Books, Christianity

Williams’ Janus: The Skeleton in Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury

Character Analysis:

The Skeleton

from Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury by Charles Williams

Intro

This is my first character analysis and I believe that there could not be a more fitting character to analyze than this walking, dancing contradiction. The Skeleton from Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury by Charles Williams is one of the most complex characters I have ever read. At times he seems to represent Christ, and at other times he seems to represent the devil. In an essay I wrote for Grove City College, I claim that he represents both.

My professor disagreed strongly with my essay, since she thought that the Skeleton was exclusively a Christ figure. She said I was too swayed by one critic, which was not at all true because I came to my conclusions by reading the play carefully and thoroughly before I read any literary criticism. What I can say in her favor was although she didn’t agree with me, she did give me an A.

The analysis that I go into below is adapted from that essay. The citation style I used is MLA.

Summary

This play is a tragedy that follows the life and death of Thomas Cranmer, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury during the Reformation under the reign of Henry VIII. Under the subsequent reign of Mary, when power in England flips back to the Roman Catholics, Cranmer is sentenced to death on charges of heresy. The Skeleton controls the action throughout and is a constant companion to Cranmer as well as reacting to other characters.

Analysis

Few critics have seriously analyzed the Skeleton from Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury due to the play’s obscurity. This is strange, considering that according to Nancy-Lou Patterson, the play, “produced and published in 1936, is perhaps Williams’ best play” (321). Additionally, it was performed at the Canterbury Festival, which ought to have attached a certain fame to it, meriting it a body of established criticism. Its obscurity, therefore, has nothing to do with problems of publicity, but rather its complexity and ambiguity. These traits are best encompassed by one of the play’s main characters, the Skeleton. Typically, in literature a skeleton is a representation of death or evil, but to assume Williams’ Skeleton plays a role so simple would be to mischaracterize him. In Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury by Charles Williams, the skeleton functions as a Janus figure, a biblical echo chamber, and a personification of death.

Before seeking to understand William’s work, it is worthwhile to understand who he was. According to James George Dixon III, “Charles Williams is an enigma in twentieth century literature. He was born in 1886, died in 1945, achieved fame as a critic, poet, novelist, playwright, lecturer, biographer, essayist, theologian, and brilliant conversationalist” (170). He was a Protestant, and his religious beliefs heavily influence his work. It is worthy to note that starting in 1931, Hopkins was a major influence on Williams (Patterson 320). Many critics concur that Hopkin’s complex poetry may have impacted Williams’ later works, which no doubt would include his playwriting and his development of character dialogue in Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury.

Before going any further, it is necessary to lay out who the Skeleton is as a character in the play. A shallow understanding of the play would label the Skeleton as the antagonist, but his stance toward the protagonist changes throughout the course of the play, since by the end his intentions become more obviously good. As Dixon says, “the Skeleton is the touchstone of all the action that occurs in the play, setting up one action by his command, whispering in the King’s ear to stop another action, generally (and sometimes literally dancing through the scenes)” (180). He is a character of power, who knows it and uses it. Indeed, “the Skeleton’s presence unifies the action and keeps the play from being merely a chronicle play” (Dixon 180). It is the Skeleton himself who makes this play worthy of scholarly analysis and preservation, keeping it from being just another religious play or a footnote in the history of the Canterbury festival.

When Williams saw the Skeleton on stage, he was “delighted with the chorus figure, the Skeleton, who wore a black body-suit with white appliqué bones, and a black cloak ‘lined throughout with the green of spring, which appeared again as ivy-leaves round the brow’” (Lindop 348). This reveals that it represents his intentions for the Skeleton, for a writer could never be satisfied with a costume design for one of his characters that did not properly demonstrate the character’s inner values and meaning. From Williams’ pleasure alone, one can infer that the Skeleton is a character of complexity, for his costume design is one that represents both death in the form of bones and life in the form of ivy.

A character of opposites—that is what the Skeleton is. Williams’ own words confirm and expand on this concept and provide insight into the variety of things a Skeleton can represent:

A book of some interest may be written upon English literature through the ages under the title of the Skeleton….Every age, like every poet and ever man, has the skeleton it deserves; the life of the skeleton is its own doubled life, and marriage with the skeleton is after all the wisest intercourse with it—meaning by that all that marriage involves of intimacy and strangeness, of friendship and hostility, of freedom and captivity, and something like a new life.”

Williams qtd in Dixon 182

This is what the Skeleton is—it is also relevant to remember what the Skeleton is not. He is not a mind or soul, which he himself reveals in one of his monologues:

Fast runs the mind,

and the soul a pace behind:

without haste or sloth

come I between both.”

Williams 5

Basic logic establishes that something between two things is not either of those things, but is instead something entirely different. He explains who he is in the next few lines: “And along the hangman’s way/we all three run level,/mind, soul, and God or the Devil.” (Williams 3). If he is not the mind or the soul, he must be God or the Devil. Now the word “or” is used in two ways—either exclusively or inclusively. Exclusive “or” requires that it must be one or the other; it cannot be both. Inclusive “or” permits either of the options to be correct, or both. This essay argues that the inclusive sense of the word “or” is correct here. Woody Wendling argues that “it is ambiguous whether the skeleton represents Christ or devil, or both,” supporting an inclusive use of the word (4).

