Prism Crafting Publications
Celestial Scene
THE CELESTIAL RAILROAD (Democratic Review, 1843)
By Nathaniel Hawthorne
Not a great while ago, passing through the gate of dreams, I visited that region of the earth in which lies the famous City of Destruction. It interested me much to learn that by the public spirit of some of the inhabitants a railroad has recently been established between this populous and flourishing town and the Celestial City. Having a little time upon my hands, I resolved to gratify a liberal curiosity by making a trip thither. Accordingly, one fine morning after paying my bill at the hotel and directing the porter to stow my luggage behind a coach, I took my seat in the vehicle and set out for the station house. It was my good fortune to enjoy the company of a gentleman — one Mr. Smooth-it-away — who, though he had never actually visited the Celestial City, yet seemed as well acquainted with its laws, customs, policy, and statistics as with those of the City of Destruction, of which he was a native townsman. Being moreover a director of the railroad corporation and one of its largest stockholders, he had it in his power to give me all desirable information respecting that praiseworthy enterprise.

Our coach rattled out of the city, and at a short distance from its outskirts passed over a bridge of elegant construction, but somewhat too slight, as I imagined, to sustain any considerable weight. On both sides lay an extensive quagmire, which could not have been more disagreeable, either to sight or smell, had all the kennels of the earth emptied their pollution there.

“This,” remarked Mr. Smooth-it-away, “is the famous Slough of Despond — a disgrace to all the neighborhood; and the greater, that it might so easily be converted into firm ground.”

“I have understood,” said I, “that efforts have been made for that purpose from time immemorial. Bunyan mentions that above twenty thousand cartloads of wholesome instructions had been thrown in here without effect.”

“Very probably! And what effect could be anticipated from such unsubstantial stuff?” cried Mr. Smooth-it-away. “You observe this convenient bridge. We obtained a sufficient foundation for it by throwing into the slough some editions of books of morality; volumes of French philosophy and German rationalism, tracts, sermons, and essays of modern clergymen; extracts from Plato, Confucius, and various Hindoo sages, together with a few ingenious commentaries upon texts of Scripture, — all of which, by some scientific process, have been converted into a mass like granite. The whole bog might be filled up with similar matter.”

It really seemed to me, however, that the bridge vibrated and heaved up and down in a very formidable manner; and, spite of Mr. Smooth-it-way’s testimony to the solidity of its foundation, I should be loath to cross it in a crowded omnibus, especially if each passenger were encumbered with as heavy luggage as that gentleman and myself. Nevertheless we got over without accident, and soon found ourselves at the station house. This very neat and spacious edifice is erected on the site of the little wicket gate, which formerly, as all old pilgrims will recollect, stood directly across the highway, and, by its inconvenient narrowness, was a great obstruction to the traveller of liberal mind and expansive stomach. The reader of John Bunyan will be glad to know that Christian’s old friend Evangelist, who was accustomed to supply each pilgrim with a mystic roll, now presides at the ticket office. Some malicious persons it is true deny the identity of this reputable character with the Evangelist of old times, and even pretend to bring competent evidence of an imposture. Without involving myself in a dispute I shall merely observe that, so far as my experience goes, the square pieces of pasteboard now delivered to passengers are much more convenient and useful along the road than the antique roll of parchment. Whether they will be as readily received at the gate of the Celestial City I decline giving an opinion.

HOME
the Prophet Zephaniah (from the first Chapter)

At the same time will I seek through Jerusalem with lanterns & visit them that continue in their dregs and say in their hearts: Tush, the Lord will do neither good ner evil. Their goods shall be spoiled and their houses laid waste: they shall build houses and not dwell in them: they shall plant vineyards but not drink the wine thereof. For the great day of the Lord is at hand; it is hard by & cometh on apace. Horrible is the tidings of the Lord’s day; then shall THE GIANT cry out: for that day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble & heaviness, a day of utter destruction & misery, a dark & gloomy day, a cloudy & stormy day, a day of the noise of trumpets & powerful war-cry against the strong cities & high towers. I will bring the people into such vexation, that they have sinned against the Lord. Their blood shall be shed as the dust & their bodies as the mire. Neither their silver ner their gold shall be able to deliver them in the wrothful day of the Lord; but the whole land shall be consumed through the fire of his jealousy: for he shall soon make clean riddance of all them that dwell in the land.

Seventy Years of Giant Debauchery’s Reign

In Pilgrim’s Progress J. Bunyan wrote of a cavern where two Giants, Pope and Pagan dwelt. And they had “strown the ground about their residence with the bones of slaughtered pilgrims.” Several decades later, In N. Hawthorne’s day, they no longer lived there at the end of the valley. "But into their deserted cave another terrible giant has thrust himself, and makes it his business to seize upon honest travellers and fatten them for his table with plentiful meals of smoke, mist, moonshine, raw potatoes, and sawdust. He is a German by birth, and is called Giant Transcendentalist; but as to his form, his features, his substance, and his nature generally, it is the chief peculiarity of this huge miscreant that neither he for himself, nor anybody for him, has ever been able to describe them. As we rushed by the cavern’s mouth we caught a hasty glimpse of him, looking somewhat like an ill-proportioned figure, but considerably more like a heap of fog and duskiness. He shouted after us, but in so strange a phraseology that we knew not what he meant, nor whether to be encouraged or affrighted.”

Giant wisp and clouds

N. Hawthorne’s Giant is the great, great grandparent of today’s giant. But the stalwart figure of his successor looms even greater. This is the Giant Debauchery.

After nearly seventy years from the time he was born, another person taking the name of Pilgrim, is ready (with faith in God and the help of God’s word) to tell about his encounters with the Giant. And to tell how he sizes him up in order to confront his old enemy, inasmuch as faith and the gospel will permit him. The giant threatens death; takes good and mixes with bad, twists it and makes evil; enslaves even youth and children; and takes away the very things that are necessary for a wholesome life.

Three butterflies
I pray not for them alone: but for them also which shall believe on me through their preaching, that they all may be one, as you Father are in me, and I in thee, that they may be also one in us, that the world may believe that you have sent me. And that glory that you gave me, I have given them, that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that you have sent me, and have loved them, as you have loved me. (John 17)

A large number of passengers were already at the station house awaiting the departure of the cars. By the aspect and demeanor of these persons it was easy to judge that the feelings of the community had undergone a very favorable change in reference to the celestial pilgrimage. It would have done Bunyan’s heart good to see it. Instead of a lonely and ragged man, with a huge burden on his back, plodding along sorrowfully on foot while the whole city hooted after him, here were parties of the first gentry and most respectable people in the neighborhood setting forth towards the Celestial City as cheerfully as if the pilgrimage were merely a summer tour. Among the gentlemen were characters of deserved eminence — magistrates, politicians, and men of wealth, by whose example religion could not but be greatly recommended to their meaner brethren. In the ladies’ apartment, too, I rejoiced to distinguish some of those flowers of fashionable society who are so well fitted to adorn the most elevated circles of the Celestial City. There was much pleasant conversation about the news of the day, topics of business, and politics, or the lighter matters of amusement; while religion, though indubitably the main thing at heart, was thrown tastefully into the background. Even an infidel would have heard little or nothing to shock his sensibility.

