Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Monday, March 29, 2010

Psalms for Christian Prayer

I don’t remember how or where the copies of Psalms for Christian Prayer by Bede Griffiths came into my possession. The HarperCollins publication date is 1995. Griffiths’ foreword is dated March 1992. As I recall, Griffiths died in 1993. If I bought them somewhere in Dallas -- which is kind of what I think -- it couldn't have been later than 1996. Not that any of that is important. I do know at one time I had probably ten copies of the little black hardback – they are only slightly over six by four-and-a-half inches and a half inch thick.

Griffiths is one of those Catholics, like Merton and others who found compatible and complementary truth in much of Hinduism. While he recognized the powerful tradition of the Psalms as a means of communicating with the Father, he was troubled by the expressions of anger, violence, hatred, and vengeance carried in some of the passages. I am not; however, I was put off by the Griffiths’ introduction, the fact that he had omitted some Psalms entirely, and his audacity in cutting verses even from Psalm 23. Come on, really. Still, I liked the idea of what he had done in making the Psalms very accessible as prayers. I must have given away some of my copies over the years. I am down to perhaps one or two. I have never seen the book in any Christian bookstore – not that I particularly looked for it.

Over the weekend I did some cleaning out here in my office. I straightened and rearranged some of my bookshelves and got a little of the dust knocked down. I moved several haphazardly if conveniently stacked boxes of ammunition to more suitable locations which freed up some shelf space. I was able to move a double row of books to a more-or-less single row, and in the process, I found one of my Psalms for Christian Prayer copies. I started to stick it back on the shelf but, instead, tossed it onto my desk. It got tossed onto my chair later when I cleaned the desk. I considered the Tim Allen approach of duct-taping everything to the desk and bringing in the leaf-blower. I’d let it get pretty bad. Eventually the little book made it back to the much neat-ified desk along with a much needed and well-deserved-if-I-do-say-so-myself cup of coffee.

Griffiths’ introduction still annoyed me, as did the fact that the Psalms start with number four. But when I started reading again, I mostly forgot my annoyance. As presented, the passages are potent vehicles of prayer and contemplation. There are no verse notations. This is not a book of study but a book of prayer.

Here's an excerpt from Psalm 33:

Let all the earth fear the Lord,
All who live in the world revere Him.
He spoke; and it came to be.
He commanded; it sprang into being.

His own designs shall stand for ever,
The plans of His heart from age to age.

They are happy, whose God is the Lord,
The people He has chosen as His own.
From the heavens the Lord looks forth,
He sees all the children of men.

From the place where He dwells he gazes
On all the dwellers on the earth,
He who shapes the hearts of them all
And considers their deeds.

A king is not saved by his army,
Nor a warrior preserved by his strength.
A vain hope for safety is the horse;
Despite its power it cannot save.

The Lord looks on those who revere Him,
On those who hope in His love,
To rescue their souls from death,
To keep them alive in famine.

Our soul is waiting for the Lord.
The Lord is our help and our shield.
In Him do our hearts find joy.
We trust in His holy name.

May Your love be upon us, O Lord,
As we place all our hope in You.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Taxes of Perception

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its desires. And do not offer any parts of it to sin as weapons for unrighteousness. But as those who are alive from the dead, offer yourselves to God, and all the parts of yourselves as weapons for righteousness. – Romans 6:12-13


In the sixteenth verse, Paul goes on: Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are whom ye obey? We are mastered by and thus empower whatever we obey. So I have a question. What if someone wants our attention only? Are we empowering that entity by paying attention?

Our thoughts and certainly our minds are as much a part of our mortal body as hands or feet. To think on a thing is to, in a sense, yield our minds to it. There must, however, be a distinction between being aware of evil or threats or danger and the giving over of our minds as a “weapon of unrighteousness”. To simply consider a situation or an event, to observe and analyze even the most heinous thing is not the same as allowing our minds to be brought under the dominion of sin.

At the beginning of Miracles, C.S. Lewis says: What we learn from an experience depends on the kind of philosophy we bring to experience. If we bring God’s perspective to our experiences in the world, we will derive from them God’s wisdom. If we approach our experiences from the world’s horizontal perspective, we will likely be conscripted into the army of unrighteousness. Our attention will be fastened on and fascinated by the world’s machinations as they appear from the flatland level.

