Monday, December 05, 2016

Discovering creativity

And she added: ‘Of one thing you can be sure: if you are a creator in any particular medium, you will end by discovering the fact. Nothing can prevent the genuine creator from creating, or from creating in his own proper medium.’ She expressed the hope that if he decided to specialise in mathematics or science he would also keep up with the humanities: ‘Scientists in these days tend to work in isolation from the general body of thought ... I believe there will be a reaction, in the next few generations, to a synthesis of science and philosophy, which will help to correct the present disjunction of the two activities.’

From Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul, by Barbara Reynolds - in a letter written to her son. 

Simple Gospel?

"So few parsons are really trained in the use of words ... The result is that when the trained writer restates an old dogma in a new form of words, the reader mistakes it for a bright new idea of the writer’s own. I spend half my time and a lot of stamps telling people that I have not been giving them a fancy doctrine of my own ... Typical of this is a woman who writes to say: ‘I can’t agree with you that Christ is the same person as God the Creator’. One can only say: ‘It isn’t a question of agreeing with me. I have expressed no opinion. That is the opinion of the official Church, which you will find plainly stated in the Nicene Creed, whether or not you and I agree with it.’"

She considered the teaching and preaching of the Church inadequate. The result was that people were bewildered and ‘in a nightmare of muddle out of which [they] have to be hauled by passing detective novelists in a hurry and with no proper tackle’. Preachers will not define terms or say what the doctrine is. 

In September she was invited to attend a meeting of clerics and laity at the B.B.C., ‘who were trying to work out plans for some sort of "call to religion" with musical and dramatic accompaniments’. She was not enamoured of what she called ‘propaganda art-forms’ and considered that it would be better to begin by making a work of art for its own sake and let the moral emerge from it, not the other way round. She came away from the meeting very depressed. To Canon Cockin, a member of the committee, she wrote, ‘It sent me out in a mood for a stiff gin-and-tonic and the robust company of my heathen friends.’ She wrote at length about it to Father Kelly: 

"The wretched pacifist question boiled up at once, and these people always contrive to put one into an awkward position, as though one was completely corrupted by Caesar, while they sit loftily on the Mount with Christ and Mr Gandhi. And the clergy, who were not pacifist, but showed a great reluctance to fight the issue, all seemed disposed to believe that it was the chief business of the Church to advocate socialism and economic reform. It’s so easy to say ‘Let’s have the simple Gospel and consider what Christ would have done.’ But what is the ‘simple Gospel? And whatever Christ ‘would have done’, there’s one thing He would have resolutely refused to do, viz. to sit on committees and argue about politics ... Perhaps the people who sit on B.B.C. committees are the wrong kind of clergymen. They don’t seem to be able to keep the Law and the Gospel distinct in their minds. 

"They all made me feel very gloomy, including the Socialist parsons, who all seem to think that the difficulties of labour will be smoothed away by getting wages right, never mind what happens to the work. I tried to suggest to them (along the lines of the little section on Work in ‘Creed or Chaos?’) that it was necessary, along with the wages question, to get a right attitude to the work. They thought this very novel and constructive ... which shows how hopelessly we have all got wound up into the ‘economic theory’ of society." 

They babbled, she went on, about European Federation, which in her opinion is no more likely to work than the League of Nations or the temporal sovereignty of Rome. The one Federation that does work — i.e. the British Commonwealth — they have no use for.’ [Interesting in the light of the recent Brexit vote...!]

From Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul,  by Barbara Reynolds

Saturday, December 03, 2016

High in the Night Sky

One of the great sins, according to the Scriptures, is the sin of complaining. We tend to overlook this this, thinking that complaining is just an ordinary, garden-variety sin. Everybody complains, right?

But in Scripture it is one of the big ones. The children of Israel in the wilderness incurred the anger of God more than once through their murmuring and complaining (e.g. Ex. 16:2). God had given them amazing provisions in that wilderness, and yet they were blind to it all—their glass was perpetually half empty, not full and overflowing as it had been when they were slaves in Egypt.  The contrast between an unbelieving people and believers is strikingly seen in just this.

“Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:14–15).
It doesn’t much matter what you are murmuring about. The content of the dispute is entirely ignored by the apostle. The merits of your particular case are passed by entirely.

