24 December 2007
23 December 2007
I am still pondering on the C S Lewis quote. The primary motivator, as I mentioned in my last post, was the book "The Art of Loving God" by St. Francis de Sales. My grandfather gave it to me in May shortly before Sara and I moved to Chicago. He reads a great deal of the church fathers and tentatively offered his copy, not wanting me to feel he was "pushing" his Catholicism. The book sat on my shelf for months while I considered picking it up and adding it to the lineup.
Earlier this month I had a shouting moment with God. Life was just too hard, my loneliness too overwhelming, responsibility draining my energy and joy about the future. Reading "Revelations of a Single Woman" earlier in the fall was an incredible encouragement. Here was a book written by a woman in my situation with insights and encouragement to not give up hope. The thing was, there was something missing. My miserableness did not abate and no matter what I did, my obsessive thinking patterns were not changing. I wanted to love God more so that whether or not I was feeling loved enough by those around me, it would not rule my emotions or my ability to function.
I've read so many relationship books, so many "how to have a better life" books that I should know how to do this. My problem is that I know so much, but my mind and emotions have such a disconnect in my daily life that the knowing doesn't really make it into my living.
Enter the "old" book.
One of the major issues that I have with modern books (and praise and worship songs, and sermons, and self-help guides) is that the focus is all about me in bold letters and sometimes even in all caps. Life is better than I think. I need to make better decisions, meet new people or serve more. I should take heart, or take control, or just take a break. What I do matters most, has the greatest influence and makes the biggest difference.
But I belong to the God of the universe, and he has told me more times than I can count that I am NOT the center of that universe. So why is it all about me?
St Francis de Sales, writing circa 1610 to women who were unable to dedicate themselves to full-time seclusion but still wanting to live completely dedicated to God, takes a very practical, realistic view of loving God. What is the first step to loving God: Have confidence in God's mercy. Beginning with the acknowledgment of my own failure, sinfulness and imperfection, I still act, confident in the sacrifice of Christ to make everything right. Whether you feel it or not, whether you know it in your heart is of far less important than what you chose to do:
"Act confidently regardless of your feelings And even if you do not feel such confidence, you must still not fail to make acts of confidence, saying to our Lord, "Although, dear Lord, I have no feeling of confidence in Thee, I know all the same that Thou art my God, that I am wholly Thine, and that I have no hope but in Thy goodness; therefore I abandon myself entirely into They hands." It is always in our power to make these acts, although there may be difficulty, there is never impossibility. It is on these occasions and amid these difficulties that we ought to show fidelity to our Lord. For although we may make these acts without fervor and without satisfaction to ourselves, we must not distress ourselves about that; our Lord loves them better thus."(8)You mean it is not about how I feel about it? My personal satisfaction in my actions is not the highest judgment of their value? Where is the joy in that?
It only gets better! The next step in loving God: Embrace God's will with equanimity. Now this is something that is preached all the time for various reasons.... If I love the life that God has given me, he will finally send me a husband, give me the child that I need so desperately, make clear the path to happiness. Like Magic, acceptance of God's will leads directly to satisfied hopes and sated desires. de Sales, on the other hand, makes it clear that embracing God's will is not about feeling, and it is not about personal satisfaction. It is all about God.
"Rely on God's goodness, not on your feelings Our confidence in God must be founded on His infinite goodness and on the merits of the Passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, with this condition on our part: that we should persevere and recognize in ourselves an entire and firm resolution to belong wholly to God, and to abandon ourselves in all things and without any reserve to His Providence. Observe that I do not say what we must feel this resolution to belong wholly to God, but only that we must have it and recognize it in ourselves; we must not concern ourselves with what we feel or do not feel, since the greater part of our feelings and satisfaction are only the movements of self-love."(22)When was the last time that I was told, by a Christian or secular author that feeling was less important than doing? Or, as de Sales goes even farther, that my feelings are so much less about what God is doing or saying in my life and so much more about "self-love"? I could go on and on, but I will draw my quoting to a close here.
