Wednesday, June 18, 2008

There's Something In the Dust

In 1871, Maria Mitchell said that "we especially need imagination in science. It is not all mathematics, nor all logic, but it is somewhat beauty and poetry." I agree. Tonight's full moon is what is called Strawberry Moon. I'm not sure why it is has such a lip-gloss-flavored name, but tonight's light sure did shine. It was both beauty and poetry.

In a back issue of National Geographic, astronaut Harrison "Jack" Schmitt gave his top seven reasons why he believes we must go back to the moon. His varied and optimistic list includes the familiar call to promoting education as well as the almost science-fictional notion of moon rockets preventing earth's annihilation by asteroid. Interestingly enough, he speculates "there's something in the dust that will make it worth the trip." Perhaps there is. But as I gazed through the binoculars tonight, it appears that more than what may lie on the lunar surface, there is something that lies within us that makes such space exploration "worth the trip." It seems as though we will never stop pondering the cosmos because such consideration is innately human; there is something in our dust that reaches to explore our place in the universe.

Eugene Cernan commanded Apollo 17; one of the few lunar landings involving geological exploration of the moon's surface. Cernan and other astronauts readily testify to the idea that the experience of space exploration is not merely scientifically valuable but is also of uncalculating spiritual worth as it provokes the deepest teleological questions of the human heart; perhaps questions that science cannot answer on its own. Cernan writes in his memoir, Man on the Moon:

"Stars and eternal distant blackness everywhere. There is no end. I'm not an overly religious person, but I am certainly a believer, and when I looked around, I saw beauty, not emptiness. No one in their right mind can see such a sight and deny the spirituality of the experience, nor the existence of a Supreme Being, whether their God be Buddha or Jesus Christ or Whoever. The name is less important than the acceptance of a Creator. Someone, some being, some power placed our little world, our Sun and our Moon where they are in the dark void, and the scheme defies any attempt at logic. It is just too perfect and beautiful to have happened by accident. I can't tell you how or why it exists in this special way, only that I have seen the endlessness of space and time with my own eyes."

Obviously, up there in the threshold of the outer world, this guy experienced something glorious. I've wondered what it would be like to be one of the handful of human beings to trespass the realm of the unknown. I'm sure such an encounter with grandeur would be difficult to describe in words. As prepared as the Apollo crew was in the technical mechanics of space flight, nothing can sufficiently prepare a person to step into the celestial manifestus. Cernan describes in his book how he and Schmitt just "sat mute, transfixed...and gazed in wonder at the unfolding details" as they entered "the unknown, the terra incognita of lore." What a mission! stare into what Plutarch called, The Face Which Appears on the Orb of the Moon; such a sight would not merely move the eyes, but move the mind and inspire the heart to extol the glory of the moment.

What is it about that moment; the unveiling of the undiscovered, which makes, as Cernan put it, "the power of the situation simply overwhelming"? Is it the removal from the comprehensible to the incomprehensible that produces this unavoidable spiritual experience? Tonight, as I stood in my pajamas with my barefeet on the driveway, I considered it a privilege to see something so perfect shining in the dark of night. In chemistry, when matter is converted from a solid to a vapor, it has been "sublimed." In the same sense, when we are moved from the state of held certainty to a place independent of ourselves, our perception becomes unable to be processed solely throught the intellect.

Janna Levin, in her book, How the Universe Got Its Spots, writes, "Distance and perspective are everything. With distance and perspective I can understand life on a connected surface fairly effortlessly, while the same visual is incomprehensible to a two-dimensional animal trapped on the surface, its vision blurred by sheer proximity." Levin argues that we lose both distance and perspective when looking at the universe because, "we can't just jump off space and see it from the outside." However, we actually do gain such a proper view when observing from space. The Apollo astronauts were the lucky few who were able to jump off the earth and gain such distance and perspective.
"When you leave Earth's orbit, there is a total break from the familiar, from what you know, from what you have always relied upon...out here, confronting a foreign and hostile environment where there is no horizon, no up or down, and where speed and time take on new meaning, we didn't know the answers--we didn't even know the questions."
I love those words.

The questions that were indiscernable for this astronaut as he loomed in space are most likely the same questions that have forever been and will continue to be part of the collective inquiry. When did all of this magnificence come into being? Who is responsible for it? Why is earth so unique in sustaining complex life? What is humanity's place in it all? How is it that I can go outside on a hot evening in June and peer out into the universe and think about the cosmos? Dennis Danielson, editor of The Book of the Cosmos--Imagining the Universe from Heraclitus to Hawking, asks, "Are we not drawn to the heavens in the first place because they are beautiful and because they are awesome? Their grandeur humbles us, thrills us, calls forth our contemplation."

