Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What Stood Will Stand

Artist unknown...any idea?
What stood will stand, though all be fallen,
The good return that time has stolen.
Though creatures groan in misery,
Their flesh prefigures liberty
To end travail and bring to birth
Their new perfection in new earth.
At word of that enlivening
Let the trees of the woods all sing
And every field rejoice, let praise
Rise up out of the ground like grass.
What stood, whole in every piecemeal
Thing that stood, will stand though all
Fall - field and wood and all in them
Rejoin the primal Sabbath's hymn.
     -Wendell Berry

Sabbath has always been a concept that intrigues and often confuses me.  In this poem Berry drew out a few more aspects to it that I hadn't yet considered.  The lines "Their flesh prefigures liberty / To end travail and bring to birth / Their new perfection in the earth" elicits the recognition that while the brokenness of life is undeniable, the beauty it contains demands recognition that it was made for and looks ahead to much much more than what it currently is.  The last line, the hope of that enduring, glimmering remnant of creation's original intent, to "Rejoin the primal Sabbath's hymn," speaks of what the Sabbath is ultimately a sign of: rest from our long repeating labor.  Perhaps this is why the Sabbath is so emphasized in the Old Testament (See ESPECIALLY Exodus 31:12-18): it is the seal of God's unfolding story, the prefiguration of our entering God's rest and the return to and deeper entering of his design for our existence, minus the toil and trial that so profoundly marks our current estate.

Such thoughts make "Sabbath" more than just an escape, a day off, or a time of restriction.  Sabbath is the seal of the story the Scriptures tell.  Sabbath is promise; Sabbath is hope.

- Drew

Monday, February 11, 2013

Lifting Up

Ben Nevis, the highest point in Scotland.
Photo by Drew Wilkins
The Psalms are some pretty crazy things to have in a "holy book."  They raise TONS of questions, they provide few answers, and the answers they do give usually only lead to more questions!  Of late I have found myself very interested in the more intangible aspects of Christianity, and I have been amazed at how much the Psalms both focus on and reflect the experience of the life lived in the intentional awareness of the presence of God.

Several months ago I read through Psalm 24, a psalm extolling the holiness of God and questioning what character one must have in order to approach him.  After describing God's grandeur and authority as the creator of the earth, the question is asked, "Who may ascend the hill of the LORD?  And who may stand in his holy place?"  In other words, given that he is so powerful as to have so beautifully crafted the entirety of this world in which we live, how is it that God desires to be approached by man?  The answer that it gives in the next lines continues to challenge my own understanding of not only who I am, but of how I am to grow.  

The answer it gives is, "He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully."  Though to do it well is still far beyond reach, I can understand what most of this means pretty easily:
  • clean hands = lives righteously
  • pure heart = motivated rightly
  • does not swear deceitfully = lives honestly
However, the piece that continues to catch me up short is "who does not lift up his soul to what is false."  What a challenge!  To what do I lift up my soul; to what do I offer myself?  And if I am to avoid what is "false," what then is true?  What is worthy of my soul?

Personally, I wrestle with this a lot.  I find myself "lifting up my soul" to all kinds of things!  And yet, I believe that the only true thing worthy of my soul is the one who created it.  To lift it up to anything else is to serve the creation rather than the Creator, to love the sign more than the thing signified, to try to eat at the billboard rather than the restaurant it advertises.  Here again, I fall very far short of the mark.  And yet, here again, is where God's grace supplies my need.  It is by his grace alone, that I am continually learning how to lift up my heart to what is true.

The challenge of the Psalm is this:  Would you approach God?  Then to what do you lift up your soul?

Psalm 25 actually rolls on to model how to rightly lift up one's soul, but that is a post for another time.  For now, rise to the challenge of 24: to what do you lift up your soul?

- Drew

Monday, February 4, 2013

Considering Mysticism

Hildegard of Bingen, detail fromKosmosmensch Scivias domini , 12th c.

Some words carry a lot of baggage along with them.  'Mysticism' practically needs its own luggage rack.  This is not really a bad thing as long as one is careful to unpack those bags with discernment as the concept is investigated - such heavy-laden words deserve a little extra consideration.  As such, this post is really only a brief off-the-top-of-my-head consideration of how to appropriately engage this particular one.  However, in the time that I have spent mulling over the concept of "Christian mysticism," I have found myself surprisingly, and even positively, challenged by what I've encountered.  That said, here goes nothin':

It has been my experience that in Christian circles the concept of mysticism is one that is often at best feared, and at worst demonized...and I mean with literal demons (sadly, we Christians seem to LOVE to jump to that conclusion).  And yet, while it is undeniable that the mystics of the faith have often had a lamentable tendency to chuck their theology out the window with tragic rapidity, I believe their openness toward and contributions to the less tangibly and more spiritually oriented aspects of the faith warrant a much larger platform for consideration and discernment. That is not to say that their thoughts should simply be adopted, but rather that, viewing them through the discerning lens of theological and hermeneutical astuteness, it would be unwise to neglect that which our more traditional systematics and frameworks may not be quite as equipped to explore.  The challenge of not being so distracted by the signs that we miss the thing signified is certainly the challenge of the ages, but I believe it is a challenge to be shrewdly engaged.  I don't believe we should be so scared of "slippery slopes" that we are afraid to tether ourselves to solid theological foundation and repel down to explore dangers and watch for hidden gold.  

Anyway, these are just some thoughts I've had running through my head of late, and there will be more to follow later.  however, I'll finish for now with a quote from the journaled reflections of a renowned missionary of who dared to investigate the more mystic side of his faith a bit further himself: 

"Last Thursday night I was listening to a phonograph in Lumbatan and allowing my heart to commune with God.  And something broke within me, and I longed to lift my own will up and give it completely to God.  How infinitely richer this direct first hand grasping of God Himself is, than the old method which I used for and recommended for years, the reading of endless devotional books."
- Frank Laubach, in Practicing His Presence, page 9.  

- Drew