One great convenience of the new method of going on pilgrimage I must not forget to mention. Our enormous burdens, instead of being carried on our shoulders as had been the custom of old, were all snugly deposited in the baggage car, and, as I was assured, would be delivered to their respective owners at the journey’s end. Another thing, likewise, the benevolent reader will be delighted to understand. It may be remembered that there was an ancient feud between Prince Beelzebub and the keeper of the wicket gate, and that the adherents of the former distinguished personage were accustomed to shoot deadly arrows at honest pilgrims while knocking at the door. This dispute, much to the credit as well of the illustrious potentate above mentioned as of the worthy and enlightened directors of the railroad, has been pacifically arranged on the principle of mutual compromise. The prince’s subjects are now pretty numerously employed about the station house, some in taking care of the baggage, others in collecting fuel, feeding the engines, and such congenial occupations; and I can conscientiously affirm that persons more attentive to their business, more willing to accommodate, or more generally agreeable to the passengers, are not to be found on any railroad. Every good heart must surely exult at so satisfactory an arrangement of an immemorial difficulty.

“Where is Mr. Greatheart?” inquired I. “Beyond a doubt the directors have engage that famous old champion to be chief conductor on the railroad?”

“Why, no,” said Mr. Smooth-it-away, with a dry cough. “He was offered the situation of brakeman; but, to tell you the truth, our friend Greatheart has grown preposterously stiff and narrow in his old age. He has so often guided pilgrims over the road on foot that he considers it a sin to travel in any other fashion. Besides, the old fellow had entered so heartily into the ancient feud with Prince Beelzebub that he would have been perpetually at blows or ill language with some of the prince’s subjects, and thus have embroiled us anew. So, on the whole, we were not sorry when honest Greatheart went off to the Celestial City in a huff and left us at liberty to choose a more suitable and accommodating man. Yonder comes the engineer of the train. You will probably recognize him at once.”

The engine at this moment took its station in advance of the cars, looking, I must confess, much more like a sort of mechanical demon that would hurry us to the infernal regions that a laudable contrivance for smoothing our way to the Celestial City. On its top sat a personage almost enveloped in smoke and flame, which, not to startle the reader, appeared to gush from his own mouth and stomach as well as from the engine’s brazen abdomen.

“Do my eyes deceive me? “ cried I. “What on earth is this! A living creature? If so, he is own brother to the engine he rides upon!”

“Poh, poh, you are obtuse!” said Mr. Smooth-it-away, with a hearty laugh. “Don’t you know Apollyon, Christian’s old enemy, with whom he fought so fierce a battle in the Valley of Humiliation? He was the very fellow to manage the engine; and so we have reconciled him to the custom of going on pilgrimage, and engaged him as chief engineer.”

“Bravo, bravo!” exclaimed I, with irrepressible enthusiasm; “this shows the liberality of the age; this proves if anything can, that all musty prejudices are in a fair way to be obliterated. And how will Christian rejoice to hear of this happy transformation of his old antagonist! I promise myself great pleasure in informing him of it when we reach the Celestial City.”

The passengers being all comfortably seated, we now rattled away merrily, accomplishing a greater distance in ten minutes than Christian probably trudged over in a day. It was laughable, while we glanced along, as it were, at the tail of a thunderbolt, to observe two dusty foot travellers in the old pilgrim guise, with cockle shell and staff, their mystic rolls of parchment in their hands and their intolerable burdens on their backs. The preposterous obstinacy of these honest people in persisting to groan and stumble along the difficult pathway rather than take advantage of modern improvements, excited great mirth among our wise brotherhood. We greeted the two pilgrims with many pleasant gibes and a roar of laughter; whereupon they gazed at us with such woful and absurdly compassionate visages that our merriment grew tenfold more obstreperous. Apollyon also entered heartily into the fun, and contrived to flirt the smoke and flame of the engine, or of his own breath, into their faces, and envelop them in an atmosphere of scalding steam. These little practical jokes amused us mightily, and doubtless afforded the pilgrims the gratification of considering themselves martyrs.

At some distance from the railroad Mr. Smooth-it-away pointed to a large, antique edifice, which, he observed, was a tavern of long standing, and had formerly been a noted stopping place for pilgrims. In Bunyan’s road book it is mentioned as the Interpreter’s House.

“I have long had a curiosity to visit that old mansion,” remarked I.

“It is not one of our stations, as you perceive,” said my companion. “The keeper was violently opposed to the railroad; and well he might be, as the track left his house of entertainment on one side, and thus was pretty certain to deprive him of all his reputable customers. But the foot-path still passes his door; and the old gentleman now and then receives a call from some simple traveller, and entertains him with fare as old-fashioned as himself.”

Before our talk on this subject came to a conclusion we were rushing by the place where Christian’s burden fell from his shoulders at the sight of the Cross. This served as a theme for Mr. Smooth-it-away, Mr. Live-for-the-world, Mr. Hide-sin-in-the-heart, Mr. Scaly-conscience, and a knot of gentlemen from the town of Shun-repentance, to descant upon the inestimable advantages resulting from the safety of our baggage. Myself, and all the passengers indeed, joined with great unanimity in this view of the matter; for our burdens were rich in many things esteemed precious throughout the world; and, especially, we each of us possessed a great variety of favorite Habits, which we trusted would not be out of fashion even in the polite circles of the Celestial City. It would have been a sad spectacle to see such an assortment of valuable articles tumbling into the sepulchre. Thus pleasantly conversing on the favorable circumstances of our position as compared with those of past pilgrims and of narrow minded ones at the present day, we soon found ourselves at the foot of the Hill Difficulty. Through the very heart of this rocky mountain a tunnel has been constructed of most admirable architecture, with a lofty arch and a spacious double track; so that, unless the earth and rocks should chance to crumble down, it will remain an eternal monument of the builder’s skill and enterprise. It is a great though incidental advantage that the materials from the heart of the Hill Difficulty have been employed in filling up the Valley of Humiliation, thus obviating the necessity of descending into that disagreeable and unwholesome hollow.

“This is a wonderful improvement indeed,” said I. “Yet I should have been glad of an opportunity to visit the Palace Beautiful and be introduced to the charming young ladies — Miss Prudence, Miss Piety, Miss Charity, and the rest — who have the kindness to entertain pilgrims there.”

“Young ladies!” cried Mr. Smooth-it-away, as soon as he could speak for laughing. “And charming young ladies! Why, my dear fellow, they are old maids, every soul of them — prim, starched, dry, and angular; and not one of them, I will venture to say, has altered so much as the fashion of her gown since the days of Christian’s pilgrimage.”

“Ah, well,” said I, much comforted, “then I can very readily dispense with their acquaintance.”

