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, knows and loves Psalm XVIII, finds Revelation a holy rather than a terrifying book, and speaks about half an inch of French–the degree she would denote with her hands if she were speaking of her linguistic capabilities. Her voice is pragmatic and no-nonsense, but her heart has a song in it. She listens to more percussion-driven Christian music than I, but holds it close the way I do the Touching the Father’s Heart collection from Vineyard Music. And, as I’ve said, she knows a bit about human perceptions of life, and how we can get ourselves out of the processing patterns that threaten our relationship with God and with others. I’m not sure how to designate her on this blog; I’m torn between Appointed-by-God and simply Treasure, for she fills both capacities. I think I’ll settle on Treasure.

Well, yesterday afternoon, I confided to Treasure that I have always had a propensity for holding some idea so tightly to me, fueled by an overly-active amygdala, that there is little room for anything else. The amygdala, for you normal types who do not remember most everything you’ve ever read, is the center in the brain that controls fear and anger. So, what I was actually saying is that, if some distressing or worrisome thought enters my heart, I cannot easily obliterate it–not by keeping quiet or ignoring it, and certainly not by distracting myself. The only things that ever help are studying the Word voraciously or so immersing myself in worship that my senses of song, prayer, dance, alabaster, and listening are all engaged at once. But those things only work WHILE I am involved; the moment I turn my attention to other things, whatever was troubling me before is right there to claw its way into me again, unless the Lord Himself has taken it from me. The thoughts can be anything–concerns over my health or that of loved-ones, ponderings about someone’s safety, distress over someone’s reaction to something I’ve done… As a young a child, I was so concerned about honesty that I found myself forcing mini-conferences upon all the adults I trusted, often several times a day, in order to assure myself that I had not told an inadvertent lie.

Perhaps you can relate. You probably don’t react as intensely as I have, and not to the same things, but you are acquainted with the general concept. You don’t talk about it, and you may be distracted from it, but you have your own concerns, sorrows, griefs, moments of frustration, worries, fears, phobias, and thorns. Since that applies to all of us to a greater or lesser extent, I thought I would share the gift that Treasure gave me–a tool for reducing or temporarily eliminating some of those burs that latch onto our thoughts. It requires effort and imagination, may not be appropriate for some very real crisis moments, and may require a level of whimsy not characteristic of some analytical personalities. It isn’t an instantaneous or even a permanent fix, but it joyed me. I am posting it here in the hopes that it might be helpful to you, for a gift this joyful was never meant to be held by one or two people.

For this exercise, I chose just one of those distressing thoughts that has been known to keep me awake at night. Working with one at a time is more helpful than trying to do away with every fear and worry at once. Then, Treasure asked me what substance the thought would take on if it were tangible. Now, my beloved readers, have you ever eaten a pita or other meal containing large quantities of store-bought hummus with a somewhat thicker consistency, then forgotten to drink any water during your meal? That hummus, though not dry in itself, tends to dry out the mouth and throat like cotton. I don’t know why, but that’s the way it is. However, hummus–with or without the water!–is delicious, and these intrusive fears are not. I wanted something that would have the same dry-mouth/dry-heart effect, though, so eventually I declared that the concrete substance would be most akin to very fine-grained sand that nevertheless packs tightly, is difficult to sweep out completely, and tends to both dry out the areas that it reaches and to chaff sensitive skin, thus producing the FEELING of eating without hydrating.

We then envisioned being filled to the brim with this upsetting substance. That wasn’t difficult–I was already bursting from the weight of impure sand! Then, she said, I should imagine places in this vessel named Ready Writer where the sand could slowly trickle out. The level getting lower and lower. No more sand in my head and neck, in my arms and shoulders, in my heart, in my legs and feet… This was a little more difficult than you might imagine, but it was worth it. In my case, knowing how a substance like that one would be prone to cling, I also imagined water cascading down and assisting in the process–pure, clear living water… That was most helpful! So, no sand within, and no more intrusive agitations for the moment.

