“Just what kind of books are the Mr. Pipes stories? Are they lessons in church history? Are they guides to family devotions? Are they unit studies on hymnody and classic ecclesiastical music? Are they basic theological primers? The answer is yes, they are all these. But what is more, they are also delightful tales with memorable characters and intriguing plot twists. In other words, these are the kind of books every family is going to want to have and read--and reread again and again."
George Grant, Author of Going Somewhere, The Christian Almanac
THE ACCIDENTAL VOYAGE
Theodulph of Orleans (c. 760-821)
To thee before thy passion,
They sang their hymns of praise;
To thee, now high exalted,
Our melody we raise.
“We simply cannot proceed one step further,” said Mr. Pipes, pausing at the companionway before descending the steep stairs leading below decks. “I must have your confirmation, children, before we go below deck: Did you, or did you not hear, most distinctly, a voice on board this vessel inviting us to board? I must have your answer.”
“Sure, we both heard him,” said Drew.
“‘Welcome aboard.’ He said it twice,” said Annie.
“Just as I remembered it myself,” said Mr. Pipes. “But, you understand, I had to be sure. And now that I am, we shall make ourselves welcome, and hope the captain arrives before nightfall. Now let us see where we are to stow our things.”
He led them down the steep companionway.
“Oh, now this is a real ship,” said Drew, breathing in the strong aroma of well-oiled hardwood, sail canvas and spare rope. “It even smells like one.”
“Everything’s so scrubbed and tidy,” said Annie. “And I love all the brass—must take lots of rubbing to keep it so shiny.”
“Ahoy, there,” called Mr. Pipes down the narrow passage they entered at the foot of the companionway. He cupped his hands around his mouth and tried again. “A Mr. Pipes and two children, we are; booked for the night on board your lovely schooner. Hello, there! Ahoy!”
He held up his hand for silence, cocking his head to one side, while he strained to hear a reply.
“They’ve abandoned her,” said Drew, eagerly. “And we can claim salvage—she’s ours! Let’s see, Mr. Pipes will be captain; I’ll be first mate, and Annie you can be the cook and do all the swabbing and stuff--while we sail the ship.”
“No ship this meticulously fitted—she’s absolutely ready for sea, right down to the last knot,” said Mr. Pipes. “I say, no ship cared for as this ship is cared for has been abandoned; be sure of it. Her crew must simply be enjoying the festivities and will soon return. Aha, here is a cabin marked ‘guests quarters.’ That would be us.”
He opened the narrow teak door, and they entered a cabin no longer than a grown man. Two built in berths lined either side of the compartment and a narrow folding table made of solid teak and polished to a brilliant shine extended halfway between the berths. Amber light from the setting sun shone through a thick round porthole secured with massive wing nuts and positioned between the berths and above the table.
“We get to stay here tonight?” squealed Annie. “Oh, and each berth has its own little brass reading lantern, and curtains that’ll make things so cozy. This is a wonderful surprise, Mr. Pipes. Thank you.”
“Can I have a top bunk?” asked Drew.
“You may,” said Mr. Pipes, unloading his luggage on one of the lower berths and sliding in and sitting on the edge of the berth at the table. Annie took the berth opposite Mr. Pipes and immediately set to work arranging it to her liking.
“As soon as you have settled your things,” said Mr. Pipes, “we must go back on deck for what looks like a lovely sunset. Perhaps we shall meet our host. Drew, I believe we both would do well to leave our swords below decks; I’d hate for us to accidentally damage the fine woodwork in one of these narrow passage ways.”
"But what if pirates try to board?" asked Drew. "Night's the best time for a surprise attack from pirates; I think we should be ready for them."
"Nevertheless, we shall leave our swords below, my boy," said Mr. Pipes.
“Oh, I’d love to see the sunset,” said Annie, “but I can’t wait to cuddle up in my berth and read. Whoever designed these berths must have loved reading before going to sleep, just like I do.”
“Does look like a good deal,” said Drew, reluctantly unbuckling his sword. “And this way we don’t use up our flashlight batteries.”
“And with the curtain pulled, like this,” said Annie, pulling her curtain closed, “you don’t have to read under the covers. Oh, it’s all just perfect.”
“Indeed,” said Mr. Pipes. “However, I would feel ever so much better about it all if we could meet the captain.”
Back on deck they lounged on the roof of the main cabin, admiring the schooner and the evening. Then, a noise in the water caught Drew’s attention.
“Did you hear it?” he asked, holding up his hand for silence.
“Hear what?” said Annie and Mr. Pipes.
“Fish,” hissed Drew. “Big one.” He jumped up and headed toward the companionway. “Got to get my pole.”
“Drew, your light fishing gear, I fear, would be of little use with salt water quarry,” said Mr. Pipes. “Perhaps our host will have some stout sea gear with which you might fish in the morning. Do sit with us, my boy, and enjoy the sunset.”
Drew reluctantly sat back down. Together, they watched the lights of the city twinkling on shore and the rhythmic pulse of the great light atop the Lanterna light house near the entrance to the harbor.