Space exploration and discovery has, is, and will continue to be prompted by and pursued because of these timeless questions. Humanity ventures out in search of something beyond itself, something that will explain the beauty and the awe, and something that will give our lives great meaning. "My space voyages were not just about the Moon, but something much richer and deeper--the meaning of my life, weighted not only by the facts from my brain, but also the feelings from my soul. Too much logic. Too much purpose. Too beautiful to have happened by accident." Such questions are important and inherent or we wouldn't keep asking them.

Expelled was a great documentary in exposing the suppression of such questions. Many scientists interviewed believe questioning should be sequestered within the confines of philosophical or theological study; that they do not belong in the domain of science where reality is defined in terms of the physical, the natural, and above all, the impersonal. After all, has not scientific achievement been procured by relegating such non-naturalistic possibilities to the realm of the imagination? But it is precisely the imagination that allowed us to even believe space flight was possible. I wonder if Richard Dawkins is ever surprised that as human beings, we are able to observe, reason, and draw conclusions. Afterall, it doesn't have to be so. Scientific exploration has nothing to do with our basic needs to find food or survive as a species. Maybe he is taking it for granted that what we seek to know about the world and what lies beyond its canopy is actually capable of being understood. The universe could have just as easily been random and arbitrary; unable to be comprehended or ever discovered in the first place. There is no "science" that can explain why the cosmos is rational or why such rationality can even be partially discerned by the only complex life we know of: ourselves.

It has been noted in recent years that nationalism and cultural rigidity inhibits the progress and that all extreme exploration within and without the planetary limits requires an international effort. Similarly, scientific enterprise must dethrone itself and begin to remove its crown of superiority. Who gave scientists the sole authority to pronounce which are the legitimate borders of scientific inquiry and reality? An interdisciplinary effort is required if we are to ask such fundamental questions and if there is any hope of finding our way. Robert Jastrow, a scientist and agnostic, would agree,
"Scientists cannot bear the thought of a natural phenomenon which cannot be explained, even with unlimited time and money. The world had a beginning under conditions in which the known laws of physics are not valid, and as a product of forces or circumstances we cannot discover. When that happens, the scientist has lost control. If he really examines the implications, he would be traumatized."
As long as scientific endeavor continues, it will inevitably raise questions that it can and cannot answer. For the undiscoverable and the unanswerable, especially int the areas of cosmology and astrobiology, science must be willing to consider the possibility that theology and philosophy may have a better methodology to offer in finding answers. The scientific enterprise jeopardizes its integrity when it fails to admit that although it may produce informative discovery, it will never be able to produce certainty in the way of testable hypothesis when it comes to origins, destinies, or complex extraterrestrial life.

Yes, it is our destiny to continue to look out into the sky. Our heart's want to know what may lay beyond. Our frame will always hunger for a taste of beauty and order and our intellect will be long be inspired with questions about our purpose here and what it all may mean. They are valid questions because they are borne out of "something in the dust" that makes us human; for we are more than physical matter. As such, our experiences on a night like tonight will necessarily stir a wonderment that begs to be answered by the eye, mind, and heart.

Friday, April 25, 2008

stranger than fiction

"This Life's dim windows of the Soul
Distorts the Heavens from Pole to Pole
And leads you to Believe a Lie
When you see with, not thro' the Eye."

~William Blake

On Monday, the woman I am closest to in all this world and with whom I have shared the majority of moments was diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer. Being twins, Jessica and I grew up being forced to "share" almost everything; I suppose cancer can now be tragically added to that list. The other night I watched a comedic movie called "Stranger Than Fiction" and somehow that describes the many events that God has allowed to be written into my family biography. The movie details the life of a man who upon waking one morning finds his life to be audibly narrated and consequently "dictated" by an unknown author. This man, named Harold Crick, as he listens to his own life's narration is made aware that his death is imminent. And so he determines to find out whether he is being written as the protagonist in a comedy or a tragedy. Near the end of the film, he comes to the devastating realization that indeed it is a tragedy and that his author, whoever she is, will indeed kill him just as she has the other eight characters in her previous novels. "What? What? Hey! HELLOOO! What? Why? Why MY death? HELLO? Excuse me? WHEN?"

The movie brought up a lot of thoughts--reflections on life, death, whose calling the shots in each, and of course, the meta-narrative of each of our individual life stories. Like Harold Crick, maybe I too should have a little pocketbook of accumulated notes in which I tabulate my comedy vs tragedy tallies. If so, this week I would sadly conclude as Harold did, "This may sound like gibberish to you, but I think I'm in a tragedy."

