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Posts Tagged ‘Faith’

…the day that You abandoned us, leaving this world God-haunted. I know the Holy Ghost comes as a Comforter, leading us into all truth. But I must admit this truth leaves me as cold as the presence of Your absence in this world. You went away. You left us here, to muddle through as best we can. And we have yet to find You fully, and all too many mornings it feels I’m merely making it all up over and over again.

In The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis unfathomably calls this loss “the ultimate law,” claiming that things will only live for us once we abandon them, that the very lack of a thing gives rise to a longing which calls us out of ourselves, and only there will we find ourselves, along with all we long for, thrown in. He names this thing “Joy,” though I must admit I’ve never felt at all sure why, for this painful stab seems mostly to show us not much more than how alone we are.

And, truth be told, we are so alone. Perhaps the candles that we kindle, all the songs we sing, perhaps these acts of worship that all too often lapse into going through the motions are just that and nothing more. He has left us SO alone.

What then? Sleep in on Sabbath, cast it all aside as if alone is all our story? I hope to God that even still, I’m not that kind of fool–not yet, at least. For in the heart of emptiness, of pangs of longing piercing us we hear, down in the deep heart’s core that there is more, much more, yes so much more than all this emptiness.

For all of this alone, this waiting room will surely point (once we peer into it) to truth that will transform us if we let it. This room of empty waiting shouts aloud to those with ears to hear that we are here alone but for a season, so that we will look outside and find all that we’re waiting for is brimming, just next door, and surely coming back to claim us all.

And so, for me, today, the only point in all of this alone He left behind is this one fact that yanks it into clarity, to finally making sense:

He shall return.

For surely here in this God-haunted world we read the very opposite of all the old ghost-stories. For surely here the Holy Ghost does many things, but maybe most of all He points us towards those days when Ghosts come back to life, take on new flesh, join bone to bone, when faith will finally wake to glorious sight and we shall finally, fully see and know, not now as through a darkened glass.

So go, Lord, go ahead, ascend, go leave us and then send the Holy Ghost, by whom we lean our lives all on this promise: You shall surely come again.

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A number of my friends are going through some really difficult times. And I’ve had my share of late. These thoughts came up–sorry if they sound preachy. If they do, rest assured I’m preaching mostly to myself.

They say weeping may last the night, but joy cometh in the morning. True, and one of the only reasons to wake up and try again. But they never tell you that along with joy you still have to put up with puffy eyes.

Pain often infuses the path of this life; surely God knows this, for why else would He describe Heaven as the place where He wipes away all our tears? We all like Odysseus sit sometimes by the side of the sea with salt-rimmed eyes. God haste the day we wake up on the farther side of that shore and find we have, we are, all we need. And God help us somehow see that shore even today.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the visions of Heaven we find in the Scriptures and feel (sometimes) in our hearts are simply picture-postcards: “the weather is fine; wish you were here” maybe translates loosely into “all manner of things shall be well” and “even so, come Lord Jesus!” So today we struggle to agree with John and Julian.

A friend recently noted that weeping precedes resurrection, at least in Jesus’ life. Feeling deep despair comes at the verge of new life sweeping in, taking us by surprise, and catching us all off our guard.

And so as we pick our imperfect way through the rest of this Lent, maybe we might try to embody once more some of the paradoxes of our faith–we put ashes on our heads and think of the death of the body as spring bursts forth all around us. We mourn, though not as those without hope. We give thanks in ALL circumstances. And we weep through the night, and wait, puffy-eyed, for steadfast love, and new mercies every morning.

Lift up your weary heads, friends, if only for a moment (or a few moments at a time). Look to the hills. Help comes from on high. Remember that old prayer found in many traditions, “Oh God make speed to save us, Oh Lord make haste to help us.” How refreshing, because it says essentially what so many of us cry as we wrestle with our angels in the dark: “Hey God? Hurry UP!”

