Archive for December, 2011

December 27, 2011

what it means to have a past

But over the decades you have provided for us such incomparably beautiful Christmases that my thankful remembrance of them is strong enough to light up one dark Christmas. Only such times can really reveal what it means to have a past and an inner heritage that is independent of chance and the changing of the times. The awareness of a spiritual tradition that reaches through the centuries gives one a certain feeling of security in the face of all transitory difficulties.

In a prison letter from Dietrich Bonhoeffer to his parents, December 17, 1943. (From page 15 of God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas from the writings of Bonhoeffer, translated by O.C. Dean Jr. and edited by Jana Riess.)

December 24, 2011

the austere blessedness of waiting

Celebrating Advent means being able to wait. Waiting is an art that our impatient age has forgotten. It wants to break open the ripe fruit when it has hardly finished planting the shoot. But all too often the greedy eyes are only deceived; the fruit that seemed so precious is still green on the inside, and disrespectful hands ungratefully toss aside what has so disappointed them.

Whoever does not know how the austere blessedness of waiting–that is, of hopefully doing without–will never experience the full blessing of fulfillment.

In a prison letter from Dietrich Bonhoeffer to his fiancée, Maria von Wedemeyer, December 13, 1943. (From page 4 of God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas from the writings of Bonhoeffer, translated by O.C. Dean Jr. and edited by Jana Riess.)

December 23, 2011

our hearts burst open in the heat

The Magi

We kick our camels’ sides and curse, but they refuse to rise,
as if this house were the only oasis in a trackless desert,
and this child, playing in the doorway, the owner of the well.
They swing their ponderous heads slowly from side to side.
Their silver harness bells tinkle, their vermillion tassels flap,
and the child laughs.

He cannot be the one foretold to lead us to the abode of light,
where wisdom glistens like dewdrops on which new worlds curve.
We must have misread the astrological signs or been dazzled
by a wind-driven spark. But how do we explain the strange behavior
of our beasts? They stretch out their necks on the sand and sigh.
It sounds like prayer.

There being none other, we may as well present our gifts to him,
although they feel all wrong, as if we had carried precious salt
across steep mountain passes to offer to a prince living by the sea.
Worthless to us, we will leave our frankincense to purchase bread,
and our gold to pay for lessons. Of what use is myrrh? Before we go,
let us buy him a ball.

Far away, we perceive our granddaughters twirling prayer wheels.
Through our minds’ sanctum echoes the sound of ripe plums tumbling
into beggars’ bowls. In the ravine of the roan horse, lighting blasts
a single tree. Like closed pine cones, our hearts burst open in the heat!
We would not be more astonished if a star slipped from the night
to hover here beyond the dawn.

Too stunned to dismount, we gaze and gaze. How extraordinary!
The ordinary child!

From Firmament, a book of poems by Kathleen L. Housley. This is the opening poem in the first section of the collection, entitled “Lessons for a Young God.”

December 20, 2011

the serious reality of the Advent message

As long as there are people, Christ will walk the earth as your neighbor, as the one through whom God calls you, speaks to you, makes demands on you. That is the great seriousness and great blessedness of the Advent message. Christ is standing at the door; he lives in the form of a human being among us. Do you want to close the door or open it?

It may strike us as strange to see Christ in such a near face, but he said it, and those who withdraw from the serious reality of the Advent message cannot talk of the coming of Christ in their heart, either.

…Christ is knocking. It’s still not Christmas, but it’s also still not the great last Advent, the last coming of Christ. Through all the Advents of our life that we celebrate runs the longing for the last Advent, when the word will be: “See, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5).

The Advent season is a season of waiting, but our whole life is an Advent season, that is, a season of waiting for the last Advent, for the time when there will be heaven and a new earth.

In a letter from Dietrich Bonhoeffer to his parents, November 29, 1943, written from the Tegel prison camp. (From page 2 of God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas from the writings of Bonhoeffer, translated by O.C. Dean Jr. and edited by Jana Riess.)

December 19, 2011

to extend God’s work

The moment divine anthropomorphism is admitted, every aspect of the human condition can in some way be assumed by God. Now anthropomorphism should certainly be admitted, since it comes to us from Scripture, that is to say, from God himself.

…’My Father has never ceased working, and I too must be at work’ (John 5:17). This continuous divine activity is Creation. …God, however, wished to share this continuous activity with His creatures; to the heavenly, angelic Powers, He apportioned the stars that revolve in cosmic space, and to man, the earth, represented in the Biblical account as a garden.

…To practice a trade is to act upon the world with a view to transforming it; it is, consequently, to extend God’s work. …All occupations imitate God, Who is ceaselessly at work, for He ceaselessly creates the world. And this, in the final analysis, is the sole basis of their dignity.

From Divine Craftsmanship by Jean Hani (2-4).

