Friday, November 30, 2007

AND I AM BLACK, BUT O MY SOUL IS WHITE


And I am black, but my soul is white - (William Blake)

'I am the light of the world,' he said. 'Whoever follows me will have the light of life and will never walk in darkness.'

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out.

God is light and there is no darkness at all in him. If then, we say that we have fellowship with him, yet at the same time live in the darkness, we are lying both in our words and in our actions.

Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and so there is nothing in him that will cause someone else to sin.

You are the world's light -- a city on a hill, glowing in the night for all to see.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

God was always with me then and gave me light as I walked through the darkness.

Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.

When Moses went down from Mount Sinai carrying the Ten Commandments, his face was shining because he had been speaking with the Lord.

We Christians... can be mirrors that brightly reflect the glory of the Lord and as the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like him.


(John 8:12, GNB; John 1:5, GNB; 1 John 1:5-6, GNB; 1 John 1:10, GNB; Matthew 5:14, LB; Matthew 5:16, RSV; Job 29:3, GNB; Romans 13:12, RSV; Exodus 34:29, GNB; 2 Corinthians 3:18, LB)



As one of today's 'civilised' people, I hardly know what it is like to be in the dark. Electricity effortlessly sets my house ablaze with light as bright as the noonday sun, and I take it all so much for granted. Darkness is really a stranger to me, but certainly more friend than foe. I have to imagine the sense of relief a needed light must have brought in the blackness of a moonless night. But even as physical darkness may have retreated to the edge of civilised man's existence, emotional and spiritual darkness has not. They are greater realities than ever in our world.



My mother bore me in the southern wild,

And I am black, but O! my soul is white.

White as an angel is the English child,

But I am black, as if bereav'd of light.

William Blake, 'The Little Black Boy', Songs of Innocence

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,

The earth, and every common sight

To me did seem

Apparelled in celestial light,

The glory and the freshness of a dream.

It is not now as it hath been of yore; -

Turn whatsoe'r I may,

By night or day,

The things which I have seen I now can see no more.

William Wordsworth, 'Ode: Intimations of Immortality'

Part 1

Weary,

So weary,

My heart cries out in weariness.

Just to lie here, lie here, Lord,

For a day, a week, a month, a year, a lifetime.

I yearn for rest,

Rest in the blackness,

Not to have to move, think, plan, communicate;

My life is so busy,

My life is a treadmill,

Oh, to have nothing to do!

Lying,

Lying in the blackness,

Lying exhausted in the darkness,

My soul turns Godwards,

My soul turns towards the light.

Part 2

'I came into men's lives, little one,

To heal, restore, to make you whole.

I am the light, shining in the darkness,

Burning in the darkness to guide your way.

The path is not a treadmill,

A ceaseless, inescapable treadmill

But an exciting, wondrous, upward path,

Where shadows and pitfalls are illumined by me.

'If you travel with me,

I make all plain.

Little by little,

I show you the way;

Travelling in the blackness,

You rushed into sorrows,

You pushed into emptiness,

Your feet are all sore from blindly stumbling,

Your heart is weary with meaningless rush.

'Travelling with me,

Is a joyous experience.

If your life is not joyful,

You're not travelling by me.

Come, travel a mile with me,

Travel the while with me,

Walk with me, talk with me.

In all, we will share.'

Part 3

Where is my weariness?

Was life once meaningless?

Father, how beautiful is life, all through!

You soften the ugliness,

Illumine the loveliness,

Living is ecstasy,

Travelling with you!


Bronwyn Pryor, 'Illumination'

What is perhaps the most incredible common element in the accounts [of human survival of biological death] I have studied, and is certainly the element which has the most profound effect upon the individual, is the encounter with a very bright light... not one person has expressed any doubt whatsoever that it was a being, a being of light. Not only that, it is a personal being. It has a very definite personality. The love and the warmth which emanate from this being to the dying person are utterly beyond words, and he feels completely surrounded by it and taken up in it, completely at ease and accepted in the presence of this being. He senses an irresistible magnetic attraction to this light.

Raymond A. Moody, Life after Life


The oldest of all stories about creation tells us that God created light before he created the sun and the earth... It is not impossible at all. For nowadays we know that light is a form of energy and all created things are made of energy... we are therefore made not of solid and impenetrable matter, but of energy... This being so, it is not strange at all that when we establish a closer connection with God in prayer we... receive more abundant life -- an increased flow of energy. We are the electric light bulbs through whom the light of God reaches the world... Knowing then that we are part of God, that his life within us is an active energy... we can speed up the natural healing forces of the body... While love is the wiring that connects our souls with his, faith is the switch that turns on the power... Therefore we need not hesitate to give thanks for each adjustment, however great or small, that we would like his loving care to make in us... 'I rejoice that this moment thy healing light is removing all pain from the spine and filling the back with new vigour and life.' What if we practice this system and fail? Shall we doubt God? Edison did not doubt electricity when his experiments with the light bulb failed. Instead of that, he doubted the wires that he had used... For more than 6,000 times he tried again... If we are sensible, we will not doubt God, we will doubt our world and we will doubt ourselves.

Agnes Sanford, The Healing Light

At the moment when the blackness seemed darker than ever, I cried out, 'Lord, I don't care what happens or how miserable I am, I thank you for this entire experience. I know you are going to bring something good out of it.' Instantly, the darkness of the hospital room was shattered by a brilliant white light, brighter than the sun. It was as bright as the light I'd seen in a vision several years before... As I lay on my bed in the hospital room, my entire body flooded by that wonderful, brilliant light, I suddenly realised that what had once been a vision, now was a reality. The years I had walked by faith, believing that God was using my pain for good, were years climbing [the ladder of praise] through the cloud of darkness and uncertainty. Without the cloud, I would never have learned to let go of my reliance on my senses and feelings. Now I could wholeheartedly thank God for every circumstance of my life that added to the dark cloud. How else could I have learned to utterly trust in him? How else could I have come to experience this beautiful saturation of light and joy [above the cloud layer]?... There is nothing haphazard about God's plan for our lives. Nothing, absolutely nothing, however strange, inconsistent, or evil it may seem to us, happens without God's specific consent.

Merlin Carothers, Power in Praise

So long as we stay in the light we're safe because Satan cannot endure light and will not come near it. A true incident has become an unforgettable symbol of this for me... On both sides the attraction was intensifying... Mary didn't ask her caller to sit down. She remained standing in the centre of the room bathed in a cone of light from the electrical fixture overhead. As she concentrated on Jesus as represented by that light, she felt herself becoming less aware of John and more aware of the enveloping light of God all around her... Mary did not follow John into the darkness of the adjoining bedroom... As long as she stood in the light, the values she really cared about -- her marriage, the home she and Bill had made together, their children -- would be safe... At last, reluctantly, he left... Mary had found for herself the reality of the 'armour of light'.

Catherine Marshall, Something More



Lord, light of my life, I praise you and thank you for coming into my being and scattering the darkness of disbelief, doubt and despair.

Your light within has brought such joy, such beauty and such life.

When I look at others, help me to see beneath their skin, however 'black' it may appear, to the white purity of their inner soul. And, finding your light there, lay aside all my negative judgments and criticisms over their outward appearance, stance or situation, however different from mine.

Fan your flame within me by the breath of your Holy Spirit, so that it glows ever brighter like a lamp whose wick is turned up. For I would be filled with your light.

I give you permission to turn your searchlight onto all the dark corners within me that I prefer to keep hidden, a secret to myself alone -- past guilts; present self-indulgences; the stunted future expectations I hold for my life. I give you permission to melt my will and make it yours, so that together, we can bring those ghosts out into the light of your love to be transformed.

You want this far more than I, Lord, so I trust you, that you are doing it, even as I sit here with my eyes upon you. I won't trust my feelings, but rather I trust your promises.