He doesn’t say no murmuring or disputing unless your boss doesn’t understand you, or unless your wife is not being difficult. He doesn’t say that murmuring is only allowed when nameless others are not letting you have your way. He doesn’t say that murmuring is a good way of letting other people know you have high standards and that other people are aggrieving you because of them.

No, you shine as lights in the world when you do all things without murmuring or disputing. The Israelites murmured about their food and drink, but there are a host of things you can complain about if you want to blend right in with our crooked and perverse nation. There is the weather, the traffic, the housekeeping, the cooking, the music, the pay, the recognition, and the weather again.

This is not a complicated issue. Grumbling is the black night sky. Contentment is a shining star, high in the night sky.


From Douglas Wilson's blog, Blog&Mablog, 26th Nov, 2016: High in the Night Sky






Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The unity of Christians

TO FATHER PETER MILWARD, SJ: On the evil of Christian disunity; and on prayer and cooperation in works of charity as the means of reunion.

6 May 1963

Dear Padre,

You ask me in effect why I am not a Roman Catholic. If it comes to that, why am I not—and why are you not—a Presbyterian, a Quaker, a Mohammedan, a Hindu, or a Confucianist? After how prolonged and sympathetic study and on what grounds have we rejected these religions? I think those who press a man to desert the religion in which he has been bred and in which he believes he has found the means of Grace ought to produce positive reasons for the change—not demand from him reasons against all other religions. It would have to be all, wouldn’t it?

Our Lord prayed that we all might be one ‘as He and His Father are one’ [John 17:21]. But He and His Father are not one in virtue of both accepting a (third) monarchical sovereign.

That unity of rule, or even of credenda [things to be believed], does not necessarily produce unity of charity is apparent from the history of every Church, every religious order, and every parish.

Schism is a very great evil. But if reunion is ever to come, it will in my opinion come from increasing charity. And this, under pressure from the increasing strength and hostility of unbelief, is perhaps beginning: we no longer, thank God, speak of one another as we did over 100 years ago. A single act of even such limited co-operation as is now possible does more towards ultimate reunion than any amount of discussion.

The historical causes of the ‘Reformation’ that actually occurred were (1.) The cruelties and commercialism of the Papacy (2.) The lust and greed of Henry VIII. (3.) The exploitation of both by politicians. (4.) The fatal insouciance of the mere rabble on both sides. The spiritual drive behind the Reformation that ought to have occurred was a deep re-experience of the Pauline experience.

Memo: a great many of my closest friends are your co- religionists, some of them priests. If I am to embark on a disputation—which could not be a short one, I would much sooner do it with them than by correspondence.

We can do much more to heal the schism by our prayers than by a controversy. It is a daily subject of mine.

From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A little slumber

The worst of sluggards only ask for a little slumber; they would be indignant if they were accused of thorough idleness. A little folding of the hands to sleep is all they crave, and they have a crowd of reasons to show that this indulgence is a very proper one. Yet by these littles the day ebbs out, and the time for labour is all gone, and the field is grown over with thorns.

It is by little procrastinations that men ruin their souls. They have no intention to delay for years--a few months will bring the more convenient season--to-morrow if you will, they will attend to serious things; but the present hour is so occupied and altogether so unsuitable, that they beg to be excused. Like sands from an hour-glass, time passes, life is wasted by driblets, and seasons of grace lost by little slumbers. Oh, to be wise, to catch the flying hour, to use the moments on the wing!

May the Lord teach us this sacred wisdom, for otherwise a poverty of the worst sort awaits us, eternal poverty which shall want even a drop of water, and beg for it in vain. Like a traveller steadily pursuing his journey, poverty overtakes the slothful, and ruin overthrows the undecided: each hour brings the dreaded pursuer nearer; he pauses not by the way, for he is on his master's business and must not tarry. As an armed man enters with authority and power, so shall want come to the idle, and death to the impenitent, and there will be no escape.

O that men were wise be-times, and would seek diligently unto the Lord Jesus, or ere the solemn day shall dawn when it will be too late to plough and to sow, too late to repent and believe. In harvest, it is vain to lament that the seed time was neglected. As yet, faith and holy decision are timely. May we obtain them this night.


From Charles Spurgeon's Morning and Evening Devotional, for the 24th November. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Waiting time

I hope no reader will suppose that ‘mere’ Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions. . . . . It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted.

