A blessed constellation of stuff happened in church: the interim minister, preaching about some of the mysteries and grace around strength and weakness, said in passing that when you get older your arms aren’t long enough to read from your notes when a man, charming with a big smile and rough around the edges, told her to put it in the bright sunshine because she would be able to see it then. I was very happy, but that happy feeling was diluted a bit with a bit of a feeling of hypocrisy in my Sunday best clothing compared to the honest, beautiful grin with missing teeth of that other man in the congregation.
We hear in Corinthians that the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom. I think this rare combo in the calendar is an important reminder for people who share my inclinations for contemplativeness and melancholy, because I’m convinced oftentimes our honest hearted foolishness gets us closer to God than our attempts at profundity. For, like George Macdonald said, ‘it is the heart that is unsure of its God that is afraid to laugh in His presence.’ So this is a great day to stop wallowing and be happy
I read The Passion from the Book of Common Prayer yesterday, and I was struck when Pilate replied to Jesus, ‘what is truth?’
I certainly have asked that question in varying forms of expression and varying degrees of intensity, and I think I’m not alone, for my little part in the journey, in often feeling like Pilate did: afraid and under competing pressures and exasperated in the middle of it. I too often let those feelings and those things push me around instead of focusing on the presence of the Lord. Pilate was overwhelmed by those feelings and those things to the point that he didn’t ask the question honestly or he didn’t wait in the presence of the Lord for an answer. He quickly and repeatedly turned to the mob. When you don’t wait and work for love to cast out fear that is what happens: you anxiously allow yourself to become a victim of circumstance and allow worldly pressures to sway.
My maternal grandfather died on Good Friday a decade before I was born. I think about him often, and it’s one of the many reasons this poem by John Donne is so moving:
Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward
J. D., Poems (London: M. F. for John Marriot, 1633).
1Let mans Soule be a Spheare, and then, in this,
2The intelligence that moves, devotion is,
3And as the other Spheares, by being growne
4Subject to forraigne motion, lose their owne,
5And being by others hurried every day,
6Scarce in a yeare their naturall forme obey:
7Pleasure or businesse, so, our Soules admit
8For their first mover, and are whirld by it.
9Hence is’t, that I am carryed towards the West
10This day, when my Soules forme bends toward the East.
11There I should see a Sunne, by rising set,
12And by that setting endlesse day beget;
13But that Christ on this Crosse, did rise and fall,
14Sinne had eternally benighted all.
15Yet dare I’almost be glad, I do not see
16That spectacle of too much weight for mee.
17Who sees Gods face, that is selfe life, must dye;
18What a death were it then to see God dye?
19It made his owne Lieutenant Nature shrinke,
20It made his footstoole crack, and the Sunne winke.
21Could I behold those hands which span the Poles,
22And tune all spheares at once peirc’d with those holes?
23Could I behold that endlesse height which is
24Zenith to us, and our Antipodes,
25Humbled below us? or that blood which is
26The seat of all our Soules, if not of his,
27Made durt of dust, or that flesh which was worne
28By God, for his apparell, rag’d, and torne?
29If on these things I durst not looke, durst I
30Upon his miserable mother cast mine eye,
31Who was Gods partner here, and furnish’d thus
32Halfe of that Sacrifice, which ransom’d us?
33Though these things, as I ride, be from mine eye,
34They’are present yet unto my memory,
35For that looks towards them; and thou look’st towards mee,
36O Saviour, as thou hang’st upon the tree;
37I turne my backe to thee, but to receive
38Corrections, till thy mercies bid thee leave.
39O thinke mee worth thine anger, punish mee,
40Burne off my rusts, and my deformity,
41Restore thine Image, so much, by thy grace,
42That thou may’st know mee, and I’ll turne my face.
I wrote that the ‘idealized’ paintings of nature should inspire us to seek out wildness and cultivate a richer, more harmonious relationship with nature. (Midas learned the hard way what a rich relationship with nature is- and it’s not money or status)
I think this short letter I wrote years ago shows some of my Celtic pagan roots, perhaps, that I’ve been ruminating on and trying to deal with for a few days now. Still, I hope this intense relationship with nature is now a strong part of my faith. I know that God wants us to delight in our relations with His Creation. The origin of the word relation is from the old French bring back, and all of Creation wants to return to God. My relations to nature are similar to my relations to my childhood home- I care so much more about my family than I do the physical building, but how I relate to the building does help remind me of those important family experiences. I hope that my relationship with nature is like the relationship of the man with the field in Jesus’ parable Matthew 13: for the treasure is the Kingdom of Heaven, but the man sold everything he had for the field that he found it in. That treasure is most important, but where it is found also then becomes a joy and takes on a special quality you’ll always relate to that grace and that treasure.