“There it goes,” said Annie, dreamily as she watched through the ratlines of the schooner the orange ball of the sun touch the horizon and steadily flatten out as it sank in the west. “It seems to go down so fast. Is it moving that fast during the day, too? Of course I know it is.”
“Going, going, gone,” said Drew, as the last of the sun disappeared below the horizon. “Wait! I’ll bet I can see it again.”
With that, jumping up and grabbing the rope rungs of the ratlines, Drew took several cautious steps upward. “There it is again!” he called down exsitedly. Then, looking down, he caught his breath. With clenched teeth he fumbled for the lower rungs with his feet, finally heaving a sigh of relief when he felt the solid bulwark and then the deck under him.
Mr. Pipes looked at Drew in the dim light but said nothing.
“I wish these moments would last forever,” said Annie, leaning against the main mast; she smoothed the silk of her skirts and pulled her knees up under her chin.
Mr. Pipes clasped his hands around his knee and looked tenderly at the children. He understood something of Annie’s longing. The adventures enjoyed with these children over the last years were one of the great pleasures of his long life, and seeing them brought to a living faith in God and singing praises to him was the crowning pleasure of all. But he and his late wife had so wanted children of their very own. He loved Annie and Drew as if they were his own—which they were not. In any case, sooner than he cared to admit, moments like this enjoyed with these dear ones would come to an end--forever. With bushy eyebrows lowered, he sat pensive for several moments.
And then he slapped his knee, shook himself, looked heavenward and broke out laughing.
“What are you laughing at, Mr. Pipes?” asked Annie.
“Myself,” he said. “Humph. Old fool that I am sometimes. It is precisely this that will last forever, my dears.” He laughed again.
Drew turned toward the horizon where the sun had disappeared; puzzled, he looked back at Mr. Pipes.
“No, no, that sunset is gone,” said Mr. Pipes, waving his hand as if giving it permission to go. “But every true pleasure we enjoy in this life—and that includes all the adventures we have shared, my dears—I say, every sunset, every good meal, Drew (temperately consumed, I might add), is only a foretaste of the eternal pleasures to be enjoyed by God’s children forever in his glorious presence. And with the wonder we feel when we witness the heavens declaring the glory of God—as they just have in that sunset—if we will think rightly about what we see and experience in this life, we are to turn all such wonder, all such pleasure, to the glory God.”
“So heaven will be something,” said Annie, looking up at the first stars twinkling faintly in the east, “something like a sunset that doesn’t end, but just gets prettier and prettier.”
“Hey, will you look at that!” said Drew.
He pointed at the afterglow of brilliant color from the fading light. The wisps of cloud fanning out along the horizon glowed like fire and the clear sky shone in deepening shades of violet.
“Oh, isn’t it lovely,” said Annie.
“Most lovely, indeed,” said Mr. Pipes, smiling at the beauty all around them. “Oh, but heaven will be glorious beyond expression. And one of the ways we now may taste of heavenly things is when we give to God the glory, the praise and the honor that are due him. Therefore, we are closest to heaven in this life when we are offering God prayers and praises suitable to his majesty.”
“Well, maybe we should sing a hymn right now,” suggested Annie.
“I cannot think of a better idea,” said Mr. Pipes, opening his hymnal and holding it toward the light from a lamp on the pier. “Oh, how I miss my little Binns,” he said, referring to his organ back in the parish church at Olney. “We shall do our best without it.”
The children looked over his shoulder as he read out the words and then hummed the tune. And while revelers past nearby on the pier, the threesome sang:
All glory, laud, and honor,
To thee, Redeemer, King,
To whom the lips of children
Made sweet hosannas ring!
Thou art the King of Israel,
Thou David’s royal Son,
Who in the Lord’s name comest,
The King and blessed One!
The people of the Hebrews
With palms before thee went;
Our praise and prayer and anthem
Before thee we present:
To thee, before thy passion,
They sang their hymns of praise;
To thee, now high exalted,
Our melody we raise.
Thou didst accept their praises;
Accept the prayers we bring,
Who in all good delightest,
Thou good and gracious King!
All glory, laud, and honor
To thee, Redeemer, King,
To whom the lips of children
Made sweet hosannas sing!
“Oh, it is another beautiful hymn,” said Annie, when they finished singing. “I especially like the part about children.”
“That part I, too, find most agreeable,” said Mr. Pipes, smiling at them.
“Maybe the guy who wrote it liked kids,” suggested Drew.
“Do you know who wrote this one?” asked Annie.
“Ah, this time, we do,” said Mr. Pipes. “Originally from Spain, like Prudentius, the pastor, and later bishop, Theodulph of Orleans lived in the 8th century during the time of the great French king, Charlemagne. You will, no doubt, remember from studying history that Charlemagne had ancestors with the rather unfortunate names, Big Foot Bertha and Pepin the Short.”
“But he just called them Mom and Dad, I hope,” said Annie.
They laughed together.