But we are not mere characters being fictionally toyed with by the insane imaginings of a recluse author. Every event in our lives cannot be reduced to the mere categories of tragedy or comedy. I am beginning to learn that the details of each moment are the occasions for faith or unbelief. Unbelief is the outcome when I read my story with earthly eyes or as Blake calls them, this life's dim windows. Unbelief is an attempt to write my own conclusion; a cursing the heavens in futility. Harold Crick: [extremely annoyed] No I'm not! I cursing you, you stupid voice so SHUT UP AND LEAVE ME ALONE!

Faith, on the other hand, asks us to see thro' the Eye. Belief directs its cry to the divine mind even though it cannot grasp it. Faith, recognizes that God Himself is indeed pen-ing and that His previous work discloses to us our immediate role in the drama of redemption. In the movie, Harold is solemnly encouraged, "You must die, it's a masterpiece." Similarily, Christ knew those words well.

Our indivdual narratives are comprehended in the prelude that ocurred before we were ever introduced in the scene. Faith "sees" that each chapter of our lives are understood only within the activity and movement of our Creator and Redeemer. As Paul Minear writes, "The new sense of selfhood which stems from this understanding of one's true destiny is often so overwhelming as to revolutionize man's orientation." Our author is not a recluse, but rather is intimately related to his characters. Our story and how it will play out is "now actually constituted by the relationship...'I have given thee a name,' becomes thus practically synonymous with , 'I have chosen thee.' This commisson is no after-thought, no casual occurence, no stroke of fate; it is recognized by man as an essential expression of God's inclusive purpose." Like Harold Crick, we too are created, chosen, and given a message concerning the future. But our role is not to seek out knowledge of all the twists and turns and try to control them; it is to live by faith and not by sight. We already know what kind of story we're in...and it is a masterpiece.

I hate to spoil the film for you, but he lives. Harold's author compromises the beauty of the story by sparing him. But God did not compromise HiStory at any point. He did not spare His own Son, but willingly gave Him up. And Christ willing goes to the cross to secure our victory in the final chapter. And yet, He lives. Near the end of the film, Harold's narrator defends her writing by asking, "if a man does know he's about to die and dies anyway. Dies- dies willingly, knowing that he could stop it, then- I mean, isn't that the type of man who you want to keep alive?"

Keep alive? No.
See resurrected? Yes.
His living means our living.
It's almost stranger than fiction.
Maybe that's why it's meant to be read
thro' the Eye of Faith.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


The other night I rented the film "Into Great Silence." It's a film that beautifully portrays the spirituality of Carthusian monks living out their days in a monastery nestled in the French Alps. Stylistically, the footage is incredible--serene and sublime. Frame after frame artistically displays the simple and dedicated monastic life of those seeking transcendence.

The clip above was one of my favorite scenes as a blind monk relates his belief of what constitutes the happy life. Of course man does not possess the faculty of "bringing oneself closer to God" in the moral sense; such closeness would be the greatest terror apart from Christ. The divine proximity we will know at our death will be the greatest cause for all happiness because Christ has done far more than "help us," He has become sin for us. Expiation is what eradicates fear and "because of this a Christian should always be happy, never unhappy."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Feeding on Heavenly Food

A Look at Edward Taylor’s 8th Preparatory Meditation

"I am the living bread that came down out of heaven;
if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever;
and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh."
John 6:51

During Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan Commonwealth and while Edward Taylor was yet a youth, protestant scholastic Richard Baxter wrote in his practical treatise, The Reformed Pastor,

"If we did but study half as much to affect and amend our hearts, as we do our hearers, it would not be with us as it is…Too many do somewhat for other men’s souls, while they seem to forget that they have any of their own to regard…It is a sad thing that so many of us preach our hearers asleep; but it is sadder still if we have studied and preached ourselves asleep."

Edward Taylor, a puritan poet and pastor, was born in England in 1642. His ministerial life and writings proves he did much to avoid the culpability which Baxter mentions. Of his writings, those that were particularly introspective in this regard were assembled under the title, Preparatory Meditations before my Approach to the Lords Supper. It is in these poetic contemplations that I glimpse the inner soul of a called man. And yet, are we not called to likewise feel both our need for vigor against worldly declension in this life and our need to hope in the glory of the next?

Preparatory Meditations is a contemplation of John 6:51, titled "I am the Living Bread" and you can read it here. An analysis of this meditation presents Edward Taylor as a man readying his heart for worship, by recognizing his frail condition and taking pleasure in God’s divine provision, through Christ, for those who spiritually hunger after living bread.

