James 1:22-23

But become makers of the message - and not just hearers misleading yourselves
For if anyone is a hearer of the message and not a maker
he is like a man assessing the face of his 'Genesis' in a mirror [Jm.1:22-23]

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Chapter 4 : Oldstead Tower

Copyright Notice
What is presented in this document is my original work. Copyright on this is reserved as follows :
..... Authentic Christianity, 4th edition : (c) 2001 - 2004, Target Technical, York, UK
All rights are reserved - except that this text is made available without charge for NON-COMMERCIAL personal/scholarly and educational use.

4.1 The Mystery of Oldstead Tower
How fortunate we are to live in North Yorkshire. By some, this county of England is known as "God's own country".

It was Lent and I woke early, a fine spring morning. I decided upon a walk - perhaps along the edge of the Hambleton Hills. At Oldstead there is a brick tower. It stands near the top of the hill - right on the edge of the escarpment. Built in Victorian times, it is known locally as 'The Observatory'. From the top there is a view to the south - right out over the Howardian Hills and down as far as York.

I worked my way up the steep path which leads from the village up through the forest - to the place where the tower stands. As I reached the crest of the hill, the base of the tower came into view - and I saw that its top was shrouded by the early morning mist.

I had visited the tower before - but on this occasion I was surprised to see that someone had fixed two sign arms to the outside just a few metres above the ground. They looked like the arms on a signpost, but large and clear. On one side of the tower was an arm which read 'Heaven' : another on the opposite side read 'Hell'. How very curious! Who on earth would have done such a thing? And why? Could this be the work of the nearby community of monks? A former abbot of this monastery had once told a story about a dream - to a meeting of cardinals in Rome. In his dream he had encountered some signposts which had been interfered with - and now pointed in the wrong direction [Ref.1].

At the base of the tower there is a door. On previous visits I had always found it locked - but now the door was standing ajar. Entering with some circumspection, I stepped carefully up the spiral staircase to the upper chamber of the tower. I entered a small, low room, an old oak table in the middle. The making of oak furniture is well established as a rural industry in the villages around Oldstead. Into the table top someone had carved two fine inscriptions. One said 'Lignum Crucis' : the other 'Lignum Vitae'.

On the table were two books. One was quite obviously an old copy of the bible. It lay open at Genesis Chapter 11 - a story from long ago about some people who built a high tower, trying to reach up to God. The project failed - and they were punished for the attempt with the epithet 'Let us confuse their tongue'.

The other book was a 'visitors book'. Inside the cover someone had inscribed in a fine italic hand :

Anyone reaching this level is certainly filled with pride

And I noticed that there were no names signed in the book. But inscribed across the columns (where the names might otherwise have been) was a single entry :

I will confuse your signposts

Apart from this, the pages all were blank.

On my earlier visits to the tower the door had always been locked - and now it seemed to me that perhaps I was the first person to enter this room for many a year. It was hard to know whether I should sully the book by writing my name on its page - but I decided to do so and then went outside onto the circular platform from which the Victorian builder of the tower had wished to survey his domain. There was an enormous 'weather cock' set on the roof. By now a breeze was sweeping away the mist and the cock was swinging aimlessly - as if uncertain which way to point. It carried the legend :

Before the cock crows twice ...
you will deny me three times

I recalled that twice three is six.

The view from the platform was delightful indeed. I remembered the phrase :

'I ate the book : it was like honey in my mouth
- but it made my belly bitter

This, I thought, was from Ezekiel Chapter 3 - and from Revelation 10:10. With a high view one might see clearly what others could not? So that was what the bible was doing on the table : it was for the visitors to eat. I recalled Matthew 4:4 :

'Man shall not live on bread alone
- but on every word which comes from (the) mouth of a god

Leaning over the parapet, I noticed that there was a third sign arm fixed high up on the outer wall of the tower. Previously it had been concealed by the mist. It bore the legend 'Lord God' - and it pointed out across the countryside. Well, that seemed reasonable : for was not this "God's own country"?

By now the sun was risen well above the horizon. But I still couldn't see how one could really eat a book. Bacon and eggs seemed more like the kind of breakfast my belly would appreciate. So I worked my way back down the staircase and emerged blinking into the sunlight at the base of the tower. It would be an easy walk back down the steep path through the forest - and I would soon be back at home.

Before setting off down the path I took one last look at the tower - now glowing brightly in the morning sun. Yes, there was a third sign arm near the top of the tower. And then my blood ran cold. For I saw that the upper arm which had carried the legend 'Lord God' was pointing in the same direction as the arm which signed the way to 'Hell'.

As I turned away I almost stumbled over a small noticeboard right at the top of the path. It read :

'Breakfast Menu : Isaiah Chapter 6'

I was sure it had not been there before. So that was where I could read about the 'kitchen' where the order was given for the 'eggs' to be 'scrambled'!

As I descended through the forest I remembered a hymn we had sung when I was at school in these parts. It was a prayer : and it ended '... and take away my pride'. I was glad I was heading downhill now. For God is the origin of all that is - and as a creature I could say no more of God than this.

My visit to Oldstead Tower had been most instructive. Yes, most instructive. For what had seemed to be grey in the world now stood out so clear - black and white in the light of that Lenten morning. Now I knew the reason for fasting in Lent. For a book was food for the spirit - but not all the food was wholesome. And was not gluttony a sin?

It was 'like honey in my mouth' - but 'bitter in my belly'.

For breakfast I tried Isaiah 6. And when it came time for lunch I looked out Proverbs 23:1-9 which I found waiting for me on the sideboard at home.

4.2 PostScript
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4.3 References
[1] Noel Gerard & Stanford Peter, 'The Anatomy of the Catholic Church', Michael Russell Publishing, 1994, :ISBN 0 85955 203 9 pp.191-2