“I have no idea where I am going…”

Another does of wisdom for the coming New Year.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968), Thoughts in Solitude

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New Year’s Wisdom – the Unknown Path

I suppose I will be resurrecting this blog.  Call it a New Year’s resolution.

 

As I am facing a New Year (and a major move in my life) I’ve needed the sort of wisdom articulated below by René Castellano.  Life has been in flux and great uncertainty in life has been the theme of the last half year of my life.  A new pastoral position, moving to a new city across the country, and all my perceived plans having to fall to the ground and die…   But that is a good place to meet the Lord and follow him wherever he leads.  Though he seldom (never?) shows the destination. Following a known God down an unknown path.

rene castellanoGod only illumines the next step, not long distances ahead. We would prefer God to illumine the way for a long distance ahead, but the flickering light of the Word shows only the next step. God called Abram, “Leave Ur. I will then tell you where you are going.” To Paul the Spirit said, “Go to Macedonia. I will tell you there what next.” The risen Lord said to His disciples, “Go to Galilee. You will find me there.” It is humbling for the pilgrim to not know what is over the hill, to have no more foreknowledge than the next person. But this is a part of our spiritual growth: to take small steps without knowing what is ahead but trusting God to bring good out of evil.

René Castellano (1914-2011), Cuban theologian

via Thomas Oden’s memoir A Change of Heart

Free in Limits

limits

 

‘Tis within limits that the master shows.”  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832)

 

Goethe wrote that line to illustrate how strict forms of writing poetry, like the sonnet, helped show who were the real gifted poets. Basically being to Germans what Shakespeare is to the English speaking world, he should know. Being confined within the parameters forced them to refine, distill, and perfect their poetic intentions. It was in the limitations that they find their strength. American poet and artist Julia Cameron expresses the same, updated for the twentieth century: “in limits there is freedom. Creativity thrives within structure.”

This may grate against us at first. How can being confined be a freeing thing? Aren’t all limits restrictive? The fact that the idea grates is evidence at just how counter-cultural it is in a world where any restraint upon us is felt to be an injustice. But only within restraint can we be truly free.

But having rules on the field which restrict play free everyone enjoy the game.

A society which has no laws, customs, or social virtues may permit one to do whatever they want to anyone else. But would such freedom really feel like freedom if you were living in it?

Staying faithful in marriage limits intimacy to one partner. But it also frees us to enjoy the extended, long-term, committed love that only such an exclusive relationship can bring.

With God, it is the same. As as a well-known worship song says it’s only in Your will that I am free.  And that idea does not come from nowhere. It comes from God, who desires us to be more free than we would even choose to be on our own.

The Psalmist in Psalm 119, that massive meditation on God’s word, says: I will run in the way of your commandments, when you enlarge my heart… (v 32). The image is one of running free yet while being held within God’s desires for us expressed in His word. A heart set truly free is one within limits.

 

 

Love for love’s sake

ElvisMost of all I love you ’cause you’re you.  Elvis Presley

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bernard of ClairvauxWe are to love God for Himself… nothing is more reasonable; nothing is more profitable. Bernard of Clairvaux

 

 

 

 

The King of rock and roll and one the greatest medieval preachers.  One wouldn’t think they have much overlap in fundamental messages but when it comes to the nature of love, you’d be wrong.

To love is to desire another. To love rightly is to desire not just what another can give to you.  It is not to love merely how they make you feel.  It is not to seek self-gratification in another.

It is to love them for them.  No more appropriate is this than when we speak of loving God, our first and most important duty, both Old and New Covenant.  Can we love God not only for what He gives to us, though his gifts are many?  Can we love God not for how he enriches us or how he makes us feel?  Can we love God for God?

Love seeks all things – or… be like John Wayne

Moral of the story? Believe the best and be like John Wayne

Moral of the story? Believe the best and be like John Wayne

We live in times where it is easy to vilify those we disagree with. This goes for people or leaders who we disagree with. Think of how we read our newsfeed.