Keep crying. Run to the strong tower of the Name of the Lord. Grapple, give up, and then stumble to your feet and try again, a weather eye to the hills whence help comes. And let the tears fall, for none are in vain, and God catches them all and treasures them up like diamonds against that great and glorious Day.

They say that joy cometh in the morning. Given how I need it now, I hope that it’s all true.

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Of the three temptations Jesus faced in the Wilderness, I find that only one holds any sort of appeal for me. All the kingdoms of the world? No thanks. I have trouble enough keeping my apartment in order, much less all the mess that all the kingdoms might make. Throw myself down? Try the provision of God and His angels to keep my feet from falling? As if that doesn’t describe my daily struggle anyway. No, I already hurl myself into far too many scrapes, and then cry out to God to save me from the mess I’ve made. Ask my angels; surely they could tell the countless times they bear me up on their hands.

No, it’s the first temptation that has proven my plague all of my life. Turning stones to bread? Ah, now you’ve got my full attention.

I love food. A friend recently commented on how funny it is that food delights me. And it does–sometimes a little too much, for often a celebration involves a meal, fellowship requires tea or beer, and comfort sometimes comes from the ice cream aisle. At best I hope my delight in food has something to do with God long ago preparing me for His Table, both the one I eat at on Sundays and the Marriage Feast of the Lamb.

Because I’m hungry. Inside of me I find deep desires that all my life I have longed, and tried in vain, to fill. Lewis’s talk of longing resonates deep inside, that search for something never there. Pierce Pettis calls it “the presence of your absence.” I could describe the course of my life as one long string of looking for bread and finding a stone.

And try as I might, my alchemical powers turn up sorely lacking in the wilderness of this world. Try as I might, I just can’t wave my wand and make the stones feed me. You remember that old Brothers Grimm story “Stone Soup:” at the end of the meal, they take the stone from the pot and move on. And of course, the stone did not make the meal, but rather the reluctant generosity of many filled that pot with good things–the stone had nothing to do with the actual meal.

And so with me. How gracious of God to see me searching out stones and reminding me that what I really hunger for is bread, and that only by the devil’s hand can I in myself turn what I seek into what I need. He reminds me as well that His Word is really what I hunger for most. That in some small way like Christ I too have food to eat–doing the will of God as I find it in my daily life.

And doing that will reminds me too that daily bread will be provided. Manna from Heaven–just enough for today (it goes wormy-bad when I get all grabby and try to store some up). I remember that my response to hunger is not to make my feast, but to trust that the one who Himself feeds the birds of the air and the flowers of the fields is deeply concerned with giving me all I really need.

Yet it remains a temptation to me to try to turn stones to bread–to assume that I know what I need, to fear I’ve made the wrong decision. To doubt–to doubt my resolve or, more to the point, to doubt God’s steady hand of provision for my daily needs.

I’m tempted to fill my emptiness with the works of my own hands. But God’s message to me, however, is to wait, to stay hungry. Lewis describes Joy as “the ultimate law of loss.” My best work in this world is to want the next–“want,” in that oldest sense–to lack, to have not and hunger for.

My heart is the stone. God’s will for me is the bread. And to pray the perfect prayer, “Thy will be done,” is to simply say I’m still hungry and I have not what I’m hungry for until He moves His hand, filling my mouth, my life, with good things.

Amen

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Dear Colleagues, Friends and Family,

I hold in my hot little hands the first copy of the long-awaited fruit of our labor. Mere Christians: Inspiring Stories of Encounters with C. S. Lewis has arrived at the publisher, who’s passed on one copy.

A thousand thanks to the many of you who contributed (or wanted to), listened to me rant and rave, prayed, asked, booked me to speak (or may want to), and encouraged me and Mary Anne as we made it to this day.

Those in the Chicagoland Area are more than welcome to join us for the book launch on Thursday, 12 February at the Marion E Wade Center on the campus of Wheaton College from 4-5 pm. Please contact the Wade at 630-752-5908 for more info.

