Invitation to the High Places
This is the story of how Much-Afraid escaped from her Fearing relatives
and went with the Shepherd to the High Places where "perfect love
casteth out fear."
For several years Much-Afraid had been in the service
of the Chief Shepherd, whose great flocks were pastured down in the
Valley of Humiliation. She lived with her friends and fellow workers
Mercy and Peace in a tranquil little white cottage in the village of
Much-Trembling. She loved her work and desired intensely to please the
Chief Shepherd, but happy as she was in most ways, she was conscious of
several things which hindered her in her work and caused her much secret
distress and shame.
In the first place she was a cripple, with feet so
crooked that they often caused her to limp and stumble as she went about
her work. She had also the very unsightly blemish of a crooked mouth
which greatly disfigured both expression and speech and was sadly
conscious that these ugly blemishes must be a cause of astonishment and
offense to many who knew that she was in the service of the great
Most earnestly she longed to be completely delivered
from these shortcomings and to be made beautiful, gracious, and strong
as were so many of the Shepherd's other workers, and above all to be
made like the Chief Shepherd himself. But she feared that there could be
no deliverance from these two crippling disfigurements and that they
must continue to mar her service always.
There was, however, another and even greater trouble
in her life She was a member of the Family of Fearings, and her
relatives were scattered all over the valley, so that she could never
really escape from them. An orphan, she had been brought up in the home
of her aunt, poor Mrs. Dismal Forebodings, with her two cousins Gloomy
and Spiteful and their brother Craven Fear, a great bully who habitually
tormented and persecuted her in a really dreadful way.
Like most of the other families who lived in the
Valley of Humiliation, all the Fearings hated the Chief Shepherd and
tried to boycott his servants, and naturally it was a great offense to
them that one of their own family should have entered his service.
Consequently they did all they could both by threats and persuasions to
get her out of his employment, and one dreadful day they laid before her
the family dictum that she must immediately marry her cousin Craven Fear
and settle down respectably among her own people. If she refused to do
this of her own free will, they threatened to use force and compel her.
Poor Much-Afraid was, of course, overwhelmed with
horror at the mere idea, but her relatives always terrified her, and she
had never learned to resist or ignore their threats, so she simply sat
cowering before them, repeating again and again that nothing would
induce her to marry Craven Fear, but she was quite unable to escape from
The unhappy interview therefore lasted a long time,
and when finally they did leave her for awhile, it was already early
evening. With a surge of relief, Much-Afraid remembered that the Chief
Shepherd would then be leading his flocks to their accustomed watering
place beside a lovely cascade and pool on the outskirts of the village.
To this place she was in the habit of going very early every morning to
meet him and learn his wishes and commands for the day, and again in the
evenings to give her report on the day's work. It was now time to meet
him there beside the pool, and she felt sure he would help her and not
permit her relatives to kidnap her and force her to leave his service
for the dreadful slavery of marriage with Craven Fear.
Still shaking with fear and without pausing to wash
the tears from her face, Much-Afraid shut the door of the cottage and
started off for the cascade and the pool.
The quiet evening light was filling the Valley of
Humiliation with a golden glow as she left the village and started to
cross the fields. Beyond the river, the mountains which bounded the
eastern side of the Valley like towering ramparts were already tinged
with pink, and their deep gorges were filled with lovely and mysterious
Through the quiet and peace of this tranquil evening,
poor, terrified Much-Afraid came to the pool where the Shepherd was
waiting for her and told him of her dreadful plight.
"What shall I do?" she cried as she ended the
recital. "How can I escape? They can't really force me to marry my
cousin Craven, can they? Oh!" cried she, overwhelmed again at the very
thought of such a prospect, "it is dreadful enough to be Much-Afraid,
but to think of having to be Mrs. Craven Fear for the rest of my life
and never able to escape from the torment of it is more than I can
"Don't be afraid," said the Shepherd gently. "You are
in my service, and if you will trust me they will not be able to force
you against your will into any family alliance. But you ought never to
have let your Fearing relatives into your cottage, because they are
enemies of the King who has taken you into his employment."
