Back-Handed Sign

Back-Handed Sign

16 August 2013

"Praise the Lord, all nations,

extol him, all you peoples;

for his love protecting us is strong,

the Lord's constancy is everlasting.

O praise the Lord."


The words of this ancient Psalm (117) are repeated over and over again, as members of the "choir" ascend, one-by-one, the blood-drenched wooden steps and into the "teeth" of the insatiable guillotine. It is July 17, 1794, during the French Revolution's one-year and one-month "Terror". The popular uprising for "freedom, equality and brotherhood" has turned against itself. Something which promised so much good was now wreaking an evil havoc.


Usually at such executions, the large crowds entered enthusiastically into the fracas; adding their own screaming and yelling and hurling any available missiles. However, on this occasion the spectators were plunged into an ever-deepening silence as their consciences were re-awakened by the moment's appalling barbarity and holiness.


The sixteen people judicially murdered that late afternoon were all single women, considered so dangerous by the French Republic that they had, at all costs, to be wiped off the face of the earth. Their "leader", Madeleine-Claudine, was 42 years-of-age. The oldest of her "followers" was almost 80; the youngest 29. Prior to September of 1792 they had lived together in a House of Prayer in the town of Compiegne, about 100 ks north of Paris.


During the Revolution they had sincerely endeavoured to live as good "citizens", without compromising their commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ, His Church, or their call to live to pray. When the State dissolved their community, they divided into four cells and went on living to pray and praying to live, "underground". They wished only to be overlooked and forgotten, so that they might obey God alone and "pray without ceasing". (1 Th 5.17) Even so, they were hunted out and imprisoned for "fanatical puerility...childish beliefs and stupid religious practices"!


At their "show" trial they were accused of being enemies of the State and of hiding weapons for counter-revolutionaries. Madeleine-Claudine responded to this charge by holding forth her crucifix and saying, "Here are the only arms that we have ever had in our house." (1)


Mysteriously, within 10 days of the 16 contemplatives' headless corpses being gracelessly cast into a nearby common grave, the campaign of official mass murder in the public squares of Paris, ended abruptly.


"Death has been swallowed up in victory." (1 Co 15.54)


Any kind or brand of Totalitarianism (2) - whether it be political or religious - is a manifestation of the spirit of antichrist. And in its yet to be concluded, insane campaign to conquer all of this world's "thrones and altars", it reserves ardent hatred and vile treatment for those who live to pray...the prophet-contemplative. (3)


"So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, 'May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them (the prophets killed with the sword by Elijah).' " (1 Ki 19.2)


"Prompted by her mother, the daughter of Herodias said, 'Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.' " (Mt 14.8)


During the mostly positive 16th C Reformation of the Church of England, antichrist found a loophole (Henry VIII's unbridled lust for total control of "throne and altar") and contemplatives started dying.


"Your foes have made an uproar in your house of prayer...Their axes have battered the wood of its doors. They have struck together with hatchet and pickaxe." (Ps 74.4-6)


As in the French Revolution, the English Reformation focus-ed its dark and destructive side upon that country's houses of prayer...especially one in London which was justly renowned for being scholarly, prayerful and holy. The king (bloated with food, wine and power) annihilated this community of hermits, but (as in France) the "blatant and unabashed destruction of such holiness shocked the crowds of the city". (Read "Be Not Naive" 20/3/13)


These ugly and shameful episodes carry a tremendous encouragement, and an ominous warning for us today...the Last Days:


(1) The violence of satan against the contemplative "stream" indicates starkly just how completely and utterly imperative it is (in and of itself) for the Church and the inauguration of the Kingdom of God on earth. The serpent dreads the Return of The King, and he is infuriated by the purity of the contemplative's poverty of spirit, and his unimpressive, unworldly and "unproductive" passion to live "solely in God and with and for Him"! He also fears greatly the scope and reach and power of the one who lives to pray. In the realm of the Holy Spirit, time and space no longer limit or determine the efficacy of prayer.


The key to the appearance of The King upon His Throne on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, is the appearance of the Tribulation-House of Prayer Church. The key to that Church is the fusion of the local church, missions and contemplative "streams". And the catalyst for this union is the prayer ingredient. It is the only "glue" which will bond the other two.