But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think, preferable. It is true that some people may find they have to wait in the hall for a considerable time, while others feel certain almost at once which door they must knock at. I do not know why there is this difference, but I am sure God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait.

When you do get into your room you will find that the long wait has done you some kind of good which you would not have had otherwise. But you must regard it as waiting, not as camping. You must keep on praying for light: and, of course, even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house.

And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and panelling. In plain language, the question should never be: ‘Do I like that kind of service?’ but ‘Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular door-keeper?’

When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house.

From Mere Christianity by C S Lewis

Friday, November 11, 2016

The right reader for the right book

I have had ‘Miss Bodle’s colleague’ in my daily prayers for a long time now: is that the same young man you mention in your letter of July 3rd, or do I now say ‘colleagues’? Yes: don’t bother him with my books if an aunt (it somehow would be an aunt—though I must add that most of my aunts were delightful) has been ramming them down his throat.

You know, The Pilgrim’s Progress is not, I find (to my surprise) everyone’s book. I know several people who are both Christians and lovers of literature who can’t bear it. I doubt if they were made to read it as children. Indeed, I rather wonder whether that ‘being made to read it’ has spoiled so many books as is supposed. I suspect that all the people who tell me they were ‘put off’ Scott by having Ivanhoe as a holiday task are people who would never have liked Scott anyway.

I don’t believe anything will keep the right reader and the right book apart. But our literary loves are as diverse as our human! You couldn’t make me like Henry James or dislike Jane Austen whatever you did. By the bye did Chesterton’s Everlasting Man (I’m sure I advised you to read it) succeed or fail with you?


From The Collected Letters of C S Lewis, Vol III

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Gratitude

Praise should always follow answered prayer; as the mist of earth's gratitude rises when the sun of heaven's love warms the ground. Hath the Lord been gracious to thee, and inclined his ear to the voice of thy supplication? Then praise him as long as thou livest. Let the ripe fruit drop upon the fertile soil from which it drew its life. Deny not a song to him who hath answered thy prayer and given thee the desire of thy heart.

To be silent over God's mercies is to incur the guilt of ingratitude; it is to act as basely as the nine lepers, who after they had been cured of their leprosy, returned not to give thanks unto the healing Lord. To forget to praise God is to refuse to benefit ourselves; for praise, like prayer, is one great means of promoting the growth of the spiritual life. It helps to remove our burdens, to excite our hope, to increase our faith. It is a healthful and invigorating exercise which quickens the pulse of the believer, and nerves him for fresh enterprises in his Master's service.

To bless God for mercies received is also the way to benefit our fellow-men; "the humble shall hear thereof and be glad." Others who have been in like circumstances shall take comfort if we can say, "Oh! magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together; this poor man cried, and the Lord heard him." Weak hearts will be strengthened, and drooping saints will be revived as they listen to our "songs of deliverance." Their doubts and fears will be rebuked, as we teach and admonish one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. They too shall "sing in the ways of the Lord," when they hear us magnify his holy name.

Praise is the most heavenly of Christian duties. The angels pray not, but they cease not to praise both day and night; and the redeemed, clothed in white robes, with palm-branches in their hands, are never weary of singing the new song, "Worthy is the Lamb."


From Charles Spurgeon's Morning and Evening: entry for 30th October. 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Evil

I think one may be quite rid of the old haunting suspicion—which raises its head in every temptation—that there is something else than God—some other country . . . into which He forbids us to trespass—some kind of delight which He “doesn’t appreciate” or just chooses to forbid, but which would be real delight if only we were allowed to get it.

The thing just isn’t there. Whatever we desire is either what God is trying to give us as quickly as He can, or else a false picture of what He is trying to give us—a false picture which would not attract us for a moment if we saw the real thing. Therefore God does really in a sense contain evil—i.e., contains what is the real motive power behind all our evil desires. He knows what we want, even in our vilest acts: He is longing to give it to us. He is not looking on from the outside at some new “taste” or “separate desire of our own.” Only because He has laid up real goods for us to desire are we able to go wrong by snatching at them in greedy, misdirected ways. The truth is that evil is not a real thing at all, like God. It is simply good spoiled. That is why I say there can be good without evil, but no evil without good. You know what the biologists mean by a parasite—an animal that lives on another animal. Evil is a parasite. It is there only because good is there for it to spoil and confuse.