Then, Treasure suggested that, since those thoughts were still inevitably nearby and within reach, I should envision something that would allow me to at least distance myself from them. Take a broom and a dustpan and sweep that unwelcome substance up and toward the door of the room we were in. Place it in an imaginary rubber-plastic container and “drag/carry” it–twenty-five pounds or so of anxiety, by my estimation–to the corner of another room, where I am already actually storing a number of boxes in “real life”. Push it into the corner, turn away from it, and leave it for another time. The goal here, Treasure reminded me, is not to “store” the distress in a garage or bring it to a dumpster, because that won’t work. You may–and probably will– experience thoughts like this again, and distancing them that far will only hinder the interactive analogy.

Then, it was time to be filled–renewed, restored, overflowing with something helpful so that there might no longer be room for the sandy anxiety to take up residence again, or to be poured into me by another person. When asked what I would like to be filled with, I said that the beautiful, fragrant combination of frankincense and myrrh would be fitting. Anointing oil–but I am not sure where Treasure stands on the topic of continuationism and did not want that charismatic-sounding term to come between myself and a precious child of God.

Well, at this point, I am convinced that the Holy Spirit began the process–began to work through Treasure’s wordsand voice. In the next few moments, we envisioned that anointing oil filling me completely, pouring into every nook and cranny of my heart, mind, and spirit. Overflowing this vessel in all the places where the “sand” had formerly resided. It was absolutely glorious. I felt as if I were actually receiving this blessing–saturations of joy and peace–directly from the Holy Spirit. Those were moments of hands half-raised, of praying in my heart as Treasure spoke, of remembering who He has made me to be and knowing that, in His strength and by His grace, I did not have to hold the things that had so threatened my relationship with Him moments before.

I will never forget Treasure’s words. Without a hint of rebuke, she reminded me, “Someone who is filled with frankincense and myrrh cannot be filled with sand”. In other words, “Stand firm! Jesus has you and He loves you”! I wonder–do any of my readers need to be reminded of the same thing? Does anyone reading this need to be reminded that in Him we have the victory? Because of Who He is, because He has conquered, because His grace is more than sufficient for us, these things do not have to become strongholds in our lives.

This was the exercise to which Treasure introduced me. Whatever you may be going through, I hope it was as much a blessing for you to read as it was for me to experience. Great is His faithfulness–and His lovingkindness.

Addendum: This post belongs with the song “Alabaster Box” by CeCe Winans—it just does. It doesn’t fit thematically, but the song is too beautiful, and so was my experience with that exercise. Besides, the account in Luke VII on which the song was based is beyond-words glorious, and it, above all else, bears reading and absorbing. If blending this post with that song are in any way effective in encouraging the reading of Luke VII, I will have done my job for the day.

“Stained-Glass”: In Which the Author Describes Her Writing and Blogging Philosophies

NOTE: If you’re patient and read it through, this piece will make much more sense than I have been making lately. Rest assured of that fact, and enjoy!

My beloved readers, please to pull an overstuffed armchair toward a roaring fire on this blustery day we’re experiencing, hold in one hand your beverage of choice, and listen up. I want to tell you a story. And before you read it and come away thinking that I have simply become too eccentric for your further acquaintance and/or friendship, please do read at least two paragraphs beyond the section marked off by asterisks.

* * *

Last Sunday, I did something that would have astonished many of you had you had the opportunity to witness it. It was late evening, and I was walking through a public place that now seems much too inconsequential to describe in full detail. Suffice it to say that this building was equipped with a piano, for the general use and enjoyment of passers-by. At that time, I was filled to overflowing with such indescribable joy that I felt I had to do something with the waves of delight coursing through me. Accordingly, there being no one about and I being in the mood to infuse some of this happiness with creativity, I sat down at the piano and began to play.

