Join me and many of the other contributors to Chicken Soup for the Soul’s new book, Miracles and More, today at 11:00 A.M. Pacific Time. The information is below. Should be fun and inspiring!
Join me and many of the other contributors to Chicken Soup for the Soul’s new book, Miracles and More, today at 11:00 A.M. Pacific Time. The information is below. Should be fun and inspiring!
“Three dollars, once; three dollars, twice;
Going for three…” But no,
From the room, far back, a grey-haired man
Came forward and picked up the bow;
Then wiping the dust from the old violin,
And tightening the loosened strings,
He played a melody pure and sweet,
As a caroling angel sings.
The music ceased, and the auctioneer,
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said: “What am I bid for the old violin?”
And he held it up with the bow.
“A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two?
Two thousand! And who’ll make it three?
Three thousand, once; three thousand, twice,
And going and gone,” said he.
The people cheered, but some of them cried,
“We do not quite understand.
What changed its worth?” Swift came the reply:
“The touch of the Master’s hand.”
And many a man with life out of tune,
And battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd
Much like the old violin.
A “mess of pottage,” a glass of wine,
A game — and he travels on.
He is “going” once, and “going” twice,
He’s “going” and almost “gone.”
But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd
Never can quite understand
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought
By the touch of the Master’s hand.
In my father’s memoir, The Other Belfast – An Irish Youth, he wrote about a painting his grandmother had on the wall of her bedroom in her cottage. It showed what the Bible calls “the broad and narrow way” – two roads, a wide one with all the easy to find sins of the world, loaded with sinners engaged in all kinds of debauchery, and a narrow one with one figure, walking uphill toward a light. My father said he studied that painting until every detail of it was seared into his mind. I have searched the internet for the image. It may have been this one –
Here’s a more modern one –
As much as I love the power of the written word – the right words in the right order – I’m not sure which shapes the heart and mind more – words or images. Imagery, film in particular, may be gaining the upper hand in the modern world, as more people watch movies than read books.
When I was in elementary school, police officers and others came to our school to teach us the evils of drug use. In a pamphlet they handed out, there was a healthy-looking kid who didn’t use drugs and a freaked-out, twitchy one who did. This was one of the pages from it –
That did the trick with me. I never wanted to become the twitchy kid hiding in the old box.
I had the added emphasis of watching my brother go down the road of addiction. My earliest memory of discovering his problem was when I was ten years old and he was thirteen. I was skateboarding with some friends at our elementary school and one of them said, “Hey, isn’t that your brother?” I looked and saw him running down the sidewalk on the other side of the chain link fence, flapping his arms and trying to fly. I called him and he came running over with a wild look in his eyes. He said, “Hey, little brother, want to try some of these?” He held out a handful of pills. He was my brother but not my brother. I said no and he ran off down he street, still trying to fly.
We used to play baseball and frisbee in the street. That stopped when the drugs started. I became a potential “fink” (tattletale) to him and his friends. In fact, he began to torture me psychologically and physically when my parents weren’t around. He hadn’t just changed. He became sadistic.
A few years after the day he offered me drugs, I had a dream that he and I were walking in an unfamiliar part of town. He wanted to go down an alley. I told him it was too dark and that we should go around. He turned down the alley and said, “Come on. It will be fine.” I yelled after him, begging him to stay, warning him that something bad was going to happen, until he disappeared into the darkness.
As time passed, he listened to bands like Korn and Cannibal Corpse. I listened to David Wilcox and The Beach Boys. Still trying to get him out of that dark alley, I warned him that the messages in music, like chants, are embedded into the psyche because of their melodic and repetitive nature. He laughed and said, “This music is what I loved when I was young. If I started listening to Air Supply or Neil Sedaka, I would age rapidly and die.”
He kept walking down that alley until he died of a drug overdose at the age of 37.
I’m still on the narrow road. I still medicate myself with music with positive messages, martial arts (hitting bags instead of people), singing, trying to absorb the beauty and innocence of my children, and, of course, writing.
I still seek God. I hope He’s at the end of this narrow path. And I hope my brother is with Him.
I know most won’t read this because it is very, very, very long, so to the one or two who do, pat yourself on the back for not being afflicted with the A.D.D. the Internet has stricken 99% of the adult world with. I really opened a vein for it, so I think it will be worth your time. Thanks.
And to those who think a rhyming poem can’t be profound, please get out your Ouija board, contact Hank Longfellow, Emily Dickinson, Bob Frost and Billy Shakespeare (et al) and take it up with them.
Journey to God
An old man passed away one night.
He’d had a good, long life.
and all that he regretted
was leaving his beautiful wife.
To others, her glory had faded
as the years had claimed their fee
but to him, she was just as lovely
as she was at twenty-three.
