31 December 2011

New Years Eve-what if this were my last night on earth?

Lord, if this night my journey end,
I thank Thee first for many a friend,
The sturdy and unquestioned piers
That run beneath my bridge of years.

And next, for all the love I gave
To things and men this side the grave,
Wisely or not, since I can prove
There always is much good in love.

Next, for the power thou gavest me
To view the whole world mirthfully,
For laughter, paraclete of pain,
Like April suns across the rain.

Also that, being not too wise
To do things foolish in men's eyes,
I gained experience by this,
And saw life somewhat as it is.

Next, for the joy of labour done
And burdens shouldered in the sun;
Nor less, for shame of labour lost,
And meekness born of a barren boast.

For every fair and useless thing
That bids men pause from labouring
To look and find the larkspur blue
And marigolds of a different hue;

For eyes to see and ears to hear,
For tongue to speak and thews to bear,
For hands to handle, feet to go,
For life, I give Thee thanks also.

For all things merry, quaint and strange,
For sound and silence, strength, and change,
And last, for death, which only gives
Value to every thing that lives;

For these, good Lord that madest me,
I praise Thy name; since, verily,
I of my joy have had no dearth
Though this night were my last on earth.

- By Dorothy Sayers

29 December 2011

The Confession of a Lonesome Dove

A friend is fond of telling me how much we need people because they are representations of the love of Christ--in flesh. I wonder how much of a reality this is for us? Are we like the character on Lonesome Dove? forever wanting to be with the love of our life? This time not Clara but Christ. Then, again, there are times when we're just as happy not have to look into the very eyes of Jesus Christ--which is how I interpret this poem by James McAuley of Australia:

"Confession" by James McAuley

To know and feel are hard.
At times you are so much present
It seems I could touch your hand
And stand in your regard.
Mere fancies, but true enough;
And easy enough to lose,
As I abuse the moments,
And you accept the rebuff.

Small things do the hurt--
The lie vanity tells,
Malice or lust that die
Unacted in their dirt.

Bored in my self-prison,
I doubt uneasily;
But the times I get out,
I know you have risen.

[From the book Surprises of the sun]

28 December 2011

Winter is the Childhood of the Year

The winter is the childhood of the year.
Into this childhood of the year came the child Jesus; and into this childhood of the year must we all descend.
It is as if God spoke to each of us according to our need.
My son, my daughter, you are growing old and cunning; you must grow a child again, with my son, this blessed birth-time.
You are growing old and careful; you must become a child.
You are growing old and distrustful; you must become a child.
You are growing old and petty, and weak and foolish; you must become a child --- my child, like the baby there, that strong sunrise of faith and hope and love, lying in his mother's arms in the stable.

Adela Cathcart - by George MacDonald

24 December 2011

Is There a Reason to Believe?

"All our reasoning reduces itself to yielding to feeling....
The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know.  We feel it in a thousand things. I say that the heart naturally loves the Universal Being, and also itself naturally, according as it gives itself to them; and it hardens itself against one or the other at its will.  You have rejected the one and kept the other.  Is it by reason that you love yourself?   It is the heart which experiences God, and not the reason.  This, then, is faith: God felt by the heart, not by the reason. Faith is a gift of God; do not believe...it was a gift of reasoning." - Blaise Pascal

23 December 2011

Righting the Wrong the Right Way

We often doubt if God wants to and will intervene in earthly affairs for the good. We end up "fixing" things ourselves. But human efforts to perfect the imperfect prove to be little more than a short-lived fix. Our attempts to right the world bent wrong, go wrong. How can you level something when the level is off? Would you call in a cosmetic patcher-upper when you need to repair your roof? Of course not.
What did God the Father do by sending His son: He was injecting in this world a new dynamic in this situation, something never seen of or heard of. His incarnation became the first step on a journey towards full redemption of the fallen world: which is why He is called the Hope for humanity.
Imagine waiting your entire life for the commencement of the righting of all wrongs? A man named Simeon had been waiting for the Christ and was rewarded for his eager patience. The reaction of Mary and Joseph is remarkable because it's the only record of their marveling:
"... there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
...it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple.
And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he [Simeon] took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said:
“ Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, According to Your word;
For my eyes have seen Your salvation
Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,
A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel.”
And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him.
Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother,
"Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Luke 2:25-35