"I know, oh, I know," cried Much-Afraid, "but
whenever I meet any of my relatives I seem to lose all my strength and
simply cannot resist them, no matter how I strive. As long as I live in
the Valley I cannot escape meeting them. They are everywhere and now
that they are determined to get me into their power again I shall never
dare venture outside my cottage alone for fear of being kidnapped."
As she spoke she lifted her eyes and looked across
the Valley and the river to the lovely sunset-lighted peaks of the
mountains, then cried out in desperate longing, "Oh, if only I could
escape from this Valley of Humiliation altogether and go to the High
Places, completely out of reach of all the Fearings and my other
No sooner were these words uttered when to her
complete astonishment the Shepherd answered, "I have waited a long time
to hear you make that suggestion, Much-Afraid. It would indeed be best
for you to leave the Valley for the High Places, and I will very
willingly take you there myself. The lower slopes of those mountains on
the other side of the river are the borderland of my Father's Kingdom,
the Realm of Love. No Fears of any kind are able to live there because
`perfect love casteth out fear and everything that torments.'"
Much-Afraid stared at him in amazement. "Go to the
High Places," she exclaimed, "and live there? Oh, if only I could! For
months past the longing has never left me. I think of it day and night,
but it is not possible. I could never get there. I am too lame." She
looked down at her malformed feet as she spoke, and her eyes again
filled with tears and despair and self-pity. "These mountains are so
steep and dangerous. I have been told that only the hinds and the deer
can move on them safely."
"It is quite true that the way up to the High Places
is both difficult and dangerous," said the Shepherd. "It has to be, so
that nothing which is an enemy of Love can make the ascent and invade
the Kingdom. Nothing blemished or in any way imperfect is allowed there,
and the inhabitants of the High Places do need `hinds' feet.' I have
them myself," he added with a smile, "and like a young hart or a roebuck
I can go leaping on the mountains and skipping on the hills with the
greatest ease and pleasure.
"But, Much-Afraid, I could make yours like hinds'
feet also, and set you upon the High Places. You could serve me then
much more fully and be out of reach of all your enemies. I am delighted
to hear that you have been longing to go there, for, as I said before, I
have been waiting for you to make that suggestion. Then,' he added, with
an. other smile, "you would never have to meet Craven Fear again."
Much-Afraid stared at him in bewilderment. "Make my
feet like hinds' feet," she repeated. "How is that possible? And what
would the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Love say to the presence of a
wretched little cripple with an ugly face and a twisted mouth, if
nothing blemished and imperfect may dwell there?"
"It is true," said the Shepherd. "that you would have
to be changed before you could live on the High Places, but if you are
willing to go with me, I promise to help you develop hinds' feet. Up
there on the mountains, as you get near the real High Places, the air is
fresh and invigorating. It strengthens the whole body and there are
streams with wonderful healing properties, so that those who bathe in
them find all their blemishes and disfigurements washed away.
"But there is another thing I must tell you. Not only
would I have to make your feet like hinds' feet, but you would have to
receive another name, for it would be as impossible for a Much-Afraid to
enter the Kingdom of Love as for any other member of the Fearing family.
Are you willing to be changed completely, Much-Afraid, and to be made
like the new name which you will receive if you become a citizen in the
Kingdom of Love?"
She nodded her head and then said very earnestly,
"Yes, I am."
Again he smiled, but added gravely, "There is still
one thing more, the most important of all. No one is allowed to dwell in
the Kingdom of Love, unless they have the flower of Love already
blooming in their hearts. Has Love been planted in your heart,
As the Shepherd said this he looked at her very
steadily and she realized that his eyes were searching into the very
depths of her heart and knew all that was there far better than she did
herself. She did not answer for a long time, because she was not sure
what to say, but she looked rather flinchingly into the eyes which were
gazing at her so penetratingly and became aware that they had the power
of reflecting what they looked upon.
