Tag Archives: grace

The Hill of Joy- Title Image

The Hill of Joy

Walking the Camino toward Santiago resembles ordinary life in many ways. We follow a path, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends or strangers. We experience good days and bad, stormy weather and brilliant sunshine, energy sapping heat and unexpected cold. The real difference is how we treat strangers along the way because it is almost a universal custom to acknowledge other pilgrims with a friendly “Buen Camino.” We connect through the common purpose of reaching Santiago.

My own journey had begun on a Sunday and now, five days later, I was approaching Santiago, the city where James, the Apostle of Jesus, rests. Around 10:30 in the morning, I arrived at an open high point called Monte Do Gozo (Hill of Joy). Unfortunately, an oversized metal monument had been placed on the spot where pilgrims could see for the first time the city they had traveled so long and hard to reach.

IMG_2327A small chapel has been built at a short distance from the monument. In contrast to the rusted block of metal, it is a simple structure. I looked inside, but it was empty and so after putting my pack down and grabbing my camera, I headed up toward the monument where I might steal a glance of Santiago just as centuries of fellow pilgrims before me had done.

I confess I felt little joy at that moment; the monument itself looked to me like a relic from World War ll. It was out of place and marred what should have been a spirit of lightness and joyful expectation.

I took a few pictures of far off Santiago and then walked back toward the chapel and my unattended pack. When I got there, I unexpectedly decided to detour back to the little chapel one last time before leaving. As I approached the open door, I heard a beautiful voice singing the words of John Newton’s Amazing Grace:

Amazing Grace how sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

At first, I thought I was listening to a recording, but then I saw the back of a woman kneeling. From the slight movement of her head and shoulders, I could see she was the source of the words and music. She never looked up, but her voice filled the room with a sound of music that brought joy back to my own spirit. She sang with a soft passion that made me believe she was living the words she was singing:

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,

And grace my fear relieved.

How precious did that grace appear

The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares

I have already come,

‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far

And grace will lead me home.

Somehow the words of the song, the singer herself and the simplicity of the chapel combined to create a moment of genuine grace. The small chapel was filled with the fragrance of beauty, goodness and truth and the Hill of Joy became for me what it has been for thousands upon thousands of Christian pilgrims who now at last could feel that the purpose of their journey had finally come into full view:

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,

And mortal life shall cease,

I shall possess within the veil,

A life of joy and peace.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years

Bright shining as the sun,

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

Than when we’ve first begun.

The Language of God

The Language of God

When I read the Bible, I look for patterns of imagery and language that help point to the heart of what is being revealed. Paul tells us that the language of God is the language of the Holy Spirit and it must be read with that in mind in order to understand what the Bible is saying about God and about us.

The language of the Holy Spirit transcends time and place, for it speaks to the deepest longings of the human heart: “What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.” (1Corinthians 2:12-13)

The language of Scripture has beauty and truth embedded within its very core, and it is through the power of this language that we absorb the truth of the reality of God’s presence in the world and in our lives. The Bible opens with God saying, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). Before there was light, the universe was void and without life and form.

And here is how John describes the second creation story, the birth of God’s one and only Son: “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it” (John 1:4–5).

And here is Jesus during His three-year ministry: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). John echoes this in his first letter: “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

It is the light of God that flows out of the darkness and into and through the window of our mind and heart. When we open our minds to what this light really is, we see with a new heart and transformed mind a world flooded with the beauty, truth and mystery of God’s everlasting presence.

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom

and knowledge of God!

How unsearchable his judgments,

and his paths beyond tracing out!

“Who has known the mind of the Lord”

Or who has been his counselor?

“Who has ever given to God,

That God should repay them?”

For from him and through him and for him

are all things.

To him be the glory forever! Amen.

(Romans 11:33-36)

My OWL Story

Guest Post: My OWL Story

I met Rachael Hartman last July at a Christian publishing event in Orlando, Florida. Recently she followed up and we met at my offices in New York City. During our conversation she told me her “OWL” story which I felt mirrored my own encounter with God way back in 1987. Rachael has graciously given me permission to post her story on my blog site. I think you will enjoy it.

