Tag Archives: Christianity

A Kairos Moment at Culp’s Hill

by Josh Bottomly

Down through the centuries, theologians and mystics have spoken of divine experiences in human time as kairos moments.  By definition, a kairos moment is an event used by God to impact one’s life.  It involves an intersection of sorts between the horizontal and vertical, the humdrum and holy, where, for a fleeting moment, one experiences God’s nearness in his life and God’s hereness in his world.

Kairos moments have happened infrequently in my life.  But none was more pivotal and life changing than the karios moment on an obscure battlefield at Gettysburg.

The months leading up to this event had been colored by deep darkness.   It had been almost two years since my wife and I first visited the fertility clinic.  Now the “I” word was not some distant and remote diagnosis.  It was a sobering reality.  By this time, my prayer life had been reduced to a whimper of faith.  The silence of despair grew firm within my chest.  On the brink of a spiritual breakdown, I prayed as a desperate man for a break through.  Little did I know how God would answer my prayer.

Culp's Hill

While attending a leadership conference at Gettysburg, one night I was approached by Marty, a conference leader.  He asked me if I wanted a personal tour of Culp’s Hill, a famous battle during the Gettysburg campaign.  I grabbed my Mountain Gear fleece;  I was definitely up for it.

After snaking our way up through hills exploding with green April foliage, we stopped at a tiny knot of cedars surrounded by large boulders and scattered tree logs.  “This was the Union army’s extreme right position,” Marty exclaimed as he pointed to a breastwork of cobbled stone covered in moss and dirt.  “It was here that the fate of the Union army largely hung in the balance.”

As Marty began to lead me around the markers that jutted up around the hill, the whole scene suddenly transformed before my eyes into a dramatic amphitheatre of war.

The main battle commenced at dusk on July 2, 1864.

As darkness moved in amongst the thick trees at Culp’s Hill, the NY 137th disbanded in a thin line from the saddle down to the lower hill.  Below the hill, gathering in a swale, and quickly filling up many trenches was a Confederate brigade led by General Steuart.

About that time, General Meade of the Union Army sent orders to Colonel David Ireland, the twenty-five-year-old commander of the NY 137th.  General Meade’s orders were short and exacting.

“Colonel Ireland, hold the line at all costs.”

Soon Steuart’s men moved into position behind the low stonewall in rear of the 137th.
They quickly unleashed a staccato of gunfire.  Before they knew it, the 137th was taking heat from front, right flank, and rear.  Their position, as Marty described it, was “like a finger, surrounded on three sides.”

At about that time the 71st Pennsylvania regiment showed up.  They were backups sent by General Hancock to assist the 137th.  But seeing Ireland’s men taking heavy musket fire from all directions, the 71st fired off a volley or two at Steuart’s men and quickly withdrew from the line.  Their position was untenable.

Union fortifications built to ward off the Confederates.

With half his infantry dead, resources depleted, and reinforcements in retreat, Ireland decided to order one final defensive tactic:  commanding his regiment to stack up granite rocks to form a stone wall.  There, entrenched on the saddle back between the hills, Ireland waited with his men.

As Marty showed me where Ireland had burrowed in with his men, I tried to put myself in the young colonel’s shoes.  I got down on my knees behind the stonewall and peered out into the thick darkness with only the silhouette of the overhanging limbs visible.  I wondered how Ireland held his men together as trees splintered from canon fire, bullets pinged off granite rocks, and hot metal tore through sinewy flesh.  I suddenly felt like I could hear the shrieks of young men as they breathed their last breath and their souls slid out of their bodies.

Effects of Union shot and shell on Culp's Hill - photo by William H. Tipton.

Somehow through the long and unrelenting night, Ireland and his men found the strength and fortitude to stymie every Confederate charge up the hill.

At around three a.m., Steuart’s men suspended their attack due to complete lack of visibility and thus an inability to determine who was who.  They feared they were shooting and killing their own men.  As their attack subsided, the 137th found renewed strength and hope as the 14th Brooklyn and the 6th Wisconsin showed up with reinforcements.

Had the Confederates known the 137th was the end of the line, they could have advanced toward the Baltimore Pike and overrun the Union army, changing the outcome of the battle at Gettysburg, probably turning the tide of the whole Civil War.

But the line never broke.

After Marty finished telling the story, I stood in complete silence, as I suddenly felt like Culp’s Hill was becoming holy ground.  I didn’t see a burning bush or hear an audible voice.  But as the wind rustled through the Pennsylvania birch trees and I stood against the cobbled traverse, I sensed somehow that God was near.

A scripture came to mind, one that I had memorized early in my life.

