Sunlight (Encounters II)

The sun arose on a sleeping city, the man-made lights fading as the Creator’s warmth touched the cold buildings. The warmth touched the morning dew resting on the grass, and also her face as she stirred from her place on the cold ground, covered only by a few scraps of an old cardboard box. The sun lit up her eyes.

It was the magical time of the morning before the rest of the world wakes up—but she was awake. She shifted in her paper home and finally rolled over and sat up, bent over within the box. She pushed back the thick coat which covered her—the most valued of her possessions—and rubbed her eyes; another day in paradise after a long night.

She ran her fingers over the tracks up her arm and let out a sigh. Business as usual. She clamoured up from her sagging bed and glanced around casually, surveying the geography of the fresh morning. Her practiced eyes immediately picked out the man–slightly slouched–across the park on a bench, his back turned to her. Unusual? Perhaps. Odd? Definitely, but perhaps this was just another providential opportunity. She stood up coolly and sauntered nonchalantly toward the figure.

“Ashlynn—”

She stopped abruptly and spun around. No one behind her. No one anywhere—except the figure on the bench before her. Yet she could have sworn someone had called her name. But that was foolishness, wasn’t it? Her clients knew her only by aliases, and no one else knew her name; she was the nameless faceless, and that’s how she liked it.

“Ashlynn Jennifer Hayes…”

But there it came again, and still no one in sight but the man sitting motionless on the bench not ten feet in front of her. Her imagination must be psyching her out. And then the figure turned around.

“I see you,”

He was tall; dark, wavy hair and tanned skin. His eyes were a striking brown. She was taken aback and halted immediately under his gaze. His face was rough and wrinkled, but she couldn’t have guessed his age; he appeared ancient with the countenance of a child. “I see you,” he repeated. She had no idea what to say; she couldn’t break off his strong gaze. She was nearly ready to turn and run.

He smiled.

“Don’t be afraid, I mean you no harm,” he said, his smile radiating through her into the very core of her. Who was this man? Where did he come from?

“Who are you?” she demanded, remembering at last where she had left her cold front.

“I am Myself,” he replied, still smiling. “I go by many names.” A lunatic for certain; she took a step backwards. The street had taught her one thing – the appropriateness of running. He stood up and she turned to run. “Jennifer,” she froze. “I’m not here to harm you.”

She spun back around to face him.

“How do you know my name? Who do you think you are?” her fear welled up into a defensive anger, “what do you want from me?”

“What do you want from yourself?” his smile never wavered; it unnerved her. “Won’t you join me?” he beckoned toward the bench. She shook her head.

“No thank-you.”

“Yet you came over here with a little more in mind, didn’t you,” he caught her eyes right then and a terrible knowing look. She shrugged, shrinking silently away from his gaze. “Suite yourself,” he settled back down sideways on the bench, watching her intently, “Leave if you like, but there are things I’d like to tell you.”

She took another step back.

“How do I know you won’t do anything?”

“You can’t,” he replied simply. She was wary, but he was not altogether threatening. In fact, his voice was soft and serene—calming and melodious almost. But there was the knowledge behind his eyes, and she now knew what was in his look that terrified her; it was as though he looked straight into her.

“How do you know my name?” she asked again, her curiosity getting the better of her circumspection. He was turned away now, intently watching a sparrow perched in a low, nearby tree.

“Oh that’s easy, it’s Ashlynn,” he smiled, and turned back to the sparrow

“No, no, no, how do you know my name?” she demanded, “I already know who I am, thanks.”

“Do you really?” he countered her, turning back around to look her in the eye, “Not nearly as well as I know you.” And she saw it–was that sorrow in his eye? Something leapt inside her, but she held her guard against it and shoved the alien feeling back to the pits of her uneasy stomach.

“I don’t—”

“Ashlynn, I know you better than you know yourself; I’ve been intimately involved in your life for quite some time,” he cut her off.

“What are you talking about?” she tried harder to push the feeling back down, she realized now it was his presence; she had felt it from the moment she laid eyes on him, perhaps even before that. She couldn’t help but feel that he was safe, and what he said was true—but how? She couldn’t even begin to guess what he meant.

