Fighting God

shipwreck-off-nantucket-also-known-as-wreck-off-nantucket-after-a-storm-1861-jpglarge
Shipwreck Off Nantucket by William Bradford 1861

MOBY DICK
Herman Melville

But not yet have we solved the incantation of this whiteness, and learned why it appeals with such power to the soul; and more strange and far more portentous—why, as we have seen, it is at once the most meaning symbol of spiritual things, nay, the very veil of the Christian’s Deity; and yet should be as it is, the intensifying agent in things the most appalling to mankind. Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a colour as the visible absence of colour; and at the same time the concrete of all colours; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows—a colourless, all-colour of atheism from which we shrink?

JOB 38

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said,
2  “Who is this that darkens counsel
By words without knowledge?
3  “Now gird up your loins like a man,
And I will ask you, and you instruct Me!
4  “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding,
5  Who set its measurements? Since you know.
Or who stretched the line on it?
6  “On what were its bases sunk?
Or who laid its cornerstone,
7  When the morning stars sang together
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?

8  “Or who enclosed the sea with doors
When, bursting forth, it went out from the womb;
9  When I made a cloud its garment
And thick darkness its swaddling band,
10  And I placed boundaries on it
And set a bolt and doors,
11  And I said, ‘Thus far you shall come, but no farther;
And here shall your proud waves stop’?

12  “Have you ever in your life commanded the morning,
And caused the dawn to know its place,
13  That it might take hold of the ends of the earth,
And the wicked be shaken out of it?
14  “It is changed like clay under the seal;
And they stand forth like a garment.
15  “From the wicked their light is withheld,
And the uplifted arm is broken.

16  “Have you entered into the springs of the sea
Or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17  “Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
Or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
18  “Have you understood the expanse of the earth?
Tell Me, if you know all this.

19  “Where is the way to the dwelling of light?
And darkness, where is its place,
20  That you may take it to its territory
And that you may discern the paths to its home?
21  “You know, for you were born then,
And the number of your days is great!
22  “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow,
Or have you seen the storehouses of the hail,
23  Which I have reserved for the time of distress,
For the day of war and battle?
24  “Where is the way that the light is divided,
Or the east wind scattered on the earth?

25  “Who has cleft a channel for the flood,
Or a way for the thunderbolt,
26  To bring rain on a land without people,
On a desert without a man in it,
27  To satisfy the waste and desolate land
And to make the seeds of grass to sprout?
28  “Has the rain a father?
Or who has begotten the drops of dew?
29  “From whose womb has come the ice?
And the frost of heaven, who has given it birth?
30  “Water becomes hard like stone,
And the surface of the deep is imprisoned.

31  “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades,
Or loose the cords of Orion?
32  “Can you lead forth a constellation in its season,
And guide the Bear with her satellites?
33  “Do you know the ordinances of the heavens,
Or fix their rule over the earth?

34  “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
So that an abundance of water will cover you?
35  “Can you send forth lightnings that they may go
And say to you, ‘Here we are’?
36  “Who has put wisdom in the innermost being
Or given understanding to the mind?
37  “Who can count the clouds by wisdom,
Or tip the water jars of the heavens,
38  When the dust hardens into a mass
And the clods stick together?

39  “Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
Or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
40  When they crouch in their dens
And lie in wait in their lair?
41  “Who prepares for the raven its nourishment
When its young cry to God
And wander about without food?


In a personal letter to Nathaniel Hawthorne upon completing Moby Dick, Melville said, “I have written an evil book.” What is it about the book that he considered evil? The answer has been debated by literary scholars since the book was published, and I agree with the view that sees the whale as God, with vengeance fueled Ahab in pursuit.

Given that so few people have actually read Moby Dick, it seems necessary to give a spoiler alert here: It doesn’t end well for Captain Ahab.

It’s hard to fight God.

C.S. Lewis, once an atheist himself, said he knew very few true atheists. He said it’s not that most people don’t believe in God but rather they are angry with God for not existing.  Now there’s a starting point. Accepting the sovereignty of God does not require understanding Him.  Really now, how small would God be if we could wrap our minds around Him?  God wants us to bring Him our pain and questions, but not in the grip of a rebellious fist.

The beginning of understanding is worship.

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Art: Shipwreck Off Nantucket by William Bradford 1861

On August 8, 1859, the whaling ship Nantucket ran aground during the night at Nashawena Island, Massachusetts, part of the Elizabeth Islands at the entrance to Vineyard Sound. The next day, Bradford left his studio in New Bedford to observe the scene in preparation for painting this large, epic depiction of the shipwreck. He had recently worked alongside Albert Van Beest, who had been trained in the tradition of Dutch marine painting, and the dramatic effect of heavy seas and tilting ship show the other artist’s influence. Bradford’s impressive knowledge of seagoing vessels, however, is seen in the careful delineation of the deck of the whaler and the small craft that surround it.

Literature: Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Moby Dick has often been called The Great American Novel and that’s true for every wrong reason. On the eve of its debut, Melville’s heart soared with confidence that the public would embrace his masterpiece. Of course, this was not to be.  The version released in England had a botched ending and the reviewing critics were merciless. Though the book had been corrected before it’s US release, the reviews preceded it, and the die was cast.

The reception was horrific and Melville never recovered.

Today, decades later Moby Dick is recognized as an epic masterwork, but still, very few people have actually read it.  Truthfully, that’s partly Melville’s fault.  The book is a mule choker, both long and descriptively detailed in the technicalities of nineteenth century whaling. Yes, the story is textured and timeless but the reader is often burdened with unnecessary commentary. Sure, it proves he knew what he was talking about, but it takes a real toll on the story’s momentum.  It’s a little like trying to read the Bible and getting bogged down in the Book of Numbers.

If America wasn’t ready for Moby Dick when it came out, America is less so now. Our attention spans are short and we want fast action in big screen high def color. Moby Dick exceeds all of that in the theater of the mind, but only yields its treasure to patient lovers of lore and language.

All that said, I’m glad I read every word.

Rick Wilcox

Plato: Classical Greek (428/427–348/347 BC)

THE REPUBLIC
2.II

Socrates—Glaucon

With these words I was thinking that I had made an end of the discussion; but the end, in truth, proved to be only a beginning. For Glaucon, who is always the most pugnacious of men, was dissatisfied at Thrasymachus’ retirement; he wanted to have the battle out. So he said to me: Socrates, do you wish really to persuade us, or only to seem to have persuaded us, that to be just is always better than to be unjust?
I should wish really to persuade you, I replied, if I could.
Then you certainly have not succeeded.


When Saint Augustine said “All truth is God’s truth” he surely must have had Plato in mind.  Plato was not a Christian, but that does not make his teaching untrue.  This can be threatening for those who believe in sola scriptura (Latin: by scripture alone), that the Christian scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith and practice.  Augustine is considered a Neoplatonist who interpreted Plato as a thinker who “understood the eternal truth” consistent with later Christian ideology.

In his book The Great Books Reader, John Mark Reynolds said:

Three things must be kept in mind when reading Plato.

First, he wrote in dialogue form. He believed certain things, but those beliefs were less important to him than the process of reaching those beliefs. He wrote in a way that would provoke argument. Don’t be afraid to be bored . . . and then ask why Plato is going on and on. Ask, and you find an answer.

This is because Plato wrote with great care. He was interested in numbers and grew up on the measured poetry of Homer. Perhaps the highest difficulty in reading Plato is knowing when to stop examining a page, a paragraph, a sentence, a word. The first word of Republic says Socrates is “going down,” and the rest of the book contains a series of upward and downward motions.

Second, Plato does not speak in his own dialogues. Socrates is the main character in most (and certainly in Republic), but that does not mean Socrates is always speaking for Plato. The historic Socrates, like Jesus, wrote nothing, and like Jesus, he died for his virtues. Unlike Jesus, though, Socrates was not the perfect son of God. Be willing to argue with Socrates or question the persuasiveness of his arguments. Note that his best students do so at the start of Republic’s Book II.

Third, many Christians, from Justin Martyr through Augustine to C. S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, have found useful philosophy in Plato. His works contain ideas that are not only compatible with Christianity but can also be used to understand the faith. He anticipated many Jewish and Christian ideas.

Do you believe that “all truth is God’s truth?”  How does your belief inform your Bible study?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

John Mark Reynolds is the president of The Saint Constantine School, a school that aspires to preschool through college education. He is also a philosopher, administrator, and joyous curmudgeon. Reynolds was the founder and first director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. He was provost at Houston Baptist University where he was instrumental in starting the graduate Apologetics program and a cinema and new media arts major. John Mark blogs at Eidos on the Patheos Evangelical platform and has written for First Things and the Washington Post. He is an owner of the Green Bay Packers.

 

D I G  D E E P E R


 On Justice in the Republic

Gary Hardenberg

The Republic, Plato’s masterpiece of philosophical writing, challenges readers by asking us to examine both our notions of justice and our motivations for just living. The dialogue—while treating subjects that range from ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology to politics, psychology, education, music, theology, art, and mathematics—is centrally a discussion of the nature of justice. In particular, Plato, through the literary lens of Socrates’ first-person point of view, poses three questions about justice:

1. What is justice?
2. Is justice a virtue?
3. Is justice better than injustice?

To unify and oversimplify his answers, we can say that justice is the virtue that organizes the capacities of the soul into a stable, harmonious whole and that, since stability and harmony are objectively better than instability and discord, justice is preferable to injustice.

Plato investigates the nature of justice through an analogy between the soul and the polis. Although the discussion of politics is at the forefront of the Republic, the true purpose of that discussion is not political: Its point is to get a better view of the human soul (see 368e–369a), which in itself is very difficult to apprehend. Hence, when Plato argues (in a section not included here) that rulers must expunge immoral poetry from their communities, the reader must remember that Plato’s concern is not so much with cities or nations but with individuals. His lesson is that it would be better for us if we did not allow ourselves to accept immoral art as a teacher and an authority. Whether such censorship becomes public law is another, secondary, matter.

The concept of the tripartite soul, which has fairly distinct rational, spirited, and desirous elements, is one of Plato’s legacies to Western thought. In the Republic, the account of the tripartite soul is essentially connected to the account of justice: justice is present in the soul when each part of the soul is doing the work it is best suited to do.

Reason should be in charge of the soul, because it is the only aspect with both the foresight needed for long-term planning and the insight needed for knowing what is good. Desire does not know what is best because it “knows” only what it wants, which is whatever will satisfy it in the moment. Because desire is by nature insatiable, reason’s capitulation of its ruling office to desire is the primary way through which most people’s souls become disordered.

According to Plato, there is nothing wrong with desire itself. Desire, though, causes problems when it is put in charge of choosing. All the same, reason is too weak to maintain order by itself. It needs the assistance of the spirited element, which, as the seat of anger and courage, rouses individuals to action. Because this element of the soul can be aligned with either reason or desire, it must work with the rational part to maintain the soul’s order—otherwise, disorder ensues.

A number of Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians throughout history have adopted this notion of the soul’s harmony because it makes sense of the Christian doctrines of sin and sanctification, and it provides a model of Christian education. According to C. S. Lewis, for example, sanctification is a matter of integrating the dimensions of the human person by repairing the disintegrating effects of sin and advancing the soul’s capacities into greater harmony with itself and unity with God.

Of course, Lewis does not think such sanctification can be accomplished without divine grace. Lewis also argues that, because a person’s character is set largely by whether the spirited element sides with reason or desire, a central goal of education is to instruct students’ sentiments in ways that align them with reason. According to the Christian Platonism of Lewis, education that does not train the sentiments, which are seated in the spirited element, creates students “without chests” who are unable to do what is good even if they have true opinions about it.

It is noteworthy that Plato, living before the time of Christ and probably without any exposure to Jewish Scriptures or teachings, was able to apprehend so clearly the nature of justice. That he was able to maintain his commitment to justice in the face of significant pressure to lend approval to the less scrupulous cultural and political élite of Athens is even more impressive.

Furthermore, Plato defends the goodness of justice without recourse to any utilitarian motivation, including the motivation of rewards in either this life or in the afterlife. A gripping picture of the perfectly just person given in the Republic is of a man who, while being completely just, is thought by everyone to be unjust and is persecuted and killed because of it. Plato argues that if this man is just, it is better for him to suffer these things than to be unjust, and not because he will be rewarded in the afterlife.

From what we can tell from his writings, Plato did not believe in a final end to history. The cosmos simply continues forever, and within the cosmos our souls pass from our bodies at our deaths until they take on temporary homes in other bodies and begin embodied life again. This means that although Plato tells a story at the very end of the Republic about individuals who face postmortem judgment, he does not think such judgment is either irremediable if one has lived unjustly or irrevocable if one has lived justly. Thus, it is remarkable that Plato does not think a person should be just simply because the just person will fare well in the afterlife.

As contemporary readers of the Republic, then, we are left to ponder on a personal level whether we love justice and goodness for their own sakes or only for the benefit of just living promises for the afterlife.

Plato seems to have thought that being just so things turn out well after death is pitiful utilitarianism. In his view, we only love goodness when we love it for its own sake. In pressing for this conclusion, Plato did not know the true nature of what he was arguing for, though surely we can marvel at the fact that he bent all his powers to plead for as much as he did.

Gary Hartenburg is assistant professor of philosophy and director of the Honors College at Houston Baptist University. He earned his PhD in ancient philosophy from the University of California, Irvine.

John Mark Reynolds, The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2011).

The Reconciliation of All Things

ASCENSION Greek icon from the seventeenth century

MERE CHRISTIANITY
C.S. Lewis

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what [God] is doing. [God] is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently [God] starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is [God] up to? The explanation is that [God] is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but [God] is building a palace. [God] intends to come and live in it Himself.”

Colossians 1:11–20

11 strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, 14 in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. 19 For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, 20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.


In his landmark book The Philosophy of Moral Development, Lawrence Kohlberg sought to integrate reason and faith as the latter’s evolution of the former.  He recognized the shortcomings of his model and later added a seventh stage making room for what he called “religion.”  He struggled to explain how children grew to evolve morally, and ultimately attributed (at least part of) it to the shift from imaginary to imaginative thinking.

