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Saturday, September 23, 2017

'Till We Have Faces

Help me, O God...
I am weary with my crying out;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God.
More in number than the hairs of my head
are those who hate me without cause;
mighty are those who would destroy me,
those who attack me with lies... 
O God, you know my folly; the wrongs I have done." —Psalm 69:1-5

The psalmist sets out to pray, lamenting the wrong that others have done to him. But, as the complaints tumble out of his mouth, he begins to see his own "folly," the wrong he has done to others. 

Prayer works like that: It changes us, a largely unremarked premise C.S. Lewis' develops in his fantasy, 'Till We Have Faces.

The main character, Orual, has been taking angry mental notes throughout her life, bitter at others and the way they have treated her. Finally, deciding to put her complaints in writing, she describes each instance in which she believes she has been wronged. But as she does so she sees her own "face" (her "self"). In a flash of insight, Orual asks, "How can the gods meet us face to face, 'til we have faces?"[1]

So, God helping me, I hope someday to see my "face" as it is. Then, perhaps, I will begin to respond to those that have wronged me with greater insight, humility, mercy and grace (cf, Matthew 7:1-5).

David Roper
9.23.17

[1] Till We Have Faces is set in a pagan culture 



Friday, September 22, 2017

Rain

You visit the earth and water it;
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water…

—Psalm 65:9



I looked at the weather app on my iPhone this morning: “Snow in the mountains; 42˚and rain in the valley.”  Good! I love rain. It makes me want to find a quiet place, pick up a book and idle the hours away.

David saw something more: Rain is a sign and a sacrament, pointing us to God's eternal love for growing things. Rain is God "visiting the earth" to water and enrich it (65:9).

Showers sweep across the plowed ground, "watering it's furrows, settling it's ridges, softening the dirt clods, blessing it with growth." Rain is God, "walking" through the earth like Johnny Appleseed, leaving behind His bounty: "The paths on which He walks overflow with goodness" (65:10, 11).

Here's a dimension of truth most folks have lost. It is a vision, a perspective, a way of looking at things. Put simply, it is the capacity to see through things rather than at them.

Nature is a signpost pointing to God, but tragically, most people only look at the sign. C.S. Lewis described our foolishness as a "dog-like" way of seeing. If, for example, you point at your dog's food dish and say "Eat," he will stare at your finger, confusing the sign with the thing signified. 

A little thing like rain reveals the face of God if we have eyes to see it. The little hills, the pastures, the valleys take in God's love and "shout for joy!" (65:13). 

So do I!

Sweet the rain’s new fall
Sunlit from heaven,
Like the first dew fall
On the first grass.
Praise for the sweetness
Of the wet garden,
Sprung in completeness
Where His feet pass.

—Eleanor Farjeon

David Roper
9.22.17

Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Blessing in Disguise

You, O God, have tested us;
You have tried us as silver is tried.
You brought us into the net;
You laid a crushing burden on our backs.
You let men ride over our heads.
We went through fire and through water;
But You brought us out to full satisfaction.

—Psalm 66:10-12

“You…You…You…You…You…You." The psalmist sees God in every ordeal: Temptations, trials, obstructions, burdens, oppression, fire and rain—all these crises are mediated through God's hands. 

It’s an enigma: Though others afflict us, or we afflict ourselves, God accepts responsibility for all that befalls us. Scripture affirms it. I can not explain it. I can only state it.

One of the most startling statements in the Bible occurs on an occasion in which Satan, having done all he could to torment Job, appears a second time before God, who takes responsibility for all that Satan did to Job: "You incited me to act against Job" (Job 2:3). 

If events are random the world becomes a very scary place, filled with random, meaningless, gratuitous heartbreak and sorrow. But if God in His Love and Wisdom orders all that happens to us here, we can accept each sorrow though we may not understand it. “Why?” we ask in our despair. God says, “Dear child, you wouldn’t understand it if I explained it to you. Just trust me.”