I notice that I have been paying much attention to the wrong things recently. I’ve yielded my thoughts, my attention, and much of my space, if you will, to entities that crave that attention and are probably empowered by it. Governments, politicians, cable television hosts, news readers, and other flatland entities need to be put on a starvation diet – of attention before they are starved of monies. Governments can print monopoly money, but they cannot manufacture the power over me that they derive from my giving them undo attention.

There are consequences to the actions even of fools. Those consequences on the plane of material existence may have an adverse effect upon me. Nevertheless, I will not yield my thoughts to be used as a weapon against the good. By playing a fool’s game I become, if not a fool, indistinguishable from a fool. I am not saying that we should ignore completely the actions of the current cabal of idiots that would stand reality on its head to feed their cravings. I greatly appreciate the protestors who did their best to deliver an emergency shipment of reason to alleviate the plague of stupidity rising with the miasma of the Beltway swamp. But, now, the blathering simply needs to be turned off. The beasts have shown that even their beastliness exists only in a single dimension. I will step over them as I would step over a pile of dog poop and move on. I am aware of it. I will avoid it. I will not give it undue attention.

So it should be with much that would ensnare us.

You will keep in perfect peace the mind that is fixed on You (Isaiah 26:3).

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Good Scout

Because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of truth of the gospel – Colossians 1:5


A staple character of Westerns in both television shows, like “Wagon Train”, and movies was the scout. The scout was the man who knew his way, or could find his way through the wilderness. He had to be prudent, tough, trustworthy, wise, and, at times, daring. If you lost your scout, you might lose your way, and you were certainly traveling blind and deaf – a possibly fatal situation in hostile territory. Finding the fords and the good water holes, warning of possible ambushes and washed out trails, the scout rode the distant point and returned to describe the lay of the land ahead. A compass, the sun, or the stars would let the travelers find the right direction, but only with a scout could they find the right path.

The word ‘hope’ has been tainted of late by our progressive, collectivist “masters” who would use it as a goad to stir us to discontent, the better to herd us like cattle. The hope of secular progressives is inevitably a false hope. Just as we should beware of false prophets, false teachers, and false christs, we should beware of false hopes. Like an unreliable scout, hope not based on the truth will lead us on a path of destruction, even when we seem to be headed in the right direction.

[Aragorn said,] “… I cannot desert my friends while hope remains.”

“Hope does not remain,” said √Čomer.


On the other hand, if we fail to trust the wisdom of hope derived from “the word of truth”, we might become discouraged and lose our way. Sometimes false hopes are a kind of inoculation the devil would give us that we might reject the report of genuine.

The water barrels are empty. The plodding teams are on their last legs. The tongues of the pilgrims are thick with thirst. Sweat is a forgotten luxury. Ahead dust is seen. The wagonmaster calls a halt. The dust resolves into a weary rider, the trusty scout. “Just four more miles, over that last ridge,” the scout reports, “there is a spring with plenty of good water.” The pilgrims look ahead. All they see is dust and rising ground. The crest of the ridge wavers in the heat-distorted air. It is a long and torturous climb. What if there is no water? What if the scout is colluding with the leader just to keep them going until they drop dead of thirst?

We have heard the gospel. God cares for us. He has made a way for us. Our lives are not a futile wandering in desert lands. We are not going around in circles. There is deliverance and abundant life on this path. Will we hear the voice of hope and follow on to know the Lord? Will we stay on the path of truth, or will we be deceived by a mirage and go off in our own direction?

This journey can be one of weariness and distress. Sometimes we find ourselves in despair, depressed and, if we are not careful, hopeless. The road gets so long and hard that we forget why we started out. Take the word of truth and follow hope. Our scout is faithful and will lead us home.

Monday, March 22, 2010

I'd Like to Thank All the Little People

'I wish it need not have happened in my time,' said Frodo.

'So do I,' said Gandalf, 'and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.' (Fellowship of the Ring)


You can get a lot of satirical mileage out of The Lord of the Rings -- Wizards, Elves, silly names like Frodo and Bilbo, and Tom Bombadil. If a person is the cynical, mocking type, as I usually am, LOTR is a goldmine. Yet, I get the nearly the same twinge from people mocking Tolkien that I get from people mocking the Bible. On those exceedingly rare occasions when their cleverness is actually clever and amusing and not very tired and cliched, I may even chuckle. Still, I would rather they not do it. There are things we need to take seriously.