“You may not know this, but I adopted you years ago,” the memories of her foster years were far too vivid for her to doubt; many people had adopted her. But she had been no more than a face in the system, and none of these “adoptions” had ever carried through—or so she had been told. Perhaps he had done it quietly.

“If that’s true,” she began hesitantly, unsure of whether to give him the satisfaction of a response or not, “where have you been all this time? I was out of the system years ago.”

“And you’re nineteen now—though much harder to tell now for the drugs you started using two years ago to numb the pain—your parents abandoned you to the system and you went from house to house, always hoping the next would be a place you could call home… but it never was.”

She was wholly overwhelmed.

“How do you know all that?” she stammered, taken fully aback at his revelation of her. And then she looked in his eyes and saw the pain in them—for her.

“I know a lot about you Jennifer,” he replied, still smiling a sad smile. “I’ve always been nearby.” She didn’t know what to think.

“How am I to believe any of that stuff?”

“Believe it or don’t, but it is true,” he replied. “It doesn’t matter; you know it is.”

And she did. She stood back, not sure whether to speak or walk away—she knew she couldn’t cry, even if she could let herself now, the tears would never come as they used to. So she did something different, though she didn’t know why. She knelt down in the grass at the end of the bench and simply watched him. What she was waiting for she could not have said, but there was something in just watching him—a security. He remained silent, seemingly paying no heed as he continued to eye the sparrow which still flitted through the shrubs. Several minutes went by, and then he spoke,

“Ashlynn, just let the pain go.”

She bit her lip as tears welled behind her eyes, but she had not been quick enough, and a lone tear found its way to her eyelid. She shut her eyes tight and dropped her head, employing every effort to stifle the emotions which threatened her composure and her new-found comfort with this stranger. She didn’t know how long it was that she sat there—an hour if it hadn’t been a few minutes—but all was silent.

The sun touched her skin. His hand touched her arm. She started back, jerked her head up and opened her eyes. He was kneeling next to her in the grass, now looking into her eyes, his hand on her arm. She waited, all words now gone from her mind. His voice was soft, “Ashlynn, let grief have its place.”

She wept.

She could hold it back no longer. His presence, his look—those eyes—endearing her. And she could hardly help but say no; her heart in its deepest depths craved it. He rested his other hand gently on her shoulder closest to him and waited as she knelt there in the grass sobbing quietly, the tears flowing freely now. His touch was warm and reassuring.

“Why do I feel this way?” her tears finally slowed, but she remained with her face downcast.

“There is much pain in you, it is ready to be freed,” he replied. “Ashlynn, it is very important that you do this for yourself—for your future.” She suddenly became reserved once again and lifted her face defiantly.

“Who do you think you are to say these things? You don’t know who I am! You don’t know where I’ve been!” she nearly screamed it at him, completely taken now with anger spurned on by her vulnerability. “You have no idea what I’m carrying!” she became aware that where his hand touched her bare arm the tracks of the needle were visible, “and I stopped that a long time ago,” she cried bitterly, and she pushed his hand back and pulled her sleeve down to cover the marks.

“But I do know what you’ve been through; I’ve seen it all. I know how often the only place you can find to sleep is made of paper,” he gestured toward the box near the street, “I know that you stopped heroine once; you’ve stopped four times since you started. You spent all you had two days ago to go back to it; it put you back on the street every time you went back.” He paused a moment, letting this settle, then continued, still speaking gently. “I know how long you’ve been selling yourself just to make ends meet, and not only that, but to feel valued,” he finished.

She burst into tears, but this time rather than pulling away she flung herself on him; his words could have had no better affect. She clung to him and he wrapped his arms around her in a tender embrace. “I see you, I know you and I love you, Ashlynn,” he whispered into her ear, “I know all your hurts; please let me help you.”

She let go.

“Why would you want to help me? How can you love someone like me? I’m dirty, I’m ugly…”  He brought a finger to her lips in a motion of silence. “But how,” she went on after a moment, “could you ever see past what I’ve done if you knew? How could you see past these marks on my arms?” she suddenly felt a filth of guilt and shame on her.

“Oh Ashlynn, I’ve been waiting a long time for this moment!” His eyes suddenly lighted up, “I love you because I created you!” She was at a total loss—and it dawned on her; how could she be so blind? And yet—

“Jesus Christ—!” she swore.

