The Eighth Psalm
Fiction by Gary Piper
“Is this seat taken?” a stranger asked me.
I looked up and saw a man in his early or mid forties standing in the isle. Because of his casual dress, I guessed he wasn’t a businessperson on his way home and his reason being here didn’t really matter anyway. At any rate, the hour was late and I wasn’t looking forward to the long train ride home. Not really wanting, and company I hesitantly replied trying to sound hospitable, “No it isn’t.”
“Thank you,” he said as he sat down, “my name is Paul.”
I was afraid he’d introduce himself which meant he wanted to talk about who knows what, “Glad to meet you, Paul, I’m Ted,” I answered looking out the window.
“Glad to meet you Ted,” he replied, looks like you had a pretty rough day so I’ll leave you alone. My mother always drilled into me not to sit next to strangers so I always introduce myself so then I never set next to strangers.”
I turned looked at him smiled and extended my hand for a handshake, “I’m glad to meet you too Paul. And thanks for your sensitivity,” I answered turning my attention back to the passing scenery.
“No problem Ted,” was reply.
Sitting looking out the window my mind drifted back through the events of the day, “Jesus,” I said to myself, “why is it I can see the hand of God now yet earlier when I needed to see it I couldn’t?”
“Beautiful isn’t it?” I heard Paul say.
“It sure is. Are you a religious man Paul?” I asked.
After a brief pause he answered, “Yes and no. When I can sit here, watch the awesome beauty, and experience the indescribable peace it brings yes I am. But in the morning when I see that sun come up over the concrete jungle I work in I am not. By the way I’m sorry for interrupting your thoughts.”
“What you interrupted I should not have been thinking anyway. You don’t impress me as one who works in the city,” I commented, changing my tone of voice.
Smiling he replied, “Its part of my plan. I am President and CEO of The Greater North American Fabric and Canvas Company but when I leave the city, I only want to be Paul Ratey so I change my clothes before leaving. Are you religious Ted?”
“Yes, at least I’m supposed to be. I’m Ted Kayben, ordained minister,” I replied.
“What you were thinking a few moments ago must have been pretty heavy stuff if a minister begins to question things,” Paul replied.
Immediately I thought of the Apostle Paul’s admonishment to be ready always to give a testimony of the hope that is in us. Oops, I blew this one I thought to myself. “You caught me Paul! We Christians are always suppose to be ready to give a testimony of the hope that is in us and I let you see a side you weren’t suppose to see. But we do have off days, “I tried explaining my way out of it.
“Hey! You don’t need to explain it to me ministers are human too,” he tried reassuring me.
Again, my mind drifted back over the events of the day. What had gone wrong my own thoughts questioned me? My seating companion must have detected my need to be alone with my thoughts because he started to say something and didn’t. “I’m sorry Paul did you say something? My mind was a million miles away,” I finally said.
“I started to but then I realized you were praying and I never interrupt a person who’s praying,” he commented.
“Again I thank you for your sensitivity but I wasn’t really praying. Do you realize that if Jesus had said something to me today I couldn’t tell you what he said! But I could recant just about everything anyone else said to me! Oh, please forgive me Paul I shouldn’t be telling you all of this,” I said in an apologetic tone of voice.
After pausing for a second or two Paul looked me in the eyes and said, “My grandfather once told me that the only time a person stops praying is when they are asleep. So I don’t mean to sound contradictory but you were praying, at least according to my grandfather.”
After thinking it over for a few minutes I finally replied, “The more I think of it the more I agree with your grandfather. If I was praying a moment or two ago I sure wish I knew what I was saying?”
“You know what else grandfather said?” he asked.
Suddenly I found myself mysteriously attracted to my new friend and my thoughts a sitting sulking by myself faded. “What?” I asked in return.
“I remember him saying one year when everything he planted died because of hailstones the size of golf balls, ‘Lord Jesus, how much more magnificent are you than that storm that just passed by.’ He then turned to me and told me when you elevate Jesus higher then whatever happens to you you’ll never have to be afraid.”
I let sound of train on tracks fill the air for a few minutes, “It sounds as if your grandfather was a very spiritual man,” I said.
“He was. He walked with Jesus nearly all his life. It’s strange I haven’t thought of him in years and now here I am telling a perfect stranger about him. Have you ever thought of Jesus or God any thing less then the ultimate example of what magnificence is, Ted? Look at that gorgeous sunset or those beautiful mountains do you think of Jesus or God any less beautiful or peaceful than those?” he asked.
Immediately my thoughts began scanning my memory just as a computer searches for a requested file. There were many times I’d gotten angry and frustrated because Jesus and God had seemingly put me on ignore, but there was never an occasion when I reduced them to anything less than Perfect Greatness. “There have been many times when I wanted to because of anger and frustration and there have been many times I’ve dishonored them because of sin but they’ve always been to me who they are,” I replied.
After a moment of silence, “What do you really think of yourself Ted,” he asked.
I found myself thinking this complete stranger was probing deeper than I really wanted to go but the level of my curiosity was greater, “Well first of all and basically I’m a sinner…”
“A forgiven sinner,” he interjected.