My OWL Story

By Rachael Hartman

www.OurWrittenLives.com

God speaks to each of us in ways we will understand. Sometimes He uses our quirks and imagination to spur His way in our lives. I am thankful God knows how to speak to me, and I hear the silent messages He speaks into my heart and mind, and are confirmed by His Word.

One of the most significant words I received from the Lord gave me the hope I needed to keep going forward in the midst of depression. It also paved the way for me to receive God’s call on my life to write and publish for His Kingdom.

It began with silliness on my part. I always had a sort of artistic way of looking at the world around me. I thought various people looked a lot like animals. I had a pastor once who truly looked like a turtle, straining his little neck out of his suit and tie shell. I thought one of my bosses looked like the human alternative to a beaver or a nutty squirrel. These were people I truly respected and loved, but I couldn’t deny their animal-like features.

I always wanted to know what kind of animal I would see myself as. I couldn’t think of anything based on my looks, but I figured I was an owl because of my glasses and all the time I spent at the library and in college. Around the time I discovered I was an “owl,” God began to use my silly perspective to speak to me.

It was 2008 and my emotional life was pretty much in shambles. The three years leading to this point, 2005 to 2008, were the hardest of my life. I felt as if I were living in a spiritual wilderness. I was in constant battle—mentally, emotionally, physically, and relationally. It was crushing, and I had to acknowledge some difficult truths. I felt as if my life was falling apart, and it was. Everything I knew to be stable was shaking.

In my quest for healing, I sought the face of God in a church in Texas where I experienced unconditional acceptance, and so my healing journey began.

One night after church and I was driving down a dark, East Texas road. A large owl swooped down to capture its prey in the middle of the road, and sadly flew right into my driver’s side windshield. As I turned around and pulled over to check on the poor bird, my bright headlights beamed into his eyes. He wobbled a little and looked at me, quite confused.

At that moment I heard the still, small voice of God speak to me. “You’ve been hit really hard,” He said, “but you are going to fly again.” At that very moment, the owl flew away. It was a sign from God; I was going to be okay.

A few weeks after my encounter with the owl, I was in Austin for a church conference. I met two ladies who spoke words of encouragement into my life and continued to add to my owl story.

The first lady said, “I don’t know anything about your life, but I feel like you’ve been living in darkness for a long time, and the light of God’s sun is going to start shining into your life.”

The second lady did not hear what the first one said. After a service, she came up to me and said, “Brightness. Brightness. All I see is brightness.”

Driving home through the Piney Woods after the conference there was another “owl confirmation” that God was leading me to better times. Perched on a road sign was an owl, in the brightness of day, eyes wide open. I had never seen an owl out in the day time before.

Later, God told me I had to learn to “see through the darkness” and go after what He was calling me to do.

About a month later, God confirmed my call to write and publish. The silent statement was clear, “I’ve given you everything you need to write and publish books.”

I knew God was calling me to write the stories of people who had lived in darkness and overcome to live in the light through the blood of Jesus. These stories would bring the hope of Christ to people in difficult situations.

The name of my business came next—Our Written Lives of Hope, or OWL of Hope for short.

The name was partially inspired by the history of Isle of Hope in the Savannah, Georgia area. In early days, Isle of Hope was known as a place where all kinds of people lived together despite the treacherous times of slavery and other evils shrouding the old South.

My “owl experience” and call to write and publish occurred during the time I was working for the local newspaper and taking a break from grad school.

When would I find the time to write a book? I knew I was using too much creative energy at the newspaper. I had to change careers if I was going to write for Jesus. The Lord opened the doors, and I relocated to the Fort Hood area for a job. It was there I began to look for the first story God would allow me the honor to write. It would be two years before He brought me the story He chose.

After two layoffs and another move, this time to Fort Polk, Louisiana, God’s timing kicked in. In July 2012, I began writing my first book titled Angel, The True Story of an Undeserved Chance. It was the life testimony of a woman I met at church. Her name was Angel. She had an amazing testimony of deliverance, and I had a desire to write a book for the Lord. God led us to start the project though we had barely met. Eleven months later, in June of 2013, we had the book in hand, and I had officially established Our Written Lives of Hope, LLC.