The Skeleton represents both Christ and the Devil. As Williams points out in the quote included earlier, “the life of a Skeleton is a double life” (qtd. in Dixon 182)—which can be understood to mean that he does not represent just a single entity, but two. This is why such an apt comparison can be drawn between Janus, the two-headed god of Roman mythology, and the Skeleton. It is useful to consider one by understanding the other, because it can illuminate what Williams’ was attempting to achieve with the Skeleton. Janus is a god of opposites, of beginnings and endings, life and death, childhood and adulthood, war and peace. He is also the god of transitions, which will be covered later as another similarity with the Skeleton. For now, it suffices to appreciate that Janus is opposites which exist in a complementary whole, just like the Skeleton, who manages to represent Christ at times and the Devil at others.

Wendling goes on to say that the Skeleton, “a figure apparently representing Evil or Death ultimately appears, in the light of eternity, as the instrument of Good” (3). This is not, however, because the Skeleton was a representation of Christ all along. Rather, it is a demonstration that any conflict between Christ and the Devil, even if they are both present in a figure such as the Skeleton, is bound to end out with God as the victor. This is because the God of the Christian religion not only uses good to achieve His ends, but can bring good even out of evil, using the Devil’s own devices against him.

It is sensible that a play ending with a representation of Christ in the form of the Skeleton show glimpses of the Skeleton as a Christ-figure at the very beginning. The Skeleton first appears while carrying a crozier, which is a hooked staff carried by a bishop and associated with shepherds. In fact, it was chosen as a symbol of pastoral office because of its resemblance to a shepherd’s staff—which is a clear reference to Christ, who is often referred to as the Good Shepherd.

In case viewers or readers become too comfortable with the idea that the Skeleton represents Christ alone, there are many lines that connect him to the Devil and Christ. For example, the following section:

I am the way, the way to heaven;

who will show a poor blind beggar the way to heaven?

I am the way, the way to hell,

who will teach a poor blind beggar the way to hell?

I am the way, the way to salvation,

who will desire the way of salvation?”

Williams 13

Christ does describe himself as “the way” (John 14:6). He certainly does present himself as the way to heaven and salvation, and even says that “no one comes to the father except through me” (John 14:6). He never, however, even remotely suggests that he is the way to hell. It is simply not logically possible for a closer relationship with Christ to lead to estrangement from God. There are only three possibilities that directly result from consideration of these lines. Either this Skeleton represents both Christ and the Devil, just represents the Devil (who is certainly capable of quoting Scripture for his own manipulative uses), or Christ is being represented as a liar. The first is frankly the most reasonable. The positive ending of the play with Cranmer’s repentance and the Skeleton’s role in leading him to it makes it impossible for the Skeleton to be just the Devil. If the Skeleton only represented Christ, he would not call himself the way to hell, which would certainly qualify as a lie or a major theological error, both of which the Protestant Williams would be unlikely to attribute to merely a Christ-figure.

There are certain times when the Skeleton simply acts as a Christ figure. For instance, when he is described as “Christ’s back” (Williams 54). According to Wendling, “at one point the skeleton refers to himself as the backside of Christ…Williams obviously has Moses in mind” (4). This reference to Moses comes from Exodus 33:18-34:9, when Moses saw God, but could only be shown His back, for Moses’ own protection. As a result, it can be inferred that the guise of a Skeleton was adopted in part to protect Cranmer from the grandeur of God, which would be otherwise overwhelming. Thus, Christ’s back is not a negative image—it does not mean Christ is turning his back on Cranmer.

Such passages that directly connect the Skeleton to Christ are countered by passages that could only be associated with the Devil. For instance, the Skeleton asserts that “yet I only am the pit where Gehenna is sprung” (Williams 11). In the Christian religion, Hell, also referred to as Gehenna, did not spring from Christ, but rather from the machinations of the Devil and the sin and wickedness of humankind. It is the representation of the Devil that is speaking here, a terrible source of evil in Christianity who desires the damnation and destruction of humans—in this case, Cranmer.

There are instances when the Skeleton speaks of Christ. This seems to suggest that he is not Christ, since it is rare for anyone to refer to himself or herself in the third person. “Christ rode into Zion,” the Skeleton explains before identifying himself with the donkey Christ was riding instead (Williams 13). It makes sense that in this line it is the Devil who is being referred to, because there are numerous parts of the Bible where the Devil is described as being put beneath Christ. An example is 1 Corinthians 15:25, which states that “[Christ] must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” Another verse claims that man and Christ will crush the head of the serpent; in other words, the Devil (Genesis 3:15). Both of these examples are of the Devil being physically and metaphorically beneath Christ, which is why when the Skeleton identifies himself as the donkey, he is associating himself with the Devil.

There are other times, however, when the Skeleton refers to Christ, but it does seem like he is speaking in the third person. One point where this happens is when the Skeleton says that “Christ laughs his foe to scorn, his angels he charges with folly” (Williams 54). The Skeleton is a dreaded character, and yet is a character of mirth. He dances around the stage and even sings at one point in the play. The song seems to be a mockery of Cranmer’s fear and amusement at his fate of burning at the stake:

For the burning of a poor man, a very poor man:

a poor man in duty, God save him from duty!

a poor man in honour, God save him from honour!

a poor man in misery, God save him from misery!