 

In the early days, Pilgrim-to-be, who was then just a young child, treaded upon a way that was nearby to a Giant’s cavern (the modern-day, Giant Debauchery.) On that frightful path, little Pilgrim-to-be meets the Giant and senses the terror, that someday later, he is destined to suffer. Pilgrim-to-be envisions that he is to be nearly eaten and swallowed up in the Giant’s vicious jaws. But Pilgrim-to-be does not have to wait until he is older to begin suffering from other sorts of evils inflicted by the powerful Giant. Before the time of grade school Pilgrim-to-be’s dad disappears, leaving only his mom (now across the country from her family and childhood home) to raise and care for a house full of children at the hand of near poverty. Pilgrim-to-be’s mother imbibes a long draught from the water of everlasting life and, thus, passes on her faith to her growing children. She is left in a duplex home near a small mission church. Just as she did as a child, she goes to church and takes her family. Through the years of trials and difficulties she manages her money, pays off her unjust debts caused by delinquent children, stays out of debt, and saves a little, even though that too, gets stolen. She has a reputation in the community for her cleanliness and the house’s orderliness. She does what she thinks is right in practical matters — also in the matter of faith. She is baptized and becomes a church member. She has her own sayings that help to bring her through the dark and desperate trials, “You just have to forget about it and go on.” As a child, Pilgrim-to-be sees his mother as a sort of shamefully unattractive person in appearance. As a young man his estimation of her changes into loving appreciation and allows him to see her as lovely and beautiful: a person with the deepest integrity, who raises so many children and helps raise so many grandchildren. Finally, the Giant Debauchery’s devastation is overcome through the work of Providence. The woeful Giant cripples a home and leaves a family wanting and in need; but God heals and provides. Childhood thoughts are stigmatized with being inferior and unwholesome; but God eventually makes faithful ones whole, and gives rich blessing and even abundance to those who look to him to provide. It is the timeliness and love amidst the darkness and onslaught of evil that are attributes of abundant and everlasting life, even in this world.

Besides a crippling of his home-life, the Giant Debauchery comes to this small toddler, Pilgrim-to-be, and slaps his chains on him as he wants to enslave him with twisted pleasures and a mixture of goodness and wrong. Though the boy, Pilgrim-to-be, believes in God he does not grow up with the same beneficence as Christ Jesus, who the scriptures say, “Grew in wisdom, stature and favor with God and man.” The Giant Debauchery gives the child Pilgrim-to-be a misguided imagination of what pleasure and love is, right from the start. As the youngest child of so many children, Pilgrim-to-be is, in some ways like an only child. He is left on his own to learn about love. In these lessons he is misguided by his own confusing experiences and the unwise teachings of others. In some slight ways, he picks up the Giant Debauchery’s tool of deceit to help with his lessons. Way before the days of grade school Pilgrim-to-be could proceed from innocent curiostiy to participate in risqué behavior. If there were no Giant Debauchery and guilty shame of society to occasionally over-censor nature in its innocence and all the while under-censor corruption of nature with images and narratives, children could have their curiosity satisfied in acceptable ways. As he grows older, he comes to a complete misunderstanding of love and how he is given life in the first place. The Giant Debauchery has trained this small child that the love he should know as a part of the life of his own parents is, instead, — of itself a gross evil, therefore something wrong. The Giant has taught him that love is wrong even though it is the Divine basis of his being. Little Pilgrim-to-be does not yet know to distinguish between Love from God and love stolen from God. When his teenage sister asks mistaken child Pilgrim-to-be, “How do preachers and missionaries have children?” He returns the nonsense that can come from that age and era, “They take pills or something.”

Since the Giant Debauchery is a ruler and tyrant, he dictates to the stores that they should reinforce the evil imagination he gives by tempting children with alluring but forbidden images. Grade school children, like Pilgrim-to-be, go, even to the common grocery store, and there on the magazine racks, with a little seclusion from employees and other customers, the closed pictures of emotional love (that are similarly moving like the love that God is the author and creator of) are easily and in a hidden way opened up and overwhelm the small children with their beauty and pleasure. But they are destined to grow twisted in their thinking because this pleasure is in defiance of God. The same magazines disparage and blaspheme the God whose love and pleasure this really stems from. It is wrenched from its divine source and accredited solely to nature and taken in an illegal way. This love and pleasure (in its true form), small Pilgrim-to-be, does not know, is God’s gift for a lifetime and comes with endurance and faithfulness. The love that Giant Debauchery has stolen and gives to small Pilgrim-to-be, is the love of selfish-fulfillment, unfaithfulness, fornication, whoredom and adultery. The Giant Debauchery lays a heavy burden of guilt on Pilgrim-to-be for fulfilling his pleasure with an appetite for stolen love. The child knows nothing of God’s power to fulfill love. Instead he is overwhelmed and filled with guilt and comes to believe that all such love is evil. The magazines there on the racks for little children, besides the pictures, are filled with lewd narration, jokes made about pleasure, and profanity. Pilgrim-to-be nor his peers can distinguish the bad from the good, so, because of the associated burden of guilt, all becomes bad. When Pilgrim grows to be a teenager or young man his heart is wounded, and love is more difficult to manage. Add to this more of the Giant’s rule of Debauchery in the lives of those who influence small Pilgrim-to-be and now the young man will be easily conquered by the short-sighted pleasure and the misunderstanding of stolen love. Only a few young persons can keep their heart intact to wait patiently until that wondrous love is given by Providence and to honor God and possess the strong faithfulness and thanksgiving that comes with it. As his biography attests, John Bunyan was one such person who could.

If only little Pilgrim-to-be could have held on to such purity he would have dispelled much misery in the years of his life to come. To this child the Giant Debauchery, the growing tyrant of the age, brings additional crippling. Young Pilgrim-to-be lapses into the habit of laziness. His shoulders grow bowed and his back stooped. His appearance is not robust and strong. He has picked up a habit to ruin the appearance of his teeth by making them grow out of shape. Then there is a poisonous form of kindness in the land where he grows up, a dark celebration called Halloween. His family is in near poverty, at times. They can no way afford to pay a dentist and proper care for teeth is not taken. Trick-or-treat brings misery out of the full grocery bags of candy that rot little Pilgrim-to-be’s teeth. It is only the hope that this little one has in God that can eventually restore and save from being crippled and broken in body and soul.

In the years to come, “Ancient moralities are now reckoned as musty prejudices to be obliterated.” Thus, Giant Debauchery usurps control of the course of the world.

cowgirl

The respectable Apollyon was now putting on the steam at a prodigious rate, anxious, perhaps, to get rid of the unpleasant reminiscences connected with the spot where he had so disastrously encountered Christian. Consulting Mr. Bunyan’s road book, I perceive that we must now be within a few miles of the Valley of the Shadow of Death, into which doleful region, at our present speed, we should plunge much sooner than seemed at all desirable. In truth, I expected nothing better than to find myself in the ditch on one side or the quag on the other; but on communicating my apprehensions to Mr. Smooth-it-away, he assured me that the difficulties of this passage, even in its worst condition, had been vastly exaggerated, and that, in its present state of improvement, I might consider myself as safe as on any railroad in Christendom.

