30 January 2011

Spa Time?

Sure, I like to go out--but sometimes I need to stay in for some Soul Care.
Emily Dickinson put it this way:

The soul that hath a Guest
doth seldom go abroad-
Diviner crowd at home
obliterate the need
and courtesy forbid
a host’s departure when
upon himself be visiting
The Emperor of Men.
  • Emily Dickinson, c. 1863

19 January 2011

Story Time: Meet Me At The Top of What?

Gather 'round, it's story time. This happened in 2001:

I was in East Africa leaving a store, on the sidewalk I was accosted by a young man wearing what looked like pajamas (but were not). He told me he had converted from Islam to Hinduism on a trip through India. The young man was Kenyan born and bred, his parents being from Pakistan. I could tell that he was practically quivering with anticipation at finding a nice bubble-headed American to share his spiritual journey with--a special joy, I am sure, since the streams of locals plodded out of the store were, he could tell, bound to their own native-born spiritual communities as people overseas tend to be.
He begged me to enter his spiritual experience.
I extended the offer back to him.
A bit shocked at this sort of response from nice American lady, he told me in sotto voce,
“No, mum, I know it’s true, you see, I had an experience.”
“I had an experience wherein I narrowly escaped death in the middle of a busy street, you know. And facts being what they are, I might not escape it if I tumble out into that street.” I indicated to emphasize my point.
“I see, mum, I see. But you have to believe me.”
“I don’t disbelieve your experience—what I do wonder at is if it’s verifiable—is it true.”
He blinked and warbled: “As true as Christianity.”
“I am not sure you understand that depth and breadth of Christianity. While I savor Christianity in my experience, it is not founded in my experience.”
I stopped and waited for him, but he allowed me continue:
“The Christian gospels contain the prophecy, and the story of the coming, the works, the crucifixion, subsequent resurrection of Jesus Christ: who was seen by more than 500 witnesses—including the nonconverted—and it has all the marks of historical facts. Therefore not to pay homage to it is akin to running into that stream of cars, while all the time denying their existence. The founding of Christianity is grounded in an identifiable time and documented place. By its nature, it occupies someplace in another universe from the one wherein I try to replicate a single experience of yours. But, thank you.” (As a polite American I say thank you and smile.) - Charity Johnson
“It is as easy to be logical about things that do not exist as about things that do exist. If twice three is six, it is certain that three men with two legs each will have six legs between them. And if twice three is six, it is equally certain that three men with two heads each will have six heads between them. That there never were three men with two heads each does not invalidate the logic in the least. It makes the deduction impossible, but it does not make it illogical. Twice three is still six, whether you reckon it in pigs or in flaming dragons, whether you reckon it in cottages or in castles-in-the-air.”
  • GK Chesterton

18 January 2011

Go Ahead, Test Yourself

as wealth is the test of poverty,
business the test of faithfulness,
honor the test of humility,
feasts the test of temperance,
pleasures the test of chastity,
ceremonies are the test of righteousness by faith.
  • Martin Luther

17 January 2011

The Preposterous Christ?

Then comes the real shock. Among the Jews there suddenly turns up a man who
goes about talking as if He was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says He has always existed. He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time. Now let us get this clear. Among Pantheists, like the Indians, anyone might say that he was a part of God, or one with God: there would be nothing very odd about it.
But this man, since He was a Jew, could not mean that kind of God. [Because] God, in their language, meant the Being outside the world Who had made it and was infinitely different from anything else.
And when you have grasped that, you will see that what this man said was,
quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips.
One part of the claim tends to slip past us unnoticed because we have heard it so
often that we no longer see what it amounts to:
... the claim to forgive sins: any sins. Now unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic.
Yet this is what Jesus did.
He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured.
He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offences.
This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin. 
God does care. He cares so much that he came among us in human flesh.
  • C S Lewis