All Christian people, God save from riches!

if you have duty, God save you from duty!

if you have honour, God save you from honour!

if you have misery, God save you from misery!

God make you poor men for the burning of a poor man

Williams 54-55

It truly is as if the Skeleton is laughing and scorning the desperate Cranmer, just as he suggests Christ laughs at the folly even of the angels. At the same time, the laughter of the Devil would also seem warranted, though for a different reason. It is as if the Devil also thinks he has won at this point, with his little ditty about how the Christians must be saved from duty, honor, and misery, probably because it seems like they cannot handle it. Cranmer is a prime example of how a man can fall while carrying his cross, and it is likely that the Skeleton is mimicking Cranmer’s thoughts. No doubt Cranmer is mentally begging Christ to save him from his duty, honor, and misery—and most importantly, from burning. He does this despite his recantation, which he signed to save his life, though it proved futile.

That passage was one instance where it seemed that both Christ and the Devil were apparent. Here is another: “We of heaven are compassionate-kind” (Williams 6). Both Christ and the Devil are “of heaven” since Christ descended from heaven and the Devil is a fallen angel who originated from heaven. The Skeleton’s claim that he is “compassionate-kind” may be an honest assertion or a form of sarcastic irony (Williams 6). It is not clear who is speaking here: Christ, the Devil or both. In the end, this passage is a strong representation of how the Skeleton is a Janus-figure—one who represents Christ and the Devil.

A comparison between the Roman god Janus and the Skeleton is also a helpful way of understanding the Skeleton because Janus is the god of transitions. As explained earlier, the Skeleton is the way to both heaven and hell, a sort of path to either. He brings people to their ultimate destination, driving them toward either extreme: toward eternal happiness or eternal damnation. He is also “the delator of all things to their truth” (Williams 34). A delator is basically an accuser. The Skeleton, through his admonitions and scorn, drives people to their truth. He forces people to show their hand, revealing who they are as people. A person might profess love of God while his own cowardice leads him to recant, such as what happened to Cranmer. The Skeleton was not satisfied; he dug deeper, and when the burning was to happen anyway, Cranmer did a counter-recantation, and at the end of his life he reaffirmed his Protestant Christian beliefs. The Skeleton pushes a person through a period of transition to his or her ultimate fate, which is another way he resembles both Christ and the Devil. Christ seeks to lead a person toward heaven, and the Devil attempts to drive a person toward hell—the Skeleton, as both, does both.

The Skeleton also functions as a biblical echo chamber, resounding with verses and themes from the Bible for the audience to reflect on and appreciate from a different perspective. The fact that he quotes Scripture does not mean that the Skeleton is exclusively a figure of Christ. In the Bible, the Devil himself quoted Scripture while tempting Christ in the desert to give his arguments weight. Therefore, the instances where the Skeleton echoes Scripture can lead to no clear inferences as to his identity, but instead clarify his function as a figure in a religious play.

One example of when the Skeleton echoes Scripture is when he says that “heaven hears not twice” (Williams 6). This bears striking resemblance of meaning to Matthew 6:7, which states “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” Both the line of the play and the verse in the Bible lecture against vain repetition, a practice in which a person prays endlessly for a thing in a passionless way without accepting that God will answer the prayer in time. The Skeleton says that “heaven hears not twice” because a prayer does not have to be repeated over and over to be accepted by God.

In addition, the Skeleton says that “The land also has visions. Speak, I permit you” (Williams 11). This may be a reference to Luke 19:40, which claims that if “[Christ’s disciples] keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” Christ’s presence can cause even the land to respond. The command to land also echoes when Christ stilled the storm, demonstrating that he is capable of commanding and controlling the elements. The Skeleton, whether he is representing Christ or the Devil at any particular moment, is a character of power.

Another echo of Scripture come from these lines: “Brother reason and sister experience spew at each other, sister dogma and brother denial run askew” (Williams 12). This seems to echo Matthew 10:35-36, which states that:

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn

a man against his father,

a daughter against her mother,

a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—

a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.

In the lines from the play, brother is being turned against sister in a metaphorical way, but it nonetheless bears striking resemblance to Matthew 10:35-36.

In addition to being a Janus-figure and a biblical echo chamber, the Skeleton also represents death. Even though the Skeleton enters carrying a crozier instead of a scythe, it cannot be without reason that Williams chose a symbol linked so strongly with death. The Skeleton is described as the Figura Rerum, and “for Cranmer, the ‘shape of things to come’ is martyrdom and death. A skeleton is a symbol of death.” (Wendling 3). The Skeleton’s power seems to increase in intensity when Cranmer approaches his death, as the Skeleton begins to dance and sing. In the end, when Cranmer dies, it is clear that the Skeleton is the victor; he has achieved his aim. For all of these reasons, the Skeleton is a figure of death.

The Skeleton is notable for his complex function within the play and the layered symbolism that makes him a striking character. He is so complicated that using multiple metaphors is the only efficient way to attempt an explanation of his function. Through an examination of the Skeleton as a Janus-figure, a biblical echo chamber, and a symbol of death, viewers and readers of the play can come to understand this intricate character.

