Friday, December 7, 2007


For whoever would save his life, will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.

Master... I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.

A grain of wheat remains a solitary grain unless it falls into the ground and dies; but if it dies, it bears a rich harvest.

So do not start worrying: 'Where will my food come from, or my drink, or my clothes? (These are the things the pagans are always concerned about)... Instead, be concerned above everything else with the kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things.

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.

If one of you wants to be great, he must be the servant of the rest; and if one of you wants to be first, he must be the slave of all. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

(Mark 8:35, RSV; Matthew 25:24-25, RSV; John 12:24, NEB; Matthew 6:31-33, GNB; Galatians 2:20, RSV; Galatians 5:22-23, RSV; Mark 19:43-44, GNB; 2 Corinthians 12:10, RSV)

The various forms of our first Bible sentence (Mark 8:35) occur often enough in the gospels for us to regard it as expressing Jesus' basic law of living. The other sentences group themselves around two aspects of that profound saying.

The primary meaning is the folly of trying to 'play it safe' in the face of Christ's call to a radical adventure of faith, in which we risk losing what we most want to preserve. Second, there are many things we seek which do not seem to yield to a direct approach, one that is self-defeating. They are, rather, a kind of by-product of something else altogether.

This latter is a principle of very wide application. Its relevance to many human quests is well-known, such as happiness, security, freedom, peace and so on, but its operation in other areas may not be so well recognised. Personal influence, for example. The harder we try to accomplish this, the less we succeed. Few things get our hackles up more quickly than the suspicion that somebody is trying to set us a good example.

Another example is the common quest for ecstatic spiritual experiences for their own sake. This so easily becomes a form of self-indulgence, and is subject to the law of diminishing returns. The truly great moments come unbidden, and are unpredictable.

The cultivation of personal character by means of devotional exercises is another example. Character, in our use of the word, is not really a biblical word at all. Goodness is not the aim, but the result of our dedication to God's will. 'Man's chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever,' and goodness is a by-product of that.

It could be a valuable devotional exercise to try to identify other areas where this principle applies.

The man, says Jesus, who is always trying to 'save' his life, to ensure security, material, intellectual, spiritual, to keep his personality sheltered from the risks and hardships which are an essential part of the discipline of life, will find at the end that he has lost it: there is nothing there to save, nothing but a handful of dust, the dust of withered opportunities. The man who sees the truth of this eternal law of life... and is therefore ready to take risks, to throw away security and hazard life itself, will find that he has discovered its secret, and entered into the fulfilment of it.

F.A. Cockin, in The Christian Faith

The more a man goes out from himself, or goes beyond himself, the more the spiritual dimension of his life is deepened, the more he becomes truly man, the more he grows in likeness to God, who is Spirit. On the other hand, the more he turns inward and loses himself in self-interest, the less human does he become. This is the strange paradox of spiritual being -- that precisely by going out and spending itself, it realises itself. It grows not weaker, but stronger, for it is not a quantifiable thing.

John Macquarrie, Paths in Spirituality

I cannot emphasise the element of risk too strongly. To embark on a change of milieu, a change of habit, always feels like a 'little death'. Every step forth into a new dimension of life is a kind of dying. It must have been that, quite literally, for birds that lost their forest feeding-grounds, and ventured into the edge of the lake, initiating a habit that was to launch a new species of spoonbill. Certainly ,for us who are so much more conscious of the choices we make and the habits we change, real advance never seems like self-fulfilment, though that is what it is; it is always experienced first of all as self-


John V. Taylor, The Go-Between God

Friendship can only occur when we give ourself to the other, and to offer ourself to someone else is the most risky of all

human endeavours.

Andrew M. Greeley, The Friendship Game

War knows no power; safe shall be my going, Secretly armed against all death's endeavours; Safe, though all safety's lost, safe where men fall; And if these poor limbs die, safest of all.

Rupert Brooke

True attention is an involuntary self-surrender to the object of attention. The child who is absorbed is utterly relaxed. The adult mind, also, must be unstriving, receptive, expectant, before there can be any creative insight. Again and again this is the state of mind in which new truth dawns. We do not work it out or think it out; rather, we have the sense of waiting for the disclosure of something that is already there.

John V. Taylor, The Go-Between God

... truth, like love and sleep, resents

Approaches that are too intense.

W.H. Auden, New Year Letter

Writers on ethics have often spoken of 'the paradox of hedonism' -- the fact that the quest for happiness defeats itself. But they have not so often noticed what I call 'the paradox of moralism' -- the fact that the quest for goodness defeats itself.

D.M. Baillie, God Was in Christ

This whole concern about our own effort, moreover, is hostile to the spirit of peace. The faith which does not rely wholly upon God, but partly on exciting or disciplining its own soul, lives in valetudinarian anxiety about its spiritual health. To be perpetually feeling our own pulse is the surest way to rob ourselves of the self-forgetting vigour in which health is displayed.

John Oman, Grace and Personality

Only those who are generous to the limits of self-loss can hope to be channels of the generosity of God. In that crisis the I, the separate self, with its loves and hates, its personal preoccupations, is sacrificed and left behind. And out of this most true and active death to self, the spirit is reborn into the new life: not in some transcendental world, but in this world, among those who love us and those we love.

Evelyn Underhill, The School of Charity

In his poem (Song of a Man Who Has Come Through), Lawrence has deliberately used biblical imagery to suggest the mysterious depths of human life: the irresistible wind, the bubbling inner fountain, a knock on the door in the night. We can, if we give ourselves in surrender to God and our fellows, travel fast without movement; reap what we never sowed; be refreshed from the deep fountain welling up from the heart; find our deepest friend in the one who frightens us by coming in out of the night. And all this, provided we do not say to Christ, the Spirit-bearer: 'Ask of me and you will not receive; seek and you will not find; knock and I will not open the door.'

Peter de Rosa, Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me

Seeking and losing life belong together so closely that any one prudently trying to save his life might as well be intent on losing it. But, turned around, the connection between losing one's life and actually saving it breaks apart on the words, 'For my sake and the gospel's.' Whatever else these words may mean, they certainly direct a man's whole intention and attention toward another goal than in the end saving his own life.

Paul Ramsay, Basic Christian Ethics

Show me, Lord, what all this has to do with me, and the service I am trying to render in your world. Am I too much of an activist? Am I trying to take over in areas where you are trying to say to me, 'Move over, and let me be God'?

Keep me from becoming obsessed with what I see as success, and to be more concerned with doing your will as I discover it; and from being too discouraged by what seems to me failure, knowing how ambiguous these two words are in Christian affairs. Save me from the fear of losing what I prize, not realising that by giving it to you I gain and enhance it.

Help me truly to understand the paradox of '1, yet not 1'. l seem to drive myself too much towards certain goals, overlooking the fact that they are the fruits of the surrender of my will to you and your purposes in the world. Help me to understand what is happening when what I want most seems to elude me at every turn, and what I have surrendered comes my way unbidden, and strangely enriched.

So many of your words seem a little hard to understand, but, if I am to be quite honest, my confusion often arises not from my lack of understanding but from my lack of willingness. Remind me of what I so easily allow myself to forget: that this world is full of situations which call for courage and the taking of risks. Let me know the joy, the 'creative ecstasy' of really losing myself for your sake in some enterprise for the help and liberation of others.

A Benediction

May the grace of Christ uphold you,

And the love of God enfold you;

May the Holy Spirit guide you,

And all joy and peace betide you,

Now and always. Amen.

Still Waters, Deep Waters ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 213-217

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