“—the Christ,” he corrected her, “But I prefer if you call me Daddy.” He grinned, “I think that would mean more to you, too, don’t you think?” she nearly burst into tears again; the most she could do was nod, caught as she was in surprise and raw emotion. How could she not believe it now that he had reached in to touch the very depth of her secret heart?

“But how could you see past who I am?” she blurted out, “even you—especially you!” He gently rolled up his left sleeve.

“Ashlynn, I look beyond what you’ve done, because my father looked at what I’ve done. My purpose and desire was never to condemn you,” He said, holding out his hand. She couldn’t say a word. There was the mark in his wrist, a rough, deep scar that would never fade for all eternity. And now she noticed for the first time the other marks—the scars on his brow—and she could hardly bear it; she knew they were for her. “Now do you understand?” he asked, knowing already the answer. She nodded, and embraced him again.

“Jennifer,” she gazed up at him, nestled in his arms on the grass. A sparrow perched on the edge of the nearby bench, watching them intently. “I have to go now,” he said, holding her even closer to his chest. She loved the sound of his heart.

“What will I do without you?” she asked sadly, wishing she could prolong this somehow, “How will I go on? I’ve come so close to ending it all so many times already…”

“Oh darling, I’m always with you!” He smiled sincerely and bent down, kissing her forehead. “I love you too much to not be with you every minute.”

“But where have you been then?”

“You’re living in an awful place…” he said sadly, looking around, “we can’t experience each other here like this all the time, face to face… but one day soon I’ll never have to leave your sight, and we will spend Forever just like this.”

She understood, and a longing tear found its way down her cheek.

“Jesus?”

“Please, call me Daddy.”

The sun arose on a sleeping city, the man-made lights fading as the Creator’s warmth touched the cold buildings. The warmth touched the morning dew resting on the grass, and also her face as she stirred from her place. The sun lit up her eyes.

Had it all been a dream? But no, she could even now feel the warmth of his kiss lingering with her, the sound of his voice and the safety of his touch. “Always with me…” she murmured softly to herself, raising herself up into a sitting position within her box.

A sparrow began to sing nearby.

“Daddy.”

Tears - Encounters I

Tears and Sunlight (Encounters I and II) are explicitly under my authorship; you can share it, but it's still mine.
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Jesus Loves Barabbas

As Easter Weekend comes to its peak I’m sure many of us are thinking about that story that started in a stable and ended in a tomb–only it didn’t end, and that’s why we have a story to think about. I’m also thinking about it because I just watched the second half of Ben Hur the other night and had a minor revelation (even though it wasn’t particularly in the film). Consequently, I’ve been thinking about a certain character which I’m surprised isn’t mentioned by many grace teachers, yet is–in my mind–one of the most prime examples of grace, and certainly among the first to receive it so obviously. I’m talking, of course, about that man Barabbas.

And isn’t it true? How many sermons have you heard preached about him? When was the last time you heard someone – reading from the portion of the Gospels dealing with Christ’s trial – stop and say, “Now take this guy Barabbas for instance …” He’s the unsung hero. Only, he’s not a hero; Barabbas is a murdering revolutionary (as described by Mark).

The more I thought about it, the more I wondered how he’d been missed in the grace story. You probably already know where I’m going with this – that’s just how obvious it is. We’ll pick up the story in Mark, and I’ll be reading from the New Living Translation tonight.

Jesus’ Trial before Pilate

Very early in the morning the leading priests, the elders, and the teachers of religious law—the entire high council—met to discuss their next step. They bound Jesus, led him away, and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor.

Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Jesus replied, “You have said it.”

Then the leading priests kept accusing him of many crimes, and Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer them? What about all these charges they are bringing against you?” But Jesus said nothing, much to Pilate’s surprise.

Now it was the governor’s custom each year during the Passover celebration to release one prisoner—anyone the people requested. One of the prisoners at that time was Barabbas, a revolutionary who had committed murder in an uprising. The crowd went to Pilate and asked him to release a prisoner as usual.

“Would you like me to release to you this ‘King of the Jews’?” Pilate asked. 10 (For he realized by now that the leading priests had arrested Jesus out of envy.) 11 But at this point the leading priests stirred up the crowd to demand the release of Barabbas instead of Jesus. 12 Pilate asked them, “Then what should I do with this man you call the king of the Jews?”