I’ve worked very hard to polish my piano skills, you know–shaped and honed that talent for God’s glory for many, many years. That wasn’t always the case–I used to be decidedly legalistic about music, insisting that any creative interpretation went against Scripture, somehow, and playing hymns and only hymns with a stayed calmness, and even that with only one hand, plinking out single notes like a beginning piano student. I’ve learned better, though–learned to fashion this gift to glorify my Lord, and found that musical creativity and spontaneity can be an important part of the process.

Back to Sunday evening. I did begin with hymns–though not with a slow and clumsy rendering of a classic. No, ’twas “Arise, My Soul, Arise” for me and my faithful instrument. I began by playing it traditionally, but then decided to take a few liberties–playing certain parts more loudly in order to emphasis their theological importance to my heart, inserting a few notes that didn’t strictly belong in the hymn just to accentuate the glorious nature of what I was playing, allowing my piano to do the exclaiming I was as yet not quite bold enough to do verbally. I tell you, if that piano could speak, it would have been crying out, “HALLELUJAH!” after every second line or so. Not perfect, not polished, not traditional–but so very necessary. From there, I transitioned–not so gracefully, I must admit–into “Sunshine in My Soul”. The segue was supposed to be seamless–in fact, had I been paying any attention at all, it would have been–but as it was, the whole thing was a bit clunky and uneven, with a few sour notes spoiling the performance, if I chose to call it that. But I don’t, for the only One for whom I was playing doesn’t really care whether I play a wrong note or two, just that I use the gifts He has given me to honor Him.

So, yes… “Sunshine in My Soul”. This is a difficult song to sing, let alone play, and there wasn’t a hymnal in sight. I cared not. I plunged forward anyway, making a few mistakes but so magnificently filled with joy that little timing errors and a few flat notes didn’t matter. Then, more songs. By this time, a few people had stopped to listen, some even sitting down to absorb the impromptu concert. I was too busy worshiping the Lord to pay them anything more than a cursory glance. Neither did I pay much attention to fitting tempo with tempo. Everyone knows that a slow worship ballad like “Jesus, Name Above All Names” shouldn’t be immediately followed up by something driving and exuberant like “Days of Elijah”–the effect would be too jarring. Ah, but I did it! By this time, polish and convention were both slipping through my fingers, which were too busy dancing over piano keys to grasp hold of societal norms. “This is the Day”. “Clap your hands, all ye people, shout unto God with the voice of triumph…”. “I Want to Be Where You Are”. “Shout to the Lord, all the earth, let us sing…”. “Here We Are in Your Presence”. “In Your presence, that’s where I am strong; in Your presence, O Lord my God…”. At some intervals, I was doing the kind of note-to-note glissando that is really much more effective on the harp; at others, I know I must have sounded a little like Keith Green, the way he used to pound those keys like an old-fashioned typewriter–although, unlike Keith, I really don’t have the training to pull that kind of playing off, nor the wherewithal to know when to use it. At some points, there really was one-handed playing, or long pauses when there wasn’t any music at all because I was raising my hands before the Lord…

This was a public piano, but there really wasn’t much going on that evening. A few people, as I said, had stopped to listen. Others would stop and stare, or avert their eyes–either because they sensed that what I was doing was semi-private or because they didn’t know how to handle it. I just played on. I had to do this; it was the only means of expressing myself for miles around, since I’m not nearly as good at expressing those same thoughts verbally. The Lord is still working with me on being a bit bolder in that area… So, all I had at that moment was the piano and a small group of curious onlookers. On I played, and probably sang, too–though I don’t remember clearly–until I was absolutely spent. Until a few hours had passed and my fingers, which had not played in a few months, could not stretch toward even one more key. And then, exhausted but so deeply, deeply satisfied, I got up and walked away, clothed in purest peace but leaving my observers without any explanation.