Let him who walks in the dark,
who has no light,
trust in the name of the Lord
and rely on his God.

~Isaiah 50:10a

For two years I had endured what St. John of the Cross called the oscura noche, the dark night of the soul.  During that time, I felt like Job—confused, doubtful, and befuddled by God’s seeming absence and deafening silence.  My prayers were punctuated by sighs and groans.  I came closest to God in my questions.  I wondered not whether God existed but if God knew I existed.  Did he know my pain?  Did he see my suffering?  Would he respond to my cry?

As I walked the hallowed grounds at Culp’s Hill, I began to pray.  Specifically, I echoed Peter’s prayer: ‘I do believe, Jesus, help me overcome my unbelief!’ (Mark 9:24).  I confessed to him that I felt like I was living within a precarious space between two parenthetical opposites: one being faith, the other being doubt.  The bitterest pill I felt I had been forced to swallow involved watching Amy suffer and hurt and not knowing how to palliate her pain in any way.

In that moment, though, as the moon rose high into the starless sky and the leaves turned silver, I felt that God was near.  For so long, God had seemed distant and remote, like a satellite.  Sensing God’s closeness now, I cupped my ear and leaned into the silence.  What I heard filled me with a renewed trust that the night would give way to the day.  And somehow, in some way, against all odds, pressed in on all sides, he would hold the line.  Like Col. Ireland and the NY 137th, Amy and I would see the first gleam of dawn burst through the darkness.  We would feel the sun on our faces again.  We would hear a new word heralded through the clouds:  a new day had arrived!

~~Note:  Josh and his wife Amy documented their journey, struggles and resolution to travel to Africa and adopt a child in their book, “From Ashes to Africa.”  This post is a revised piece from that book.  For more information visit http://fromashestoafrica.com/

Burn

by Mark “The Howard” Hinderliter

If you happen to read this, know that it is being written through insomnia.  Not that I’m incoherent but, occasionally something just takes up so much space in the head that sleep won’t come, TV won’t help and there’s no compelling novel waiting to lull me.  Just an engineering textbook.  The textbook could actually work as an insomnia cure on another night, but not tonight.

Let me say first that I’m not a political liberal.  I think our country’s founders were pretty smart guys who enacted the best system of government they could given their study of history and the political and societal realities of their time.  And this system has withstood the test of time:  self-centered politicians, elitists and those who believe they are entitled to something that belongs to another.

Having said that, I am deeply bothered by the church in Florida whose pastor wants to burn a Quran to commemorate 9-11.  Apparently, this man is disturbed by the proposed Mosque planned near the site of the World Trade Center in New York City and what he sees as the world’s cowering to fanatic Muslim extremists.  Burning a copy or copies of the Quran on 9-11 is his and his congregation’s response to these current events.

When I first heard a news report of this planned burning, it was in the context of General David Petraeus warning that it could fan the flames of hatred and endanger our troops in Afghanistan.  And I have to admit, I was not swayed by the General’s argument.  My first reaction was, “Tough, what goes around comes around.  Burn our flag and the Christian Bible, we’ll retaliate.”

I am frequently a very conflicted man on these sorts of things.

Left to my own devices I’d probably join the pastor.  Left to my own devices I’d promote the death penalty for murderers and rapists.  I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve said out loud when hearing the report of a homicide or a rape, “bullet in the head will put a stop to that.”

But I have to admit something.  I’ve read the words of Christ.  I’ve read the words of the Lord spoken through the prophets of old.  Sometimes they confuse me and seem to conflict.  But when I think about the actions of Jesus on earth and I ponder what he would do in a given situation, I don’t reach the conclusion that he would act hatefully or act in retaliation.

Now there were certainly things that irritated him.  Turn his Father’s house into a goat market? Serious irritation.  The hypocrisy of religious leaders, those who should know better? Their behavior earned a tongue lashing that may not be over yet!  But burn someone else’s religious book?  I can’t see it.  Jesus was and is a walking endorsement of the love of a Creator God who would do anything for any of us.  Including radical Muslim haters.  Because if they took the time to know Him their behavior would change.  Children of the King learn to act like the King.  If they seek Him over self.

I don’t know anything about this preacher in Florida other than he wants to burn a book.  But I can look at history and see that when people follow a charismatic leader rather than the King, hatred and destruction usually follow.  Waco, Guyana…but from Waco came Oklahoma City.  And Jonesy didn’t go alone.

Those who would call themselves Christian are called to love their enemies and pray for them.  Vengeance is for the Lord.  If a Koresh or a Jones claims to be the Lord’s instrument of vengeance or retaliation, run away.  Leave them to their own destruction.  Do not join them until you have read the red letters for yourself.  That one chooses to be tolerant of another’s beliefs does not mean he condones them.  He chooses to love that person until the light of the Kingdom shines through.

