FEB 4, 2002
THE OLD RUGGED CROSS
About two weeks ago, January 18, 2002, to be exact, I was exploring a part of THE HOLY TRINITY WILDERNESS CATHEDRAL I had never been to before. It was a high rocky peninsula that the Great Blue Herons use as a rookery during their nesting season.
Amazing boulders covered with lichens, mosses, and ferns cascade down to the waters edge. There is an aura of mystery that surrounds this incredibly beautiful spot. It made me think of Stonehenge in England and Carnac in Brittany and dolmens and menhirs on the Island of Corsica.
As the sun set behind the trees on the opposite shore I could see that at certain times of the year the sun must deliver its last rays into strange holes and fissures in the rocks. I could almost feel the presence of the ghosts of Native American priests who no doubt worshipped there in antiquity.
At that point I realized that the opposite shore was owned by a laissez-faire capitalist who had already clear-cut and virtually destroyed hundreds of acres of nearby forests. He had been about to let a contract to clear-cut the 271 acre forest which looks onto the Wilderness Cathedral when I begged him to allow me time to raise the money to purchase the land.
I had not been successful in finding a buyer who would preserve it and so at that point I became aware that I had no choice but to try to purchase it for our Church before it was too late. This time God did not appear in a cloud nor did the eagle fly over, yet I became uncomfortably aware that I was chosen to carry out this mission regardless of the costs or difficulties involved.
I began to feel much as Amos must have felt when he was called upon to be a prophet, a job I would wish upon no one. Having forgotten the exact passage I wished to quote here, I have, while writing this narrative, just now opened my personally annotated Bible with the passage underlined and with my notation penned in: Opened at Random 4 Feb 2001.
Then Amos answered
I was no prophet,
Nor was I a son of a prophet
Then the Lord took me
And the Lord said to me
Go, prophesy to My people
Day after tomorrow will be the first anniversary of my having read that passage for the first time and it has haunted me ever since. Quite frankly if there was a choice in the matter I think I would decline the job offer. Not only is the pay terrible but I know from personal experience that Jesus was correct when he said,
A prophet is not without honor except in his own (town) or country, (and) among his own relatives
My mind raced back to the time I was standing at the Waterwood Marina contemplating the beauty of The Wilderness Cathedral on the other shore and a woman I had never seen before in my life came up to me, looked into my eyes and asked, Are you a prophet?
The question had never before been posed to me, so although I was a little startled and taken aback I answered, Yes, I suppose that I must be a prophet, albeit a reluctant one.
Im sorry if it appears that the story has digressed a little but it appears that a part of my role as a reluctant prophet includes being personally responsible for preserving a tiny remnant of Eden in the form of The Holy Trinity Wilderness Cathedral, and NOW its surroundings as well.
Then I remembered the trials and tribulations of Job and asked once again, Why me Lord? Have my sins been so great that this is the cross I must bear? Of your six billion human children, why is it that only my wife, my children, and my parents will help me carry out your will?
Once again, I opened my Bible, this time to Job where I saw that I had underlined the following passages:
For you shall have a covenant with the
stones of the field,
And the beasts of the field shall be at
Peace with you. (Job 5:23)
Have I sinned
What have I done to You, O watcher
Why have you set me as your target,
So that I am a burden to myself?
Why then do You not pardon my
Transgression? (Job 7:20-21)
But now ask the beasts, and they will
And the birds of the air, and they will
Or speak to the earth and it will teach
And the fish of the sea will explain to
Who among all these does not know
That the hand of the Lord has done
In whose hand is the life of every
And the breath of all mankind? (Job 12:7-10)
Is not God in the height of heaven?
And see the highest stars, how lofty
They are! (Job 22:12)
Till I die I will not put away my
integrity from me.
My righteousness I hold fast, and will
Not let it go. (Job 27:5-6)
But the hypocrites in heart store up
Indeed, can anyone understand the
spreading of the clouds,
The thunder from His canopy?
He covers His hands with lightning,
And commands it to strike. (Job 36:29, 32)
The day after I felt compelled to save the land across from the Cathedral from clear-cutting, I was sitting here at my computer looking for a sign that the message, however subtle, came from God. At that very instant an eagle flew past my window! The clouds became dark and angry but there was neither rain nor lightning nor thunder. I went upstairs and opened the sliding glass door which overlooks the Great Spirit Wilderness and in watching the clouds boil and the waves intensify I blurted out loud, God show me Your awesome power!
Now it just dawned on me that ordering God to show me His power is probably one reason that God seems to be giving me some of the same lessons He gave Job, yet just as I asked, I received, for at that very moment a huge bolt of lightning came straight from the heavens in front of me, followed by a deafening clap of thunder! There had been neither thunder or lightning before that moment nor was there any thereafter.
