“Rejoice with those that rejoice; weep with those that weep” (Romans 12:15).
In “The Divine Comedy” Dante and his guide Virgil descend into the lower regions of hell where they come upon a vast cemetery. Here the souls of heretics—specifically those that have denied the resurrection—are kept. (Having believed that their souls will die with their bodies, their souls are now forever buried with their dead bodies.)
As Dante stares at one of the coffins a figure rises, Farinata, who complains: "Your family has been bitter enemies to me, and to my fathers, and my friends.” Dante explains that his family tried on at least three occasions to redress every wrong, “but they could never get it right."
At that point Dante and Farinata are interrupted by Cavalcante, a friend of Dante’s who lifts his head above the edge of the same tomb and asks about his son Guido who was married to Farinata's daughter, Beatrice. Dante, using a past tense verb in referring to Guido, gives Cavalcante the mistaken idea that his son is dead. Cavalcante cries out: "What did you say? Is he not still alive? Does he not still carry the light of life in his eyes?" And falls back into his tomb, grief–stricken and weeping.
Farinata, oblivious to Cavalcante’s sorrow, without missing a beat, picks up his complaint where he left off: “… and if they do not ever get it right that hurts me more than this wretched bed…”
I think of those occasions when someone reached out to me in sorrow and I, preoccupied with myself, told my own sad story instead of listening and asking questions to draw out the other person’s grief—and missed an opportunity to weep with them.
Or those occasions when someone shared a moment of triumph with me and instead of sharing that persons’ joy and enthusiasm I trumped their story with a joyous moment of my own—and missed an opportunity to rejoice with them.
The wise man said, “If you start talking before you listen intently, you’re a fool and a boor!” (Proverbs 18:13).
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
Is This All the Thanks I Get?
“Then I said to them, ’If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.’ And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver.”—Zechariah 11:12
For several years Carolyn and I, like Job, sat in a Nash heap—a 1959, porcelain–white, Nash Rambler station wagon that looked for all the world like an inverted bathtub on wheels. (If turned up side down I could have clamped an outboard motor on the rear bumper and raced the thing in Vancouver’s annual Nanaimo Bathtub Regatta.)
I still remember the day we began visiting car lots to replace it. We looked at a number of shiny new cars and finally decided on a purchase. Unfortunately, the payments were more than we could carry.
We dickered for a while with the salesman—his price and ours—but concluded that the twain would never meet and hastened to make our departure. On the way out of his office, the salesman gave us his best shot: “Hey, you guys deserve this car,” he shouted. In my heart of hearts I responded: “Indeed we do!”
Entitlement has always been one of my soft spots. “My accomplishments deserved unending praise,” I say, which is why I get my nose out of joint when others fail to fully appreciate me.
Then, one day I happened upon God’s word to Zechariah about a shepherd who would be dedicated to the good of his people, who would encourage peace, prosperity, and bring tranquility and harmony to his flock. He, however, far from being appreciated, would be despised and rejected, valued at thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave. Should I expect more?
One of the things I’m learning, as I’ve grown older, is not to expect too much from people. It’s possible to pour a good deal of energy and love into a friend or family member and see no growth, or receive no gratitude for our efforts.
It’s good, in those times of disappointment to look into our motives: do we have an unholy sense of entitlement, or a passion to be seen and applauded for our efforts? Can we give freely and allow others to take responsibility for their own responses?
We should never expect to gain from others what only Jesus can give. To do so is to be utterly unrealistic. Our task is to give— “full measure, pressed down, running over”—and leave the outcome to our Lord.
There are grateful men and women in this world and we may hear from them, but if the statistics in Jesus’ story of the ten lepers means anything at all they suggest that only a small percent of those we love and serve will ever thank us. The others will be silent at best. Some may even become hostile.[i] We should take note that even one remembered and was thankful, remembering that God alone enables us to do good things for others.
If the love of a grateful heart
As a rich reward be given,
Lift thou the love of a grateful heart
To the God of Love in Heaven.”[ii]
[i] A social worker I know commented recently that, in his opinion, the insatiable demands of those who feel “entitled” and their bitter resentment when their demands are not met, more than any other cause, produce care-giver burnout—the fatigue and depression that plague so many of his colleagues.