Maybe I can sleep now.  If not, the text book awaits me.

Day 33: God Created my DNA and He Reminded Me of the Code in St. Mary’s Cathedral

As a young girl, my parents prepared my brother and I to seek an expansion of perspective beyond that which our own community had to offer.  Comprised within this family plan were experiences of art, travel and educational enrichment.  The mode of delivery usually meant we were loaded into the farm truck and driven to some event in Oklahoma City…despite any resistance on our part.

These “field trips” might have included a classical concert or perhaps a lecture from an archeologist who had discovered pitch clad shards of gopher wood on a limited time-window excursion in Turkey.  Sometimes, the evenings were capped off with an ice cream cone at Kaiser’s in the heart of downtown.  At the time, I’m sure the ice cream was my favorite part.  I do recall, however, feeling the hair on my arms lift as I touched the Lucite bound tiny pieces of what I thought might be Noah’s Ark.

My K-12 formal educational journey was also important in how I began to view the world.  I learned of fairness and the magic of discovery from the effective teachers, and of injustice and constriction from those less able.  The good must have outweighed the challenging, however, because every cell in my body seeks new understandings to this day.  It’s in my DNA, and God reminded me of this by giving me a gift on Day 33 that I’ll never forget.

This past Sunday I attended The University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. Expectations had already been set on my part simply knowing that C.S. Lewis had preached his “Weight of Glory” sermon in that very hall.  John Wesley spoke there on many occasions, and before the College system sprang up in Oxford, the church served as the location for the educational exercises such as group lectures or exams.  This was at a time in the 13th century when scholars actually lived with the professors to receive their education.  This church is central to how the entire educational context was set throughout Oxfordshire.

Eucharist began at 10:30 and I came in the door at 10:32.  I was handed a Hymn book and a guide to the service, was shown an available seat and sent on my way.  Being an evangelical, I’ve learned to watch the other attendees and the pastor carefully when participating in a service such as that offered at St. Mary’s.  There is standing, sitting, standing…and sitting.  And standing.  There is also a participatory portion that the audience reads by following the service guide.  All these machinations are unfamiliar to me, but easy to follow.  I’m glad, because it left much of my mental energy available to absorb everything else. Comments continued after the photograph…

I’ll not provide the entire sermon, nor all my thoughts during the service.  Indeed, some were too personal, too humbling, too set on the holiness of our Lord.  However I will share a bit of that for which I am grateful:

1.  I’m grateful for the chance to have heard the message delivered by the Reverend Canon Brian Mountford, Vicar of the University Church.  From the moment he began to speak, my rapt attention zeroed in on his outline and it was one of the best sermons I’ve heard in my life.  Scripture, poetry, philosophy, education, human suffering and regard – all these concepts and perhaps more were laid before those attending and asked to be considered on behalf of our Creator.

2.  I’m grateful for a greeting time wherein the only task was to reach out to those around us and utter this simple phrase, “Peace to you,” or respond, “And to you as well.”  This made me cry – the simplistic form of a gentle greeting and a gentle return. Wonderful.

3.  I’m grateful for a communion service where each person was reminded with one phrase, “The body of Christ,” that which they were taking as they were handed a piece of bread.  And I’m grateful to have been given the chance to drink from a community cup real wine, the edge of which was wiped with a cloth and given the person next in line.  I’ve never shared a cup with others, and it is a compelling experience.

4.  I’m grateful to have had the chance to sing all verses of the selected Hymns, generally written in Old English verse, accompanied by an organ whose song filled the highest corners of the cathedral.  I know the notes lifted up our voices and sent them to the Heavens.

5.  And, I’m grateful for the reminding affirmations for all who participated, each time we read along during the service. An example: “We are the body of Christ.  In the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.  Let us then pursue all that makes for peace and builds up our common life.”  Another: “Great is the Mystery of Faith – Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.  Blessing and honor and glory and power be yours for ever and ever. Amen.”

With every affirmation stated by the audience, my faith was affirmed and deemed a righteous pursuit.

I don’t know if I’ll get to attend a service at St. Mary’s again.  However, for me, it was as if my spirituality had attended an inspirational conference – – a conferring or communion with God.  A renewal was given to me and for that I am grateful as well.

I’ll leave you with a poem that was read during the sermon.  The discussion was about how one person might say a leaf is green due to the chlorophyll, another because the evolutionary sea life was purple – so green was refracted, and another – a poet – might say “because it means renewal.”

Peace to you.

~~~~~~~

The Trees

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

Philip Larkin