This man of God is not interested in merely reminding himself of biblical truths that were perhaps recently under his scrutiny, but rather has set himself to praising the glorious mystery within those doctrines. How often do I approach communion in similar fashion? Discovery. Meditation. Exclamation! Taylor sees the distance between his earthly “Threshold” and God’s “bright Throne” and spies “A Golden Path” which connects his immanent reality with the existence of a transcendent God. This is a path he is unable to trace or entirely comprehend; it puzzles him. The writer’s starting point for reflection is a look into the means by which a heavenly God would communicate the superior glory of Himself in order to condescend spiritual blessing upon the doorstep of a fallen humanity.

Finding “the Bread of Life in’t at my doore,” the poet begins to examine the sad condition of humankind after the Fall when it “lost its golden dayes.” Before paradise was lost, the author describes his inner man as a “Bird of Paradise put in/This Wicker Cage (my Corps) to tweedle praise.” The spiritual self is figured as a bird imprisoned by its finite nature. This figure comments on Taylor’s belief in the inferiority of the carnal existence even before the sin of his first parents dealt the deathblow to the rest of humanity. Although the modern reader of the meditation may view this picture of the encaged bird as derogatory, the Puritans would view such human limitation as casting due glory upon God’s infinitude. This image of the soul as constrained by the material allowed Taylor to take greater pleasure in a boundless Creator distinct from His creation. It also enabled him to look forward to a fuller, consummate humanity in which God dwells with His people.

At this point in the poet’s verse, it seems that Taylor is calling his attention to the beginning of man’s misery:

“Had peckt the Fruit forbade: and so did fling
Away its Food; and lost its golden dayes;
It fell into Celestial Famine sore”

The soul that having “peckt” the forbidden fruit not out of hunger but out of greed and the boastful pride of life has lost its true source of life. Here, in the Garden of Eden, is where man “did fling away its food” leaving humanity unable to find nourishment through communion with God! The unity of guilt felt in the Fall would mean a perpetual pain: the “sore” of continual hunger after a higher pleasure while never again feeling satiated with the fullness of God. Taylor believed that through Adam’s sin, the human race in its fallen state, was denied ever again tasting even a “morsel” of the goodness of God. Sin has separated.

The meditation narrows in asking how our starving soul or “Poore Bird” will be fed, or “what wilt thou doe?” The condition Taylor finds himself in, along with the rest of humankind, is one of acute hunger for an intangible “soul bread.” Other “Creatures” are unable to formulate or cultivate that which can satisfy the starving. Although the field of this world may supply for physical want, it is insufficient in yielding true spiritual provision. The Epistle to the Hebrews talks about the pre-eminence of God’s Living Bread over and against celestial powers and Old Testament shadows. Taylor is negating the ability of these things to secure salvation so that “God’s White Loaf” mentioned in the latter part of the work will be affirmed as “having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs” (Hebrews 1:4). God spoke and intervened for His people in the Exodus by providing daily food in the wilderness in order to show typologically manna's subordination to “these last days” in which “he has spoken to us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:2). Oh to savor the sweetness found in the Bread of Life, a nourishment both eternal and efficacious!

So what is this living bread that will “end all strife” and reconcile mankind’s starving and “sad state”? Taylor sees God’s outpouring “streams of grace” as His provision through “his deare-dear Son” of a righteousness that leads to salvation. It is this perfect and undefiled righteous Jesus figured as “the Purest Wheate in Heaven” that is necessary to produce “Soul Bread.” “Which Bread of Life from Heaven down came,” indicates Taylor’s orthodox belief that the incarnate Christ was in actuality the self-manifestation of God on earth who purchased the way by which paradise could be regained. Specifically, for a Calvinist minister such as Edward Taylor, the “Golden Path” of salvation reflects not the radiance of mankind, but the activity of a Deity who displays his singular glory through bestowing his mercy toward the elect.

As I mentioned earlier, Taylor is not merely interested in rehearsing in his mind soteriological details divested of praise. He is meditating on the mediatorial work of his Saviour in preparation to both feed his congregation with word and sacrament and to one day meet His God. The metaphor of life-giving bread was first claimed by Jesus himself in the Gospel of John and was not always interpreted to be referring to the Lord’s Supper. Taylor necessarily utilizes Christ’s expression in his contemplation of administering the Supper, where bread pictures the broken body of Christ “Discht on thy Table up by Angells Hands.” However, the eschatological picture of eternal satisfaction made possible by reconciliation with God the Father through Christ the Son, appears to be more the essence of this pastor's meditation. Howard Marshall, Professor of New Testament at the University of Aberdeen, writes in comment of John 6: “Jesus elucidates the meaning of faith in himself as the crucified source of life. The concept of ‘real’ bread is powerfully developed in a way that…is not limited to the Lord’s Supper."

