Archive for the ‘God’s consolations’ Category

A letter to an unemployed nephew

February 4, 2012

Dear friends,

I share this, which I just sent, because I thought it might comfort others who are out of work or suffering rejection:

Your mom mentioned in a recent e-mail that you were still looking for work, and I thought, “how discouraging, to have to spend months just looking for any dumb job.”  It would tend to make me angry, fearful, and depressed, unless, of course, I could keep in mind God’s constant and unfailing love for me, and His absolute power to sway hearts and make doors open for me – or keep them shut.  Problem is, I have trouble keeping that constantly in mind, though I do ask for His help with that.

Anyway, it grieved me to think of you being tempted to be angry, fearful and depressed, and I wanted to let you know that your name (and your mom’s) are on a prayer list I have written in my notebook, and I try to read it over once every day so that I don’t let myself falsely claim that I pray for anybody (by putting them on the list and then not reading the list).

I’ll say again what I said when I was last your guest, that I think that you and your mom are called to be saints, as Paul said of the members of the churches that he wrote to (Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:2, Ephesians 2:19, Colossians 1:2, etc.), and that your concern for the troubled, and willingness to minister to them, shows your awareness of your calling; so that if the world treats you as fools, or as just so much unwanted surplus population, remind yourself that the world so treated Jesus Christ and the people of His first churches (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 1:18-28, 2:14, 4:9-13).  So you might think of this time of trying to find work, and repeatedly being rejected, as a time of trial that God is consciously letting you pass through, to help you develop patience and trust and other spiritual muscles you’ll need for your future assignments.  Such, at least, is my hope. Eventually we’ll find out.

It’s one of the great ironies of this world that in this, as in many countries, a young person can get a college education and still find himself (or herself) unemployable.  It’s another great irony that you can get a college education and still be no more morally educated than a little child, as you can see from all the corporate and government lawyers, doctors, scientists, and engineers the world over that knowingly tell lies and promote what they know to be evil because that’s what their employer asks of them.  That means that I think you’re one of the world’s intellectual elite (intelllectual: one who can discern), because I know, or at least trust, that you’d resist those temptations. Which should make you all the more desirable as an employee!  I hope you can remember this whenever you’re tempted to lose faith in yourself.  May the Lord keep reminding you of your goodness, which is not your own but His gift to you, always renewable if you should ever stumble and lose it.

Our love to you and your mom,

Your uncle John

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A Valentine’s Day Meditation

February 14, 2011

This morning at the breakfast table I looked over at Elizabeth, who was intently studying an upside-down cash register receipt, and I had the thought, “This is like having breakfast with Jesus Christ.” Of course! She’s part of Him, 1 Corinthians 12:27.

The specifics?

1. Elizabeth loves me, enormously.

2. She would lay down her life for me.

3. She intends to speak only the truth to me.

4. She wishes only my good and my happiness, both here and in eternity.

5. To that end, she encourages me to be loving to all, courageous, fair, truthful, righteous, forgiving, self-controlled, — in a word, Christlike; and also, kind to myself;

6. She’s also funny, witty, wise, and endlessly interesting;

7. She’s also delicious to enter the silence of worship with, or the silence of sleep, and no doubt also the silence of eternity, holding hands with me.

The End

July 9, 2010

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. – Revelation 21:4 (AV)

And God will wipe away all tears from our eyes,
Will surely wipe away all tears from our eyes.

Inclined no way but One, we lose all dread;
Unthreatened, we disarm all spears from our eyes.

Righteousness, peace, and joy are over all things spread!
There vanish memories of fears from our eyes.

Is this perfection not just as the prophets said?
The cloud of doubting disappears from our eyes.

All separation overcome, all self-will dead,
Time’s function filled, there fall all years from our eyes.

Those new names, true names written in the old ones’ stead
Dissolve in glory with the tears from our eyes.