Even while we were speaking the train shot into the entrance of this dreaded Valley. Though I plead guilty to some foolish palpitations of the heart during our headlong rush over the causeway here constructed, yet it were unjust to withhold the highest encomiums on the boldness of its original conception and the ingenuity of those who executed it. It was gratifying, likewise, to observe how much care had been taken to dispel the everlasting gloom and supply the defect of cheerful sunshine, not a ray of which has ever penetrated among these awful shadows. For this purpose, the inflammable gas which exudes plentifully from the soil is collected by means of pipes, and thence communicated to a quadruple row of lamps along the whole extent of the passage. Thus a radiance has been created even out of the fiery and sulphurous curse that rests forever upon the valley — a radiance hurtful, however, to the eyes, and somewhat bewildering, as I discovered by the changes which it wrought in the visages of my companions. In this respect, as compared with natural daylight, there is the same difference as between truth and falsehood; but if the reader have ever travelled through the dark Valley, he will have learned to be thankful for any light that he could get — if not from the sky above, then from the blasted soil beneath. Such was the red brilliancy of these lamps that they appeared to build walls of fire on both sides of the track, between which we held our course at lightning speed, while a reverberating thunder filled the alley with its echoes. Had the engine run off the track, — a catastrophe, it is whispered, by no means unprecedented, — the bottom-less pit, if there be any such place, would undoubtedly have received us. Just as some dismal fooleries of this nature had made my heart quake there came a tremendous shriek, careering along the valley as if a thousand devils had burst their lungs to utter it, but which proved to be merely the whistle of the engine on arriving at a stopping place.

 

The book of the Prophet Nahum. (from the third chapter)

Wo to the bloodthirsty city, which is all full of lies & robbery & will not leave off from ravishing. There a man may hear scourging, rushing, the noise of the wheels, the crying of the horses & the rolling of the chariots. There the horsemen get up with naked swords & glistering spears: There lyeth a multitude slain and a great heap of dead bodies: There is no end of dead corpses, yea men fall upon their bodies: And that for the great and manifold whoredom of the fair and beautiful harlot: which is a mistress of witchcraft, yea & selleth the people through her whoredom and the nations through her witchcraft.

 

The lxiiij. Psalm.
To the chanter, a Psalm of David.

Hear my voice, O God; in my complaint preserve my life from fear of the enemy. Hide me from the gathering together of the forward, from the heap of wicked doers. Which whet their tongues like a sword and shoot with their venomous words like as with arrows. That they may privily hurt the innocent & suddenly to hit him without any fear. They have devised mischief & communed among themselves how they may lay snares: Tush (say they) who shall see them? They imagine wickedness & keep it secret among themselves, every man in the deep of his heart.

But God shall suddenly shoot with an arrow, that they shall be wounded.

Dog

The spot where we had now paused is the same that our friend Bunyan — a truthful man, but infected with many fantastic notions — has designated, in terms plainer than I like to repeat, as the mouth of the infernal region. This, however, must be a mistake, inasmuch as Mr. Smooth-it-away, while we remained in the smoky and lurid cavern, took occasion to prove that Tophet has not even a metaphorical existence. The place, he assured us, is no other than the crater of a half-extinct volcano, in which the directors had caused forges to be set up for the manufacture of railroad iron. Hence, also, is obtained a plentiful supply of fuel for the use of the engines. Whoever had gazed into the dismal obscurity of the broad cavern mouth, whence ever and anon darted huge tongues of dusky flame, and had seen the strange, half-shaped monsters, and visions of faces horribly grotesque, into which the smoke seemed to wreathe itself, and had heard the awful murmurs, and shrieks, and deep, shuddering whispers of the blast, sometimes forming themselves into words almost articulate, would have seized upon Mr. Smooth-it-away’s comfortable explanation as greedily as we did. The inhabitants of the cavern, moreover, were unlovely personages, dark, smoke-begrimed generally deformed, with misshapen feet, and a glow of dusky redness in their eyes as if their hearts had caught fire and were blazing out of the upper windows. It struck me as a peculiarity that the laborers at the forge and those who brought fuel to the engine, when they began to draw short breath, positively emitted smoke from their mouth and nostrils.

Among the idlers about the train, most of whom were puffing cigars which they had lighted at the flame of the crater, I was perplexed to notice several who, to my certain knowledge, had heretofore set forth by railroad for the Celestial City. They looked dark, wild, and smoky, with a singular resemblance, indeed, to the native inhabitants, like whom, also, they had a disagreeable propensity to ill-natured gibes and sneers, the habit of which had wrought a settled contortion of the visages. Having been on speaking terms with one of these persons, — an indolent, good-for-nothing fellow, who went by the name of Take-it-easy, — I called him, and inquired what was his business there.

“Did you not start,” said I, “for the Celestial City?”

“That’s a fact,” said Mr. Take-it-easy, carelessly puffing some smoke into my eyes. “But I heard such bad accounts that I never took pains to climb the hill on which the city stands. No business doing, no fun going on, nothing to drink, and no smoking allowed, and a thrumming of church music from morning till night. I would not stay in such a place if they offered me house-room and living free.”

“But, my good Mr. Take-it-easy,” cried I, “why take up your residence here, of all places in the world?”

“O, said the loafer, with a grin, “it is very warm here-abouts, and I meet with plenty of old acquaintances, and altogether the place suits me. I hope to see you back again some day soon. A pleasant journey to you.”

While he was speaking the bell of the engine rang, and we dashed away, after dropping a few passengers, but receiving no new ones. Rattling onward through the Valley, we were dazzled with the fiercely gleaming gas lamps, as before. But sometimes, in the dark of intense brightness, grim faces, that bore the aspect and expression of individual sins, or evil passions, seemed to thrust themselves through the veil of light, glaring upon us, and stretching forth a great, dusky hand, as if to impede our progress. I almost thought that they were my own sins that appalled me there. These were freaks of imagination — nothing more, certainly — mere delusions, which I ought to be heartily ashamed of; but all through the Dark Valley I was tormented, and pestered, and dolefully bewildered with the same kind of waking dreams. The mephitic gases of that region intoxicate the brain. As the light of natural day, however, began to struggle with the glow of the lanterns, these vain imaginations lost their vividness, and finally vanished with the first ray of sunshine that greeted our escape from the Valley of the Shadow of Death Ere we had gone a mile beyond it I could well-nigh have taken my oath that this whole gloomy passage was a dream.