"A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." (Ecc 4.12)


The recognition, resurrection and reconstitution of the contemplative "stream" within Protestantism represents ultimate threat to the serpent and will do him great harm. I do not know what is going to become of that church which ignorantly or arrogantly ignores or suppresses the call to become a House of Prayer in these Last Days. But it will not be good! Be neither hasty, injudicious, nor shallow, you servants of God, perchance,


"Disaster will overtake him in an instant; he will suddenly be destroyed - without remedy." (Pr 6.15)


(2) We should never be naive when it comes to the cost and "warfare" which are always involved in recognising, mandating and bankrolling individuals and communities called by God to live to pray.


At one level, it is just so straightforward. As the contemplative and prophet, Thomas Merton (1915-68, USA), has already pointed out, "Nothing that anyone says (about prayer) will be that important. The great thing is prayer. Prayer itself. If you want a life of prayer, the way to get to it is by praying.


"This is the whole doctrine of prayer in the Rule of St. Benedict. (4) It's all summed up in one phrase: 'If a man wants to pray, let him go and pray.' " (5)


However, on the other hand, to just "go and pray" will be tough, for it will be fiercely and bitterly contradicted, contested and the world, the flesh and the serpent. And very often the greatest "violence" will come from those "nearest and dearest"?


"If a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is companion, my close friend, with whom I enjoyed sweet fellowship." (Ps 55.12-14)


"Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honour." (Mt 13.57)


Today, Teresa of Avila, is recognised as an apostle of prayer. In Spain during the 1500s, she was used by God to reform His Church through the renewal and foundation of houses of prayer all over her country. But even as she began her venture, she recorded, "They talked, they laughed at us, and they declared that the idea was absurd...there was hardly anyone among the prayerful, or indeed in the whole place, who was not against us, and did not consider our project absolutely absurd...all these efforts that the devil was making to prevent the foundation were a sign that great service would be rendered to the Lord in the new" house of prayer.


And this indomitable apostolic woman continued her theme by strenuously advising, "It is all-important indeed, that you should begin well (on the royal road of prayer) by making an earnest and most determined resolve not to halt...however hard you may have to labour...whether you reach your goal or die on the road, or have no heart to confront the trials which you meet...whether the world dissolves before you." (6)


"For the rest, my brethren, delight yourselves in the Lord and continue to rejoice that you are in Him. To keep writing to you over and over of the same things is not irksome to me, and it is a precaution for your safety." (Php 3.1)



(1) The women were not ambushed by the ferocity of this persecution. Their House had been warned 100 years earlier in a dream, that one day they would be called to "follow the Lamb" to martyrdom.


(2) "A form of government that permits no rival...demanding entire subservience of the individual to the state." (Oxford Dictionary) In this regard, church leaders need to audit themselves regularly to check that their exercise of authority has not stealthily degenerated into control (manipulation, domination?) which quenches the conscience of the individual members of their Flock?


(3) In the 1930s, during the Spanish Civil War, three Carmelite contemplatives (Jacoba, Marciana and Eusebia) were gunned down in cold blood on the streets of Guadalajara. They belonged to a house of prayer which had elected to go "underground" during the Communist versus Fascist all-out war. The three women were on the move, searching for a safe haven when they were recognised for their close-cropped hair and shot on sight. They were not political or partisan. They just wanted to be left alone to live to pray...especially for their "enemies"!

In the 1940s in Communist China, a community of contemplatives was "caged" and taken from village to village and displayed as "enemies of the people" and the revolution. They died one by one. Ironically, these men were not only committed to living to pray, but also to a kind of communism, infinitely purer than Marxist-Leninism. They had lived holding all their possessions in common, and each being cared for according to their need, and not their productivity or status. In his diary (4/12/1947), Thomas Merton wrote, "The dead Chinese monks, in the naked seriousness of their martyrdom, (have) killed the roots of spiritual self-indulgence in my soul". ("The Sign of Jonas", Hollis & Carter, 1953, London)


(4) Benedict of Nursia (480-547, Italy) is considered the "father" of western monasticism.


(5) "Thomas Merton, Monk". Image Books, 1976, NY. Merton is widely esteemed as one of the 20th C's greatest writers on and of Christian spirituality and mystical theology.


(6) "The Life of St. Teresa of Avila by Herself". Penguin Books, 1957, London.