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Bathed in Prayer: Father Tim's Prayers, Sermons, and Reflections from the Mitford Series Hardcover – October 30, 2018
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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
AT HOME IN MITFORD
In the first of fourteen Mitford novels, we meet Father Tim, an Episcopal rector yearning for more . . . until he finds himself with more than he can handle. The introduction of a dog as big as a sofa, a beautiful next-door neighbor, and the abandoned eleven-year-old Dooley shake up Father Tim's comfortable bachelor routines. He begins a new life, shedding old habits and embracing unfamiliar ones, and emerging from his cocoon along the way.
He arrived at the office, uttering the prayer he had offered at its door every morning for twelve years: 'Father, make me a blessing to someone today, through Christ our Lord. Amen.'
As he took the key from his pocket, he felt something warm and disgustingly wet on his hand.
He looked down into the face of a large, black, mud-caked dog, whose tail began to beat wildly against his pant leg.
'Good grief!' he said, wiping his hand on his windbreaker.
At that, the dog leaped up and licked his face, sending a shower of saliva into his right ear.
'Get away! Be gone!' he shouted. He tried to protect the notebook he was carrying, but the dog gave it a proper licking before he could stuff it in his jacket, then tried to snatch it from him.
'Down!' he commanded, at which the dog leaped up and gave his chin a bath.
He tried to fend the animal off with his elbow, while inserting the key in the office door. If he were a cussing man, he reasoned, this would offer a premier opportunity to indulge himself.
'"Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth,"' he quoted in a loud voice from Ephesians, '"but that which is good to the use of edifying . . ."'
Suddenly, the dog sat down and looked at his prey with fond admiration.
Father Tim visits his elderly-and favorite-parishioner at the big house on the hill above Mitford.
Miss Sadie held her hands out to the rector.
'At Fernbank,' she said, 'we always hold hands when we say the blessing.'
He prayed with a contented heart. 'Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you've done for us. We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side. Above all, we give you thanks for the great mercies and promises given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whose name we pray.'
'Amen!' they said in unison.
The Big Six-O
In this scene, Father Tim is speaking with Uncle Billy Watson, who worries that he'll lose his home. Father Tim has offered to look into a special dispensation from the town that will allow Billy and his schizophrenic wife, Miss Rose, to have a life estate.
'Well, Preacher, you've took a load off my mind, and that's a fact. I've been wrestlin' with this f'r a good while, and I'm just goin' to set it down in th' road and leave it.'
'That's a good plan, Uncle Billy. God asks us not to worry about tomorrow.'
'That's a hard one, Preacher.'
'It is. And it takes practice. Just stick with today, is what he recommends. Of course, it helps to stick with him, while we're at it.'
'I've been stickin' with him a good many years. Not like I ought to, but I want t' do better, don't you know.'
'Why don't we have a prayer?' He put his arm around Uncle Billy's shoulders.
'Father, we thank you for Bill Watson's faith in you, and for his willingness to let you be in control. We turn this matter over to you now, and ask for the wisdom to proceed, through Christ, our Lord. Amen.'
Father Tim muses on anxiety and faith.
After morning prayer, he studied the challenging message of Luke 12: 'Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat, nor about your body, what you shall put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.
'Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds?'
There was not one man in a thousand who considered these words more than poetical vapor, he thought as he dressed. Don't be anxious? Most mortals considered anxiety, and plenty of it, an absolute requirement for getting the job done. Yet, over and over again, the believer was cautioned to abandon anxiety, and look only to God.
Whatever else that might be, it certainly wasn't common sense.
But 'common sense is not faith,' Oswald Chambers had written, 'and faith is not common sense.'
The One for the Job
The rector visits Lord's Chapel on an errand and makes a startling discovery.
As he paused to let his eyes adjust to the dimness of the Lord's Chapel nave, he heard a strange sound. Then, toward the front, on the gospel side, he saw a man kneeling in a pew. Suddenly, the man uttered such a desperate cry that the rector's heart fairly thundered.
Give me wisdom, he prayed for the second time that morning. Then he stood waiting. He didn't know for what.
'If you're up there, prove it! Show me! If you're God, you can prove it!' In the visitor's voice was a combination of anger, and odd hope.
'I'll never ask you this again,' the man said, and then, with a fury that chilled his listener, he shouted again, 'Are . . . you . . . up . . . there?'