She could thus really see her own heart as he saw it,
so after a long pause she answered, "I think that what is growing there
is a great longing to experience the joy of natural, human love and to
learn to love supremely one person who will love me in return. But
perhaps that desire, natural and right as it seems, is not the Love of
which you are speaking?" She paused and then added honestly and almost
tremblingly, "I see the longing to be loved and admired growing in my
heart, Shepherd, but I don't think I see the kind of Love that you are
talking about, at least, nothing like the love which I see in you."
"Then will you let me plant the seed of true Love
there now?" asked the Shepherd. "It will take you some time to develop
hinds' feet and to climb to the High Places, and if I put the seed in
your heart now it will be ready to bloom by the time you get there."
Much-Afraid shrank back. "I am afraid," she said. "I
have been told that if you really love someone you give that loved one
the power to hurt and pain you in a way nothing else can."
"That is true," agreed the Shepherd. "To love does
mean to put yourself into the power of the loved one and to become very
vulnerable to pain, and you are very Much-Afraid of pain, are you not?"
She nodded miserably and then said shamefacedly,
"Yes, very much afraid of it."
"But it is so happy to love," said the Shepherd
quietly. "It is happy to love even if you are not loved in return. There
is pain too, certainly, but Love does not think that very significant."
Much-Afraid thought suddenly that he had the most
patient eyes she had ever seen. At the same time there was something in
them that hurt her to the heart, though she could not have said why, but
she still shrank back in fear and said (bringing the words out very
quickly because somehow she was ashamed to say them), "I would never
dare to love unless I were sure of being loved in return. If I let you
plant the seed of Love in my heart will you give me the promise that I
shall be loved in return? I couldn't bear it otherwise."
The smile he turned on her then was the gentlest and
kindest she had ever seen, yet once again, and for the same indefinable
reason as before, it cut her to the quick. "Yes," he said, without
hesitation, "I promise you, Much-Afraid, that when the plant of Love is
ready to bloom in your heart and when you are ready to change your name,
then you will be loved in return."
A thrill of joy went through her from head to foot.
It seemed too wonderful to be believed, but the Shepherd himself was
making the promise, and of one thing she was quite sure. He could not
lie. "Please plant Love in my heart now," she said faintly. Poor little
soul, she was still Much-Afraid even when promised the greatest thing in
The Shepherd put his hand in his bosom, drew
something forth, and laid it in the palm of his hand. Then he held his
hand out toward Much-Afraid. "Here is the seed of Love," he said.
She bent forward to look, then gave a startled little
cry and drew back. There was indeed a seed lying in the palm of his
hand, but it was shaped exactly like a long, sharply-pointed thorn.
Much-Afraid had often noticed that the Shepherd's hands were scarred and
wounded, but now she saw that the scar in the palm of the hand held out
to her was the exact shape and size of the seed of Love lying beside it.
"The seed looks very sharp," she said shrinkingly.
"Won't it hurt if you put it into my heart?"
He answered gently, "It is so sharp that it slips in
very quickly. But, Much-Afraid, I have already warned you that Love and
Pain go together, for a time at least. If you would know Love, you must
know pain too."
Much-Afraid looked at the thorn and shrank from it.
Then she looked at the Shepherd's face and repeated his words to
herself. "When the seed of Love in your heart is ready to bloom, you
will be loved in return," and a strange new courage entered into her.
She suddenly stepped forward, bared her heart, and said, "Please plant
the seed here in my heart."
His face lit up with a glad smile and he said with a
note of joy in his voice, "Now you will be able to go with me to the
High Places and be a citizen in the Kingdom of my Father."