To date in 2016, I am working with over 20 authors, and have 23 published books in the OWL collection. Back when I received the call, I had no idea God would bless my business so quickly and swiftly. I still don’t know the extent of what He had in mind when He planted the vision to write and publish for His Kingdom into my mind and heart. I’m excited to see what the future holds, and I’m looking forward to learning and sharing the God-stories of our generation.

I’m still an “owl.” I’ve had people call me “the owl lady” and they send me all kinds of owl gifts, (even though I have no desire to collect owls). Just today I came home from a trip to New York City, and waiting for me was an owl tee-shirt a friend sent to me. It seems like every time I have doubt or fear about the future, God sends me an owl of some kind to remind me of where He’s brought me from, and who I am in Him.

He truly does speak to us all in unique and individual ways that align with His Word. We just have to listen.

An Encounter on Park Avenue

An Encounter on Park Avenue

My routine for getting to work in the morning is predictable: I walk through Grand Central Station to 42nd Street and start down Park Avenue on foot, rain or shine, hot or cold. Before I began using my feet to get to my office building on West 20th Street, I would catch a subway. My initial reason for walking was health, but that wasn’t it exactly. The clustered morning crowds, pushing and shoving to get onto the departing train had finally lost its appeal. As I would battle for a place on the next southbound local, Ezra Pound’s short poem “In the Station of the Metro” would often echo in my mind:

In the Station of the Metro by Ezra Pound

In the Station of the Metro by Ezra Pound

My homebound journey was different. By the time the day was done so was I. My mind fixated on getting to my destination in the fastest, most convenient way possible. Often that meant catching the #6 subway at 23rd Street on Park Avenue.

One day not very long ago, I left the office in my usual haste and headed for the subway stop. I hit Park Avenue at 20th Street and turned north to get to the underground train that would quickly deliver me to Grand Central and the waiting trains heading out to the suburbs.

As I walked up Park Avenue, I noticed a man sitting on the steps of a church. I had noticed him before. He had an empty cup in his right hand and while he was dressed well enough, he clearly was looking for money. I passed him by, but then stopped short as I remembered I had some quarters and other coins in my pocket.  As I dug for money, I looked the gentleman in the eye and he unexpectedly uttered: “You are a good man.”

I suppose there was a time when I would have agreed with his words; after all, wasn’t I about to give this man some money from my own pocket?  I said nothing as I searched for the change. When I finally found the coins, I dropped them into his Styrofoam cup. Then he said it again: “You are a good man.”

An Encounter on Park Avenue

I could have said nothing at all, but I could not be silent. Instead, I spontaneously said, “No I’m not. I am no better than you.” He looked at me to see what I might have meant. I don’t know what he was thinking, but my remark got me thinking. At the core he and I were both beggars; it was just that his apparent condition was more extreme than mine, at least for the moment.

When I reflected on this encounter during the train ride home, I recalled two instances where Jesus taught on the issue of poverty through the eyes of God. The first story involved a rich, young ruler who wanted to know how he might earn “eternal life”. He addressed Jesus as “Good teacher” but Jesus replied by asking “Why do you call me good?” He then said, “No one is good but God.” (Mark 10:17-18)

The second instance is a parable Jesus told to “some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else”. Jesus contrasts the prayers of a religious leader with the prayer of a repentant tax collector. The leader prays, “God, thank you that I am not like other people-robbers, evildoers, adulterers-or even like this tax collector.” Meanwhile, the tax collector simply prays, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus then says to those listening: “I tell you that this man (the tax collector), rather than the other went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

So what did I mean when I said, “I am no better than you”? While it is impossible for us to discern all the complex motives of our own hearts, I was definitely not being falsely humble. I really mean it. In the eyes of God this man and I stood before Him as equals, though in the eyes of the world, we did not. In the past I might have adopted the world’s view, which would have made me equal in self-righteousness to the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable, even though I had seemed to perform an act of generosity. I had clearly changed because I recognized in this encounter the need of two men for a savior, not just one.

A Brief Encounter with Grace in Nature

The Village of Glencliff in the Oliverian Notch, New Hampshire. Photo by GrandsirJust south of Mount Moosilauke in New Hampshire’s White Mountains is the tiny village of Glencliff. Hiking through the town in the late afternoon during my very first Appalachian Trail adventure, I noticed an older man sitting on a chair on a dilapidated porch of an unpainted house. He was watching me with an air of suspicion, as if he was the Sheriff and I was trouble. When I heard him harrumph as I passed by, I got the message and simply asked if the Appalachian Trail was nearby. He gave me a nod and I was off to look for the white blaze that would lead me back into the woods.

