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 placenames 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 flintand 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). Ill 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!

David Roper

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Desert Solitaire

"Just remember this my girl when you look up in the sky. You can see the stars and still not see the light…” —Already Gone, the Eagles

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?'"[1]

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[2] 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).

David Roper

[1] 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.
[2] 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)

David Roper

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