The Hound of Heaven
Sabbath Day Sermon, Saturday 15 May 2004
Summer is here again, warm weather, sunshine, insects, lawns to mow, beds to weed, the inviting waters of lakes to swim in, picnics, ice-cream, suffocatingly hot nights, beautiful flowers - I don't know what summer conjures up in your mind when you think about it, but these are some of the things that I think about. Especially when you have been virtually hibernating through a sub-arctic winter, the drive is to get outside at nearly all costs. Here especially, where summer is brief, and disappears again just as you are settling down into it, everyone seizes it like a long lost lover. For most Swedes, I think, this picture, which accompanied a magazine we get, sums summer up: a little wooden cabin in a quaint garden where one can relax and get away from it all.
Much as I love the summer months, it does have its disadvantages. Like many, I am hoping there will be almost no insects in the Millennium, at least not those that normally plague us. Many of us emerge from mowing the lawn covered in mosquito and other insect bites, especially if it is hot and humid. Flies flying around one's face when you are sweaty can be really annoying.
These pestery insects got me thinking about a poem called The Hound of Heaven by Francis Thomson, and the life story of a man called Neville Jayaweera. I don't suppose any of you have ever heard of him, let alone know where he came from. But first the poem:
I fled Him down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him down the arches of the years;
I fled Him down the labyrinthine way of my own mind,
And in the midst of tears I hid from Him.
Let me take you to Ceylon, to what is now called Sri Lanka, a large island on the southern tip of India. Here a very intellectual and dogmatic Buddhist was born, a hater of Christianity, a university lecturer, philosopher, and subsequently an influential civil servant called Neville Jayaweera. In 1970, at the pinnacle of his career, everything suddenly started going wrong, when a new government came to power and he was falsely accused of corruption and forced to resign from his post. He turned to alcohol and tranquilisers to escape from the world which was collapsing around him. Finally, as a last resort he turned to yoga meditation to try and find peace.
Most of you know, I think, what yoga is. For those who don't, let me remind you what it's spiritual aim is. Essentially, the aim of yoga is liberation from what one might call the normal human condition. This is done by mutilating the normal human state of consciousness and by replacing it with an abnormal state of consciousness in which the one practicing yoga essentially visualises himself as being 'divine' or 'god'. Or to use the 'Christianised' explanation, he sees himself as a 'christ'. It involves channeling, opening the third eye, and demonisation as the mind is emptied of thought. The demon or demons thus admitted pose as the 'true self' and as 'latent divinity'.
Though the meditation didn't help him feel any better, Neville did notice something happening. This is what he experienced:
"From the very first day I noticed something curious happening. Whenever I closed my eyes I began to notice a flame-like glow at a point between my eyes [the third eye] in the centre of my forehead, and a dark blur in the middle of the glow. After a few days I noticed that this dark blur had taken on a distinctively human form. It was the image of a man dressed in a long robe standing upright, facing me with his arms stretched out and apart, waiting as if to receive me, clearly silhouetted against the glow in the background. On about the seventh night of my experiment with yoga meditation, the thought suddenly flashed into my mind that the image in my mind's eye was an exact resemblance of a painting of Jesus Christ [Yah'shua the Messiah] I had seen framed on a wall somewhere.
"My immediate reaction was one of anger, for the realisation that this was Jesus [Yah'shua] touched off a deep antipathy towards Christianity. And then, quite involuntarily and contrary to my conscious impulse, I blurted out 'My Lord, forgive me'. Then the dam burst. I went into convulsions of uncontrollable sobbing. At some point I had changed my position from sitting cross-legged to kneeling, with my head bowed low as if in a position of obeisance. And then I passed out. I woke up to find myself curled up like a foetus on the ground, and bathed in perspiration. I looked at the time. It was 1.30 in the morning. So I climbed into bed and drifted again into a deep sleep.
"I awoke at 6.30 am and literally sprang out of bed. I felt a tingling sensation through my body. I felt as light as a feather, as if I were levitating. I felt calm inside as if a reservoir of foetid puss that had been locked up in me for years had all been drained out. Then I realised that I had no load on my chest. I seemed to have lost the capacity to hate. Resentments that I had been nursing inside me for months seemed to have evaporated. I walked to the large bay window of my room and looked out. The morning sun filtering in through the trees seemed like liquid music. I seemed to discover a new world existing outside the miserable little dungeon of my ego in which I had been held captive for 40 years. For the first time in my life I had come to know the meaning of that simple three-letter word 'joy'. Yes, this was indeed 'joy'.
"I did not connect any of these things with Jesus Christ [Yah'shua the Messiah] or with religion or with my meditation experience of the previous night. I was able to connect them only through a series of extraordinary coincidences that followed. The next day I received a letter from a friend of the family, an Anglican Bishop, saying that I had been in his thoughts a great deal lately, that he had in fact been praying for me and felt compelled to send me a little booklet. In fact the book was a poem, The Hound of Heaven, by Francis Thomson:
"'The Hound of Heaven' had indeed finally overpowered me. The following day I had another letter, this time from a Hindu friend, enclosing a book which he had picked up the previous day, The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas à Kempis: 'My son, hear my words, words of great sweetness, surpassing all the learning of philosophers and wise men of this world. My words are spirit and life, and cannot be weighed by the understanding of men'. It was on reading this book that I realised that Christ had indeed come into my life, and that the ecstasy, the joy and peace I now knew, and the release from captivity of my ego, were all His work.