“Though you slay me,” Job said, “I will trust you” (Job 13:15). Job did not enter into acceptance lightly. He struggled with frustration and anxiety as you and I do. But despite his perplexity, he knew that God was good and could be trusted. He could then accept all that God brought his way.

Acceptance brings an inexplicable sense of well-being that the biblical writers called "blessedness"—a point the psalmist also makes: "You brought us out (of suffering) to full satisfaction." (66:12). “Full satisfaction.” It’s the word David uses in his Shepherd Psalm: "My cup overflows" (Psalm 23:5).

Good when He gives, supremely good;
Nor less when He denies:
Afflictions, from His sovereign hand,
Are blessings in disguise. —author unknown
David Roper
9.21.17

In Acceptance

He said, ‘I will forget the dying faces;
The empty places,
They shall be filled again.
O voices moaning deep within me, cease.’
But vain the word; vain, vain:
Not in forgetting lieth peace.

He said, ‘I will crowd action upon action,
The strife of faction
Shall stir me and sustain;
O tears that drown the fire of manhood cease.’
But vain the word; vain, vain:
Not in endeavour lieth peace.

He said, ‘I will withdraw me and be quiet,
Why meddle in life’s riot?
Shut be my door to pain.
Desire, thou dost befool me, thou shalt cease.’
But vain the word; vain, vain:
Not in aloofness lieth peace.

He said, ‘I will submit; I am defeated.
God hath depleted
My life of its rich gain.
O futile murmurings, why will ye not cease?’
But vain the word; vain, vain:
Not in submission lieth peace.

He said, ‘I will accept the breaking sorrow
Which God tomorrow
Will to His son explain.’
Then did the turmoil deep within me cease.
Not vain the word, not vain;
For in Acceptance lieth peace.


—Amy Carmichael

Monday, September 18, 2017

“Back They Come at Nightfall”
“At evening they return, they growl like a dog...” (Psalm 59:6,14)
Many years ago, when I was a college student, my father and I hiked through a portion of the Big Bend country of Texas. 
One night we were rolling out our sleeping bags when a young couple with a dog asked if they could camp nearby.  We welcomed their company and turned in for the night. They tethered their dog to a stake outside their tent. 
Some hours later my father nudged me awake and turned his flashlight into the darkness. There, illuminated by the light, we saw dozens of pairs of eyes peering out of the shadows. We were surrounded by a pack of coyotes, some sitting on their haunches licking their chops; others snapping and snarling, closing in on the dog.  We chased off the coyotes and our neighbors put the dog in their tent, but, needless to say, we all slept less well that night. 
I think of that incident and David’s metaphor: “At evening they return, they growl like a dog.” David was thinking of Saul’s army that was closing in on him. I think, however, of predatory thoughts that return in the evening to menace me. “Back they come at nightfall, snarling like curs” (NJB). They snap and snarl at me: “You’re old and useless; who needs you?”
But like David, I can turn my heart to heaven and revel in God’s unconditional love. His steady affection is my refuge in the dark night of self-doubt and fear (59:16). I can say with David, “My refuge is God Himself, the God who loves me!” (59:17 NJB).
David Roper
9.14.17

Sunday, September 17, 2017



Putting Up Hay

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven” (Romans 4:9).

One summer, when I was in college, I worked on the Taussig Ranch near Kremmling, Colorado. One evening, tired and hungry after a long day of mowing hay, I drove the tractor into the yard and, acting like the hot dog I considered myself to be, cranked the steering wheel hard to the left, stamped on the left brake and spun the tractor around. 

The sickle was down and swept the legs out from under a 500 gallon gasoline tank standing nearby. The tank hit the ground with a resounding "CRUMP!" The seams split and all the gasoline spewed out.

Mr. Taussig was standing nearby surveying the scene. 

I got off the tractor, stammered an apology and—because it was the first thing that popped into my mind—offered to work the rest of the summer or the rest of my life—whatever came first—without pay. 