I know, Lord, that all the dark days of my life have been part of your perfect plan, to bring me to where I am today. Without them, I would probably be far from desiring your light. So I praise you for them. Bless this day through which I am about to walk. I trust you for guidance and inspiration for today's tasks, for the protection of your armour of light, and pray that you will use me this day to shed your radiance on all I meet.




A Benediction

The blessing of Gods light be upon you as you go, unclouded, into this day. As the light of the sun never ceases to shine for you, neither does the love of God. Relax and enjoy being a reflector, knowing you are being used even as you merely keep turned towards the light. Amen.


Rowland Croucher ed., Still Waters Deep Waters, chapter 29



Tuesday, November 27, 2007

ABOUT DEPRESSION


Dear Adam... A letter to South Africa

'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?... O, my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.'

'I have been allotted months of futility, and nights of misery have been assigned to me. When I lie down I think, "How long before I get up?" The night drags on, and I toss till dawn.'

'Your words have supported those who stumbled; you have strengthened faltering knees. But now trouble comes to you, and you are discouraged... Should not your piety be your confidence and your blameless ways your hope?'

Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them... when the Lord binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted.

Now if we are children, then we are heirs... if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.


(Psalm 22:1 and 2; Job 7:3 and 4; Job 4: 4-6; Isaiah 30:20 and 26; Romans 8:17 -- all NIV)


This letter is a reflection on the struggles that both the writer and reader share in being people-helpers:

Dear Adam, I feel so strange writing this letter to you, a person I don't know in a situation I know so little about, thousands of miles away. All we have is a mutual caring friend, who asked me to write to you, a mutual profession and a mutual dark night of the soul.

I don't really know what to say as the same words at different times by well-meaning friends have injured or uplifted me, as I have dragged myself through the blackness of depression.

All I can do is sit in the 'dust and ashes' with you, and place my shaking hand on your boil-infested body and quietly share your pain and cry for justice. Words are so inadequate, those around us are threatened by our cries and God seems deaf to our pleas.

In my own room I have cursed the night as once more, like clockwork, my troubled spirit awakens at 2.00 am. I have lain there tossing, turning, shaking and sweating as wave after wave of fear and despair rolled over me like the fever of malaria. My God, what had I done to deserve this, night after night?

The texts on the wall mocked me as they became readable in the growing light: 'Be joyful always...' 'they are new every morning...'

I just want to turn my face to the wall and die.

Yet 1 am still here, and have found out that I am not the only one like this. In some strange way I can begin to understand a little of what Paul means when he talks about sharing some of the sufferings and comfort of Christ so we can, in turn, comfort those experiencing similar valleys of shadows as we are.

I also gain some strange comfort in knowing that some of the great men and women of the past and of this century have gone through similar expenences. These indude Elijah, David, Job, John of the Cross, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Spurgeon, J.B. Phillips... to name a few.

But apart from this growing insight, I have few other answers, Adam, to your (our?) many questions. I don't know why, to quote you, God 'has brought together two people on different continents... two people sharing most of the inner distress of walking through a desert blindfolded...'

However, I do draw strength from the progress I can read in your letters, faltering as it may be. In your August letter, your feelings of anxiety and depression, the lethargy and lack of energy, your critical spirit were to the fore, while your November letter seemed to indicate some slow but positive re-integration and ability to face others.

Your January letter seems even to have some sense of excitement about 'the learnings that we are to discover and share with each other.' I hope I can catch that beginning sense of excitement. My feelings still fluctuate so much, yet I feel a little of the vision and energy returning, but for how long? I'm so afraid of being hurt further or of hurting those I love with my black moods and critical spirit.

Perhaps you are right in thinking that part of the problem lies in our being 'driven people' rather than 'called', to quote Gordon MacDonald. Like you, I have tried to control my goals and direction and have been disappointed and angered by those who didn't live up to my expectations or 'vision'.

I haven't been 'success-oriented' but, perhaps I have channelled such desires into my Christian life and ministry. Oh, how do I become called rather than driven? I suspect that the 'solutions' lie not only with me, but with the Christian Church as well.

Personally I'm sure I need to learn how to wait and abide more in Christ; to listen to what he is calling me to. Perhaps this is why I have been forced to slow down. In the meantime, I need to forgive and let go those who have unknowingly hurt me and not close off completely to others.

I need to spend more time with people that energise me and less with those who drain me. Gordon MacDonald's book Restoring Your Spiritual Passion has some good things to say about this.

Also I think the Church has a lot to account for in the way it hasn't enabled the laity to recognise and follow God's calling for them. Because of this, much of the work is left to the very busy few who, in turn, are resentful of the lack of participation by the majority. This often leads eventually to apathy, depression and 'burnout' in these few workers.

Finally, thankyou for sharing your thoughts with me; my attempting to reply has helped some things fall into place. Perhaps some of our questions will never be answered this side of heaven. Keep the faith, Shalom...


Tragically, when people who are accustomed to their role as helpers get depressed, they experience more difficulty than the average person in seeking professional help and in making good use of it when they find it.

John White, Masks of Melancholy

Spurgeon himself was quick to admit that he was not immune to periodic bouts of depression. He said that he knew 'by most painful experience what deep depression means, being visited there-with at seasons by no means few or far between'. He then went on to cite from the biographies of Martin Luther and John Wesley, which are full of reports about their own experiences of depression.

Arch Hart, Coping With Depression

'This evil will come upon us, we know not why, and then it is all the more difficult to drive away. Causeless depression is not to be reasoned with... If those who laugh at such melancholy did but feel the grief of it for one hour, their laughter would be sobered into compassion.' (Charles Spurgeon)

H. Norman Wright, Now I Know Why I Am Depressed

I have always been plagued by depression, which has often been so excessive that I could neither work nor relate to people... This was so extreme, that I wished to die.

Robert Girard, My Weakness: His Strength

Walter Trobisch, a Christian counsellor, notes that the word for depression in German is schwermut... It means the courage to be heavyhearted, the courage to live with what is difficult. Strange as it may seem, courage is part of depression...

Once I heard an experienced psychiatrist say, 'All people of worth and value have depressions.' Indeed, superficial people seldom have depressions. It requires a certain inner substance and depth of mind to be depressed.

H. Norman Wright, Now I Know Why I Am Depressed

Depression is a symptom which warns us that we're getting into deep water. It is, I believe, designed by God as an emotional reaction to slow us down, to remove us from the race, to pull us back so we can take stock... It is a protective device which removes us from further stress and gives us time to recover.

Arch Hart, Coping with Depression

There are many Christians -- true believers in the Lord Jesus, who are genuinely seeking to follow him -- who, like me, have, for too many years, been desperately lonely, and in great emotional distress, each thinking that he or she is the 'only one' who, as a believer, still struggles and fails so miserably against sin. Baffled by repeated defeat in areas where other Christians seem 'to have the victory', these miserable strugglers are on the point of giving up.

Robert Girard, My Weakness: His Strength

Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, 'What! You too! I thought I was the only one!' (C.S. Lewis)

Robert Girard, My Weakness: His Strength

Being fairly suddenly deprived of the ability to 'perform', my sense of security and of being useful deserted me and all kinds of nameless terrors swept over me, usually at night.

Vera Phillips & Edwina Robertson

..then we also should have an address book of our special friends... special friends are committed to helping each other discover and maintain spiritual passion.

