Hey readers! Sorry the post is late; the Adirondacks (and my subsequent convalescence) were amazing, and I got lazy.
This piece is from Hannah Hurnard's book Hind's Feet On High Places, an allegory in the tradition of Pilgrim's Progress, though with a slightly different focus. It follows a character named Much-Afraid on her journey, under the guidance of the Chief Shepherd, to be healed of her lame and staggering walk, and to receive 'hind's feet.' It's rather sentimental, but the book has had a profound effect on my view of suffering, and this particular passage has shaped and deepened my concept of forgiveness more than any other author I can think of outside the New Testament.
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Much-Afraid woke with the first light of dawn, and getting up, walked to the entrance of the cave. In the cold light of early morning she could not help telling herself that a scene of utter desolation lay before her. As far as the eye could see was nothing but empty plain and sea, with lowering cliffs above her and jagged rock below. The pleasant wooded country which they had left was out of sight, and in all the vast area upon which she looked she saw not a single tree and scarcely a stunted bush. "How desolate," thought Much-Afraid, "and those rocks beneath look very cruel indeed, as if they are waiting to injure and destroy anything which falls upon them. It seems as though nothing can grow anywhere in all this barren waste."
Just then she looked up at the cliffs above her head and started with surprise and delight. In a tiny crevice of the rock, where a few drops from the trickling waterfall could occasionally sprinkle it, was a single plant. It had just two or three leaves, and one fragile stem, almost hairlike in its slenderness, grew out at right angles to the wall. On the stem was one flower, blood red in color, which glowed like a lamp or flame of fire in the early rays of the sun.
Much-Afraid stared at it for some moments, noticing the wall which completely imprisoned it, and minute aperture through which it had forced its way to the light, and the barren loneliness of its surroundings. Its roots were clamped around by sheer rock, its leaves scarcely able to press outside the prison house, yet it had insisted on bursting into bloom, and was holding its little face open to the sun and burning like a flame of joy. As she looked up at it Much-Afraid asked, as she had in the desert, "What is your name, little flower, for indeed I never saw another like you."
At that moment the sun touched the blood-red petals, so that they shone more vividly than ever, and a little whisper rustled from the leaves.
"My name is 'Bearing-the-Cost,' but some call me 'Forgiveness.'"
Then Much-Afraid recalled the words of the Shepherd, "On the way up the precipice you will discover the next letter in the alphabet of Love. Begin to practice it at once."
She gazed at the little flower and said again, "Why call you that?"
Once more, a little whispering laugh passed through the leaves, and she thought she heard them say, "I was separated from all my companions, exiled from home, carried here and imprisoned in this rock. It was not my choice, but the work of others who, when they had dropped me here, went away and left me to bear the results of what they had done.
"I have borne and have not fainted; I have not ceased to love, and Love helped me push through the crack in the rock until I could look right out on my Love the sun himself. See now! There is nothing whatever between my Love and my heart, nothing around me to distract me from him. He shines upon me and makes me to rejoice, and has atoned to me for all that was taken from me and all that was done against me. There is no flower in all the world more blessed or more satisfied than I, for I look up to him as a weaned child and say, 'Whom have I in heaven but thee, and there is none upon earth that I desire but thee.'"
Much-Afraid looked at the glowing flame above her head, and a longing which was almost envy leaped into her heart. She knew what she must do. Kneeling on the narrow path beneath the imprisoned flower, she said, "O my Lord, behold me -- I am thy little handmaiden Bearing-the-Cost."
At that moment a fragment of the rock which imprisoned the roots of the flower above her loosened and fell at her feet. She picked it up and put it very gently with the other seven stones in her purse, then returned to the cave.
Introit for the Third Sunday in Lent
Mine eyes are ever looking unto the Lord, for he shall pluck my feet out of the net: look thou upon me, and have mercy upon me, for I am desolate and in misery.
Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul: my God, in thee have I trusted; let me not be confounded.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.