Click here for the introduction to the Round and Square series "The Accidental Ethnographer." (Coming Soon)
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He wrote about it all, and he took pictures. The former is not without problem; the latter is easily his legacy. It is all a fascinating picture of an American abroad in a peculiarly resonant time in American history—from the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 to the end of World War I. This series will grow as my research does, but let's get started with Geil's own words—a little from each of his published books.
The Isle That Was Called Patmos—A Meditation
William Edgar Geil (1897)
St. Christodouos sought out Patmos and built his vast monastery that he might have a place for holy meditation. And do you hold it unwise in me if I give the brief record written the same night on that lone island in the Icarian Sea when, stealing away from friend and entertainers, I sought out at 9 P.M. the highest point on the monastery of St. John? "He whom Jesus loved" had often enjoyed a moonlight night on that brown isle. And this is what I wrote on that fair and long-to-be-remembered night.
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The moon is in its first quarter, but large and bright. Ah! now all is still. The happy children are perchance tucked in their beds and fast asleep. The dogs have ceased to bark. The five windmills, which rather wildly swing their white-sail arms all day, are quiet now. On the round, stone-paved threshing-floor the flail has ceased to fall; the weary worker dreams of rest. The potteries do not smoke, and on the shore the salt works are deserted. Toward the east all is dark, save two islands shining by reflected light. Farther east by north is the circle of the sites of the seven churches of Asia, and farther north is Armenia with its terrible tales of the misrule of the Turk. Dark is the east, and even in the sky above the horizon for a long way there is not star whose light is not lost in gloom. It reminds me of a view on a moonless night from the pyramids in the land of the Nile, when the sands of Sahara are deepening the gloom off the Red Sea.
How different toward the west! The moonlight on the Ægean makes a lane of light; the rippling waters give the path a likeness to the highway of some visitant from heaven. Paved with its silver sheen it reaches from the Patmos shore away over the sea to where the heavens join the waters, and leads the imagination onward to the streets of gold that seem to lie beyond. Off toward the west, too, along this track of silver, lies my native land, hope of the nations, hope of the world. The light is in the west.
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The First Time. We find these three with Jesus in the house of the "little daughter." He initiates them into the circle of his close companionship by having them present at his first resurrection service. Blessed privilege, that of seeing the beautiful twelve-year old maiden, at the Prince's bidding, return to gladden the hearts of her mourning, loving parents. Tremendous miracle! Great power-displaying scene! Christ's word is now know to have authority in other worlds and spirit lands!
The Second Time. The mountain of prayer becomes the mountain of glory. This height is usually named the mount of Transfiguration. Here the "three" of earth see "three" of heaven. The Law was there, the Prophet was there, the Fulfillment of both was there, the Christ! Again the evidence is at hand that he has an operative authority, and communication with other spheres and other times than those in which he then was.
The Third Time. The three are in the garden of the Olive Press. This middle garden; this one lying between the garden of Eden and the garden of Joseph of Arimathea; this one lying midway between the garden of Paradise and the garden of the Blessed, has a glory all its own. In all the gardens of the past Satan had admission. The battle which began in the first garden finally ended in the last, and Christ was victorious. Ah! now we are in the sacred precincts of the last twenty-four hours of his life, on the hither side of the seal of the Caesars. At the beginning, the "threes" were prominent, and also at the close. At the baptismal service in the Jordan the Trinity was present; then came the three temptations; three scriptures were used by Satan; three were quoted by our lord.
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William Edgar Geil, The Isle That Is Called Patmos (Philadelphia: A.J. Rowland, 1897),185-188