At the end of the valley, as John Bunyan mentions, is a cavern, where, in his days, dwelt two cruel giants, Pope and Pagan, who had strown the ground about their residence with the bones of slaughtered pilgrims. These vile old troglodytes are no longer there; but into their deserted cave another terrible giant has thrust himself, and makes it his business to seize upon honest travellers and fatten them for his table with plentiful meals of smoke, mist, moonshine, raw potatoes, and sawdust. He is a German by birth, and is called Giant Transcendentalist; but as to his form, his features, his substance, and his nature generally, it is the chief peculiarity of this huge miscreant that neither he for himself, nor anybody for him, has ever been able to describe them. As we rushed by the cavern’s mouth we caught a hasty glimpse of him, looking somewhat like an ill-proportioned figure, but considerably more like a heap of fog and duskiness. He shouted after us, but in so strange a phraseology that we knew not what he meant, nor whether to be encouraged or affrighted.

It was late in the day when the train thundered into the ancient city of Vanity, where Vanity Fair is still at the height of prosperity, and exhibits an epitome of whatever is brilliant, gay, and fascinating beneath the sun. As I purposed to make a considerable stay here, it gratified me to learn that there is no longer the want of harmony between the town’s people and pilgrims, which impelled the former to such lamentable mistaken measures as the persecution of Christian and the fiery martyrdom of Faithful. On the contrary, as the new railroad brings with it great trade and a constant influx of strangers, the lord of Vanity Fair is its chief patron, and the capitalists of the city are among the largest stockholders. Many passengers stop to take their pleasure or make their profit in the Fair, instead of going onward to the Celestial City. Indeed, such are the charms of the place that people often affirm it to be the true and only heaven; stoutly contending that there is no other, that those who seek further are mere dreamers, and that, if the fabled brightness of the Celestial City lay but a bare mile beyond the gates of Vanity, they would not be fools enough to go thither. Without subscribing to these perhaps exaggerated encomiums, I can truly say that my abode in the city was mainly agreeable, and my intercourse with the inhabitants productive of much amusement and instruction.

The book of the Prophet Daniel.
The v. Chapter.

King Belshazzar made a great banquet to his thousand Lords: with all these thousand he made great cheer; & when he was drunken with wine he commanded to bring him the golden & silver vessels, which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple at Jerusalem: that the king and his lords with his queen & concubines might drink thereout.

So they brought the golden vessel that was taken out of the temple of the Lord’s house at Jerusalem. Then the king and his lords with his queen & concubines drunk out of them. They drunk wine; and praised their Idols of gold, silver, copper, iron, wood and stone.

In the very same hour there appeared fingers, as it had been of a man’s hand writing, right over against the candlestick upon the plain wall in the king’s palace: & the king saw the palm of the hand that wrote. Then changed the king his countenance and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his body shook and his knees smote one against the other. Wherefore the king cried mightily that they should bring him the charmers, Chaldeans and conjurers of devils. The king spake also to the wise men of Babylon, and said: Whoso can read this writing and shew me the plain meaning thereof: shall be clothed with purple, have a chain of gold about his neck and rule the third part of my kingdom.

Upon this, came all the king’s wise men: but they could neither read the writing, ner shew the king what it signified. Then was the king sore afraid insomuch that his color changed, and his lords were sore vexed. So by reason of this matter that had happened to the king & his lords, the queen went up herself into the banquet house and spake unto the king, saying: O king, God save thy life forever: Let not the thoughts trouble thee; and let not thy countenance be changed. For why? there is a man in thy kingdom that hath the spirit of the holy gods within him, as it was seen in thy father’s days. He hath understanding & wisdom like the gods. Yea the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father made this man chief of the soothsayers, charmers, Chaldeans and devil conjurers: because that such an abundant spirit, knowledge and wisdom (to expound dreams, to open secrets & to declare hard doubts) was found in him: yea even in Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Let this same Daniel be sent for, and he shall tell what it meaneth.

Then was Daniel brought before the king. So the king spake unto Daniel & said: Art thou that Daniel, one of the prisoners of Judah, whom my father the king brought out of Jewry: I have heard speak of thee, that thou hast the spirit of the holy gods, experience and understanding, and that there hath been great wisdom found in thee. Now have there been brought me wise & cunning charmers to read this writing and to shew me the meaning thereof: But they could not tell me what this matter signified. Then heard I say that thou canst expound dark things and declare hard doubts. Well then, if thou canst read this writing and shew me the meaning thereof: thou shalt be clothed with purple, have a chain of gold about thy neck & rule the third part of my kingdom.

Daniel answered & said before the king: As for thy rewards, keep them to thy self, or give thy rich gifts to another: yet not the less, I will read the writing unto the king and shew him the interpretation thereof. O king, God the highest gave unto Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the dignity of a king, with worship & honor: so that all people, kindreds & tongues stood in awe & fear of him, by reason of the high estate that he had lent him. For why, he slew whom he would: he smote whom it pleased him. Again: whom he would, he set up: and whom he list, he put down. But because his heart was so proud and his stomach set so fast unto willfulness: he was deposed from his kingly throne & his majesty was taken from him. He was shot out from among men; his heart was like a beast’s heart and his dwelling was with the wild asses: he was fain to eat grass like an ox and his body was wet with the dew of the heaven: till he knew that the highest had power upon the kingdoms of men and setteth over them whom he list.

And thou his son (O Belshazzar) for all this, hast not submitted thine heart, though thou knewest all these things: but hast magnified thy self above the Lord of heaven, so that the vessels of his house were brought before thee: that thou & thy lords, with thy queen and concubines, might drink wine thereout: And hast praised the Idols of silver and gold, copper and iron, of wood and stone: As for the God in whose hand consisteth thy breath and all thy ways: thou hast not loved him.

Therefore is the palm of this hand sent hither from him, to token up this writing. And this is the scripture that is written up: MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. Now the interpretation of the thing is this: MENE—God hath numbered the kingdom and brought it to an end: TEKEL—thou art weighed in the balance and art found too light: PERES—thy kingdom is dealt in parts and given to the Medes and Persians.

Then commanded Belshazzar to clothe Daniel with purple, to hang a chain of gold about his neck and to make a proclamation concerning him: that he should be the ruler of the third part of his kingdom. The very same night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain and Darius out of Medea took in the kingdom, being lxij. year of age.

