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February 6, 2008

A Word From the Lord by Ron Evans

<img“Where’s the reverend? Reverend, you got a word for me today? A word from the Lord. ”

I could hear Ivan talking to himself the moment he got off the elevator. He was on his way to visit me, part of a routine that repeated itself about every six months. Living alone in the city, without proper food and neglecting to take his medication, his condition would deteriorate forcing him back to the hospital. Under the watchful eye of the nurses and with good food his condition would improve and he was allowed to roam the hospital until his release, my office and the chapel one stop on his daily rounds.

Now he stood in my doorway, a great block of a man with a head that looked like it had been chiselled from stone. His face glistened damp, the smell of sweat heavy in the air; both telltale signs of heavy medication. Indeed just beneath the surface you could sense a battle raging between the demons and the drugs, the drugs barely holding their own, while above the fray stood Ivan, still in command, determined to keep the ship from going down.

“Reverend, you got a word from the Lord for me?”

I was always struck by the sincerity of the request. Nothing put on or superficial. Too often as a preacher you are asked to pray or otherwise speak some kind of God talk and you wish you were somewhere else. But not with Ivan. He needed all the help he could get. God was not far off and he was asking for a word.

Such language sounds rather peculiar for our time although it has not always been so. In centuries past it was accepted practice to not only wait for a word but to actively seek after one, to call upon the gods for direction, some sign of what was to come. The Greeks studied the entrails of animals and observed the flight of birds seeking a sign, an omen good or bad, in order to have some indication of how they should proceed in all sorts of matters both personal and public. One of the most famous battles in history, a clash between the armies of Alexander the Great and the Persian King Darius in 331, was decided partly on the basis of the fact that Alexander’s astrologers interpreted the eclipse of the moon to mean the defeat of the Persians. Bolstered by such predictions Alexander’s troops,greatly outnumbered, swept to victory. Lest we find this strange I must point out a man in south Saskatchewan forecasts long range weather patterns by examining the spleens of pigs with, he claims, as much accuracy as the weatherman. Of course, we don’t believe that kind of stuff. And yet... .

Another story I find quite delightful is that of Gideon who, like Ivan, also sought a word from God, even going so far as to double check the answer.

Called upon by the Lord to do battle with his enemies, the reluctant Gideon desired a sign as to how the battle would go. He proposed that he lay a fleece on the ground and if in the morning there was dew on the fleece, while the ground remained dry, it would be a sign from God that Gideon would be victorious. The next morning Gideon wrung water from the fleece and the ground was dry. Just to be on the safe side Gideon decided to repeat the test, a second poll so to speak, to see if, in fact, God were on side. He would put out a fleece the second night and if in the morning it were dry and the ground wet he would know that God was with him. And it was so. Whatever you make of Gideon’s methods he went into battle and prevailed.

Maybe I’m just an old man lost in his overcoat, but there are days when I’m not so far from throwing down the fleece. And often mindful of Ivan, caught up in his mad world of hospitals and medications, asking, not for a cure -he knew better than that -but a word, something to keep him going.

Yes, I’ll admit it, I listen for a word, watch for a sign. Nothing as messy as pig spleens to be sure but a sign, an intuition, that helps tilt the balance. Not that I’m going to win the battle and slaughter all the tribes that oppose me, although there are occasions here in the village when the thought crosses my mind. No, just a word to keep going, some indication that it’s worth it. A word from the Lord, rations for the day.

I never knew what to say to Ivan when he showed up at my door as he did that morning. Often he was mad, eye glazed, spun out mad. I was a chaplain, trained in a church that had long since opted for reason as its god, long ago having lost touch with its mad men and women. Moreover, I was part of a health care system whose mission was to cure you and make you normal. And we had the means to do it, at least we had drugs that would slow you to a walk as they had with Ivan. What do you say to a man whose madness keeps returning and who keeps asking for a word?

On impulse, before he could utter the request that I knew was coming, I said, “Ivan, is there a word for me today? Has God got a word for me?”

A kind of childlike smile crossed his face.

“Reverend, God says you’re a good man.” He held my hand a moment, like a priest giving blessing to a child at communion, then left as quickly as he had come. One brief moment of intimacy, perhaps all either of us could tolerate.

Is there any word from the Lord?

You throw down the fleece. You watch the birds. In your madness you do all manner of things hoping to hear. You listen for some word to offset the mediocrity of all that’s normal, a little sustenance to keep going in the midst of the madness that has erupted all around. And a madman tells you what you need to hear and have forgotten how to speak.

I heard that Ivan died awhile back; his death didn’t make the “obits”. I suspect it wasn’t much of a funeral. Probably few people attended other than the undertaker and a hired preacher, one that fills in and says the words when there’s no one else available. I would like to think I would have gone if I had known about it.

Maybe I would have had the courage to stand up and tell how every six months or so Ivan came to my door. Every six months I was reminded that each of us has something to say, something that deserves to be celebrated or forgiven. Each of us has something we need to hear. A word from the Lord.


Ron Evans is a CPSP Diplomate who now devotes his energy to writing. His book, Sakatchewan Remembered, was well received. One reviewer states: "...Evans will make you laugh. He takes subjects that once made us blush with guilt or laugh nervously, and makes them approachable and acceptable. He does this by using his humor to gently sand away the rough edges. I have a belief that if you pursue something to its darkest, quips Evans, there will be something bearable about it..."

Following the book's publication, Ron focused his creative energies to produce an audio version of his book. The words and voice of the author blended with the music of a gifted local musician makes it a must have CD for your collection, especially if you like to listen to books in your car and when on the move with your iPod.

-Perry Miller, Editor

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at February 6, 2008 1:29 PM

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