The values that Tolkien expresses are serious. In fact, I would say that the power of Tolkien lies somewhat in the tension between the silly and serious. The idea that a small, child-like creature with a nonsensical name would have to carry the fate of the world is what ultimately makes the story break our hearts, as Lewis once said. The reason is that, when we are honest with ourselves, we realize we are more than a bit nonsensical.

If you are ever driving on Highway 60 across southern Missouri, you will see an exit for a little town called Norwood. If you were to take that exit and drive north, you would be able to turn on a gravel road that leads you to Oak Grove Cemetery. There you would find a marker for a man named Ova Kelley. Ova Kelley has his own page in Wikipedia. Why is that? Because he is one of the few Americans ever to be awarded the Medal of Honor, though, like the majority, it was awarded to him posthumously.

The citation reads:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Before dawn, near the edge of the enemy-held Buri airstrip, the company was immobilized by heavy, accurate rifle and machinegun fire from hostile troops entrenched in bomb craters and a ditch less than 100 yards distant. The company commander ordered a mortar concentration which destroyed 1 machinegun but failed to dislodge the main body of the enemy. At this critical moment Pvt. Kelley, on his own initiative, left his shallow foxhole with an armload of hand grenades and began a 1-man assault on the foe. Throwing his missiles with great accuracy, he moved forward, killed or wounded 5 men, and forced the remainder to flee in a disorganized route. He picked up a M-1 rifle and emptied its clip at the running Japanese, killing 3. Discarding this weapon, he took a carbine and killed 3 more of the enemy. Inspired by his example, his comrades followed him in a charge which destroyed the entire enemy force of 34 enlisted men and 2 officers and captured 2 heavy and 1 light machineguns. Pvt. Kelley continued to press the attack on to an airstrip, where sniper fire wounded him so grievously that he died 2 days later. His outstanding courage, aggressiveness, and initiative in the face of grave danger was an inspiration to his entire company and led to the success of the attack.


Private Kelley from Norwood died fighting in the Philippines, a long, long way from home. He was a little country boy -- only 30 when he died -- with a funny name. I grew up on the Central Plateau just a little further north of where Ova Kelley was laid to rest. I knew a man named Ova Clark, but he was always called "Ovee". In fact, in the Ozark dialect, an ending 'a' is almost always said as 'ee'. Imagine a grown man being called "Ovee". It's almost as bad as "Sue", or maybe "Frodo". Somehow I don't think the Japanese were laughing.

I think there are still people like Ova Kelley. I know there are. Some have died just recently in places as far from Oklahoma City or Fayetteville or Pratt as Leyte was from Norwood. The names may have changed, now it's Mark or Justin or Jason, the hearts are the same. The love of country is the same. The love of right is still the same.

We may be simple people. We may go to Wal-Mart. Our reading habits may run more to Zane Grey than Foucault or Beckett. If we are a Burroughs fan, we are probably talking about Edgar Rice rather than William. We may have gone to a cow college instead of Columbia. We may drive a Silverado or an F150 -- but it will have 4-wheel drive and maybe nice after-market wheels, along with a rust spot and maybe a dent where we slid off that backroad and into a post oak a few years ago. We like minding our own business, and we like being free. Modern conveniences are nice, but we can do without them. We can make stuff, fix stuff, grow stuff, and kill stuff if we need to. We know what a sucker hole is, and we understand the fine art of grabbing.

Perhaps, now that Health Care Reform is the unconstitutional law of the land, the simple people, the Tea Partiers, and the rednecks will shut up and let it go. They have beaten us. We are only protesting, so they say, because we are hate-filled, racist, and stupid. They know what is best because they say so. They are in power so they get to make the rules and do what they want. They tell us there is nothing we can do about it.

Maybe we will believe them. The state-approved news outlets are shouting the benefits -- but not the costs -- of the new and historic reform. We have already been told we are all socialists now. Maybe.

Maybe not.