Wren

Being naturally of a serious turn, my attention was directed to the solid advantages derivable from a residence here, rather than to the effervescent pleasures which are the grand object with too many visitants. The Christian reader, if he have had no accounts of the city later than Bunyan’s time, will be surprised to hear that almost every street has its church, and that the reverend clergy are nowhere held in higher respect than at Vanity Fair. And well do they deserve such honorable estimation; for the maxims of wisdom and virtue which fall from their lips come from as deep a spiritual source, and tend to as lofty a religious aim, as those of the sagest philosophers of old. In justification of this high praise I need only mention the names of the Rev. Mr. Shallow-deep, the Rev. Mr. Stumble-at-truth, that fine old clerical character the Rev. Mr. This-to-day, who expects shortly to resign his pulpit to the Rev. Mr. That-to-morrow: together with the Rev. Mr. Bewilderment, the Rev. Mr. Clog-the-spirit, and, last and greatest, the Rev. Dr. Wind-of-doctrine. The labors of these eminent divines are aided by those of innumerable lecturers, who diffuse such a various profundity, in all subjects of human or celestial science, that any man may acquire an omnigenous erudition without the trouble of even learning to read. Thus literature is etherealized by assuming for its medium the human voice; and knowledge depositing all its heavier particles, except, doubtless, its gold, becomes exhaled into a sound, which forthwith steals into the ever-open ear of the community. These ingenious methods constitute a sort of machinery, by which thought and study are done to every person’s hand without his putting himself to the slightest inconvenience in the matter. There is another species of machine for the wholesale manufacture of individual morality. This excellent result is effected by societies for all manner of virtuous purposes, with which a man has merely to connect himself, throwing, as it were, his quota of virtue into the common stock, and the president and directors will take care that the aggregate amount be well applied. All these, and other wonderful improvements in ethics, religion, and literature, being made plain to my comprehension by the ingenious Mr. Smooth-it-away, inspired me with a vast admiration of Vanity Fair.

It would fill a volume, in an age of pamphlets, were I to record all my observations in this great capital of human business and pleasure. There was an unlimited range of society — the powerful, the wise, the witty, and the famous in every walk of life; princes, presidents, poets, generals, artists, actors, and philanthropists, — all making their own market at the Fair, and deeming no price too exorbitant for such commodities as hit their fancy. It was well worth one’s while, even if he had no idea of buying or selling, to loiter through the bazaars and observe the various sorts of traffic that were going forward.

Some of the purchasers, I thought, made very foolish bargains. For instance, a young man, having inherited a splendid fortune, laid out a considerable portion of it in the purchase of diseases, and finally spent all the rest for a heavy lot of repentance and a suit of rags. A very pretty girl bartered a heart as clear as crystal, and which seemed her most valuable possession, for another jewel of the same kind, but so worn and defaced as to be utterly worthless. In one shop, there were a great many crowns of laurel and myrtle, which soldiers, authors, statesmen, and various other people pressed eagerly to buy; some purchased these paltry wreaths with their lives, others by a toilsome servitude of years, and many sacrificed whatever was most valuable, yet finally slunk away without the crown. There was a sort of stock or script, called Conscience, which seemed to be in great demand, and would purchase almost anything. Indeed, few rich commodities were to be obtained without paying a heavy sum in this particular stock, and a man’s business was seldom very lucrative unless he knew precisely when and how to throw his hoard of conscience into the market. Yet as this stock was the only thing of permanent value, whoever parted with it was sure to find himself a loser in the long run. Several of the speculations were of a questionable character. Occasionally a member of Congress recruited his pocket by the sale of his constituents; and I was assured that public officers have often sold their country at very moderate prices. Thousands sold their happiness for a whim. Gilded chains were in great demand, and purchased with almost any sacrifice. In truth, those who desired, according to the old adage, to sell anything valuable for a song, might find customers all over the Fair; and there were innumerable messes of pottage, piping hot, for such as chose to buy them with their birthrights. A few articles, however, could not be found genuine at Vanity Fair. If a customer wished to renew his stock of youth the dealers offered him a set of false teeth and an auburn wig; if he demanded peace of mind, they recommended opium or a brandy bottle.

Tracts of land and golden mansions, situate in the Celestial City, were often exchanged, at very disadvantageous rate, for a few years’ lease of small, dismal, inconvenient tenements in Vanity Fair. Prince Beelzebub himself took great interest in this sort of traffic, and sometimes condescended to meddle with smaller matters. I once had the pleasure to see him bargaining with a miser for his soul, which, after much ingenious skirmishing on both sides, his highness succeeded in obtaining at about the value of six-pence. The prince remarked, with a smile, that he was a loser by the transaction.

Day after day, as I walked the streets of Vanity, my manners and deportment became more and more like those of the inhabitants. The place began to seem like home; the idea of pursuing my travels to the Celestial City was almost obliterated from my mind. I was reminded of it, however, by the sight of the same pair of simple pilgrims at whom we had laughed so heartily when Apollyon puffed smoke and steam into their faces at the commencement of our journey. There they stood, amid the densest bustle of Vanity; the dealers offering them their purple and fine linen and jewels, the men of wit and humor gibing at them, a pair of buxom ladies ogling them askance, while the benevolent Mr. Smooth-it-away whispered some of his wisdom at their elbows, and pointed to a newly-erected temple; but there were these worthy simpletons, making the scene look wild and monstrous, merely by their sturdy repudiation of all part in its business or pleasures.

One of them — his name was Stick-to-the-right — perceived in my face, I suppose, a species of sympathy and almost admiration, which, to my own great surprise, I could not help feeling for this pragmatic couple. It prompted him to address me.

“Sir,” inquired he, with a sad, yet mild and kindly voice, “do you call yourself a pilgrim?”

“Yes,” I replied, “my right to that appellation is indubitable. I am merely a sojourner here in Vanity Fair, being bound to the Celestial City by the new railroad.”

“Alas, friend,” rejoined Mr. Stick-to-the-right, “I do assure you, and beseech you to receive the truth of my words, that the whole concern is a bubble. You may travel on it all your lifetime, were you to live thousands of years, and yet never get beyond the limits of Vanity Fair. Yea, though you should deem yourself entering the gates of the blessed city, it will be nothing but a miserable delusion.”

“The Lord of the Celestial City,” began the other pilgrim, whose name was Mr. Foot-it-to-heaven, “has refused, and will ever refuse, to grant an act of incorporation for this railroad: and, unless that be obtained, no passenger can ever hope to enter his dominions. Wherefore every man who buys a ticket must lay his account with losing the purchase money, which is the value of his own soul.”

“Poh, nonsense!” said Mr. Smooth-it-away, taking my arm and leading me off, “these fellows ought to be indicted for a libel. If the law stood as it once did in Vanity Fair we should see them grinning through the iron bars of the prison window.”

This incident made a considerable impression on my mind, and contributed with other circumstances to indispose me to a permanent residence in the city of Vanity; although, of course, I was not simple enough to give up my original plan of gliding along easily and commodiously by railroad. Still, I grew anxious to be gone. There was one strange thing that troubled me. Amid the occupations or amusements of the Fair, nothing was more common than for a person — whether at feast, theatre, or church, or trafficking for wealth and honors, or whatever he might be doing, and however unseasonable the interruption — suddenly to vanish like a soap bubble, and be never more seen of his fellows; and so accustomed were the latter to such little accidents that they went on with their business as quietly as if nothing had happened. But it was otherwise with me.

Finally, after a pretty long residence at the Fair, I resumed my journey towards the Celestial City, still with Mr. Smooth-it-away at my side. At a short distance beyond the suburbs of Vanity we passed the ancient silver mine, of which Demas was the first discoverer, and which is now wrought to great advantage supplying nearly all the coined currency of the world. A little further onward was the spot where Lot’s wife had stood for ages under the semblance of a pillar of salt. Curious travellers have long since carried it away piecemeal. Had all regrets been punished as rigorously as this poor dame’s were, my yearning for the relinquished delights of Vanity Fair might have produced a similar change in my own corporeal substance, and left me a warning to future pilgrims.