20 December 2011

The Light of Men

The things of God are best experienced firsthand. Wouldn’t you rather meet someone’s new spouse or baby? Likewise, there is no substitute for a firsthand encounter with Christ, who guarantees to meet us, whenever and wherever. What's that like? Hard to describe, for Christ is the light of men, whether in the equatorial suns and in the northern winter solstice–John 1 reflects this thought as it begins:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.
All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."
This shortened this poem by writer-rancher Maxwell Struthers Burt speaks to this:
Via Crucis
Out of the dark we come, nor know
Into what outer dark we go.
Wings sweep across the stars at night,
Sweep and are lost in flight,
And down the star-strewn windy lanes the sky
Is empty as before the wings went by.
We dare not lift our eyes, lest we should see
The utter quiet of eternity;
So, in the end, we come to this:
Christ-Mary’s kiss.

We cannot brook the wide sun’s might,
We are alone and chilled by night;
We stand, atremble and afraid,
Upon the small worlds we have made;
Fearful, lest all our poor control
Should turn and tear us to the soul;
A dread, lest we should be denied
The price we hold our raged pride;
So in the end we cast them by
For a gaunt cross against the sky.
The touch of shoulders, scent of new-turned soil,
Striving itself amid the thrusting throng,
And love that comes with white hands strong;
But on itself the long path turns again,
To find at length the hill of pain.
Such only do we know and see;
Starlight and evening mystery,
Young dawn and quiet night
And the earth’s might.
But all our wisdom and our wisdom’s plan
End in the lonely figure of a Man.
  • Maxwell Struthers Burt, In the High Hills, 1914

18 December 2011

Is Christmas really necessary?

With less than a week before Christmas, some people wonder about the need for this religious holiday.  It doesn't take much reflection to agree with our very basic necessity: HELP.  We cannot pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps; we've tried it—and failed.
“Carlyle said that men were mostly fools. Christianity, with a surer realism, says that they are all fools.  Sometimes called the doctrine of original sin, it may also be described as the doctrine of the equality of men.  [For] whatever primary and far-reaching moral dangers affect any man, affect all men.  All men can be criminals, if tempted; all men can be heroes, if inspired.” – GK Chesterton

16 December 2011

Passing On the Pride

At this time of year, magazines and organizations start giving out annual awards. Time Magazine has “Man/Woman/Superhero of the Year” on its cover.  There is one person who won’t see next year’s cover: a famous author and critic, also an antagonistic atheist, has just died from cancer.   Unfortunately, the adjective that came to mind when I saw the death announcement was “proud,” as in “a proud man.”   I hope his memorial service is kinder to his memory than my first thought was.   Surely he was loved, but his words were barbs, more like weapons than winning or even winsome. You need to be an accomplished trickster and author to cover up who you really are when you write. Since he was a writer, my reading of him made me think he was both intelligent and proud. Why was he antagonistic towards God and towards Christianity? Only he and God truly know, so I won’t speculate. More to the point, why is anyone so accomplished as he so antagonistic?  My guess: fear of being seen as weak and sentimental; many intellectuals are afraid of that kind of branding–like a 3 year-old is afraid of a monster.
Religion, at least the Christian religion, teaches us that vengeance should not come from us. (What a wonderful world this would be!) Because restraint from vengeance is seen, not as strength, but as weakness by most men, this makes Christians look weak and weak-willed.  Further, educated intellectuals (and Chuck Norris) wish to be perceived as stronger than all their competitors, the shoe of Christianity doesn’t fit their foot. (In a seeming paradox, Christianity also teaches that timidity should not come from us, either. And, meekness and boldness are both be evidenced in Christian adherents).
But, in the end, it is usually pride (whose root is fear) which freezes the fellow’s heart: when the heart’s frozen, he’s in the iceberg of aloneness. He’s isolated himself on an island of Me, Myself and My Great Ideas. He wants no great spiritual fire to light his insides: he might be misunderstood, or criticized, or not be in charge.  Pride (of the bad sort) is blinds you and it is your own killer, and this kind of pride has no known good side to it.
“Prostitutes are in no danger of finding their present life so satisfactory that they cannot turn to God: the proud, the avaricious, the self-righteous, are in that danger.” - CS Lewis
Lewis elaborates on this: “A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”
A proud man or woman can give a reason, or a rationalization, for whatever deceit he or she chooses to tell himself or herself for the apathy, disinterest, and antagonism towards God.  In the end, Lewis puts it bluntly: “Oh, Adam’s sons, how cleverly you defend yourselves against all that might do you good!”

