Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Time to look at one another

I've been away on vacation for a little time and had the chance to catch an Off-Broadway production of Thorton Wilder's Our Town. It's one my favorite plays and this particular company does an excellent job. The play culminates with the death of Emily Webb/Gibbs and her reflection upon life in her hometown, Grover's Corners. She's given a chance to go back to a day in her life -- her 12th birthday -- to remember how life really was. She's stabbed by the joy of seeing her childhood home and her young parents. But she's saddened by how we brush past each other without really noticing. In her monologue she says, "It goes so fast; we don't have time to look at one another ... Oh earth, you're too wonderful for anyone to realize you." She turns to the stage director and asks, "Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it -- every, every minute?" "No," the stage director responds, "the saints and the poets maybe, they do some."
Maybe it's because I'm on vacation ... but the truth of Wilder's play sinks in more deeply than it ever has. We are so busy moving life along that we don't see each other. We don't ponder each other. We don't give ourselves the chance to take it all in. Maybe it was never meant to be. Maybe it's just another example of how small we really are in the midst of the the grand experience of life. Time rolls on and with it the opportunities that God would give us to savor. But the savoring comes never in the moment. The world at hand is too wonderful to realize. Savoring come in the remembering. This is grace. Grace comes when we remember.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

You can never be too careful

Lewis in his Surprised by Joy talks of the years leading up to his conversion in 1931 and the ideas he was leaving himself open to:
In reading Chesterton, as in reading MacDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere -- "Bibles laid open, millions of surprises," as Herbert says, "fine nets and stratagems." God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.
You are never so sure what God might use. Sometimes, though, I wonder if Christians forget that. I worry that we might become too careful of what we read. We're afraid to push the envelope and let God speak again and again. It's Scripture that remains the authoritative voice, but are there other voices that help amplify what's there?
A sound Christian can, perhaps, be too careful of what she reads.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The presence of the Lion

In The Horse and His Boy, on of Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, he tells the story about a boy and girl and their respective horses who are trying to escape the evil land of Calormen and flee to Narnia. At certain points along the way the children and their horses sense an imminent threat from one or more lions. In each of these encounters they instinctively sense that the lions' presence spells harm or disaster. They fear for their lives. In the first instance Shasta and his horse are chased by what seem to be two lions. The harder they gallop the closer the lions seem to draw. What they don't realize is that the lion's pursuit is all for the point of drawing them closer to their future traveling companions -- Aravis and her horse Hwin. Had not the lions (we learn later it was just one lion, Aslan, whose presence felt like two lions) given chase, the horse and his boy may never have found their companions nor Narnia.

Life is filled with scary moments. We seem to be surrounded by a lot of them these days. Some of them feel like lions ready to pounce on us. We fear for our lives. Our prayer might be to cry for rescue -- to deliver us from the feline pursuit. But maybe it is the pursuit that is driving us to something or someone greater. A friend of mine tells of working in a "hostile environment" and feeling like there was nothing he could do but run. He did. He left the job without any prospects. He wondered where God was in it all. But then came the new job and though it didn't pay as much money, he found a lot of good people. Good people were more important. And he realized, in hindsight, that he was being chased by the Lion into a new group of work companions.

Sometimes when we're afraid, it's not such a bad thing. It's a scary thing, but not a bad thing. "He's not safe," said Mr. Beaver, "but he's good." Scary times are the times to trust the presence of the Lion who may be chasing us to Narnia.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A grief observed

In respect to the topic I last addressed about pain, Lewis came face to face with it in the grief he experienced in the wake of his wife Joy's death. Lewis had allowed himself to fall in love in the latter years of his life and just as he did, his love was taken from him. He wrote about his pain in A Grief Observed and there he deals very honestly with his struggle with understanding how God could let such a thing happen and why wouldn't he do anything about it. He writes, But go to him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the window. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble? .... Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not 'So there is no God after all,' but 'So this is what God's really like. Deceive yourself no longer.' Later Lewis writes, When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of 'No answer.' It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, 'Peace, child; you don't understand.'

Next week is the 500th anniversary of John Calvin's birthday and Calvin was big on the sovereignty of God -- that nothing happens without the foreknowledge and permission of God. So when the bad things happen we are compelled to delve into the mystery of God and wonder -- what is God up to? How can "all things work together for good"? The answer are never easy, but if we believe in a God who has a purpose for each of our lives -- then we must "live into" both the good and the bad and be willing to let God say to us, "Peace, child; you don't understand." All along believing that God is at our side even when we don't feel him. More on this later.