The old rancher stared at the wreckage for a moment, and turned toward the house. “Let’s go have supper,” He drawled.

A vaguely-remembered scrap of a story Jesus told passed through my mind—a story about a young man who had done a terrible thing: “Father, I have sinned against you” he cried… “Make me like one of your hired servants.”  But before he could get all the words out of his mouth his father interrupted him. “Let’s go have supper” he said (Luke 15:22-24). 

Such is God’s amazing grace.

David Roper

9.17.17

Saturday, September 16, 2017

A Waste of Breath

I balanced all, brought all to mind, 
The years to come seemed waste of breath, 
A waste of breath the years behind 
In balance with this life, this death.

 —W.B. Yeats

David was furious with God, but he didn't want to vent his rage in public: He said, “I will guard my ways; I will guard my mouth as with a muzzle…” (Psalm 39:1).

But David could not restrain himself: "My heart was hot within me, While I was musing the fire burned; Then I spoke with my tongue”: Why have you made us this way: short-lived, transient, ephemeral—”mere breath?" (39:11)

We work hard to accumulate things only to leave them for others to enjoy (39:6). We have nothing to show for a lifetime of effort but suffering and a solitary grave. Hobbes was right: Life is "nasty, brutish and short.” 

At least, that’s the way David felt on this occasion: Life is short and full of trouble. And then we die.

There's no resolution in the psalm. No respite; only resignation and a bitter cry: “Give me a break, cut me some slack before it's too late and I'm out of here" (39:13 The Message)

It’s significant to me that God allowed this psalm to stand as it is—a witness to the fact that He understands how frustrated and angry we can be when things aren't going our way. 

God is safe. You can tell Him off now and then. 

David Roper
8.23.17

Monday, September 11, 2017


Thoughts on 9/11

Carolyn and I knew one of the passengers in United Airlines Flight 175, the plane that crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center.  On board was Rev. Francis Grogan, a Catholic priest who ministered in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts. In his most recent e–mail, Fr. Francis wrote,

Since I last wrote I have been asked to move on to be Chaplain for a retirement home for our Holy Cross Teaching Brothers. They have need of a new Chaplain having lost their Chaplain of some 23 years in an accident on their property. So, I'm packing up and moving on… I go from Massachusetts to New York State (to Valatie, just south east of Albany.) Actually I'll have less responsibility. Can relax in my 76th year and share my last years with retired teaching Brothers!

A few hours later he was gone…

Life’s uncertainty has inspired numerous metaphors in literature—it is a dream, a flying shuttle, a mist, a puff of smoke, a shadow, a gesture in the air, a sentence written in the sand, a bird flying in one window of a house and out another. The most apt symbol was suggested by a friend who reckoned that the short dash that separates the birth and death dates on a tombstone represents the brevity of one’s life. 

It’s good to ponder the transiency of life now and then. I think of Moses’ prayer: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalms 90:12). Life is too short to treat it carelessly.

The country parson, George Herbert, said he used to frequent graveyards to “take acquaintance of this heap of dust,” and wrote…

Dear flesh, while I do pray, learn here thy stem
And true descent; that when thou shalt grow fat,
And wanton in thy cravings, thou mayest know,
That flesh is but the glass which holds the dust
That measures all our time; which also shall
Be crumbled into dust. Mark here below
How tame these ashes are, how free from lust,
That thou mayest fit thy self against the fall.

Herbert finds himself in a graveyard and ponders his own pasasing. He pictures the “dust that measures all our time” running through the hourglass of our flesh, which would itself in time become dust and be laid to rest with the ashes of those who lay beneath his feet. “Mark here below (in the grave),” he writes, “how tame these ashes are, how free from lust”—how unmoved by passion for money, sex or power.

It’s high time we took acquaintance of our dust, its transient lust and what alone will last…

David Roper
9/11/17