new Mennonite Life logo    December 2002     vol. 57 no. 4     Back to Table of Contents

The Sayings of Abraham Nofziger

edited by Dallas Wiebe

There are no extant photos of Abraham Nofziger.
Abraham Nofziger

When Abraham Nofziger died on December 5, 1998, no one took much notice of his passing. And why should anyone know he was gone? He lived as a recluse from the time his first and only wife Arabella, née Pannebecker, died in January of 1927. The exact date of her death is not known because when she died the weather was severely cold and Abraham kept her frozen body in his woodshed until the soil thawed out and he could bury her properly on the sodden bank of Wolf Creek, which ran near his house. Which he did by himself and didn't tell anyone about her death until a year later when Arabella's mother and father came to celebrate Arabella's eighteenth birthday on May 1,1928. Abraham showed them Arabella's grave, and Mr. and Mrs. Peter Pannebecker left in tears.

No one knows how Abraham supported himself during his long and hidden life. He did have a garden on his twenty acres of land a mile south of Killbuck, Ohio (44637), in Holmes County. As far as anyone can tell he spent his life in study, meditation and in the writing of his sayings. The editor's inquiries to Agnes Stolzfuss, née Pannebecker, Arabella's sister, elicited the simple information that Abraham's parents, Isaiah and Prudence, née Slotter, Nofziger once lived in Kidron, Ohio, and Abraham, the only child, attended high school there. He did not go to college. We do not know if he was ever baptized or if he was the member of any specific church. He and Arabella were married on June 24,1926, with the consent of both sets of parents. Abraham gave his birth date as January 9,1908, and she gave her birth date as May 1, 1910. The fate of his parents is unknown. Agnes Stolzfuss, née Pannebecker, reports a rumor that they moved to Hesston, Kansas, where Isaiah took a job sharpening plowshares.

Abraham's death might have gone unnoticed and his body might still be lying in his small house had not Agnes Stolzfuss, nee Pannebecker, not decided to invite the reclusive Abraham to Christmas dinner. It was she who on December 18,1998, drove her SUV Navigator from her home in Pandora, Ohio, to Abraham's house and found him lying in his bed dead amongst his sayings.

Agnes Stolzfuss, née Pannebecker, also found Abraham's "Last Will and Testament." It was lying on his kitchen table and weighted down by a large pumpkin probably from Abraham's garden. Beside the will was an envelope addressed to the editor of this collection of Abraham Nofziger's sayings. In the letter which was dated December 5,1998, which is the reason it is assumed that he died on December 5, a letter which Agnes read immediately even though it was not addressed to her and even though it was sealed and she had to rip it open in order to read it, was a request to this editor that he collect, edit and preserve the fruits of his, that is, Abraham's, life's meditations.

Agnes Stolzfuss, née Pannebecker, carried out the stipulations of the will, one of which was that all of Abraham's sayings were to go to this editor with the aforementioned request. Agnes gathered up several piles of loose sheets of Abraham's sayings and mailed them in a cardboard box formerly used for cans of pork and beans to this editor. Some of the meditations she copied from the walls of Abraham's house.

What you have here before you is a first gleaning from the writings of Abraham Nofziger. The reader will see that the meditations are generally random. The editor of this collection has tried to put them in a kind of order. But, the reader should keep in mind that the meditations were not systematic. Some were written on separate sheets of paper, some on three by five cards and some on the margins of newspapers. Some were written on the walls of his kitchen and his bathroom. It is not known why or when he thought certain things because none of the meditations is dated.

The problem of collecting, editing and preserving Abraham's meditations is exacerbated by the fact that he wrote most of the sayings or, maybe, collected most of his sayings, in cheap tablets. And he wrote them with a soft lead pencil, probably a number two pencil. The result is that some of the sayings are barely legible. Attempts, for instance, by the editor to photocopy the originals were in vain. The vulnerable state of the meditations is all the more reason that they be made public at this time.

The reader might well ask, "Why did Abraham Nofziger select this editor to be his literary executor?" The only possible reason must be that when this editor published his novel Our Asian Journey in 1997 (mlr Editions Canada; Waterloo, Ontario, $30.00 U.S., $35.00 Canadian), Abraham wrote a congratulatory letter to the author. That letter is still preserved lovingly by the author of the novel because it was the only congratulatory letter he received. Also preserved is the author's reply in which he developed for Abraham the idea that Origen was correct in his belief that everyone is saved eventually. The author explained to his admiring reader that a merciful God would never condemn anyone to eternal suffering. The author explained that this doctrine of universal salvation is called "Apokatastasis." Although Abraham never replied to the author's letter, the doctrine of Apokatastasis must have been attractive to Abraham because one of Abraham's sayings is, "God is not wasteful; He wants to save everyone."