He saw his high school sweetheart
and remembered her sweet, shy smile.
He saw his bride in a gown of white
walking toward him down the aisle.
He saw her asleep in a hospital bed
as she cradled their newborn child.
He saw her quiet and thoughtful,
then passionate and wild.
He was so possessed by thoughts of her,
he hardly noticed he had passed.
He was still alive in spirit
and all his pain was gone at last.
He was surprised at how easy it was to die,
like shedding worn-out clothes
but even more to see himself below
as his spirit slowly rose.
He felt no urge or instinct
to return and get back in
for he knew the body on the bed
was never really him.
It was always just a vehicle,
now broken down and old.
What he’d walked around in all his life
was just a vehicle for his soul.
He had to laugh for, being dead,
he had never felt so great.
He couldn’t help but realize
this was a natural state.
Death was not the end of life,
just one more stanza in the poem.
It was not a sad departure
but a return to his true home.
But the cries of his dear wife
would not let him leave this plane.
He could not bear to leave her
while she was in such pain.
He saw her cry and hold him
as he lay still in their bed
and heard her whisper, “Rest, my love”
as he floated overhead.
He wanted to hold her and let her know
that he was free from pain.
He wished he could tell her not to cry
for they’d soon be together again.
But the wall between life and death
proved too thick and strong to breach.
The woman he’d held every day of his life,
for now, was out of reach.
So he cried, too, thinking of her
so frail and helpless there,
alone with his lifeless body
in the home they used to share.
Though at first he was elated
to be free of that painful shell,
he longed to return to tell her
that his soul was alive and well.
So as he floated like a feather
through the purple, misty air,
his sorrow and loneliness mounted
and he fell into despair.
When from far away, through the haze,
a strange melody reached his ears,
sung by a chorus of angels
to soothe and calm his fears.
He followed the voices, clear and sweet,
and could hardly believe the sight.
Radiant beings with glowing eyes
were guiding him toward the light!
“Do you remember me, John?” one of them asked,
“We were buddies in World War Two.”
“Do you remember me, John?” another voice called,
“You used to call me Grandpa Lou.”
“Hey, John! It’s me! Your brother, Joey!
I came here when you were ten.
I’ll bet you never thought
you would hear my voice again.”
This went on for hours and hours,
spirits wanting to say hello;
reunions with those he had loved so well
in the world and the life below.
His emotions were tossed seeing those he had lost
in the maelstrom of earthly life
where often the good are taken too soon
and heartache and sorrow is rife.
But there were two others he struggled to see
till he finally grew panicked and sad.
He said, “Wait a minute! Somebody tell me –
where are my mom and my dad?”
His brother whispered, “John, don’t worry.
They’re here and they’re happy you came.”
Then he saw them, bathed in golden light,
and their faces were just the same.
He cried with joy as he hugged them and said,
“Oh, I have missed you so.”
For years, he wished he could see them again.
Now, he could not let them go.
He was happy to hold them, to look in their eyes,
and laugh as they had before.
He was relieved that death is no different from life.
There’s just no pain anymore.
He told them he’d grown to appreciate
all that they’d done and said,
and as nice as it was to tell them now,
wished he’d told them in life instead.
But like most, he denied the fact of death
and refused to believe they could die.
He never allowed it to enter his mind
as the months and the years flew by.
Till he found himself standing beside their graves
and it finally sank in they were gone.
He was angry at God who allowed death to be.
It all seemed so senseless and wrong.
“Why are we given these feelings?” he had cried,
“And love that grows deeper with time?
If we’re bound to lose it all in the end,
then creating this world was a crime.”
And just the way he had wished
he could soothe his wife’s dismay,
his parents heard his anguished cry
and wished the same that day.
For they had already found their way home
to the fountain from which we all spring.
They had freed themselves of their mortal shells
and their souls had taken wing.
Now here he was, with them again,
and his joy could not be contained.
If only he’d known death was only a door,
his faith would never have waned.
“If you want to swim in the ocean,” they said,
“Just think it and you will be there.
Your body can’t slow you down anymore.
You’re as light and free as the air.”
“Remember those Sunday’s down by the sea?
Those summers that seemed without end?
Just close your eyes and imagine that time
and we’ll all be back there again!”
But he worried that God would not let him stay
and that all this was too good to last.
He feared that he would be banished
for his faltering faith in the past.
But his family and friends just smiled and said,
“John, you have nothing to fear.
A few things they said about heaven down there
are far from the truth up here.”
They said you had to go to church
for God to hear your prayer
but God can hear the softest whisper
anytime and anywhere.
You search for Christ was constant.
You fought for your faith since birth.
And the kindness you always showed in life
is the sole measure of anyone’s worth.
God doesn’t demand blind submission
or condemn you for questions or doubts.
It’s men that said God was vengeful,
a dictator who bullies and shouts.