At Last in Print: A Manual for Casting Down Imaginations

March 17, 2009

“The best help you can have from a book is to read one full of such truths, instructions and awakening informations as force you to see and know who and what and where you are; that God is your All; and that all is misery but a heart and life devoted to him. This is the best outward prayer book you can have, as it will turn you to an inward book and spirit of prayer in your heart.” So wrote William Law (1686-1761) in The Spirit of Prayer (1749; excerpted in Robert Llewellyn and Edward Moss, eds., Daily Readings with William Law, Springfield, IL: Templegate, 1987, p. 68).

I have found such a book; it’s a little 120-page book by the early English Quaker William Shewen, first published in 1683 and just now reprinted by Inner Light Books in San Francisco (Hardcover, ISBN 978-0-9797110-0-8, $25; paperback, ISBN 978-0-9797110-1-5, $15; http://www.innerlightbooks.com). Its title is Counsel to the Christian-Traveller: Also Meditations & Experiences. Among the short works in this slim volume is “A Treatise Concerning Thoughts & Imaginations,” which deserves reading by every person of faith that’s ever endured mental anguish.

Let me share a few sample passages here from Shewen’s Meditations & Experiences:

From No. XVII: This one word or sentence may try all the sects in Christendom, and others who profess themselves lovers of the law of God, yet have not peace in their dwellings; these have not the answer of a good conscience, which keeps void of offence towards God and man. They have not that peace which passes the understanding of man in the fall; they know not their hearts and minds kept by it; but are found in the evil-doing, where the tribulation and anguish is, and in that fear which brings torment. (p. 42)

From  No. XIX: This is my testimony, that none can receive the joy of God’s salvation, enter into the Sabbath of rest, or keep holy-day to the Lord, further than they know a ceasing, and a being saved from thinking their own vain thoughts, following their own wills, and obeying their own wisdom…. So it is a blessed thing for people to meet and wait together, and walk in this heavenly light and day of salvation, which discovers and judges every vain thought and foolish imagination, subdues them, and brings them down into the obedience of Christ. In this, as they walk and abide, they truly differ from all other families of the earth…. In this stands their happiness and safety: Out of this, they are as weak as other people. (pp. 44-45)

From No. XXX: It is a very blessed state, to be found true waiters for, and witnesses of the second coming of Christ, which is without sin unto salvation;  for true happiness does not consist in … being witnesses of his first appearance, wherein he convinces and reproves for sin; but in waiting for the witnessing his second coming to cleanse, save and redeem from sin: herein is the joy of God’s salvation felt and enjoyed. (p. 50)

From No. XXXV: It is a blessed thing, and a high and heavenly state, for every individual to be witnesses within themselves, that self is made of no importance. … Denying of self, and taking up the Cross, are inseparable, and must precede Discipleship; yet this state is short of being a friend of God, and co-heir with Christ, bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh; and short of sitting down with him at the right Hand of God in the kingdom of heaven; …short of knowing it meat and drink to do the will of God, and his fruit sweet to their taste, and to sit under his shadow with great delight, glorified with that glory which Christ had with the Father before the world began. (pp. 55-56)

In the past few days I’ve experienced both a touch of the unspeakable sweetness of God and immersion in the angry nastiness of my own offended self-importance. I’ve also been given a clear warning against the familiar detours from the right way that bring me into those patches of thorns and nettles. In the midst of all this, with his book riding with me on all my travels,  I’ve found William Shewen to be a sensitive and faithful friend who’s very familiar with all the territory I cover, and I’ve been hearing my Shepherd’s own voice in his. Higher praise to a book I don’t know how to give.

Psalm 22 and Beethoven’s Ninth

April 1, 2008

A friend sent me the text of a sermon he delivered on Good Friday. It was a powerful sermon, painting a vivid picture of Jesus’s physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering in Gethsemane and on the Cross. It was a message about abandonment and finding the everlasting arms to lean on again. And I was moved, not only because of its eloquence but also because I have some sense of the personal challenges my friend is facing right now as he looks toward a difficult future.

As I thought about my friend’s life and the sermon he delivered out of it, I was humbled by a new awareness of how Jesus meets us exactly where we are, offering us exactly what we need.