Then he pressed the thorn into her heart It was true,
just as he had said, it did cause a piercing pain, but it slipped in
quickly and then, suddenly, a sweetness she had never felt or imagined
before tingled through her. It was bittersweet, but the sweetness was
the stronger. She thought of the Shepherd's words, "It is so happy to
love," and her pale, sallow cheeks suddenly glowed pink and her eyes
shone. For a moment Much-Afraid did not look afraid at all. The twisted
mouth had relaxed into a happy curve, and the shining eyes and pink
cheeks made her almost beautiful.
"Thank you, thank you," she cried, and knelt at the
Shepherd's feet. "How good you are. How patient you are. There is no one
in the whole world as good and kind as you. I will go with you to the
mountains. I will trust you to make my feet like hinds' feet, and to set
me, even me, upon the High Places."
"I am more glad even than you," said the Shepherd,
"and now you really act as though you are going to change your name
already. But there is one thing more I must tell you. I shall take you
to the foot of the mountains myself, so that there will be no danger
from your enemies. After that, two special companions I have chosen will
guide and help you on all the steep and difficult places while your feet
are still lame and while you can only limp and go slowly.
"You will not see me all the time, Much-Afraid, for
as I told you, I shall be leaping on the mountains and skipping on the
hills, and you will not at first be able to accompany me or keep up with
me. That will come later. However, you must remember that as soon as you
reach the slopes of the mountains there is a wonderful system of
communication from end to end of the Kingdom of Love, and I shall be
able to hear you whenever you speak to me. Whenever you call for help I
promise to come to you at once.
"At the foot of the mountains my two servants whom I
have chosen to be your guides will be waiting for you. Remember, I have
chosen them myself, with great care, as the two who are most able to
help you and assist you in developing hinds' feet. You will accept them
with joy and allow them to be your helpers, will you' not?"
"Oh, yes," she answered at once, smiling at him
happily. "Of course I am quite certain that you know best and that
whatever you choose is right." Then she added joyfully, "I feel as
though I shall never be afraid again."
He looked very kindly at the little shepherdess who
had just received the seed of Love into her heart and was preparing to
go with him to the High Places, but also with full understanding. He
knew her through and through, in all the intricate labyrinth of her
lonely heart, better far than she knew herself. No one understood better
than he, that growing into the likeness of a new name is a long process,
but he did not say this. He looked with a certain tender pity and
compassion at the glowing cheeks and shining eyes which had so suddenly
transformed the appearance of plain little Much-Afraid.
Then he said, "Now you may go home and make your
preparations for leaving. You are not to take anything with you, only
leave everything in order. Do not tell anyone about it, for a journey to
the High Places needs to be a secret matter. I cannot now give you the
exact time when we are to start for the mountains, but it will be soon,
and you must be ready to follow me whenever I come to the cottage and
call. I will give you a secret sign. I shall sing one of the Shepherd's
songs as I pass the cottage, and it will contain a special message for
you. When you hear it, come at once and follow me to the trysting
Then, as the sun had already gone down in a blaze of
red and gold, and the eastern mountains were now veiled in misty mauve
and grey, and the shadows were lengthening, he turned and led his flock
away toward the sheepfolds.
Much-Afraid turned her face homeward, her heart full
of happiness and excitement, and still feeling as though she would never
be frightened again. As she started back across the fields she sang to
herself one of the songs from an old book of songs which the Shepherds
often used. Never before had it seemed to her so sweet, so applicable.
"The Song of Songs," the loveliest song, The song of
Love the King, No joy on earth compares with his, But seems a broken
thing. His Name as ointment is poured forth, And all his lovers
Draw meI will run after thee, Thou art my heart's one
choice, Oh, bring me to thy royal house, To dwell there and rejoice.
There in thy presence, O my King, To feast and hear thy
Look not upon me with contempt, Though soiled and marred I
be, The King found mean outcast thing And set his love on
me. I shall be perfected by Love, Made fair as day to see.