Works Cited

  • Dixon, James George, III. “Cranmer of Canterbury, 1936.” The Canterbury Festival Plays in Production, 1928-1958. Collection of Janice Brown, Grove City, Pennsylvania.
  • Lindop, Grevel. “Charles Williams and W. B. Yeats.” Yeats Annual, vol. 1, no. 21, 2018, pp. 317–354. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/90020744. Accessed 28 November 2020.
  • New International Version. Bible Gateway, 2011, https://www.biblegateway.com/versions/New-International-Version-NIV-Bible/. Accessed 28 November 2020.
  • Patterson, Nancy-Lou. “Charles Williams (20 September 1886-15 May 1945).” Modern British Essayists: Second Series, edited by Robert Lawrence Beum, vol. 100, Gale, 1990, pp. 316-325. Gale Literature: Dictionary of Literary Biography, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/KYIVSR812168091/DLBC?u=grov34532&sid=DLBC&xid=ce8387d8. Accessed 27 Nov. 2020.
  • Wendling, Woody. “So You’ve Always Wanted to Read Charles Williams? An Introduction to His Plays.” Inklings Forever, vol. 7, no. 30, 2010, pp. 1-7.
  • Williams, Charles. “Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury.” Collected Plays, edited by John Heath-Stubbs, Regent College Publishing, 2005, pp. 3-59.

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Christianity, Shows

Compelling, delightful, unexpected: The Chosen

The Chosen

Season 1

10 out of 10 stars

What is it?

The Chosen is the first ever multi-season series about the life of Christ. It was, and continues to be, created and directed outside of Hollywood. Creator and Producer is Dallas Jenkins. He hosts and posts many podcasts about the journey as it is progressing, making it really interesting to discover not just how the stories affected the people in the time of Jesus, but also see how these same stories are still working in the lives of those re-living them today!

The Chosen is the most successful tv-crowd-funded campaign ever (to date): 15,000+ investors have raised over $10 million! And as the seasons continue, that number keeps growing! The goal is to make this a 7-season series. This allows The Chosen to develop personalities and hypothesize back stories. It allows us viewers to relate to the characters and see Christ with fresh eyes.

As of the time of this blog article first being published, two seasons have been completed, (and season 2 is just as addicting!) and the third season is in progress.

Ultimately, The Chosen is a story told through the eyes of the people who surrounded Jesus using a combination of scripture and artistic license. It’s not scripture. It’s not adding to scripture. The focus is on the humanity of Jesus. What’s added? Cultural and historical context. It was designed to flesh out the Bible stories which Christians grew up with and bring them to life.

At the beginning of each episode we see the swirl of grey fish all swimming in one direction. One big blue fish swims against the current. Eventually, another, smaller blue fish turns and follows the big blue one …. and another, and two more … etc. In the end, there are thirteen blue fish swimming against the current! … It’s like WOW! Jesus is the big fish! No duh! and he chooses 12 apostles to follow. … and become FISHers of men. … and if I did deeper, can it be that as the flow of time continues, other “fish” will be “chosen” to go against the stream? Who might that next one be? … HMMMM…. maybe me? maybe you? …

. . . Which leads me to think about the title of the show

The Chosen. Not the Chosen ONE. It’s a show about Jesus, but NOT. Because He is the Chosen ONE. … The Chosen is told by the ones whom He chose as followers. Yes, Jesus is a huge part of this show. But more in the way the others see Him, in how they know Him. … They are Chosen to follow Him. So also are the people of Israel. They are the Chosen. And again, I am Chosen … and so are you! …

So many layers!!

I think that’s what I like about this show. In this first season there are so many layers, so many story arcs, so much to think about! Although the story follows scripture, the program makes the disclaimer that there stories are made up based on the way it might have been. Conversations and background stories are created so that the TRUTH might be told in a way that sparks the imagination. The creators/producers etc encourage all people who watch this to read the Gospels to find out how the stories came forth from the Word.

A handful of things I really love about the show:

I love this show. I have binge-watched the whole season a couple of times. I love how fleshed out the people are. I love how quirky Matthew is. I love the distinct lives of each of the characters. … When I was a kid, I would listen to the Bible stories and in my head, Jesus was just this holy man who performed miracles and then was gone. When it was time to perform another miracle, he popped up where he was needed. I didn’t know Jesus as a live person. He was a pop-up Jesus. In this series, Jesus is real. Peter is real. Nicodemus is real. Even the Romans and Pharisees are real. Each has a specific personality. Each character demonstrates the good and bad of who he or she is. There are no pop-up cardboard people in this show!

I also love the opening teasers. Each episode begins with a mini-backstory. It may be hundreds of years prior to the episode or even just 30 years prior. Regardless, it is a little piece of the rest of the story, a connection to motives or just an explanation of the WHY of something that happens in that episode. It is done well and adds nice flavor.

And I will just tell you one more thing before I delve into each of the episodes. I love love love the humor in this show. Jesus laughs at himself. He pokes good fun at the others. He enjoys life. This is a man with a great way of being. He knows when to laugh and when to be serious. He speaks with his entire being. That being said, Jesus’s eyes speak volumes. When he looks at another person, that person is filled with the knowledge of being KNOWN. That person desires to know HIM. All of this is demonstrated in each of the episodes. It’s amazing. It’s powerful. It’s really good … like you HAVE HAVE HAVE to watch this!

