Thursday, December 03, 2009

A Light in the Window

A Light in the Window
Originally uploaded by paynehollow
A writing from Roger, in preparation for Advent...

You need a new moon and its darkness blanketed around you to make it to the Ohio River and to freedom. You need a clear, cold, dark night so you can follow the stars. You see, a runaway slave in 1857 knows to follow the drinking gourd. A runaway slave knows to look for that big dipper in the sky that points the way north to the Ohio River, to the Jordan River and the Promised Land of freedom beyond its stormy waters.

But as you make your way from station to station along Kentucky’s Underground Railroad you worry about that river. Sure, it means freedom if you can cross it, but how will you cross it? The river is wide. The river is cold. The river is deep.

You hear of a place, just downstream from Maysville, Kentucky, where the river’s not as deep. It’s dangerous, though. The slave catchers know of it, too, and patrol the borderland along the shores. The dreams of freedom for many runaways are dashed on there on the southern bank of the Ohio River.

But on the northern shore is the town of Ripley. A local pastor, John Rankin, and his sons are all abolitionists and have had more than one close call with the slave catchers. It’s against the law to help runaway slaves. The law says slaves are property and must be returned to their masters.

The Rankin family and the other few abolitionists in the area do not believe a person can be considered the property of someone else. The Rankin home is on the hill high above Ripley and can be seen from the Kentucky shore. When it is too dangerous for a runaway slave to try a crossing, the windows of the Rankin house are dark. But if it is likely you might get past the slave catcher patrols, Mrs. Rankin will place a single candle in the window.

And on that cold, dark night, when you finally make your way to the Ohio River, that border between slave states and free states, you can see Ripley across the water and you can see the Rankin house and you can see the candle in the window beckoning you to freedom and safety, to liberty and a new life.

As you approach the water’s edge, you hear the slave catcher’s hounds baying. They’ve caught your scent. The patrol is on your trail. Your fear rises from the pit of your stomach and threatens to overwhelm you. To have come all that way only to be caught and beaten and sent back into slavery.

You are desperate to escape. But it’s a dark night and you can’t see if anyone is there to help you make the crossing. As you frantically search the waters for a sign of hope, you hear a call, almost a whisper. You respond and a small boat with oars like angel’s wings emerges from the darkness. It’s one of the Rankin boys and John Parker, a freedman who owns his own house at the river’s edge in Ripley. They’ve come to carry you across the waters of the Ohio River like they’ve done for so many so many times before.

But for you…what words can describe it? Hope and relief and dreams and longings of freedom and liberty, of safety and a new life swirl through your heart as you climb the hill. And as you rise over the crest of the hill, you see it – the light in the window – beckoning to you, calling you home.

And as you approach the threshold, you begin to sing…
“I looked over Jordan, and what did I see Comin’ for to carry me home?
A band of angels comin’ after me, Comin’ for to carry me home…”

This Advent, may we be a band of angels for one another as we help each other along the long and dark and weary road – moving away from those things that bind and enslave us and moving toward liberty and freedom and safety. And as travelers, may we find comfort and strength from the light in the window calling us onward, calling us home.

Wow, Roger. Amen.


At 12/4/09, 7:08 AM, Blogger Dan Trabue said...

AND, this last Sunday we welcomed back Paul, who has been on Sabbatical. He IS a light in our window!

At 12/4/09, 8:23 AM, Blogger Stephanie Reed said...

Wow, this sounds just like how I feel about Rankin House and the Rankin legacy. For anyone who'd like to get to know the Rankin family better, you can read my two books about them, Across the Wide River and The Light Across the River. The Rankins were a remarkable family.

At 12/4/09, 12:45 PM, Blogger Dan Trabue said...

Stephanie, thanks for stopping by. The Rankins sound pretty cool.

Normally, we try to avoid anything too commercial-ly here, but that promo is related to the topic, so I'll let it slide...

Thanks again for stopping by.

At 12/4/09, 3:26 PM, Blogger Stephanie Reed said...

Thanks, Dan. Actually it sounded like Roger may have read a book, so I was happy! :-) I highly recommend a visit to Ripley. It's a cool town with lots of history, and that's not a commercial, it's a testimonial.


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