I think that across this country there are funny-looking little men and women with nonsensical names, people who have been mocked and ridiculed by Hollywood and Washington, D.C., by news readers and professors and PBS presenters. We are not cool, and we are not flashy, nuanced, or trendy. We are also not Europeans. We are also the people who build your houses, drive your trucks, program your computers, grow your food, mine your coal, and fight your wars. We go to church. We are the guys and gals you want on your side when the transmission goes out, when the storm hits, when the sandbags need to be filled, or when you need blood. We are the people who will stick when no one else will. Because we are nice and not loud, obnoxious narcissists and exhibitionists, they think they can push us around. And they can. Up to a point. But they have pushed us into a corner then pushed one more time. I think we will not stay in our corner. I think we will be coming out -- around them, over them or through them -- whichever they like.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Modest Proposal

We nationalized education. We nationalized General Motors, Goldman Sachs, and AIG. Looks like we are going to nationalize health care. In the spirit of the times, I'd like to suggest that we nationalize legal services.

If a house, a mortgage, and free Viagra are rights, shouldn't we have the right to a free attorney? Why should wealthy people have the right to a better lawyer than a poor person? Of course, you have the right to public defender if accused of a crime, but to guarantee an OJ outcome, you need to have access to a free "dream team" including jury consultants.

I think it outrageous that trial lawyers in civil suits have a right to a percentage of the settlement. Lawyers and consultants should be paid by the government at fixed rates -- like doctors and hospitals under Medicare. This situation is truly unfair. People should not be able to opt out and hire private lawyers. Everyone should be treated equally.

And just think of the poor people who fall down in Wal-Mart and cannot afford a retainer. They contribute to the higher cost of legal services by being forced to hire an ambulance-chaser on a percentage basis. Something needs to be done.

Free legal services for all!


Now, I wonder why that bill has never been introduced in a lawyer-heavy Congress?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

You Have to Fight to Be Free

Freedom

There are places the winds cannot blow,
Hidden pools and shielded coves,
He sinks in heat and slows,
As the golden sun rides the sway-back stream and reins in
Until
In October rains, he shakes himself like Samson,
Summer-shorn,
Wonders if the spirit will come on him,
Will he see the sea in Gaza?

Settling, swanky in silver and white, ice cold rules.
The way grows narrow and strait,
Unshielded now
Under the wind’s whip
Until
The sway-back sphere
Heads south again,
Gold trumping silver,
Before the battle begins,
These masters have sown the unfettering seed,
In Temple Frost pillars fall and he feeds
On their dissolution.
Unchained, he roils and roars,
Rips and undercuts and runs away,
Carries the day.
And he is free.

Until,
There are places where the winds cannot blow,
Hidden pools and shielded coves,
Sinking heat and slow,
As the spurred sun rides and reins in.

And still,
The mighty one abides
His seasons of bondage
On his way
To wide waves
Unbridled, unbroken
Until





*****

I suppose my topical point here is that we Americans have come to assume freedom as our default state. We think it comes as one unbroken Spring, without seasons and without struggle. It appears to me that we are headed, in this springing of the natural year, into a season of either wintry bondage or flooding anarchy. The golden mean will be hard to find -- if it exists.

In a more general sense, seasons are not the end but only a passage. One feeding into another, as external circumstances change and we find ourselves straitened or unfettered. We are always free even under the oppressor's lash, though liberty may be occluded for a time. That is not to say we should resign ourselves to oppression. Without the battle to maintain an unchained spirit, we become eternal victims of circumstance, as that great philosopher Curly might say.

Therefore, submit to God. But resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, double-minded people! Be miserable and mourn and weep. Your laughter must change to mourning and your joy to sorrow. Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will exalt you. (James 4:7-10)

Crosswise

Does not wisdom cry out,
And understanding lift up her voice?
She takes her stand on the top of the high hill,
Beside the way, where the paths meet. – Proverbs 8:1-2


If wisdom is hidden surely it is hidden in plain sight. Of course, one problem is that the wisdom of God is not what most of us seek. We want the esoteric wisdom of how to play the Market, or, maybe, how to count blackjack cards. (Speaking of gambling, wisdom will sometimes suggest that the best solution is to draw straws. We’d have a better Congress.) I suppose we suffer from the particularly human ailment that says anything free and readily available must not be worth much.

Though wisdom is available to everyone and comes without price in gold, silver, or monopoly money, it is not obtained without sacrifice. The very words which wisdom speaks, if we hear them, begin to demand of us a laying aside of certain attitudes and views that we may cherish. Wisdom challenges us – threatens us, even.