The next remarkable object was a large edifice, constructed of moss-grown stone, but in a modern and airy style of architecture. The engine came to a pause in its vicinity, with the usual tremendous shriek.

“This was formerly the castle of the redoubted giant Despair,” observed Mr. Smooth-it-away; “but since his death Mr. Flimsy-faith has repaired it, and keeps an excellent house of entertainment here. It is one of our stopping places.”

“It seems but slightly put together,” remarked I, looking at the frail yet ponderous walls. “I do not envy Mr. Flimsy-faith his habitation. Some day it will thunder down upon the heads of the occupants.”

“We shall escape, at all events,” said Mr. Sooth-it-away, “for Apollyon is putting on the steam again.” The road now plunged into a gorge of the Delectable Mountains, and traversed the field where in former ages the blind men wandered and stumbled among the tombs. One of these ancient tombstones had been thrust across the track by some malicious person, and gave the train of cars a terrible jolt. Far up the rugged side of a mountain I perceived a rusty iron door, half overgrown with bushes and creeping plants, but with smoke issuing from its crevices.

“Is that,” inquired I, “the very door in the hill-side which the shepherds assured Christian was a by-way to hell?”

“That was a joke on the part of the shepherds,” said Mr. Smooth-it-away, with a smile. “It is neither more nor less that the door of a cavern which they use as a smoke house for the preparation of mutton hams.”

My recollections of the journey are now, for a little space, dim and confused, inasmuch as a singular drowsiness here overcame me, owing to the fact that we were passing over the Enchanted Ground, the air of which encourages a disposition to sleep. I awoke, however, as soon as we crossed the borders of the peasant land of Beulah. All the passengers were rubbing their eyes, comparing watches, and congratulating one another on the prospect of arriving so seasonably at the journey’s end. The sweet breezes of this happy clime came refreshingly to our nostrils; we beheld the glimmering gush of silver fountains, overhung by trees of beautiful foliage and delicious fruit, which were propagated by grafts from the celestial gardens. Once, as we dashed onward like a hurricane, there was a flutter of wings and the bright appearance of an angel in the air, speeding forth on some heavenly mission. The engine now announced the close vicinity of the final station house by one last and horrible scream, in which there seemed to be distinguishable every kind of wailing and woe, and bitter fierceness of wrath, all mixed up with the wild laughter of a devil or a madman. Throughout our journey, at every stopping place, Apollyon had exercised his ingenuity in screwing the most abominable sounds out of the whistle of the steam engine; but in this closing effort he outdid himself and created an infernal uproar, which, besides disturbing the peaceful inhabitants of Beulah, must have sent its discord even through the celestial gates.

While the horrid clamor was still ringing in our ears we heard an exulting strain, as if a thousand instruments of music, with height, and depth, and sweetness in their tones, at once tender and triumphant, were struck in unison, to greet the approach of some illustrious hero who had fought the good fight and won a glorious victory and was come to lay aside his battered arms forever. Looking to ascertain what might be the occasion of this glad harmony, I perceived, on alighting from the cars, that a multitude of shining ones had assembled on the other side of the river, to welcome two poor pilgrims, who were just emerging from its depths. They were the same whom Apollyon and ourselves had persecuted with taunts, and gibes, and scalding steam, at the commencement of our journey — the same whose unworldly aspect and impressive words had stirred my conscience amid the wild revellers of Vanity Fair.

“How amazingly well those men have got on,” cried I to Mr. Smooth-it-away. “I wish we were secure of as good a reception.”

“Never fear, never fear!” answered my friend. “Come, make haste; the ferry-boat will be off directly, and in three minutes you will be on the other side of the river. No doubt you will find coaches to carry you up to the city gates.”

A steam ferry-boat, the last improvement on this important route, lay at the river side, puffing, snorting, and emitting all those other disagreeable utterances which betoken the departure to be immediate. I hurried on board with the rest of the passengers, most of whom were in great perturbation; some bawling out for their baggage; some tearing their hair and exclaiming that the boat would explode or sink; some already pale with the heaving of the stream; some gazing affrighted at the ugly aspect of the steersman; and some still dizzy with the slumberous influences of the Enchanted Ground. Looking back to the shore, I was amazed to discern Mr. Smooth-it-away waving his hand in token of farewell.

“Don’t you go over to the Celestial City?” exclaimed I.

“O, no!” answered he with a queer smile, and that same disagreeable contortion of visage which I had remarked in the inhabitants of the Dark Valley. “O, no! I have come thus far only for the sake of your pleasant company. Goodby! We shall meet again.”

And then did my excellent friend Mr. Smooth-it-away laugh outright, in the midst of which cachinnation a smoke-wreath issued from his mouth and nostrils, while a twinkle of lurid flame darted out of either eye, proving indubitably that his heart was all of a red blaze. The impudent fiend! To deny the existence of Tophet, when he felt its fiery tortures raging within his breast. I rushed to the side of the boat, intending to fling myself on shore; but the wheels, as they began their revolutions, threw a dash of spray over me so cold — so deadly cold, with the chill that will never leave those waters until Death be drowned in his own river — that, with a shiver and a heartquake I awoke. Thank heaven it was a Dream!

 

FATHER

About two score and ten years ago a teenager’s travels brought him across a mountain highway for the summer’s work in a neighboring state. That time of year the car’s windows would be rolled down and as always, the radio would be playing classic country music. The journey started on an interstate, then the route divided and the travel across country highways began. Only small towns and winding roads were on this part of the journey. Then the terrain began changing into the appearance of high mountain country with famous mountain ranges in the distance. The highway made a long, steep climb reaching up into the mountains with thick forests of pine, fir and aspen on both sides. The road levelled out and the land turned into a place of scenic landmarks: a reservoir for camping, fishing and water sports; swift running pure rivers, clear as crystal, for fishing and canoeing; mountain bridges across the river with places for stopping and a setting for tourist outposts. Before the final few miles to the border and the destination there was a cutoff to a mountain lake and high mountains in the background. A couple of service stations and curio shops were on the highway at the cutoff. Then immediately came a highway junction. The road onward took another rise and steep climb and crossed some mountainous country before coming into a heavily forested flat land just after the border.

The teenager would then, and even years later, retain memories that to all others the same things would leave no note of. On that final climb of the highway just before the border, a new song came on the radio. In those days, the release of a new song was awaited with greater anticipation to listeners that were moved by that sort of music. He turned up the volume full blast and listened for the first time to “A Boy Named Sue,” recorded live at San Quentin prison. The words and music of the song were mixed with the sounds of prison. They told the story with comedy and crudeness how a brawling son was reconciled to his no-account, toughness-instilling dad. The song became another hit and Johnny Cash became the biggest selling artist for Columbia records that year.

