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Friday, October 16, 2009

Take up your cross

"My children, when you were little, we used sometimes to go for walks in our pine woods. In the open fields, you would run along by yourselves. But you used instinctively to give me your hands as we entered those woods, where it was darker, lonelier, and in the stillness our voices sounded loud and frightening. In this book I am again giving you my hands. I am leading you, not through cool pine woods, but up and up a narrow defile between bare and steep rocks from which in shadow things uncoil and slither away. It will be dark. But, in the end, if I have led you aright, you will make out three crosses, from two of which hang thieves. I will have brought you to Golgotha—the place of skulls. This is the meaning of the journey. Before you understand, I may not be there, my hands may have slipped from yours. It will not matter. For when you understand what you see, you will no longer be children. You will know that life is pain, that each of us hangs always upon the cross of himself. And when you know that this is true of every man, woman and child on earth, you will be wise. 

"Your Father."

-- Whittaker Chambers, in the foreword to Witness, written in the form of a letter to his children.

Yes, this passage seems anything but joyous. But it prefaces a book that was anything but joyous—Chambers's tale of leaving the Communist Party in the late 1930s and taking his family into hiding. Then, at great personal sacrifice, he testified against his former co-conspirators (most notably Alger Hiss) and was shunned and reviled by many for suspicion of lying, although declassified Russian documents in the 1990s vindicated him, albeit three decades after his death.
While he fully understood the hardness of the world and the difficulty in doing right, and carried around those scars, he was sure of his salvation and grateful to God. In the same foreword, he says this:

"I do not know any way to explain why God's grace touches a man who seems unworthy of it. But neither do I know any other way to explain how a man like myself—tarnished by life, unprepossessing, not brave—could prevail so far against the powers of the world arrayed almost solidly against him, to destroy him and defeat his truth. In this sense, I am an involuntary witness to God's grace and to the fortifying power of faith."


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