The Picture and 1000 Words

There is a well-known moment in the life of Francis of Assisi when the little saint, burning bright with the spirit, gives his fellow monks an admonition, “Go into the world and preach the message, using words if necessary.”  Some believe it is an urban myth – and some believe that it is true based upon the kind of life that Francis lived.  The truth that Francis shares with his brothers is that a picture of faith is often “worth a thousand words.”

Anyone traveling with Jesus through the first half of Mark’s Gospel would certainly have seen many such deeds and pictures.

In the first half of Mark’s Gospel it is clear that when Jesus is near, time and space seem to bend, miracles occur, and what might be thought of as “common sense” is put to flight. 

Looking at a short list:

Fishermen become followers by the Sea of Galilee. 

The “village of miracles,” Capernaum, where the sick are healed and demons put to flight.

Crowds and crowds of people follow Jesus as he offers new interpretations of old Laws. 

As the Gospel of Mark builds chapter by chapter, Jesus performs miracles, shares parables and teachings, and the people flow to him in droves that must have been something of a phenomenon in the ancient world.

By Chapter 7, we find that the Pharisees are taking notes, fact checking Jesus, and there is the whiff of conspiracy and retribution in the air.  By Chapter 8 the forces “agin’ Him” are forming, we hear of this mysterious “Cross” that must be carried; losing a life in this world is actually gaining a life with God. 

I believe that Mark’s Gospel moves in the direction of a kind of crescendo, building to Chapter 9, the Mount of Transfiguration, the divine imprimatur of Moses and Elijah, and the descent which begins the journey to Jerusalem.

Following the Transfiguration, Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem, where He knows that he must face the doubters and detractors, and where the Cross will become something more than an idea.  Thus, Jesus is no longer protecting his friends and followers from the truth of what may lay ahead, the political and religious machinery of Jerusalem.

At this mid-point of Mark’s Gospel, we are with Jesus and the disciples in something life the in-between time.  Leaving the crescendo and turning hearts and minds toward what lay ahead.

Perhaps that is why the disciples are concerned with who will eventually take the lead, who will be the have the “command.”  Who is the greatest?  Who is in charge? 

I wonder what Jesus might be thinking about his followers.  I believe that Jesus simply forgives them; they simply “don’t know what they don’t know.”  So there is no hammer, there is no lecture, no shame, as Jesus teaches the disciples a lesson about greatness in his Kingdom; there is a gentle redirection. 

Jesus sits down with a child in his lap. 

The child in his lap is the picture of what it means to accept God, and become a servant in his kind of Kingdom, is the picture is worth a thousand words.

Here is another picture.

In 1967, Doug Nichols was serving as a missionary in India. While he was just starting to study the language he contracted tuberculosis and was eventually sent to a sanatorium to recuperate.  He did not yet speak the language, but was carrying a load of Christian literature with him, mostly from the Gospels.  He tried giving some out in the first few days, but was politely refused.  He says, “I sensed many weren’t happy about a rich American (to them all Americans are rich) being in a free, government-run sanitarium.”

At night he would lay awake listening to the coughing of the patients.  One morning he woke to see an old man trying to get out of bed.  Trying and trying, again and again, but finally laying down in weakness.  He could see the old man crying.

The next day the ward smelled like a sewer, and Nichols realized that sick and tired old man was trying to get to the bathroom.  Other patients were yelling at the man, and one of the nurses was so angry that she slapped him.  The man lay in his bed curled in a ball and wept.

The next night I again woke up coughing. I noticed the man across the aisle sit up and again try to stand. Like the night before, he fell back whimpering.

I don’t like bad smells, and I didn’t want to become involved, but I got out of bed and went over to him. When I touched his shoulder, his eyes opened wide with fear. I smiled, put my arms under him, and picked him up. He was very light due to old age and advanced TB. I carried him to the washroom, which was just a filthy, small room with a hole in the floor. I stood behind him with my arms under his armpits as he took care of himself. After he finished, I picked him up, and carried him back to his bed. As I laid him down, he kissed me on the cheek, smiled, and said something I couldn’t understand.