13 They shouted back, “Crucify him!”

14 “Why?” Pilate demanded. “What crime has he committed?”

But the mob roared even louder, “Crucify him!”

15 So to pacify the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.

             – Mark 15:1-15

As far as I’m concerned you can just close the book right there! Pilot knew who was the innocent one – you don’t become governor of as politically fragile a region as Judea was at that time by being a poor judge. But an undeserving Jesus took the punishment (and much more) of notoriously deserving Barabbas.

Did you know Barabbas’ name means something along the lines of “Son of a/the father”? I’ve been learning to read Hebrew and as a result I’m now continually looking for deeper meaning in everything, particularly names. Barabbas’ name comes from the Aramaic roots  bar (בַּר – H1247) meaning “Son”, and Abagtha (אֲבַגְתָא – H5) meaning “God-given”. It might also interest you to know that in early manuscripts Barabbas was referred to as “Jesus Barabbas”, but “Jesus” was later left off; speculation has it that this was done either out of solemn respect or to avoid confusion, but either way that’s a bunny trail for another day. What I’m most interested in is the meaning of Barabbas’ name.

Imagine with me, if you will: it is early in the morning; the Jewish leaders have been up all night trying to make all their false witnesses agree. They’ve finally got all the falsified evidence the crowd needs and they bring Jesus to Pilate, since they cannot condemn him to death themselves. The Jewish high council is bringing accusation after accusation down on Jesus and he’s just silent; all he’s letting on to here is his kingship. Pilate’s confused. He can’t get this guy; if he’s innocent, why doesn’t he clear himself? If he’s guilty of something serious enough for death, why doesn’t he fight the charges, knowing his end?

So Pilate throws what he hopes is a curve-ball on the clearly envious Jewish religious leaders: for the customary release of a prisoner on Passover, he offers them Jesus. The crowds go wild–stirred up by the religious leaders–but not for Jesus – they want Barabbas, and they want Jesus dead.

So to keep the peace, Pilate handed the undeserving Son of the Father over to his soldiers to be brutally flogged and killed while that deserving “Son of the Father”–that notorious criminal Barabbas–went free, because of love, the newly adopted son of a Heavenly Father.

A sinner set free.

I came across this video of a sermon from Judah Smith almost immediately after I began looking into this Barabbas, and he says it all; if there is one thing you do this Easter, watch this video. Seriously. Turn down the lights, turn up the volume and have a tissue on hand, because it’s about to get real.

 

“Jesus stood there silent for he knew the will of the Father; he said “It’s fine Father; let them have Barabbas,” for Jesus knew that the Father would have to treat Jesus like Barabbas, so He could treat Barabbas like Jesus.”

Unmerited, undeserved favour.

“Barabbas thought it was the people that set him free–no, no, no–it was the love of a Heavenly Father.”

Tears (Encounters I)

Crimson tears were all she cried. They fell to stain the dirty carpet of her room. It was all she could do to forget–or was she simply fighting the comfort of feeling? Her brother was dead. Her sister also; she died in her arms–the poor fragile thing. She had tried to stop them but in the end the only gain had been more scars, and blood which was not her own. And then they had raped her there in her sister’s blood. Her father was beating her mother when he wasn’t drunk, and beating her when he was. Her mother blamed her, continually reminding her that she had ruined this family and caused the death of her siblings–nobody would even say ‘murder’. But she couldn’t leave, and that’s what no one understood; she just couldn’t.

I don’t want to die–

I want to feel alive.

Her eyes were dry and she wept all the more, the dirty-yellow streetlamp outside the window casting an ugly yellow glow onto the floor in front of her. Oh for just one touch of the cold moon. But there was nothing left now. She didn’t want to die; she wanted to be alive. She had lived this way for as long as she could remember, sometimes living at home, sometimes on the streets, sometimes with her uncle who had taken her innocence and damaged it almost as often as her own father had. She pressed the blade a little further and though she winced a little, the pain never lasted long. She was desperate; she needed to feel.

I don’t care anymore–

No one even knows my name.