* * *

Now, my precious readers, you’re all intelligent enough to know that the actual incident didn’t really happen. No public piano, no flawed and enthusiastic playing, no curious onlookers. Instead…

Last Sunday evening, I was, indeed, filled with joy inexpressible. I really am terrible at communicating some of my thoughts on the things of the Lord–which is why I write a blog rather than putting together a podcast! But that day’s delight in Jesus was so complete that I felt I had to do something. And so I wrote. I wrote without polish and certainly without any semblance of perfection, at times with gentle notes of worship and at times with rollicking notes of praise. Really, I’m not even sure I ran spellcheck that day. I just went back and tried to read the post, but I’m downright embarrassed by certain elements of it and couldn’t finish the thing.

But, do you know something? I’m going to let it stay. I will not delete that post simply because it was disjointed and made little sense. I know what I meant and I will keep that piece of disconnected writing as a tribute to a very special moment in my spiritual life. That was a private moment of worship–hence, the lack of convention–in a very public blog setting.

But why didn’t I confine that piece to my journal? Why put something out there if it isn’t perfect? Because, dear readers–and this goes back to writing philosophy established immediately after I received the Holy Spirit–writing really isn’t worth anything unless there is the possibility of having it read. Besides, I’m terrible at journaling–so caught up am I in the writing process itself that I can never put my true feelings on paper, so I have to make audio recordings of personal journal entries and house them on my iPod. No, if I’m to write, I must make it public. A unique ideology, I know, but it works for me.

Besides–and this may be a difficult concept to explain–perhaps that flawed post will actually be used by God, somehow. The writing I did on 16 February did resemble a jagged and broken alabaster box–no doubt about it. But perhaps someday, many years from now, someone will stumble upon it who has, like me, felt inhibited in worship at one time or another. Perhaps s/he will see that post and apply it to some other form of worship, will learn a little more boldness in the Lord and will be inspired to praise Him in some special way. Perhaps…

Now, please be aware that this post is not in any way designed to be a defense of last week’s post. I simply use the events of last week as a rather prominent example of a general philosophy. So, as briefly as I can, this is what writing means to me–why I do it, and how it relates specifically to this blog:

I. Writing: It is a form of worship–perhaps because, in sad truth, I really never did learn a musical instrument. So, a computer keyboard takes the place of an acoustical keyboard.

II. Syntax: Why do I write the way I do? It began in grade school, when I discovered that there was no way whatsoever to customize Braille; while other students practiced their penmanship, I sat making endless F’s and D’s and J’s and H’s–all letters that appear very similar in Braille–and determined that my syntax must do double duty as my voice and my handwriting. I shaped and molded it accordingly, complete with frequent British spellings and dates. Then, after I received the Holy Spirit, I really did become quite legalistic. Where I got the notion, I don’t know, but I do know that for three-and-a-half years I refused to use any vocabulary that couldn’t be found somewhere in some English version of the Bible. I didn’t use King James wording, though I could have if I had wanted to, but I did use wording from the NIV and NKJV extensively, and refused to incorporate either details or literary devices that weren’t found somewhere in Scripture. Never did I write about, say, the spaghetti I had enjoyed some evening and then connect it to a special event; instead, I mentioned “the evening meal”, if even that, and moved on, humiliated that I couldn’t find a more Scriptural way of talking about such a horribly mundane matter. And to think that I could have related my activities to my life in the Lord, without any form of legalism! Later, however, a few things happened in rapid succession–first, I joined a class whose instructor pushed me beyond that idea; then, Hannah received the Holy Spirit and maintained all the qualities I had admired in her prior to her renewed love for Jesus leading me to believe that, if she hadn’t lost her creativity, neither should I; and I did a little searching of the Scriptures and found that, as far as I could tell, attempts to improve one’s writing or singing or harp-playing or sculpting were not a sin! Armed with this new and beautiful knowledge, I worked on writing, crafting words and stringing them together like beads until I had something that I knew could glorify God if I chose to use it for that purpose. Why use it for anything else?

III. Sharing Policy: Writing is meant to be read. I’ve touched on this, but I thought I would reiterate it here–writing means much more to me if there is the POSSIBILITY of it being read. I don’t need the guarantee, just the possibility–perhaps because failing to share writing almost feels like hiding my light under a bushel.

