If you came to my house, you'd sit on the pink couch, have a cup of tea, talk about what's going on with you, and have to listen to me go on about my latest favorite book. This is the next best thing - without the tea.
"The purpose [of God's becoming man] is that God's inner nature and life should be opened up to us, should become familiar to us, and that we should experience with our very being, and thus also with our minds and senses, what it means to say that God is love." ~ Hans Urs von Balthasar
I once heard Handel’s Messiah performed at the Royal Albert Hall, with the majestic pipe organ there, with orchestra and combined choirs of hundreds of voices. It was … glorious.
Every year our church tries to sing the Hallelujah Chorus. Painful. Very, very painful.
Life feels like that to me. There is amazing music to it – you can hear it in your head, and hear notes and phrases of it around you * … but it falls so far short of what you know it could be. We are so out of tune, off the rhythm of what we know we can be. I am so out of tune and off the rhythm that I can hear in my head from time to time. Painful. Very, very painful.
I am very glad to know that in the end, Jesus wins – and we will get to be part of the combined choir: human beings and this creation as we dream it, as God dreamed it. Won’t that be a relief?
The Spirit and the Bride say “Come!”
*Here are a few I have seen lately: friends and neighbors bringing meals to Laurie’s family … giant golden maple leaves decorating the trail at Washington Park, Malisa and Brian dancing at their wedding, a practically perfect apple pie (even if I do say so myself), friends who pray.
...not the blog, the actual couch. We got a new couch - which I hesitated over, since the pink couch is kind of an institution. But don't worry, pink couch fans - we moved it into the room which will now be my study - with a view of the garden and a table for the tea tray... coming?
Everything affects everything else. Someone borrows – or lends – imprudently, and ultimately, cumulatively, people lose their jobs and their houses and their health insurance.
When you or I listen to God, when we pray, when we choose faith and obedience, it doesn’t only affect us and the people right around us. Everything affects everything else. The person who prays is like an underground river that causes springs to appear unexpectedly and vegetation to sprout up in unlikely places. (see Ezekiel 47) There is so much more than you can see.
“Harassed by life, exhausted, we look about us for somewhere to be quiet, to be genuine, a place of refreshment. We yearn to restore our spirits in God, to simply let go in Him and gain new strength to go on living. But we fail to look for him where he is waiting for us, where he is to be found: in his Son, who is his Word. Or else we seek for God because there are a thousand things we want to ask him, and imagine that we cannot go on living unless they are answered. We inundate him with problems, with demands for information, for clues, for an easier path, forgetting that in his Word he has given us the solution to every problem and all the details we are capable of grasping in this life. We fail to listen where God speaks; where God’s word rang out in the world once for all, sufficient for all ages, inexhaustible.”
So far, 2008 has been a year of doubts, questionings, and feelings of discouragement, disappointment and failure. I am writing about this now, while I am still in it, so that you will know what to do when you are in it. So here is my prescription: 1. Don’t panic. (If you have your copy of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, you will already know this.) 2. Continue with spiritual disciplines. Just show up. Give thanks. Hear the Word, especially the gospels. Read other people’s prayers when you have trouble with your own – the Psalms, or prayers from the saints of the past (I have Great Souls at Prayer compiled by Mary Tileston and The Complete Book of Christian Prayer) 3. Stay connected with people of faith. Read old books: when my faith falters, I just go along with Augustine, and C.S.Lewis, Teresa of Avila and Evelyn Underhill, and others of that great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12. Talk to someone experienced and wise, someone who has been there and will walk alongside you and pray for you (and who doesn’t panic either.) 4. Don’t engage in arguments with yourself. You can’t win. Be patient, and ask for God’s mercy. 5. Read Psalm 143, and make it your prayer. Whenever you are recalled to your doubts and fears, call out to God: “Answer me quickly, O Lord! My spirit fails!” He will do for you, and in you, what you cannot do for yourself.
Well, I’m graduating. It has only taken me 12 years … 12 years of escaping from kids and work and ministry and driving up to Regent … 12 years of discovery of God, of myself, and of what I call my “dead friends” on the shelves of the library. Apart from the occasional jibes at my chosen occupation (I have been on the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ for 35 years. I hope that is balanced by the fact that my husband is in construction, a marketplace kind of guy, which Regent folks like), my experience at Regent has been one best described by … delight. I kept coming to Regent because it gave me such joy. I will never forget one day in my “Journey Through John” class when Dr. Rikk Watts said “Stand up! We have to sing!” in response to what we were reading … and that is just how I have felt, so many times. So I want to thank everyone in the offices and library and bookstore, the custodians and the baristas, the TA’s and the professors and my fellow students - with the most heartfelt gratitude. My experience at Regent ranks as one of the best gifts of God in my life, right up there along with my family, my friends, and yes, Campus Crusade for Christ. People ask me, when they hear that I am (finally) getting my MCS, what I plan to do with it, and I have to say that I guess I will live with it … in the best sense of the word.
Anselm of Canterbury (1033 - 1109) may be best known as a philosopher, but his writing was for the purpose of stirring up the mind to admire and love God. In the tradition of the Benedictine monks, he encouraged the meditative reading that started with words and ended in prayer. On the day when we remember Jesus' supper with his friends, here is a prayer of Anslem's to stir up our minds...