And so Season One begins …

Episode 1:

101. I Have Called You By Name
Episode 1 Season 1: I Have Called You By Name

Mary Magdalene, Nicodemus, Peter, and Andrew are introduced. We meet Eden – who is Peter’s wife. We meet Matthew. Spoiler alert: Matthew is a character that totally captures the screen! At the beginning his character makes me think of Albert Einstein – who it is said had a closet full of the same suit jackets so that he didn’t have to make a decision about what to wear. After more exposure to Matthew, I think of a highly intelligent person, a savant on the Asperger spectrum. Wait ’til you see him. You will be intrigued with him.

We also see Nicodemus’s failed attempt at an exorcism on Mary Magdalene. … He later claims that she was so in the hold of evil that only God could have saved her.

At the end of this episode we meet an unnamed man who calls Mary Magdalene by name.

Only God Himself could have drawn them out.

Episode 1: Nicodemus discussing the demons that failed to come out of Mary Magdalene

Episode 2:

102. Shabbat
Episode 2 Season1: Shabbat

Nicodemus hears of Mary Magdalene’s healing and goes to see for himself. He can’t believe that his exorcism took hold! He finds her and asks how long after he visited her was she healed. She informs him that it wasn’t him who healed her, but someone else. This opens his eyes to wonder and exploration of the divine.

Peter and Andrew are on the verge of losing their boat. They have no money to pay their taxes. Peter comes up with a plan to save their boat … He makes a deal with Quintus, the Roman in charge of the area. Peter agrees to tattle on who the fishermen are who make catches on the Sabbath and thus get out of paying taxes for their catch. Andrew doesn’t like the idea.

We see Matthew the tax collector trying to work up courage to drop in for Shabbat dinner at his folks’ house. He ends up back at his own place, on the ground, leaning against the wall, sharing his food with his dog.

We meet James and Thaddeus. They show up at Mary Magdalene’s for Shabbat dinner – her first in many many years. The man who called her by name arrives for dinner too. He introduces himself as Jesus.

We also get to see Nicodemus’s Shabbat dinner.

Episode 3:

103. Jesus Loves the Little Children
Episode 3 Season 1: Jesus Loves the Little Children

We see Jesus fully human. He is camping in the outskirts of town. He is working with tools to create wooden items to sell. He cooks, prays, washes his feet. He builds a fire. He brushes his teeth. A young girl named Abigail discovers his campsite when she goes out in the fields to play. She discovers the campsite and spies on Jesus. She returns the next day with her friend Joshua. Jesus of course knows the two are watching and encourages them to visit. Abigail asks him what he is doing. He tells her he is a craftsman. He shows them a wooden lock and key he is making. He also makes things people need – like toys and household articles. She tells him her family doesn’t have money so they don’t buy toys.

The following day, two kids return with friends. These seven children visit Jesus every day. He has them help him with tasks and he chats with them, talks to them about God, teaches them the Our Father. He listens to them pray the Shema, the Jewish confession of faith. He gets a little choked up hearing them … The kids start asking him questions. Over many days we see them interact. He tells them stories, goes fishing with them, sings with them, discusses God, the stories of their faith, and love, and His work.

Jesus finishes the lock and key set. we see him working it in the evening by the fire. He is satisfied and says, “It is good.”

Jesus makes wooden horses and a little Galilean house which he leaves for Abigail when he leaves his camp spot. He leaves a note saying he did not come only for the wealthy.

What’s your favorite food?”

“Hmm, I like so many different foods, but I especially love bread; for many reasons.”

Episode 3: Abigail’s friend Joshua and Jesus

Episode 4:

104. The Rock On Which It Is Built
Episode 4 Season1: The Rock On Which It Is Built

Peter is made to direct the Romans to the fishing vessels who are working on the Sabbath. He causes them to hit a sandbar.

The Tax Collector Matthew is assigned by the Romans to follow Peter and record everything he says and does.

Eden’s emau (mother) comes to live at Peter & Eden’s house. She is sick. Peter is not happy with another mouth to feed.

Andrew tells Peter that he has seen the Messiah.

Peter has to make a catch of fish or he will lose everything. He goes out fishing all night. He doesn’t catch anything. At some point in the night, Andrew, James, & John go out to join him. They still don’t catch a thing. Matthew witnesses this. When Peter returns to shore, Andrew sees Jesus teaching a small crowd of people on the shore. He introduces Peter to Jesus. Jesus asks to sit in the boat to teach so the crowd can hear him better. When he is finished, he tells Peter he knows Peter is in trouble. He tells Peter to go out a little and cast the net. Peter argues at first, then does … He ends up with the catch of his life. It is enough to pay off his taxes. He tells Jesus to depart from him because he is a sinful man. Matthew sees the miraculous catch. He doesn’t understand what’s going on, but he is intrigued.

Even people bark sometimes!”

Episode 4: Matthew to his dog watching Peter fish

Episode 5:

105. The Wedding Gift
Episode 5 Season 1: The Wedding Gift

Nicodemus visits John the Baptist in Prison

Asher & Sarah are getting married in Cana. Dina is the Groom’s mother. Jesus’s mother Mary is Dina’s good friend. Mary arrives to help Dina prepare and set up. Dina is excited. She is also concerned because the groom’s father and mother are a little “above” her family financially.

