Conjunction

image

This was our virtual view (from the SkyView app) from our neck of the woods tonight. Joviality and Love like a cat’s toys in the paw of the Lion; peace and love, a hippie’s dream, in happy conjunction.

I don’t know if this was the phenomenon witnessed by the Magi, but we drove around singing ‘We Three Kings’ anyway. It was a special night; one I’ll likely never forget. It’s a good night to re-read The Discarded Image.

Praying by Faith and Not by Sight

My father was a Christian who believed in prayer but I knew and understood little of his praying until after my own conversion at the age of seventeen. From that time as I listened to my father’s petitions I concurred with them all – all, that is, except one, and this one had to do with a subject which was so much a part of his praying that I could not miss the divergence in our thought. Our difference concerned the extent to which the success of the kingdom of Christ is to be expected in the earth. My father would pray for its universal spread and global triumph, for the day when ‘nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more’, and when great multitudes in all lands will be found numbered among the travail of Christ’s soul…

-Iain Murray, The Puritan Hope, p. xv

I was deeply convicted by this paragraph. My prayer life, public and private, has already changed as a result of it.

The fact of the matter is that we too often pray by sight, basing all petitions on what we see, rather than laying ahold of the promises of God. Our pessimism leads us to forget the promises of Christ that his kingdom will not only endure, but flourish. Can you imagine that  Americans, to whom the gospel traveled so far to reach, are pessimistic about God’s ability to lengthen its arm?

In the context of the latest headlines, I remember Abraham, who pleaded with God for Sodom, for the sake of ten righteous men who might be there. There weren’t ten righteous to be found. But today we surely know that there is one righteous Man for whose sake we can plead. We can plead the name of Jesus, and plead the cause of Jesus, and plead the love of Jesus, and plead the death and resurrection of Jesus. Should we not be more optimistic than Abraham, who had only seen the shadow of Christ’s righteousness?

Plead with God that his kingdom would increase – not that he would crush his enemies, but that he would win his enemies; that he would spare them for the sake of his righteous Son, and for the sake of his kingdom. That he would see the travail of his soul and be satisfied to increase the number of his kingdom and family.

Matthew Henry once wrote, based on Zechariah 12:10, that when God wants to move in this world, he sets his people to praying. Surely this is the sort of prayer he inspires – the type of prayer Calvin had in mind when he wrote in the Institutes, that “we dig up by prayer the treasures that were pointed out by the Lord’s Gospel, and which our faith has gazed upon.”

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Always Learning

One thing that is always with the writer – no matter how long he has written or how good he is – is the continuing process of learning how to write. As soon as the writer ‘learns to write,’ as soon as he knows what he is going to find, and discovers a way to say what he knew all along, or worse still, a way to say nothing, he is finished.

-Flannery O’Connor, The Nature and Aim of Fiction, from Mystery and Manners, p.83

It’s interesting to me that so much of what Ms. O’Connor says about writing is applicable to preaching. You never really have it figured out. You are always learning. I suppose that could apply to almost anything that involves the intellect, imagination, and/or creativity in general.

Layers of Meaning

The medieval commentators on Scripture found three kinds of meaning in the literal level of the sacred text: one they called allegorical, in which one fact pointed to another; one they called tropological, or moral, which had to do with what should be done; and one they called analogical, which had to do with the Divine life and our participation in it. Although this was a method applied to biblical exegesis, it was also an attitude toward all of creation, and a way of reading nature which included most possibilities, and I think it is this enlarged view of the human scene that the fiction writer has to cultivate if he is ever going to write stories that have any chance of becoming a permanent pat of our literature. It seems to be a paradox that the larger and more complex the personal view, the easier it is to compress it into fiction.

-Flannery O’Connor, The Nature and Aim of Fiction, from Mystery and Manners, pp. 72-73

I don’t agree with medieval biblical interpretation for the most part. What a shocker.  But I never considered that such a method could be applied to nature and general experience. I knew that stories operated on a number of meaningful levels, but never thought of trying to quantify that in any way.

O’Connor is making the case that fiction-writing can contain layers of meaning. In this context, one story can have allegorical, moral, and spiritual dimensions; and they don’t necessarily have to be overt.