The next morning there was a fresh cup of tea besides Nichols bed.  Patients came by and took copies of the Gospel from Nichols.  Later in the day nurses, and doctors came by and asked for personal visits and literature.

Weeks later an evangelist who spoke the language visited Nichols, and as he talked to others he discovered that several had put their trust in the Gospel as a result of reading the literature.  And they were reading the literature because a person got up from bed and took another person to the bathroom.

Nichols says, “What did it take to reach these people with the gospel?  It wasn’t health, the ability to speak their language, or a persuasive talk.  I did not preach a sermon or teach a lesson.  I did not have wonderful things to offer them.  I simply took an old man to the bathroom . . . and anyone can do that.”

The world doesn’t care how much you have or what you know; they want to know how much you care.  The world seeking God wants to know how much we love.

“Preach the Gospel at all times . . . When necessary, use words.”

May we become the picture that is worth a thousand words; actually worth thousands upon thousands of words.

The Sun that shines – Markos on Lewis

Markos quotes C.S. Lewis, who said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it, I see everything else.”

Describing his role model, C.S. Lewis, Markos says, “He brought together reason and imagination in a way that no one has done. As a writer, Lewis believes in the Bible, but he understands that many of his readers don’t. You need to find common ground and then draw them to the Bible. How are you going to tell them about Christ if they don’t believe in God?”

On the last weekend in October we will welcome Dr. Louis Markos to St Mark’s-Shreverpot as a guest lecturer. I am excited to welcome someone who has found a fellow traveler and soul kinship with CS Lewis to visit with our congregation. In my own life of trying to understand the message of Jesus, how Jesus understood himself, as well as how we are called to follow in our own days and times, works by teachers like Lewis and Dr. Markos have become invaluable to me. There are heights and depths toward which the scriptures are pointing that I find my life cannot easily fathom. Those writers and thinkers who study the scriptures looking for the treasure of God’s light and wisdom remind me of the videos of water dowsers that I have seen in the past.

Dowsers are people who walk over the land with rods or sticks in their hands hoping to discover those spots where the forces of gravity, and perhaps other forces, pull upon the instruments in their hands letting them know water is near. Many folks think it is simply a folksy old wives-tale that we can find water beneath the ground by strolling back and forth waiting for a stick in the hand to tremble, indicating that the water is beneath our feet; I am not so sure, some folks swear by it. But I do find that there is something similar at work when gifted individuals peruse the scriptures with an ear and a heart turned toward heaven; people like Lewis and Dr. Markos have this “sense” that when we approach scripture that we are treading over a great ocean of meaning; a world near to us is beckoning. I hope that you will give yourself the opportunity to walk along with us Oct. 29-31 as we unlock some treasures from “Mere Chrisitianity” and the life of faith that Lewis shared with the world.

The promise of Jesus is that there is a meaning for each of us in that ocean that lay just below our feet.

Many Blessings and Godspeed.

C.S. Lewis and Dr. Louis Markos

October 29-31, 2021 – Lewis in Shreveport

St. Mark’s Cathedral, Shreveport, is excited to welcome Dr. Louis Markos later this fall as a guest speaker and preacher. It has long been my desire to create a gathering of those whose lives have been touched by the work of CS Lewis, both at St. Mark’s as well as the larger community, for fellowship, reflection and inspiration. Dr. Markos will be using Mere Christianity as his primary source beginning with books 1 and 2 on Friday eveing beginning at 6:00pm. On Satruday afternoon at 4:00pm he will look at books 3, and then Saturday evening at 6:00pm he will cover book 4. Dr. Markos will be our guest preacher on Sunday, and then offer a special presentation appropriate for children of all ages who are lovers of the Chronicles of Narnia following a parish luncheon.

