Prophesying at the bathroom mirror

In the charismatic church I was part of in college, there was a prophet. We’ll call him Marc Mason. Now I know some of you think these prophet guys are a joke or worse. I’m not going to get into that here except to say that he was as legit as they come. He didn’t ever make silly predictions ala Chuck Pierce, and that’s a very good thing. He had an uncanny knack for speaking words of encouragement and admonition in such a way that it was hard to ignore: Like it was God speaking and not just the words of a friend or the preaching of a pastor.

Anyway, I got to hang out with Mr. Mason a few times. I remember helping him repair the fence in his back yard. I also visited him at work, where he administered databases, something which I didn’t realize at the time that would later become my career. People had always told me that Marc was really different in person than he appeared giving bold prophecies at church. Man, was it ever true. I was amazed at how, well, weak he seemed at so many things. He was no handy man. I was used to the mechanical skills and insight of my father. His kids were around and he didn’t have a grip on parenting them. His teenage daughter was largely in a state of rebellion. He himself was timid in speech. He would stutter frequently, but more often would not say anything at all.

Merton talks about different stages in the life of prayer:

So too there is another stage in our prayer, when consolation gives place to fear. It is a place of darkness and anguish and of conversion: for here a great change takes place in our spirit. All our love for God appears to us to have been full of imperfection, as indeed it has. We begin to doubt that we have ever loved Him. With shame and sorrow we find that our love was full of complacency, and that although we thought ourselves modest, we overflowed with conceit. We were to sure of ourselves, not afraid of illusion, not afraid to be recognized be other men as men of prayer.

-Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island, p.48

Marc was more a man of prayer than anyone I knew, yet he himself was very uncomfortable being known AS a man of prayer. I questioned him at length about prophecy and how he thought he ended up with that particular gift. He felt in his prayer time that things would come to him to say. But he felt so stupid saying them. He said he would practice in front of the mirror in the bathroom – trying to put into words what he thought he was hearing in prayer. The less he thought about it the better it went. He was the last person in the room inclined to get up and speak about ANYTHING, but he felt compelled by the holy spirit to somehow say SOMETHING of what he was hearing in prayer.

I think the Lord continually kept him humble along with this. He was to have no claim to fame in himself. In fact, by the traditional elder standards, he was to forever stay unqualified. His wife of 20 years left him about this same time. And yet, I don’t see these things as his fault so much. Yes, they were the result of his own personality weaknesses and sin (just like all my own problems, and yours too). But I think God picked him to speak to in prayer because God always uses what is foolishness to the world to confound the wise. Even the wise who know their bible so well. I can hear people saying right now: “Bah! This guy couldn’t take care of his own family. Why should I listen to anything he says? Pardon me while I get back to me Jonathan Edwards commentary.” Exactly. But if you heard him speak, you would find yourself listening regardless. They are not his own words. Merton tried to get at what this communication may feel like:

Finally, the purest prayer is something on which it is impossible to reflect until after it is over. And when the grace has gone we no longer seek to reflect on it, because we realize that it belongs to another order of things, and that it will be in some sense debased by our reflecting on it. Such prayer desires no witness, even the winess of our own souls. It seeks to keep itself entirely hidden in God. The experience remains in our spirit like a wound, like a scar that will not heal. But we do no reflect upon it. This living wound may become a source of knowledge, if we are to instruct others in the ways of prayer; or else it may become a bar and an obstacle to knowledge, if we are to instruct others in the ways of prayer; or else it may become a bar and an obstacle to knowledge, a seal of silence set upon the soul, closing the way to words and thoughts, so that we can say nothing of it to other men. For the way is left open to God alone. This is like the door spoken of by Ezechiel, which shall remain closed because the King is enthroned within. (p.50)

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Merton on the absurd journey from atheism to faith

I had taken little more than a year and a half, counting from the time I read Gilson‘s The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy to bring me up from an “atheist”-as I considered myself-to one who accepted all the full range and possibilities of religious experience right up to the highest degree of glory.

I not only accepted all this, intellectually, but now I began to desire it. And not only did I begin to desire it, but I began to do so efficaciously: I began to want to take the necessary means to achieve this union, this peace. I began to desire to dedicate my life to God, to His service. The notion was still vague and obscure, and it was ludicrously impractical in the sense that I was already dreaming of mystical union when I did not even keep the simplest rudiments of the moral law. But nevertheless I was convinced of the reality of the goal, and confident that it could be achieved: and whatever element of presumption was in this confidence I am sure God excused, in His mercy, because of my stupidity and helplessness, and because I was really beginning to be ready to do whatever I thought He wanted me to do to bring me to Him.

But, oh, how blind and weak and sick I was, although I thought I saw where I was going, and half understood the way! How deluded we sometimes are by the clear notions we get out of books. They make us think that we really understand things of which we have no practical knowledge at all. I remember how learnedly and enthusiastically I could talk for hours about mysticism and the experimental knowledge of God, and all the while I was stoking the fires of the argument with Scotch and soda.

-Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain, p.204

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The beginning of sadness

This excellent comment on growing up by Billy Collins:

On Turning Ten

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light-
a kind of measles of the spirit,
and mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bead and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk in a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I would shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees, I bleed.

More to “belief” than a thought in your head

Before discussing a subject, Wright often begins by dealing with the potential pitfalls of contemporary linguistics:

This is where our word “belief” can be inadequate or even misleading. What the early Christians meant by “belief” included both believing that God had DONE certain things and believing IN the God who had done them. This is not belief that God exists, though clearly that is involved, too, but loving, grateful trust.

-N.T. Wright, Simply Christian, p.207

Asking God the wrong questions

How is it exactly that God’s way our higher than our ways? (Isaiah 55:9)

[The religious leaders, as well as Jesus’ own disciples asked him many questions.] As was so often the case, Jesus didn’t answer their questions directly. Many of the questions we ask God can’t be answered directly, not because God doesn’t know the answers but because our questions don’t make sense. As C.S. Lewis once pointed out, many of our questions are, from God’s point of view, rather like someone asking, “Is yellow square or round?” or “How many hours are there in a mile?” Jesus gently puts off the question. “It isn’t for you,” he says, “to know the times and periods which the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”.

– N.T. Wright, Simply Christian, p. 122

The elephant in theology’s living room

This comment a while back from Boar’s Head Tavern fellow The Scylding gets to the heart of my frustration with theology as it is typically discussed.

I worship Christ, not reason. And, contra the [Francis] Schaeffer types, that is NOT a 1-1 correlation. The desire to equate Christianity with reason comes from the surrender to Modernism. When it comes to debates and discussions on truth, tradition, sacramentology, ecclesiology and a mulitude of other and theological ‘ologies, the worship of Reason is the elephant in the room.