With what appeared to be utter exhaustion, the stranger put his head in his hands as the question reverberated in the nave.
Father Tim slipped into the pew across the aisle and knelt on the cushion. 'You may be asking the wrong question.'
Startled, the man raised his head.
'I believe the question you may want to ask is "Are you down here?"'
'What kind of joke is that?'
'It isn't a joke.'
The man was neatly dressed, the rector observed, and his suit and tie appeared to be expensive. A businessman, obviously. Successful, quite likely. Not from Mitford, certainly.
'God wouldn't be God if He were only up there. In fact, another name for Him is Immanuel, which means "God with us."' He was amazed at the casual tone of his voice, as if they'd met here to chat for a while. 'He's with us right now, in this room.'
The man looked at him. 'I'd like to believe that, but I can't. I can't feel Him at all. The things I've done . . .'
'Have you asked Him to forgive the things you've done?'
'I assure you that God would not want to do that.'
'Believe it or not, I can promise that He would. In fact, He promises that He will. Would you like to ask Him into your life?'
The stranger stared into the darkened sanctuary. 'I can't do it, I've tried.'
'It isn't a test you have to pass. It doesn't require discipline and intelligence . . . not even strength and perseverance. It only requires faith.'
'I don't think I've got that.' There was a long silence. 'But I'd be willing to try . . . one more time.'
'Will you pray a simple prayer with me . . . on faith?'
He looked up. 'What do I have to lose?'
'Nothing to lose, everything to gain.' Father Tim rose from the kneeler and took the short step across the aisle, where he laid his hands on the man's head.
'If you could repeat this,' he said. 'Thank you, God, for loving me, and for sending your Son to die for my sins. I sincerely repent of my sins, and receive Christ as my personal savior. Now, as your child, I turn my entire life over to you. Amen.'
The man repeated the prayer, and they were silent.
'Is that all?' he asked the rector.
'I don't know . . . what I'm supposed to feel.'
'Whatever you feel is exactly what you're supposed to feel.'
A White Thanksgiving
A boy abandoned by his parents comes into the bachelor priest's life.
Dooley yawned and turned over. ''night,' he said.
''night,' said the rector, putting his hand on the boy's shoulder.
Father, he prayed, silent, thank you for sending this boy into my life. Thank you for the joy and the sorrow he brings. Be with him always, to surround him with right influences, and when tests of any kind must come, give him wisdom and strength to act according to your will. Look over his mother, also, and the other children, wherever they are. Feed and clothe them, keep them from harm, and bring them one day into a full relationship with your Son.
He sat for a long time with his hand on the sleeping boy's shoulder, feeling his heart moved with tenderness.
A Surprising Question
For months things have gone missing in the church-like a special Bible and an Orange Marmalade Cake. Father Tim and the congregation are shocked to discover that someone has been living in the attic and has been listening intently to Father Tim's sermons and prayers.
As he offered the prayer, he heard a harsh, grating noise somewhere behind him in the sanctuary. He saw the entire congregation sitting with open mouths and astonished faces, gazing toward the ceiling.
He turned around with a pounding heart, to see that the attic stairs had been let down and that someone in bare feet was descending.
He heard a single intake of breath from the congregation, a communal gasp. As the man reached the floor and stood beside the altar, he turned and gazed out at them.
He was tall and very thin, with a reddish beard and shoulder-length hair. His clothing fit loosely, as if it had been bought for someone else.
Yet, the single most remarkable thing about the incident, the rector would later say, wasn't the circumstances of the man's sudden appearance, but the unmistakable radiance on his face.
'I have a confession to make to you,' the man said to the congregation in a voice so clear, it seemed to lift the rafters. He looked at the rector, 'If you'll give me the privilege, Father.'
The man walked out in front of the communion rail and stood on the steps. 'My name,' he said, 'is George Gaynor. For the last several months, your church has been my home-and my prison. You see, I've been living behind the death bell in your attic.'
There was perfect silence in the nave.
'Until recently, this was profoundly symbolic of my life, for it was, in fact, a life of death.
'When I was a kid, I went to a church like this. An Episcopal church in Vermont where my uncle was the rector. I even thought about becoming a priest, but I learned the money was terrible. And, you see, I liked money. My father and mother liked money.
'We gave a lot of it to the church. We added a wing, we put on a shake roof, we gave the rector a Cadillac.
