The Sign of the Cross


I once went to a bar in China. I was teaching in Ningbo located on the Eastern seaboard. One evening I thought it a good idea to spend time drinking. So I went to a few bars before settling down into the biggest dive in town. After playing pool and playing the fool I was ‘invited’ by a couple of Americans to play cards at the bar. I won the first hand, but they said there had been a misdeal. Fists were flown and I escaped out of the entrance without quite knowing how I had avoided serious injury.

It was now nearly daylight as I began to walk home and then I remembered that I had left the equivalent of £10 on the bar. I stopped and turned round and went to walk back to the bar. Except that I could not. My legs would not work. Again and again my legs felt stuck. I could not lift my legs off the ground to walk ahead. I assumed that it was cowardice that stopped me so I picked up my left leg and had to use all my strength to force it in front on me. I then did the same thing with my right leg. After a few more times I felt the ‘spell’ had been broken and continued on my way back to the bar to collect my money. On entering the bar I was immediately seized by the two men I had previously had a disagreement with. One held my legs while the other borrowed a knife from another of their friends to cut into the palm of my hand. Eventually he managed to cut several deep wounds although most were superficial. I think the idea was to make it painful to write.

Deeper cuts were made to the base of the thumb and below the index finger of my right hand where the ‘life line’ is usually joined by another line that meets it somewhere between finger and thumb. This was sore for many years. Eventually the pain went one evening while again teaching in another city in the north of China.

Years later I noticed the shape of one particular scar. I now believe that it was not fear that stopped my legs from moving on that fateful occasion, but God. The scar has the appearance of a Christian cross, which would be unremarkable, had I not had the experience which led to this scar. My will, not God’s will, won in that early morning struggle to return to a bar. I have since learnt that only in following God’s will can true happiness be found and mature discernment of God’s will is unlikely when drunk. It is an obvious observation but it has taken almost a lifetime to realise.

“Do not model your behaviour on the contemporary world, but let the renewing of your minds transform you, so that you may discern for yourselves what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and mature.”

Romans 12:2.

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