Herewith is the first collection of the wisdom of a Mennonite recluse. Although undated, the sayings are the result of ninety years of living in rural Ohio. Here are the emanations of something like seventy years of meditation. Where they came from is unknown. We know that Abraham attended no college, was the member of no specific church and that his house at his death contained no books, not even a Bible. From the sayings themselves it seems that he did travel and that he did read about certain current events. He seems to have known something about TV programs. What we do know for certain from Abraham Nofziger's letter of December 5, 1998, is that he wanted his meditations to be collected and published.

So here they are. The editor has numbered them for easy reference. It is his eternal and fervent hope that these sayings will be a blessing and a guide in the life of the reader.

Dallas Wiebe, Editor

1. The Bible is a book; forgiveness is religion.

2. Reading the Bible is not virtue; virtue shines out, comforting the afflicted.

3. The Bible should not be confused with religion.

4. An illiterate man can practice righteousness.

5. A blind man can forgive.

6. You can't see grace.

7. You don't have to be able to speak in order to pray.

8. Righteousness is a river. Have a sip.

9. Our lifetime supply of righteousness is never exhausted.

10. Righteousness is a renewable resource.

11. God gives us an abundance of righteousness.

12. Despair is not sin if you overcome it through righteousness.

13. Spiritual indifference is the fate of humankind; spiritual enlightenment is always at hand.

14. God knows the spiritual sloth of His people; that's why He is always at hand.

15. Spiritually lazy people keep God from being bored.

16. God is not wasteful; He wants to save everyone.

17. When the thunder roars we say that God is speaking; when there is silence He is still speaking.

18. You can pray to God by how you butter your bread.

19. It's not easy to love God with all your heart.

20. Virtue is work.

21. We are not born virtuous. It must be learned and, like all learning, it's difficult.

22. It's difficult to learn virtue. More difficult to practice it.

23. We invite evil into our lives when we invite evil into our lives.

24. Pity no longer fills our hearts.

25. We know full well what decency is, yet we scorn it.

26. Because we scorn righteousness we will destroy ourselves.

27. Committing evil shows contempt for ourselves.

28. Disrespect for the self leads to evil.

29. When Jesus said, "Thou shalt not kill," what he meant was, "Thou shalt not kill."

30. When Jesus said, "Love your enemies," what he meant was, "Love your enemies."

31. Someone should pray during the whole meal.

32. Prayer should be like the circulation of your blood.

33. Everything you think and say should be a form of prayer.

34. Pray with a calm voice so that all your energy will go into what you're saying.

35. Fall down on your knees to pray, and if you can get back up your prayers have been answered.

36. You must forgive all evil, even your own, and even if your house is on fire.

37. To forgive is to light a candle in the darkness.

38. What is forgiveness? I ask you and tie up my shoes.

39. Forgiveness is like a warm shower on a cold night.

40. Wisdom and forgiveness make a happy marriage.

41. Forgiveness puts the psychiatrists out of business.

42. Whenever you forgive someone, a psychiatrist weeps.

43. To love your wife is not required; to respect her is.

44. God loves you. Believe it or not.

45. It's hard to believe that God could love humankind. That's why He is God and we are human.

46. Salvation comes with the wind. You have but to breathe it in.

47. Washing your children's clothes is an act of forgiveness.

48. How much wisdom do we need?

49. Love and wisdom go together.

50. Forgiveness and wisdom are the same thing.

51. Wisdom does not come from learning just as forgiveness does not come from dogma.

52. Salvation is the way in which you lay a tablecloth on your table.

53. Women make quilts so that they can spread their love and compassion over generations.

54. Try to imagine the world without chairs. Try to imagine the world without God.

55. Had we not souls we would never forgive each other.

56. Fear and trembling show a lack of trust in God.

57. God gave us fear and trembling to show us what He is not.

58. The number of the beast is 666; the number of God is 606.

59. Angels fly through the air and sound their trumpets. We don't listen because we think they are automobiles.

60. The trumpets of the angels are sounding right now. Can't you hear them?

61. The New Jerusalem is right next door. Go ahead. Walk right in.

62. The holes in our ozone are not made by prayers ascending.

63. We can be pious without religion. We cannot be religious without piety.

64. Piety without belief in God is possible. Belief in God without piety is impossible.

65. Our religions have failed as moral forces because we've lost our piety.

66. Humbleness has no place in our sports.

67. We idolize aggression and defame humility.

68. The first step toward righteousness is not to do evil.

69. The moral structure of your life should be revealed first in abstinence.

70. Righteousness begins in not doing evil.

71. Self defense begins in not doing evil.

72. The first defense against violence is to make no enemies.

73. Fleeing from evil is not cowardice.

74. Wisdom tells us to shun evil.

75. A wise man is a man who recognizes evil and turns away.

76. The Bible is a book; piety is belief.

77. You can't love God and own a gun.

78. Violence begins in our disrespect for our land.

79. Hate arises from our contaminated rivers.

80. Weapons do not bring salvation.

81. Lift up your hearts, not your guns, and sing a song of forgiveness.

82. Peace comes from forgiveness, not from threat.

83. Prayer begins and ends in peace of mind.

84. Silence, nowadays, is unheard of.

85. Tranquility is extinct.

86. Conscience has become a bad word.

87. We have de-moralized our language.

88. Ethical judgements have been removed from our language.

89. We have befriended the darkness and cursed the light.

90. Thought and understanding are strangers on our streets.

91. We have become the enemies of wisdom.

92. Building churches strengthens your back.

93. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was green like the dollar bill.