IV. Blogging and Other Social Networks: If I’m so emphatic about sharing my writing, why am I not promoting Like a Weaned Child right and left? Well, my precious readers, it’s a delicate balance. My job is to put the words where they can be seen, but doing anything more than that is not at all right. No, God will bring to each post the people whom He wants to see it, be they many or few. I mean that with all my heart. My writing is the Lord’s; He gave me the idea for this site, and He will do with it what He wills. The same policy applies to my failure to spice the blog up with a different layout, pictures, music, etc. It seems that it would be a ministry tool with or without the multimedia experience, so keeping things status quo seems easiest at the moment. Besides, it goes along with my purpose (see below).

V. Blogging and Reciprocation: Is this, then, why I “don’t read any other blogs”? Ah, but you are mistaken if you think I don’t read your blog or any other, for that matter. The trouble is, I use JAWS for Windows, which is a screen-reading software package for people with visual disabilities. Now, JAWS theoretically reads all on-screen information, but the system isn’t perfect. Take “like” buttons on sites like WordPress. Unless I have sighted assistance every time I want to like a post, I have to read it and resort to LIKING it in my heart–which, if you ask me, is much better than merely pressing a little button, but then, you wouldn’t be able to relate to that since your blogs are the ones I can’t physically demonstrate enjoyment of. If I’ve found a post so magnificent that it has changed my entire outlook on life, I usually try to leave a comment. Consider your post thoroughly liked at that point!

VI. Length and Purpose: Back to posting in and of itself. I could write more briefly if I wanted to, but I seldom take that course because slow, careful, and often comprehensive writing teaches and reinforces something that I want all potential readers to know–quite often, especially in this harried cultures of ours and particularly as touches things of the Holy Spirit, it is important to slow down and rest. To throw off time constraints and busy schedules and just take time to worship. So, my lengthy writing–and even some of the shorter pieces–are penned that way deliberately in an attempt to get you to stop and smell the frankincense, myrrh, spikenard, lilies, and rain. Oh, and the roses, too.

VII. Joy and Peace: To that end, I have one hard and fast rule. I cannot, must not, will not write about anything blatantly unedifying unless there is a clear-cut purpose in it. I can describe in vivid detail the time when lab technicians tried repeatedly to access a vein in my hand until it felt as though the bones itself had become victims of some dreadful surgical operation, but ONLY IF I then describe the way in which a Christian CNA entered my room soon afterward and seemed to make everything right with the gentle love she demonstrated. Good Samaritan, who has only ever read one piece of writing but who knows me better than I know myself, has implored me to write about my experience in guide-dog training–the positive aspects, but mostly the challenging ones–because she says it will surely be cathartic. I will write the articles if the Lord wills, but they will only ever be used to frame trials in the light of His glory. So, know that, even if I do write something difficult, there is a purpose behind it–everything I write from here forward will be designed for encouragement rather than sorrow, even if pain or anxiety make an appearance.

So, that’s my writing philosophy. I can’t promise that I’ll never engage in a spontaneous worship session and then publish it for all to see–and I certainly can’t promise to warn my readers when I’m about to engage in such behaviour. I can commit to writing what I can in hopes of serving the Lord with what He has given me, and invite all of my beloved readers–whoever you may be–to come along for the ride.

This post should have been written last April–every good blogger needs a piece describing his or her writing philosophy, and preferably when s/he is just beginning the blog project. But what is the fun of beginning at the beginning? Isn’t starting in medias res much more enriching? Of course it is!–and so, for that matter, is a spontaneous allegory, and an even more unplanned “worship session” like the one I embarked upon last week. The spice of life, I say–the cinnamon and honey and other delightful spice of life!

