What will it be like when the Lord Returns? Most would say he’s never coming back. It’s just a myth, a pipe dream that some cling to out of fear or for some other irrational reason.
But, I think he will return, and when we least expect it.
In this paper I wrote for my Unschooled Master of Theology Program (uThM), I put forward a narrative that describes a possible personal experience of what it might be like when the King returns.
So, get ready for a life altering event. It’s one, I believe we will all one day experience.
Here’s where my story begins….
I awoke this afternoon. I think it’s a Tuesday, but I’m not quite sure.
I felt pretty rested, still a little groggy. I chuckled under my breath. I swear, it feels as if I’ve somehow been asleep for a thousand years.
I raised my hands and stretched.
I looked around, trying to get my bearings, but, I don’t really recognize this place.
I walked out of the tree line and tripped over something. I looked down and realized it was my kayak. It was on the ground near the shoreline where I had left it the night before.
Where I left it? The night before?
I turned around and scratched my head, trying to clear away the cobwebs.
I remember…wait…I had to think.
I could remember…maybe….paddling across the lake, coming back from the store? Yes, that was it. It had rained on me, forcing me to pull out my rain jacket before I even got to shore.
Once on land, I had pulled the kayak out of the water and ran the short trail up to my workshop deck, trying my hardest to get out of the weather.
I remember sitting there, under the cover for nearly an hour, watching it pour. It had never, in all my life, rained like that before.
I turned and looked behind me, thinking maybe I would find the workshop standing there, but it was apparently gone.
Maybe I was somewhere else?
But….there’s this giant Douglas Fir tree next to me, and I reached out my hand and slowly ran it across the bark.
It such a massive monster, probably three foot in diameter at the base.
This was it, I thought, but that’s not possible. I look down at my shoeless feet and noticed the stone blocks scattered about at the roots.
There’s the old retaining wall, running along in an arc. Sure, a lot of it was gone, or overgrown, or buried. The wild vegetation made it difficult to see.
I touched the tree again with my fingers, pushed at it, gave it some weight.
It wouldn’t budge. I’m not sure why I thought it would.
Then I wondered to myself: What is happening to me?
So strange, but…I’m pretty certain I remember planting that tree.
I took a deep breath, sighed, ran my hands up and down both arms, trying to warm up.
I was suddenly so chilled.
There was no wind, but the sun seemed strangely weak, like it was somehow dying.
I turned back again and crossed the wooded flat to where the workshop should have been.
If that was the retaining wall, then….
But, there was nothing to indicate the structure had ever been there. No timbers. No uprights. Nothing remained.
At that moment, the sky overhead cracked in half, sending shards of light streaking in all directions.
I ducked, thinking it was an explosion. A plane maybe? Terrorists? Some sort of attack?
Are the Chinese finally invading?
Thunder rolled directly over top of me. I shuddered, and turned to see dark, menacing clouds come in from the east.
They do not come from the east, I thought. This is the coast. The clouds always come in off the ocean.
I backtracked my steps to look around the point, get a better view.
The clouds billowed and swirled and eddied, moving quickly and with tremendous purpose.
I stumbled once, but regained my footing.
What in the world is going on?
The clouds filled the sky, drowning out what was left of the sun and the brilliant blue.
More thunder rolled, cracking and snapping and creating a tremendous racket.
And, then, I heard something I don’t think I’ve ever heard before.
It was the strangest sound, almost melodic, but with just two simple notes – one high, one low.
It echoed off the ridges and rolled down to the valley floor, seeming to penetrate everything around me.
It boomed for a long time, deafening, then slowly faded away, as if it had never sounded at all.
But, then the plants seemed almost to wake up from a kind of perpetual slumber, stood alert, the grass underfoot seemingly to tighten up around my feet.
It was almost as if nature herself grew suddenly….nervous.
Anxious, even? I wondered why?
I watched as the foreboding clouds deepened in color and intensity, and then there seemed to be sparks and flashes of deep red and orange, and the first thought in my mind was fire.
And then the sky suddenly and irrevocably burst into flames.
Then there was a tremor, a kind of unfamiliar shake. Slight, barely noticeable at first. But, then more pronounced. Then the whole earth gave way, shifted underfoot, and with a great and terrific calamity, I was knocked to the earth.
A tree in the forest, twenty, no thirty yards behind me, came crashing down, hitting the ground.
Then another. And another. All around me, my forest began to fall.
