Archive for May, 2007

From Reaching for the Invisible God:

…what finally brought me to God: not the Bible or Christian literature or anyone’s sermons. I turned to God primarily because of my discovery of goodness and grace in the world: through nature, through classical music, through romantic love. Enjoying the gifts, I began to seek the giver; full of gratitude, I needed Someone to thank…God had been there all the while, waiting to be noticed. Though I still had no proof, only clues, the clues led me to exercise faith. (p. 118)

I really loved this comment because I feel that it sheds insight into how the holy spirit actually works in our hearts and minds. I’ve always wondered at how God does it. How does he take our fallen selfish thoughts and turn them into humility? How exactly does he change us from being jerk to being deeply aware of Jesus’ sacrifice and to generating love for the people around us? The usual example we know of is when tragedy hits someones life. They almost die or they lose their family in some horrible accident and it really slaps them around. But that kind of thing only happens to some people. It didn’t happen to me or even most of the people I know. So how did we all come to faith? Being raised by Christian parents? You can have that and still turn out bad. Everyone knows our efforts come to nil without the work of the spirit.

I like this because it’s another way that he works in our hearts to draw us to himself. I couldn’t put my finger on it before, but Yancy’s description is one I can relate to a lot.

Oh, I despise to talk politics, but I’m afraid I must throw in a comment since reading some more of Yeats. In 6 years, I’ve gone from supporting President Bush to not. Why? No elaboration, just this: Iraq was a bad idea (and still is), and the federal government continues to bloat. I was hoping it would shrink. As for striving to change the minds of politicians? I’m not up for it and I don’t envy their position either. I think this sums it up best:

On Being Asked for a War Poem
by William Butler Yeats

I think it better that in times like these
A poet’s mouth be silent, for in truth
We have no gift to set a statesman right;
He has had enough of meddling who can please
A young girl in the indolence of her youth,
Or an old man upon a winter’s night.

Mark Byron offers some keen insight into spiritual warfare:

The classic verse in the area comes from James 4:7 – “Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you.”
Note that it doesn’t say “Whup the Devil’s ass, and he will flee from you.”

It’s a short post. Keep reading…

In the last couple years, I’ve been leaning toward, being attracted to, a higher church liturgy. Oh, it would be nice to say, “The spirit is leading me in this direction”, which is something I CAN say about some things in my life. However, in this area I must say it’s probably just a matter of personal taste. Without a doubt it’s partially a backlash against church services centered around personalities and rock band worship. Now, I don’t have any problem with rock bands, or even rock band worship per se, I think I’m just grown tired of hearing them.

My wife has also felt the pull of higher church liturgy. However, she’s very wary of “stuffed shirt” religious types, and not without good reason. We’re both small-town country folk. Now we have university degrees with honors, but that doesn’t make us high society. Not even close in fact. The social ladder is unavoidable in and out of church. I would prefer that it would pollute worship as little as possible.

A comment today from Doug Wilson sheds some light on the subject I think:

Over the course of our nation’s history, what denominations have attracted the doctors, lawyers, bankers, and so on? Right — the more liturgical, staid, and formal churches. What churches have attracted the loggers, cops, and contractors? Right — the more informal, lively, and anti-liturgical. We are currently living through a period of cultural churn, where no one exactly knows what is up. Megachurches have breezy, multi-media worship, and they have plenty of doctors and lawyers trying to clap along with the songs. My argument is that this kind of thing is an anomaly. Over time, it will have to go one way or the other.A couple of possible objections, and I am done. Someone might point out that the Roman Catholic church has plenty of “blue collar” parishioners, which is quite true. But they do this by reproducing the entire range of socio-economic strata within the church. In other words, they have plenty of such worshippers, but they do not constitute the leadership of the church. If you were to find a church with blue collar leadership, and they had that leadership over the course of a generation or more, I would be willing to bet good money that the liturgy would be quite low.

Another objection is that this analysis seems to give “doctors and lawyers” too much credit in authenticating what the Church is supposed to be doing. Yes, this is quite a danger, one that James pointed out in his epistle. When the rich guys start showing up for church, it is time to guard your hearts against evil motives. This problem has happened plenty in the history of the Church. But remember, I am not applauding anything here. I am just watching. I am not arguing for high liturgy at all; I am simply pointing out that in history high liturgy has tended toward a particular effect. Having a high view of liturgy (which I do have) is not the same thing as having a high view of high liturgy (which I don’t have). But for those brethren who do have a high view of high liturgy, this is an observation or caution that can be used in either direction. “If we crank the liturgy up another notch, we might get some more big tithers from the medical field!” Or . . . “We need to watch our step here. This stuff is banker bait.”