Thomas is introduced. He works for the catering service.

We see much of the celebration of a Jewish wedding.

The wine runs low – and then runs out. Mary asks Jesus to do something. Jesus has the servants fill up six stone jars normally used for ceremonial cleansing with water. He sends everyone out of the room and changes the water into wine. Thomas is in disbelief. Jesus invites him and the other caterer, a female named Ramah (Pronounced Ray-mah) to meet him in Samaria in 12 days.

Episode 6:

106. Indescribable Compassion
Episode 6 Season 1: Indescribable Compassion

The followers are breaking down camp. Jesus sends Peter to visit Eden before they go further.

Jesus meets an Ethiopian woman named Tamar and speaks to her in her native tongue. While they are speaking, a leper comes. The leper tells Jesus that his sister was a servant at the wedding. (She was Thomas’s partner.) Jesus heals him. Jesus tells him not to say anything to anyone.

Jesus goes to James’ & John’s parents’ house. Their names are Salome & Zebedee. People find out he is there and come to hear him speak. Matthew is part of the crowd. He sits on a roof and ends up sitting next to the children Jesus befriended in episode 3. (That’s a fun twist little twist as well as a sweet moment in the story line.)

While the crowd gets bigger and bigger, Tamar and a group of friends arrive carrying their paralyzed friend to the house. It is so crowded that she has her friends take him to the roof and drop him down in the presence of Jesus. She asks Jesus to heal her friend.

Jesus tells him his sins are forgiven. Some Pharisees are listening and are appalled. Jesus then tells the man to stand up and walk. The Pharisees are so upset that they try to get to Jesus to accuse him of blasphemy. Jesus’s followers get Jesus out the back door before the Pharisees are able to get him.

Nicodemus also witnesses this miracle.

Episode 7:

107. Invitations
Episode 7 Season 1: Invitations

Matthew visits his mother. Although he is “dead” to the family because he is a tax collector, she lets him in. He is having a crisis of faith and needs to work through his thoughts. She doesn’t really understand him and has him leave.

Jesus meets with Nicodemus in the night. There is a tender, beautiful moment when Jesus holds Nicodemus’ face in his hands. This is the famous meeting of “one must be born again”

At the end of this episode Jesus walks and his followers walk past the tax collection stand. Jesus turns and calls Matthew to follow him. It is another wonderfully real, wonderfully believable, even a little bit funny moment. Matthew leaves his post, hands the key to the Roman guard assigned to protect him at the job, and he follows Jesus. The Roman guard’s name is Gaius. This vignette of Matthew’s calling is so precious. We see Peter totally have a cow: He tries to tell Jesus who this guy is and try to convince him that this is a really bad idea. It’s another real moment. It is so plausible that the viewer is sure that THIS is how the calling of Matthew really happened. It is so rich. You HAVE to watch this show!

Give up who I am?”

It is true, there is a lot you would give up, but what you would gain is far greater and more lasting.”

Episode 7: Conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus when Jesus asks him to follow

Episode 8:

108. I Am He
Episode 8: Season 1: I Am He

The band of followers go to Samaria. Jesus speaks with Fatima at the well. She believes he is Messiah and tells the whole town.

Matthew hosts a huge feast at his house. The Pharisees knock on the door to see who is at the meal and see Jesus eating with the dregs of society. Jesus tells them that sick people need a doctor. Gaius arrives at the door also, though not to join the meal, but to try to convince Matthew not to give up the tax collection post.

I desire mercy more than sacrifice.”

Episode 8: Jesus quoting the book of Hosea to the Pharisees

Now go watch it for yourself! You won’t be able to stop!! It’s compelling. It’s delightful. It’s unexpected.

Books, Christianity, Life

Sensible Shoes… A Sensational Read!

A sensational story that will profoundly touch your life!

A spoiler-free book review:

Sensible Shoes … A story about the Spiritual Journey

by Sharon Garlough Brown

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

. . . we all have quite an adventure ahead of us.”

Meg p341


Sensible Shoes is the story of the spiritual journey of four unrelated women whose lives become interwoven as they walk through a three month retreat. Although the sessions are held every other week, the four become friends. They find much growth and healing as they share their dreams, desires, fears, and failures with one another.

Learn to linger with what provokes you.”

Dr. Nathan Allen, Charissa’s professor P 80

Four Pairs of Shoes

  • Meg Crane
    • Age 46
    • Widow
    • Mother died about 3 months ago
    • Recent empty nester
  • Hannah Shepley
    • Age 39
    • Associate Pastor
    • Has a compulsive desire to be needed: a “codependent pastor.” (P 81)
    • On a forced 9 month, fully paid, sabbatical.
  • Mara Garrison
    • Age 50
    • Eats to self-soothe
    • Has a sordid past
    • Unappreciated by husband and their two sons
  • Charissa Goodman Sinclair
    • Age 26
    • A married PhD student
    • A perfectionist
    • A professor wants his students to wrestle with God and have a personal experience with Him; This retreat should check that block.

. . . Restlessness is movement.”