Soon enough I happened upon an empty cabin just off the trail. It had been noted in the trail guide as owned and operated by the Dartmouth Outing Club, but it looked derelict to me. Nevertheless, I ventured inside and began unpacking. This dark, dank and uninviting shelter would be my place of rest for the night.

After a light dinner, I ventured out of the cold gloom of the cabin to take a short hike to an area that looked like an open meadow. As I drew close I could see that the light from the declining sun seemed to draw contrasting shadows against the bright yellows and greens of the high, uncut grass. I was the lone witness to this magical scene of natural tranquility and I soon felt as if I was melting into the beauty of this unexpected moment.

As I stood in the middle of this natural still life, I became aware of deer grazing in the far corner of the field.  They had not yet noticed my presence and so I kept still and quietly savored this fortuitous scene of solitary beauty. Time seemed to suspend itself just for my own pleasure. Then a soft breeze startled the scene much as a pebble does when tossed innocently into a placid lake.

The deer lifted their heads in unison, sensing an intrusion. They hesitated another moment and then were gone. Suddenly I was alone again in a place that now was losing the warmth of the soft, summer colors that seemed so abundant just moments before. The field and the surrounding forests were turning dark as the encroaching dusk washed the landscape in its gray hues.

For a short interlude that day, I know I felt the glad presence of grace in that setting. As night descended, I had to leave, to turn back to the cold embrace of that solitary cabin that awaited me. Yet today my memory returns to the field and the deer and the lustrous serenity of that late afternoon. I remember that day as grace edged in darkness. The light of that grace has held my heart over the many intervening years.

Meadow near Glencliff on the Appalachian Trail by John K

ONE MAN’S STORY (Part Two): A Revelation and Commitment to Change at Masada

Healing Through Grace

The Book  of Common Prayer 1990 edition cr

While all this turmoil was happening, I kept reading the Bible I had bought in 1987. I began attending church and Bible studies, then, on February 13, 1991, I discovered the two-year lectionary “hidden” in the back of The Book of Common Prayer. From that day on, I immersed myself in readings from the Old and New Testaments every day, even though I knew that my understanding of what I was reading was partial at best.

In addition to all of this, I returned to the mountains and trails I had loved as a child. I hiked and climbed all the four hundred footers in New Hampshire; I climbed a few 14,000 footers in the west and in 1996, I returned to the Appalachian Trail, which I finally completed in 2011.And I rebuilt my business. But it wasn’t what I did that mattered; it was the grace of God that entered my life at a critical moment and guided me through the wreckage and then, through the power of His Holy Spirit, God began to prepare me for the future. My recovery had started through God’s grace. What was next for me could not have happened without the healing of my heart, mind and soul.

Eric on KatahdinFor most of my life I had been a nominal Christian. I had adopted the world’s values wholeheartedly and acted on those values. But eventually I ended up bereft. What had been sold to me ended up being so many grains of sand slipping through my fingers. And while I was moving in the direction of Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I still kept at least one foot planted in the world I had always known. I was not fully willing to cast off the line that kept me tethered to a world that continued to reject and revile Jesus.

A Change In Direction

In 2012, in the desert of Israel at the base of the rock fortress known as Masada I made a commitment that would lead to a new purpose for my life. I came from a culture that knew Jesus’ name, but not very much else. In the world in which I grew up, Jesus was considered peripheral at best. He had become another “historical” figure, or a “good” teacher or a fictional character made up by a group of desperate followers. In the world I lived in, he certainly was not “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” But even though I did not understand what was happening to me at the time, I actually did encounter a Jesus who performed miracles, who healed the sick and fed the hungry. What had been a tiny speck in my own universe became a huge presence that grew to the point where I desired to get to know the Jesus I had known in name only. I felt God’s call to do more than just learn about Jesus. I wanted to really know Him and then to use that knowledge, and with the help of many others, to make Him known. This was a call I felt compelled to pursue—wherever it might lead me.

masada