December 17, 2011

The Celestial Gardener

Table of Contents from Divine Craftmanship: Preliminaries to a Spirituality of Work by Jean Hani.

    The Divine Scribe
    Christ the Physician
    The Warrior God
    The Divine Potter
    God the Weaver
    God the Architect and Mason
    The ‘Son of the Carpenter’
    Pastor et Nauta
    God the Fisherman and God the Hunter
    The Celestial Gardener
    The Master of the Harvest
    The Master of the Vineyard
    Conclusion: The Spirituality of Work and the Body Social
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December 16, 2011

the world of our passivities is a vast cosmos

Learning the art of willed passivity begins with appreciating the large and creative part passivity plays in our lives. By far the largest part of our life is experienced in the mode of passivity. Life is undergone. We receive. We enter into what is already there. Our genetic system, the atmosphere, the food chain, our parents, the dog – they are there, in place, before we exercise our will. “Eighty percent of life,” says Woody Allen, “is just showing up.” Nothing we do by the exercise of our wills will ever come close to approximating what is done to us by other wills. Our lives enter into what is already done; most of life is not what we do but what is done to us. If we deny or avoid these passivities, we live in a very small world. The world of our activities is a puny enterprise; the world of our passivities is a vast cosmos. We experience as happening to us weather, our bodies, our parents, much of our government, the landscape, much of our education. But there are different ways of being passive: there is an indolent, inattentive passivity that approximates the existence of a slug; and there is a willed and attentive passivity that is something more like worship.

From The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction by Eugene H. Peterson.

December 15, 2011

making friends with some ancestors long dead

I began to comprehend the obvious: that the central and shaping language of the church’s life has always been its prayer language. Out of that recognition a conviction grew: that my primary educational task as pastor was to teach people to pray. I did not abandon, and will not abandon, the task of teaching about the faith, teaching the content of the gospel, the historical backgrounds of biblical writings, the history of God’s people. I have no patience with and will not knowingly give comfort to obscurantist or anti-intellectual tendencies in the church. But there is an educational task entrusted to pastors that is very different from that assigned to professors. The educational approaches in all the schools I attended conspired to ignore the wisdom of the ancient spiritual leaders who trained people in the disciplines of attending to God, forming the inner life so that it was adequate to the reception of truth, not just the acquisition of facts. The more I worked with people at or near the centers of their lives where God and the human, faith and the absurd, love and indifference were tangled in daily traffic jams, the less it seemed that the way I had been going about teaching made much difference, and the more that teaching them to pray did.

It is not easy to keep this conviction in focus, for the society in which I live sees education primarily as information retrieval. But there is help available. Most of mine came from making friends with some ancestors long dead. Gregory of Nyssa and Teresa of Avila got me started. I took these masters as my mentors. They expanded my concept of prayer and introduced me into the comprehensive and imaginative and vigorous language of prayer. They convinced me that teaching people to pray was my best work.

From The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction by Eugene H. Peterson

December 14, 2011

men are homesick in their homes

December 13, 2011

we are attracted to goodness first by its beauty

Two passages from C. S. Lewis as Philosopher: Truth, Goodness and Beauty:

The great classic triumvirate of Truth, Beauty and Goodness is a particularly apt framework for engaging C. S. Lewis and philosophy. These magnificent ideals are not only at the heart of the classic philosophical enterprise, the tradition into which Lewis was initiated in his Oxford philosophical training, but they are also of crucial significance in the Christian vision of reality he came to embrace.

From the essay “Introduction: Jack of the Philosophical Trade” by Jerry L. Walls (p. 17).

God has not left himself without witness in any of the three distinctively human, more-than-animal powers of the soul, the three aspects of the image of God in us: the mind, which knows and understands the good; the will, which chooses and enforces it; and the emotions, which love and appreciate it. This threefold structure of the soul is also the reason why so many great classics in our literature have three protagonists corresponding to these three psychological faculties and social functions: prophet, king and priest.

…The order of these three transcendentals of truth, goodness and beauty is ontologically founded. Truth is defined by Being, for truth is the effulgence of Being, the revelation of Being, the word of Being. Truth is not defined by consciousness, which conforms to Being in knowing it. Goodness is defined by truth, not by will, which is good only when it conforms to the truth of Being. And beauty is defined by goodness, objectively real goodness, not by subjective desire or pleasure or feeling or imagination, all of which should conform to it. However, the psychological order is the reverse of the ontological order. As we know Being through first sensing appearances, so we are attracted to goodness first by its beauty, we are attracted to truth by its goodness, and we are attracted to Being by its truth. But ontologically, truth depends on Being, goodness on truth, and beauty on goodness. Truth is knowing Being. Goodness is true goodness. And the most beautiful thing in the world is perfect goodness.

From the essay “Lewis’s Philosophy of Truth, Goodness and Beauty” by Peter Kreeft (p. 24-25).

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