Where I am in recent weeks is engaged in musing on whether Jesus was taking a nazirite vow when he said at the Last Supper that he wouldn’t touch any more wine until he’d completed his task. He keeps his word and also refuses vinegar–equally a product of the grape. I don’t know what I’m to do with that musing, other than to share it here, but I’m sure I’ll know by and by.

For me, right now in my life, I have the luxury of not identifying with those last words as a cry of abandonment. Today I can hear “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” as, at one and the same time, a statement of what looks like fact to the eyes of others, an act of self-comfort in quoting Scripture to himself, and Jesus’s final message to the world as he speaks aloud for all to hear, despite the terrible physical state he is in, the first words of Psalm 22.

It’s a psalm that fascinates me. The first twenty-one verses describe both Jesus’s Crucifixion and our own mundane times of crisis and suffering. But then, with no transition whatsoever, verse 21 switches in midstream and flat-out states that rescue has happened. Period. No explanation.

Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me. (NRSV)

In the King James Bible the transition is so abrupt as to require mythical beasts:

Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns. (AV)

It reminds me of the place in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony where the brooding, mournful instrumental music is stopped dead by a human voice singing, “O friends, not these tones!” and then the astounding, irresistible Ode to Joy chorale begins.

That’s what happens in Psalm 22. Both Psalm 22 and Beethoven’s Ninth give me a model of faith as a choice. Turn around and face the other way. Sing another song. Just do it!

Here is the new song of verse 22:

I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you. (NRSV)

I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee. (AV)

And I’m fascinated by verse 29, which seems to be saying that even the dead will worship Yahweh. It’s a wonderful comfort to me to think that I can go to Meeting for Worship from the grave.

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. (NRSV)

All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul. (AV)

From where I am in early April 2008, I can experience those last words of Jesus as his last teaching to me. “Pay attention,” he’s telling me. “I’m leaving you with this psalm. Go look it up. (Study Torah.) It’s all in there.”

My friend, who began my consideration of Jesus’s last words with his Good Friday message, can find a personal companion to be with him as he faces his physical and spiritual challenges.

Both of us have found our shepherd. We shall not want.

The Night Jesus Washed His Disciples Clean

March 22, 2008

3/21/08. I can’t forget that today is called Good Friday, and that Jesus, on the day of His crucifixion, may have had to use all the mental discipline He could muster to keep His focus on the present moment and prayerfully on the presence of God. Could the Man who stilled the wind and the waves also still the adrenalin, the rage, the fear in His own body? How did He cope with the pain of the nails, the crown of thorns, the blood trickling down into His eyes? More importantly: what can I do for Him and His mission today, right this moment?
 
Reading from the Gospel of John this morning, I noted that the Evangelist prefaced the story of the foot-washing with a seemingly irrelevant parenthesis, John 13:3: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God:…” – what is this? Something Jesus was just becoming aware of, or something He knew for a long time? If for a long time, why mention it here? The only sense I can make of its placement here is that the writer is using it to put a frame around a part of his narrative he finds particularly important – perhaps the whole Passion story, but  perhaps just this part about the washing of feet.
 
“Knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands:” after such a buildup, we might expect that Jesus then magically made tangerines appear on the supper table, or had the stars in the sky spell out the words “repent, everybody.” But no; He stripped naked and put on a bath-servant’s towel. And then He tells Peter that Peter won’t understand what He’s doing until some time later. There’s something profound going on here. Jesus, knowing that all things are in His hands, is about to do one of His greatest works. Humble Himself and play servant to His own servants? Well, yes, that, but something more: wash His disciples “clean every whit,” so that Peter, his feet bathed, will no longer need his dirty hands and defiled head washed.
 
I’d never seen this before: that was Jesus’ baptism of his disciples. With Judas we’re given to believe that this baptism didn’t “take,” John 13:10-11, but for the others I believe they were, at that moment, made sinless. This is the baptism that the apostle describes as “not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God” (1 Peter 3:21). If it had required a complete removal of the filth of the flesh, Jesus would surely have washed Peter’s hands and head, and maybe even sent him outdoors to gargle.