I must be dreaming, I thought, my eyes in utter disbelief. It was the only logical explanation, how could we be having an earthquake? Then again, how could the sky be on fire? And, how could I not remember a thing? How could I….
Then the thought came.
So innocently, so tenderly…did it spring.
How could I be alive?
And, that’s when I remembered.
I had once before…died.
Then it came flooding back so suddenly, as if someone somewhere had simply flipped on a switch in my mind.
I wasn’t young like this. Not any more. I turned my hands over and looked at them, the skin was tight and vibrant and the color was full.
But, I could now remember growing old, getting too old for my own good. When I had gotten caught in the rain…that’s right…now I remember! When I had sat under that covered deck, I had not been young, but old. I had struggled, legs wobbly, up that short flight of steps.
But, those last twenty years had been really good to me. I could remember it all now – selling my house in town and moving out to the lake. Quitting my job, selling my car, and disappearing into the woods for good.
It had taken nearly all twenty, full of silence and tranquility, solitude and peace.
I looked up, realizing the shaking had ceased.
It was so quiet now. Eerily so.
But, it’s never that way, I told myself.
That was one thing I had realized shortly after moving out to the lake, how thunderous and chaotic the forest could truly be. It was always alive. Teeming with life. All sorts of wild and crawly creatures eyes full and bright.
But now, all that was gone. As if they’d just vanished from sight.
I looked up and could see the clouds swirling high overhead, the fire in the sky raging on in crimson-like fury.
At that moment, something reached out and touched me – somehow it touched the very core of me, the essence…
All these years in the woods, all my research, and yet, I’d never uncovered the true and fundamental nature of the human soul.
It had simply eluded me.
And, yet, here, at this moment, I somehow knew something had made contact with mine.
It spoke to me and I heard and saw and felt and replied.
Yes, Lord, I said without words. I am here.
I could suddenly see him high above, making his way at a gallop, and the passage I always read so late at night before drifting off to a fitful sleep came racing back to mind.
“He is coming on clouds, and every eye will see him, even they who pierced him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of him.”
And, my heart leapt from my chest, and I was quickened to my feet, for I truly saw him, high above, and he was accompanied by the host of heaven, arrayed in glory and brilliantly blinding white light. Not a fanciful vision, or a hopeful myth. It was truly him, on his way, the impending date now set.
“Lord,” I called out to him. “Come quickly!”
I fell to my knees and wept aloud, torrents of tears, as if I had spent hundreds of years a captive of death, now released and set free by my savior.
I raised my hands above my head and begged, sobbing and pleading.
The next moment, I was lifted off my feet. I could feel the strength under me, holding me, sustaining me. It was a power I had never before known.
The air rushed by me as I seemed to increase in speed, and the horizon quickly opened up, where I could see the lake below me, the highway in the distance, the entire coastline. Great mountains to the east.
The clouds and fire and smoke and flames.
I rose with surety, yet still unclear of my destination or the mechanism by which I was able to take flight. But, I had confidence in whoever was responsible.
Somehow, I just knew. I strangely now seemed to know every one and every thing.
All around me, I noticed streaks of light rising up from the ground below. They were heading in the same general direction I was heading in, and it took me a moment before I realized what they were.
They are the mystery….now coming to an end.
I smiled as I entered the dark, teeming clouds above. They rolled and swirled in and around me, angry and vengeful and full of fury and wrath.
But, I was not at all afraid.
That wrath, it was not directed toward me.
At that moment, it all became crystal clear. I knew why I could not remember the Eden property on which I had spent the last twenty years. I recognized the blasting horn and the sudden quake and heaven being caught afire and what was at stake.
At that, my smile grew wider and my speed increased even more.
I was about to meet him, my King. I was about to meet the Creator of everything.
I had just awoke from the sleep of death, no idea how long I had endured – days, weeks, months, years? Dead to all that lived, to all I once was, to all my hopes and dreams.
I remembered sitting down in my recliner back in my shelter and had felt strangely light, as if something had lifted a weight from me and no longer had to carry its burden.
That day, I had died and slept, drawing my last breath.
Yet, now, I was alive again. And now, it was truly the end.
This is the awesome and terrible day of the Lord.
(Verses consulted for this paper: Jude 1:14-16; Matthew 13:41; 24:31-42; Mark 13:27; Luke 17:26-32; 21:34; John 5: 28-29; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; 5:2-3; 1 Corinthians 15:52; 2 Peter 3:12; Revelation 1:7; 6:16-17; 11:15-19; 20:4-12; Daniel 12:2)
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Excerpt from Ashen Monk Mountain:
There was an old elm tree near the end of the lawn, with a circular picnic table and several short benches.