As Ken Kovacs wrote in his book Out of the Depths:

My mentor at Princeton Seminary, James Loder (1931-2001)—who was also a huge C. S. Lewis fan, who sketched images of Aslan for his children—suggested that we need to make a distinction between the imaginary and the imaginative. Something that is imaginary takes you out of the world, out of reality; it’s a flight of fancy, often escapist. An imaginative act, on the other hand, is an entirely different faculty. It was the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) who understood imagination as the capacity instar omnium, meaning equivalent to all in importance. As a faculty of the self, imagination has the capacity to create, order, and reorder the world. The imaginative act, thought, or word has the power to put you more deeply into the world, into a world transfigured, into the real.

 

Is your faith more imaginary or imaginative?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Stratification

A concept associated with the Third Wave of psychology, developmentalism, and theorists Piaget, Kohlberg, Fowler, and others. This framework for understanding human behavior describes various strata or stages of growth. Stratification emphasizes the value of humans as thoughtfully and purposefully interactive with their environment.

Distinctive patterns of behavior and thought are empirically observed in various domains at each strata. Physical, cognitive, affective, social, moral decision making, and spiritual development have all been observed as progressing through sequential strata. Based on the conclusion that humans are more similar than dissimilar, each strata is a level of temporary destination that should be fully explored and experienced before the individual progresses to the next stage.

Environment can be instrumental in facilitating or slowing the development inherent in human genetic structure. Each strata is experienced in invariant and sequential patterns. Stages exist across cultures, genders, and eras of time though timing may be different within these variables.

Bibliography

P. G. Downs (1994), Teaching for Spiritual Growth: An Introduction to Christian Education; J. E. Loder (1976), Foundations for Christian Education in an Era of Change, p. 31. Michael J. Anthony et al., Evangelical Dictionary of Christian Education, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 669–670.

Booksickness by Gina Dalfonzo

Gina Dalfonzo

“This is a sickness.”

That’s what I often tell my friends when I take and post pictures of the books overflowing from my bedside table down onto the floor. Or when I vow to read fifteen of the not-yet-read books on my shelves before letting myself buy another new book. Or that time my suitcase opened itself just enough to leak paperbacks all down the airport escalator. (I know, I know, I need a Kindle, but I haven’t got there yet.)

This is a sickness.

I look around sometimes at the stacks and piles, and find myself daunted. Exactly how long is it going to take me to read all this? Will I be able to do it in my lifetime? Just how healthy will I have to keep myself in order to live that long?

Goodness knows I’m trying hard enough to get through them all—I’ve generally got at least eight or ten books going at a time, but all that means is that it takes me longer to finish any given one of them. Should I start taking vacation days to devote to catching up with the books? Maybe I should cool it at the library and the bookstore for a while. But then there was that tantalizing new book review in yesterday’s newspaper . . .

I worry, sometimes, that my booksickness is just a manifestation of some of the worst sins that we Christians are warned against: greed, materialism, even gluttony of a sort. Any other possession piled up in the bedroom and the home office and the basement would surely signal some grave spiritual weakness, or, at the very least, the need to call the “Hoarders” people and turn myself in. It’s the same with books . . . isn’t it?

I dare to hope that it isn’t, despite the guilt I feel when the desire for just one more book tempts me past the limits of my book budget again, or when I find myself faced with yet more overdue fees at the library. Because to borrow or to buy a book is to obtain something that transcends a mere physical object (despite my love for books with beautiful covers). To read a book is to come in contact with another mind, to step outside myself, to learn and absorb and grow. Even an introvert like myself, when surrounded by books, may be in the midst of a crowd and be truly happy in it.

As usual, C.S. Lewis put it superbly. In An Experiment in Criticism, he wrote:

“Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realize the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors. We realize it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others.”

If to be unliterary is to be suffocated, then to buy or borrow another book is to obtain more air to breathe. Perhaps, after all, booksickness is a sign of true health. So when I rummage for storage space for just one more, I’m learning to quash the guilt and simply give thanks for the wisdom of this particular mind and heart that I’ve been close to for a little while. And when my oldest goddaughter, nearly twelve, writes me to gush about the latest book she’s read, and ask what I’m reading, I know a joy like no other. There are some sicknesses where contagion is the greatest thing that could possibly happen.

 

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

Gina Dalfonzo is author of One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church. She is also associate features editor at Christianity Today, and a columnist at Christ and Pop Culture. Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Christianity Today, First Things, The Weekly Standard, National Review, and elsewhere.

 

Caring With A Shepherd’s Heart

The Good Shepherd, Catacombs of Priscilla, Rome

Psalm 23

1  The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
3  He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5  Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

John 10:11–18

11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. 12 But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. 13 The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. 15 As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. 17 Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. 18 No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.

1 John 3:18–24

18 My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. 19 And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. 20 For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. 21 Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. 22 And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. 23 And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. 24 And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.


To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, Jesus isn’t safe, but He’s good. Like Aslan from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Jesus is King: He always affirms His sovereignty. Our modern impression of The Good Shepherd is undoubtedly correct in its understanding of Christ’s compassion, but we miss the mark when we think it means our Savior is somehow vacant of ferocity.

As Ken Kovacs writes in his book Out of the Depths:

The image of Yahweh as shepherd takes on flesh in Jesus who said, “I am the good shepherd.” He is more than a metaphor. He is the real thing. This is a very significant statement. Unfortunately, too often Jesus’ claim has been domesticated and made into something as docile as a well-behaved sheep. “Good” has been equated with “nice.” It’s sometimes (mis)understood as, “I am the nice shepherd.” But “good” doesn’t do justice to the text. It’s not that Jesus is a well-behaved shepherd who really knows how to do his job without offending anyone. The Greek word for “good” is agathos. In this text, John reads, kalos. Kalos means “noble.” Jesus is really saying, “I am the noble shepherd.” By “noble” Jesus is claiming for himself an identity and authority reserved for Yahweh. “Noble” refers to Jesus’ kingly rule over every other political and social authority. Jesus is being very intentional here. He is placing himself in that long line of shepherd-kings that began with David, who led his people with compassion and with power, with justice and with love. The Old Testament prophets promised that another shepherd-king would come, like David, who would lead the people with equity, justice, and peace. The shepherd is a metaphor of governance. By describing himself as the noble shepherd, Jesus is claiming for himself the very same symbol and image of Yahweh found through the Old Testament.

Is Jesus meek?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/

 

D I G  D E E P E R


 The Good Shepherd

The title of Christ based esp. on His discourse in Jn. 10:7–18 and the parable of the Good Shepherd in Lk. 15:3–7 (cf. Mt. 18:12–14). The theme, which rests partly upon OT imagery (esp. Is. 40:11 and Ezek. 34), is taken up later in the NT, e.g. in Heb. 13:20 and 1 Pet. 2:25 and 5:4. In early Christian art Christ was frequently represented (e.g. in the *catacombs) as the Good Shepherd with a lamb upon His shoulders. The Second Sunday after *Easter has sometimes been known as ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’, on account of the traditional Gospel for the day, which in the RC Church is now used in only one year out of three.

F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 694.

Yahweh as Shepherd

This pastoral image for Yahweh is not unrelated to other metaphors for governance, for a long tradition reckons human kings as shepherds of the flock—that is, the community (cf. Isa 44:28; Ezek 37:24). The image evokes a wise, caring, attentive agent who watches over, guards, feeds, and protects a flock that is vulnerable, exposed, dependent, and in need of such help.

The most important usages of the image of Yahweh as shepherd appear in the exile. The exile is said to be a time when the flock was “scattered”; that term is used regularly to refer to the exile. The work of the shepherd Yahweh is to gather the sheep in safety, often when they are exposed to serious danger. The imagery of the gathering shepherd is a powerful one:

He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
He will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep. (Isa 40:11)

He who scattered Israel will gather him,
and will keep him as a shepherd a flock. (Jer 31:10)

The fullest exposition of the theme is in Ezekiel 34. In that narrative, commenting on Israel’s past and future, the shepherd-kings of the Davidic dynasty are indicted for being irresponsible shepherds, who by their neglect caused the exile (vv. 3–6; Jer 23:1; 50:6). Yahweh’s response to the crisis of the flock in exile is twofold. Major attention is given to the rescue of the flock, which royal neglect has placed in great jeopardy. Yahweh will act as a proper and responsible shepherd in order to recover the flock:

I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited part of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice. (Ezek 34:13–16)

Yahweh will not only restore the flock. Yahweh will also attend in harshness to the “fat sheep” who abuse and exploit, who deny food to the “lean sheep,” and who trample the pasture (vv. 7–19).
In this assertion, the positive image of shepherd turns harsh and negative; the shepherd looks harshly on exploitative sheep, and distinguishes between strong, abusive sheep, and vulnerable, weak sheep. Thus the good shepherd attends especially to the most vulnerable sheep—in this case, needy exiles.

On the basis of this imagery, Israel appeals to Yahweh, “shepherd of Israel,” for help: “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock!” (Ps 80:1). On the basis of the same imagery, moreover, the most familiar Psalm 23 can be seen, not as an isolated poem, but as a full statement of a recurrent metaphor for Yahweh. In Psalm 23 Yahweh the shepherd is the subject of a series of life-giving verbs: lead, restore, be with, prepare, anoint. Yahweh does everything that must be done so that the trusting sheep may live; Yahweh provides what they cannot secure for themselves.

In the use of this metaphor, Israel also provides texts that speak not only about the shepherd, but also about the sheep. Thus Israel, as the flock of Yahweh, lives in glad trust of the shepherd:

For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand. (Ps 95:7)

Know that the Lord is God.
It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. (Ps 100:3; cf. Ps 79:13)

These psalms echo the confidence of Psalm 23. But Israel’s honest testimony also recognizes the jeopardy of the flock. Sometimes the trouble is the fault of Yahweh, who has been inattentive and neglectful (Pss 44:11, 22; 74:1); but sometimes the sheep have gone astray (Isa 53:6). Thus the imagery holds potential for a rich variety of reflections and affirmations concerning Israel’s proper relation to Yahweh, Yahweh’s inclination toward Israel, and the right ordering of the communal life of Israel.

This imagery functions in dramatic ways in the New Testament. Jesus is the good shepherd who “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3). Jesus comes upon a great crowd who were “like sheep without a shepherd,” for whom he has compassion (Mark 6:34). And clearly the parable in Luke 15:3–7 is freighted enough to make a statement about Jesus, surely enough to witness to the Shepherd whom Israel has long confessed and long trusted.

Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005), 259–261.

ART: The Roman Catacombs see https://literarylife.org/2017/07/03/paintings-in-the-roman-catacombs/

 

What Is God Dreaming Through You?

Out Of The Depths
Ken Kovacs

The one who dreams through us is God—this is a bold claim, I know, but the text leads us to such conclusions. My own experience backs it up. Jacob didn’t have to ask for help; it just came. It was gift—sheer grace. He didn’t have a dream, the dream had him; it was given to him. And the dream spoke so clearly to his situation—telling him that his life is worthy of God’s divine protection and promise—“I am with you and I will guard you wherever you go.” The dream grants a future, grants him a telos. He didn’t have to worry about his future. When Jacob realized this, it provided him with the assurance he needed to fulfill the meaning and purpose of his life.

Genesis 28:10–19

Now Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran. So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep. Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the Lord stood above it and said: “I am the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!” Then Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put at his head, set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on top of it. And he called the name of that place Bethel; but the name of that city had been Luz previously.” 


Is your life abundant? According to Henry David Thoreau, probably not.  In his masterwork Walden he said “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”  He might be correct, but that’s not the final verdict. In the Gospel of John, Jesus said “I came that you might have life and have it abundantly.”  He also said “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”  If all of that is true, then why don’t most people draw near to Him?

In his book Out of the Depths, Ken Kovacs said:

I think the knowledge and possibility of the “too much” overwhelms us and scares us, which is why we’re reluctant to go there, and why it’s easier to live on the surface with a superficial faith or why the Church gets sidetracked in soul-crushing debates or why we simply say to God, “Go away.” Perhaps we know that the more we acknowledge what’s within, when we become aware of our capacity, when we listen to the divine summons in the depths, the greater the responsibility. We’re conflicted, aren’t we? We might pray, “Be present in my life, God.” But we also hope, “But not too much.”

So yes, we are conflicted.  C.S. Lewis said it this way:

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Ken Kovacs writes

There is so much more going on around us than we can imagine. There is so much more going on within us than we know. Our world is connected to another world, and that other world, so very close, as close as our dreams, is the source of life and grants meaning to our lives. What matters most in the life of faith is making that connection. The closing words at the end of E. M. Forster’s (1879-1970), Howard’s End, says it all: “Only connect.” Only connect. What matters most is the connection, the fluid movement between heaven and earth, up and down on that ramp. I think van der Post gets to the heart of what Jacob discovered in his dream: “No matter how abandoned and without help either in themselves or the world about them, men [and women] are never alone because that which, acknowledged or unacknowledged, dreams through them is always by their side.” By their side. And I would add, as I have learned, the one who dreams through us is also on our side. On our side.

 

 

 

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Rick Wilcox is Editor in Chief

Love’s As Warm As Tears by C.S. Lewis

Love Among the Ruins by Edward Burne-Jones, 1894

Love’s as warm as tears,
Love is tears:
Pressure within the brain,
Tension at the throat,
Deluge, weeks of rain,
Haystacks afloat,
Featureless seas between
Hedges, where once was green.

Love’s as fierce as fire,
Love is fire:
All sorts ‒ Infernal heat  
 Clinkered with greed and pride,  
 Lyric desire, sharp-sweet,  
 Laughing, even when denied,  
 And that empyreal flame  
 Whence all loves came.
Love’s as fresh as spring,
Love is spring:
Bird-song in the air,
Cool smells in a wood,
Whispering ‘Dare! Dare!’
To sap, to blood,
Telling ‘Ease, safety, rest,
Are good; not best.’

Love’s as hard as nails,
Love is nails:
Blunt, thick, hammered through
The medial nerves of One
Who, having made us, knew
The thing He had done,
Seeing (with all that is)
Our cross, and His.

Hear Malcolm Guite Read Today’s Poem

1 Corinthians 6:19–20

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.


In today’s poem, C.S. Lewis draws the fine connection between human and divine love, taking us deftly to a point of reason’s departure.  There is much we understand of love for we are born with its innate capacity to give and receive.  We quickly recognize its power but the deeper we experience it, the more we are humbled by its inscrutable mystery.

We find love’s ultimate expression at Calvary.  As Malcolm Guite writes in The Word in the Wilderness:

The short sharp sounds of ‘blunt, thick, hammered’ and the wrenching medical accuracy of ‘medial nerves’ all keep the crucifixion visceral and incarnate, and yet through that Lewis moves to a profound theology of both creation and atonement, simply and beautifully expressed; that from the beginning of Creation God had foreseen the sorrow our misused freedom might bring, and chosen, from the beginning and in that knowledge, to share with us the consequences of our own mistakes that he might redeem us from them.