As a Dying Man to Dying Men

There is an article making the rounds in which David Letterman was asked if he ever ‘said a prayer’ before a show. He mentions an interview with Warren Zevon, who, at the time of the interview, had cancer:

I wouldn’t call it a prayer, but I would sometimes have a conversation with myself in the shower before the show. Warren Zevon was on years ago, and we all knew he was dying. I was at a loss because I couldn’t think of an entry point for a conversation with a dying man on a television show that’s supposed to be silly. “How are you doing? You look great!” doesn’t exactly work. I was really dissatisfied with my part of that conversation. I was ill-equipped to connect with a friend who was going through something like that.

Do you find it hard to imagine that a man who conversed for a living had difficulty talking to a dying man?

I spend more time in hospital rooms, and more time praying for the sick in general, than I prefer. But the lack of preference is for their illness, not for the inability to engage. Do you have something more than your wit to give to the dying?

Anyhow, the only reason I bring this up is because it reminded me of a famous quote from Richard Baxter:

I preached as never sure to preach again,
As a dying man to dying men.

Christ is all the comfort we have to give to dying men – and we are all dying men.

The Teacher’s Work Should Be Largely Negative

In any case, I believe the teacher’s work should be largely negative. He can’t put the gift into you, but if he finds it there, he can try to keep it from going in an obviously wrong direction. We can learn how not to write, but this is a discipline that does not simply concern writing itself but concerns the whole intellectual life. A mind cleared of false emotion and false sentiment and egocentricity is going to have at least those roadblocks removed from its path. If you don’t think cheaply, then there at least won’t be the quality of cheapness in your writing, even though you may not be able to write well. The teacher can try to weed out what is positively bad, and this should be the aim of the whole college.

-Flannery O’Connor, The Nature and Aim of Fiction, from Mystery and Manners, pp. 83-84

Helpful as usual.

Neil Postman made the argument that the job of the teacher is to weed out stupidity: like a doctor, whose business is more the cure of illness than the positive advancement of help, the teacher’s job has to do with fighting against stupidity as much or more than actually cultivating pure intelligence. What is intelligence anyway?

You can’t make someone into a genius, but you can generally discourage them from being an idiot (especially if you catch stupidity early enough). Much of my own education has followed this pattern. Many lessons have slowly done away with a lot of my stupidity. I’m hoping to get rid of a lot more before my time is done.

But the main point is that learning what not to do if often as important as learning what to do.

Duty to God and Neighbor (Poetry)

I recently discovered an old book by Isaac Watts (who incidentally was the inspiration for this blog) entitled Divine and Moral Songs for Children. There are some interesting poems that you might find helpful for children (or just helpful in general). A couple that I really like have to do with loving God and loving neighbor:

With all thy soul love God above.
And, as thyself thy neighbour love.

and,

Love God with all your soul and strength,
With all your heart and mind:
And love your neighbour as yourself;
Be faithful, just, and kind.
Deal with another as you’d have
Another deal with you;
What you’re unwilling to receive,
Be sure you never do.

You can browse all the poems HERE.

Infinite Inherent Merit

Charles Hodge describes the “orthodox [Protestant] view” of the atonement:

According to this doctrine the work of Christ is a real satisfaction, of infinite inherent merit, to the vindicatory justice of God; so that He saves his people by doing for them, and in their stead, what they were unable to do for themselves, satisfying the demands of the law in their behalf, and bearing its penalty in their stead; whereby they are reconciled to God, receive the Holy Ghost, and are made partakers of the life of Christ to their personal sanctification and eternal salvation.

Systematic Theology, vol. 2, pp. 563-564

I am trying to make a habit of posting some straightforward theology on Fridays. This is a great summary of the gospel.

Lonely for Somebody He’s Never Even Met

I like to read footnotes (even though these are really endnotes; and I’m not as fond of endnotes). Footnote 281 of Infinite Jest:

This had been one of Hal’s deepest and most pregnant abstractions, one he’d come up with once while getting secretly high in the Pump Room. That we’re all lonely for something we don’t know we’re lonely for. How else to explain the curious feeling that he goes around feeling like he misses somebody he’s never even met? Without the universalizing abstraction, the feeling would make no sense.

DFW’s footnotes are interesting to say the least. He’s generally profound to say the least.

Who could we all be lonely for?