Listen to this, O Job; (or George)
Stand still and consider the wondrous
Works of God. (Job 37:14)
Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell me if you have understanding. (Job 38:4)
Or who laid its cornerstone,
When the morning stars sang together,
And all the (children) of God shouted for
Joy? (Job 38:6-7)
Have you comprehended the breadth of
Tell Me, if you know all this? (Job 38:18)
Do you know the ordinances of the
Can you set their dominion over the
Earth? (Job 38:33)
Does the eagle mount up at your
command? (Job 39:27)
Yesterday, I was sitting in the office of a used car dealer on I-45 looking out toward the south where airplanes were constantly taking off and landing at Houston Intercontinental Airport. I was pondering how in the world it would be possible to raise the funds to save the land from clear-cutting and as strange fate would have it an eagle soared past traveling from East to West while jumbo jets came in for landing from the opposite direction?
Ever since I saw the first eagle I had ever seen in my life in 1998, along the shores of what is now the Wilderness Cathedral, eagles have appeared as messengers from God including the one that was perched in a tree in the yard of my office in the middle of Huntsville. Who would have ever imagined seeing an eagle just north of downtown Houston?
Everything under heaven is Mine. (Job 41:11)
Now what does any of this have to do with the theme of this Cathedral Tale, The Old Rugged Cross, you might ask?
Well, now that I either have your attention or you are almost asleep, Ill tell you.
I had begun negotiations with the owner of the land after it was obvious that God intended for me to save it for Him and His children so today I decided that I had better spend a few hours looking at its features. From the highway it is not much to look at and I had until now wondered just why it was so important that it be saved.
Just as some people are not much to look at on the outside, their hearts are of pure gold and their inner beauty glows. Im not sure if I have any inner beauty but when I look in the mirror I sometimes say to myself, If I was created in Gods image, then God sure must be ugly! I think God would have done better making butterflies in His image and who really knows. Perhaps He did!
Well dear readers, those of you who are sticking with this story to the bitter end, I must say that the beauty of this tiny vestige of Eden defies description! If I am able to save it with the help of my parents (cause there aint nobody else but them) I will take many photos and post them at www.freephotogallery.org.
Somewhere in the midst of the wilderness I came across two aged trees that had died and fallen onto one another making a perfect cross. There was a certain beauty revealed in their rugged trunks and from that point onward I began to sing, On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross...
Shortly thereafter I almost walked straight into a most beautiful tree. It was straight, tall, and thick--the perfect size from which to hew a cross. Examining the leafless tree, I determined that it was the largest dogwood I had ever seen and certainly not one of the dogwoods of legend which became stunted and knarled after the crucifixion of Christ so that no other dogwood would be subjected to a similar cruel fate. I measured it at almost 33 inches in circumference, one inch for every year of Jesus' life on earth and certainly large, straight and tall enough to have served as the cross upon which He was crucified. It made me shiver to think of those who would crucify me if given the chance. I hope that they never find this tree!
My spirits were boosted a few hundred yards beyond the dogwood. I saw a giant hickory which must have been several hundred years of age. On its trunk was a tiny hole. While glancing at the tree a tiny head emerged from the hole. It was the cutest little squirrel I can remember ever having seen, which quickly exited the hole and scampered down the tree. A few seconds later a second head emerged from the hole and the second squirrel scampered after the first. I said to myself, "What a cute little pair of squirrels", at which time a third head emerged and a third squirrel scampered after the first two. My mind raced, attempting to determine if the three squirrels represented the Holy Trinity or a menage a trois!
Eventually I came to a tiny prairie where a pair of chattering titmice began to follow me. As I got to the line in the hymn,
and replace it one day with a crown, I looked up to see the titmice and instead looked straight into the branches of a thorn tree, which must have been descended from the very tree from which the Roman soldiers had made Jesus crown. That was not the kind of crown I was hoping for but if that is the cross I must bear then bear it I shall! I just hope I can do so with as much dignity and grace as did Jesus.
I had up to then been rather unsuccessful calling birds. I had earlier attempted to call some chickadees and instead, three woodpeckers showed up to chatter at me. But undeterred I began to call and low and behold little birds began to appear out of nowhere flying toward an ancient cedar tree which immediately reminded me of what the cedars of Lebanon must have been like and I hoped that some had survived the ravages of time.
There were, in addition to the titmicechickadees, kinglets, warblers, blue jays, cardinals, woodpeckers, and vireos. There must have been at least 75 or more and so I began to whistle The Old Rugged Cross to see if they would stay and listen or would be frightened and fly away.
Not only did they listen but they followed me for at least a hundred yards or more and then just as I was finishing the last stanza I looked up and the eagle glided swiftly by high over the treetops.
I returned to my car with mixed emotions. Once again I had been challenged by God to do His will and yet, I know not how it can be done, considering the debts already incurred in purchasing the Wilderness Cathedral.
But regardless of the consequences I went straight to Deacon Palmers real estate office and told his partner to make a deal!
George H. Russell
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