There is a bit of the stoic about de Sales, and I am not much of a stoic and have never wanted to be one. But I needed the reminder of two very important points: first, the issue is all about God, recognizing who he is and trusting myself to him, and second, what really matters are the choices I make and what is happening in my will, regardless of how I feel about it. I may not feel like God loves me very much when he leaves me days without physical affection, but that isn't true. He looked down at my misery in sin and joyfully sacrificed his Son to satisfy his perfect justice and reveal his perfect love. This is ALWAYS true, regardless of how I feel.
Not only that... When I choose to submit, choose to love and choose to look to him rather than at the circumstances swirling around and within me, he loves me and holds me. It is true and every choice that I make either undercuts or reinforces that weight of truth in my daily life.
I am still shouting at God--sometimes accompanied by crying and pummeling pillows or just obsessive-thinking induced insomnia--but I calm down, the hiccups lessen and my heart finds rest when I choose to look at him, rather then the swirl of emotion that threatens to overwhelm me. I will never be a calm person without supernatural inner peace. It just isn't part of my make-up. But Galatians says that peace is a fruit of the Spirit and it will come as I live submitted to that Spirit.
So what does this mean? The old books must be read. They come from a time when the individual wasn't the center of life and much of life was just hard and you dealt with it. And they also come from a time when God was big, and omnipotent, not just a personal security blanket. I love my passionate relationship with God, but it could benefit from some awe, and, well, some daily living in the eternal reality of who God is.
But this has run far too long and I feel like I haven't said a sliver of what is really on my heart. Oh well, c'est la vie:-)
So, after waiting interminable to elaborate on the Lewis quote, I am finally back. I should probably start with the "What I've Been Reading" list:
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J K Rowling was fun and entertaining. I happen to think that Rowling is a good writer and as an adult I enjoy her stories. I still have reservations of serving them up unaccompanied by thoughtful conversation to children. As a child I absorbed undiscerningly and with relish everything that I read. Rowling has a little too much philosophical relativity in her writings to let them be passively absorbed; but I don't understand the hysteria, unless it is the whole magic thing. Besides, this book does offer up one of the best Rowling quotes ever: page 329--"Ginny!" said Mr. Weasley flabbergasted. "Haven't I taught you anything? What have I always told you? Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can't see where it keeps its brain?"
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J K Rowling see above commentary... but I would add that, while the fumbling and malicious adults who don't want to see the truth or follow it may be realistic, Rowling undermines adult authority/trustworthiness with so many of your grown-up characters that it should definitely be followed up with some discussion about integrity and loving adults.
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson all I can say is, Erik Larson is amazing! This thoroughly researched true story about the World's Fair in Chicago and the serial killer H H Holmes is fascinating. It has more drama and thrill than some of the best crime novels and it is ALL true! I love reading non-fiction, but few are as excellent page-turners as this one. Besides, it is about Chicago, the city that I love:-)
The Art of Loving God by St Francis de Sales this is the book that prompted the quote by C S Lewis. I will be writing on this further.
En Route to the Epilogue
The Next Christendom by Philip Jenkins was loaned to me by a friend from church. I saw it on his bookcase and it really was intriguing. Looking at Christianity in the global south, Jenkins discusses the fundamentalist bent of this form of Christianity and the likelihood of major clashes between Christians and Muslims as both religions grow in Africa and Asia, as well as Latin America. Not quite the page turner that Larson was, but equally interesting. I highly appreciate Jenkins emphasis on the long-standing history of Christianity in the global south and the fallacy of "imperial Christianity." Jenkins approaches this subject as a historian, rather than a religious proponent, which adds some impartiality.
The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen is a return engagement for me. I received this book for Christmas the year I was 18 and I have read it at least two times before. This book, while not directly applicable to the C S Lewis quote, because it is not an entirely old book; but it is focused on an older spirituality. Henri Nouwen takes the spirituality of the Desert Fathers of the 4th/5th century and applies it to modern ministry. The focus is on solitude, silence and prayer... a great prep for my retreat in January.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J K Rowling having already seen the movie, I have an idea of what is going to happen, but it is still fun to read. When am I going to have time to read 700 page books besides Christmas break?
The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis this will also be a return engagement for me. I have had a copy of this book for 10-15 yrs but I have never read the entire thing. After de Sales I thought another Christ centered icon from an established tradition would be a good balance to all the more modern reading that crosses my path.