You thought you needed pure faith
or God wouldn’t hear your call
but the times God tried to help you most
were when you had no faith at all.
You thought that sins were punished
with torture and endless pain
but the threat of hell is not for God
but for the church’s gain.
We don’t need a hell to burn in
or a devil to torture our minds.
Judgment takes place in our conscience
when we’re shown God’s vast design.
It’s not only the enemy of man
who compels us to do wrong.
Good and bad are side by side
within us, all along.
It all comes down to choices –
light or dark, right or wrong,
and they make or break our happiness
in life below and life beyond.
Every sin comes back to haunt us,
no matter how big or how small
and the pain we caused in earthly life
returns to us, after all.
We each have our own individual hell
and a battle none but us can fight.
Millions of souls are still spinning out there,
trapped in perpetual night.
For until they cure their own blindness,
in darkness their souls will bide.
God doesn’t force us to come back home
but patiently calls us inside.
Some men look at evil
and label it “God’s will”
but God gave life, and death for rest.
Only men can kill.
And some say God is dead
or he was never really there.
How else, they ask, can one explain
so many unanswered prayers?
How else can one explain
the pain and horror on the earth?
This has been the central question
since the dawn of mankind’s birth.
But like a mortal parent,
raising a baby all alone,
God did his best to teach us
then left us on our own.
And like a meddling father
who a child would push away,
God can’t live our lives for us
and he can’t cushion the way.
To take every hint of pain from life
would remove our right to choose.
If you really stop to think it through,
we’d gain less than we’d lose.
Some see the misery of human life
and ask God what it means
but the only way He could end it
would be to make us all machines.
So God does not stop evil,
though it hurts Him to let it be.
He can’t both rule with an iron hand
and allow us to be free.
The place that folks call “hell”
where sinners meet their fate
is distance from the light of God
and time to contemplate.
For once you feel God’s presence,
all your pain and sorrows cease.
All your questions then are answered
and your heart is filled with peace.
Men bent the words of Jesus
To control the multitude.
They took his divine message
and made it low and crude.
Men have always struggled for power,
from the caves to the streets of L.A.
Why wouldn’t they twist the word of God
and tell us we need them to pray?
The ring kissing, Hail Mary’s, and rosary beads,
right down to the Pope’s princely nod,
at best, is only good theater,
a bureaucracy between man and God.
You see, God is not some tyrant
who needs a chain of command.
You find God in the eyes of the aged
and in a baby’s hand.
You find God in a sunset
so pretty it makes you cry.
You find God in every warm embrace
and in a lover’s sigh.
You find God in generosity,
and in the meek and mild.
You find God in any gentle soul
who kneels to help a child.
You find God in the soft, pink light
when a new day has begun
and in the flower by the window
as it opens to the sun.
And yes, you find God in the dying
as the light fades in their eyes
and their spirit slowly slips away
to its true home in the skies.
God is in every one of us.
We can feel it when we’re young.
Then we’re snatched up by the world
and into the fray we’re flung.
We grow cynical and weary
and forget all that we once knew
when the peace and joy God gave us
has lost its native hue.
Oh, if only they knew, John! If only they knew!
What a wonderful world they might win
if they could only see past their differences
to the spirit that dwells within.”
He was shocked by these new revelations.
His mind spun around and around.
The chains that tethered his spirit in life
Lay shattered in pieces on the ground.
His parents said, “Welcome to heaven.”
He felt a peace he never thought he would know
and though his mortal life had just ended,
it seemed like a long time ago.
Then a hush fell all through the firmament.
Impossible colors filled the air, far and near.
His peace grew so deep, he sobbed out loud
and his mother whispered, “Look! God is here!”
– Mark Rickerby
During the last presidential election campaign, Ben Carson made a very good point about the Internet and the deteriorating state of civility in America. Referring to the Internet, he said (paraphrased), “You can read almost any news story online, then look in the comment section and find people cussing at each other. Where did this hateful spirit come from? It certainly didn’t come from our Judeo-Christian heritage.”
I’m pretty sure things have gotten worse on both sides of any spectrum one could name – political, social, racial, national, economic, etc., since the election results came in.
Of course, most of the people saying horrible things to others online are operating under nicknames, and most would never be brave enough to say such things to others in person. The anonymity of the Internet makes them both brave and unnaturally rude. Thus our dilemma.
About ten years ago, I was wondering if the Internet unites or divides us and wrote the poem below. Unfortunately, I fear it’s just as true today, maybe more. I sure hope humanity does some work on itself soon. I don’t know how many more chances we’re going to get.
One day, the good Lord was looking down on us all
And, as usual, wondering where He went wrong,
When He had a crazy idea He named “The Internet”
And thought, “They should have had this all along!”
