Friday, July 20, 2007


Send My Roots Rain (Gerard Manley Hopkins)

But I desire to speak to the Almighty and to argue my case with God... Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face... Now that I have prepared my case, I know I will be vindicated. Can anyone bring charges against me? If so, I will be silent and die. Only grant me these two things, O God, and then I will not hide from you: Withdraw your hand far from me, and stop frightening me with your terrors. Then summon me and I will answer, or let me speak, and you reply. How many wrongs and sins have I committed? Show me my offence and my sin. Why do you hide your face and consider me your enemy? Will you torment a wind-blown leaf? Will you chase after dry chaff?

Then Job replied to the Lord: 'I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, "Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?" Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, "Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me." My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.'

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me. They hurl insults, shaking their heads: 'He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.'

(Job 13: 3, 15, 18-25; Job 42: 1-6; Psalm 22:1-8 -- all NIV)

'It's not fair,' my five-year-old daughter used to declare. And I had to agree with her that life is very seldom fair. But we have the conviction that God, at least, ought to be fair. If we serve him faithfully, there should be the rewards of service, some blessing, some recognition that we are doing well. On the other hand, we agree with David that evil men ought not to prosper. The schemers, the manipulators, the self-seekers ought to be punished as they deserve.

Yet anyone who has been some distance on the Christian way knows that it does not always work out that way. Often our best efforts meet with disappointment and failure so that others say to us, 'Is it really worth it? What are you achieving?' I suppose we should not be surprised at this situation, for Jesus never promised us 'success' as a result of our ministry; quite the reverse. And there are plenty of examples in scripture of those who walked by faith, yet saw no mighty 'results'.

It doesn't make us feel any better about it. How can God treat us this way, when we have tried with our whole hearts to obey and serve him? Is it his fault or ours?

God does not defend himself or answer our complaints. But he does come close to us and reveal himself to us.

I struck the board and cried, 'No more; I will abroad. What? shall I ever sigh and pine? My lines and life are free; free as the road, Loose as the wind, as large as store. Shall I be still in suit? Have I no harvest but a thorn To let me blood and not restore What I have lost with cordial fruit? Sure there was wine Before my sighs did dry it; there was corn Before my tears did drown it; Is the year only lost to me? Have I no bays to crown it, No flowers, no garlands gay? All blasted, All wasted? Not so, my heart; but there is fruit, And thou hast hands. Recover all thy sigh-blown age On double pleasures: leave thy cold dispute Of what is fit and not; forsake thy cage, Thy rope of sands Which petty thoughts have made; and made to thee Good cable, to enforce and draw, And be thy law, While thou didst wink and wouldst not see. Away; take heed; I will abroad. Call in thy death's head there; tie up thy fears. He that forbears To suit and serve his need Deserves his load. But as I raved, and grew more fierce and wild At every word, Methought I heard one calling, 'Child!' And I replied, "My Lord.'

George Herbert, 'The Collar'

Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just. Why do sinners' ways prosper? and why must Disappointment all I endeavour end? Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend, How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost Defeat, thwart me? Oh the sots and thralls of lust Do in spare house more thrive than I that spend, Sir, life upon thy cause. See banks and brakes Now, leaved how thick! laced they are again With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes Them; birds build -- but not I build: no, but strain, Time's eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes. Mine, O thou Lord of life, send my roots rain.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, 'Thou art indeed just'

Sometimes the establishment of this degree of prayer comes by way of a painful inward struggle and aridity; what St John of the Cross has described as 'the night of the senses' -- a period of distress and obscurity in which it seems to the soul that it is losing all it had gained of the life of prayer... It meets and must conquer many resistances in the active mind, must cut for itself new paths; and this may involve tensions and suffering and the apparent withdrawal of the ordinary power of prayer.

Evelyn Underhill, Collected Papers

The mystics down the centuries have often referred to 'the dark night of the soul'. This describes those periods when God seems strangely silent and absent in spite of personal need. We wonder what he is doing, why he is withholding his presence from us. We pray to him, but the heavens seem as brass and we feel trapped by the prison of our own dark moods. 'The greatest test of a Christian's life is to live with the silence of God,' wrote Bishop Mervyn Stockwood in a letter to me recently. How far can we keep trusting God when we have no experience of his love? Is it enough to take him at his word when we feel no reality behind those familiar phrases?

David Watson, Fear No Evil

It's no fun, Lord, I can't keep anything for myself, The flower that I pick fades in my hands. My laugh freezes on my lips. The waltz I dance leaves me restless and uneasy. Everything seems empty, Everything seems hollow, You have made a desert around me. I am hungry and thirsty, And the whole world cannot satisfy me. And yet I loved you Lord; what have I done to you? I worked for you; I gave myself for you. O great and terrible God, What more do you want?

Child, I want more for you and for the world. Until now you have planned your actions, but I have no need of them. You have asked for my approval, you have asked for my support, You have wanted to interest me in your work. But don't you see, child, that you were reversing the roles. I have watched you, I have seen your goodwill, And I want more than you now. You will no longer do your own works, but the will of your Father in heaven.

Michel Quoist, Prayers of Life

I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face, questions die away. What other answer would suffice?

C.S. Lewis, Till We have Faces

Lord, all our lives we have been taught to believe that when we needed you, you would always be there. We have grown up with the idea that if we seek to do your will, you will surely bless us.

But it doesn't always work out that way. It is so hard to understand that we may be in your will and yet fail. It is so difficult to stand by and see others riding the crest of the wave while we struggle and flounder. We confess that we resent it. We blame them. We blame you. We blame ourselves. We demand explanations. We sink into waves of depression until we are near drowning in our own tears.

In our hearts we know we cannot put you on trial. You do not have to defend yourself. But in your love, O Lord, draw near to us. Fill our emptiness with your presence, so that we do not need to be filled with the gratification of success. Make us content to be yours, and to leave the answers in your hands.


A Benediction

Now may the God, who blesses us in ways we do not always recognise -- who himself, in Jesus, bore the pain of rejection and desolation, who through the Holy Spirit draws near to fill our emptiness -- send the rain to seep through to our roots and bring us to life again.


High Mountains Deep Valleys
, ed. Rowland Croucher (Albatross/Lion) chapter 6.

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