[ii] George MacDonald, “Lessons for a Child”
Wednesday, August 5, 2015
Oh Lord, I want to be as beautiful
as gold, as strong as steel.
These traits stand out
and draw me close with their appeal.
But then I always shy away
from awful burning heat.
I'd far, far rather just forget—
Gently though, I start to hear
Your garden prayer
and see that He heard You,
and even still
brought on that fiery, bitter cup—
And then the Spirit takes
Your agony and pain
and pictures in my mind
the only way to gain.
The longed-for gold and steel
come only to the slain.
Lord, I still don't like the
Bitter, fiery cup.
But I too, kneel down and
then, to drink, rise up
knowing You will surround
with angel-strength divine.
And that I'll walk on more beautiful—refined!
Luke 22:40-46 and Hebrews 5:7
Monday, August 3, 2015
Taking it Easy
The sacred weeks, with unfelt pace,
Hath borne us on from grace to grace.
My father and I used to fell trees and buck them with a 5’ two-man crosscut saw. (It now adorns one wall of our son Josh's patio.) Being young and energetic I tried to force the saw into the cut. “Easy does it,” my father would say. “Let the saw do the work.”
I think of Paul's words; "It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). Easy does it. Let Him do the work.
C. S. Lewis explains the process this way: “Put right out of your head the idea that…Christians are to read what Christ said and try to carry it out—as a man may read what Plato or Marx said and try to carry it out. They (the Gospel writers) mean something much more than that. They mean that a real Person, Christ, here and now, in that very room where you are saying your prayers, is doing things to you… gradually turning you permanently into a different sort of thing; into a new little Christ, a being which, in its own small way, has the same kind of life as God; which shares in His power, joy, knowledge and eternity”
Turning us into “a new little Christ,” takes time—actually a lifetime—but God can begin the process right now. Sit at the feet of Jesus and His Apostles and take in what they have to say. Say your prayers. "Keep yourself in the love of God" by reminding yourself all day long that you are His beloved child, resting in the assurance that he is “gradually turning you permanently into a different sort of thing.”
Just go for walks,
live in peace,
let change come quietly and invisibly on the inside.
Change comes to us quietly, invisibly, but inexorably. God will "complete" us in due time (Psalm 57:2).
Thou sayest, "Fit me, fashion me for Thee."
Stretch forth thine empty hands, and be thou still;
O restless soul, thou dost but hinder Me
By valiant purpose and by steadfast will.
Behold the summer flowers beneath the sun,
In stillness his great glory they behold;
And sweetly thus his mighty work is done,
And resting in his gladness they unfold.
So are the sweetness and the joy divine
Thine, O beloved, and the work is Mine.
The sweetness and the joy are ours; the work is His. Easy does it. There is no hurry. We will get there some day.
 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 191-192
 Jude 20,21
 “Shouldn’t we hunger and thirst for righteousness?” you ask. I answer: “Doesn’t the desire for goodness come naturally?” Even the worst of us longs to be better. An analogy comes to mind—a small child in Toys “R” Us, holding up his hands, reaching for a wondrous gift high on a shelf just beyond his reach, his eyes glittering with desire. His Father, sensing his desire, retrieves the gift and brings it down to him.
 Thomas Merton, Woods, Shore, Desert: A Notebook, May 1968, Santa Fe: University of New Mexico Press, 1982, p. 48
 Gerhard Ter Steegen
Wednesday, July 22, 2015
Stage by Stage
”These are the stages of the people of Israel, when they went out of the land of Egypt by their companies under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Moses wrote down their starting places, stage by stage, by command of the Lord, and these are their stages according to their starting places" —Numbers 33:1-3.
And then there follows a long list of place–names tracing Israel's pilgrimage from Egypt to the Transjordan. Note the emphasis of the text: "Moses wrote down their starting places, stage by stage, by command of the Lord."
Why these records? No adventurer can retrace the journey on a map or on foot, for most of the locations are lost to history. Yet clearly God intended these places to be recorded and remembered forever.
Could it be that the list exists as a framework upon which Israelites could retrace the journey in their thoughts and recall God's goodness at each location?
