Saturday, August 29, 2009

The awful grace of God

Reading about the life and death of Ted Kennedy this week makes us all think back to his brothers Robert and John and the tragedy of their deaths. When Jack was assassinated his brother Bobby took up reading the Greek dramatists and philosophers trying to understand more the mysteries of tragedy and injustice. When Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed Kennedy spoke that night without text or notes. He spoke from his heart and quoted from Aeschylus, his favorite Greek writer: "God whose law it is that he who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despite, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God."

It's hard to think of suffering that way -- but I believe it's true. God teaches through our hardship. The psalmist says that an acceptable sacrifice to God is a broken heart. It is often in the cracks of our brokenness that God's light can shine into our hearts and reveal to us things we never saw. We learn more from our failures than our successes.

Has that been true for you?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Man's Search for Meaning

Every once in a while you read something and words jump out from the page and grab you and never let you go. That happened to me about 15 years ago when I read Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. I know I am not alone in claiming this book as one that helped to alter my view of life. It was recommended to me by an old Scottish Baptist preacher as a book that changed his life. Frankel was a Jewish psychiatrist who survived the Nazi concentration camps and he writes about his attempt to find meaning in the midst of such humiliation and death. Here are the words that grabbed me and still have hold:
What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking ourselves about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life -- daily and hourly.
No commentary needed. Thoughts?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The serious business of heaven

In his Letters to Malcolm Lewis speaks of how adoration in its purest form is experienced when we give ourselves over to the simple pleasures of life: a walk with a friend, the sound of a roaring wind, a bite into a crisp apple. These are the moments when the hints of heaven - theopanies (revelations of God) -come our way. "To experience the tiny theophany is itself to adore." He later goes on to add that it is only in what we see as frivolous that the celestial qualities are discovered. It is only in our "hours-off," only in our moments of permitted festivity, that we find an analogy. Dance and game are frivolous, unimportant down here; for "down here" is not their natural place. Here, they are a moment's rest from the life we were placed here to live. But in this world everything is upside down. That which, if it could be prolonged here, would be a truancy, is likest that which in a better country is the End of ends. Joy is the serious business of heaven.
What a wonderful picture of heaven! And what a wonderful way to give ourselves permission to enjoy the simple pleasures of life ... without guilt. They are just a preparation for the life of eternity that follows.
I'm not sure I give myself enough of those chances. I've let my compulsive and unhealthy work ethic too often get in the way of the shafts of glory that await me in this world and the next. And when I think back upon it I believe my deepest spiritual moments have come when I gave myself over to experiencing the simple joys or, at least, the remembering of them.
A dear friend of mine is a great teacher in this. I once listened to him wax eloquent upon the breakfast he had just had -- a freshly baked scone and a hot cup of coffee. He savored it and gave minutes of thanks to God for it!! I realized then I had a lot to learn.
What's been your latest simple pleasure?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The great story

G. K. Chesterton in his great book Orthodoxy recounts how he returned to the faith he departed years before. And in his rediscovery he concluded: "I had alwyas felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a story-teller." It's a simple, yet grand thought. Do you imagine your life as part of a story being told by a story-teller? Do you see your days as the enacting of a role within a grand epic? Is it possible that the story of the creator hinges upon you? If you don't take your place on the stage the play grands to a halt? It's easy to reduce ourselves in the grand scheme of things and what that can mean is that we feel that we have less to contribute.
We certainly find it to be true in parenting. As a father or mother, whether we like it or not, our role contributes to the story of someone else's life. Our contribution, or lack thereof, means a great deal. How well we do with our lines will effect how well our children do with their lines. That's easy to imagine.
But is it not true with every person with whom we have contact? A friend, a store clerk, a customer, a neighbor. We are all taking clues from one another as to how the story goes.
So what lines do you have to contribute today?