She walked singing across the first field and was halfway over the next
when suddenly she saw Craven Fear himself coming toward her. Poor
Much-Afraid: for a little while she had completely forgotten the
existence of her dreadful relatives, and now here was the most dreaded
and detested of them all slouching toward her. Her heart filled with a
terrible panic. She looked right and left, but there was no hiding place
anywhere, and besides it was all too obvious that he was actually coming
to meet her, for as soon as he saw her he quickened his pace and in a
moment or two was right beside her.
With a horror that sickened her very heart she heard
him say, "Well, here you are at last, little Cousin Much-Afraid. So we
are to be married, eh, what do you think of that?" and he pinched her,
presumably in a playful manner, but viciously enough to make her gasp
and bite her lips to keep back a cry of pain.
She shrank away from him and shook with terror and
loathing. Unfortunately this was the worst thing she could have done,
for it was always her obvious fear which encouraged him to continue
tormenting her. If only she could have ignored him, he soon would have
tired of teasing and of her company and would have wandered off to look
for other prey. In all her life, however, Much-Afraid had never been
able to ignore Fear. Now it was absolutely beyond her power to conceal
the dread which she felt.
Her white face and terrified eyes immediately had the
effect of stimulating Craven's desire to bait her. Here she was, alone
and completely in his power. He caught hold of her, and poor Much-Afraid
uttered one frenzied cry of terror and pain. At that moment Craven Fear
loosed his grasp and cringed away.
The Shepherd had approached them unperceived and was
standing beside them. One look at his stern face and flashing eyes and
the stout Shepherd's cudgel grasped in his strong, uplifted hand was
more than enough for the bully. Craven Fear slunk away like a whipped
cur, actually running from the village instead of toward it, not knowing
where he was going, urged by one instinct alone, to find a place of
Much-Afraid burst into tears. Of course she ought to
have known that Craven was a coward and that if only she had lifted her
voice and called for the Shepherd, he would have fled at once. Now her
dress was torn and disordered, and her arms bruised by the bully's grip,
yet that was the least part of her distress. She was overwhelmed with
shame that she had so quickly acted like her old name and nature, which
she had hoped was beginning to be changed already.
It seemed so impossible to ignore the Fearings, still
less to resist them. She did not dare look at the Shepherd, but had she
done so she would have seen with what compassion he was regarding her.
She did not realize that the Prince of Love is "of very tender
compassions to them that are afraid." She supposed that, like everybody
else, he was despising her for her silly fears, so she muttered a shamed
Then, still without looking at him, she limped
painfully toward the village, weeping bitterly as she went and saying
over and over again to herself, "What is the use of even thinking of
going to the High Places? I could never reach them, for the least little
thing is enough to turn me back."
However, when at last she reached the security of the
cottage she began to feel better, and by the time she had drunk a cup of
tea and taken her evening meal she had recovered so far that she was
able to remind herself of all that had happened there beside the cascade
and the pool Suddenly she remembered, with a thrill of wonder and
delight, that the seed of Love had been planted in her heart. As she
thought of it, the same almost intolerable sweetness stole over her, the
bittersweet, indefinable but wholly delightful ecstasy of a new
"It is happy to love," said little Much-Afraid to
herself and then she repeated: "It is happy to love." After putting the
cottage in order for the night, because she was utterly tired out with
all the conflicting emotions of that strange day, she went to bed. Lying
there before falling asleep, she sang over and over again to herself
another of the lovely songs from the old song book.
O thou whom my soul loveth, Tell me where thou dost
feed, And where thy flocks at noonday To rest and browse dost lead. For
why should I By others be, And not by thee?
O fairest among women, Dost thou indeed not know? Then
lead my little flocklet The way that my flocks go; And be to me, As I to
thee, Sweet company.
(Cant. 1:7, 8)
Then she fell into a heavy, dreamless sleep.
Excerpted from "Hinds' Feet on High Places" by Hannah Hurnard. Copyright © 1979 by Hannah Hurnard. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.