Addendum: The title for this post is taken from Keith Green’s song, “Stained-Glass”. I encourage all my readers to find and enjoy this song, for it’s rather difficult to explain. Essentially, though, Keith compares our lives in the Lord to stained-glass windows, beautiful to behold when the Holy Spirit shines through us. That is who I want to be–both in writing and in day-to-day life. The tempo of the song is also reflective of the way I tend to write sometimes, upbeat and exuberant but with a purpose lingering beneath the layers of piano-driven percussion. Keith Green is the only musician I know whose piano sometimes did the job of a drum, but the effect was breath-taking. May I learn to glorify God in the same way, only with writing–and may my life be stained-glass through which the Lord shines with His brilliant, glorious light.

“Your Grace Is Sufficient for Me”: An Allegory

My name is Ready-Writer, and I am a scribe in the service of the King. I have been employed at this work for many years, ever since I discovered the most beautiful Manuscript in the world. That Book has become breath and life to me, and my work for the Author is the most wondrous possible way of spending my life.

All the King’s scribes wear the same clothes. We wear beautiful, soft garments that are durable enough to withstand some ink stains and that may be washed when our day’s work is done–washed so very, very white that they reflect some of the King’s own beauty and always bring me to tears when I put on my robe each morning. Each of our garments is emblazoned with the royal insignia–a helmet, a shield, and a sword, and beneath these the words “truth, peace, righteousness”.

From morning to evening, I copy this Book onto sheets of parchment, using a feather quill pen and a well of ink. When I need supplies, the King provides them freely, for it is His will that I make all His words known to the people. Every jot, every tittle, every curve and swoop of the pen as recorded in the original Manuscript–must be copied with precision and accuracy.

Recently, however, I haven’t been copying anything perfectly. Instead, inkblots dot each section of my work, and sometimes my writing becomes so shaky that I doubt anyone can read it. A few times, I’ve spilled ink from the inkwell directly onto the parchment. And how can I forget the time when, through an act of carelessness, I tore one corner of a page that I’ve always treasured so? I mourn for the loss of every graceful penstroke, knowing that the Author of this beautiful manuscript will be grieved when He sees my feeble attempts. I will never lose my place as scribe–I do not fear that. But knowing that He, and His beloved Book, radiate perfection–and knowing that I and my wretched copy do not–fills me with sorrow.

Sometimes, I want to give up. One day, I would love to go to my workbench and stare at my parchment all day. If I leave my pen and ink undisturbed, I will not create one more stain upon that already-spotted paper. The Manuscript itself prevents me from doing this. Words about being faithful in small things, about lamps and bushels and salt, compel me to lift my pen anyway, dip it in ink, and continue my task. Five minutes later, I make the first error of the day and again want to step aside and tell the King that I cannot continue on, that His words are imperfect through my hand and pen. But the words I see on the Manuscript before me stir my heart, and again I hoist my pen in trembling fingers and begin again, with all my might.

Perhaps today will be better. Perhaps today I will please the King, Who has commissioned this new copy of His most precious manuscript. Perhaps…

The first letter I pen is marred, an almost unrecognizable scribble on the parchment. Not for the first time, I wonder whether I have really been given the correct tools. Might a better pen, or clearer ink, or less fragile paper, make a difference? But all the King’s scribes use these tools, and none of them seems to have this difficulty. From what I have seen of their manuscript copies, every character is made with calligraphic beauty. No, I must not ask for different tools. The only remaining possibility is that I am inattentive, a poor scribe who does not deserve her position.

I begin to count my errors. Two and three, four and five. From dawn till dusk, I write–a perfect paragraph, and then one so blemished it is scarcely legible. I find more parchment, rewrite those precious words, try to get them right. By the end of the day, I think I may have accomplished something. I have one good page, written in a hand that might be called rigid–not polished and beautiful, but at least I have fewer flaws that I began with.

It is evening now, and I am very tired. My cramped hands and aching back beg for food and rest. I begin to put away my supplies, saving my manuscript for last. As I reach to put the pen away, my elbow knocks over the inkstand. I try to pull the parchment away, but it is too late. The parchment rips from my rough handling, and dark, permanent ink sloshes out, pouring itself over all that I had accomplished today. Every word, every character, every hard-won loop and line and dot–are plunged beneath a puddle of smearing, spreading ink.