It was getting late–even for her. Sleep rested heavily on her tortured eyelids and threatened her waking conscious. But she wouldn’t sleep, not now. She needed to wrap the fresh inflictions she had opened; the blood had already begun to dry. she would do no more tonight, but had it ever felt good–relieving–fulfilling. Relief existed only in each cut. It didn’t take long to wrap her arms. She ran her fingers over the thin bandages and the scars of various ages. She didn’t care who saw anymore; no one even knew her name.

Lauren–

Show me your scars.

“April.” She started, hurriedly pulling the loose sleeves of her hoodie–a form of apparel Webster’s still hadn’t given the proper assertion to–down over the bandages and the scars. “Lovely April…” She was sitting in the middle of the floor facing the door, yet the speaker was behind her. She didn’t turn around.

“But no one knows my name?” It was a question to herself and she only thought it, but the calm male voice from behind answered all the same.

“I know your name,” he whispered, seemingly almost from within her head. Still she did not turn around, but subconsciously was glad for her hair which covered the scars across the back of her neck. “Lauren April Mason… Show me your scars.”

I can’t let you see–

Then let me show you mine.

She turned around finally, slowly at first. Young–somewhere in his mid-thirties, she guessed–he was kneeling but a few feet behind her, dressed simply in a light plaid long-sleeved button-up t-shirt, and weathered blue jeans. His skin was rough but his eyes were kind and something else–love? She had never seen eyes like that. “Show me your scars,” he repeated himself.

“I can’t let you see,” she replied, pulling her sleeves down further. That look in his eyes, it went right through her, but she couldn’t wear her scars in front of the one who knew her name.

“Then let me show you my scars.”

By my wounds, Lauren–

Not your own.

Till now she hadn’t taken notice of his hands, but now he moved them toward her, gesturing, and she couldn’t help but be a little curious. There in the center of each palm was a deep piercing which may have gone even completely through his hands. And then she looked up to his face and saw now–though she had not before–the marks on his brow and the scars where the flesh had been torn away. And now he took her hand in his much larger and she felt the scar in his palm. And he brought her hand gently to his side and she felt the ancient wound there. He rested his hand on her shoulder.

“You’re alive by my wounds Lauren… not your own.”

You know my name?

I created you.

“Who are you? How do you know my name?” she inquired, unable to take her eyes off the scar in his hand. “You don’t know me directly, but I’ve known you all my life–and it’s been a while,” He smiled warmly, and she thought she caught a comical twinkle in his eye.

“That doesn’t even make sense–you’ve got to be like thirty years older than me,” She thought he must be crazy.

“Not to you, but it’s true all the same,” And she knew it was. “I know all about you Lauren. I know your name because I created you.”

I’ve seen everything you’ve done–

Now let me see your scars.

She shrugged his hand off her shoulder. She’d heard things like this before growing up in Sunday school, but now she wasn’t sure what to think.

“Where have you been when I needed you? Where were you when my sister was dead in my arms and they came after me while I was still soaked in her blood? When I’m on the street? Where are you when Uncle and my–my father are…” he brought his finger to her lips in a gesture of silence,

“Whether you believe it or not Lauren, I’ve always been with you. I’ve seen every moment of your life from the time you were conceived to now. I’ve seen all the things that have inspired those wounds. I’ve seen everything you’ve done. But you live in a broken world, and you don’t see me as I want you to see me. But I came to give you an opportunity to see me as I would have you see me always–and forever! Now… let me see your scars,” he replied tenderly. She turned around again to face the opposite wall. She wanted to–maybe–but she couldn’t. She wouldn’t be that weak.

I just want to hold you…

I just want to be held!

“Lauren… let me heal your wounds. I mean only the best for you,” she glanced back at his face; his eyes were entreating–pleading with her to break—and she wouldn’t. How could she? Her only comfort, her only measure of being alive–of living–was the pain and the blood, and yet she was ashamed to stand before her creator with these selfish mutilations. How could she open them up? She couldn’t. “Stop fighting it Lauren. You are accepted the way you are–I accept you… I just want to hold you!”

“I just want to be held!” her will broke and she turned around. Tears like tiny crystals welled up in her eyes though she tried with a last standing effort to keep them back.

“Let them go Lauren, they are your healing.”

I’m not just your creator–

You’re my Father.