Dawn, Mara’s therapist. P33

Mara knew the script by heart. Dawn would remind her that peace wasn’t the absence of conflict, but presence of God in the midst of the storm.”

P 33
http://www.labyrinthlife.com/free-stuff.html

Trying on New Shoes:


Retreat facilitator, Katherine Rhodes, introduces the retreatants to a passel of approaches to connect differently/better with God. Like trying on a new pair of shoes, sometimes a new way of encounter takes a little time for it to fit well. The list that follows and the descriptions are just a piece of what is fleshed out in the book.

  • Walking a Labyrinth
    • This concept totally intrigued me. Unlike a maze, a labyrinth is a single path that winds about, arrives at a center point, then leads back to the original entry point. It doesn’t have any obstructions or dead ends.
    • The journey is one of prayerful walking.
    • There is no specified amount of time for walking a labyrinth.
    • Although there is no right way to pray the labyrinth, many people divide the prayer into three parts:
      • inward journey: the time to notice what is distracting/hindering/competing for one’s time with Jesus. It is this part when one takes the time to confess wrongs, let go of burdens, and look at what fears are binding one.
      • center: a time to pause, to be, to rest in God, a time to receive what scripture/insights/revelation/peace/presence God is choosing to reveal.
      • outward journey: a time to allow the Holy Spirit to strengthen and empower, a time to ponder the insights received in the center.
  • Lectio Divina
    • Lectio Divina means sacred reading. From as far back as the middle ages, Lectio Divina is a slow, prayerful way of taking God’s Word into oneself.
    • By lingering over the Word, one is able to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in order to encounter the living God.
      • Read aloud, or have another person read aloud, a passage of scripture. Listen for a word or phrase that seems to choose you. Don’t analyze it or think about it. Just listen.
      • Read the same passage aloud a second time, or have the same person as before read it aloud again. While listening this time, ponder that word or phrase. Ask why it speaks to you at this time. What is God saying to you? What does it have to do with your life right now?
        Do not be afraid to feel and think!
      • After pondering/wrestling with the word or phrase, begin to converse with God about it. Listen for the Holy Spirit’s prodding and reassurance as you talk with God.
      • Finally, just rest in Him. Don’t worry about using words, just be in His love.
  • Reading the Bible devotionally as prayer
    • Allow God’s personal Word be precisely for you! For example: change the name of the person being addressed to your name!
    • Focus on God’s graciousness and power instead of your personal fears and worries.
    • Remember this type of reading is not reading the text historically, but instead, focusing on God’s promise of love. Allow God to draw you into intimacy with Jesus.
  • Praying the Examen
    • This form of prayer was developed in the 16th century by Ignatius of Loyola. It is a way of talking through the details of one’s day with Jesus. The examen helps one quiet oneself in order to recognize the work of the Spirit and God’s presence throughout the day. It allows one to pay attention to details of the day.
    • It is a prayerful replay of the details of the day, both the life-building and the life-draining moments.
      • As one ponders the day, there are moments that seem to invite lingering/pondering. That is the Spirit’s invitation to notice those moments.
      • Some possible questions to help get into focus: (from p 178)
        • “When were you aware of God’s presence today? When were you aware of God’s absence?”
        • When did you respond with love, faith, obedience …. resistance, avoidance?
        • When did you feel most alive, energized, drained, troubled, agitated?
      • Once the day has been reviewed, confess the things that need confessing and allow the Spirit to bring forgiveness and grace.
      • Consider how you can choose better and live more attentive to God’s call to love tomorrow.
      • “Ask for the grace to recognize the ways God makes His love known to you.”
  • Palms up/Palms down prayer
    • This form of prayer is simple … but not easy! It uses physical movements to help focus the praying person on letting go and receiving.
    • The person begins by thinking of all the worries, troubles, concerns, anxieties, distractions etc and faces the palms of the hands downwards releasing those things to God.
    • When ready, the person turns the palms upwards to receive what gifts God has to give.
    • Release and receive as many times as needed.
      • note: sometimes it is hard not to pick one’s troubles back up, so it may take many times of releasing to let go … and vice versa, sometimes it is difficult to accept God’s blessings and it may take receiving them over and over before one truly takes ownership of the gifts.
  • Wilderness Prayer
    • Read prayerfully and slowly Genesis 16:7-10 – the story of Hagar in the wilderness.
    • At this is a major decision-making moment in Hagar’s life, a crossroads, the Angel of the Lord asked Hagar 2 questions:
      • Where have you come from?
      • Where are you going?
    • Ponder these same questions. Journal your responses after asking the Spirit to bring to mind those people, places, things, and events which brought you to this crossroads.
  • Self Examination
    • Self Examination is not about perfecting oneself. It is about listening and responding to the Holy Spirit.
    • It is a time to allow God to nudge so that one can recognize where there is resistance to Him.
    • It is cooperating with the Holy Spirit by saying YES to God’s movement in one’s life.
    • Several texts and suggested sets of questions are listed in the book to accompany this
  • Rule of Life
    • This is an intentional structure – likened to a trellis – designed to free one to respond to the Holy Spirit’s nudges. It helps a person orient and grow towards Christ along that structure.
    • The focus is to deepen intimacy with God. It is not a resolution. It is not a focus on fixing or controlling a behavior. It is not a list of dos and don’ts or obligations.
    • A Rule of Life is prayed about and developed after prayerful listening.
      • A Rule of Life is meant to reflect who a person is becoming in Christ.
  • Praying with Imagination
    • By putting oneself in the scene of a Bible passage, using the senses to create the scene in one’s mind, and being a person in that passage the scene becomes alive and exposes things God may want to reveal.
    • There is no worry about being historically accurate: ie no need to know how the people dressed or what the accent sounded like … it’s about being in the moment as part of the story.