(Sorry, Chuck Norris, your name just slipped out of my fingers.)

14 December 2011

Shedding Light on God's Love: Something to Consider

Few English poets are as concise, precise and profound as John Donne. The language is a bit old, but the second reading might help you out, that is, hang on through the end.

Wilt thou love God, as he thee? Then digest,
My soul, this wholesome meditation,
How God the Spirit, by angels waited on
In heaven, doth make his Temple in thy breast.
The Father having begot a Son most blest,
And still begetting, (for he ne'er be gone)
Hath deigned to choose thee by adoption,
Co-heir t' his glory, and Sabbath' endless rest.
And as a robbed man, which by search doth find
His stol'n stuff sold, must lose or buy 't again:
The Son of glory came down, and was slain,
Us whom he'd made, and Satan stol'n, to unbind.
'Twas much that man was made like God before,
But, that God should be made like man, much more.

- John Donne

10 December 2011

Difficult Times and Hard Questions

"Where is God?" question can be asked anywhere, and any time, but it is most often asked in the midst of difficulties since when you are content that you have no pressing sense of a need for God, His presence, or He extracting you from the situation(s). In face, being complacent or placid may make the  claims of God on your soul as distraction-an interruption in your life. And, indeed, we often congratulation ourselves when we remind ourselves to be grateful and perhaps then dip into a self-congratulatory moment of warm, fuzzy feelings toward our Maker. 
But what about desperate situations,those crushingly dificult times, prolonged periods of overwhelming grief?  When all help comes up empty-handed, and desperation mounts? Don't you so often feel on the other side of Heaven's door--and it's all silent within?  Waiting seems to make no difference, but the longer the wait, the louder the silence seems.
You wonder, “Did Anyone really care—really?"  Maybe it had seemed so at one time (for some)-but then, how do you interpret that? That you believe God is leading you in good time, but doesn’t even a whisper to us in our trouble?
If you’re in deep grief, though, the danger will not be so much as to cease believing in God—but in believing some strange and twisted things about God
The term "I couldn't think straight" is an extremely accurate description of understanding how rattled and irrational our attempt to pray--and understand God's response--will be when we are at our lowest, when we are emotionally crushed. Truthfully, we cannot, in those times of great emotional stress, sort out our panic and desperation from our clearest thoughts. In my experience God does answer, but He allow for times of apparent deadness, for us to travel through the emotions of grief, etc.  In this "pocket" of time, however long it turns into, we can fill with our voice--God is listening, and our prayers become a cleansing, a way of emptying ourselves of the violence we feel the world has perpetrated on our souls.   It'sas if we need to bleach of the stains out of the garment before the we are dipped, immersed and dyed with the great hues of God's speech which will refill the newly cleansed backdrop of our souls.
Prayer, the primary language of the soul, is like saying our phonemic alphabet: though not deeply profound, it is most necessary for it is the foundation of all communication with God.
And this most necessary communication, prayer, is that which brings us into the mysteries still unexplored. - Charity Johnson
“Prayer, in the sense of asking for things, is a small part of it;
confession and penitence are its threshold,
adoration its sanctuary,
the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine.
In it God shows Himself to us.
That he answers prayer is a corollary—not necessarily the most important one—from the revelation.
What He does is learned from what He is.”
  • CS Lewis