After the passing of nearly a couple of decades, the teenager, now a married man and dad, would come across the significant story of fatherly relationships in various forms. One way was “Field of Dreams,” starring Kevin Costner. It tells how a son, who was for many years at odds with his dad, comes to have a high regard for him once again. In the story the son hears an inner voice (audible for the movie’s audience) that says, “If you build it, they will come.” He carries out the directive by building a professional baseball field on his farm even though it is in a remote location and, furthermore, he must plow under his cash crop to do so. When it is done and the events unfold his then deceased dad appears on the completed field as a youthful baseball player from a bygone era. Shoeless Joe Jackson and other famous players of his time also appear as they materialize out of the tall corn and come walking out on the edge of the outfield. Then they keep returning with even more players to practice with until the roster of players brought back from death is full enough to play a game with two opposing teams.

Then again after this movie came another movie with a reconciliation story. The movie was “Contact” with Jodie Foster. It tells of an extraterrestrial reconciliation between daughter and father when the final destination of her space journey lands her on the beautiful landscape and sandy terrain of a heavenly beach. She finds her dad already living there by preceding her space travel with his own through the semblance of death. In circumstances brought about by some of the greatest powers of the universe this daughter and dad meet and embrace. After seeing these movies, the teenager, now become a married man and dad, concluded that such matters where fatherly relationships were concerned were emotionally “dealing with something that strikes a very deep level.”

Indeed, there is nothing so wonderful to depend upon as a father’s care!

We have learned from Freud and others about those distortions in character and errors in thought which result from a man’s early conflicts with his father. Far the most important thing that we can know about George MacDonald is that his whole life illustrates the opposite process. An almost perfect relationship with his father was the earthly root of all his wisdom. From his own father, he said, he first learned that Fatherhood must be at the core of the universe. He was thus prepared in an unusual way to teach that religion in which the relation of Father and Son is of all relations the most central.

His father appears to have been a remarkable man—a man hard and tender and humourous all at once, in the old fashion of Scotch Christianity. He had had his leg cut off above the knee in the days before chloroform, refusing the customary dose of preliminary whiskey, and ‘only for one moment, when the knife first transfixed the flesh, did he turn his face away and ejaculate a faint, sibilant whiff.’ He had quelled with a fantastic joke at his own expense an ugly riot in which he was being burned in effigy. He forbade his son to touch a saddle until he had learned to ride well without one. He advised him ‘to give over the fruitless game of poetry.’ He asked from him, and obtained, a promise to renounce tobacco at the age of twenty-three. On the other hand he objected to grouse shooting on the score of cruelty and had in general a tenderness for animals not very usual among farmers more than a hundred years ago; and his son reports that he never, as boy or man, asked him for anything without getting what he asked. Doubtless this tells us as much about the son’s character as the father’s. ‘He who seeks the Father more than anything he can give, is likely to have what he asks, for he is not likely to ask amiss.’ The theological maxim is rooted in the experiences of the author’s childhood. This is what may be called the ‘anti-Freudian predicament’ in operation.

(C. S. Lewis, “Introduction to Phantastes” by George MacDonald.)

There was once a rather harsh and strict dad whose work as an engineer was on the cutting edge of the Industrial Revolution. During the time of his greatest achievement he died from lock-jaw, leaving the legacy of his work to his son. His son eventually completed the work that this man had begun of overseeing the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. It soon became a world-class monument and the construction of the great suspension bridges like the scenic Golden Gate directly followed.

Even with all of its technological design the Golden Gate bridge has been closed for a time or two because of high winds. In those days when suspension bridges were first built the wind was not always among the considerations. One engineer applied an overly speculative amount of economy to the construction of his suspension bridge. Later on someone captured on film how when a powerful wind came up it made the sprawling bridge into a swing. The swinging intensified and reverberated until this huge span came crashing down into the river.

That strain and perilous travel experienced by the motorists just before the bridge’s fall was a picture that Nathaniel Hawthorne described in his short story “The Celestial Railroad”.

“It really seemed to me, however, that the bridge vibrated and heaved up and down in a very formidable manner; and, spite of Mr. Smooth-it-away’s testimony to the solidity of its foundation, I should be loath to cross it in a crowded omnibus, especially if each passenger were encumbered with as heavy luggage as that gentleman and myself.”

On another of his journeys, and the passing of a few more years, the former teenager caught a national TV news report where an entire side of a freeway bridge collapsed after a truck went crashing into it. The former teenager had passed under this bridge many times. One time coming up to the exit by the bridge he could tell by the distinctive sound of the cords in the music coming through on the radio that a Conway Twitty song was beginning. He was that familiar with the peculiarity of varieties of sounds in that sort of music. He wondered if he should keep listening since in a few of those love songs Conway Twitty sort of “pushes the envelope:” with risqué words amidst the delightful sounds of music, and, maybe to some ears, with what could be the screeching of a chorus of demons of lasciviousness in the background.

Well, happily, in that moment of hearing for the first time the opening chords of a new song that inner advisor spoke to the former teenager amid his thoughts and said, “No, don’t turn it off. Keep listening.” He obeyed the impulse and went on listening and was glad he did. In this new song, entitled “That’s My Job,” there was a dad who always replies to the troubled questions of his son with a comforting and reassuring chorus:

“That’s my job, that’s what I do,
Everything I do is because of you,
To keep you safe with me.
That’s my job you see.”

But, because he never knew his dad and could never converse with him nor hear a dad’s words of encouragement and concern (like the son in the song of Johnny Cash’s he lost his dad when he was three), his identification with the song required that he rely on a fatherly relationship that is best described in the Lord’s prayer. So, as usual in such matters, he thought of his father as one who certainly has the understanding to speak to him about the issues of his life and has the power, as well, to speak to his heart: “our Father in heaven.” So with beautiful music and with words like the ones in the chorus of that song it would be like a Father in heaven to assure him that God would be keeping him safe. It would be like a Father in heaven, furthermore, to lovingly relate such words in the song to the memories and feelings of the former teenager’s own.

Over all those passed years there was once a time when Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn performed at the civic auditorium. During that performance long ago Mr. Twitty interrupted the singing to talk to the audience about a restaurant where they had lunch that day. It was the same notable restaurant where the former teenager, now a seminary student, went to previously, and, just like Conway Twitty said, “enjoyed it.” A fellow seminary student and his wife invited the former teenager, and his date, to dinner and a movie. The three story restaurant that they went to, with its long front porch was located along side the railroad tracks on a street in the same part of town where the former teenager lived as a seminary student.

Anyway, to continue with “That’s My Job,” there was a time after first hearing it that the former teenager took a break from his own part-time work of delivering papers and magazines and went to a nearby city park to eat lunch. “That’s My Job” came on the radio and he turned up the volume full blast. Suddenly, right in the middle of the song he could hear only stillness. In a moment the music resumed playing. After the song finished the DJ came on and apologized, “Sorry, we had a power surge or something.”

Titmouse
Prism Crafting Publications
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Heaven’s light in an earthly spectrum