“I’ll plant the idea in somebody’s head down there
And when they can all finally talk with each other,
All this fighting will be replaced by understanding
And every man will rush to help his brother.”
So He did just that, then went away for a week,
Which to Him is about twenty of our mortal years.
When He returned, he logged on, wildly curious,
But what He saw nearly drove Him to tears.
His first stop was a popular site called You Tube.
But He found everyone fighting about everything.
“I can’t believe it,” He cried. “What’s wrong with them?”
This isn’t what I hoped my Internet would bring!”
He searched, still hoping, but found endless depravity.
There was some good here and there but, all in all,
He felt that His gift had been hijacked and graffiti’d,
Nothing more than a sophisticated bathroom wall.
What He hoped would bring peace and prosperity
Had become rude, ungodly, vile and unkempt.
“I hoped it wasn’t true of My children,” He thought,
“But it seems familiarity really does breed contempt.”
Welcome to episode 13 of Messin’ with Mark, God’s sitcom!
For those of you who are unfamiliar with this series, let me tell you how it started . . .
When I was very young, Jesus was walking around in His heavenly area up there when he saw his Dad looking down through the clouds, laughing His head off. Curious, he walked over and asked, “What’s up, Pop?”
“Oh, just pranking that Mark kid again,” He replied.
“Again?” Jesus asked, “Why are You always picking on him?”
“I don’t know. There’s just something about him,” God said. “I mean, look at his face right now.”
Jesus looked down and started to chuckle, then stopped Himself. “Okay, I admit it’s kind of funny, but this is wrong. I mean, You created him. With all due respect, what kind of an example are you setting for the angels? We’re supposed to love and protect humanity, not single one out from all the rest for humiliation.”
God thought for a moment, then looked at Jesus and said, “You’re right. I should stop.” They looked at each other seriously, then said, “Naaaaaaaahhh” and laughed some more.
Jesus suggested that he make a regular show of his pranks on me. They named it Messin’ with Mark.
Remember Rodney Dangerfield’s bit about getting “no respect” from humans? It’s kind of like that, but on a cosmic level.
So, to today’s episode – The Day I Met Jesus
Okay, it wasn’t really Jesus, it was Ted Neeley, an actor who played Jesus in the 1973 movie, Jesus Christ, Superstar, and yet another day when God decided to mess with me a bit for his sitcom, created for heaven’s amusement, and put a look-alike of his son in my path just to watch me squirm.
I didn’t see Jesus Christ Superstar until I was eighteen and it had a very profound effect on me. Until then, most actors played Jesus pretty straight but this guy was ultra-cool. He looked like a surfer. And he sang! Not only that, he sounded a lot like Steve Perry of Journey, my favorite band at the time.
I was walking around downtown Westwood one Saturday night (the “place to be” in L.A. back then) and ducked into one of the shops. I was looking down when I almost ran into someone coming out. The first thing I saw was a pair of leather sandals with the hem of a princely, earth-tone robe hanging above them. I looked up and was stunned to see Ted Neeley smiling benignly at me, dressed in the same get-up he wore in Jesus Christ Superstar. The only thing missing was the thorny crown.
It was probably the biggest “deer in the headlights” moment of my life. I had only seen the movie a few days earlier so it was a heck of a coincidence, and as far as I was concerned, this guy was Him. The One. The Great I Am. It didn’t help that he had one of those looks that sees right through you. “Pierces the soul” as they say. I started thinking about every cuss word I had said recently, that unpaid parking ticket, the pack of chewing gum I stole from Thrifty Mart when I was seven, etc.
I said, “Duhbudda bibidee” or something like that. Apparently aware that I was star-struck, dumbstruck, and just plain struck, he said “hello” in a very soft, Christ-like manner. I was a little disappointed he didn’t say, “Hello, my child” but you can’t have everything, I suppose.
Anyway, this was many years after the movie came out so he was obviously still “workin’ it” by dressing up as Jesus and walking around Westwood on Saturday nights, bringing his own brand of redemption to lonely women who felt guilty about one thing or another.
But maybe I’m being too cynical. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say he was doing a stage performance in town that night. After all, he’s still doing it, Him bless him, all these years later. That man has saved a lot of souls.
I finally found my voice and said, “Ted Frickin’ Neeley! Dude! (I was also a surfer back then.) I just saw Jesus Christ Superstar! You were awesome!” He thanked me graciously, said “have a blessed night” and walked placidly away into the balmy California twilight, bestowing blessings on all he passed.
It was a little like meeting a corner Santa Claus. We all know it’s not really good ol’ St. Nick, but we suspend our disbelief so we can feel a bit of the magic we’d feel if it actually were.
I’ve always believed in hedging my bets, so as Ted passed me in that doorway, I made sure to touch the hem of his garment. You know . . . just in case.