The God Who is There by Francis Schaeffer would be one of the more modern reads on my list. Last time I read this one I was 19 and en route to meeting my self-proclaimed nihilistic intellectual uncle. It was amazingly applicable then and I am pretty sure it will be again, surrounded as I am by intelligent people who by-and-large have little use for God or Christianity.
The Freedom Writers Diary by the Freedom Writers and Erin Gruell I watched the film almost 5 times this past week as a treat for my students and I really want to read the book. This is quite inspiring, especially considering the situation that I am in right now.
15 December 2007
It is late and I don't have time to elaborate on this tonight, but I wanted to post this quote by C S Lewis. It is one that I have been looking for for awhile and it speaks to my reading list of recent days. Read it, think about it, and I will try to write more in the next few days.
It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. C S Lewis (from his introduction to Athanasius On the Incarnation referenced here.)
14 December 2007
Some of you know that I am looking for a new Bible. I have had my last one for almost 10 years and it is starting to wear out. I've already replaced the cover once:-) So, in my pursuit of a new Bible I have been looking at different ESV versions. My current daily Bible is NAS and I have treasured that translation very much over the years. However, reading and rereading the same text can lend itself to only a surface view. Changing versions tends to give me a chance to dig deeper again. I was considering a "serious" Bible: full-grain leather cover, in-depth commentary, etc. After all, I am an adult and ready for the responsibility of a Bible that will last me a lifetime. Then I stumbled across the Literary Study Bible at Westminster Books. As an English major who loves digging deep into literature the idea intrigued me. What do you think? (BTW, Westminster Books is having a sale on their Bibles--45% off for Christmas. Thanks to Irish Calvinist blog for letting me know about this one.)
05 December 2007
The everlasting God has in His wisdom foreseen from eternity the cross that He now presents to you as a gift from His all-knowing eyes,
understood with His Divine mind,
tested with His wise justice,
warmed with loving arms
and weighted with His own hands to see that it be not one inch too large and not one ounce too heavy for you.
He has blessed it with His holy Name,
anointed it with His grace,
perfumed it with His consolation,
taken one last glance at you and your courage,
and then sent it to you from heaven, a special greeting from God to you, an alms of the all-merciful love of God.
--St Francis de Sales
04 December 2007
I seem to be generating NO original thoughts here lately, but I have been reading quite a few. Amy loves books has another great, poetic one that I envy exceedingly. It reminds me a little of one of my best friends and I thought I would share it with all of you. Enjoy!
BTW, the pic makes sense if you read the post;-)
03 December 2007
Second, tomorrow I go for a day-long interview with Teach For America at the UIC campus. I will be there from 9:00 am to 6:00pm. This is where they decide if I am TFA material or not. I am a little nervous, but more about the possibility of teaching with TFA than going through the interview. I am confident that I have the strengths and abilities to be successful in their program. However, I am unsure what God has for me. Right now, I would prefer to get a job with Perspectives as a full-time teacher. (BTW, I did fill out a general application for them today.) Please pray for me that I will have patience and discernment as I seek God's will in this.
Finally, I want to remind you all to celebrate this Advent season with joy! We are the recipients of the most AWESOME love you could imagine: the perfect God of the Universe chose to humble himself and become human, to suffer and die to satisfy his perfect justice, so that we could have eternal intimacy with him. It just doesn't get any better than that!
01 December 2007
Last weekend was a wild and wonderful celebration with my entirely too manic immediate and extended family. Since I ALWAYS forget to take pictures I encourage you to take a quick jaunt over to my sister Amy's blog and check out all of hers. And for those of you earnestly awaiting pics of my new hair cut.... there are a few there. Although I was sans hair goop and a blowdryer so you are seeing the entirely undone look;-)
One lovely development that came from this celebration was my new position as kitchen coordinator. I had all the food ready 5 minutes before I told the clan it would be time to eat, and only the delay in Aunt Linda's gravy kept the meal from being absolutely on time. For those of you who have never participated in a clan meal with my family you have no idea what an impressive feat this was! Although my mother likes to have her fingers in everything (sometimes literally) I think she is a little relieved to be passing this responsibility on.