The Spirit of God is always speaking to us, but we need to slow down, stop, and give more than lip service to what God is saying. We need to get off autopilot and take time to look and listen with the eyes and ears of the heart.”

Katherine Rhodes: Retreat Facilitator. P 51

Pros & Cons

I loved this book and have recommended it to a number of people already. It is one that caused me to think differently about how I relate to God. It gave me examples of where to begin and how to progress. I truly found it to be life altering! The cons are essentially non-existent, and the pros are so strong that I give the book a 10 out of 10.

  • Pros
    • Great characterization. I fell into each of their stories and felt their joys and pains. The struggles were real.
    • Easy for multiple age groups to connect to the story.
    • Rated PG-13 . . . clean language, no steamy details.
    • The spiritual exercises are described through the journeys the characters take, AND are many are described in one page like a handout the retreatants received so anyone interested could try the exercises at home.
    • some of the topics introduced through the lives of the characters make for great conversation openers with a teen audience.
    • This book is Christian, not denominational. I could not tell, by reading the story, what sect the author is.
    • It ends satisfactorily. Although it is the first of a series, the story stands alone. And I want to read more, for sure!
  • Cons
    • I don’t have any cons for this book, but I do have a caveat: Although these spiritual exercises could be shared with a younger audience, the stories are sometimes explicit and would need to be edited out for younger kids.

While it is essential to read God’s Word, we must allow God’s Word to read us.”

P 102

Final thoughts

Read this book with an open heart! Enjoy it. Enjoy the journey with the protagonists! It will stay with you for a long time.

Perhaps God wants to reveal something to you . . .”

Dr. Nathan Allen, Charissa’s Professor. P 81

Christianity, Plays

A Lesser-Known But Intriguing Christian Play

Spoiler-Free Book Review:

The House by the Stable by Charles Williams

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Intro

This is not one of those books I just picked up for the fun of it. It was actually a required text for my Modern Christian Writers class, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it!

Although some Christian works appeal to people of all religions as well as those who embrace no religion, this is likely one that will almost exclusively be appealing to Christians.

Background

Charles Williams is a British playwright, novelist, poet, and theologian. He was also a member of the Inklings, a group in which J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis were also members.

Some of his other works that I have read include War in Heaven and Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury.

Summary

The House by the Stable is an allegorical play about a man who courts Pride both literally and figuratively, and unknowingly engages in a battle for his soul against Hell. He also alludes to the innkeeper from the Bible who refused Joseph and Mary a room but offered them a place in the stable.

Pros

  • Compelling dialogue
  • Unexpected choices when it comes to characters
  • The Christmas Story from a different point of view
  • Strong message
    • Powerful understanding of how Pride can corrupt and change a man
    • A testament to the value of grace in a Christian’s life

Cons

  • A little heavy-handed with the message
  • The perfection of the good characters and the extreme wickedness of the bad ones mean that the only relatable character is Man.

Review

Dialogue

The dialogue of this play contributes to its long-lasting value and immediate appeal to readers. For instance, this is what Man’s mistress–fittingly named Pride–says when she is asked why she adores Man so much:

It is no surprise–if you think what you are. Indeed, it were stranger if I adored you less. You are Man, the lord of this great house Earth, or (as its name is called in my country) Sin; you are its god and mine.”

You can tell immediately that Pride is a dangerous character–not only does she pretend to worship Man, she also encourages him to worship himself. Her influence on Man has caused him to lose his friends and to think only of himself. This is undoubtedly a toxic relationship–and that’s the point–that humankind’s relationship with pride is unhealthy and damaging to one’s self and others.

Unexpected Choices

Having the character who represents the angel Gabriel be just a shuffling butler, “that old gossip of heaven” is an unusual choice.

It was also clever to have Pride be the literal mistress of Man, and for Man to be the man who let Mary and Joseph shelter in his stable.

Point of View

Even though Mary and Joseph and the stable where Jesus is born are all part of this play, the focus is on Man, who is a stand-in for all humans who are trapped in sin.

Message

If I had to pin down the message for this play, I would say it is that the negative aspects of pride are humankind’s worst enemy. Charles Williams treats it as one of the most terrible sins. Pride ruins one’s relationship with others and damages one’s relationship with God.

This quote offers another message that is important:

You are my worshipful sweet Pride; will you be so arrogant always to others and humble to me? Will you always make me believe in myself?”

Man

It reveals that self-confidence, while good in reasonable quantities, can be a trap if it is excessive. Overconfidence can be dangerous when it leads to pride and causes one to sin.

Conclusion

This play has some strong insights that made it worthwhile to read, as you saw above. It’s also incredibly short, so if you aren’t a fan, it’s not like you wasted a bunch of time. I would say, give it a try!

Rating System

If you’re interested in how I rate books, check out my rating system.

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