The dual consequence of the metaphor is an important highlight when considering that this puritan poet was hostile to the liberal doctrine at the time that allowed all moral church-goers to take communion as a converting ordinance. Taylor’s doctrinal stance is evident in his figure of Christ as the “Bread in Heaven,” giving true spiritual supply to those who recognize their celestial hunger and seek restoration through his redemption. It was in resemblance of this conversion act, that the sacramental meal commanded in the New Testament commemorated and confirmed God’s commitment to His regenerate and redeemed people.

Taylor asks, “Did God mould up this Bread in Heaven, and bake,/Which from his Table came, and to shine goeth?” The description of Jesus as one molded in Heaven, as opposed to being created, appears to be drawn directly from the Nicene Creed. It testifies to, “the only begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven.”

The author poses another rhetorical question in which he paints God bidding his people to find their portion in Him, the “Soule Bread.” Within these lines are duplications of the words come, take, eat, and thy fill. Such repetitive usages in this part of the text betray Taylor’s conviction that a sinner who “never could attain a morsel” will and should act in hedonistic greed when it comes to “God’s White Loaf” that is His Son. There is a heightened intensity within the poem as Taylor describes the indispensable reception of Christ’s sacrificial mediation as analogous to indulging in the fine delicacy of “Heaven’s Sugar Cake.” The image of a banquet table set for those in famine conveys the idea of Christ saturating the soul in delightful abundance.

To fully apprehend and then appreciate this outpouring grace is the most striking motive behind Taylor’s meditations of praise. The response of David in the Psalms is, “Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you” (Psalm 31:19). God displaying his grace through Christ is portrayed as the Master Baker, kneading what can never be fully comprehended by “Poore Birds.” The abundant goodness is a storehouse never depleted. “Heaven’s whelmed-down Chrystall meele Bowl,” is ever being filled “to the brim…yea and higher” with living bread. As the gift of grace is poured out on the earth to the hungry, God’s chosen and elected participants of His grace, we will open wide our mouths to receive his “Bread of Life” and all the accompanying spritual blessings. Taylor concludes his meditation with the assurance that those who feed their soul on heavenly food partake of Christ and very God and are confirmed again of the everlasting life, a soul that “shalt never dy.”

Edward Taylor spent his mortal life pondering the immortality of his soul before God. He saw man’s telos as living an earthly life singing God’s praises, so that the life experienced after death could be one of uninterrupted worship in light of God’s glory finally and fully revealed. Believing corrupted souls to be “petty things,” Taylor used his Preparatory Meditations as a means of detachment from the trivialities of this wooing world. Eternally minded, he knew the incorruptible pleasures and “golden dayes” prepared by his God were never to be found in the temporal or fallacious offers that “cannot yield thee here the smallest Crumb.” It is with these embedded notions, that this seventeenth century minister and poet, perhaps unknowingly, adhered to Richard Baxter’s practical exhortation to, “take some special pains with his heart, before he is to go to the congregation …go then specially to God for life…meditate on the weight of the subject of which you are going to speak and on the great necessity of your people’s souls, that you may go in the zeal of the Lord into his house."

The devotional interest upon the inward part and ultimate purpose of a person may seem too religious a topic for those who happen upon these early American writings. It may be asked if there is anything substantial to be gained from reading the poetical works of a man like Edward Taylor? Perhaps for some the answer is no and for those, Puritan thought will continue to fade into the past as crusty or irrelevant composition. But I hope not. My mother is the one who turned me on to the indespensible literary tradition of the Puritans. This man’s quietly written thought and meditative art summons us to read the narrative of his inner life. The power of his poetry is in the way he unconsciously provoked later generations (like us)to consider they have a soul of their own to regard. For as poet Mary Oliver declares, “Poems are not words after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry. Yes, indeed."

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

finding a marital model in Job

I have always felt like Job's wife is one of those Bible characters we love to hate. She certainly gets a bum rap in almost every book I've read or sermon preached. I think there is more to learn from those sparse verses about her than we often take note of. After Job loses his livestock, his servants, his children, and his health, and most likely believed his life was next on the list, Job's wife says to him, "Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!" Ewww! We think to ourselves. How could such a godly and upright man have such a wretch for a wife!