09 December 2011

Bonaventures's Reminders

Do not assume that mere
Reading will suffice without fervor,
Speculation without devotion,
Investigation without admiration,
Observation without exaltation,
Industry without piety,
Knowledge without love,
Understanding without humility,
Study without divine grace.

  • St. Bonaventure (1221–1274)  from The Journey of the Mind to God

03 December 2011

Sacred Stillness

…work is not always required of a man. There is such a thing as a sacred idleness—the cultivation of which is now fearfully neglected. – George MacDonald

The cultivation of sacred idleness. Do we know what that means? What use is it? We probably have a low view of the value silence and stillness (especially in December!).
I imagine that the strategic value of “fallow ground” not understood by many people. When you cultivate a garden and produce crops, you need to let the ground “rest.” The method adopted varies, depending on the location: whether you live where winter forces you to stop cultivation, or in the tropics (where a different method is adopted.)
With our brains, when we allow ourselves a long stretch of time not given over to problem-solving, information-gathering, working and producing, gaining new information and skills may seem like a waste. But, when you take time to be silent, and use the quiet time to listen, to ponder what one has already taken in, you may be surprised at the results. Besides deeper contentment, you may find strength, courage, new understandings, ideas, and alternative solutions to sticky problems. Artists and musicians have long known that stillness is the well from which robust production springs.
Try to take time…

The World is Too Much with Us

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not–

“The World is too Much with Us” partial – by William Wordsworth

02 December 2011

Christ is Liberal!

What of Christmas? What are we to make of it:
  •  A time of gratefulness
  • A time for celebration
  • A time for being extra generous
  • A time for merry-making, for parties
  • For shopping and giving gifts?
It's up to you. It seems once a season, I hear someone—Christian or non-Christian—(yes, some Christians don’t celebrate Christmas) grumble that making such a big deal on December 25 when we don't have certain knowledge of the date of the birth of the Messiah Christ.  Since we haven’t used the same calendar as the Jews of Jesus’ time (ever),it’s a moot point.
I have celebrated Christmas all over the place: near the Tropic of Cancer, at the Equator, in the frigid North where it was below zero degrees F, and at hot and coastal places;  in the city, in the suburbs and the country. Sun, frost, rain, sleet, snow have made an appearance in my decades of Christmas all over the world.  No matter where and no matter what weather, there is something cheerful, and a bit extravagant (festive?) about setting aside a special day for the long-awaited Messiah, the King of the Jews.
Some people add a special touch to the day by making a “birthday” cakes for Jesus (decorated) at Christmastime but that seems odd since most Easterners give gifts on their birthday.  The tradition of giving gifts is a Godlike thing to do: after all, remember that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
He gave, and gave, and keeps giving today. There is a generous liberality to God’s giving that will and can never be matched by anyone on earth.  Someone recently reminded me that Jesus in his earthly ministry, went around healing manynot limiting his healing to people who were his disciples, but healing the sick and the hopeless without a bar. No repayment needed, no bribes, no need for any of that when you are God—the fount of wholeness.
As we begin a quick slide to the shortest day of the year north of the equator, which will be followed by Christmas—a day of generosity and rejoicing—I think of the liberality of God--His care, tenderness, expansiveness, matched by His ability and resources to care, restore and give wholeness.  No one is so far from God that they are hopeless.  GK Chesterton pointed to the simple logic for simple men behind celebrating Christ's birth on this dark, short day (if you're in the north) in December, reiterating for us the liberality of God:
“… Christ is not merely a summer sun of the prosperous but a winter fire for the unfortunate.”