If you want a copy of your own, you can find it on all of the book sites incl. Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Mere-Christians-Inspiring-Stories-Encounters/dp/0801071844/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1232740462&sr=1-1

It ships 1 Feb (NINE DAYS!); I’m still finding out which retail outlet will carry it. Also, at least two Christian book clubs will release editions.

If you’d like to arrange a speaking engagement or book signing for groups of any size, please feel free to contact me at cslewisprofessor@gmail.com.

But I didn’t sit down to advertise–rather I wanted to share my excitement with you today and to offer my thanks for your enthusiasm and support. Huzzah!

Kindly,

Andrew

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In Matt. 18, Jesus said (essentially), “Unless you turn into a little child, you’ll never get where you really want to go.”  Lewis said that when he became a man, one of the childish things he put away was the fear of appearing very child-like.  Yes.  Exactly.  And so here’s  little poem from a while ago for you to chew on while I work on some new things.

Perhaps the point of fairy tales

Perhaps
the point of
fairy tales
is not so much
in lulling little
ones to sleep;

maybe these stories safely
sing our dreams until
they whisper us awake
to fill us
with such strength and hope
that, story-like
we open wide our pages and
our eyes until
we make these dreams
come true.

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Have you ever wondered what God’s will for your life is?  Believe it or not, the Bible makes it perfectly clear–no need for tea leaves, oracles, or $20 psychic advisors.  But you may find it nothing like you expect.

A few years ago I discovered that the Bible spells out quite clearly what God wants of all of us.

With deceptive simplicity, I Thess. 5:18 says, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  There it is.  God’s will in Christ simply requires that we say:

“Thank you.”

That’s it.

Sounds too easy, yeah?  Well, it almost is.

But please watch very carefully what the verse says (and doesn’t say).  First of all, you’ll find nothing in it at all about how to feel.  Which makes me glad, ’cause  honestly? the next time I hear someone tell me to ‘develop an attitude of gratitude,’ I’m gonna smack ’em.  Forty-odd years in, and much effort in the matter has left me with no idea how to change my attitude.  And this verse, which spells out the will of God, fortunately has nothing to do with my attitude.  It has nothing to do with FEELING thankful.

It DOES however have everything to do with the words of my mouth.  If I understand this passage correctly, God’s will means simply for me to say “thank you.”  Not to feel gratitude, but actually to say out loud those words.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.

Give it a try, even if, especially if you don’t feel it or even mean it.  Try it right now.

Did you?  Good.

Now, secondly, please notice that the verse tells us to give thanks  “in all circumstances.”  This clearly implies that the charge to say “thank you” does not depend in the slightest on the circumstances we face.  In other words, God commands us to give thanks for everything, even the ugly, difficult, sad things in life.

A word of caution.  I don’t believe that God intends to raise up for Himself a masochistic people who senselessly celebrate all of the awful things that occur.  I know all about the dangers of denialhooo boy do I. Nor do I think that the scripture perversely urges us to celebrate the evil in this world that befalls us and those we love.

Instead, I firmly feel that by commanding us to say “thank you” in order to follow His will, God subtly tries to teach us to see things from His perspective.  Behind that decidedly small phrase, a whole weight of glorious promises awaits us:

That He will never leave or forsake us.  That perfect peace will wrap us round.  That, circumstances decidedly notwithstanding, God yet has plans for us, plans to prosper us, to give us a hope and a future.  That He continues to rejoice over us with singing, not matter how dark the night or bitter the tears.  Than nothing, nothing, NOTHING can separate us from the love of God in Christ.  Nothing.  And oh, thank God for that.

To me, saying “thank you,” especially when I hardly feel or believe the words coming out of my mouth, serves me as a way to write a check with my lips that only the love of God can cash.  It helps me to create with my words a heart at least clean enough to acknowledge aloud that loving hands hold me, that Someone knows my name and my circumstance, and that He truly will make all things well, makes all manner of things most well.