It has occurred to me that I define myself at least as much negatively as positively. Who I am can be who I am not. Thinking in terms of who I am not is handy, but it also seems a little dangerous. God made no negative statement when He identified Himself to Moses as I AM THAT I AM. That is pretty inclusive. If the LORD had been a hillbilly, He might have said, “I AM all there is, and there ain’t no more.” Having absolutely no knowledge of Hebrew, I can’t vouch for the accuracy of that translation, but it’s a thought.

The very first thing wisdom challenges us to do is check ourselves out in a positive sense, to begin to examine not so much how we live but why we live the way we do, and, most importantly, if we want to continue living that way. Wisdom stops us on the road and asks us if we are confused, bitter, empty, miserable, or all of the above. Some of us are, and we’ve never stopped to consider it. We assume that is the state everyone is in, more or less, unless they are drunk, high, have a new car, or are sleeping with a soap opera princess/prince. As crazy as it sounds, we always think our most common state of mind is the more or less median mental state of all humans. If we are not careful, we find ourselves resisting a move in either direction away from our accepted norm. That’s fine if the push is to move lower into more confusion, more anger, more misery. It doesn’t, however, make much sense if we’re moving higher to more joy, more peace, and more light.

Wisdom stands on a high hill and cries out that we might hear her, but she also stands always and every moment at the cross road that we might choose another way.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick's Hymn

We are told that Patrick and his company advanced toward the Irish sovereign arrayed in white and carrying crosses and singing the evangelist's hymn in all its majestic cadence:

" I bind to myself today
The strong power of the invocation of the Trinity;
The faith of the Trinity in unity;
The Creator of the elements.

" I bind to myself today,
The power of the incarnation of Christ
With that of His baptism;
The power of His crucifixion
With that of His burial;
The power of the resurrection
With (THAT OF) the ascension;
The power of His coming
To the sentence of judgment . . .

" I bind to myself today,
The power of God to guide me,
The might of God to uphold me,
The wisdom of God to teach me,
The eye of God to watch over me,
The ear of God to hear me,
The Word of God to give me speech,
The hand of God to protect me,
The way of God to prevent me,
The shield of God to shelter me,
The host of God to defend me,
Against the snares of demons
Against the temptations of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who would injure me
Whether far or near;
Whether few or many.

" I have set around me all these powers,
Against every hostile, savage power
Directed against my body and my soul;
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the black laws of heathenism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against the spells of women, and smiths, and Druids.
Against all knowledge that blinds the soul of man.

" Christ protect me today,
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right hand, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort (when I am at home),
Christ in the chariot-seat (when I travel),
Christ in the ship (when I sail).

Of the Lord is salvation;
Christ is salvation;
With us ever be
Thy salvation, O Lord!


" Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks to me;
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

All in All

For He has put everything under His feet. But when He says “everything” is put under Him, it is obvious that He who puts everything under Him is the exception. And when everything is subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who subjected everything to Him, so that God may be all in all. – 1 Corinthians 15:27-28


That’s a lot of third person singular pronouns to figure out, but look at the very last phrase that God may be all in all. Let’s go back a few chapters in this same book: [Y]et for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through Him (1 Corinthians 8:6). All things are from God and all of it comes through Christ Jesus. There’s no pantheism in this statement since God is not the universe, rather the universe is that secondary reality that came from Him. We are included in that, not as an accident or afterthought but as co-creators. He is the Vine; we are the branches. Though the life comes through the Vine, fruit is borne only on the branch. We are of Him, as is everything from archangels to atomic particles. We begin to realize that everything is from the One, of the One and through the One.

I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in Me through their message. May they all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so that the world may believe You have sent Me (John 17:20-21).

An illusion is something that appears real and is not, yet the illusion must be created from something that is real. An illusionist using smoke and mirrors fools us. We do not see the mirrors only the illusion they create; the mirrors are real. We see the multiplicity of physical existence; the unity of the Spirit is real.

As we often say, though, we don’t like to even use the word illusion since it connotes our material existence being something we might safely ignore or manipulate. This is not the case, so we say rather that the universe is derived, and material existence is a secondary reality, a function of the primary reality. Anaxagoras said, “Appearances are a glimpse of what is hidden.” Again the material world differs from a magician’s effort in that there is no intent to deceive us. We can know something about the primary reality by studying the secondary. There are correlations between the surface and the depths. Yet we cannot know it fully apart from revelation. God has been gracious to reveal Himself to us at various times and in various ways – most completely in the Incarnation of the Son (Hebrews 1:1-2).