A Drinking Song
by William Butler Yeats

Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.

A quote from J.C. Ryle (1810-1900), first Anglican bishop of Oxford:

“Humility and love are precisely the graces which the men of the world can understand, if they do not comprehend doctrines…. [The poorest] Christian can every day find occasion for practicing love and humility.”

A fitting quote for where it was noticed, occasionally on the banner of the Boar’s Head Tavern.

I recently bought a book of poetry by William Butler Yeats. So far, this is one of the best ones I’ve come across. I love how it deals with the frustration of producing art, that those who are not artists do not understand how hard of work it is. Pretty much anything we accomplish we do so by the sweat of our brow. Then he turns his own complaint on its head and reveals the labor of the woman is even more misunderstood.

Adam’s Curse

We sat together at one summer’s end,
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, “A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.”
And thereupon
That beautiful mild woman for whose sake
There’s many a one shall find out all heartache
On finding that her voice is sweet and low
Replied, “To be born woman is to know —
Although they do not talk of it at school —
That we must labour to be beautiful.”
I said, “It’s certain there is no fine thing
Since Adam’s fall but needs much labouring.
There have been lovers who thought love should be
So much compounded of high courtesy
That they would sigh and quote with learned looks
precedents out of beautiful old books;
Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.”

We sat grown quiet at the name of love;
We saw the last embers of daylight die,
And in the trembling blue-green of the sky
A moon, worn as if it had been a shell
Washed by time’s waters as they rose and fell
About the stars and broke in days and years.
I had a thought for no one’s but your ears:
That you were beautiful, and that I strove
To love you in the old high way of love;
That it had all seemed happy, and yet we’d grown
As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.

Peter Leithart summarizes Richard Barber on medieval romantic poetry and courtly love:

Troubadour poetry reflects a “continual tension between the physical side of love, love shared and enjoyed, and the longing of an unfulfilled love.” Some praise consummated love as the only true love, while others enjoy the “exquisite pain-pleasure of a love which is either impossible to fulfill or is deliberately denied fulfillment.” Whatever direction the poetry goes, the man’s life is dominated by love, and his main object is to win his lady by gaining her favor. Thus, “from his love stem all virtues of this world – valour, courtesy, generosity – summed up in the one word pretz, worth. The man who does not love can never hope to be as accomplished as the lover whose desire spurs him on to new achievements.”

I must say I’ve always been a sucker for the idea of unrequited love. An impossible idealization that transcends our fallen nature. It doesn’t actually exist, but it’s often spoken of in music and art. It is curiously devoid of sex too, at least it’s not articulated. Some have suggested that it’s really a longing for God. I was surprised (though I guess maybe I shouldn’t have been) to find it in spades in the distant past as well.

This was originally posted by Tall Skinny Kiwi, but it is very much worth reprinting!

Beannacht (“Blessing”) by John O’Donohue,
from his book of Christian and Celtic wisdom titled Anam Cara.

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

The language is beautiful. Our usual blessing to each other is “Have a nice day”, or “Get well soon”. That’s nice but this is poetic and well thought out. In my childhood, I think something like this would have been looked at as purely sentimental and flowery – a waste time. But can words like this actually have power? No, I’m not talking about a Wiccan-esqe magic spell kind of power. Or a “good vibes” karma spreading kind of power. But something maybe CLOSER to that than having no significance beyond the words on the page.

At the most basic level it can communicate that the one giving the blessing actually put some time and effort into it. That can communicate love. Like going out of the way to buy your wife the exact kind of special orchid she likes instead of just getting her any old bouquet of flowers at the grocery store. So that’s real power, but it doesn’t leave the confines of our own heads.

Some would say that God is very INTERACTIVE with mankind in real time. He works with our prayers (or blessings in this case) and that what we think and do actually has an effect on God and how he then chooses to act and relate to us. Others think the very notion of that is silly and even dangerous. So what kind of power does a blessing like this have?

I’ve decided to quite trying to blog in a structured fashion. I have a whole list of things I wanted to write about specifically, but have had to force myself to shift gears most of the times I sat down to write. Shifting waffle squares can be hard work. Now I am going to not conform to the plans and just write about whatever I feel like writing about at the moment. I sat down today to blog more of “Reaching for the Invisible God”, but wrote a post about what was currently on my iPod instead. If I had tried to go with the plan, I probably wouldn’t have written anything at all!