It is too much. I cannot look at my ruined pages, cannot clean up the ink that is staining the table, soaking my pen, saturating the left sleeve of the garment all the King’s scribes wear. Without looking, I know that the ink is trickling down across my robe, and I fear for that beautiful royal insignia. But what if I no longer deserve peace or righteousness? What if? . I put my head in my hands and allow tears to cascade over all that my carelessness has destroyed. Yet, deep in my heart, I know that no amount of weeping will wash that ink away. An evening’s worth of mourning will never be enough to replace my ink, or restore to me something that I can joyfully present to the Author of this Book.

Oh, that I had a clean parchment again!–that I had done nothing with it… Would that not be better than what I have made of the day’s work? Tonight, before I lose both my strength and my courage, I will go to Him. I will tell the King that I am unworthy to work in His service and entreat Him to give me some other work to do in His service. I will tell the Author…

I hear a sound behind me. Turning, I see Him approaching. The Author… And there is no place to hide my blemished work. Shame floods through me as I realize that I cannot hide. There is no place to run, and I and my work are both so stained that He must certainly associate them. But perhaps I can use this moment to show Him what a miserable scribe I am. Perhaps when He sees the damage I do in His service, He will send me to do other work. I will ask, when He is near enough.

Slowly, He approaches. As He draws near, I begin to see Him more clearly. Love in His eyes. Purity. More love. Grace. A river of love. Kindness. More love, and then more and more… More than I have ever known. And then I remember why I love the beloved Book I copy–why I love the Author of that Book, and why I even began to work for this great King.

And then, He is beside me. From a shelf above me, He takes a stack of pages–everything I have worked on over the past years. One by one, He examines them. I know He is seeing every wrinkle, every tear, every blot and blemish, every imperfectly-formed letter and everything I have carelessly left out. I want to tell Him that I am sorry, to promise to do better, to ask for different work… But every last syllable I had planned to speak has been muted in the light of the One standing by me. Finally, He puts the reams of parchment on their shelf and looks down at my table with its splattered work.

For many, many moments we stand there. Will He see past the stains? Will He see the tears as well? Does He know why the paper is torn, know that I did not mean to do this? Have I disappointed Him?

Then, He takes my hand and begins to lead me gently away. Away, to a new room with a new table and fresh tools. Turning me toward Himself, He hands me a new garment. A scribe’s garment. One without an ink-stained sleeve. Beautiful insignia. A shield and a sword and a strong, perfect helmet, and below these the words I have come to love so much. Am I then not to be turned away? But if I put on this new garment, what if I stain it again? No amount of kindness will change my nature.

I cannot defy the King. Tears still falling, I put on the new garment. And now what?

The Author, the Kin I love, takes some parchment off the shelf. I’ve never seen this kind before. It is strong and durable, the kind that cannot tear. It is pure, pure white. How can I write on something so pure? How can He expect me to even lift a pen tonight, when I have done so much wrong? Next, He takes a pen–a beautiful pen–and dips it into red ink. In the next moment, He has placed the pen in my hand and wrapped His own strong, perfect fingers around my small, trembling ones. The transfer is so seamless that I can only marvel at the kindness and might in that righteous right hand. And then, He begins to write.

My hand is in His, but He is guiding that pen. And He is writing perfectly, quite unlike my faltering scrawl. Every character is calligraphic yet strong, every word formed with the right amount of ink, with an emphasis I could never muster when I copied. This looks like the writing some of the other scribes produce–beautiful and polished. Only, with His hand guiding mine, it’s even more perfect–exquisite beyond words.