We can know that we have a purpose, that history has a direction, a point to which it sprirals. We can know that we are at peace with God. We can know that we are one with the Creator of all that exists. We can know death is not an end but a transition. There are things we have to resist, and things we have to embrace. We should not resist in a way that further mires us in the quicksand of delusion; we should not embrace in a way that is clinging and anchors us in the material.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Compare and Contrast

I last posted William Blake’s poem “Night”. Blake is a visionary. It’s not even proper to call him a lyrical poet, though most of his poetry is lyrical enough. He is mystical and prophetic. His poetry is not meant to teach you anything, but to awaken you and open your eyes.

For an interesting contrast, consider the following poem by the most respected and renowned American poet of the 19th century, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Most of us older folks were exposed to Longfellow’s works like “The Song of Hiawatha” and “The Village Blacksmith” in school, and some of us memorized “Paul Revere’s Ride”. For all his good technical qualities, Longfellow eventually fell out of favor. He was often dismissed as didactic and lacking in passion. I suppose it’s hard to deny the didacticism, especially if we’re contrasting him to someone like Blake or even Whitman. Still, every good poet has his place. If poetry were baseball, Longfellow might be the stolid cleanup hitter Gehrig to Blake’s Ruth or Whitman’s Dizzy Dean.

I have no doubt that George MacDonald or G. K. Chesterton would prefer Blake with his flavor of wildness over someone like Longfellow, but, as much as we love meat, a glass of milk is often just the thing late at night.

----

"THE BELEAGUERED CITY" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I have read, in some old, marvellous tale,
Some legend strange and vague,
That a midnight host of spectres pale
Beleaguered the walls of Prague.

Beside the Moldau's rushing stream,
With the wan moon overhead,
There stood, as in an awful dream,
The army of the dead.

White as a sea-fog, landward bound,
The spectral camp was seen,
And, with a sorrowful, deep sound,
The river flowed between.

No other voice nor sound was there,
No drum, nor sentry's pace;
The mist-like banners clasped the air,
As clouds with clouds embrace.

But when the old cathedral bell
Proclaimed the morning prayer,
The white pavilions rose and fell
On the alarmed air.

Down the broad valley fast and far
The troubled army fled;
Up rose the glorious morning star,
The ghastly host was dead.

I have read, in the marvellous heart of man,
That strange and mystic scroll,
That an army of phantoms vast and wan
Beleaguer the human soul.

Encamped beside Life's rushing stream,
In Fancy's misty light,
Gigantic shapes and shadows gleam
Portentous through the night.

Upon its midnight battle-ground
The spectral camp is seen,
And, with a sorrowful, deep sound,
Flows the River of Life between.

No other voice nor sound is there,
In the army of the grave;
No other challenge breaks the air,
But the rushing of Life's wave.

And when the solemn and deep churchbell
Entreats the soul to pray,
The midnight phantoms feel the spell,
The shadows sweep away.

Down the broad Vale of Tears afar
The spectral camp is fled;
Faith shineth as a morning star,
Our ghastly fears are dead.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Angels on the Night Shift

"NIGHT" by William Blake

The sun descending in the west,
The evening star does shine;
The birds are silent in their nest,
And I must seek for mine.
The moon, like a flower
In heaven's high bower,
With silent delight,
Sits and smiles on the night.

Farewell, green fields and happy grove,
Where flocks have ta'en delight.
Where lambs have nibbled, silent move
The feet of angels bright;
Unseen they pour blessing,
And joy without ceasing,
On each bud and blossom,
And each sleeping bosom.

They look in every thoughtless nest
Where birds are covered warm;
They visit caves of every beast,
To keep them all from harm:
If they see any weeping
That should have been sleeping,
They pour sleep on their head,
And sit down by their bed.

When wolves and tigers howl for prey,
They pitying stand and weep;
Seeking to drive their thirst away,
And keep them from the sheep.
But, if they rush dreadful,
The angels, most heedful,
Receive each mild spirit,
New worlds to inherit.