Gordon MacDonald, Restoring Your Spiritual Passion

~~~

Dear Lord, at times I feel so tired and weary; I have so many questions to ask you, but I don't even have the strength to ask them now.

Please let me rest a while in your arms and be carried close to your heart. Let me cry and drain out all the pain I carry deep inside me for myself and others.

Lord, break me if you will, but do not crush me. ...Your Kingdom come, your will be done...! Amen.




A Benediction

Here I am, Lord. Here is my body, Here is my heart, Here is my soul. Grant that I may be big enough to reach the world, Strong enough to carry it, Pure enough to embrace it without wanting to keep it. Grant that I may be a meeting place, but a temporary one; A road that does not end in itself, because everything to be gathered there, everything human, leads towards you.

Michel Quoist, Prayers of Life

Rowland Croucher ed., High Mountains Deep Valleys, Albatross/Lion, chapter 17


Monday, November 26, 2007

THAT STEERSMAN WE CALL GOD


That steersman we call God - (Robert Louis Stevenson)

Now when Pharaoh let the people go, God did not guide them by the road towards the Philistines, although that was the shortest; for he said, 'The people may change their minds when they see war before them, and turn back to Egypt.' So God made them go round by way of the wilderness towards the Red Sea; and the fifth generation of Israelites departed from Egypt. Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, because Joseph had exacted an oath from the Israelites: 'Some day,' he said, 'God will show his care for you, and then, as you go, you must take my bones with you.' They set out from Succoth and encamped at Etham on the edge of the wilderness. And all the time the Lord went before them, by day a pillar of cloud to guide them on their journey, by night a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel night and day. The pillar of cloud never left its place in front of the people by day, nor the pillar of fire by night.

He went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the Lord came to him, 'What are you doing here, Elijah?' He replied, 'I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left and now they are trying to kill me too.' The Lord said, 'Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.' Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice came to him, 'What are you doing here, Elijah?'

But when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth, since he will not be speaking as from himself but will say only what he has learnt; and he will tell you of the things to come.


(Exodus 13:17-22, NEB; 1 Kings 19:9-13, NIV; John 16:13, JB)


Imagine Elijah out in the wilderness. See him standing there. He would have felt the powerful elements as God acted. The wind probably whipped his hair around his face, the earthquake would have shaken his very being and the fire seared his face. Certainly enough to shake up the most dismal servant of God who had doubts about God's power to direct a life. These three elements -- wind, earthquake and fire -broadcast the coming of God. This was not the first time he had produced smoke on a mountain in order to direct his people. Exodus 19:16,18 records a similar event. Similarly when David was in distress and called on God, he heard God answering through earthquake and fire (Psalm 18:6-13).

God has always supplied signs for people prepared to read them. His presence has continued through the ages. He has never been really away from his people. There are times when God has stepped back; times when people have ignored the guidance of their Creator but we cannot blame him for such times. Ours the rebellion, the stubborn ways, the refusal to accept guidance. When Christ came, he promised to guide his church and he promised his powerful presence when he said with force: 'And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age' (Matthew 28:20, NIV). God has given us the scriptures which provide broad principles by which we are to live. He never takes the cloud of his Spirit away from us no matter how much we may fear this could happen. Provided we sincerely desire his will he will always be present.

There is something else to remember. Take one step at a time, even if it's only a small step. Take the next step. Always the next step. Questions may flood your mind but always take the next step.


I came about like a well-handled ship. There stood at the wheel that steersman whom we call God.

Robert Louis Stevenson

God is able and willing to guide us far more than the hesitant faith of many of his children has yet made possible. The poverty of our spiritual lives; our unwillingness to put a fence around some definite portion of our day and keep it for him; our unbelief concerning his voice in the soul -- all these have hampered him. It is not denied that with all our blindness he has been able to guide us in some degree. But how much more effectively could he counsel and direct us if faith was really expectant and we listened as well as prayed.

W.E. Sangster, God Does Guide Us

God, our sovereign and immutable Master, openly declares that life is no will o' the wisp encounter with luck. His determined will is being accomplished free of frustration. The plan is comprehensive in scope and complete down to the tiniest detail. And it is all for his glory. Rather than causing us to fear, this truth is designed to put us at ease and calm our anxieties... What should be the Christian's attitude toward the determined will of God? He should recognise it as a reality -- clearly taught in the Word of God. Rest in it as good, because that's what God says about it -- he causes all things to work together for good to those who love him (Romans 8:28). Beyond that, don't worry about it and don't try to figure it out, because his ways are unfathomable (Romans 11:33).

Charles R. Swindoll, God's Will

There is an experience which becomes more and more familiar to everyone who is trying to follow Christ -- a feeling of the growing loneliness of his Christian life. It comes from a sense of the peculiarly personal interest which Christ takes in him, which sometimes seems so strong as almost to make him feel that his life is being detached from all the other lives around him, that it is being drawn out of the crowd of humanity, as if an unseen arm linked in his were taking him aside for a nearer intimacy and a deeper and more private fellowship. It is not, indeed, that the great family of God are to be left in the shade for him, or that he is in any way the favourite of heaven; but it is the sanctifying and, in the truest sense, humbling realisation that God makes himself as real to each poor unit as if he were the whole; so that even as in coming to Christ at first he felt himself the only lost, so now in staying with Christ he feels himself the only found.

Henry Drummond, The Will of God

You see, even Jesus did not say, 'I have explained the world.' What he did say was, 'I have overcome the world.' And if we can only trust where we cannot see, walking in the light we have, which is often very much like hanging on in the dark; if we do faithfully that which we see to be the will of God in the circumstances which evil thrusts upon us, we can rest our minds in the assurance that circumstances which God allows, reacted to in faith and trust and courage, can never defeat purposes which God ultimately wills. So doing, we shall wrestle from life something big and splendid. We shall find peace in our own hearts. We shall achieve integration in our own minds. We shall be able to serve our fellows with courage and joy, and then one day -- for this has been promised -- we shall look up into his face and understand. Now we see in a mirror, darkly. But then, face to face. Frankly, hard though it be to say so, it is a lack of faith not to be able to bear the thought of anything which God allows.

Leslie D. Weatherhead, The Will of God


Father, forgive my doubting your power to guide me whatever the circumstances. Help me to trust you even through the darkest night when it seems from my viewpoint that all hope is gone. Give me the faith to conquer my fears and faith to hold on when there is only what seems to me a slender hope that you will see my plight. Listen to my prayer and guide me in the way I should go.

Loving Lord, help me to believe that you know all about my life from start to finish and that you are fully prepared to lead me step by step, day by day along the path of your choosing. Give me l pray the wisdom to choose your way and to keep walking in your way.

Great God of wonders, lift me out of myself, I pray, to the lofty heights of belief so that I may soar like an eagle high above my cares and anxiety, confidently knowing you are able to show me how to deal with the barriers I put up that prevent me finding your will.



A Benediction

Lord God, help me to leave this topic of guidance with a far greater confidence than I started when I began reading this meditation. Through your grace, send me on my way confident in your guiding power. Amen.

Still Waters, Deep Waters ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 168-172

Sunday, November 25, 2007

NOT FARE WELL, BUT FARE FORWARD, VOYAGERS



Not fare well, But fare forward, voyagers
- (T.S. Eliot)

The Lord said to Abram, 'Leave your native land, your relatives, and your father's home, and go to a country which I am going to show you.'

Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.

The Lord said to Moses, 'Leave this place, you and the people you have brought out of Egypt, and go to the land that I promised to give Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and to their descendants.'

'...be sure that you do everything that the Lord your God has commanded you... so that everything will go well with you and so that you will continue to live in the land that you are going to occupy.'

The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in: from this time forth and for evermore.