Sinless? I know that Peter then did a string of inappropriate actions, like cutting off Malchus’ ear and denying that he knew Jesus; and all the disciples fled from the garden, abandoning their Lord and Savior. How can we not think them still sinners? But we have the Lord’s own word that they had been washed “clean every whit.” And this is only fitting for souls of whom Jesus was about to say, first reminding them of their new-found cleanness (John 15:3), “I am the vine, ye are the branches” (15:5). Can members of Christ be unclean? The disciples might still err in minor ways – Paul would later rebuke Peter for dissembling, Galatians 2:11 ff. – but they now had consciences that sins would no longer stick to as they once did.
 
Unstainable consciences, while still capable of minor errors? It’s not as though the disciples had been given Teflon coatings, or – to use the language of Yoga, become jivanmuktas who could generate no more karma, bad or good, because they’d attained to direct knowledge of the timeless Atman and could identify no more with changeable nature – but rather, I think, Jesus gave them what Paul was later to call huiothesia, “son-placement,” translated by King James’ scholars as “the adoption,” Galatians 4:5-6 and Romans 8:13-17, whereby we call God Abba, “father.”

There’s no Teflon coating involved in this: we wash out our errors, as Peter did, only with our tears, and these are tears of real pain. It hurts to see our own laziness or cowardice or greed cause someone else sorrow. But there’s a good reason not to call such errors sin. For we now feel God’s parenthood, protecting us from falling so deeply into sin that we have to block off awareness of our condition with a fabric of lies. Moreover, we now have a heart that yearns to be corrected whenever it strays, rather than go on straying in happy ignorance. It is the heart of what Paul called “the new creature” (2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 6:15).

That freedom from sin, I think, was the great spiritual gift passed on when Jesus washed Peter’s feet. It came to me seven years ago, just before I fell in love with Elizabeth, when I heard the Unmistakable Voice in my mind say, “I will not let you fall into sin,” so I know it’s a real thing, given to little people like me who are by no means jivanmuktas. It does not mean that I couldn’t spoil it all if I set my mind to becoming an evildoer, as I did for a time as a child when I thought I might be more impressive if I were one of the bad boys; the sinless life does require vigilance. Robert Barclay (Apology, Proposition 9, §II) comments wryly, “it is to no purpose to beseech them to stand, to whom God hath made it impossible to fall.” What I take my Lord to have meant is that I can trust Him absolutely, and that by His grace I can now, amazingly, even trust the new heart He has given me.

God knows best what is needful for us, and all that He does is for our good.

November 10, 2007

Hannah Whitall Smith (1832-1911) wrote a brief introduction to my 1895 edition of The Practice of the Presence of God. It begins: “The value of this little book is its extreme simplicity. The trouble with most of the religion of the day is its extreme complexity.” Today I put the last two of Brother Lawrence’s letters into the “Pages” section of this blog. From the very last one I took the words that form the title of this present post.

Love sweetens pains; and when one loves God, one suffers for His sake with joy

November 8, 2007

I have on my shelves a little paperback translation of The Practice of the Presence of God, a book of anonymously reported conversations with Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection (1611-1691) first published in French in the 1690s; this translation, also anonymous, was published in 1895 by the Fleming H. Revell Company in New York and London. It includes fifteen letters from Lawrence’s hand, the last one written just a few days before his death.

I just learned from a distressed friend that another friend has just been diagnosed with a disease for which there is no known cure, and in my desire to offer comfort and my sense of helpless inability to comfort, I remembered these last letters of Brother Lawrence’s, to an ailing person or persons.

I can’t share these letters without expressing my thanks to my stepmother, who first gave me a copy of this book for my birthday thirty-nine years ago, when I was turning twenty-six. She is now near the end of her earthly life, soon to turn eighty, and no longer able to read this note of gratitude; but God will find a way to let her know.

I’ll be posting these letters of Lawrence’s as “pages” rather than posts. If they provide consolation to just one other person they’ll have proved their worth.