“This looks like a lovely spot,” Mr. Eckey said, taking a seat.
He set his briefcase on the picnic table and flipped the latches, opening the lid.
Christopher took a seat opposite him and removed his hood, folding his arms in front of him.
“I have a tablet and a pen here somewhere,” Mr. Eckey said. “I had it when I left, that is. Not sure if I can find it in this disorganized briefcase of mine…”
He chuckled at himself.
“So – ”
Christopher ran a hand over his short cropped scalp.
“I’m confused about all this. I’m not sure I understand why exactly you wanted to meet with me.”
Mr. Eckey nodded.
“How long have you been a novitiate here?”
“Going on seven months now.”
He glanced up at Christopher as he fetched his notebook and ink pen.
“How are you liking it at Saint Joseph’s?”
“It has been – ”
Christopher thought about the question for a moment.
“ – wonderful.”
“I would assume it much different than – ”
Mr. Eckey flipped the first page over, scanned handwritten notes he had on the second page.
“I received some background from the Precept’s office, as well as from Abbot Greenly. You grew up in – North Platte, Nebraska? Is that correct?”
“I’m native of the Boston area myself,” Mr. Eckey said. “Tell me a little about how you came to the decision.”
Mr. Eckey smiled.
“To become a monk. It must have been quite a journey from Nebraska.”
“Not really. I guess. I just – ”
Unwanted images flashed through his mind.
Mr. Eckey took a deep breath before speaking again.
“Mr. Ward, I don’t actually know a whole lot about this request, to be perfectly honest. As you know, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Apostolic Life – that’s quite a mouthful, isn’t it – we are entrusted with monitoring abnormal behavior among those called to the consecrated vocation.”
He tapped his pen on the tablet.
“Tell me, what do you like about Saint Joseph’s exactly?”
“It’s the – well – I feel at home here. Like I belong. I very much enjoy the silence.”
“Yes, I know the Trappists to be quite ardent in their devotion.”
Christopher nodded in agreement as Mr. Eckey took a few notes.
“I enjoy the early mornings, the worship, the offices. The undivided devotion.”
“To God?” Mr. Eckey asked.
“Yes,” Christopher said. “Exactly.”
The stranger focused on his notes for several seconds, silently mouthing the words he wrote.
“Tell me, how does your life now differ from your previous one?”
Mr. Eckey stopped writing.
“Your military career.”
“Oh,” Christopher said, looking down. “I guess – I – I don’t know. There are lots of differences. I’m not – sure I – what is this inquiry about exactly?”
Mr. Eckey put his pen down.
“Mr. Ward,” he said. “The Vatican apparently has interest in your particular gifts and abilities for a – call it – a special appointment. I guess that’s the best way to put it.”
He shifted his weight on the hard bench.
“Normally, the Congregation does not get involved in appointments or a particular monk’s vocational choices. But, sometimes, when the need arises, special arrangements can be made.”
“Are you talking about another monastery?”
“Actually – ”
Mr. Eckey picked his pen back up.
“It’s an entirely different Order.”
Christopher leaned forward as a gust of wind billowed the long sleeves of his tunic.
“I don’t really understand,” he said. “Are you saying the Vatican wants me to move to a different monastery – to a different Order? But…I…”
Mr. Eckey waited a moment.
“Tell me, Mr. Ward, about your military training.”
“What about it?”
“Your experiences. You were a special operator, is that correct?”
Christopher shot him a quizzical look.
“How do you know that?”
“You were part of the 7th SFG? Assigned to operations in Afghanistan for the majority of your enlistment, surrendering your commission as a Captain. Is that correct? What did you like or dislike about your military career? Why was it you left?”
Christopher looked out over the cornfields in the distance.
“Sir,” he said, wringing his hands together. “I don’t really understand why you’re asking these kinds of questions. To be honest, they’re making me a little uncomfortable. I think I – ”
“Please, Brother Christopher,” Mr. Eckey said, putting up a hand. “I don’t mean to pry. As I said, this is a peculiar and rather sensitive situation, not at all normal procedure. So, I do apologize for my rather tactless approach. Let me explain a little, if I can – ”
Christopher tried to relax.