My hope is that our Christian friends throughout the community will be joining us for the parts of the week-end that they are able to attend. My hope in the year ahead is that we can continue cultivating this affection for CS Lewis by creating an informal reading group, or Lewis society, that might meet monthly for conversation and reflection about Lewis’s life, work, and the inspiration that he brings to so many who find themselves on the Christian journey.

In the near future we will be sending out registration forms to have an idea of the level of interest, as well as how many will be joining us for lunch on Sunday, October 31.

Please email me at if you have questions or interest in this project.

Attached are links to Mere Christianity online in case you do not have a personal copy.

Blessings and Godspeed,

Dean Alston Johnson, St. Mark’s Cathedral, Shreveport

Active and Contemplative

18th Chapter – Cloud of Unknowing

How that yet unto this day all actives complain of contemplatives as Martha did of Mary. Of the which complaining ignorance is the cause.

AND right as Martha complained then on Mary her sister, right so yet unto this day all actives complain of contemplatives. For an there be a man or a woman in any company of this world, what company soever it be, religious or seculars—I out‑take none—the which man or woman, whichever that it be, feeleth him stirred through grace and by counsel to forsake all outward business, and for to set him fully for to live contemplative life after their cunning and their conscience, their counsel according; as fast, their own brethren and their sisters, and all their next friends, with many other that know not their stirrings nor that manner of living that they set them to, with a great complaining spirit shall rise upon them, and say sharply unto them that it is nought that they do. And as fast they will reckon up many false tales, and many true also, of falling of men and women that have given them to such life before: and never a good tale of them that stood.

I grant that many fall and have fallen of them that have in likeness forsaken the world. And where they should have become God’s servants and His contemplatives, because that they would not rule them by true ghostly counsel they have become the devil’s servants and his contemplatives; and turned either to hypocrites or to heretics, or fallen into frenzies and many other mischiefs, in slander of Holy Church. Of the which I leave to speak at this time, for troubling of our matter. But nevertheless here after when God vouchsafeth and if need be, men may see some of the conditions and the cause of their failings. And therefore no more of them at this time; but forth of our matter.

Some Practical Prayer

Recently I have been visiting a few young friends who are going through life-altering situations in their late twenties and early thirties; each of them is unique in both the burden and pain they carry – each of them calling upon God for their own “touchstone” of healing and hope.   As they are casting off from the shore of their spiritual adolescence and moving more deeply into the ocean of God’s reality, they are finding the work of Evelyn Underhill a guide and a help.  There is something in Underhill’s conversational tone, as she explains profound wisdom, that resonates with these seekers.  It has given me a profound reassurance that not all things old are of relative value in the midst of the cyber revolution.  We still have to eat, sleep, clean the house, go to work, cut the grass, and do the laundry; as well as take care of others in the midst of learning to take of ourselves.  Not to mention learning to let God take care of us in the midst of the whole.  Underhill is able to find heaven’s touch, the footsteps of the Carpenter, and the promise of God in the midst of a daily routine; and it is clear that she is striking notes that ring deeper than tweets, comments, likes, and emojis.  There is something about someone coming into our daily life and simply pointing a finger, and saying with clarity, “God is there . . . God is talking to you right there . . . right there at the kitchen sink and pushing the vacuum cleaner.  God is there . . . right there when you can offer a smile and blessing to the person who is ostensibly offering you “customer service.””  I am hopeful and leaning into the future with a sense that a few of the old compasses still work, and that the hunger and sickness of our souls will not be filled or healed so much with new techniques and technological fireworks, but rather with some attention paid to the ancient verities, the classical virtues, and simply falling into the gentle, daily guidance of a merciful friend and redeemer.  Many Blessings and Godspeed.

Never let yourself think that because God has given you many things to do for Him pressing routine jobs, a life full up with duties and demands of a very practical sort—that all these need separate you from communion with Him. God is always coming to you in the Sacrament of the Present Moment. Meet and receive Him there with gratitude in that sacrament; however unexpected its outward form may be receive Him in every sight and sound, joy, pain, opportunity and sacrifice.