94. Shine your shoes for church; God loves light.

95. Sing with a full heart; pray with an empty soul.

96. Joy and happiness are Christian virtues because they come from abstention.

97. God gave us pickles and ice cream to remind us to pray before eating.

98. Pick fruit and dig potatoes as if your are praying.

99. Colorful clothes do not create joy.

100. Joy comes from a prayerful heart.

101. Lift up your hearts; they're very light.

102. Raise your voices in praise; they float easily.

103. Anger is useless; wrath purifies.

104. Wrath is a godly virtue; anger is useless.

105. Prayer changes things. You just can't see the changes.

106. Folding your hands is the beginning of wisdom.

107. Try to imagine worship without hands.

108. The absence of laughter is the absence of morality.

109. What will God do when man has exterminated himself?

110. God loves birds so much that he lets them fly. What does that say about man?

111. Itinerant preachers slept in barns in order to be close to animals and God.

112. Standing still shrouds the inner light. Walking creates a beam.

113. Property shrivels the soul.

114. What you own is the gateway to Hell.

115. Wealth withers the soul; poverty pleads for forgiveness.

116. It is easier to forgive if you are poor.

117. It is easy to curse the darkness if it is over your property.

118. Property is trash.

119. You can lift your voice to God, but not your trash.

120. Joy floats; trash sinks.

121. Guilt is trash; let it sink.

122. No one owns this world. We did not make it. Who says it is ours?

123. The world belongs to everyone.

124. God doesn't say, "Get off my property."

125. A Mennonite should so live that when it comes time to move all he has to do is pick up his Bible and call in the kids.

126. Singing hymns and eating cold watermelon keep you close to God.

127. A ten-fold amen proves that God created all things.

128. "Amazing Grace" is redundant.

129. When Mennonites stop quibbling about belief, their religion will be dead.

130. God loves a cheerful quibbler.

131. Go ahead. Quibble. Orthodoxy is spiritual death.

132. It is human to feel fear; just don't be a coward.

133. Courage comes from faith.

134. If God's love were not infinite, He would destroy us right now.

135. Sadness is a disease; joy is health.

136. Go ahead. Laugh. It's all right.

137. Even God gets tired of long sermons.

138. How to be otherworldly in this world.

139. How to fill our lives with goodness in a world of violence.

140. Shine with a clear, pure light; hate is darkness.

141. Darkness comes to all mankind; shine with a clear, pure light.

142. Jesus says, "Let your light shine"; let it shine.

143. There is always someone suffering worse than you.

144. If forgiveness were universal, we would need no governments.

145. We create governments because we cannot forgive each other.

146. We get the government we deserve.

147. Flag bearers are the bearers of bad news.

148. You now need a credit card to open the abyss.

149. Armageddon goes on twenty-four hours a day on the expressways.

150. The loaves and the fishes now come with French fries.

151. The seven bowls of wrath are now the expressways.

152. God gave us the expressways because He was tired of refilling His bowls of wrath.

153. The last trumpet for many of us will be the horn on a semi.

154. If life is the question, death is the answer.

155. Death is a sign of God's mercy. Who would want to live forever?

156. Three score and ten is more than we deserve.

157. Death is God's final act of forgiveness.

158. Without death we would all end up evil.

159. Death comes because we give up on righteousness.

160. Death is God's final act of mercy.

161. We go to eternal punishment if we do not die soon enough.

162. Our bodies grow old because we get tired of being virtuous.

163. Our hearts go awry because we lose patience with evil.

164. Old age comes to test our fitness for death.

165. Senility comes when we no longer care about righteousness.

166. Death is meaningless without righteousness.

167. Salvation is a personal matter; we can save or lose our own souls.

168. Salvation begins in denial.

169. Salvation is as close as the "off" button on the TV.

170. Church music began because cathedrals were unheated.

171. Four-part singing began when men and women first entered the church through the same door.

172. When Mennonites put cushions on church benches, Satan felt more comfortable.

173. The tornado drill at the First Mennonite Church shows little faith in God. It's like a fire drill in Hell.

174. No one sings a song of praise on the freeways.

175. No one prays while driving to the mall.

176. The chapels in our airports stand empty.

177. We can't forgive the late departure.

178. Our automobiles have driven us to ignorance.

179. When in doubt, sing.

180. The world about you is filled with joyous song. Listen.

181. Forgiveness is all; without it there is no life.