What does it mean to be redeemed?

Join the discussion on Facebook HERE 

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

Malcolm Guite
Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings.  For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page. You can read more about him on this Interviews Page

He is the author of numerous books including

Parable and Paradox: Sonnets on the Sayings of Jesus and Other Poems Canterbury Press 2016

Waiting on the Word; a poem a day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany Canterbury Press 2015

The Singing Bowl Canterbury Press 2013

Sounding the Seasons Canterbury Press 2012

Faith Hope and Poetry  Ashgate  2010 and 2012.

What Do Christians Believe?  Granta 2006

Photo courtesy of Lancia Smith.

 

D I G  D E E P E R


C.S. Lewis

(1893–1963), scholar and Christian apologist. Born in Belfast, he was educated mainly privately until he entered University College, Oxford, in 1917. He was Tutor and Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, from 1925 to 1954, when he was appointed Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature in the University of Cambridge. His critical works include The Allegory of Love (1936), A Preface to Paradise Lost (1942), and English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (vol. 3 of the Oxford History of English Literature, 1954). At Magdalen Lewis underwent a gradual conversion experience described in his spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy (pub. 1955). He became widely known as a Christian apologist through a series of broadcast talks given between 1941 and 1944 and later published in book form, and through a number of other popular religious works which had a very wide circulation; these included The Problem of Pain (1940), The Screwtape Letters (1942; ostensibly from a senior devil to his nephew, a junior devil), and Miracles (1947). His clarity, wit, and skill as a communicator meant that he, like D. L. *Sayers and Charles *Williams, carried considerable weight; many Christians had their faith confirmed and a number of agnostics were brought closer to the Christian faith through reading his works. Lewis also published three science fiction novels with a strong Christian flavour: Out of the Silent Planet (1938), Perelandra (1943), and That Hideous Strength (1945). A series of seven ‘Narnia’ stories for children began in 1950 with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In 1956 he married Joy Gresham (née Davidman); A Grief Observed (originally pub. under a pseudonym in 1961) is a profound treatment of bereavement written after her death. A group of his friends, including Charles Williams, was known as ‘The Inklings’; they met regularly for many years in his rooms to talk and read aloud their works.

F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 981.

Meeting Virgil: ‘There Is Another Road’ by Dante

dante-and-virgil-in-hell.jpg!LargeAs I went, ruined, rushing to that low,
there had, before my eyes, been offered one
who seemed -long silent- to be faint and dry.

Seeing him near in that great wilderness,
to him I screamed my ‘miserere’: ‘Save me,
whatever – shadow or truly man – you be.’

His answer came to me: ‘No man; a man
I was in times long gone. Of Lombard stock,
my parents both by patria and Mantuan.

And I was born, though late, sub Iulio.
I lived at Rome in good Augustus’ day,
in times when all the gods were lying cheats.

I was a poet then. I sang in praise
of all the virtues of Anchises’ son. From Troy
he came ‒ proud Ilion razed in flame.

But you turn back. Why seek such grief and harm?
Why climb no higher up at lovely hill?
The cause and origin of joy shines there.’

‘So, could it be’, I answered him, (my brow,
in shy respect bent low), ‘you are that Virgil,
whose words flow wide, a river running full?

You are the light and glory of all poets.
May this serve me: my ceaseless care, the love
so great, that made me search your writings through!

You are my teacher. You, my lord and law.
From you alone I took the fine-tuned style
that has, already, brought me so much honour.

See you there? That beast! I turned because of that.
Help me ‒ your wisdom’s known ‒ escape from her.
To every pulsing vein, she brings the tremor.

Seeing my tears, he answered me: ‘There is
another road. And that, if you intend
to quit this wilderness, you’re bound to take.’

(The Divine Comedy, I Inferno, lines 61−93)

Hear Malcolm Guite read today’s poem


René Descartes said “The reading of all good books is like conversation with the finest men of past centuries.”  Here, at the beginning of his quest, Dante envisions an accompanied journey with the Roman poet Virgil, to whom he says “You are my teacher.  You, my lord and law, from you alone I took the fine-tuned style that has, already, brought me so much honour.”  Let the lesson begin.

Dante was cheered by the poet’s presence, but Virgil’s message to him was corrective, not affirming: He was on the wrong road.  As Malcom Guite points out in his book The Word in the Wilderness, this is what great literature is for.  He writes:

Dante’s first encounter with Virgil is justly famous and readers of C. S. Lewis’s ‘The Great Divorce’ will recognize how closely his own encounter with George Macdonald, of whom Lewis could also say: ‘You are my teacher. You my lord and law’, is modelled on this passage. But all of us, probably have one particular writer of whom we could say ‘you are the one who has most found, most helped, most guided me’, For some it has been C. S. Lewis, for me it has been two very different poetic companions, one of them Dante and the other S. T. Coleridge. If you have such an author in your life, then doubtless you have fantasized about meeting them and telling them how you felt, even if they lived in another age and wrote in another language. Dante realizes that fantasy and models it for us here.

We begin today a study within a study.  This week we look to Dante’s poetry with a student’s eye.  As Malcom wrote of great literature:

It’s not an exclusive cultural acquisition, a badge of educated status, or something on which academics can hang their displays of erudition, it is there, in the words of Sidney’s Defence of poetry, ‘to delight and instruct’. First and foremost it delights, as I hope all the poetry in this anthology will do, and then it leads to truth, teaches us something worth knowing. It seems to me that both of these simple aims have been lost sight of in our age. Here is a chance to restore them.

Which great author would you choose as a journey’s companion?

Psalm 1

Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper. The ungodly are not so, But are like the chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the ungodly shall perish.

 

Dig Deeper: Art, Literature & Liturgy

Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), Italian poet and philosopher. Little is known of his early life except that he was born in Florence, lost his parents before he was 18, was betrothed at the age of 12 and married in 1293. In 1274 he first met his Beatrice (prob. Bice Portinari, the daughter of a Florentine citizen and wife of Simone dei Bardi), and he became her poet nine years later. Her death in 1290 led to a crisis, resolved by writing the Vita nuova (prob. in 1292, possibly later) in which he promised her a poem ‘such as had been written for no lady before’, a promise fulfilled in the *Divina Commedia. He then turned to the study of philosophy, prob. under the *Dominicans at Florence, and wrote a series of allegorical Canzoni or odes on the Lady Philosophy and literal ones on Courtesy, Nobility, Liberality, and Justice. In 1294 he entered politics but, having supported the opponents of Pope *Boniface VIII, he was exiled from Florence in 1301 and travelled widely in Italy. He returned to the study of philosophy and wrote the incomplete De Vulgari Eloquentia in Latin and began the Convivio (Banquet), which was designed to comment freely on his earlier philosophical Canzoni. In the course of the fourth book he became aware of the significance of the Roman Empire; the appearance of the Emp. Henry VII in Italy at the same time (1310) converted Dante into an ardent supporter of the Emperor, for whom he wrote in Latin the treatise De Monarchia (1312–14?). This work, which was condemned as heretical (*Averroist) in 1329, argued the need for a universal monarchy to achieve the temporal happiness of mankind and the independence of the Empire from the Pope and the Church, which should abandon all temporal authority and possessions and concentrate on happiness in the world to come. Dante’s political prospects were shattered by the death of Henry VII in 1313, and in 1315 his native city of Florence renewed its sentence against him. He spent some years at *Verona and from c. 1316 lived at *Ravenna, where he died. The last period of his life was devoted to the completion of the Divina Commedia (q.v.), which established him as one of the few poets who belong to all times and all nations.

 
F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 453.

Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite
Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings.  For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page

Photo courtesy Lancia E. Smith

 

51vg-xoskvl-_sy346_For every day from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Day, the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it.

Lent is a time to reorient ourselves, clarify our minds, slow down, recover from distraction and focus on the values of God’s kingdom. Poetry, with its power to awaken the mind, is an ideal companion for such a time. This collection enables us to turn aside from everyday routine and experience moments of transfigured vision as we journey through the desert landscape of Lent and find refreshment along the way.
Following each poem with a helpful prose reflection, Malcolm Guite has selected from classical and contemporary poets, from Dante, John Donne and George Herbert to Seamus Heaney, Rowan Williams and Gillian Clarke, and his own acclaimed poetry.

Art: Dante and Virgil in Hell by Jean-Leon Gerome (1824-1904)

Satire III by John Donne

the-victory-of-eucharistic-truth-over-heresy

… though truth and falsehood be
Near twins, yet truth a little elder is;
Be busy to seek her; believe me this,
He’s not of none, nor worst, that seeks the best.
To adore, or scorn an image, or protest,
May all be bad; doubt wisely; in strange way
To stand inquiring right, is not to stray;
To sleep, or run wrong, is. On a huge hill,
Cragged and steep, Truth stands, and he that will
Reach her, about must and about must go,
And what the hill’s suddenness resists, win so.
Yet strive so that before age, death’s twilight,
Thy soul rest, for none can work in that night.
To will implies delay, therefore now do;
Hard deeds, the body’s pains; hard knowledge too
The mind’s endeavours reach, and mysteries
Are like the sun, dazzling, yet plain to all eyes.

Hear the poem read by Malcolm Guite


Truth is never threatened by investigation.  Lean hard on her and she will not topple.  Shine light on her and her purity becomes more evident.  In an age of saturated fake news, our hearts despair and tilt toward cynicism, but our longing for Truth persists.

Hugh Brown described our quest in the form of a hopeful prayer:

From the cowardice that shrinks from new truth,
from the laziness that is content with half truth,
from the arrogance that thinks it has all truth
O God of truth deliver us.

In today’s poem by John Donne, we join the poet in his quest.  We also find great encouragement to know that God welcomes the doubts of an honest seeker.  As Malcom Guite writes in The Word in the Wilderness:

The Church would do well to learn from this. The serious doubter, the sincere enquirer, the person who hesitates a long time on a threshold, these are all people to be honoured and encouraged, not, as is so often the case, either demonized or cajoled.

How has your personal quest for Truth led you to new discoveries?

IMG_0181John 9:4

I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work.

 

 

D I G  D E E P E R


John Donne

John Donne
John Donne

(1571/2–1631), Metaphysical poet and Dean of St Paul’s. He was a member of a RC family, his mother being the sister of the Jesuit missionary priest Jasper Heywood, and a granddaughter of a sister of Sir Thomas More. He entered Hart Hall, Oxford, in 1584 and possibly studied after this at Cambridge, or perhaps abroad. He entered Thavies Inn in 1591 and transferred to Lincoln’s Inn in 1592. During this period he was much exercised over the problem of his religious allegiance and for a time, according to I. *Walton, ‘betrothed himself to no Religion that might give him any other denomination than a Christian’. By 1598 he had certainly conformed to the Church of England. In 1596 he accompanied Essex and Raleigh to Cadiz and in 1597 to the Azores; and in 1598 became private secretary to the Lord Keeper, Sir Thomas Egerton, a post from which he was dismissed four years later owing to his secret marriage to Ann More, his master’s wife’s niece, in 1601. During the next years he and his growing family lived in poverty and dependence on the charity of friends. Around this period he composed but did not publish Biathanatos, a casuistic discussion and defence of suicide. He found employment in controversial writing and in 1610 wrote the Pseudo-Martyr to persuade Catholics that they might take the Oath of Allegiance. In the next year he wrote a witty satire on the Jesuits, Ignatius his Conclave. After repeated failures to find secular employment he at last complied with the wish of the King and was ordained in 1615. The reason he himself gave for delay was scruple at accepting orders as a means of making a living. In 1621 he became Dean of St Paul’s, where he preached on all great festivals. He was also a regular preacher at court and a favourite with both James and Charles. During a serious illness in 1623 he wrote his Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1624), and the famous ‘Hymn to God the Father’. He died in 1631 and was buried in St Paul’s. His monument, showing him standing in his shroud, survived the Great Fire.

F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 503–504.

Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite
Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings.  For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page

Photo courtesy Lancia E. Smith

 

51vg-xoskvl-_sy346_For every day from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Day, the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it.

Lent is a time to reorient ourselves, clarify our minds, slow down, recover from distraction and focus on the values of God’s kingdom. Poetry, with its power to awaken the mind, is an ideal companion for such a time. This collection enables us to turn aside from everyday routine and experience moments of transfigured vision as we journey through the desert landscape of Lent and find refreshment along the way.
Following each poem with a helpful prose reflection, Malcolm Guite has selected from classical and contemporary poets, from Dante, John Donne and George Herbert to Seamus Heaney, Rowan Williams and Gillian Clarke, and his own acclaimed poetry.
ART: The Victory of Eucharistic Truth over Heresy by Peter Paul Rubens
c.1626
Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain

Stones Into Bread by Malcolm Guite

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Jesus_Tempted_in_the_Wilderness_(Jésus_tenté_dans_le_désert)_-_James_Tissot_-_overall

The Fountain thirsts, the Bread is hungry here,
The Light is dark, the Word without a voice.
When darkness speaks it seems so light and clear.
Now he must dare, with us, to make a choice.
In a distended belly’s cruel curve
He feels the famine of the ones who lose,
He starves for those whom we have forced to starve,
He chooses now for those who cannot choose.
He is the staff and sustenance of life,
He lives for all from one sustaining Word,
His love still breaks and pierces like a knife
The stony ground of hearts that never shared.
God gives through him what Satan never could;
The broken bread that is our only food.

Malcolm Guite reads today’s poem


For the next three days we will examine the temptations of Christ in the wilderness, beginning with the first; to satiate His hunger by turning stones into bread.  Each temptation represented a corruption of that which God originated with the highest good in design.

In The Word in the Wilderness, Malcolm Guite writes:

We are tempted to serve first our own creature comforts, to tend to our obsessions and addictions before we have even considered the needs of others.

Jesus’ reply to Satan is instructive: ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’  Selfish motives never satisfy the soul.

Again, Malcolm writes:

All good things come from God, and those things that the devil pretends to offer, but in the wrong way or for the wrong reasons, are cheap imitations of the very gifts that God does indeed offer and that Jesus himself receives, enjoys and, crucially, shares. He refuses to turn stones into bread for himself at the devil’s behest, but later, in that same wilderness, he takes bread, gives thanks, breaks it, and feeds 5,000 with all they want, and 12 full baskets are left over! This was the substantial good from God, in light of which, and to gain which, it was necessary to refuse the shadowy substitute.