Although I would hope to behave a little better externally, I'm not sure my attitude would feel that different from Mrs. Job. Let's not forget that her husband was not peculiarly selected for grief and agony. As one-flesh, when the Lord was "incited against him to destroy him without reason" this little lady was in the path of the storm as well. It was her home, her livlihood, her dear sons and daughters, and her beloved husband, that were destroyed. How painful it is to endure not only one's own suffering, but to sit in impotence as you watch your spouse suffer excruciating pain and loss! Is Job's wife so easily condemnable as we'd like for her to be? Don't get me wrong, I'm in no way advocating that difficulty, no matter how great, is a defensable excuse for violent thrashings against the Holy One. I do believe she was seriously in the most intense throes of Romans 8:22. But apart from that, I think this little portion of Scripture nestled in chapter two is an amazing little piece of marriage "how-to".

Firstly, Job responds.
In the midst of almost total loss, Job is still acting like a man. Instead of being swallowed in the mire and blinded by the darkness about him, Job acts...he speaks. He is not merely holding fast to God, he is still carrying out his responsibility to step into the fray. I am reminded of Adam standing idly by as his beautifully deceived bride takes that deadly fruit at the serpent's urging. Um, Adam...hello? any input here? How justifiable it may seem for Job to stay silent, to "give up" at this point. Everything is ruined...why continue to fight for this one remaining earthly relationship when perhaps it is doomed to die as well? But instead we read, "But he said to her..."

Secondly, Job recognizes his wife's words for what they are.
Job perhaps takes hold of her flailing arms and whips her around to look into his pus face and says, "You speak as one of the foolish women would speak." He knows these words don't flow out of the core of who she is. She is speaking as one of the foolish women would speak. Job knows his wife's heart. He sees that these windy words are not the outflow her true heart toward God. She following the way of Eve and being tempted to believe at that treacherous moment that God's motives are evil and that He is really the denier of all good things rather than the Giver of Life. Job's wife is speaking fool-talk and Job knows it. "Get ahold of yourself woman! Quit acting like something you're not! You are no fool! We are the faithful, remember? You are a called-out one, not one who rejects the words and ways of God!" Job's husbandly strength is evident in that he doesn't "freak-out" about the imagined apostasy of his "way-ward" wife and to immediately start evangelizing her. He recognizes who she is and calls her back to who she is as well.

Thirdly, Job reminds his wife of truth.
He counters her Osteen-esque theology with what is true. "Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?" Now, while Job reminds his wife of the comfy, cozy hedge that the Lord had put around them 'on every side', he isn't privy to Satan's request of God to slither under the hedge and eat away all their helath, wealth, and prosperity. Job, nor his wife knew that Satan had potentially found "someone to devour" and yet Job is confident enough in the providence of God, that he REMEMBERS. He remembers that God is indeed Who He claims Himself to be: the fountain from which all things flow. Job deals with his wife in the most loving way; he reminds her that they love the Giver of the gifts, not just the gifts. I can almost see his deep eyes staring into her tear-filled ones as he tenderly reminds her, "Hey, this isn't why we're walking with God. That big house, that big salary, those pleasant family birthday parties, our pretty skin and fit bodies, our beautiful and successful children! No-no, dear one, we walk with God because of who He is...remember? He is our everything--even when we have nothing!"

And lastly, Job refrains from sinning himself and by so doing, represents to his wife what faith looks like.
"In all this Job did not sin with his lips." Job not only speaks truth, he acts on truth. How Job fulfilled his calling as husband here! This is loving his wife as Christ loves the church. What a demanding and challenging situation and yet Job "gave himself up for her" by having stepped into the conflict and responding when I guess it may have been the last thing he, in his earthly nature, desired to do. He recognizes and puts the finger on his wife's sinful heart that "he might sanctify her." He reminds and redirects her to the character of God which is no less than "having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himslef in splendor." Job does all this while representing in His own actions, how this faith plays out in and through one's steadfastness in the real wreckage of life. I don't believe that Job's wife stands condemned because of her sin. Just as Job took it upon himself to "continually" rise early in the morning to intercede for his children in the case that they "have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts", he likewise pictured our priestly Lord who would, in the place of agony himself, accomplish that which would take away our spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she (his bride) might be holy and without blemish. May our husbands nourish and cherish as well.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


Roughly three years ago, I read a poem by the war poet, Wilfred Owen. The First World War stirred much anxiety in the then modern generation. I feel a similar "stirring" amongst my own generation. As a result of the war, people began to rethink their ideas about justice in the world. The war poets sought to make the tragedy of this gruesome war a reality for those who were not dying in the trenches or suffering in stark hospitals. Warfare is brutal and civilians everywhere, are in many ways, unprepared to process the undeserving cruelties that come along with it. Perhaps the same can be said of suffering in a general sense. Wilfred Owen's poem "Disabled" is pretty forceful in drawing our attention away from the complexities of some international conflict, toward an intense focus on one man's particular deprivation. I see deprivation too and would like to re-visit his words because of the feeling within myself and perhaps you too of bewildering loss and the unforgiving awareness of life's incongruity. Our life, like war, lures us into loss.