She fell on his neck; she couldn’t help but. He embraced her, his huge arms encompassing her; she had never felt so safe. She clung to his neck and wept on his shoulder. It came hard at first; she wanted to fight it, to stop these tears, but the more that the warmth from his heart radiated into her, the less control she had.

“It’s alright, let it all come out,” his voice was even softer now in her ear, and the tears only came harder and more freely.

“Please don’t leave me,” she choked, the tears finally slowing a little.

“I will never leave nor forsake you, Lauren, my promise hasn’t changed even in two thousand years,” he soothed, “be still now.” Her sobs slowed and she raised her head to meet his eyes with hers. “I’m not just your creator, Lauren…”

“You’re my Father,” she declared quietly and then, “Okay… I’m ready.”

What about your scars?

Forever.

She slowly pulled back both sleeves of her hoodie to reveal the bandages and the scars. He stroked her black hair back from her face gently, revealing the countless marks of abuse.

“The men in your life have hurt you; your spine was out of place and would have caused you much pain because of what they did to you. It is better now,” and she had felt the vertebrae coming together into their correct places once again. Lovely Lauren. “Your healing begins,” he said, “Your scars will heal–”

“What about your scars?” she cut him off

“My scars will never heal; they will remain forever, to remind you of my love for you–I do love you, Lauren.” Forever? That meant forever loved. Forever.

You’re beautiful–

Don’t be ashamed any more.

He touched her arm, felt her scars. She wanted to pull it back, hide her shame within her sleeves. He laid his other hand on her shoulder,

“Stop fighting it. I accept you, Lauren. I accept you with your scars, new and old, self-inflicted and those given you by others. I made you. I never wanted this to happen to you, but I have a new body waiting for you without spot or blemish; the body I purposed you for.” The tears began to seep from the corners of her eyes again, and he wrapped his huge, strong arms around her again. “You are safe. You are free. You are beautiful–don’t be ashamed anymore.” She wept with full abandon, no desire left to control it. This was healing; this was life.

Don’t leave me alone!

I never have.

She knew it. With him she felt it could be true; she could be beautiful, if not for these scars… but perhaps it was like he had said about his own. Perhaps the scars were only a reminder of what she had overcome; the healing that she had only begun. She could almost feel the shame melting away within her, and she was free. Completely free!

“It’s time for me to go. You are beautiful Lauren, my love makes you so. Remember that,” he said, lifting her head and stroking back the hair again from her small face. She looked into his eyes. Love emanated from those eyes.

“Please don’t leave me alone,” she pleaded. He smiled.

“I never have Lauren, not once.”

He was gone, and she only now noticed how much brighter the room had been while he was there. I never have Lauren, not once. Could it be true? And then, yes… She knew it was, just as she had known every word he had spoken was true. And she could almost hear his voice now,

“I’m always here with you Lauren,”

Always

Grace for John de Stogumber

I might not have mentioned that I didn’t read the preface.

That’s right, I hadn’t forgotten Joan of Arc just yet! I’m not going to take any time giving you an overview of the story of Joan of Arc, you can find that on Wikipedia. I am going to share some of the profound things I took away, particularly from the character of John de Stogumber. But first, a small quotation from the Epilogue (not necessarily a spoiler, but you’ll appreciate it far more after having read the play yourself, which you can do here):

CAUCHON [kneeling to her(Joan)] The girls in the field praise thee; for thou hast raised their eyes; and they see that there is nothing between them and heaven.

DUNOIS. [kneeling to her] The dying soldiers praise thee, because thou art a shield of glory between them and the judgment.

THE ARCHBISHOP [kneeling to her] The princes of the Church praise thee, because thou hast redeemed the faith their worldlinesses have dragged through the mire.

WARWICK [kneeling to her] The cunning counsellors praise thee, because thou hast cut the knots in which they have tied their own souls.

DE STOGUMBER [kneeling to her] The foolish old men on their deathbeds praise thee, because their sins against thee are turned into blessings.

THE INQUISITOR [kneeling to her] The judges in the blindness and bondage of the law praise thee, because thou hast vindicated the vision and the freedom of the living soul.

THE SOLDIER [kneeling to her] The wicked out of hell praise thee, because thou hast shewn them that the fire that is not quenched is a holy fire.