If yielding to lust doesn’t satisfy, why are we so easily tempted?

IMG_01811 John 2:16

For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.


 

Dig Deeper

Art: Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness, by ‎Artist: James Tissot

‎Date: 1886-1894
‎Image from Wikimedia Commons. License: Public Domain
‎Mt 4:11, Mk 1:13, Lk 4:1–2

Literature & Liturgy: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

auction-lionEverything that the White Witch pretends she can give the children is a stolen and corrupted version of something that Aslan fully intends them to have in its true substance. She pretends that she will share the throne of Narnia with Edmund and then leave it to him, yet the whole story is about how Aslan will truly and substantially crown all four children kings and queens of Narnia. And this holds true in the smaller things too, even down to this matter of personal appetite. If Edmund had turned down the Witch’s Turkish delight, he would have come sooner to Aslan’s feast!
 

Guite, Malcolm. Word in the Wilderness. Hymns Ancient & Modern Ltd.

Malcolm Guite
Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings.  For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page

Photo courtesy Lancia E. Smith

 

51vg-xoskvl-_sy346_For every day from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Day, the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it.

Lent is a time to reorient ourselves, clarify our minds, slow down, recover from distraction and focus on the values of God’s kingdom. Poetry, with its power to awaken the mind, is an ideal companion for such a time. This collection enables us to turn aside from everyday routine and experience moments of transfigured vision as we journey through the desert landscape of Lent and find refreshment along the way.
Following each poem with a helpful prose reflection, Malcolm Guite has selected from classical and contemporary poets, from Dante, John Donne and George Herbert to Seamus Heaney, Rowan Williams and Gillian Clarke, and his own acclaimed poetry.

 

Longing

18740379_1632128180160159_1003481258552073526_nGRACE
On the Memorial Service to C.S Lewis
Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey, 22 November 2013
Holly Ordway

Noon-tide on Saint Cecilia’s day, and here
In England’s royal church, I sit and watch
The winter sunlight streaming in, gold, clear,
Silent, pure, almost solid to the touch.
Nor is it fairy-gold; it does not fade.
For though that glorious beam of autumn light
Sank down to dusk, to darkness, died that day,
In living memory it still shines bright.
Within that golden light, the choir sings –
The notes resound in blood and bone, as if
I breathed the music in like air; it brings
Me to the point of tears, this time-bound gift
So unexpected, undeserved: a grace
To hold with joy through all my dying days.


In his Confessions, St. Augustine wrote “Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.” We all understand the restless heart. In younger days, we dreamt of adventure and pursued visions which were compelling if not clear. The so-called midlife crisis is often a season of disappointment when the evaluation of one’s life falls short of its earlier aspirations. The imago Dei – the image of God in which we are created longs for the eternal, and we finally find our footing on that fulfilling path when we turn and return to our Creator. His calling is specific and He knows us by name.

In her book,  Apologetics and the Christian Imagination, Holly Ordway wrote:

In the previous chapter, we considered the problem of suffering and noted that we recognize evil precisely be- cause we have a deep underlying sense of what goodness is. No matter how pervasive or inescapable suffering is, we somehow recognize that it does not, or should not, have the last word. This ‘problem of good’ opens up the possi- bility of our intuitions and desires pointing us toward the truth. The value of building on our deep-seated longing for the good and the beautiful is so great that it is worth taking the time to develop a well-rounded imaginative apologetics approach to it.

We do not merely prefer what is good, beautiful, and meaningful if we can get it. We deeply desire and are al- ways restlessly searching for it, even if we aren’t quite sure exactly what we seek or where we can find it. Although it is possible (and unfortunately all too common) to have one’s longings for goodness, beauty, and meaning dulled and misdirected, it is part of our common human nature to experience longing for something more than what we experience in the here-and-now. C. S. Lewis called it “Sehnsucht” and observed that it could not be identified with any particular experience or pleasure, but was something beyond all of those. This longing can be felt in personal terms—as a desire for meaning and beauty in one’s own life—and also as a profound desire for justice, peace, reconciliation, and love in one’s society, over against the daily injustices, conflict, hatred, and instability that we see in the news and in our own families and neighborhoods.

 

 

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John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

Meet The Author


Holly Ordway

Ordway author photo

Dr Holly Ordway is Professor of English and faculty in the M.A. in Apologetics at Houston Baptist University; she holds a PhD in English from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

She is the author of Apologetics and the Christian Imagination: An Integrated Approach to Defending the Faith (Emmaus Road, 2017) and Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms (Ignatius, 2014), and she has contributed chapters to C.S. Lewis at Poets’ Corner (edited by Michael Ward and Peter S. Williams), C.S. Lewis’s List: The Ten Books that Influenced Him Most (edited by David Werther) among other volumes; she is also a published poet, with poems in Word in the Wilderness and Love, Remember (edited by Malcolm Guite).

Her academic work focuses on the writings of the Inklings, especially C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Her current book project is Tolkien’s Modern Sources: Middle-earth Beyond the Middle Ages (forthcoming from Kent State University Press, 2019).

She lives in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and travels regularly to speak on Tolkien, Lewis, and imaginative apologetics.

Dig Deeper at HollyOrdway.com and buy the book HERE.

Photo of Holly Ordway by Lancia E Smith

What Is A Good Man?

theological-virtues-1507
Theological Virtues by Raphael 1507

 THE WEIGHT OF GLORY
C.S. Lewis

“If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, Love – You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance.

The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point.”

Philippians 2:5-8

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.


RickWhen a man dies, many things are said about him.  The sayings tend to sum-up his life, but the crowning comment of all is always “He was a good man.”  Well what does that mean?  In one way or another, it means he was virtuous. Virtue has been defined many ways over the ages, but it’s important to understand one main thing –

Virtue is about action.

A man’s thoughts and feelings are sometimes noble but his life is defined by his deeds.  Jesus said the sum of our life will be whether we loved God without reservation and whether we loved our neighbor as ourselves.  If our aim is to glorify God, our method is to become more and more Christ-like through the power of the Holy Spirit.  In his masterwork Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas wrote

“God Himself is the rule and mode of virtue. Our faith is measured by divine truth, our hope by the greatness of His power and faithful affection, our charity by His goodness. His truth, power and goodness outreach any measure of reason.”

Love is the source of every real virtue.  As C.S. Lewis said, it’s more than unselfishness because unselfishness is about how good I am.  Love is about emptying the self for the good of another.

Join the discussion on Facebook HERE 

Logo

John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Theological Virtues by Raphael 1507

Three plates representing the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. Set of three engravings from small grisaille paintings by Raphael. These paintings were made in 1507 and formed the predella (lower section) of an altarpiece by Raphael for the Baglione family in Perugia, the central panel of which showed the Deposition of Christ (Rome, Galleria Borghese). The three predella sections are now in the Vatican Gallery.

Virtue

This English term, meaning “moral excellence,” is rarely used in modern Bible versions, but it occurs in the KJV as the rendering of Greek aretē  (Phil. 4:8; 2 Pet. 1:3, 5; the KJV uses it also to translate dynamis, “power,” referring to Jesus’ miraculous ability in Mk. 5:30; Lk. 6:19; 8:46). In a few OT passages, the KJV uses “virtuous woman” to render the Hebrew phrase ʾēšet-ḥayil, which literally means “woman of power” and indicates competence or noble character (Ruth 3:11; Prov. 12:4; 31:10; cf. 31:29, “virtuously”).

Among Greek moralistic writers, especially the STOICS, the term aretē was used very frequently to indicate the highest good, the social uprightness that evokes recognition, merit, and honor. Both PAUL and PETER employ this term in lists of positive moral traits (Phil. 4:8 and 2 Pet. 1:5; the focus is different in 1 Pet. 2:9 [a pl. translated “praises” by the NIV and “mighty acts” by the NRSV] and 2 Pet. 1:3 [referring to God and usually translated “goodness,” but possibly meaning “power”]). Some scholars argue that the word in these lists must convey the meaning it has in Greco-Roman writings, especially in the numerous catalogs of positive and negative traits of behavior referred to as “virtue-vice lists” (cf. ABD, 6:857–59). Undoubtedly, the language used by the apostles reflects the world in which they lived, but given the Christian context, it is difficult to believe that they were merely asking their readers to conduct themselves like well-behaved Greeks. The word rather signifies the moral excellence distinctive of those who have been cleansed from their sins: it builds on faith and generates godliness and love (2 Pet. 1:5–9; cf. also the detailed discussion in P. T. O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC [1991], 499–507).

Bibliography

Moisés Silva and Merrill Chapin Tenney, The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, Q-Z (Grand Rapids, MI: The Zondervan Corporation, 2009), 1032–1033.

 

Battling The Devil

761px-the_torment_of_saint_anthony_michelangelo

A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is… A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.

C.S. Lewis, from Mere Christianity


It has never been easy to be a teenager.  Crossing the border from childhood to adulthood comes with an assortment of demons and when you are thirteen year old Michelangelo, the experience comes out in paint. That’s right, he was thirteen when he painted The Torment of Saint Anthony.

The church celebrates Saint Anthony today (January 17) and his life was instructive.  He inherited wealth from his parents at age twenty but gave it all away to live in simplicity and solitude, devoting himself to contemplation and prayer.  He is known for being the father of monasticism and for his ability to battle the devil against temptations of every stripe.

The Christian’s goal is to become more Christ-like everyday.  This is called sanctification and it has never been easy.  We live in a broken world in which sin and its consequence is all around us.  Thank God, the strength of the Christian  is with the Holy Spirit who stands ready to guide and empower our every step.  Jesus said “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

IMG_0181

Ephesians 6:12

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Dig Deeper

Art: The Torment of Saint Anthony by Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564)

Kimbell Art Museum 
https://www.kimbellart.org/collection-object/torment-saint-anthony

This is the first known painting by Michelangelo, described by his earliest biographers and believed to have been painted when he was twelve or thirteen years old. Although Michelangelo considered himself first and foremost a sculptor, he received his early training as a painter, in the workshop of Domenico Ghirlandaio (c. 1449–1494), a leading master in Florence. Michelangelo’s earliest biographers, Giorgio Vasari and Ascanio Condivi, tell us that, aside from some drawings, his first work was a painted copy of the engraving Saint Anthony Tormented by Demons by the fifteenth-century German master Martin Schongauer. The rare subject is found in the life of Saint Anthony the Great, written by Athanasius of Alexandria in the fourth century, which describes how the Egyptian hermit-saint had a vision that he levitated into the air and was attacked by demons, whose torments he withstood. Created when he was informally associated with Ghirlandaio’s workshop and under the guidance of an older friend, the artist Francesco Granacci, Michelangelo’s painting earned him widespread recognition. Writing when Michelangelo was still alive, both Vasari and Condivi recounted that to give the demonic creatures veracity, he studied the colorful scales and other parts of specimens from the fish market. Michelangelo subtly revised Schongauer’s composition, making it more compact and giving the monsters more animal-like features, notably adding fish scales to one of them. He also included a landscape that resembles the Arno River Valley around Florence. The work is one of only four easel paintings generally regarded as having come from his hand and the first painting by Michelangelo to enter an American collection.

Literature and Liturgy: Saint Anthony

Anthony was born in Comus, Upper Egypt, in about 250. As a young man, he was much given to prayer, and one day—hearing the Gospel passage, “If you seek perfection, go sell your possessions, and give to the poor. You will then have treasure in heaven” (Matt. 19:21) read in church—he immediately resolved to give away all that he had and to live as an ascetic. He found (269) a solitary place for himself near his village, and there spent his time in prayer, penance, and manual labor. About 285, he left for the Egyptian desert, where he lived as a hermit. In due time, stories began to spread about his holiness, his battles with the devil, and his miracles. The consequence was that other solitaries came to seek his advice, and eventually they built hermitages near his. Because Anthony now had disciples and became their spiritual guide, he formed (305) them into an organized group and led them along the way of perfection and holiness. But Anthony was made for the solitary life, and after about five years with his monks, he returned (310) to the Egyptian desert (between the Nile and the Red Sea), and there he received visitors and engaged in spiritual conversations. He is said to have twice visited Alexandria to preach against the Arians. He died at his desert hermitage in 356, at about the age of 105 years.

In the year following his death, St. Athanasius (see May 2) wrote his biography, Life of Anthony, in which Anthony is portrayed as the ideal monk and the “father” of Christian monasticism. This book had immense influence in the early Christian world, and it has always been valued as a spiritual classic. Since the fifth century, St. Anthony’s feast has been celebrated on January 17, as the date of his death.

Bibliography

Five key primary source documents for the desert fathers are these:
(1) Athanasius’s Life of Antony,
(2) The History of the Monks of Egypt (a.k.a, Historia Monachorum en Aegypto),
(3) The Sayings of the Desert Fathers,
(4) Cyril of Scythopolis’s The Lives of the Monks of Palestine, and
(5) John Cassian’s Conferences.

You’ll find portions of (2) and (3), as well as other ancient histories, in

Helen Waddell’s The Desert Fathers (Vintage, 1998);

Owen Chadwick’s, Western Asceticism (Westminster, 1958) contains translations of (3) and (5).

Benedicta Ward’s The Lives of the Desert Fathers (Cistercian, 1980) is a full translation of (2) and R. M. Price’s Cyril of Scythopolis:

The Lives of the Monks of Palestine (Cistercian, 1991) is what it says it is, as is Robert C. Gregg’s translation of Athanasius: The Life of Antony (Paulist, 1980).

In addition, you can find older translations of these documents on the Internet. The Christian Classics Ethereal Library (www.ccel.org) has Cassian’s Conferences (www.ccel.org/fathers/NPNF2–11/jcassian/conferen/), and The Ecole Initiative (www2.evansville.edu/ecoleweb/) has the Life of Antony, as well as many other minor works (e.g., lives of Paul of Thebes or Mary of Egypt).

Probably the most significant single work on the desert fathers has been an essay by Princeton historian Peter Brown: “The Rise and Function of the Holy Man in Late Antiquity.” He argues that these men were key figures in the transition from pagan antiquity to the Christian Middle Ages. The essay is reprinted in his Society and the Holy in Late Antiquity (University of California, 1982), and a revised assessment can be found in Authority and the Sacred (Cambridge, 1995).

Also see Christian History Magazine-Issue 64: Anthony & the Desert Fathers: Extreme Faith (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 1999).