I should add that relationship with nature is one of stewardship and once we are moved by the beauty of Creation, and find harmony within it, then that richness is what happens when, as Chesterton said, ‘good things run wild.’ That our relationship with nature is most rich when we see God’s pleasure. You would want to take care of that field because it is where you found the treasure. You would sell everything you have to keep that connection with the treasure and the memory of the joyous moment you found it.
We can’t learn without relationship, and the ultimate relationship is with Jesus. We can also learn from harmonious relationships with The Gospels and Creation, and all of those other little relationships are tributaries that flow into these big rivers and ultimately return to the source, and I hope these relationships are rich enough to bear fruit of the spirit, because where your treasure is is where your heart is
There’s a mystery to it, but whatever happened with dogs and horses is what I’m talking about- that’s the awesome harmony with the wild
11 March 2018: So, I just finished reading Anna Karenina, and near the end someone quotes Matthew 10 “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword,” which is the passage that most disturbed Levin in the Gospels. The clarity and utter refreshment that he feels in his conversion at the end of the story isn’t shaken by this political discussion about war. It is that freedom of priorities Varenka shows Kitty in the heart of the story. I am reminded that Jesus also called us to love our enemies, and that sword is the sword to cut off your hand if it causes you to sin- to cut away the things that evil tempts you to think are between you and God, or to cut away the false gods that seize you and make you feel stuck, preventing you from being with Him. It’s the love that cuts off those chains and frees the sinner. Like one of my English professors pointed out when we were talking about the Faerie Queen: it’s the reverse order of the French lyrics to O Canada- ‘your arm knows how to carry the cross [and that’s why] your arm knows how to wield the sword.’ I should add it’s regrettable Spenser wasn’t as virtuous in his views of the Irish, though.
The original musing before the new year: I wrote about the freedom you feel when, like Kitty in Anna Karenina, you find what’s most important- what you would give everything for- and how that gets everything in line and gets you moving again. When you find that out, you can easily give up most things and you can have the courage to give up harder things when called upon. I think of the story of Aron Ralston in the movie 127 hours: that’s an intense physical version of what you would sacrifice to be able to move again and live! Here’s hoping that everyone finds what is most important in 2019!
I was talking to an intriguing character on a ferry and he half-jokingly called me a pagan, and this threw me through a loop and I ended up stammering that I am a wandering non-denominational Christian today. I quickly had a sinking feeling about that description- I would have preferred wayfaring, journeying, or wondering. I think the wandering part is more honest most of the time, though, and that’s why it came out. I wander between denominations, but it made me seriously think how much I wander in other senses of the the word.
Well, like Gandalf wrote to Frodo: ‘not all those who wander are lost,’ but I do feel lost much of the time, or enjoying the beauty of God’s creation while wandering at the better times. I have a relationship with Jesus, and when I truly confess and praise it’s the best of times, but my prayer life is so very far off from Brother Lawrence’s example, for example. So, I’m glad that the unflattering description that came out of my mouth grated on me and frightened me about how much I go my own misguided way because it’s spurred me to be more committed, to be closer to the Lord so that if I wander I don’t feel lost. I know where and why I am. If there is an upside to the wandering it is that I have seen and paid attention to the Light in my travels in Catholic schools, and Reformed Christian schools, and liberal mainline churches. I have noticed the Light in every Christian denomination I have experienced. I don’t expect to change the non-denominational part, and I don’t necessarily want to change the wandering part- just my religious experience of it.
I hope I’m like the children in Kipling’s poem ‘The Way through the Woods,’ in that, though it looks like I’m wandering, I’m following the long lost way through the woods and Jesus is with me when I feel lost, because there is no road through the woods
The first time I was asked about my faith in public was on a bus back when I was in University. I replied that I didn’t know if I was ready to be a Christian, and-although I know that I need to give more of myself- I am getting closer and I can say honestly that I have a budding faith, so that this wandering period I described this second time I was asked could be part of a journey back to God after all.
That reminds me of a C.S. Lewis essay where he writes that the further along you are on your faith journey the harder God seems to be with you (with the prime example of Matthew 27 and Mark 15), which reminds me of making maple syrup this time of year: the sap is sweet until the buds appear, and that’s when the leaf starts taking in carbon dioxide and emitting oxygen. The conversion is sweet and for me it was intense relief and revitalization, but then God let’s you give as much as you possibly can and, while you are happy and blessed, it’s not always a nice wandering walk in the park.
*I’ve been trying to restrain my smartphone usage during Lent to be less distracted, and I felt impelled to write this on my smartphone- God’s foolishness is wiser than my wisdom!
Doubt should be to Faith (the lifeblood of a relationship) as wind is to trees; it pulls on the roots(memories of that relationship) and should encourage the growth of roots