And as He writes, the very Author of that treasured Book speaks aloud every word in a voice filled with majesty, so awesome and powerful that it would bring me to my knees were it not for His steadying hand upon me. And yet, His is the still, small voice I have heard in earlier days, with such gentleness and love that His grace begins to flow over my heart with the ease of the ink on the pure white He is using. . “He will call upon me, and I will answer him. I will be with him in trouble. … I will arise on behalf of the needy… and set him in the safety for which he yearns. … My grace is sufficient for thee. … Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. … I desire mercy and not sacrifice. … Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace. … I will never leave you or forsake you. … Lo, I am with you always. … Draw nigh unto God, and He will draw nigh unto you. … I am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep, and my sheep know Me. … Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the children of God. … He Himself bore our sins. … I have come to seek and to save that which was lost. … He who comes to Me I will in no wise cast out. … Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. … Weeping may tarry for a night, but joy comes in the morning. …”

Long into the evening He writes, my hand following His every move. Every promise, every word of comfort, every exhortation to hope and believe and remain strong… It is so wondrous that I can scarcely comprehend it. Why, these are the words I myself have been trying to copy from the Best of Books over the past week. And He Himself is showing me how to write them, how to pen them in such a way that their very beauty is displayed for all the world to see.

He takes the pen from me, binds those magnificent pages with scarlet thread, and hands them to me. It is then that I understand that I am to keep this most blessed gift, to read it and study it and behold the perfection of every part–the radiant writing, the promises themselves, and all the love they bespeak. I am to take these mercy-drenched words on that pure parchment everywhere I go, as though the words were engraved upon my heart. And then, only then, will I be able to serve as a scribe as I really ought. Now I realize, with much joy and sorrow, that I had been working toward perfection without remembering the true perfection of the King Himself. I had been shaping letters with stanch angles without transcribing the love. I had been filled with fear of blemishes, forgetting that the King alone is able to write without fault–forgetting, too, that my service is rendered to the King of all love, as well as to a Just Judge.

I stand renewed. I will not write with the grace and glory of the manuscript I hold in my hands and heart. But, now that I have remembered the great joy of serving the King, I can continue to make each letter in peace rather than condemnation and pain. Over time, I will forsake my frustrated points and angles and my writing will be filled with calligraphic swirls, just like that of the other scribes.
* * * * *

BACKGROUND:

I began this piece yesterday evening, when I truly felt that I had covered my days with sins great and small for several weeks. Admittedly, I was feeling extremely discouraged. Like Ready-Writer in the allegory, I felt that I had simply poured too much transgression over my heart to proclaim the Gospel to others. Then, the Lord put this little story in my heart. He showed me again how He renews us, and how He fills and sanctifies us. And then, He reminded me of His promises. I, too, have been renewed. I am not perfect, and this may not change my life overnight, but now I know with absolute certainty that I am still His, and that He is gracious and compassionate. Once again, the truth of Christ’s sacrifice has become evident to me, and I stand before Him in the knowledge of His precious love. I cannot give up, but must put on the armor of God, and the garment of praise–Ready-Writer, you know, had both pieces bundled into one. That’s what the royal insignia was all about… And if His Word is in my heart, then I will not be following Him from legalism or fear, but loving Him “because He first loved us”.

I trust that most of my readers will understand most of the allegorical elements I employ here. However, I do want to clear up any confusion about a few things. Like Ready-Writer, we are all scribes who copy down words from the Best of Books–that is, all Christians show the love, life, words, and teachings of Christ Jesus to everyone we encounter. When we sin, and we will, we blemish our parchments, and our message is obscured. If we really fall from grace, then perhaps we spill an entire inkwell over our parchments, saturating our lives with guilt and pain. BUT… Praise be to God that He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins! When the hand of the King closes over that of Ready-Writer, this is to symbolize that we own our sin, but that the Lord Jesus paid for our sin… and that He is the only One Who is able to cleanse us from it, and that He alone, by His Holy Spirit, has the power to lead us in the paths of righteousness. There is not one righteous, and we can only live a life of holiness through Him.

I hope this clarifies any difficult points. Not even John Bunyan wrote impeccable allegories; I am sure that my second-ever allegory is far from flawless and may not convey the truth of the Gospel as effectively as it is etched in my heart. So, then, if you have any questions at all or feel that I could improve this story in any way, please feel free to leave a comment. God bless!