A Blessing In The Pocket Rots by Susie Duffy Buehler

I met an angel this weekend. It’s quite a story. It started with an ad on Craigslist: “Very comfortable old chair. Fabric is worn but has no rips or tears. Heavy, solid, well-made wingback. Free for pick up. Location near Central Market.” Within a half hour I had a text, “Hello. Saw ur CL and would like to get the chair. Available anytime.” I replied back “Hello there. Can you pick it up tomorrow?” Reply was “Yes. Or right now. Either one.” Since this was midnight on Friday I suggested 10:00 the next morning, and she replied “10 is perfect. See u then. I’m Bobbi by the way.” I explained the chair was a little too heavy for me, and on the second floor, and she might need to bring someone to help, and she replied, “My husband is just going to love being my surprise helper 🙂.”

At 9:30 I texted to confirm the pick-up and she said her husband was coming without her but he had a dolly. At 10:00 I opened the door to a well-dressed, sophisticated young man who held out his hands and said, “I don’t know if it’s your style but my wife makes leather purses so we wanted you to have one to thank you for the chair. I’m Bob by the way.” Touched by the purse gesture, and tickled by him and his wife having a common name, I thanked him and led him to the chair. He stopped to study it. “This is really beautiful, are you sure you don’t want it?” I explained I’d had it for 25 years, always meaning to recover it, had never gotten around to it, and it was time to let it go. He said he and his wife restore things really just for the enjoyment of doing it. “Tell you what, I’ll send you pictures after we restore it and if you want it back we’ll give it to you for free.” Surprised, I told him if I liked what they do to it I’d happily buy it back from them. He said, “No, my wife and I are incredibly blessed. We’d give it back for free. A blessing in the pocket rots.”

A blessing in the pocket rots. “Like fruit” he said.

He started to load the chair on the dolly and I commented on what I thought were carpal tunnel braces on his arms. “No” he said, “My wife and I caught an autoimmune disease while traveling the world. We’re disabled. We received a financial settlement which allows us to do the things that are important to us. The disease is terminal. We’re focused now on only those things that create joy.” As the conversation progressed he shared that they were in fact leaving Austin next weekend, their home all their lives, to retire to a very small town in the Pacific northwest. They both like grey cloudy weather so they had googled “dreariest place in America”, found and visited the dreariest small town, bought a house for $40,000 cash, and were planning to live out their lives as they wanted, whatever time they had left, without interference. “We’re moving from one heaven to another” he said.

He mentioned he’d prayed for patience, and God responded by sending him a lot of irritating people so that he’d learn patience. I told him I was at one time pretty satisfied with my life and had prayed for humility and God responded by sending me several humiliating experiences until I prayed “I got it, thanks”. “He’s a really good parent” Bob said.

He loaded the chair into his car and I asked if he meant Austin and the new dreary town when he said one heaven to another. “Yes” he replied. “We are so blessed; our regrets are so small.” By now I’m overwhelmed and tell him I’d like to hug him, and he lets me. It was such a blessing to meet him.

Chair secured, he held out his hand to shake mine and said, “I’ll see you in Heaven” and drove off. I know he meant Heaven on the other side. Not just Austin or the new town.

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

 

 


Susie Duffy Buehler is an Austin based writer regularly seeking to see people through God’s eyes. Sometimes the challenge is harder than others but there is no shortage of practice opportunities.

The Incarnation

ON DAILY MASS
Holly Ordway

Sunlight gilds the pine boughs at my window,
Each needle haloed, dark against the light,
As if this evanescent brightness shows
The good this day may hold. The time is tight,
To catch my breath before the press of all
I have to do; the minutes slip away,
The fading sunlight moves along the wall
And I have done so little yet this day.
But still I turn aside, set down my pen,
And heed the deeper call that bids me here.
Agnus Dei, dona nobis pacem.
Time out of time: eternity comes near,
And in the hour I thought I could not spare,
I kneel, and, halting, ask the saints for prayer.


The Apostle John opens his gospel with a description of Jesus as “the Word.”  This was especially meaningful to his original readers who understood the complexity of the “logos” as an expression of the inexplicable. The Chinese language contains a similar term, “tao“, which means both “thinking” and “speaking.”  As creatures made in His image, God has set eternity in our hearts yet, as the writer of Ecclesiastes says, we “cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to the end” (Ecc 3:11).  Fortunately, God graced us with the ability to gain understanding.

In her book,  Apologetics and the Christian Imagination, Holly Ordway writes:

Literature is extremely helpful in this regard for both deepening and broadening one’s theory of mind. To begin with, reading imaginative fiction that focuses on character development and interaction, such as the fiction of Jane Austen or Anthony Trollope, helps us hone the skills of observing others, drawing conclusions about their character, reactions, and intentions, and then testing those conclusions.

Good stories do more than allow us to practice theory of mind: they also give us more material with which to work. Literature, here including both fiction and non-fiction in the form of well-written memoirs and biographies, can help us to see from another’s perspective. We have the opportunity to experience other cultures and times, to learn from other experiences, and to engage the world through a different personality, perhaps even very different values and ideas. As Lewis says in An Experiment in Criticism: “Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality. . . . in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.”

 

Join the discussion on Facebook HERE


John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

Meet The Author


Holly Ordway

Ordway author photo

Dr Holly Ordway is Professor of English and faculty in the M.A. in Apologetics at Houston Baptist University; she holds a PhD in English from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

She is the author of Apologetics and the Christian Imagination: An Integrated Approach to Defending the Faith (Emmaus Road, 2017) and Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms (Ignatius, 2014), and she has contributed chapters to C.S. Lewis at Poets’ Corner (edited by Michael Ward and Peter S. Williams), C.S. Lewis’s List: The Ten Books that Influenced Him Most (edited by David Werther) among other volumes; she is also a published poet, with poems in Word in the Wilderness and Love, Remember (edited by Malcolm Guite).

Her academic work focuses on the writings of the Inklings, especially C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Her current book project is Tolkien’s Modern Sources: Middle-earth Beyond the Middle Ages (forthcoming from Kent State University Press, 2019).

She lives in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and travels regularly to speak on Tolkien, Lewis, and imaginative apologetics.

Dig Deeper at HollyOrdway.com and buy the book HERE.

Photo of Holly Ordway by Lancia E Smith

Recovery

18740379_1632128180160159_1003481258552073526_nA SUDDEN GOLDFINCH
Holly Ordway

The branch is bare and black against the fog;
Cold droplets bead along the twigs, and fall.
The hours are passing, ready to be gone,
And now they’re past, dissolved, beyond recall,
Beyond my reach. A sudden goldfinch clings
And bends the twig so slightly with its weight
It seems as if it’s painted on: its wings
In motion are a glimpse of summer, bright,
Quick, and now already gone. This moment,
So brief but still so clear against the blur
Of unattended time, in memory
Connects the things that are, the things that were.
Fleeting as it is, almost a ghost,
It may be time is never truly lost.


In a paper given to The Oxford Socratic Club entitled, Is Theology Poetry?, C.S. Lewis wrote “I  believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen: not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.” Achieving a holistic understanding of the cosmos requires revelation, and we know there is more much than our senses can perceive.  Certainly dogs hear sounds we cannot and the eagle’s eye is different from our own.  Intuitively we know there is much more, yet we tilt to arrogance in daily living.

In her book,  Apologetics and the Christian Imagination, Holly Ordway says:

Here, we must take a careful, searching look at our own beliefs and how we act on them. Given the cultural pressures from reductive scientism and naturalism, and the relentless materialism of our consumer culture, it is very easy (and all too common) even for well-discipled Christians to have a somewhat impoverished worldview. Many Christians tend to think of the supernatural realm as including only God and nothing more—and in such a view, ‘God’ often ends up being seen as not particularly supernatural either.

But the full Christian view is of a dynamic cosmos: with the communion of saints, the great “cloud of witnesses,” actively interested in the affairs of their brothers and sisters and interceding for them; angels who are active in God’s service; demons who are active in rebellion; and the network of connections formed by prayer and intercession among Christians.

 

Join the discussion on Facebook HERE


John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

Meet The Author


Holly Ordway

Ordway author photo

Dr Holly Ordway is Professor of English and faculty in the M.A. in Apologetics at Houston Baptist University; she holds a PhD in English from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

She is the author of Apologetics and the Christian Imagination: An Integrated Approach to Defending the Faith (Emmaus Road, 2017) and Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms (Ignatius, 2014), and she has contributed chapters to C.S. Lewis at Poets’ Corner (edited by Michael Ward and Peter S. Williams), C.S. Lewis’s List: The Ten Books that Influenced Him Most (edited by David Werther) among other volumes; she is also a published poet, with poems in Word in the Wilderness and Love, Remember (edited by Malcolm Guite).

Her academic work focuses on the writings of the Inklings, especially C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Her current book project is Tolkien’s Modern Sources: Middle-earth Beyond the Middle Ages (forthcoming from Kent State University Press, 2019).

She lives in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and travels regularly to speak on Tolkien, Lewis, and imaginative apologetics.

Dig Deeper at HollyOrdway.com and buy the book HERE.

Photo of Holly Ordway by Lancia E Smith

John Locke’s Argument for the Existence of God by Melissa Cain Travis

Melissa Travis
Melissa Cain Travis

John Locke (1632-1704) is considered one of the most influential thinkers of the Enlightenment. His treatise, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, discusses the limits of human knowledge in relation to a wide range of topics. In Chapter 10 of Book 4, he offers an argument for the existence of God that reminded me of the debt contemporary apologetics owes to great thinkers of the Western Tradition.

Following Descartes, Locke declares that nothing is more certain than that we ourselves exist. To doubt that we exist is to affirm that a doubter exists! Remember Decartes’ famous “cogito ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am”). Locke argues that from the fact of our own existence, we can demonstrate the existence of God.

This is how he proceeds:

In the next place, man knows, by an intuitive certainty, that bare nothing can no more produce any real being, than it can be equal to two right angles….If, therefore, we know there is some real being, and that nonentity cannot produce any real being, it is an evident demonstration, that from eternity there has been something; since what was not from eternity had a beginning; and what had a beginning must be produced by something else.

In other words, nothing can’t produce anything–from nothing, nothing comes. All things that have come into being must be traced back to a source that has existed from eternity (if the dreaded infinite regress is to be avoided). If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is roughly the second premise of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, which states: Anything that begins to exist must have a cause of its existence.

Locke goes on to explain how he believes we can deduce some of the attributes of this first cause of all being:

Next, it is evident, that what had its being and beginning from another, must also have all that which is in and belongs to its being from another too. All the powers it has must be owing to and received from the same source. This eternal source, then, of all being must also be the source and original of all power; and so this eternal Being must also be the most powerful.

He is saying that because we have some powers (abilities), our source must have powers, even greater than our own.

The final leg of his argument is what I find most interesting and relevant to the current project of apologetics. Men, he says, find themselves to be knowing, rational creatures, and from this fact we should infer that an intelligent being is our source. To materialists who would claim that there was a time in cosmic history when “no being had any knowledge,” he responds:

I reply, that then it was impossible there should ever have been any knowledge: it being as impossible that things wholly void of knowledge, and operating blindly, and without any perception, should produce a knowing being, as it is impossible that a triangle should make itself three angles bigger than two right ones. For it is as repugnant to the idea of senseless matter, that it should put into itself sense, perception, and knowledge, as it is repugnant to the idea of a triangle, that it should put into itself greater angles than two right ones.

If, nevertheless, any one should be found so senselessly arrogant, as to suppose man alone knowing and wise, but yet the product of mere ignorance and chance; and that all the rest of the universe acted only by that blind haphazard; I shall leave with him that very rational and emphatical rebuke of Tully, to be considered at his leisure: “What can be more sillily arrogant and misbecoming, than for a man to think he has a mind and understanding in him, but yet in all the universe beside there is no such thing: Or that those things, which with the utmost stretch of his reason he can scarce comprehend, should be moved and managed without any reason at all?”

(“Sillily,” as in: absurdly.) Just as it is impossible for the interior angles of a triangle to exceed a sum of 180 degrees (two right angles–yay, geometry!), so it is impossible for perception and knowledge to result from blind chance acting upon matter.

Arguments related to human reason, since Locke, have become more sophisticated, but at their root is this very idea, that it is nonsensical to propose that intelligence could ever arise from any non-intelligent source.

For further reading on related (and quite powerful) arguments, I recommend C.S. Lewis’ Miracles, Dr. Alvin Plantinga’s Where the Conflict Really Lies, and Dr. Angus Menuge’s Agents Under Fire.

Join the discussion on Facebook HERE 

Logo

John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

.


Melissa Cain Travis serves as Assistant Professor of Apologetics at Houston Baptist University. She is the author of Science and the Mind of the Maker (forthcoming, Harvest House 2018) and the Young Defenders series (Apologia Press). She is a writer for Christian Research Journal and blogs at melissatravis.com.

 

Learning from Pain

the-scream

The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just that time when God can’t give it if you are like the drowning man who can’t be helped because he clutches and grabs. Your own cries deafen you to the voice you need to hear.

C.S. Lewis, from A Grief Observed


B.F. Skinner conducted many experiments in which he taught rats to run mazes. He tried food as positive reinforcement and electric shock as negative. He found that pain motivated the rats to learn the maze faster than food, but the shock also taught the rats to fear the maze. Eventually, the rats refused to move, regardless of the degree of shock applied, even to the point of death.  You see, pain is overrated.  The “no pain no gain” mentality has led us to glorify anguish as somehow noble.  That is at best, immature.

The Māori people of New Zealand have much to teach us about perspective. Culturally they envision themselves moving backward into the future as they face the past. Like Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” The problem is that we live in a broken world in which we have no control.  If you are suffering, you might deserve it. Then again, you might be innocent and still in pain.   In time we gain understanding, but it’s only wisdom if it leads us to Christ.

Pain’s only valuable lesson is that we are insufficient.  It drives us finally to the arms of Jesus who said “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart. I have overcome the world.”

There we find the unfailing love of God.

IMG_0181Romans 8:35–39

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

Dig Deeper

Art: The Scream, 1893 by Edvard Munch

The Scream has been the target of several high-profile art thefts. In 1994, the version in the National Gallery was stolen. It was recovered several months later.  The 1895 pastel-on-board version of the painting was sold at Sotheby’s for a record $120 million at auction on 2 May 2012. The previous record for the most expensive work of art sold at auction had been held by Pablo Picasso‘s Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, which went for US$106.5 million at Christie’s two years prior on 4 May 2010.

http://www.edvardmunch.org/

 

 

 

Philology by James Turner

The term philology is derived from the Greek terms “philos”, meaning“brotherly love” and “logos”meaning “word” and describes a love of learning, of literature as well as of argument and reasoning. By the time it morphed through Latin and Old English, it came to mean generally the“love of literature”. That’s a disservice because it is much more. It is the study and love of words and most specifically, how they came to meaning.