He gives me new strength. He guides me in the right paths, as he has promised.

Examine me, O God, and know my mind; test me and discover my thoughts. Find out if there is any evil in me and guide me in the everlasting way.

'Whoever does not take up his cross and follow in my steps is not fit to be my disciple.'

... the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living ...when he came to himself he said... 'I will arise and go to my father...'

That very day two of them were going to a village... Jesus himself drew near and went with them... he went in to stay with them... And their eyes were opened.

Jesus said, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life.'


(Genesis 12:1, GNB, Romans 4:3, RSV; Exodus 33:1, GNB; Deuteronomy 5:32-33, GNB; Psalm 121:8, RSV; Psalm 23:3, GNB; Psalm 139:23-24, GNB; Matthew 10:38, GNB; Luke 15:13,17-18, RSV; Luke 24:13,15,29,31, RSV; John 14:6, RSV)


'Cheshire-Puss,' [Alice] began, rather timidly... 'Would you tell me please which way I ought to go from here?.' 'That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,' said the Cat. 'I don't much care where... ', said Alice. 'Then it doesn't matter which way you go,' said the Cat.

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Of course, it does matter which way we go, whom we encounter, how open we are to the experience of God along the way. The prodigal son's journey took him astray, until, in dire straits, he 'came to his senses' (Luke 15:13ff). The two men on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13ff) had an experience, but could have missed the meaning: their journey was a spiritual search as much as a walk to Emmaus, as Jesus encountered them, conversed with them, encouraged them, recalled for them God's larger story, and patiently waited for them to come to their own understanding. Then at that liminal, fantastic moment of the breaking of bread together, the two 'came to see' Jesus for who he was, and were impelled to witness to what they now knew to be true -- Christ was risen indeed! A powerful allegory for those whose soundings are in Christian waters.

'Journey' is a common metaphor for living, but purpose and destination is implied. In the life-long pilgrimage which is the spiritual life, there is no 'holy moment' isolated from the rest, but growth and struggle, dark times and bright, sorrows and joys. It is a journey in which God is loving us toward wholeness, seeking to overcome the disunity within and between us. It calls for growing self-discernment and discipline of lifestyle, for a covenantal relationship with God and a self-giving relationship with neighbour. It is not a journey we can undertake alone, but rather only within a worshipping, serving, reflective and healing community. At base, we can assert that the creative spiritual journey is really just growing in faith -- all else is so much commentary in the rhythms of brokenness and reconciliation, judgment and grace, death and resurrection.

But, 'like the development of a child's drawings, faith becomes progressively more detailed and connected in form and force, and more fluent and free in its execution' (Jerome W. Berryman).

In the thirteenth century the Franciscan, Bonaventure, wrote The soul's journey into God in which he identified three stages of the journey: the rectification of one's fallen state, the exercise of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the affective union with God characterised by joy and repose. He saw the crucified Christ as the beginning, means, and final consummation of the journey. In this century, psycho-analyst Carl Jung's concept of 'individuation' has helped some understand the process of bringing consciousness and the unconscious into a working relationship. In Jung's understanding of this life-long process, the 'first half of life is given over to differentiating and bringing into consciousness the problems of life that come to the fore at that time: the sex drive and the power drive... The second half of life then involves the task of reintegration (recognising as an aspect of the self) that which we had not chosen' (Wallace B. Clift). Somewhere in the overlap between Bonaventure’s mystical union in love, and Jung's union of opposites in the psyche, lies the largely uncharted territory of your and my growth in the faith, our profound moments of encounter with the divine, and the joy of knowing that God calls us to fully tap the resources of the Spirit in even the most mundane experiences of life.

Recent popular writings on the 'mid-life crisis' point us to pilgrimages as old as the Aeneid and the Odyssey: the one pointing life in a new direction, the other affirming in a new way one's original calling. Outer journeys can express or create the context for the real, interior journey. Alternatively, the urge to fresh goals and deeper meaning can be subordinated to contentment with past achievements. Whenever and however the krisis comes, it is a true time of judgment, a God-given opening to be seized with courage, entered in faith, and pursued with passion. But beware the dragon that sits by the side of the road, lest he devour you -- 'we go to the Father of Souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon' (St Cyril of Jerusalem).


I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch where-thro'
Gleams that untravell'd world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!


Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Ulysses

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.


T.S. Eliot, 'Little Gidding', Four Quartets

Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day's journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.


Christina Georgina Rossetti, Uphill

To quote Carl Jung, '... we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the programme of life's morning: for what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie. A person in the second half of life... no longer needs to educate his conscious will, but experience his own inner being.'

Quoted in Jacobi and Hull, editors, Psychological Reflections

Where am I now? Is this the love and care
Of Jesus for the men that pilgrims are?
Thus to provide that I should be forgiven!
And dwell already the next door to heaven!
There's no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim...

He knows he at the end
Shall life inherit...
He'll labour night and day
To be a pilgrim.


John Bunyan, Pilgrim's Progress

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.


Robert Frost, The road not taken

Thy way, not mine, O Lord,
However dark it
Lead me by Thine own hand,
Choose out the path for me.


Horatius Bonar, Thy way, not mine

Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom;
lead thou me on.
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
lead thou me on.

Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene -- one step enough for me.

It was not ever thus, nor prayed that thou
Should'st lead me on.

I loved to choose and see my path; but now
lead thou me on.


John Henry Newman

I shall walk with thee through the valley, and thou shalt fear no shadow. Hold to My promises. They are given to thee as a chart is given to ship, and a compass to the hunter. Thou mayest set Thy course by My promises. They will lead thee and guide thee in places where there is no trodden path.

Frances J. Roberts, Come Away My Beloved

Keep my mind open to the newness of your gospel.
Keep me always growing to maturity, growing into union
with you.
Keep me from ever thinking that I am there.


'Old and new' (Mark 2:21-22) Rex Chapman, A kind of Praying


Lord God, I thank you for the call to journey with you through this introduction to life eternal. I thank you for the familiar territory Il have already traversed; for the more taxing climb beyond the plains into the spiritual foothills; for the timely strength to make my way through the undergrowth of personal and family cares, across the deep valleys of national conflicts, and up the increasingly steep and rock-strewn mountainsides of international un-peace.

I am grateful for those you chose to accompany me on this expedition -- some I would not have picked myself, but you knew in advance what personal resources and strength of character, what skills and perceptions would be needed, and Il marvel at some of the special companions you've recruited.

Each day, Lord, has its routines and its challenges. It is refreshing-exhausting work toiling into your mountains, at times precarious, at times frustratingly slow, at times exhilarating as I catch a glimpse of panoramic views of the soul's route between distant peaks. At critical points your engineers have come to my aid, and constructed bridges across a valley, formed rough tracks around a peak or across some marshy area.


There is always the day's march to be done, new challenges in the new day, the temptation of reverting to a familiar, safe route, and the impetus to try a new one -- however hesitantly. I realise even now how much you've kept up the supplies; what I find on the path meets my daily necessities for sustenance and abundantly so. I've been amazed too, Lord, at the coherence of my company: different individuals, we find a common bond of purpose, interdependence, trust and love, despite our seeming diversity. Thank you.

And so it is with a sense of excitement and anticipation that I set off each day, wondering what this day will bring, what new vistas and challenges. There may well be bruises and scrapes, an occasional fail, but a sense of purpose and shared adventure can then break-in and pervade our journey together. The new range of peaks beyond call us on; what could have frustrated us as a barrier seems to have a magnetism to draw us further.

There is enough in each day to reward us, yet a sense that the journey has barely begun; so much more lies ahead - higher ranges, new companions on the way, others whose paths touch for a time then diverge... Thank you Lord.