Not quite hearing him, “I’m a what?” I asked.
“I said you’re a forgiven sinner,” was the quick reply, “there’s a difference.”
I wanted to ask him what his real occupation was because his theology went pretty deep for a President and CEO of a company but instead I decided to discover just how deep his theology went. “I’m not sure I’m following you,” I commented.
“Elaborating on what my grandfather said if you see yourself as a sinner the gap between you and Jesus and God will continue to widen. However, if you see yourself as a forgiven sinner your relationship with Jesus and God will deepen,” he answered.
“Mind if I play the devils advocate for a minute or two?” I asked.
“Not at all I’m always open to a challenge,” he replied.
“Me too. Okay, if I see myself as a forgiven sinner won’t that mean I can sin whenever I want knowing I’ll always be forgiven?” I answered back.
I could tell he was deep in thought in fact I was thinking I’d stumped him but instead he responded, “I can see what you mean but when you have a deep love relationship with someone you go to great lengths to ensure the relationship grows and deepens. You’re approaching sin as breaking God’s laws when in reality sin is the result of breaking God’s laws. So when you see yourself as a forgiven sinner you don’t do things to weaken your relationship with Jesus and God you do things to strengthen it.”
After reflecting a few minutes on how our conversation had developed, I began thinking more and more I was right, there was more to Paul Ratey then he was telling me. “Okay I’m with you, Paul, by reminding ourselves of God’s majesty we are enticed into developing a deepening relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. Am I right so far?” I asked.
“We’ve been engaged in a pretty deep spiritual conversation Ted, and I’m not sure we can do justice to it by reducing it to one sentence. Think on this for a minute. God sees something in us that empowers Him to seek a deepening relationship with each of us. Know what that something is?” his voice was filled with emotion.
The depth of his statement humbled me to point where I was at a loss for words. However, I did know what Paul was referring to, “It’s the fact that we are able to have a relationship with him.”
“Amen, brother,” he answered back.
For the next twenty minutes or so we rode in silence both enjoying the passing scenery suddenly it was Paul who broke the silence, “Know what we didn’t discuss?” he said.
Pausing for a minute it suddenly occurred to me, we hadn’t touched on why both of us felt distanced from God throughout the day. “Has it ever occurred to you that we somehow disassociate God with the business of our day to day work experience?” he asked me.
I had to think about that for awhile after all there was no doubt in my mind that God’s presence was everywhere at the same time. I knew I would never be able to understand but was there a point in my faith journey where I didn’t need to understand just relying faith. “Yes, I have thought about it why do you suppose we do at times lose sight of the fact that God is with us every second of every day?”
Smiling he replied, “I was hoping you could tell me.” Following a second or two of silence Paul asked me, “Look out the window Ted and tell me what you see.”
Without hesitation I replied, “I see the face of God.”
“Okay, now what do you see out when you go into the city?” he countered.
It hit suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks, “I see a world made by man and think of all it stands for! And here I see a world made by God and think of all it stands for!”
“So what’s it mean then,” he asked.
“It means somehow I must see God in and through the works of mankind, I must somehow acknowledge God’s presence not only in my own life but in the life of all people,” I replied confidently.
“Okay, let me ask you how you do that?” he answered back.
“There is only one way! Through a relationship with Jesus,” I replied.
“You mean to tell me that I need to see Jesus in my worst enemy?” he asked.
“I know it sounds impossible but the answer is yes. Jesus came to save all mankind which means there must a small portion of his spirit in everyone and we need to find it,” I said.
After a few seconds of silence, I said to him, “Now, are you going to tell me who you really are?”
With a big smile he, “I’ve already told you.”
By now I knew he wasn’t who he said he was but I also knew he wasn’t going to tell me either. I watched him as he closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep. A few minutes later, I slipped past him and headed for the restroom. As I walked back to my seat I noticed his seat was empty thinking maybe he’d gone to the car ahead I took my seat, looked out the window, and waited for him to return.
A few minutes later I realized he wasn’t coming back with a puzzled look on my face I turned to the person sitting behind his seat and said, “Pardon me sir, did you happen to see which direction the man went that was sitting next to me?”
He stuttered for a moment as if trying to think of something to say, “Well, err, and err. There’s been no one in that seat. I’ve been awake the entire trip and you’ve been sitting there all by yourself. I was going to move up but when I realized you were sleeping so I didn’t. Are you all right?”
“Oh, yes I’m perfectly fine,” I replied, “I must have been more tired than I thought I was. Thank you.”
But Paul was so real! I knew I didn’t dream him! As I sat thinking about the events of the past few hours, I suddenly heard a voice filling the air, “Oh, Lord, our God how majestic is your name in all the earth!” I recognized the voice to be Sandi Patty’s.
When I arrived at home, I picked up the telephone pushed the buttons for information and asked for the phone number of The Greater North American Fabric and Canvas Company. It didn’t surprise me when the person on the other end of the phone said, “Sir, there is no such company by that name in our listings.”
“God,” I silently prayed, “you’re not only majestic but mysterious as well! Thank you Lord for reminding me of that and when you see Paul tell him Ted says hello and thank you.”