Words are 18730595tricky, as everyone knows.

Misunderstandings happen when the intent doesn’t align with the interpretation, but worse, words must carefully be chosen if one is to impart the fullness of one’s heart to someone else. They are by nature social. If one wishes to keep one’s thoughts within, silence is the only requirement. If one however truly wants to express themselves it requires an intimate understanding of the perception and capacity of the hearer.

Owen Barfield (an intimate of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien) understood this dynamic with brilliance. Barfield said that words unfold in a hearer’s consciousness and are different for each person. He said “the final objective record for each person of the whole series of thoughts or sense-impressions received by him every time he has spoken or heard that word.” Addressing poetry he said a poem does not mean only how it says; it means what each reader reads in it when he brings his full experience to bear upon it.

Words transmit more than sound, even more than lexical meaning. As Carol and Philip Zaleski wrote in their fine book The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, “words are catch-basins of experience, fingerprints and footprints of the past that the literary detective may scrutinize in order to sleuth out the history of human consciousness.”

For me, this led to a better understanding of Christ as the Logos of John’s Gospel. Jesus is The Word, which is to say he is the full expression of God in a form most meaningful to His intended recipients – mankind. In Jesus we see God, yes, but more so, we see God expressed for us.

As Jesus said, “whoever has ears, let them hear”.


John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

The Christian Mind: How Should a Christian Think? by Harry Blamires

41ZGWg8D2GL__SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I didn’t like the book. I expected to like it more because I’m also a literary wonk and any friend of C.S. Lewis must be a pretty good guy, but even Lewis advised Blamires to write in his own field. So, I’ll list the couple of things I found helpful but the opposite weighs foundationally heavier. I simply disagree that it’s possible to consider the Christian mind from the Christian mind thinking. This is compartmentalization at its worst, and actually detracts from the thesis. Additionally (and more importantly), the attributes Blaimires lists as “marks” are themselves not uniquely Christian (except perhaps the last).

I thought his treatment of Samuel Beckett was terrific and it made me wish he had spent more time in his forte. His description of man’s pathos (with a nod to Lear) was splendid and on this point I completely agree – our authoritative mandate is sola scriptura but our frame of reference is furthered by non-Christian literature because, as Blaimires says “there is no Christian dialog on this topic.”

A much easier point to which we can align is that of politics. Yes, people are much more evangelically political and our educational system is foolish to ignore it. We will go much farther in advancing our curriculum if we advance our theological tenets to both sociological and communal application more forthrightly.


John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

90 Minutes In Heaven by Don Piper

“There is a place called ‘heaven’ where the good here unfinished is completed; and where the stories unwritten, and the hopes unfulfilled, are continued. We may laugh together yet.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien


Our ability to understand everlasting life begins with our willingness to accept a reality beyond our sensory perception. That, we get. There are, after all, sounds which only dogs can hear, impossible images seen easily by the eagle’s keen eye, and seismic motions imperceptible to our internal gyroscope, yet profound enough to cause an earthquake.

H.P. Lovecraft wrote

“What do we know of the world and the universe about us? Our means of receiving impressions are absurdly few, and our notions of surrounding objects infinitely narrow. We see things only as we are constructed to see them, and can gain no idea of their absolute nature. With five feeble senses we pretend to comprehend the boundless complex cosmos, yet other beings with wider, stronger, or different range of senses might not only see very differently the things we see, but might see and study whole worlds of matter, energy, and life which lie close at hand yet can never be detected with the senses we have.”

Don Piper’s 90 Minutes in Heaven is certainly an account of one man’s unique experience with death, but it is much more than that. The book is not about death, but life. Here we find the wink of a glimpse of that which invariably transcends our sensory limitations, yet in his return and painful rehabilitation, embraces them. The feeble frame our soul occupies is easily broken, but the robust spirit is acutely quickened, even agitated by undue imprisonment.

When my father suffered a stroke during an operation to clear a carotid artery , I witnessed his initial agony as he realized he had been imprisoned in a body rendered profoundly incapable of obeying his direction. He struggled at first to communicate, to walk, to overcome. In the end, he resigned himself to his newly imposed chains and withdrew to a quiet place in his still lucid mind.

He lived a decade longer, and when he finally died I was at his side, holding his hand. His last hour was filled with angst, even panic as he realized the finality of the moment. In the end however, he was at peace, perceiving I believe, a release from his chains. I prayed with him and for him and the moment he died, I knew with certainty and beyond any logical reasoning that he embraced me, and left.

The Bible says we are created imago dei – in the image of God. We are the pinnacle of His creation, imparted with the essence of eternity. The fallen world in which we live has imposed the death that is sin’s wage, and for a time our understanding is dimmed and our perception is, as Scripture says “as through a darkened glass.”

Death for us is the release of our person to eternity. Unbound we move either closer and closer to He who created us – or by our choice, farther and farther way. Our short, limited existence here is simply direction setting. Each of us has chosen our own way and we are lost. In Christ we have complete redemption if we so choose, and beginning with that choice our journey to completeness is both restored and commenced. Sadly, we can alternatively embrace an ever-deepening darkness.

C.S. Lewis said there are only two kinds of people: those who say to God, “thy will be done”, and those to whom God says “fine, have it your way.”

Everlasting life isn’t something to be found somewhere, out there in the Neverland of our dreams. It’s a life which begins the moment we simply confess that we are yes, lost and hopelessly in need of the Savior.

The Savior who came to bring us home.


John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (1950-56)

“One day, you will be old enough to start reading fairytales again.”


Albert Einstein said “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.” If that’s right, then it likely follows that C.S. Lewis was the greatest theological mind of his time.  The scholar who came to his faith with great resistance became one of its most powerful apologist.  This feat would have ben impressive on its own merit, but this same genius also crafted masterful tales for children that convey extraordinary depths of truth.

As Terry Glaspey explains in 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know :

On initial examination, The Chronicles of Narnia may seem like simple children’s tales, with talking animals, witches, and young boys and girls discovering their inner strength and courage. They are that, but they are also much more. In the midst of these stories the reader is always aware that something magical, something supernatural, might just break through at any moment. One can feel the breath of the great lion Aslan rustling through these pages as the story of Lucy, Peter, Susan, and Edmund echoes that of the grand story of redemption.

In speaking of his Narnia tales, Lewis wondered if, by stripping the Christian doctrines of their stained glass and Sunday school associations, he could “steal past the watchful dragons” of religiosity and dogmatism. So the Narnia books are constructed to prepare children for understanding the meaning of the Christian story later, when they are old enough to embrace it, while at the same time resonating with the childlike heart in each of us.

Which fairy tale did you understand differently as an adult?


John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

D I G  D E E P E R


C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis

(1893–1963), scholar and Christian apologist. Born in Belfast, he was educated mainly privately until he entered University College, Oxford, in 1917. He was Tutor and Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, from 1925 to 1954, when he was appointed Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature in the University of Cambridge. His critical works include The Allegory of Love (1936), A Preface to Paradise Lost (1942), and English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (vol. 3 of the Oxford History of English Literature, 1954). At Magdalen Lewis underwent a gradual conversion experience described in his spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy (pub. 1955). He became widely known as a Christian apologist through a series of broadcast talks given between 1941 and 1944 and later published in book form, and through a number of other popular religious works which had a very wide circulation; these included The Problem of Pain (1940), The Screwtape Letters (1942; ostensibly from a senior devil to his nephew, a junior devil), and Miracles (1947). His clarity, wit, and skill as a communicator meant that he, like D. L. *Sayers and Charles *Williams, carried considerable weight; many Christians had their faith confirmed and a number of agnostics were brought closer to the Christian faith through reading his works. Lewis also published three science fiction novels with a strong Christian flavour: Out of the Silent Planet (1938), Perelandra (1943), and That Hideous Strength (1945). A series of seven ‘Narnia’ stories for children began in 1950 with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In 1956 he married Joy Gresham (née Davidman); A Grief Observed (originally pub. under a pseudonym in 1961) is a profound treatment of bereavement written after her death. A group of his friends, including Charles Williams, was known as ‘The Inklings’; they met regularly for many years in his rooms to talk and read aloud their works.

 

Sources & Resources

Letters of C. S. Lewis, ed., with a memoir, by W. H. Lewis [brother] (1966); They Stand Together: The Letters of C. S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves (1914–1963), ed. W. Hooper (1979). Collected Letters, ed. id. (2000 ff.). Lives by R. L. Green and W. Hooper (London, 1974; rev. edn., 2002), W. Griffin (San Francisco etc. [1986]), and A. N. Wilson (London, 1990). P. L. Holmer, C. S. Lewis: The Shape of his Faith and Thought (1976). H. Carpenter, The Inklings (1978). W. Hooper, C. S. Lewis: A Companion and Guide [1996]. J. A. W. Bennett in DNB, 1961–1970 (1981), pp. 651–3.

F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 981.

Glaspey, Terry. Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C. S. Lewis. Elkton, MD: Highland Books, 1996.

Jacobs, Alan. The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis. New York: HarperOne, 2005.

Lewis, C. S. Surprised by Joy. New York: Harcourt, 1955.

McGrath, Alister. C. S. Lewis: A Life. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2013.

Sayer, George. Jack: C. S. Lewis and His Times. New York: Harper and Row, 1988.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

 

Terry Glaspey

Terry Glaspey

I’m really looking forward to discussing my book, “75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know,” with the members of Literary Life Book Club. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and perspectives on some of the art, music, and literature you’ll discover in the book. I’m interested in how it speaks to you in your life and the ways it inspires, challenges, or maybe even annoys you! I’ll try to share some “deleted scenes” stuff I had to leave out and will tell a few stories about what I experienced while doing the writing and research. Hope that many of you can join us as we look at he stories behind some truly wonderful art.

Let’s explore together!

Terry

Join the discussion with Terry on Facebook HERE

Terry Glaspey is a writer, an editor, a creative mentor, and someone who finds various forms of art—painting, films, novels, poetry, and music—to be some of the places where he most deeply connects with God.

He has a master’s degree in history from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!), as well as undergraduate degrees emphasizing counseling and pastoral studies.

He has written over a dozen books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:  Fascinating Stories Behind Great Art, Music, Literature, and Film, Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis, The Prayers of Jane Austen, 25 Keys to Life-Changing Prayer, Bible Basics for Everyone, and others.

Terry enjoys writing and speaking about a variety of topics including creativity and spirituality, the artistic heritage of the Christian faith, the writing of C.S. Lewis, and creative approaches to apologetics.

He serves on the board of directors of the Society to Explore and Record Church History and is listed in Who’s Who in America Terry has been the recipient of a number of awards, including a distinguished alumni award and the Advanced Speakers and Writers Editor of the Year award.

Terry has two daughters and lives in Eugene, Oregon.

Dig Deeper at TerryGlaspey.com

 

Some of the greatest painters, musicians, architects, writers, filmmakers, and poets have taken their inspiration from their faith and impacted millions of people with their stunning creations. Now readers can discover the stories behind seventy-five of these masterpieces and the artists who created them. From the art of the Roman catacombs to Rembrandt to Makoto Fujimura; from Gregorian Chant to Bach to U2; from John Bunyan and John Donne to Flannery O’Connor and Frederick Buechner; this book unveils the rich and varied artistic heritage left by believers who were masters at their craft.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

Order it HERE today.

Literature’s Illumination Of Theology by Josh Herring

Josh Herring

Theology offers the Christian believer not just a faith which demands belief, but one which makes sense intellectually. As such, theology is a necessarily intricate discipline; probing the revealed thoughts of God is no light, simple task. Christian theology done right, whether it is biblical, systematic, or historical, brings the minds of the current generation into conversation with those of past believers about the eternal things of God; it equips us to live lives pleasing to God in this world. And yet, it is boring to read.

Few disciplines approach theology for combining significance with wooden prose; in part because of the weightiness of the theologian’s claims, he must take care to write precisely. Eternal souls, after all, hang in the balance when one discusses topics of ultimate significance. But what if theology could do everything it must do (strengthen the believer, intellectually support the faith,draw principles and doctrines from the text of Scripture, rearticulate the faith for the living generation) and not be dry as dust? If this goal could be met, two things would happen. First, more people would read theological texts. Secondly, more people would enjoy reading theological texts.

Writing well belongs properly to literature. What the 18th century called belles lettres, the craft of beautiful writing, takes timeless ideas (from whatever source the author chooses to draw them) and crafts them together into a narrative; some of the most persuasive theologians of the Christian tradition have combined the rigor of theology with literary skill to produce timeless classics which proclaim the glory of God’s salvation through the ages; because the writing is so well done, the spiritual message is conveyed from generation to generation.

Two examples will serve to illustrate this claim, one medieval and one modern. Thomas Aquinas was an earth shatteringly important theologian; his Summa Theologica serves to this day as the high mark of medieval theology. In Aquinas’ quest to marry Aristotelian philosophy with medieval Catholicism, he produced a system of thought which continues to inspire philosophical and theological work. Reading the Summa, however, is an easy way to combat insomnia. Aquinas combines the highest intellectual capacity with logical form, producing a significant yet unbearably dull piece of theological philosophy. The form of his writing reads like the notes from a debate judge:

“There are three objections to my point (lists them). Here is a quote. Here is my point. Here are my replies to the three objections. Next.”

Aquinas is rich, yet we would deceive ourselves if we thought the masses could read him and find spiritual benefit from him. G. K. Chesterton tells this story about a parishioner who tried to read Aquinas:

“A lady I know picked up a book of selections from St. Thomas with a commentary; and began hopefully to read a section with the innocent heading, “The Simplicity of God.” She then laid down the book with a sigh and said, “Well, if that’s His simplicity, I wonder what His complexity is like.”