You, who are the Way, show me your way. Amen.




A Benediction

May the God who created this wonderful world, with its myriad paths and challenging crossroads, grant you his firm direction. May the Son, who brings light to the darkest valley, heal your hurts and share your burdens. May the Holy Spirit, who has always breathed life and hope where there is chaos and despair, renew you in soul and spirit for the day to come. Amen.


Still Waters, Deep Waters ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 161-167

LIFE'S LOOSE ENDS


'How long are you going to keep us in suspense? Tell us the plain truth: are you the Messiah?'

'Tell us, 'they asked Jesus, 'are you the one John said was going to come, or should we expect someone else?'

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice... 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?'

Now we see only puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we shall see face to face. My knowledge now is partial; then it will be made whole, like God's knowledge of me.

'I do not know if he is a sinner or not,' the man replied. 'One thing I do know: I was blind and now I see.'

'Do you want us to go and pull up the weeds?' they asked him. 'No,' he answered, 'because as you gather the weeds you might pull up some of the wheat along with them. Let the wheat and the weeds both grow together until harvest.'

I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.

O Lord, how long must I call for help before you listen, before you save us from violence?

I still rebel and complain against God... How I wish I knew where to find him, and knew how to go where he is. I would state my case before him and present all the arguments in my favour. I want to know what he would say and how he would answer me.


(John 10:24, GNB; Matthew 11:3, GNB; Matthew 27:46, RSV; 1 Corinthians 13:12, NEB; John 9:25, GNB; Matthew 13:28-29, GNB; John 16:12, RSV; Habakkuk 1:2, GNB; Job 23:1-5, GNB)


We all live in a world of loose ends. It seems that God is not very tidy, any more than nature is neat and tidy. He leaves us with many questions unanswered, and they are the deep and important questions. It is perhaps one of the sure signs that we have left infancy and childhood behind that we not only recognise but are also grateful that this is so. This is part of our growth as persons.

There is something in most of us that would like to have everything tied up in neat parcels, and tucked away in appropriate pigeon-holes, so that these matters no longer perplex us, or compel us to think about them any more. But this is not how God works. How comforting and safe it would be if we were always told what to do, particularly in the field of ethics, but God does not absolve us from the responsibilities of the freedom he has given us, compelling us to make our own decisions, and live by faith rather than sight. There is no infallible guidance for fallible men and women which will ensure that we always know the right course to take.

It would seem clear from a reading of the gospels that our hankering for plain, straightforward and authoritative answers to our religious questions and perplexities would not commend itself to Jesus. He sometimes declined to give any such simple and direct answer. Instead he referred people to his teaching as a whole, to his whole attitude and manner of life, and then sent the question down again to the court of their own judgment for a verdict.

It is not that we are reduced to struggling through life on a balance of probabilities. Chesterton reminded us that the only virtue of having an open mind is that, like an open mouth, you can close it on something. We come as close to the certainty we crave as we are ever likely to do at the point of our commitment to Christ, when we can say, 'One thing I know: I was blind and I can see -- however dimly,' and trust him for the rest.


Man has an inveterate habit of what I should call a premature tidiness. He is a little previous, strapping up the luggage of his mind before he has everything in, summing up and pronouncing judgment before he has heard all the evidence, dabbing on labels without noting the contents of the parcels. We classify too hurriedly; it saves the bother of tedious discrimination -- tares, wheat, sheep, goats, those who are right, those who are wrong.

A.E. Whitham, The Pastures of His Presence

In recent years the magnificent pine trees in Kensington Park... have been dying. Experts say there can be little doubt that this is due to the misdirected tidiness of the gardeners, who swept up the old dead pine-needles and left the roots without natural comfort and protection.

Old newspaper cutting

Never get things too clear. Religion can't be clear. In this mixed-up life there is always an element of unclearness... If I could understand religion as I understand that two and two make four, it would not be worth understanding. Religion can't be clear if it is worth having. To me, if I can see things through, I get uneasy -- I feel it's a fake, I know I have left something out, I've made a mistake.

Baron von Hugel, in Introduction to Letters from Baron Friedrick von Hugel to a Niece

I went to the theatre
With the author of a successful play.
He insisted on explaining everything;
Told me what to watch;
The details of directions,
The errors of the property man,
The foibles of the star.
He anticipated all my surprises
And ruined the evening.
Never again! And mark you,
The greatest author of all
Made no such mistake.


Christopher Morley, No Coaching

Coherency is God's gift; he gives it freely but it can only be received by those who preserve an untidiness of mind. The tidy mind is not the truthful mind; the utterance that leaves no room for doubt or place for question is the fruit of a mind that is full of unwarranted conclusions. To think truly, and to speak and act truthfully... a minister of the Word must deliberately preserve an untidy mind. This untidiness of mind will irritate him; he will often be weary of living in what seems a mental muddle... Generally his respite consists in the realisation that to bear the burden of this muddle is the true way of preserving real knowledge.

R.E.C. Browne, The Ministry of the Word

But all that seems to make nonsense of the world, all the irrationalities and defeats, the waste, the sheer negation and futility which makes life seem like a tale told by an idiot, are concentrated in the cross of Christ. That was utter, irrational meaninglessness, the apparent denial of any faith in God, any confidence in truth or goodness.

It is no use asking, What sense does it-make?. The whole point is, surely, that Jesus made sense of it, working negatively and non-meaning into the ultimate pattern of God's purpose.

F.R. Barry, Asking the Right Questions

Job never found an answer to the problem of unmerited suffering. The problem remained insoluble, but in it he met God. That is where man always meets God. That is where man most frequently meets his fellows. For he is so constituted that he needs problems more than solutions. His soul thrives on questions, but grows sickly on answers -- especially answers served up by others and, most of all, answers laid down by authority.

John V. Taylor, The Go-Between God

Whenever we are confronted by a crossroads, whenever we are in doubt, whenever our mind sees two alternatives, instead of saying, 'Oh God, make me blind, Oh God, help me not to see, Oh God, give me loyalty to what I now know to be untrue,' we should say, 'God is casting a ray of light which is a ray of reality on something I have outgrown -- the smallness of my original vision. I have come to a point where I can see more and deeper, thanks be to God.' That is not perplexity, it is not bewilderment, it is not the anguished doubt of the believer who hides his head and hopes that he will be able to revert to the age of eight.

Metropolitan Anthony, God and Man

It must be acknowledged that this is an ambiguous world. If atheism is improbable there are times when theism does not seem very probable either. In the face of suffering, waste, and apparent aimlessness it is hard to have faith in God... and obviously it is harder for some people than for others... Although I have said that theism is the more reasonable of the two beliefs, I do not think the arguments have ever been conclusive; by its very nature faith falls short of certitude and has its own vulnerability. The world remains ambiguous, and it is part of what it means to be a finite creature that we have to take our stand in this world and decide for faith or against it, without knowing in advance the answers to all our questions. Only in the end, the Christian believes, will faith be changed to sight.

John Macquarrie, God and Secularity

We are not in a rigid and static universe, but one that is dynamic and growing; the important thing is not to have correct information about God' but to be susceptible to God's spirit, to be growingly aware of his pressures upon our life... we are travellers, always on the road, and rejoicing to be on the road, for there, as on the Emmaus Road, Christ reveals himself, not in absolute information, but in the burning heart.

W.B.J. Martin, Five Minutes to Twelve

To these questions (the ambiguities of life) only two answers are possible. The first is, 'I do not know', and the second 'I believe’. God is ambiguous even in his Son. He is so concerned that we should love light rather than darkness that he creates a world in which the two are not to be distinguished, save by the fact that one is light, and the other is darkness.

E.L. Allen, Thou Must Venture

We can do worse than remember a principle which both gives us a firm Rock and leaves us the maximum flexibility for our minds. The principle: Hold to Christ, and for the rest be totally uncommitted.

Herbert Butterfield, Christianity and History