'It took a while to figure out what my uncle and my father were doing. My father would give thousands to the church and write it off, my uncle would keep a percentage and put the remainder in my father's Swiss bank account. Six hundred thousand dollars flowed through the alms basin into my uncle's cassock.
'When I was twelve, I began carrying on the family tradition.
'The first thing I stole was a skateboard. Later, I stole a car, and I had no regrets. My father knew everybody from the police chief to the governor. I was covered, right down the line.
'I went to the university and did pretty well. For me, getting knowledge was like getting money, getting things. It made me strong, it made me powerful. I got a Ph.D. in economics, and when I was thirty-three, I had tenure at one of the best colleges in the country.
'Then, I was in a plane crash. It was a small plane that belonged to a friend. I lay in the wreckage with the pilot, who was killed instantly, and my mother and father, who would die . . . hours later. I was pinned in the cockpit in freezing temperatures for three days, unable to move.
'Both legs were broken, my skull was fractured, the radio was demolished. Maybe you can guess what I did-I made a deal with God.
'Get me out of here, I said, and I'll clean up my act, I'll make up for what my father, my uncle, all of us, had done.
'Last summer, a friend of mine, an antique dealer, had too much to drink. He took me to his warehouse and pulled an eighteenth-century table out of the corner, and unscrewed one of its legs.
'What he pulled out of that table leg was roughly two and a half million dollars' worth of rare gems, which he'd stolen from a museum in England, in the Berkshires.
'I'd just gotten a divorce after two years of marriage, and I'd forgotten any deal I made with God in the cockpit of that Cessna.
'The bottom line is that nothing mattered to me anymore.'
George Gaynor sat down on the top step leading to the communion rail. He might have been talking to a few intimate friends in his home.
'The British authorities had gotten wind of the stuff going out of England in shipments of antiques, and my friend couldn't fence the jewels because of the FBI.
'One night, I emptied a ninety-dollar bottle of cognac into him. He told me he had hidden the jewels in one of his antique cars. I stole the keys and went to his warehouse with a hex-head wrench. I rolled under a 1937 Packard, removed the oil pan, and took the jewels home in a bag.
'I packed a few things, then I walked out on the street and stole a car. I changed the tag and started driving. I headed south.'
He stood with his hands in his pockets. 'I hadn't spoken to God in years. To tell the truth, I'd never really spoken to God but once in my life. Yet, I remembered some language from the prayer book.
'"Bless the Lord who forgiveth all our sins. His mercy endureth forever." That's what came to me as I drove. I pulled off the road and put my head down and prayed for mercy and forgiveness.
'I'd like to tell you that a great peace came over me, but I can't tell you that. There was no peace, but there was direction. I began to have a sense of where I was going, like I was attached to a fishing line, and somebody at the other end was reeling me in.
- Publisher : G.P. Putnam's Sons; First Edition, First Printing (October 30, 2018)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 240 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0525537562
- ISBN-13 : 978-0525537564
- Item Weight : 12 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.17 x 0.9 x 7.28 inches
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However, as a note to the editor, page 221 of my book is missing. I preordered, so I know my copy was an early printing. The book is missing page 221 and has an acknowledgment page instead of page 221. It resumes on page 222 and continues to the end, which concludes with a second identical acknowledgment page. As an owner of the entire Mitford series, I wish my copy of the new book was complete. But it did not take away from my enjoyment of the overal read. (And I will forever wonder what is on page 221!
Before I opened it & began reading, I had flipped through it briefly, deciding it was one of those “Daily Devotionals” with a scripture & a little story to go with it. I hadn’t read my Mitford books in years. I had forgotten what happened when reading them.
This little red book sat by my bed, patiently waiting. Finally, tonight, I decided to stop looking at YouTube videos & read the first devotional. I didn’t expect much. Silly me!
From the moment I started to read page one, I felt God’s grace & mercy sweep over me & through me, in the same way it did with the Mitford books, all those years ago. Tears welled up in my eyes & I cried as I read. I do not understand why this happens with Jan Karon’s books. I can read the Bible without tears. So why with these?
All I know is that it happens. And, it’s a good feeling. Somewhat like a cleansing. But also showing me how close God really is.
And, I’m very grateful for it. I sure needed it!
So, thank you Jan Karon. And, may God bless you.
Your books have helped me through some difficult times in the past. And for some reason, (mysterious to me), when I read your books, I feel God’s Holy Spirit, flooding through me.
It’s a wonderful feeling!