He struggled to repress the memories rising in the back of his mind, the bloody and gruesome images of dead bodies, a horrible, yet all too familiar wave of fear and dread washing over him.
A wave of putrid death enveloped and permeated everything.
He took a deep breath, tried to ignore it.
Mr. Eckey put down his pen again.
“There is a remote monastery in British Colombia. It is of a separate Order, not Cistercian, but similar. It’s rather distinctive, as I am led to believe.”
“What is the Order?” Christopher asked.
Mr. Eckey shook his head.
“You would not be familiar with it,” he said. “There is actually only one monastery in the Order. But it has had a long, and quite fascinating history, to say the least. And, somewhat of a fantastic service.”
“So, why me, then?” Christopher asked. “I’m a novitiate. I don’t have much to offer. I’m not sure what you are asking of me.”
“The Vatican is asking a favor of you, Brother Ward. They are requesting that you take a leave of absence from Saint Joseph’s and visit this other monastery for a time.”
“I’m – I don’t – ”
“I’m honored that the Vatican has called on me,” he said. “I really do feel settled here, though. I would not wish to – ”
Mr. Eckey interrupted.
“Consider it simply a sabbatical of sorts. Without strings attached. We are interested solely in God’s working here in this matter.”
“Are you wanting me to relocate?” Christopher asked.
Mr. Eckey smiled.
“How about we say the Vatican is open and interested in the Father’s call on your life. We simply wish to – test the waters – see if this would or would not be a good fit.”
“So, if I go, and it is not a good fit?”
“Your place here at Saint Joseph’s would be available to you at any time you see fit. Like I said, no strings attached.”
“I would not feel comfortable going without Abbot Greenly’s blessing,” Christopher said.
“You have it,” Mr. Eckey said, his smile widening.
Christopher said nothing.
“Think of it as a vacation. Though, if I’m hearing you correctly, you really are in no need of one. But, then again…. ”
The man shrugged.
“May I – ”
Christopher pondered his words.
“Is it possible to consider this awhile before I decide?”
“Certainly,” Mr. Eckey said. “Because of the situation, though, we would need you to go sooner than later. Is there anything upcoming that you are thinking about in particular?”
Christopher shook his head.
“No,” he said. “I would just like to sit with this for a day or two. Pray about it. How long would the visit be?”
“As long as you need to decide,” Mr. Eckey said. “Preferably a month to start. Longer is encouraged. Like I said, it is a unique situation, so tradition does not really lend itself easily. But, I would ask – ”
He put his notepad and pen back in his briefcase and closed the lid.
“Because of the sensitive nature, the Vatican has requested that you do not discuss this with anyone except me. Not the other monks here, your family, not even Abbot Greenly.”
“But, how – ”
Mr. Eckey put up a hand.
“I’m heading back to discuss the situation with Abbot Greenly before I leave the grounds. He will certainly not have an objection. Not that I can imagine, anyway.”
He fished out a business card from the inside pocket of his blazer.
“Here is my contact information,” he said, handing him the card. “You can reach me on my cell phone any time. Whenever you decide, one way or the other. There is a great need, though, so I do hope you will consider at least visiting.”
Christopher took the card, looked at it, then looked up at Mr. Eckey.
“What kind of need, exactly?”
The man just smiled.
“All in due time,” he said. “Just let us know as soon as you are able.”
Christopher looked back at the card.
“Thank you, Brother Ward, for your time. I do think I can find my way back to the abbot’s office from here.”
He briefly looked around the grounds.
“I do envy you a little,” he said. “What a majestic space you monks have created here. It’s like a slice of Eden. Really.”
He got up, shook Christopher’s hand, then left him there alone, as the stranger retraced his steps to the abbot’s office.
Christopher took a deep breath, then sighed.
The wave of putrid death still lingered as another wind gust blew across the fields, dredging up memories he would have altogether wished could have remained buried, soaking him again in the blood of the past.
He stayed there for a long time, just watching as the endless sea of cornfields waved in the winds.
Buy my book Ashen Monk Mountain to find out what this cryptic and mysterious appointment is the Vatican is asking Christopher to take on. An unheard of monastery, hidden deep in the Canadian Rockies? A secret mission and call? What in the world could be going on?
Click here and grab your copy today! Whatever you do, don’t let this fantastically epic story get away!
But, trust me when I say, you’re not going to believe the truth even when you discover it for yourself. Find out what secrets lay hidden underfoot at Ashen Monk Mountain!