My God, I pray that I may so know you and love you that I may rejoice in you. And if I may not do so fully in this life, let me go steadily on to the day when I come to that fullness. Let the knowledge of you increase in me here, and let it there come to its fullness. Let your love grow in me here, and there let it be fulfilled, So that here my joy may be in a great hope, and there in full reality.
Lord, You have commanded, or rather advised us, to ask by your Son, and you have promised that we shall receive, ‘that our joy may be full.’ That which you counsel through our ‘wonderful counselor’ is what I am asking for, Lord. Let me receive that which you promised thorough your truth, ‘ that my joy may be full.’
God of truth, I ask that I may receive, so that my joy may be full. Meanwhile, let my mind meditate on it, let my tongue speak of it, let my heart love it, let my mouth preach it, let my soul hunger for it, my flesh thirst for it, and my whole being desire it, until I enter into the joy of my Lord, who is God, one and triune, blessed forever. Amen.
We read, said C.S. Lewis, to know we are not alone. I have been reading George Herbert lately, 17th century British clergyman and poet. Here is his Prayer (1). It takes some figuring out - it is worth mulling over, ruminating on it.
Prayer the Church’s banquet, Angel’s age, God’s breath in man returning to his birth The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage, The Christian plummet[i] sounding heaven and earth; Engine[ii] against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tower, Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear, The six-days world transposing[iii] in an hour, A kind of tune which all things hear and fear; Softness, and peace, and joy and love and bliss, Exalted Manna, gladness of the best, Heaven in ordinary, man well drest, The milky way, the bird of Paradise, Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood, The land of spices, something understood.
[i] Plummet – a plumb line, taking the measure of both heaven and earth [ii] Engine: a siege engine, laying siege to God [iii] As in transposing a tune from one key to another
Needing a brownie to go with that tea? Here is my recipe, from my dear friend Gwen's sweet mama. Ah, yes, the glory of God displayed through the gifts of God and the creativity of humanity... (with a shout out to my friends at BSU...)
Anna Laura’s Brownies
4 squares unsweetened chocolate 1 1/3 stick butter 2 c. sugar 4 eggs 1 1/3 c. flour 2 t. vanilla ½ t. salt (2 c. nuts)
Melt chocolate and butter. Beat eggs, add flour, sugar, salt. Add chocolate and butter, vanilla and nuts, stir. Bake in buttered 15 x 10 (jelly roll size) pan 25 minutes at 350.
4 squares unsweetened chocolate 2/3 stick butter 2 c. powdered sugar ½ c. cream or evaporated milk 1 t. vanilla ¼ t. salt
Melt butter and chocolate. Add sugar, cream, vanilla Mix well, add more cream if mixture seems stiff. Keep warm until brownies are done (I use a double boiler). Frost while brownies are warm. You can half this recipe ... on second thought, that's a stupid idea.
In the 4th and 5th centuries there was a movement of men and women from all walks of life who went into the deserts of Egypt to live alone, pray and seek to become like Jesus. They were looking for a renewed way of discipleship to Christ, leaving behind a culture in which, following Constantine’s becoming Emperor, Christianity was becoming popular. Now that Christians were no longer persecuted for their faith, everyone wanted to be one. Following Jesus became easy. It no longer cost you your life.
In that context, there were men and women who were drawn to a more radical way of life. They found that the distractions and temptations of a comfortable life made it more difficult to follow Jesus. They wanted to take Jesus at his word, to “go and sell everything they had and give it to the poor – and come, follow Me.”
In the desert, they lived alone or near small communities of other hermits. They practiced “the discipline” - simplicity, fasting, working to provide for their needs and the needs of the poor, and prayer. There were few copies of Scripture, so they memorized what they had, and meditated on it long and hard.
In the desert, too, they fought. They fought against the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil – against greed, and lust, and pride, through the help of Jesus and discipline. They learned about themselves and their real motivations – and they learned about the humility and self-sacrificing love of Jesus. In the process, they were changed. People were drawn to them. Their charity towards others and their love of God began to shine through them – and more and more people wanted what they had, and were drawn to the desert to be near them.
I think that Stinters are modern desert saints. No, they are not perfect – neither were the desert saints! But they want something – they want to follow hard after Jesus. A comfortable, easy, distant acquaintance with Him is not enough for them. They want to do what he does, to go where he goes, to learn what He has to teach them, even though it costs them.
And so they give up the things that make them comfortable – distractions, friends, safety. And they go into the “desert” of Merida, or Costa Rica or East Asia or Lithuania or Moscow or Croatia, and they struggle – to learn about themselves, to love others. And they have nothing to depend on but God.
If you are a Stinter, take heart. You have, I am sure, struggles from the outside – and from the inside. God is doing more in you and through you than you can imagine. The desert saints (there were an estimated 30,000 men and women who went to the desert) became the impetus for a new generation of believers – including Athenasius, who fought for the truth of the deity of Christ, Jerome, who first translated the scripture into Latin, and Augustine, who became the foremost theologian of the church. And here we are today, partly because of their struggle.
Here is a quote from “The Sayings of the Desert Fathers” “Poemen said about John the Short that he asked the Lord to take away his passions (i.e. strong emotional reactions and desires). So his heart was at rest, and he went to a hermit and said, “I find that I am at peace, with no war between flesh and spirit.’ The hermit said to him ‘Go and ask the Lord to stir up a new war in you. Fighting is good for the soul.’ When the conflict revived in him, he no longer prayed for it to be taken away, but said, ‘Lord, grant me strength to endure this fight.’