“The fact is,” continued Mr. Pipes, “Theodulph’s poetic genius came to the attention of Charlemagne who called him to court as his personal scholar and poet. Eventually, the king appointed Theodulph Bishop of Orleans where he attempted to reform the church and established Christian schools throughout his diocese, including free schools for the children of poor families.”
“See, he did like children,” said Annie.
“Ah, yes, he did indeed,” said Mr. Pipes. “And any wise Christian who reads his Bible will love children. Remember the account recorded in Luke’s gospel when parents brought their nursing infants to Jesus?”
“Didn’t the disciples tell them to get lost?” asked Drew.
“Well, yes, in so many words. But Jesus said, ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.’ He goes on to explain that every believer must come to Christ like these babies who were carried to him in their parents arms. We come to Christ not on our own two feet, but carried like little ones who must have everything done for them and can do nothing.”
“That sounds like Clement of Alexandria’s hymn,” said Drew. “It went something like ‘Here we our children bring to shout your praise.’”
“Precisely. And make no mistake, my dears,” said Mr. Pipes. “The Psalter and the great hymns are for children; nothing less is needed.”
After a moment of silence Annie put her hand on Mr. Pipes’ss sleeve and said, “Mr. Pipes, you did for us what those parents did for their children when they brought them to Jesus.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, you’ve been like…” she paused, searching for words. “Our parents don’t yet know the Lord, but you, well, you brought us to Jesus, showed us the way and carried us to him. And I don’t know how I can ever thank you enough.”
For a moment Mr. Pipes could not speak nor could he help being somewhat grateful for the darkness which may or may not have entirely hidden the tears of joy gathering in his eyes. He patted Annie’s hand tenderly.
“Thank you, my dear,” he said. “In that glad duty I have found the greatest delight. You must give to God ‘all glory, laud, and honor.’” He squeezed her hand again. “It is, however, an honor to know that I am thought of by you in such ways.”
“What happened to Theodulph in the end?” asked Drew.
“After the death of Charlemagne,” continued Mr. Pipes, “he was wrongfully accused of complicity in a plot to assassinate a royal successor and was thrown in prison.”
“A dungeon, no doubt, full of huge rats with sharp yellow teeth,” said Drew, champing his teeth and making scurrying noises in the dark by running his fingers along the roof of the cabin.
“Drew, stop it!” said Annie with a shudder. “You sound just like a real rat.”
“What a raw deal, though,” said Drew. “He didn’t even deserve it.”
“Unjust, indeed,” said Mr. Pipes. “But it was while suffering in prison that he wrote this lovely hymn.”
“And though he sat in a prison for something he didn’t do,” said Annie, “he still wrote and sang such praises to God.”
“How could he do it?” asked Drew.
“Faith,” said Mr. Pipes, simply. “God has ordained that trials strengthen true faith, my dears.”
“Did he ever get out of prison?” asked Drew.
“No, not in the manner you might hope,” said Mr. Pipes. “His was to be an ultimate trial. He died somewhat mysteriously in prison; some historians believe he was poisoned to death. But not prison, nor even death, could hold him; he sings unwearied praises around the throne of God in heaven. And so someday shall you and I.”
He rose to his feet. “Now, then, it grows late; I for one am feeling weary from our tramp all over Genoa. Captain or no captain, I propose we go below and settle in for the night.”
Annie wriggled with delight as she curled up in her berth, the curtain pulled made it seem like her own private stateroom, and the warm glow of the kerosene lantern shimmering on the polished teak played with her imagination. The soft creaking of the rigging and the rhythmic rocking of the big vessel made her feel like they had actually gone to sea on a real ship. Whether from the swaying of the ship or her own weariness, she soon fell into a deep, contented sleep.
Above in his berth, Drew wedged his shoulders in between two curved timbers and leaned against the stout planking of the inside of the hull. His leather sketchbook open on his knees, he frowned at the first part of his hymn. Glancing down at his Bible open to Zechariah, he positioned his tongue in the corner of his mouth like he did when casting his fishing rod, and after rereading what he had written, he added to it:
The Lord alone, the Cornerstone,
His wandering sheep will bring,
Through distant lands and deep blue seas,
To sing before their King!
Clement used shout, he said to himself, scratching out the word sing in the last line and replacing it with shout. And shout is in Zechariah, so it’s got to be the best word. And now there’s all this about the deceitful shepherds here in the text. He bit the end of his pencil, then wrote again:
Deceitful shepherds, false and vain,
In anger the Lord burns;
That’s good stuff--the part about trampling down enemies, he mused, before continuing with:
His enemies he tramples down,
And joyful, Judah turns!
Very soon, the rocking of the ship did its work; a squiggle trailed down the page after the word turns, and Drew’s pencil fell on to his blanket. Mr. Pipes stole out of his berth and snuffed out both Annie and Drew’s lanterns. After tucking their blankets in around them, he placed a gentle kiss on each of their foreheads. In moments, only steady breathing came from the three berths as Mr. Pipes, Annie and Drew settled into that delicious soundness of sleep only available on board a boat gently rocking in a quiet harbor.