Thank you, Lord, for the times when I sought a clear word from you and received it. Help me to thank you even more for the times when I did not. Help me to understand what you are saying to me when you are silent. Help me especially, if I am something of a perfectionist who likes to have everything neat and tidy, to accept that this does not seem to be the way you work. Let me remember always, with a wholesome check on my dogmatism, that there is a wide sweep to your purposes that defies my little calculations.

Give me the courage to act on my own insights, without needing to be told what to do, and not to pretend to certainties I do not have. Above all, make me sure of Jesus, who passed this way before me and made sense of it all. And when I crave for more light on the way I travel, let me be honest enough to ask myself if I am true to the light I already have.

Make me more patient and understanding with those people who keep asking, 'Why?' Forgive me because I often try to fit people into neat categories, hang precise labels on them, and dismiss those who don't readily fit into my little scheme of things.

Thank you for the opportunities you give me to grow according to the gracious design you have for my life, and for the assurance that one day I shall truly see.



A Benediction

Now the God of peace, who brought back from the dead that great shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Jesus, by the blood of the everlasting agreement, equip you thoroughly for the doing of his will! May he effect in you everything that pleases him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.


Still Waters, Deep Waters
ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 155-160

Thursday, November 22, 2007

V DAY



Stand up to the devil and he will turn and run.

The victory is ours... he makes it ours by our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lord saves not with sword and spear.

Although we live in the world it is no worldly warfare that we are waging.

Fear not, and be not dismayed... for the battle is not yours but God's... you will not need to fight in this battle; take your position, stand still.

We will go up and fight, just as the Lord our God commanded us... And the Lord said... 'Do not go up or fight, for I am not in the midst of you.'

Aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith.

... be strong -- not in yourselves but in the Lord... Put on God's complete armour so that you can successfully resist all the devil's methods of attack... we are up against... spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil... Take your stand then with truth... righteousness... peace... salvation... the Word of God... faith... Pray at all times with every kind of spiritual prayer, keeping alert and persistent.


(James 4:7, NEB; 1 Corinthians 15:57, Moffat; 1 Samuel 17:47, RSV; 2 Corinthians 10:3, Weymouth; 2 Chronicles 20:15-17, RSV; Deuteronomy 1:41-42, RSV; 1 Timothy 6:21-12, RSV; Ephesians 6:10-18, Phillips)


In earthly warfare, both sides normally know when the battle was engaged, when it was over, what it was about, and who won. In Christian experience none of these aspects may be clear to us. Satan's cleverest strategy is deceit.

Deceit about the existence of warfare, so we don't actually expect life to be lived under battle conditions, day in and day out.

Deceit about the onset of each skirmish, to keep us unaware until long after battle has been engaged, and much ground has already been lost.

Deceit about the duration of each skirmish. If we don't resist Satan he won't leave us and flee. The order of events is clear.

Deceit about what constitutes victory. Unless I know what each side is aiming at in the battle how will I be able to work out who has won and when the victory took place?

Deceit about Satan's strategy. Frontal attack is not his style. Look out for something sneaky! He prefers poison to gelignite, debilitating to dynamiting. His greatest success in any given day is to make me just feel 'down' and out-of-sorts, burdened by life.

Deceit about our armoury. God never sends us half-armed into battle -- we ourselves launch in ill-equipped.

Deceit about our location in the battle, and therefore about our degree of participation in it. If we think of ourselves as the battleground or battle spoils we will see ourselves in a passive location, with God and Satan fighting on us or over us. If we see ourselves as participants but are worried we may get in God's way, we will keep well back and take little or no initiative. Our real location is to be out in front, with God beside us! No known wrong -- in our own situation, in any situation for which we have direct responsibility, or even in any other situation within accessible range -- is to be left unchallenged. Correct assessment of wrong should always be followed by a strong initiative to bring about change, sometimes by frontal attack but always by some deliberate strategy suited to the sensitivity of the situation. To 'pray about it and leave it to God' can be an unbiblical cop-out. Prayer is not an alternative to battle action: it accompanies battle action. We are to pray and watch at all times.


And everybody praised the Duke
Who this great fight did win
'But what good came of it at last?'
Quoth little Peterkin.

'Why that I cannot tell,' said he
'But 'twas a famous victory...
... But what they fought each other for
I could not well make out.'


Robert Southey, Battle of Blenheim

When the German soldiers went into World War I, most of them shared the popular belief in a nice God who would make everything turn out for the best. Actually, everything worked out for the worst.

Paul Tillich, The Boundaries of Our Being

'But sometimes virtue starves, while vice is fed.' What then? Is the reward of virtue bread?

Alexander Pope, Essay on Man

'... something else in him had died, something that he had long desired should perish. Was it not what he had once wished to destroy during his ardent years of asceticism? Was it not his Self, his small, fearful and proud Self, with which he had wrestled for so many years, but which had always conquered him again, which appeared each time again and again, which robbed him of happiness and filled him with fear?... Too much knowledge had hindered him; too many holy verses, too many sacrificial rites, too much mortification of the flesh, too much doing and striving. He had been full of arrogance; he had always been the cleverest, the most eager -always a step ahead of the others, always the learned and intellectual one, always the priest or the sage. His Self had crawled into his priesthood, into his arrogance, into his intellectuality. It sat there tightly and grew, while he thought he was destroying it by fasting and penitence.'

Herman Hesse, Siddhartha

'If the immediate and direct purpose of our life is not suffering then our existence is the most ill-adapted to its purpose in the world: for it is absurd to suppose that the endless affliction of which the world is everywhere full, and which arises out of the need and distress pertaining essentially to life, should be purposeless and purely accidental. Each individual misfortune, to be sure, seems an exceptional occurrence; but misfortune in general is the rule.'

Schopenhauer, On the Suffering of the World

'... this, at least, may be maintained, that we do not always find visible happiness in proportion to visible virtue... All that virtue can afford is quietness of conscience, a steady prospect of a happier state; this may enable us to endure calamity with patience; but remember that patience must suppose pain.'

Samuel Johnson, Rasselas

It need not surprise us that as an image to convey the nature of Christian living, the Holy Spirit uses that of warfare. No image could be more apt.

John White, The Fight

...subject to all manner of tribulations, to troublesome circumstances beyond number, which make us uneven in health, moods and disposition of heart and of behaviour; in a word, people whom God desires to bring low by countless trials and travail as much within as without. We must without doubt believe that it is to our advantage, that it is pleasing to God to sacrifice us to himself...

Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God

A victory is twice itself when the achiever brings home full numbers... In our last conflict four of his five wits went halting off, and now is the whole man governed by one.

William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing

E'en victors are by victories undone.

Epistle to John Dryden

One more such victory, and we are lost.

Pyrrhus

Some Christians are so self-confident that they think they can manage by themselves without the Lord's strength and armour. Others are so self-distrustful that they imagine they have nothing to contribute to their victory in spiritual warfare. Both are mistaken.

John Stott, God's New Society

'Much-Afraid,' said the two guides, stooping over her and shaking her by the shoulder gently but firmly. 'Much-Afraid, you know where your help lies. Call for help.' She clung to them and sobbed again. 'I am afraid to call,' she gasped. 'I am so afraid that if I call him, he will tell me that I must go that way, that dreadful, dreadful way, and I can't. It's impossible. I can't face it. Oh, what shall I do? Whatever shall I do?.'

Hannah Hurnard, Hinds Feet on High Places

The Hebrew words for 'salvation' are readily translated 'victory'.

F.F. Bruce, This is That

'If the people who run the show are so clever and so powerful, why don't they find something to suit their public?. All this poppycock about growing harder so that the grass doesn't hurt our feet...

C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

From subtle love of softening things,
From easy choices, weakenings,
Not thus are spirits fortified,
Not this way went the Crucified,
From all that dims Thy Calvary, O Lamb of God, deliver me.


Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur


For yours, Lord, is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever and ever. I thank you for accepting me into that kingdom and for making me heir to its privileges. Thank you for entrusting me with its keys and for giving me your power to war against the principalities and powers of evil, to bind them, and to loose situations and people in bondage to them.

Thank you that no testing I encounter during the course of today will be beyond your power. Armour me with discernment and the will to win. Help me to be patient in suffering and even to rejoice in it, so long as my own stupidity has not brought it upon me. Keep before me a vision of victory -- the victory of the cross -- and help me to see each day’s events from its perspective.

Thank you for understanding my frailties, the fluctuations of my faith and my utter foolishness in so much that I do. Help me to develop your strength, constancy and wisdom, so that I may grow up into you in all things and be conformed to your image and likeness. May you be satisfied with the travail of your soul for me.



A Benediction

Bless the Lord! Blessing and honour and glory and might be his for ever and ever. And now be assured of his blessing -- his abundant blessing -- on all that you seek to do and to be for him. You are his personal investment: he holds you secure in his mighty hand, and he will keep you secure until eternity. You are part of that great multitude that will one day stand before the throne, having come out of great tribulation. God himself will wipe away every tear from your eyes and your crying and pain will be no more. He will shelter you with his presence, and you will rest in his love. So work together with him for good -- a peculiar good for a peculiar people -- and may the blessing of a loving Father, an understanding Saviour, and the empowering of the Holy Spirit, be with you now and every day. Amen.

Still Waters, Deep Waters
ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 146-151

Saturday, November 17, 2007

SURPRISED BY JOY


Surprised by joy - (C. S. Lewis)

'I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow. I will satisfy the priests with abundance, and my people will be filled with my bounty,' declares the Lord.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, 'Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.'

These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng.

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me... Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart's delight, for I bear your name, O Lord God Almighty.

If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.


(Jeremiah 31:13-14; Matthew 13:44; Isaiah 52:9; Luke 10:17; Psalm 42:4; 1 Thessalonians 3:9; Psalm 51:10 and 12; Jeremiah 15:16; John 15:10-12; Psalm 126:5-6; James 1:2-4; Hebrews 12:2 -- all NIV)


True joy is a rare experience, it seems. We humans are more prone to think in terms of happiness or pleasure than we are of joy, and those who do cast joy a glance often find it illusory or transient. One sceptic, Stanislaw Lec, has cautioned: 'When you jump for joy, beware that no one moves the ground from beneath your feet !' However, joy, the joy that is one of the fruits of the Spirit, is meant to have a central place in the Christian life, enriching not only our own lives but also those around us. As James Packer has said: 'Joy is like jam, you know: it sticks to you as you try to spread it!'

Sometimes it is easy to be joyful. When our daily needs have been amply supplied, when the relationship of family and friends is sweet, when we have seen God working for us and through us, we can fairly readily identify with the psalmist who testified: 'You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence' (Psalm 16:11 NIV).

But sometimes, sadly, the experience of joy becomes routine and predictable, hardly distinguishable from ordinary human happiness. Perhaps that is because we focus on the joys of life rather than on the Joy of life; or perhaps it is because we are looking for joy in the wrong places. We have forgotten that, in God's way of doing things, the path to joy is often through obedience and suffering.

So sometimes we are surprised by joy! For joy appears when and where we are not expecting it. When our hearts have been moved to confess sin and our lives have been cleansed and renewed; when our ears have listened to God's word and our wills have been set to obey his commands; when we allow his love to flow through us to others -- then we are promised that our joy will be complete. When our hearts are broken by sorrow or persecution; when our faith is stretched to the limit; when our cross is more than we can bear -- then we are offered pure joy.

Happiness turns up more or less where you'd expect it to -- a good marriage, a rewarding job, a pleasant vacation. Joy, on the other hand, is as notoriously unpredictable as the one who bequeaths it.

Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking

I'm happy when ev'rything happens to please,
But happiness comes and goes;
While the heart that is stayed on Jesus the Saviour
Ever with joy o'erflows;

Happiness happens, but joy abides,
In the heart that is stayed on Jesus.


Helen Howarth Lemmuel

Different, then, from pleasure and happiness, joy is that abiding beatitude, that deep-down exuberance which comes from God through his Spirit by faith in his Son. Joy is thus supernatural in its source and essence, a foretaste of the face to face communion with God that will be rapture for ever.

Vernon C. Grounds, in an article entitled 'Soar with the Eagles, Sing with the Angels'

True joy is the earnest which we have of heaven, it is the treasure of the soul, and therefore should be laid in a safe place, and nothing of this world is safe to place it in.

John Donne, Sermons, No.28

Life, of course, is not one big picnic. Something has happened, however, to take the trials and troubles of life and turn their little rivulets of sorrow and sadness into a great stream of gladness and joy.

That stream comes not from mere religion, but from Christ, the Saviour of the world. You might say that life was not very good to Christ... Life spat in his face and hung him up to die. Life, however, could not lick Christ. Already ticketed for death, the condemned man entered the city without pretension as a conquering hero. Preparing for death, he organised a victory banquet. His last conversation with the men who had left all to follow him, their hearts now heavy with premonition and apprehension, included this ringing declaration: 'These things have I spoken unto you that my joy might remain in you and that your joy might be full...'

Oswald C.J. Hoffmann, in a sermon entitled 'In the Reality of Joy'

Joy, not grit, is the hallmark of holy obedience. We need to be lighthearted in what we do to avoid taking ourselves too seriously. It is a cheerful revolt against self and pride. Our work is jubilant, carefree, merry. Utter abandonment to God is done freely and with celebration. And so I urge you to enjoy this ministry of self-surrender. Don't push too hard. Hold this work lightly, joyfully.

The saints throughout the ages have witnessed to this reality... You know, of course, that they are not speaking of a silly, superficial, bubbly kind of joy like that flaunted in modern society. No, this is a deep, resonant joy that has been shaped and tempered by the fires of suffering and sorrow - joy through the cross, joy because of the cross.

Richard Foster, Freedom of Simplicity

'The fruit of the Spirit is joy,' Paul said. Joy is a by-product of possessing the Spirit and being possessed by the Spirit. It is the conscious possession of power adequate enough to carry us through every trial, every situation, and it will remain ours to the end... In this life, we shall never be free of sorrow. But, then, we shall never be free of joy. And joy is the dominant note. We are in touch with a power that dries all tears, lifts all burdens, satisfies all needs. Our lives are hidden with God in Christ.

John N. Gladstone, in a sermon entitled 'Weeping and Whistling'

So how are we to learn to rejoice in the Lord always? Answer: First, by understanding what the ingredients of Christian joy are, and second (take a deep breath) by choosing it. How does one choose joy? By choosing to practice the art of Christian thinking. By choosing to dwell, over and over, on this fourfold awareness from which the joy flows. Yes, he loves me and accepts me. Yes, my circumstances are sent by God for my good. Yes, I have something supremely worth having: the knowledge of my Saviour. Yes, I am doing something supremely worth doing, in seeking every opportunity to share Jesus Christ with others. As one thinks these things over, joy wells up spontaneously. You choose joy by choosing to think on these things. That is the secret.

J.I. Packer, in a sermon entitled 'Joy'

An orange tree cannot bear fruit in total independence. Sunshine, rain, and soil must play a part if oranges are to be brought forth. So it is with ourselves and joy. We may crave joy and fiercely will to be joyful. But as psychologist Abraham Maslow put it: 'You cannot seek ecstatic moments directly; you must be surprised by joy.' And in saying that, Maslow is endorsing Paul's teaching that joy is a fruit. We cannot directly produce it.

We can, however, cooperate with the fruit-producing forces, and at the same time we can eliminate anything that might blight productivity. An orange-grower prunes his trees, fertilises and waters them, fights insects by spraying, and sometimes, when frost threatens, puts out smudge-pots. Having done his human best, he waits for forces outside himself to produce the desired fruit.

Vernon C. Grounds, 'Soar with the Eagles, Sing with the Angels'


O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to Thee:
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.


George Matheson

You must help me to understand and to believe, O God, that while the feelings of your nearness may dim or diminish, the fact of your presence is forever secure.