"Then, consciously and deliberately, I yielded to Christ. But the old intellectual me still demanded proof and restrained me from total faith. It occurred to me that this could just be a nervous breakdown. Or perhaps it was a clever but subconscious device of my own mind to find an escape from my problems. So I decided to watch myself closely for some time. I noticed that the joy and the inner peace not only remained but deepened. I felt more integrated as a person than I had ever been before. My work output and efficiency increased greatly. My mind remained utterly rational. All problems of personal relations disappeared. I lost the capacity for anger and felt constantly a deep humility. I had to conclude then that my experience that night had not been some mere quirk of my mind, that Christ was in fact real and that He had come into my life for good".
When Neville went public, it was first met with disbelief and then provoked a storm of persecution. All kinds of false accusations were leveled at him but in the end they were proven to be baseless. His marriage and family life were reborn because of his new relationship with Christ. In the end he emigrated to Kent, England.
This is one of tens of thousands of stories of those who have been found by Christ. His life was totally and completely changed by that encounter. Speaking of how his rebirth changed his perspective on things, and in particularly this once feverishly ambitious man, he said of his family:
"... we have no ambitions of our own except to serve and be where Christ wants us at the moment".
This is one of the signs that Christ dwells within a soul - the desire to do His will and not pursue our own selfish ambitions. Of greatest interest to me personally was this philosopher's newfound perception of reality. He writes:
"... I now know there is a whole realm of reality and truth to which neither science nor philosophical analysis can give me access. I say so because I have had a glimpse into this other reality. It is this other reality that gives meaning to my life, my relationships, my values. And what about the problems posed by some of the apparently absurd claims of the Bible? The answer is that I have no problems with the Bible, for when one has met at first hand the person of Christ, no absurdity, no contradiction however blatant, can prevail against or vitiate that awesome encounter" (Neville Jayaweera, An Awesome Encounter, in The Light of Experience, BBC, London, 1977: pp.106-111).
This, then, is the story of Neville Jayaweera. What interests me about it is the way Yahweh meets us exactly where we are and enters us in wholly unexpected ways. Not everyone is searching for Christ or even for truth when they encounter the resurrected Messiah, as we know from the story of Paul who was out to persecute Christians when Yah'shua (Jesus) intervened. For some people the encounter is gradual and takes place over many years, getting progressively deeper. For others, it is apparently instant, like Jayaweera and the apostle Paul. What is important is the fact that the resurrected Lord has been met and that we are changing into His likeness little by little every day.
Not everyone is chased by the 'Hound of Heaven' in the same way as Jayaweera was. Sometimes Yah'shua (Jesus) manifests in the midst of crisis as our soul, conscious or unconscious, cries out for help. For myself, it was not a cry for help that led me to search for Christ but a childhood experience that fired in me a thirst for truth. Yah'shua (Jesus) meets us at our point of need, whatever it may be. It may be bad health, loneliness, old age, fear of death, loss of a loved one, failed marriage, loss of career, psychological problems, rejection by friends, a hunger for something more than the emptiness and vanity of the world. It really doesn't matter how we search for Him or how He meets us: what's important is that we meet.
For me it was a hunger for knowledge about a reality that science did not answer for me. I had had out-of-body experiences so I knew there was more than the physical world. I had seen ghosts. I had had a mystical experience when before I was a teenager and a promise that I would meet the unnamed 'Master' who would bring me the joy and peace Jayaweera speaks of. So for me it was an intense hunger for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I doubt anyone will come to Christ as I did, and I doubt anyone will come to Christ the way those of you here came to Him did. This in itself is both frightening and comforting - frightening because there is no one else we can directly compare with to 'share notes', as it were, but also incredibly comforting because it means that the encounter we have with Christ will be intensely personal.
When I met Yah'shua (Jesus) 27 years ago it was in a small room at university - first on my bed and then, like Jayaweera, on my knees. I knew, however, who I had met from the first moment, because I was searching for Him following earlier less dramatic encounters. And I found Him because I wanted to know who He was with my whole soul, and not just a part of me.
Perhaps I should mention a few words about the joy of encountering Yah'shua (Jesus). Until you have encountered it, there is really nothing you can compare it with. And I suppose the greater your past misery, the greater that joy is on your first encounter. Whatever this joy is, it does not negate reality. There is much suffering and pain in this world, but there is also gladness, and celebration, and friendship, and love. When you encounter Christ, everything starts to add up and you get this sense of wholeness: work, sex, religion, family, humour, nature, sport, poetry, architecture, music, history, science, love and friendship all join together in this incredible oneness in Christ. Yahweh is not confined to the Bible and to assembly (church) meetings, He is in all things. Which is probably why He can meet you anywhere you happen to be. The whole of creation is the arena of His activity. The miracle of Yah'shua (Jesus) is in the transformation of living itself.
I wonder where you are today? I wonder who here has met Christ, and who has not, and why? Like Jayaweera, King David speaks of being pursued by Yahweh, and of being followed wherever he went, whether in the heights or the depths of life, whether young or old. People meet Him at all ages and in all circumstances. What is it, then, that 'opens the door', as it were, to such extraordinary encounters?
We may never know all the answers to such questions but one thing I am definitely persuaded of: Yah'shua (Jesus) enters into our life only when we open the door of our hearts to Him. It may be conscious and deliberate, as mine was, or it may be entirely unconscious, as Jayaweera's was. Sometimes our unconscious is crying out and our conscious self knows nothing of it. Either way, it is a signal to Yahweh that the soul wants to meet Him and be saved by Him.
This invitation to meet the living Christ is given to everyone, no matter who they are, because whether we care to admit it or not, we all need Him. It is being given to you today. Thus He would say 2,000 years ago to His disciples:
"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matt.11:28-30, NKJV).
This page was created on 14 May 2004
Last updated on 14 May 2004
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