11 January 2011

The 4-Letter Word Most People Hate—or Hate to Hear

What is it about prayer? If I talk about it, the conversation either begins and ends talking ABOUT it (as, you see, talking about prayer is ok, just, please, don’t do it) or it ends (people don’t want to talk about it, it’s too personal or some such). But it’s there—from youth to old age, prayer keeps returning.
So, why do we pray?--- I am not speaking of the “transactional” prayers in which types of prayers and sacrifices function as part of the economy of “bargaining” for a divine favor or good fortune from some spirit-god, as shamans, witchdoctors and other “spirit-guides” do.
I am speaking of the appeal that we--finite, mortal and flawed people--make to all-powerful and all-knowing, creator and sustainer God. What is our unspoken or assumed expectation of prayer? I sense it is often not simply petitioning the Almighty, but also, a desire to experience His immanence in our (little) lives. Yes, we may pray because we seek help, but we wish for transcendence.
What is the thing least understood thing about prayer, particularly petition (request) prayers? People are surprised and/or disappointed that they don’t get what they pray for just because they prayed for it – at least not every time. Which is rather curious, if God is who He is and we are who we are, then we should be okay with it.
There is a group of people who refuse to pray because “if God is really a beneficent and all-knowing, then I need not pray. Without even asking, He’s rushing to bestow on me what I wish, which makes prayer unnecessary.” I am not sure if this is challenging God, or pride, or laziness, or mere disbelief—or a combination, but it sounds like the person thinking this way is the Boss of the World. I would think that if my teenager needs and wants breakfast before school, then he should move to the kitchen where the breakfast food is—he’ll not get it lying in bed. (-Charity Johnson)
George MacDonald addresses it further:
“But if God is so good as you represent Him [to be], and if He knows all that we need, and far better than we do ourselves, why [is] it necessary to ask Him for anything?”
I answer,
“What if He knows prayer to be the thing we need first and most? What if the main object in God’s idea of prayer [is] the supplying of our great, our endless need—the need of Himself?
Hunger may drive the runaway child [back] home, and he may or may not be fed at once, but he needs his mother more than his dinner.
Communion with God is the one need of the soul beyond all other need:prayer is the beginning of that communion, [there is] some need that is the motive of that prayer.
So begins a communion, a taking up with God, a coming-to-one with Him. [This] is the sole end of prayer, [even] of existence itself in its infinite phases.
We must ask that we may receive:[however] it is not God’s end in having us pray to receive with respect to our lower needs [since] He could give us everything without that.
[God would] bring us to His knee… [He] withholds [so] that we may ask."

from George MacDonald, 365 Readings, edited by CS Lewis (language updated)
Collier Books, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York

08 January 2011

Beyond Loyal

It was too late for man-
But early, yet, for God–
Creation–impotent to help-
but prayer –remained-our side

How excellent the Heaven-
When Earth – cannot be had–
how hospitable –then the face
of our Old Neighbor-God—

  • Emily Dickinson (c. 1862)

07 January 2011

Space, God and Illogic

The state, nature and origins of the universe have been posited as reasons for disbelief in religion. CS Lewis questions if the grounds for such reasoning is reasonable and responsible:
"When the doctor at a post-mortem diagnoses poison, pointing to the state of the dead man's organs, his argument is rational because he has a clear idea of that opposite state in which the organs would have been found if no poison were present.
In the same way, if we use the vastness of space and the smallness of earth to disprove the existence of God, we ought to have a clear idea of the sort of universe we should expect if God did exist.
But have we?
Whatever space may be in itself - and, of course, some moderns think it finite - we certainly perceive it as three-dimensional, and to three-dimensional space we can conceive no boundaries.
By the very forms of our perceptions, therefore, we must feel as if we lived somewhere in infinite space. If we discovered no objects in this infinite space except those which are of use to man (our own sun and moon), then this vast emptiness would certainly be used as a strong argument against the existence of God.
If we discover other bodies, they must be habitable or uninhabitable: and the odd thing is that both these hypotheses are used as grounds for rejecting Christianity.
If the universe is teeming with life, this, we are told, reduces to absurdity the Christian claim - or what is thought to be the Christian claim - that man is unique, and the Christian doctrine that to this one planet God came down and was incarnate for us men and for our salvation. If on the other hand, the earth is really unique, then that proves that life is only an accidental by-product in the universe, and so again disproves [the] religion.
Really, we are hard to please.
We treat God as the police treat a man when he is arrested, whatever He does will be used in evidence against Him.
I do not think this is due to...wickedness. I suspect that there is something in our very mode of thought which makes it inevitable that we should always be baffled by actual existence, whatever character actual existence may have."

  • C.S. Lewis from: God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Ed. Walther Hooper) Originally published as Undeceptions: Essays on Theology and Ethics in the UK)

05 January 2011

How Do You Discover...

If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning:
just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark.
Dark would be without meaning.
  • C.S. Lewis (significance of contrasts)

04 January 2011

A Marvelous Risk

Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.
If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal.
Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements.
Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.
But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change.
It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.
To love is to be vulnerable.
  • CS Lewis  from Four Loves

01 January 2011

Wealth in the New Year

The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfils Himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.

Comfort thyself: what comfort is in me?
I have lived my life, and that which I have done
May He within Himself make pure! but thou,
If thou shouldst never see my face again,
Pray for my soul.

More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.

For what are men better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?

For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.

Morte D'Arthur (partial, spacing provided)
by Alfred Lord Tennyson

"More things are wrought by prayer

Than this world dreams of."