“I remember Rephidim. We were dying of thirst, but God directed Moses to take his staff and strike a slab of flint—and to my amazement water gushed out of that hard, impervious stone! 'He turned the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water' (Psalm 114:8). I’ll never forget that day!” (cf., Numbers 33:14)
Try it: Think through the starting p[laces and stages of your existence and remember the ways in which God showed you his unfailing covenant love. Count your blessings; name them one by one. And it will surpsise you what the Lord has done!
Thursday, July 9, 2015
I finished reading Edward Abbey’s book Desert Solitaire last night, a personal history of Abbey’s summers as a seasonal park ranger in what was then Arches National Monument. Desert Solitaire is an American classic, one of the greatest nature narratives of all time and a book worth reading if only for Abbey’s luminous prose and vivid descriptions of the Four Corners region (“…crags and pinnacles of naked rock, the dark cores of ancient volcanoes, a vast and silent emptiness smoldering with heat, color, and indecipherable significance, above which floated a small number of pure, clear, hard-edged clouds.”)
But Abbey, for all his artistry, was a cynical, God–averse contrarian who could see nothing beyond appearance. How sad, I thought, as I closed the covers of the book. Abbey lived his entire life in praise of beauty and missed the point of it all.
Old Testament words came to mind: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth...and God said, ‘Isn't that beautiful?'"
Most ancient people had cosmologies, theories of origins enshrined in legend, myth and song. But Israel's cosmology was unique. It tells a story like no other: God created beauty for our childlike delight.
Love thought up the cosmos, spoke it into being and pronounced it "beautiful." Beautiful to what end? For whom? For us for whom it was made. Then, having created a paradise, Love spoke us into being, placed us in Eden and said, “Enjoy!"
Thomas Traherne wrote,
From dust I rise,
And out of nothing now awake;
These brighter regions which salute mine eyes,
A gift from God I take.
The earth, the seas, the light, the day, the skies,
The sun and stars are mine if those I prize.
Long time before
I in my mother's womb was born,
A God, preparing, did this glorious store,
The world, for me adorn.
Into this Eden so divine and fair,
So wide and bright, I come His son and heir.
Some, though they see beauty all around them, "do not...give thanks to [God], but become futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts are darkened” (Romans 1:21).
Others see beauty, say "Thank you, Lord” and take one small step toward redemption. Israel’s poet put it this way: The one who is thankful honors God, and makes a way by which He [God] may show him His salvation (cf., Psalm 50:22).
 Literally, “He saw that it was good.” The Hebrew word "good" can signify esthetic good as well as ethical good. Sarah, for example, was said to be a "good" woman, referring to her beauty.
 The garden was "in" Eden, a word that means "delightful." Eden may be the ancient name for the primordial earth and descriptive of its stunning beauty.
Thursday, July 2, 2015
An Evening Prayer
Came across a gem this morning: an evening prayer by Thomas Ken entitled, “Glory to Thee My God This Night.”
Thomas Ken is little known today, but in his day he was a highly regarded Bishop of the Church of England, Chaplain to the Court of William of Orange and Chaplain to the British Navy.
Most interesting to me was his friendship with Izaak Walton, the old angler. (His stepsister, Anne, was married to Walton). He was deeply influenced by the character of that good and gentle man.
In the course of his life he penned a number of poems, one of which is this nighttime prayer—you’ll be surprised by the last stanza—an alternative perhaps to counting sheep, or “Now I lay me down to sleep…”
All praise to Thee, my God, this night,
For all the blessings of the light!
Keep me, O keep me, King of kings,
Beneath Thine own almighty wings.
Forgive me, Lord, for Thy dear Son,
The ill that I this day have done,
That with the world, myself and Thee,
I, ere I sleep, at peace may be.
Teach me to live, that I may dread
The grave as little as my bed.
Teach me to die, that so I may
Rise glorious at the judgment day.
O may my soul on Thee repose,
And with sweet sleep mine eyelids close,
Sleep that may me more vigorous make
To serve my God when I awake.
When in the night I sleepless lie,
My soul with heavenly thoughts supply;
Let no ill dreams disturb my rest,
No powers of darkness me molest.
O when shall I, in endless day,
Forever chase dark sleep away,
And hymns divine with angels sing,
All praise to thee, eternal King?
Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
—Thomas Ken (1637-1711)