Karl Barth
(1886 – 1968)

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We all know the curiosity that comes over us when from a window we see the people in the street suddenly stop and look up, shade their eyes with their hands and look straight up into the sky towards something which is hidden from us by the roof.  Our curiosity is superfluous, for what they see is probably an aeroplane.  But as to the sudden stopping, looking up, and tense attention characteristic of the people of the Bible, our wonder will not be so lightly dismissed.  To me personally it came first with Paul: this man evidently sees and hears something which is above everything, which is absolutely beyond the range of my observation and the measure of my thought.  No matter how I try to relate to this coming ‘something’ that in baffling words he insists he sees and hears, I am still taken by the fact that he, Paul (or whoever it was who wrote the Epistle to the Ephesians, for example) is in a state which words such as ‘inspiration’, ‘alarm’, or ‘stirring or overwhelming emotion’, do not satisfactorily describe.  I seem to see within so transparent a piece of literature a personality who is actually thrown out of his course by seeing and hearing what I for my part do not see and hear – who is, so to speak, captured, in order to be dragged as a prisoner from land to land for strange, intense, uncertain, and yet mysteriously well-planned service. 

And if ever I come to fear that I may be hallucinating, one glance at the secular events of those times, one glance at the widening circle of ripples in the pool of history, assures me that a stone of unusual weight must have been dropped into deep water somewhere. It tells me that, among all the hundreds of wandering preachers and miracle-workers from the Near East who in that day must have gone along the same Appian Way into imperial Rome, it was this one Paul - seeing and hearing what he did - who was the cause, if not of all, yet of the most important developments in that city’s future. 


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In their many different idioms the classical spiritual writers have attempted to throw light on the eternal question of union with God. 
Every month we give you a brief passage from a spiritual classic.