Aquinas’ significance is difficult to overstate, but in terms of practical spiritual benefit for most people, Dante would provide more spiritual nourishment. Dante took Aquinas’ theology (a hierarchy of goods and sins, a system of punishment, a vision of divine love which moves the cosmos, and a synthesis of knowledge between the Greco-Roman world and the Christian) and turned it into the first Christian epic poem. As the reader travels with Dante and Virgil through the winding road to Dis and the Adversary frozen at the Inferno’s core, we accidentally learn an enormous amount of medieval theology. By studying the balance of sins and justice Dante used, we cannot help but begin to ask questions of practical application: if Francesca and Paolo spent eternity like that for their lust, is there any of the restless wandering of lust within me? Rather than beginning with the intellect, Dante seizes our hearts and imagination and fuses them together with his poetic vision; in so doing, he also instructs our minds. Pastorally, I would not give Aquinas to just any church member; Dante I would hand out freely. Because of his literary skill, Dante guides us into the deep waters of Thomistic theology and sustains us through it.

In the modern era, I know of no greater literary theologian than C.S. Lewis. A literature professor by inclination and training, Lewis combined all the craft of a medievalist with his deep, theological studies. Consider the theological principles Lewis brings up in The Chronicles of Narnia. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe addresses multiple understandings of substitutionary atonement (as Aslan sacrifices himself for Edmund); it illustrates the curse being undone (as Aslan breathes life into stone creatures); it shows the balance of justice and mercy necessary in the divine economy (in Aslan’s explanation of the Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time). Prince Caspian shows God concerned with joy and the flourishing of his creatures; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader contains a profound image of redemption (Eustace Scrubb’s change from dragon to human and his inability to change himself). The Horse and His Boy waxes missional, reminding us that God loves all men (even Calormen). The Silver Chair contains a version of the Anselm’s Ontological Argument, as well as showing the human predilection for ignoring God’s commands. The Magician’s Nephew and The Last Battle reinforce each other, framing the fictional world of Narnia as one of divine beginning and ending; both are riddled with the implications of creation and redemption, displaying the hope offered by Revelation; The Last Battle concludes with a vision of heaven where all that is good in creation is brought into Aslan’s Country and made perfect, dwelling with him forever. Children who read these books, whether they are consciously aware of it or not, are being instructed in essential theological categories preparing the ground for God’s work in the gospel.

Theology is a vital, ongoing need for the Christian church. Christians are served by men who study the deep things of God and maintain the tradition of theological engagement; theology as it currently exists, however, is oriented predominantly to the academy. As such, theology only reaches those who are intellectually inclined to it. God has not reserved theology only for the intellectually elite; when paired with the craft of literature, theology becomes both accessible and enjoyable. John Bunyan and John Milton both discovered this truth. As Puritans, both were deeply read theologically and intellectually inclined. Both used their giftings to serve the church at large. For Milton, this culminated in Paradise Lost, an epic poem through which the call of God’s grace resounds to this day. For Bunyan, his pastoral work caused him to formulate his theology in the form of allegory. Pilgrim’s Progress remains one of the hallmark pieces of Protestant theology; its accessibility makes it one of the beloved texts of Christians for the past four centuries.

Jesus turned to the disciples and said, “Pray to the Lord of the Harvest that He might send workers.” Perhaps we might paraphrase that prayer, and ask God to continue raising up literary theologians who use their giftings to “sing the song again in our time” in a beautiful, accessible way.

 


Josh Herring is a Humanities Instructor at Thales Academy, a graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Hillsdale College, and a doctoral student in Faulkner University’s Great Books program. He has written for Moral Apologetics, The Imaginative Conservative, Think Christian, and The Federalist; he loves studying the intersection of history, literature, theology, and ideas expressed in the complexities of human life.

Fairy Tales by George MacDonald (1871)

The Cloud Tellers by by Josephine R. Unglaub

SURPRISED BY JOY
C.S. Lewis

“Turning to the bookstall, I picked out an Everyman in a dirty jacket, Phantastes: A Faerie Romance, George MacDonald. Then the train came in. I can still remember the voice of the porter calling out the village names, Saxon and sweet as a nut—‘Bookham, Effingham, Horsley train.’ That evening I began to read my new book.”…“It is as if I were carried sleeping across the frontier, or as if I had died in the old country and could never remember how I came alive in the new … It was Holiness. It was as though the voice which had called to me from the world’s end were now speaking at my side.”…“It was with me in the room, or in my own body, or behind me. If it had once eluded me by its distance, it now eluded me by proximity—something too near to see, too plain to be understood, on this side of knowledge.”


It is difficult to overstate the influence of George MacDonald.  In his own day he was hailed as a visionary, befriended by the likes of Mark Twain and sought after by royalty.  Queen Victoria gave MacDonald’s novels to her grandchildren and granted him a Civil Pension in 1877.  The impact of his work grew stronger after his death, notably contributing to the conversion of C.S. Lewis.  He was a master of story-craft and his complex imagination yielded literature textured with layer upon layer of meaning in the fabric of simplicity.

As Terry Glaspey explains in 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know :

We should, however, be careful about working too hard at any exact interpretation of these stories. MacDonald himself resisted giving any explanations, and when asked what one of them meant, he tersely replied, “So long as I think my dog can bark, I will not sit up and bark for him.”1 He left the stories to speak for themselves. And they do not speak to us as allegories or intellectual puzzles aimed at the mind but rather as mythic tales aimed at the heart. They are meant to show us truths that do not easily reduce to rational explanations and provoke a more intuitive response from the reader. There are layers of meanings at work here, all of them valid: physical, spiritual, mythical, and psychological. Each of these layers interpenetrate and illuminate each other, which is why these stories are not so much meant to illustrate theological truths as to help us find our way into a different way of experiencing these truths.

MacDonald projected his own inner life into his stories to make them feel universal, a reflection of our own personal stories. His words arouse our dormant longings for truth and goodness as we journey with his young protagonists on their paths through danger and discovery and miracle. Alongside these young heroes and heroines we meet supernatural beings and find familiarity and friendship with these residents of a realm beyond our own. MacDonald’s tales are not unlike dreams, mixing all their disparate elements together into something that creates an impression and a feeling rather than simply communicating an idea.

Has your life been shaped by fairy tales?


John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

D I G  D E E P E R


George MacDonald

George MacDonald

(1824–1905), Scottish novelist and poet. Educated at the University of Aberdeen and at Highbury College, London, he became a *Congregational minister, but in 1853 left the ministry to devote himself to literature. His writings, largely based on the life and customs of NE Scotland, include the novels David Elginbrod (1863), Alec Forbes of Howglen (1865), Malcolm (1875), and Donal Grant (3 vols., 1883). MacDonald’s books, which were highly valued by C. S. *Lewis, reveal firm religious faith, moral enthusiasm, and Christian optimism. He was also the author of several religious works, including Unspoken Sermons (1867, 1885, 1889) and The Miracles of our Lord (1886).

Unraveling Phantastes

Ever since C. S. Lewis penned his autobiography, there have been readers—even Lewis scholars—mystified by Phantastes. Compelled to read the book that Lewis said “most shaped my philosophy of life,” and “baptized my imagination,” they pick it up, get bogged down within pages, and put it down. Permanently.

Some find that if they begin with MacDonald’s children’s books, read a few fairy tales, then try a novel along the lines of Sir Gibbie or Alec Forbes, by the time they return to Phantastes they are much better equipped. But perhaps the best key is understanding the historical context: the relationship between a reader and a text has changed considerably since the early Victorian period.

Few early Victorians were privileged enough to own many books, and a book was not simply read once and set aside. It was read and reread, the reader engaging with the text ever more deeply, each reading revealing new connections and presenting yet another journey. It was only during the lifetime of MacDonald, with the advent of penny novels and lending libraries and the popularity of magazines and serializations, that this approach to reading significantly changed. Phantastes, like all books before it, expects a long-term relationship with the reader.

It is helpful when reading Phantastes to follow one theme that is noticeable early on in the tale … what it means to “die to oneself,” for instance. As this unfolds, other interwoven themes become evident, providing the next thread for the next read. The more one reads MacDonald, the more familiar one becomes with his primary themes, and the easier it is to follow their relations to each other, as well as to the books alluded to in the tale.

MacDonald points to these books not only to introduce them—he is also inviting the reader into a deeper conversation. As one reads the other books mentioned and then returns to MacDonald, suddenly one is part of a conversation that has been going on since God’s first story. MacDonald is responding to Tennyson responding to Blake responding to Dante, who in turn is responding to John responding to Christ, who is reminding us of the words of Isaiah, or the Psalms, or Moses. This conversation between texts is part of the Christian heritage, part of understanding who we are and who God is.

The episodic nature of Phantastes is sometimes off-putting to contemporary readers, and yet this structure is part of MacDonald’s effort to help the reader understand just how important that tradition of literary conversation can be. The 21-year-old protagonist Anodos is drawn into the realm of stories, Fairy Land, so that he may discover his own true identity. His education thus far has inspired “nobleness of thought, [but] not of deed,” and his understanding of love is selfishly immature. Each separate episode he enters is a story that slowly shapes and changes him.

Anodos learns not only from acting in these stories but also from reading them—his new education begins with books of “Fairy Land, and olden times, and the knights of King Arthur’s table.” As his journey continues he is drawn into drama, poetry, songs, dreams, dance, pictures, memories. And in these, he realizes, he is “the chief actor therein … for I took the place of the character who was most like myself, and his story was mine.” As the stories conclude and he awakes “to the consciousness” of his present life, he realizes that he has changed as a result—that he was, in fact, vicariously “buried and risen again in these old books.”

When Phantastes ends, a matured Anodos returns to his family and home “somewhat instructed, I hoped, by the adventures that had befallen me in Fairy Land. Could I translate the experience of my travels there, into common life? This was the question.” Not only the question for Anodos, but the one MacDonald places firmly before his readers.

C. S. Lewis wrote that a first read reveals the plot and characters; it is in the experience of rereading that we find wisdom and strength. But be forewarned; rereading Phantastes did change his life.

Sources and Resources

P. H. Brazier, C. S. Lewis—Revelation, Conversion, and Apologetics, vol. 1, C. S. Lewis: Revelation and the Christ (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2012), 33–34.

Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson, “Sacred Story,” Christian History Magazine-Issue 86: George MacDonald: Writer Who Inspired C.S. Lewis (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 2005).

The Poetical Works of George MacDonald (2 vols., 1893). His romance, Lilith (1895), was ed. by G. MacDonald (son) (1924), with introd., pp. ix–xx. Letters, ed. G. E. Sadler (Grand Rapids, Mich. [1994]). C. S. Lewis (ed.), George MacDonald: An Anthology (1946). G. MacDonald (son), George MacDonald and his Wife (1924). R. L. Wolff, The Golden Key: A Study in the Fiction of George MacDonald (New Haven, Conn., 1961). K. Triggs, The Stars and the Stillness: A Portrait of George MacDonald (Cambridge, 1986). D. S. Robb, George MacDonald (Scottish Writers, 11; Edinburgh, 1987). W. Raeper, George MacDonald (Tring, Herts [1987]); E. Sainsbury, George MacDonald: A Short Life (Edinburgh, 1987). W. Raeper (ed.), The Golden Thread: Essays on George MacDonald (ibid., 1990). R. B. Shaberman, George MacDonald: A Bibliographical Study (Winchester, 1990). A. Matheson in DNB, 1901–1911, pp. 513–15.

F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1023.

Hein, Roland. The Harmony Within: The Spiritual Vision of George MacDonald. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982.
MacDonald, George. The Complete Fairy Tales. London: Penguin, 1999.
Manlove, C. N. “George MacDonald’s Fairy Tales: Their Roots in MacDonald’s Thought,” Studies in Scottish Literature 8:2. January 10, 1970. http://scholarcommons.sc.edu/ssl/vol8/iss2/12.
Phillips, Michael. George MacDonald. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1987.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

Josephine R. Unglaub

Josephine R. Unglaub

Art: The Cloud Tellers

Josephine Unglaub is a German-based artist and photographer with a passion for surrealism. Her work can be found here: https://lemanshots.wordpress.com

Terry Glaspey

 

Terry Glaspey

I’m really looking forward to discussing my book, “75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know,” with the members of Literary Life Book Club. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and perspectives on some of the art, music, and literature you’ll discover in the book. I’m interested in how it speaks to you in your life and the ways it inspires, challenges, or maybe even annoys you! I’ll try to share some “deleted scenes” stuff I had to leave out and will tell a few stories about what I experienced while doing the writing and research. Hope that many of you can join us as we look at he stories behind some truly wonderful art.

Let’s explore together!

Terry

Join the discussion with Terry on Facebook HERE

Terry Glaspey is a writer, an editor, a creative mentor, and someone who finds various forms of art—painting, films, novels, poetry, and music—to be some of the places where he most deeply connects with God.

He has a master’s degree in history from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!), as well as undergraduate degrees emphasizing counseling and pastoral studies.

He has written over a dozen books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:  Fascinating Stories Behind Great Art, Music, Literature, and Film, Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis, The Prayers of Jane Austen, 25 Keys to Life-Changing Prayer, Bible Basics for Everyone, and others.

Terry enjoys writing and speaking about a variety of topics including creativity and spirituality, the artistic heritage of the Christian faith, the writing of C.S. Lewis, and creative approaches to apologetics.

He serves on the board of directors of the Society to Explore and Record Church History and is listed in Who’s Who in America Terry has been the recipient of a number of awards, including a distinguished alumni award and the Advanced Speakers and Writers Editor of the Year award.

Terry has two daughters and lives in Eugene, Oregon.

Dig Deeper at TerryGlaspey.com

 

Some of the greatest painters, musicians, architects, writers, filmmakers, and poets have taken their inspiration from their faith and impacted millions of people with their stunning creations. Now readers can discover the stories behind seventy-five of these masterpieces and the artists who created them. From the art of the Roman catacombs to Rembrandt to Makoto Fujimura; from Gregorian Chant to Bach to U2; from John Bunyan and John Donne to Flannery O’Connor and Frederick Buechner; this book unveils the rich and varied artistic heritage left by believers who were masters at their craft.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

Order it HERE today.

A Secret Club by Gabrielle Guthrie

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
C.S. Lewis

“I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say, but I shall still be your affectionate Godfather, C. S. Lewis.”


Gabrielle Guthrie

Whenever I think of “truth illumined by literature,” it draws me back to childhood, to the wonder and delight to be found within the pages of a book, the awareness that you are not alone, that someone else in the world has seen the truth, too.

CS Lewis begins with the idea of orphaned children in a war, a metaphor for the truth and reality of our lives perhaps, us as bits of the world’s collateral damage seeking refuge in the countryside. They fall into the back of a wardrobe one day, into another kingdom, another place in time, but real, perhaps more real than the wardrobe itself.

