Arthur Stace and his Yellow Chalk
There are some things I just don't like. I'm tempted to say I hate them, but that would be too strong a word for small irritations. Like the feeling of wet wool when I'm hand washing a knitted cardigan. That squeaky sound always gives me the shivers. Then there's the feeling of cornflour between my fingers. Is it just me or is that another squeaky kind of shiver?
The worst 'do not touch' is chalk. Whether it's me, writing on a blackboard or the sound of someone else scraping chalk as they scribble (or horror of horrors - their fingernails) it's one of my least favorite things.
Not so for Arthur Stace. Born in the Balmain slums of Sydney in the 1880s he could have been the face of any neglected child of that era, brought up by alcoholic parents. His sisters ran brothels and his brothers followed in their alcohol fueled lifestyle. Little wonder Arthur wound up stealing bread and milk from Sydney doorsteps. By 15 he was in jail and by the time he's reached his twenties, he worked as a scout for his sisters' establishments.
When word got around the slums of a free cup of tea and a bite to eat at a local church, Arthur joined the line of 300 dirty, rum soaked men, who ached for a kind word and hot drink. Their food arrived after a half hour sermon, during which Arthur experienced a dramatic conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ. He emerged transformed from an alcoholic fog to the clarity which comes from complete surrender to God.
Months later, in a fiery sermon he heard the preacher say, "I wish I could shout 'eternity' through the streets of Sydney." It was this heartfelt cry which pushed Arthur Stace to became the famous street writer of Sydney's cobblestoned pavements.
From his pocket, he produced a piece of yellow chalk and in perfect copperplate swirls wrote Eternity on the pavement. It was the day he "felt a powerful call from the Lord to write."
Not a novel or sermon. Not an article or a blog post. One simple word, Eternity. In his lifetime he wrote this word on the pebbles across Sydney streets half a million times. He did this for 37 years and pointed the hearts and minds of passersby to a day which fast approached them.
Eternity became an enigma for the people of Sydney. It's writer didn't like publicity and remained anonymous for many years amid speculation of his identity. In his later years Arthur Stace revealed himself as the mysterious writer and explained his desire for everyone to consider where they would spend eternity. This week marks the 43rd anniversary of when Arthur Stace stepped into an eternal Christ filled future. He was 83.
His legacy continues today and Sydney has embraced the Eternity sign as its own. On New Year's Eve 1999, it lit the sky as the centerpiece to the Harbour Bridge fireworks display. Adopted as the Sydney Olympic Games emblem, it reappeared later that year on a worldwide stage.
But what difference did it make to the millions who tripped over his words as they hurried through the slums? We will only know when we reach eternity ourselves. On this side of life's journey, we know Arthur Stace was called to write... and he obeyed.