You are always near,

You are with me and you will go before me even amidst the tragedies and dark crises that clutter my course through life.

Thank you, O Lord, for surprising me with joy. May it refresh and recharge my life and my faith in you.

May it result in a deeper dedication to your purposes, and bring some joy to the lives of others who cross my path.

For the sake of Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.


Leslie F. Brandt, A Book of Christian Prayer


A Benediction

May our God, in whose presence alone is fullness of joy, be so real to us in all the varying circumstances of life, that we can be confident, however dark the night, that joy will come in the morning.

May our Lord Jesus Christ, who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, teach us to pray in his name, that, asking, we will receive, and our joy will be full.

And may the Holy Spirit, through whose power the fruit of joy grows in our lives, give us such motivation and strength to be obedient and faithful servants that we will constantly be surprised by joy.


Still Waters, Deep Waters ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 140-145


Thursday, November 15, 2007

RUNNING WITH ANGELS' LAUGHTER


Running with angels' laughter - (John Hazelwood)

There is no condemnation for those who are united with Christ Jesus, because in Christ Jesus the life-giving law of the Spirit has set you free from the law of sin and death. I am convinced that there is nothing in death or life, in the realm of spirits or superhuman powers, in the world as it is or the world as it shall be, in the forces of the universe, in heights or depths -- nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Speak to one another in psalms, hymns and songs; sing and make music in your hearts to the Lord; and in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ give thanks every day for everything to our God and Father.

Don't worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need, always asking him with a thankful heart. And God's peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus.

Praise the Lord, my soul! All my being, praise his holy name!

Praise the Lord, my soul, And do not forget how kind he is.

He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases.


(Romans 8:1, 38-39, NEB; Ephesians 5:18-20, NEB; Philippians 4:6-7, GNB; Psalm 103:1-3, GNB)


The thirteenth of October 1982 was the tenth anniversary of a plane crash in the Andes with forty-five people aboard. Seventeen died immediately. Twelve died in the following days. Seventy days after the crash, sixteen young men who survived were rescued. Twenty-nine-year-old Uruguayan Gustavo Zerbino said on the tenth anniversary: 'The mountains drastically changed our scale of values. I am in society and must be concerned about economic realities. But I try to emphasise the spiritual and human part of life. We lit fires with money in the Andes. Money may help attain goals, but it isn't a goal in itself.' Fernando Parrado, thirty-two, whose mother died in the crash and whose sister agonised for five days in his arms before dying said, 'I'm no preacher. I don't go around telling people to enjoy what they have while they have it, but that is what we learned.'

These two men are not speaking with the same breadth as Paul in his letters but there is a hint of angels' laughter in their approach to life. The shadows of the crash, the deaths, the cold still hang over them. But they are not defeated by the memories nor absorbed by what they now have. They are like Paul in this, that they know the reality of God, as if he were standing astride everything, bearing them up in his arms.


For my purposes I take it that the Caroline Divines are clergymen or bishops of the Church of England who lived, taught and suffered through the years of the reign of James I and Charles I up to 1650... Saints have a resiliency that runs with angels' laughter over the machinations of other men's greed, pride and polity. These saints, enshrined where they are in the dangerous minefields of Stuart and Puritan civil strife and Roman Catholic threat, hold hands with the saints of the fourteenth century in that they see the relationship of God with men shining through the natural world...

John Hazelwood, from the chapter, 'The Spirituality of the Caroline Divines' in Anglican Spirituality.

Hurrah for those who never invented anything;
Hurrah for those who never explored anything;
Hurrah for those who never conquered anything;
But who, in awe, gave themselves up to the essence of things,
Ignorant of the shell, but seized by the rhythm of things
Not intent on conquest, but playing the part of the world.


by the Caribbean poet Aime Ceasaire

From the standpoint of the Christian faith, the potential of the world for beauty and squalor, for wonder and terror, for many shades and varieties of meaning, is an authentic potential -- as authentic as the potential of radio waves to become sounds. Beauty and squalor and other varieties of meaning are not merely projected upon the world by man's imagination; for the Creator himself has given to the world not only power of being but also power of meaning, not only existence but meaningful existence. So man, in perceiving meaning in the world, perceives what is really there. He sees -- no doubt in a distorted or limited way -- what God sees: at least he sees the dimension -- the dimension of meaning -which God sees. He becomes a point at which God's perception of the world is, as it were, caught in a tiny mirror and projected back to God; so that, if a flight of imagination may be permitted, God sees before him not only the world which he has made in all its depth of meaning but also myriads of points at which something of that depth of meaning is received by human consciousness and reflected back to him. God creates a world which includes among its infinite variety of wonders this culminating wonder -- that there are points within it at which, in the consciousness of men, its wonders are received and recognised.

W.H. Vanstone, The Stature of Waiting

Some were bearded but no one in that company struck me as being of any particular age. One gets glimpses, even in our country, of that which is ageless -- heavy thought in the face of an infant, and frolic childhood in that of a very old man.

C.S. Lewis, in a description of heaven in The Great Divorce

The spring blew trumpets of colour,
Her green sang in my brain,
I heard a blind man groping
tap-tap with his cane.
I pitied him his blindness
but can I say I see?
Perhaps there walks close by a
spirit that pities me.
A spirit that sees me tapping the
five-sensed cane of time;
Amid such unguess'd glories
that I am worse than blind!


Harry Kemp, 'Blind' in Great Poems of the English Language

Let then our first act every morning be to make the following resolve for the day: 'I shall not fear anyone on earth. I shall fear only God. I shall not bear ill-will towards anyone. I shall not submit to injustice from anyone. I shall conquer untruth by truth and in resisting untruth, I shall put up with all suffering.' Mahatma Gandhi

At the beginning of the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, we set up a voluntary car pool to get the people to and from their jobs. For eleven months our car pool functioned extraordinarily well. Then Mayor Gayle introduced a resolution instructing the city's legal department to file such proceedings as it might deem proper to stop the operation of the car pool or any transportation system growing out of the bus boycott. A hearing was set for Tuesday, November 13, 1956.

At our regular weekly mass meeting, scheduled the night before the hearing, I had the responsibility of warning the people that the car pool would probably be enjoined...

When the evening came, I mustered sufficient courage to tell them the truth. I tried, however, to conclude on a note of hope. 'We have moved all of these months,' I said, 'in the daring faith that God is with us in our struggle. The many experiences of days gone by have vindicated that faith in a marvellous way. Tonight we must believe that a way will be made out of no way...'

[Next day] in anxiety and hope, I read these words in the court release: 'The United States Supreme Court today unanimously ruled bus segregation unconstitutional in Montgomery, Alabama.' My heart throbbed with an inexpressible joy. The darkest hour of our struggle had become the first hour of victory. Someone shouted from the back of the courtroom: 'God Almighty has spoken from Washington!'

Martin Luther King, in a sermon 'A Knock at Midnight'


The Prayer of the Goldfish

O God, forever I turn in this hard crystal,
so transparent, yet I can find no way out.
Lord, deliver me from the cramp of this water
and these terrifying things I see through it.
Put me back in the play of your torrents, in your limpid springs.
Let me no longer be a little goldfish
in its prison of glass, but a living spark
in the gentleness of your reeds. Amen.


Carmen Bernos de Gasztold, Prayers of the Ark

Father, I thank you that Jesus never lost his bright hopefulness even when everything was at its darkest. I remember how he held to you when the devil tempted him in the wilderness, how he cared for children when the disciples impatiently dismissed them, and how he endured the cross because of the joy that was set before him.

Father, help me to live joyfully when today's Pharisaic attitudes threaten to make me doubt your love for all things great and small. Show me how to run with angels' laughter over all arrogance, bigotry, meanness and manipulation -- in myself and in others.




A Benediction

The Lord be within you to strengthen you; over and around you to ward off your spiritual foes on every side; under you to hold you up in your goings; behind you to guard you from the assaults of the past; before you to lead you on. Amen.
Still Waters, Deep Waters ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 135-139