It is easy to think the worst of people who we disagree with.  It’s easy to desire the worst; to want them to do poorly.  But we’re not called to do the easy thing but the harder thing.  Love for others is, in part, desiring the good for them.  Even if you think they’re off base. Even if it feels as though you (or your “side”) has lost to them.

Consider this reaction to the election of a leader:

I didn’t vote for him but he’s my President, and I hope he does a good job.
—John Wayne (b. 1907) on the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960

 

And then consider this reaction:

I hope he fails.
—Rush Limbaugh (b. 1951) on the election of Barack Obama in 2008  (Source of quotes)

 

Which reaction shows most confidence, graciousness, courtesy, and maturity?  Or to put it in more strictly theological terms…  love?  Love, after all, seeks the good of the other with no thought to pride of self.  Love seeks all things.  That kind of love is neither sentimental nor easy to accomplish in real time.

The harder thing is gracious and rises above pettiness. It seeks the common good and desires what is best – even for an idealogical opponent.  In times like these, perhaps, we need this reminder more than ever.

 

 

The Lord – The Great Disturber

A Troubled Soul - Ferdinand Hodler

A Troubled Soul – Ferdinand Hodler

God as comforter.*  The Lord as the giver of inner peace.  Gentle Jesus, who never ruffles feathers.  These sorts of things come naturally to us. It may be counter-intuitive to think of God as one who disturbs. But to really begin to consider God revealed in Christ is to become not more serene but more unsettled.

Consider how most responded to Jesus in the Gospels.  Words so frequently used are amazed, astonishedmarvelled.  He causes hearts to burn.  These are not reactions to a milquetoast guru.  They are the reactions of the disturbed and unsettled; those whose calm pond of life has just had a big rock dropped in.

This is because God revealed in Christ is not something to be coolly considered. We don’t analyze him with detachment. When we’re coming close to who he really is, his claims start to bear down on us. It is not as much that we can know God but that this knowledge knows us.

…God is not a fit object for man’s detached scrutiny. You cannot fix God at the end of a telescope or microscope and say ‘How interesting!’  God is not interesting. He is deeply upsetting. The same is true of Jesus Christ.  (John Stott, Basic Christianity)

We has thought intellectually to examine him; we find he is spiritually examining us…  We study Aristotle and are intellectually edified thereby; we study Jesus and are, in the profoundest way, spiritually disturbed.  (Patrick Carnegie Simpson, The Fact of Christ) 

Is it so strange to think of God as the Great Disturber?  Consider the reactions of the four children in C S Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe when they first hear of Aslan. They are all deeply unsettled. Lucy, Susan, and Peter are unsettled and intrigued. Edmund (who has something to hide) is unsettled and sickened. Reading this book to my own children last night – this very passage – I saw like reactions upon their faces. Hearing of Aslan alongside the characters in the story produced in them the same intrigued unsettledness. They weren’t merely interested, they were disturbed.

 

 

*there is real comfort from God, to be sure, but it comes on the other side of being unsettled.

How Should God Be Loved?

Marc Chagall, The Song of Songs

Marc Chagall, The Song of Songs

I am in the midst of a sermon series through the Song of Songs (which is Solomon’s).  Not in the midst of preaching but in the midst of being under that preaching.  *an advantage of co-pastoring is that one can both preach and receive preaching*

Bernard of Clairvaux, was unmatched in his commentary on Solomon’s Song, and his writings unpacking it are still amazing to read today.  He saw the fundamental question as being, how should God be loved?  He believed that the love between the young lovers of the Song showed the answer – achingly and without any limit.  And why should God be loved? Simply because He is God.

Consider first how God merits to be loved, that there is to be no limit to that love, for he loved us first. Such a one loved us so much and so freely, insignificant as we are and such as we are, that as I said at the beginning, we must love God without measure.

My God, my help, I shall love you as much as I am able for your gift. My love is less than is your due, yet not less than I am able, for if I cannot love you as much as I should, still I cannot love you more than I can.  I shall only be able to love you more when you give me more, although you can never find my love worthy of you.

-On The Song of Songs