And there the lion's ruddy eyes
Shall flow with tears of gold:
And pitying the tender cries,
And walking round the fold:
Saying: "Wrath by His meekness,
And, by His health, sickness,
Are driven away
From our immortal day.

"And now beside thee, bleating lamb,
I can lie down and sleep,
Or think on Him who bore thy name,
Graze after thee, and weep.
For, washed in life's river,
My bright mane for ever
Shall shine like the gold,
As I guard o'er the fold."

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Some Words Are More Equal Than Others

For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels – Mark 8:38


What struck me about this is the position to which the Lord elevates what He says, His words. Don’t be ashamed of Me but also don’t be ashamed of what I say. It does not matter if what He says is a little challenging, a little convicting, even a little embarrassing at times. Sure I love Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the Wonderful, the Counselor, the Prince of Peace. As much as I embrace Him, I have to embrace all that He says.

I don’t think I ever stumbled over the Person of Jesus. I could always accept Him as the Son of God. Cool. Where I ran into problems was when He started talking about the poor being blessed and the rich having a hard time getting into heaven. I have trouble with Him telling me to turn the other cheek, take an insult and go on, go the extra mile for those who would oppress and humiliate me. I have trouble with seeking the kingdom and thinking I won’t have to worry about anything else. I don’t always want to hear that I have to forgive if I expect to be forgiven.

When Jesus began to talk about the necessity of eating His flesh and drinking His blood it so shocked and offended many of His followers that they left Him. Even His chosen disciples were confused by it. In fact, they were probably ashamed of what He was saying. He sounded like a mad man. They must have wondered how they were going to build a messianic kingdom with a Messiah who said such outrageous things. The crowds were falling away; it would cut in the offerings. Things might get tight.

Jesus equates His words with Himself. There is no question that we must believe in Christ, but He makes it clear that we must also believe what He says. It just makes sense in a way. If the Son of God is talking to you it would probably be a good idea to pay attention. Actions may speak louder than words for the average person, but God’s words are powerful and creative in themselves. They possess the power of illumination allowing us to discover reality as it really is.

When we hear the words of Jesus, we begin to understand Him, but we also begin to understand ourselves and the world we inhabit. Most of the time, we tend to focus on where we fall short in relation to what Jesus says. Conviction is good. It helps get us on the right track. But the words of Christ are not merely admonitions or clever proverbs to encourage us to behave better. Like the creative words of God in the beginning, the words of Christ are creative in us. Once we hear the words of the Lord, we are changed, and it is a change into newness. We became new creatures, as Paul says, sloughing off the old and being transformed into His image of us.

How can we continue to worry when we hear Jesus say, “Consider the lilies …”? How can we doubt when He says that all things are possible to him who believes? How can we continue to live in bondage when we hear Him say that we are free, indeed?

Not every time that I read the Bible do I hear Jesus speak. Sometimes I’m just reading and thinking and there’s not much happening. Maybe something is being sown or watered, I don’t know. But there are occasions where the words take on a life of their own, and I would hear them no more clearly if the Lord spoke to me in an audible voice. Reading and studying is good and beneficial no matter what else happens. If God spoke with such clarity every time we opened the book, we might become like the Israelites, “…[L]et not God speak with us, lest we die” (Exodus 20:19). There is such a thing as too much light all at once. He knows us and knows how much we can handle, and He speaks accordingly. All He asks is that we not be ashamed of the words we hear.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

You May Have Heard of This One

"There Will Come Soft Rains" -- Sara Teasdale

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pool singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white;

Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Poem About Poetry

"Poetry” by Marianne Moore

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important
beyond all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it,
one discovers that there is in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not be-
cause a

high sounding interpretation can be put upon them
but because they are
useful; when they become so derivative as to
become unintelligible, the
same thing may be said for all of us – that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand. The bat,
holding on upside down or in quest of some-
thing to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll,
a tireless wolf under
a tree, the immovable critic twinkling his skin like a
horse that feels a flea, the base-
ball fan, the statistician – case after case
could be cited did
one wish it; nor is it valid
to discriminate against "business documents
and

school-books"; all these phenomena are important.
One must make a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half
poets,
the result is not poetry,
nor till the autocrats among us can be
"literalists of
the imagination" – above
insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads
in them, shall we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on one hand,
in defiance of their opinion –
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness, and
that which is on the other hand,
genuine, then you are interested in poetry.