THE EXECUTIONER [kneeling to her] The tormentors and executioners praise thee, because thou hast shewn that their hands are guiltless of the death of the soul.

CHARLES [kneeling to her] The unpretending praise thee, because thou hast taken upon thyself the heroic burdens that are too heavy for them.

Now, none of those statements won’t be half as profound if you haven’t read the rest of the book to understand everything behind the characters making them (so go read the book!) but I’m just going to focus in on a few of these characters and shed some light on why I found their stories so profound.

Let’s take a look at this John de Stogumber character. Stogumber was zealous for his English blood, for the church and, as he supposed, for God–but mostly for his English blood:

“We were not fairly beaten, my lord. No Englishman is ever fairly beaten.” [p89]

“Englishmen heretics!!! My lord: must we endure this? His lordship is beside himself. How can what an Englishman believes be heresy? It is a contradiction in terms.” [p96]

Scene IV is where we first meet John de Stogumber in a conversation between himself, the Earl of Warwick and Peter Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais. The Earl of Warwick comes with a purely political perspective: Joan must be burned. Still, he pities her and claims to hate the severity of burning. He will spare her if he can. Peter Cauchon is of a similar mind but comes with the perspective of The Church; he will strive for Joan’s salvation–but only to save his own soul. Stogumber, on the other hand is adamant; Joan is a sorceress and must die:

“Certainly England for the English goes without saying: it is the simple law of nature. But this woman denies to England her legitimate conquests, given her by God because of her peculiar fitness to rule over less civilized races for their own good. I do not understand what your lordship means by Protestant and Nationalist (terms used in reference to Joan): you are too learned and subtle for a poor clerk like myself. But I know as a matter of plain commonsense that the woman is a rebel; and that is enough for me. She rebels against Nature by wearing man’s clothes, and fighting. She rebels against The Church by usurping the divine authority of the Pope. She rebels against God by her damnable league with Satan and his evil spirits against our army. And all these rebellions are only excuses for her great rebellion against England. That is not to be endured. Let her perish. Let her burn. Let her not infect the whole flock. It is expedient that one woman die for the people. … I would burn her with my own hands.”

Although the motives of Warwick and Cauchon are far from pure themselves, John de Stogumber will have nothing short of a burning. But although even up to her trial and execution poor old John holds to his belief vehemently, something happens when he witnesses the execution of Joan. He gets a hard reality check:

WARWICK. Hallo: some attendance here! [Silence]. Hallo, there! [Silence]. Hallo! Brian, you young blackguard, where are you? [Silence]. Guard! [Silence]. They have all gone to see the burning: even that child.

The silence is broken by someone frantically howling and sobbing.

WARWICK. What in the devil’s name–?

The Chaplain staggers in from the courtyard like a demented creature, his face streaming with tears, making the piteous sounds that Warwick has heard. He stumbles to the prisoner’s stool, and throws himself upon it with heartrending sobs.

WARWICK [going to him and patting him on the shoulder] What is it, Master John? What is the matter?

THE CHAPLAIN [clutching at his hand] My lord, my lord: for Christ’s sake pray for my wretched guilty soul.

WARWICK [soothing him] Yes, yes: of course I will. Calmly, gently–

THE CHAPLAIN [blubbering miserably] I am not a bad man, my lord.

WARWICK. No, no: not at all.

THE CHAPLAIN. I meant no harm. I did not know what it would be like.

WARWICK [hardening] Oh! You saw it, then?

THE CHAPLAIN. I did not know what I was doing. I am a hotheaded fool; and I shall be damned to all eternity for it.

WARWICK. Nonsense! Very distressing, no doubt; but it was not your doing.

THE CHAPLAIN [lamentably] I let them do it. If I had known, I would have torn her from their hands. You don’t know: you havnt seen: it is so easy to talk when you dont know. You madden yourself with words: you damn yourself because it feels grand to throw oil on the flaming hell of your own temper. But when it is brought home to you; when you see the thing you have done; when it is blinding your eyes, stifling your nostrils, tearing your heart, then–then–[Falling on his knees] O God, take away this sight from me! O Christ, deliver me from this fire that is consuming me! She cried to Thee in the midst of it: Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! She is in Thy bosom; and I am in hell for evermore.