It is hard to explain how fiction can speak to you in a language only you can understand, profound ideas and truths felt and processed more by the heart than by the brain. Narnia was like that for me, a land of talking beavers and eternal winter that made far more sense than the one we live in now. Aslan, our lion, so beautifully crafted, woven around such sophisticated theology,  but known and recognized immediately.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Aslan can be known but never known fully, never tamed and domesticated, so he fits into a box in which we are more comfortable. He eludes our efforts to make him smaller and safer or bigger and meaner. Aslan is Aslan, and he simply tears down what we think we know as fast as we erect it. Aslan will reveal himself as he chooses and not as we chose.

“He’s wild, you know.  Not like a tame lion.”

Aslan is much like another Lion, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and people will often try to define Him too, to make Him bigger or smaller, safer or meaner, contained and tamed. There are so many of us who have leaned into CS Lewis’s Aslan character, who have clung to him fiercely in hard times, who have refused to be deceived by cheap substitutes and poorly drawn imitations. You are not my Aslan. That is not what my Aslan said.

Aslan is not our Lord and Savior, but Aslan is our Lord and Savior felt in the heart of a man who knew him so well, who lovingly recreated him for a Goddaughter, and gave so many of us a priceless gift in the process; a way to understand who God is and what it all means and why we are here.

We are like a secret club, us Narnia survivors, grown up girls now who still believe in fairy tales, who return to those lessons when we need wisdom and discernment. We bump into one another now and then and wave, linked together by our fierce love for the One who inspired the character of Aslan. He is a real Lion who lives in our hearts and imagination; One who has survived the test of time, reason, and adulthood. He is the Lion we have learned to sense and to feel, to anticipate with wonder and delight eagerly.

“Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again” -CS Lewis

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 


Gabrielle Guthrie blogs about faith,culture, politics, and humor with an emphasis on biology because biology is all about life and life abundant.  Her popular blog my be found here https://insanitybytes2.wordpress.com

“So you see, there’s this thing called biology….”

Beauty In The Common by Kate Thomsen Gremillion

The Weight Of Glory
C.S. Lewis

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”


Kate Thomsen Gremillion

This week’s feature is Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. The piece was written in 1942 for the Cincinnati Orchestra under Eugene Goossens. It was inspired by a speech made by then-Vice President Henry Wallace which talked about the dawning of the “Century of the Common Man.” It is worth noting that the use of “common” here is its original meaning – prevalent or frequently occurring – as opposed to the more pejorative meaning of unrefined.

In art, an image that immediately comes to mind is Jan Vermeer’s “Kitchen Maid.”

 

Nancy Pearcey in Saving Leonardo writes that “the Protestant doctrine of vocation insisted that any honest work can be a calling from God.” In this vision, the glory and splendor of a person is not found in the worldly status or value given to a vocation: in other words, God doesn’t see according to our pay grade or societal rank. There is worth to be discovered in the imago Dei  (the image of God), which means necessarily that the work we do, no matter how menial can be used for our sanctification and to draw us nearer to God.

“The paintings shine with a quiet intensity to convey the biblical concept that ordinary life is infused with spiritual dignity and significance.” ~Nancy Pearcey

Roughly two hundred years after Vermeer, a simple and uneducated nun would come to the same conclusion and reinforce the truth that what we do on even an hourly basis could be consecrated to Christ and therefore of inordinate value.

“Little things done out of love are those that charm the heart of Christ…on the contrary, the most brilliant deeds when done without love, are but nothingness.” ~Therese of Lisieux

The greatest temptation to which we regularly succumb is to forget our glory; our true glory. We are inundated with images and stories of temporary and shallow greatness from sports superstars, pop megastars, famous artists – all part of the earthly royalty. In the race to temporary prestige and power, we lose sight of our inherent worth. Let us remember that by vocation, those first chosen as disciples were mostly fishermen, with a tax-collector and a political activist thrown in for good measure.

 

If you would like a more developed version of the theme, Copland also used this as  the basis for the Finale of his Third Symphony.

 

 

Copland wrote your fanfare for you – next time you are engaged in common activities, put this on and take a moment to thank God for your life and to help you to re-orient your perspective to things eternal.

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

Kate Thomsen Gremillion resides in Newport Beach, CA. After pursuing a music degree at Trinity University and Indiana University she currently studies at HBU in the Master of Arts in Apologetics program. She is a full time homeschooling mother of four, two of whom have graduated to college (Cornell and LMU). She is also a professional singer performing regularly with the Pacific Symphony and Pacific Chorale. Kate gives regular recitals in Art Song and Opera and conducts the St Matthew’s Choristers at St Matthews Anglican Church in Newport Beach where they study Latin, Liturgy and Music. Her newest projects are the establishing of The Children’s Conservatory at St Matthew’s Montessori school and… as a contributing writer to Literary Life!

 

Light Changes Everything

0001A MOVEABLE FEAST
Ernest Hemingway

If I walked down by different streets to the Jardin du Luxembourg in the afternoon I could walk through the gardens and then go to the Musée du Luxembourg where the great paintings were that have now mostly been transferred to the Louvre and the Jeu de Paume. I went there nearly every day for the Cézannes and to see the Manets and the Monets and the other Impressionists that I had first come to know about in the Art Institute at Chicago. I was learning something from the painting of Cézanne that made writing simple true sentences far from enough to make the stories have the dimensions that I was trying to put in them. I was learning very much from him but I was not articulate enough to explain it to anyone.


RickIt’s impossible to overstate the power of light. Claude Monet understood how subtle variances could affect color and texture and he returned again and again to paint exact landscapes changed only by cloud conditions, seasonality or time of day. His twenty-five canvas series known as Haystacks displays this tremendous power to affect perception.

Light has also been equated since antiquity as a metaphor of wisdom. A constant subject can be understood in wide range solely dependent on an individual’s depth of understanding. Where simple minds see circumstance, enlightened minds see eternity.

C.S. Lewis said “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

Jesus is the light of the world.

IMG_0181John 8:12

Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.

 

Dig Deeper

Art: Haystacks (series) by Claude Monet

Haystacks is a title of a series of impressionist paintings by Claude Monet. The primary subjects of all of the paintings in the series are stacks of hay in the field after the harvest season. The title refers primarily to a twenty-five canvas series (Wildenstein Index Number 1266-1290) begun in the end of summer of 1890 and continued through the following spring, using that year’s harvest. Some use a broader definition of the title to refer to other paintings by Monet with this same theme. The series is known for its thematic use of repetition to show differences in perception of light across various times of day, seasons, and types of weather. The subjects were painted in fields near Monet’s home and gardens in Giverny, France.

The series is among Monet’s most notable works. Although the largest collections of Monet’s work is held in Paris at the Musée d’Orsay and Musée Marmottan Monet, other notable Monet collections are in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston,[1][2] the Metropolitan Museum and Museum of Modern Art in New York, and at the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo.[3] Six of the twenty-five haystacks pieces in this series are currently housed at the Art Institute of Chicago.[4][5][6][7] Other museums that hold parts of this series in their collection include: the Getty Center in Los Angeles,[8] the Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, Connecticut (which also has one of five from the earlier 1888-9 harvest),[9] the National Gallery of Scotland,[10] the Minneapolis Institute of Arts,[11] Kunsthaus Zürich, and the Shelburne Museum, Vermont.[12] Several private collections also hold Haystack paintings.

Literature & Liturgy: Light

Thomas Wolfe wrote in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald, who had been badgering him about his lack of economy and form: “Don’t forget, Scott, that a great writer is not only a leaver-outer but also a putter-inner, and that Shakespeare and Cervantes and Dostoevsky were great putter-inners—greater putter-inners, in fact, than taker-outers and will be remembered for what they put in—remembered, I venture to say, as long as Monsieur Flaubert will be remembered for what he left out.” (From The Crack-Up.)Wolfe himself was a mighty putter-inner. He could hardly let a character pass a hardware-store window without enumerating every tool in it; and the sights and sounds of afternoon in a familiar town set him into a sensuous frenzy: “Light came and went and came again, the great plume of the fountain pulsed and winds of April sheeted it across the Square in a rainbow gossamer of spray. The fire department horses drummed on the floors with wooden stomp, most casually, and with dry whiskings of their clean, coarse tails. The street cars ground into the Square from every portion of the compass and halted briefly like wound toys in their familiar quarter-hourly formula. A dray, hauled by a boneyard nag, rattled across the cobbles.… The courthouse bell boomed out its solemn warning of immediate three.…” (From The Hills Beyond.)

This is a passage worth study, particularly for its choice of strong and active verbs: “pulsed,” “sheeted,” “drummed,” “ground,” “rattled,” “boomed.” It is certainly not seven eighths below the surface, as Hemingway said icebergs are and stories should be. It is piled on, heaped until it runs over.

Differing from either method is the impressionism of such a writer as Anton Chekhov, who said, “You will get the full effect of a moonlight night if you write that on the mill-dam a little glowing star-point flashed from the neck of a broken bottle, and the round, black shadow of a dog, or a wolf, emerged and ran.” In that same impressionist manner, Stephen Crane carries the reader along with a fatally wounded soldier walking to some quiet place to die. The whole passage is like a prolonged silent scream, and it ends with a single staring phrase: “The red sun was pasted in the sky like a wafer.”

Most potential writers are omnivorous readers, and in the nature of things an apprentice is sure to imitate. He has no other way to learn. Although he may try very hard to “develop a style of his own,” his real style will be a long time in developing and will parallel or reflect the development of his own mind and sensibility. The best way to find the style that naturally fits him is to follow Hemingway’s method and simply try to state purely whatever is before his eyes.

Bibliography

Hughes, M. Y. “Milton and the Symbol of Light.” Ten Perspectives on Milton (1965), 63-103; Miles, J. “From Good to Bright: A Note in Poetic History.” PMLA 60 (1945), 766-74; Major Adjectives in English Poetry from Wyatt to Auden (1946), 408-21; Von Simpson, O. The Gothic Cathedral (1956), 21-58, 91-141; Williams, G. W. Image and Symbol in the Sacred Poetry of Richard Crashaw (1963), chap. 4.

David L. Jeffrey, A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992).

Ars Longa, Vita Brevis

THE PARLEMENT OF FOULES
Geoffrey Chaucer

“For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day
When every fowl cometh to choose his mate,
Of every kind that men think may;
And that so huge a noise gan they make,
That earth and air and tree and every lake
So full was, that underneath was there space
For me to stand, so full was all the place.”


I have long been the landlord of a colony of Purple Martins.  They are remarkable birds. Each year the first scouts arrive like clockwork on Valentine’s Day to return to their house in our backyard from their winter home hundreds of miles away.  Like Robins, the sight of them brings hope and the first spark of spring.

Our celebration of Valentine’s Day has ancient beginnings but the details are sparse.  Perhaps two actual saints were named Valentine and then again, it might have been just one.  That person also might or might not have sent a letter to a girl and signed it “from your Valentine.”  Oh well, it makes a good story.

Valentine’s Day became an established tradition after the late 1300’s when Chaucer wrote of it in A Parlement of Foules wherein he referred to the holiday as “when every fowl comes to chose his mate” (modern translation).  It’s the romantic allegory of what we call ‘the facts of life about the birds and the bees.’

Even that isn’t exactly true of course.  In his book The Allegory of Love, C.S. Lewis pointed out that Parlement isn’t a pure allegory but rather a pleasant poem containing some beautiful comparisons.  It doesn’t matter that it isn’t exact.  As Lewis wrote “every reader who loves poetry may safely be left alone with the Parlement of Foules. No such reader will misunderstand the mingling of beauty and comedy in this supremely happy and radiant work—a hearty and realistic comedy, and a beauty without effort or afterthought, like Mozartian music.”

Like love itself, somethings are best enjoyed without scientific analysis. As Chaucer says “the life is short and the craft so long to learn.” Someday, the Bible says, love will be perfected, but that doesn’t take anything away from its significance now. It is still a northern star which guides us to the eternal. Love is not our god, but

God is love

IMG_01811 Corinthians 13

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

D I G  D E E P E R


 

Valentine’s Day and Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Parlement of Foules

 

geoffrey-chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer

The commemoration formerly observed on 14 Feb. appears to refer to two Valentines: a Roman priest martyred on the Flaminian Way under the Emp. Claudius (c. 269) and a Bp. of Terni (Interamna) who was taken to Rome and martyred, and whose remains were later conveyed back to Terni. Though the surviving accounts of both martyrdoms are clearly legendary, there are indications that each contains a nucleus of fact; and it is just possible that the kernel of truth in the two legends refers to a single person. The traditional association of St Valentine’s day with courtship and the choosing of a ‘Valentine’ of the opposite sex is connected perhaps with certain customs of the pagan festival of *Lupercalia (mid-Feb.) at Rome, or with the natural season, not with any tradition concerning either saint of the name.

 

THE PARLEMENT OF FOULES, a 699-line poem in rhyme royal by Geoffrey Chaucer, was written in 1380–90. Composed in the tradition of French romances (while at the same time questioning the merits of that tradition), this poem has been called one of the best occasional verses in the English language. Often thought to commemorate the marriage of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia in 1382, it describes a conference of birds that meet to choose their mates on St. Valentine’s Day. The narrator falls asleep and dreams of a beautiful garden in which Nature presides over a debate between three high-ranking eagles, all vying for the attentions of a beautiful female. The other birds, each of which represents a different aspect of English society, are given a chance to express their opinions; Chaucer uses this device to gently satirize the tradition of courtly love. He handles the debate with humour and deftly characterizes the various birds. Although the debate on love and marriage is never resolved, the poem is complete in itself and ends on a note of joy and satisfaction.

Bibliography

Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).

C. S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition, First Edition. (New York: HarperOne, 2013), 206–207.

Also see

‘Acta’ of both SS. Valentine in AASS, Feb. 2 (1658), pp. 751–62. Note on the SS. Valentine in Anal. Boll. 11 (1892), pp. 471–3. E. M. Fusciardi, Vita di S. Valentino, V. e M., patrono di Terni: Con messa, novena, triduo e preghiere (Terni, 1936). O. *Marucchi, Il cimitero e la basilica di S. Valentino (1890); R. Krautheimer and S. Corbett in R. Krautheimer and others, Corpus Basilicarum Christianarum Romae, 4 (Rome, 1970), pp. 289–311 (in Eng.).

On the origin of the association of St Valentine’s day with courtship, H. A. Kelly, Chaucer and the Cult of Saint Valentine (Davis Medieval Texts and Studies, 5; Leiden, 1986).

F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1687.