He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark,
And shivered in his ghastly suit of grey,
Legless, sewn short at elbow. Through the park
Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn,
Voices of play and pleasure after day,
Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him.

* * *
About this time Town used to swing so gay
When glow-lamps budded in the light blue trees,
And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim, -
In the old times, before he threw away his knees.
Now he will never feel again how slim
Girls' waists are, or how warm their subtle hands;
All of them touch him like some queer disease.

* * *
There was an artist silly for his face,
For it was younger than his youth, last year.
Now, he is old; his back will never brace;
He's lost his colour very far from here,
Poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry,
And half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race
And leap of purple spurted from his thigh.

* * *
One time he liked a blood-smear down his leg,
After the matches, carried shoulder-high.
It was after football, when he'd drunk a peg,
He thought he'd better join. - He wonders why.
Someone had said he'd look a god in kilts,
That's why; and may be, too, to please his Meg;
Aye, that was it, to please the giddy jilts
He asked to join. He didn't have to beg;
Smiling they wrote his lie; aged nineteen years.
Germans he scarcely thought of; all their guilt,
And Austria's, did not move him. And no fears
Of Fear came yet. He thought of jewelled hilts
For daggers in plaid socks; of smart salutes;
And care of arms; and leave; and pay arrears;
Esprit de corps; and hints for young recruits.
And soon, he was drafted out with drums and cheers.

* * *
Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal.
Only a solemn man who brought him fruits
Thanked him; and then inquired about his soul.

* * *
Now, he will spend a few sick years in institutes,
And do what things the rules consider wise,
And take whatever pity they may dole.
To-night he noticed how the women's eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
How cold and late it is! Why don't they come
And put him into bed? Why don't they come?

What sensory detail! I feel connected to this soldier's experience because our anxiety is shared. The poem is forthright--if war does not end a soldier's life, it will nevertheless render him impaired, ineffective, and incapable. the title and start of that first line transplants me into that institution and inside the life story of a war veteran who is just waiting to die. Cold and disgusted in his own colorless skin, war has taken more from this man than his legs. My battle has taken more from me than my breasts. Placed beside this visual dismemberment are the sounds of youth and vitality ringing through the park. I hear those sounds too. It is interesting that Owen doesn;t describe the the boys as running through the park, as the juxtaposition would seem too heavily contrived and would in a sense weaken the following paradox, "saddening like a hymn." I love hymns. I love them because they are joyful songs that when I sing them every Sunday I am able to life my eyes above the temporal suffering to the eternal and blessed. The voices aid the soldier in briefly transcending the confines of his "wheeled chair," and yet, they simultaneously transfix him in the earthly reality of his own condition. I feel that intensity too.
I remember, like this soldier, the early evenings of youth; full of delight, newness, anticipation, and beauty. How unexpected to long for what was not so long ago. Owen's language is unexpected...
"About this time Town used to swing so gay
When glow-lamps budded in the light blue trees,
And girls glanced lovlier as the air grew dim,"