WARWICK [summarily hauling him to his feet] Come come, man! you must pull yourself together. We shall have the whole town talking of this. [He throws him not too gently into a chair at the table] If you have not the nerve to see these things, why do you not do as I do, and stay away?

THE CHAPLAIN [bewildered and submissive] She asked for a cross. A soldier gave her two sticks tied together. Thank God he was an Englishman! I might have done it; but I did not: I am a coward, a mad dog, a fool. But he was an Englishman too.

WARWICK. The fool! they will burn him too if the priests get hold of him.

THE CHAPLAIN [shaken with a convulsion] Some of the people laughed at her. They would have laughed at Christ. They were French people, my lord: I know they were French.

WARWICK. Hush! someone is coming. Control yourself.

– Scene VI, p141-142

De Stogumber had become so wrapped up in his own self-righteousness that he fairly went mad when Joan was nearly acquitted entirely, neither had he been happy to learn that the customary torture was not to be performed on Joan. But when he stood in the crowd as she was burning, his house of cards came collapsing in on him and he saw everything as it was. He saw the Law staring him down and knew he was fit for hell.

And it changed him.
John de Stogumber, chaplain to the cardinal, came to the end of himself, and received a revelation of grace. We find him in the epilogue, a much different man:

The door opens; and an old priest, white-haired, bent, with a silly but benevolent smile, comes in and trots over to Joan.

THE NEWCOMER. Excuse me, gentle lords and ladies. Do not let me disturb you. Only a poor old harmless English rector. Formerly chaplain to the cardinal: to my lord of Winchester. John de Stogumber, at your service. [He looks at them inquiringly] Did you say anything? I am a little deaf, unfortunately. Also a little–well, not always in my right mind, perhaps; but still, it is a small village with a few simple people. I suffice: I suffice: they love me there; and I am able to do a little good. I am well connected, you see; and they indulge me.

JOAN. Poor old John! What brought thee to this state?

DE STOGUMBER. I tell my folks they must be very careful. I say to them, ‘If you only saw what you think about you would think quite differently about it. It would give you a great shock. Oh, a great shock.’ And they all say ‘Yes, Parson: we all know you are a kind man, and would not harm a fly.’ That is a great comfort to me. For I am not cruel by nature, you know.

THE SOLDIER. Who said you were?

DE STOGUMBER. Well, you see, I did a very cruel thing once because I did not know what cruelty was like. I had not seen it, you know. That is the great thing: you must see it. And then you are redeemed and saved.

CAUCHON. Were not the sufferings of our Lord Christ enough for you?

DE STOGUMBER. No. Oh no: not at all. I had seen them in pictures, and read of them in books, and been greatly moved by them, as I thought. But it was no use: it was not our Lord that redeemed me, but a young woman whom I saw actually burned to death. It was dreadful: oh, most dreadful. But it saved me. I have been a different man ever since, though a little astray in my wits sometimes.

-Epilogue, p153-154

“Well, you see, I did a very cruel thing once because I did not know what cruelty was like. I had not seen it, you know. That is the great thing: you must see it. And then you are redeemed and saved.”

Isn’t that so GRACE for you, to say nothing of the purpose of the Law! Stogumber puts it like no other; he did not know what cruelty was until he saw it. Neither do we see sin until the Law reveals it in our lives. And you must see it, and then you are redeemed and saved–grace. And he was. How I wonder what would be the response of the disillusioned could they but receive a revelation like Stogumber’s. Salvation would come to every house.

And then there is his final blessing over Joan: “The foolish old men on their deathbeds praise thee, because their sins against thee are turned into blessings.” And that’s just how incredible our God is, that He could transform all our mistakes to blessing.

And I love this character, because out of all of them, his is the most felt transformation. He stands out to me as the one who was the most changed, and in the end more righteous than all the rest because of his allowance to the grace of God. The man with the greater sin loves that much more after he has received forgiveness, but also the man who is more than passive in his repentance. Many others such as the Earl of Warwick felt justified enough in that The Church made Joan a saint, but not John de Stogumber; he may have become only a gentle, white-haired and possible slightly senile old man, but on the day the fire was lit to burn Joan of Arc, a Holy fire was kindled to consume him also, spirit and soul for a God of unending grace.