I discovered one more helpful thing about this deceptively powerful command.  In Eph. 6:16, St. Paul exhorts us, “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.”

Did you catch it?  “In all circumstances,” again.  I looked up the Greek–it’s the same phrase.  And as I’ve tried to put into practice the habit of saying “thank you” out loud, I’ve come to see that doing so actually serves as a quite literal shield of faith; that meeting each temptation or setback or grief great or small with “thank you” serves me to turn aside a thousand little burning darts that dig into my soul.

“Thank you” forces me use my faith, makes me to say aloud that this is my Father’s world, and that I shall rest me in the thought.  It requires my implicit agreement that He made me, and that He hasn’t stopped the making.  That if I turn my eyes to the hills, I shall find help already on the way. That if with Milton “I only stand and wait,” then I shall find my strength renewed, I shall mount up, mount up, on wings like eagles.

So I suggest you try it.  Right now, and perhaps for the rest of the week.  Just keep meeting whatever comes your way with the murmur, “thank you.”  Make it a mantra or a prayer.  Whisper it softly when you have no leisure to do it louder.  Do it especially when you face grief or unexpected unpleasantness.  Perhaps you’ll not consider me glib for saying so, but I can tell you first-hand that it works.  In so many pains, whether old aches or brand-new bitterness that steal my breath (and hope) way, I find that it works.

He’s here. He neither slumbers or sleeps, He whose love watches over us and restores our souls.  Our times are ever in His hands.

Thank You.

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In church this morning, the sermon mentioned the Fall and how so much bad news pervades our worlds, both outer, and, all too often, inner.  I grow so tired of  seeing ruin on every side, whether it pours forth from any media I let into my rooms, or from the mirror that accuses when I look too long.  When I listen to or read any of the news of the day, I hear catastrophe, war, shame, and almost unbelievable kinds of darkness.  And then a look inside will show me what Lewis rightly described as “a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds.”  Sigh.

And so instead of listening to the rest of the sermon, I scribbled down these notes about Good and Evil and where I might head from here.  I’ve thought some recently about the question of whether we fallen people need the evil in order to fully understand the good.  My vibrant book group, the Caffeinated Lamp-post Society, discussed the felix culpa, the fortunate Fall of Adam.  Only I’m not so sure.  I think had we never known evil, we would have known far more good that we can ever imagine this side of Heaven.  And so I scratched this out during the homily:

Do we need evil to show us how good good can be?  Do we require a knowledge of darkness in order to appreciate light?

Yes.

For now.

Because of our heritage from our First Parents’s eating of forbidden fruit, we have created for ourselves a dualism, a dichotomy of distress.  But it will not always be so.  Nor did God design this fate for us.  In fact, He designed for us  such happiness, goodness, joy, peace that we can hardly conceive–we cannot possibly imagine an experience, let alone a long life, of untainted goodness.

And so the good work that God began in us, He will continue to bring to completion.  He continues to transform us back into the imago Dei; He keeps making us more like Himself and thus far more ourselves than we might have managed on our own.  And I believe that the more the Image of God burns its print upon us, the more we will begin to see that dichotomy of perspective begin to unravel and continue to come undone.

Throughout the course of the believing life, the scales start to tip toward an increasing, eventually complete experiential knowledge of Good, even as we also grow into a preventative prudence about Evil–wise as serpents, yes?  The way we know Good and Evil changes, as if some digestive turns the forbidden fruit into something only helping and no longer harming us.

The taste for good, for whatever is noble, and pure, and true, will grow over the course of the Christian life with an ever-sharpening hunger of a people more and more famished for good things.  Our taste for evil will dull in proportion, even as our wisdom about, our defenses against, and our distaste towards evil continues to grow.

Yes, we need evil to know good.  But always less so as we undo that distressing dichotomy we see in all the world, as we clear away the brush and pick out our path back to the Garden.

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