Towns do not swing. Lamps do not bud. Blue trees? Shouldn't that be girls DANCED lovlier? And air has no color variation. There is a certain expectation in the arrangement of words in language...instead of words that seem likely, Owen uses irrational constructions. Such syntactical manipulation helps me connect to this disabled soldier's probable recognition that, like the turn of a phrase, life does not unfold as expected. I feel that incongruity too.
The theme of loss and the finality of that loss is everywhere present. The soldier was too young to even enlist himself in in the war which is why "Smiling they wrote his lie; aged nineteen years" and we are told he was more youthful in looks even than in age, but "Now he is old." Within a single year, the soldier is emptied of youth and has lost "half his lifetime." His color and vitality has been spilt not for the pride of accomplishment in his own athletic pursuits, but for some war effort. Now, "after the matches" there is no admiration or rowdy cheers as he is lifted onto his teammates' shoulders, just nurses to quietly lift him onto his bed. Where there was once community as a young athletic victor, and a sense of Esprit de corps in joing the military fight, there is now a private world of solitude, "Why don't they come?" I feel that solitude too.
So why did he join the fight? "Someone had said he'd look a god in kilts, that's why; and may be, too, to please his Meg; Aye, that was it, to please the giddy jilts He asked to join. He didn't have to beg." It is the youthful mindset that does not contemplate the nobility or necessity of the international conflict or even weighing in on his own possible destruction, "no fears of Fear came yet." The recruit wants to show off his legs in the handsome uniform and thinks he may attract the attention of girls. How innocently and candidly is he begging for life to begin, to be considered a man, to be looked up to, to carry a weapon, to have a task, to make some money, and maybe even be someone's hero. Do you feel pity for him? I do, because as I hear his naive optimism, the kind that comes with youth, I have forseen the agonizing reality of a war-torn young man. How hard it is to lose everything when we think we have nothing to lose? The vibrant girls are not filled with admiration for the soldier...their eyes are drawn to "the strong men." the closest the soldier comes to feeling in anyway "heroic" is when "a solemn man who brought him fruits" thanks him. What a disparity between what was sought and what was gained! The futility of living while having lost all that makes life meanignful is authentic and unforgettable, but I don't feel that disparity. I say with the Psalmist, "And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; For You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You." I like Owen's poem. It isn't mere comment, but an experience I have explored. He isn't asking me to do something; to fix it; to make it all better. After all, the peom itself offers no true understanding of why the innocent suffer great loss; just that they do. I don't expect to find such explanantions here. We all feel cut off at the knees if we're honest with ourselves. I know my foundational assumptions about truth, beauty, and rationality are often "disabled" as well. But unlike the soldier, I am not left incapacitated in a wheeled chair of broken illusions or weakened by the reality that life, as illustrated in war, is not always as glorious as it is grievous. I am awaiting a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

courage that pleases

Friends have been telling me how brave I have been these last twenty months. True it is that the past has had daily afflictions-the symptons of that curse we have all been dealt...but the idea of a personal valiancy makes me pause and consider those symptoms. I have not felt brave. The wasting away of my earthly home, the destruction of my outer nature, the tent constructed of chest and arms and ivory skin and brown hair is progressively being dismantled. While I haven't lost heart, it more than occasionally seemed misplaced or hiding. The Apostle Paul reminds me of the objective inner reality that "I am of good courage" and not only that, but "I am always of good courage." (2 Corinthians 5:1-10) How does the impossibility of courage become not just possible but guaranteed?

God is Himself preparing me for a change of address. I am moving out of this dirty and deteriorating temporary shelter that is me into a heavenly and lasting home, never to be relocated. This new home designed by God "eternal in the heavens" will never need a remodel. A raw look in the mirror and the insufficiency causes a sigh of shame: scars of imperfection, a pale color caused by weakness, a chair beside me to relieve the burden of standing. I still haven't removed the old calendar taped to the mirror. July reflects that last chemotherapy appointment. I should probably take down that reminder of painful moments gone by, yet the human capacity to count-down to painful days not yet marked will still be there. Taking another glance at my reflection, I know that it will be difficult to say goodbye to the eyes staring back at me. I want to live. I really do want to have this scarred body for just awhile longer. As Paul says, "not that I would be unclothed" I want God to "further clothe" me so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.

So what do I do? Regardless of how many Januarys I will have to purchase new calendars it is my aim to please the Lord and I think I am biblical in saying it is courage that pleases. I am learning that I can bring delight to the heart of God by believeing something that is really hard to hard to believe because nothing here can prove it to me and there is little discoverable evidence available to convince myself of it. Such belief is so crazy, I might venture to say it requires faith? I am to live believing the claim of Philippians 1:21 that "to live is Christ and to die is depart and be with Christ...that is far better!" To take hold of that and to trust such truth is what produces the courage that pleases God. My life here is Christ and when I die, then my real life is even more Christ. I suppose that is why Paul could say, "with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death."

I've been in many worship services with music that extols the better-ness of being with Jesus. I always sing with some hesitancy. Pleasant moments talking with mom and dad...silly moments of laughter with my twin sister...peaceful moments resting in my husband's arms...will it really be better? I can't know for sure. Well, I can know by faith, but not with a knowledge gained by sight.

When my husband and I moved to the desert, time necessitated that he secure a home for us without me first ever stepping inside. Being rather selective, it took a small degree of trust on my part to believe that he was moving me to a dwelling capable of safety and beauty. He did a pretty good job. The cupboards aren't ideal and the fixtures were a bit brassy but despite these features I am content with our home. Home is where he is. Our Lord knows our deepest hope and what will ignite great joy in our soul and newly glorified body. He is moving me into that house where every expectation will be far surpassed and the ugly features replaced with divine designs. I will be home. Home because that is where He is and by faith I know it will be far better.