Thus you may well feel that God understands our temptations—understands them a great deal more than we do. But don’t forget Macdonald again—“Only God understands evil and hates it.” Only the dog’s master knows how useless it is to try to get on with the lead knotted round the lamp-post. This is why we must be prepared to find God implacably and immovably forbidding what may seem to us very small and trivial things. But He knows whether they are really small and trivial. How small some of the things that doctors forbid would seem to an ignoramus.


From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume II

Friday, October 28, 2016

Two extracts from Imagining the Kingdom

Quite simply, there is no formation without repetition. There is no habituation without being immersed in a practice over and over again… So it is precisely our allergy to repetition in worship that has undercut the counterformative power of Christian worship—because all kinds of secular liturgies shamelessly affirm the good of repetition. We’ve let the devil, so to speak, have all the repetition. And we, as liturgical animals, are only too happy to find our rhythms in such repetition. Unless Christian worship eschews the cult of novelty and embraces the good of faithful repetition, we will constantly be ceding habituation to secular liturgies.  

and

We need stories like we need food and water: we're built for narrative, nourished by stories, not just as distractions or diversions or entertainments but because we constitute our world narratively. It is from stories that we receive our "character," and those stories in turn become part of our background, the horizons within which we constitute our world and engage in action. I cannot answer the question, what do I love? without (at least implicitly) answering the question what story do I believe? We tell ourselves stories in order to live.
James K.A. Smith, Imagining The Kingdom: How Worship Works

Ongoing patience

The Lord Jesus loves his people so much, that every day he is still doing for them much that is analogous to washing their soiled feet. Their poorest actions he accepts; their deepest sorrow he feels; their slenderest wish he hears, and their every transgression he forgives. He is still their servant as well as their Friend and Master. He not only performs majestic deeds for them, as wearing the mitre on his brow, and the precious jewels glittering on his breastplate, and standing up to plead for them, but humbly, patiently, he yet goes about among his people with the basin and the towel.

He does this when he puts away from us day by day our constant infirmities and sins. Last night, when you bowed the knee, you mournfully confessed that much of your conduct was not worthy of your profession; and even tonight, you must mourn afresh that you have fallen again into the selfsame folly and sin from which special grace delivered you long ago; and yet Jesus will have great patience with you; he will hear your confession of sin; he will say, "I will, be thou clean"; he will again apply the blood of sprinkling, and speak peace to your conscience, and remove every spot. It is a great act of eternal love when Christ once for all absolves the sinner, and puts him into the family of God; but what condescending patience there is when the Saviour with much long-suffering bears the oft recurring follies of his wayward disciple; day by day, and hour by hour, washing away the multiplied transgressions of his erring but yet beloved child!

To dry up a flood of rebellion is something marvellous, but to endure the constant dropping of repeated offences--to bear with a perpetual trying of patience, this is divine indeed! While we find comfort and peace in our Lord's daily cleansing, its legitimate influence upon us will be to increase our watchfulness, and quicken our desire for holiness. Is it so?


From Charles Spurgeon's Evening by Evening, the reading for October the 24th. 

Friday, October 07, 2016

The unmorality of art

The theory of the unmorality of art has established itself firmly in the strictly artistic classes. They are free to produce anything they like. They are free to write a "Paradise Lost" in which Satan shall conquer God. They are free to write a "Divine Comedy" in which heaven shall be under the floor of hell. And what have they done? Have they produced in their universality anything grander or more beautiful than the things uttered by the fierce Ghibbeline Catholic, by the rigid Puritan schoolmaster? We know that they have produced only a few roundels. Milton does not merely beat them at his piety, he beats them at their own irreverence. In all their little books of verse you will not find a finer defiance of God than Satan's. Nor will you find the grandeur of paganism felt as that fiery Christian felt it who described Faranata lifting his head as in disdain of hell. And the reason is very obvious. Blasphemy is an artistic effect, because blasphemy depends upon a philosophical conviction. Blasphemy depends upon belief and is fading with it. If any one doubts this, let him sit down seriously and try to think blasphemous thoughts about Thor. I think his family will find him at the end of the day in a state of some exhaustion.

G K Chesterton: Heretics

Friday, September 30, 2016

Good and evil people

Remember that, as I said, the right direction leads not only to peace but to knowledge. When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right. This is common sense, really. You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. You can see mistakes in arithmetic when your mind is working properly: while you are making them you cannot see them. You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either.

From Mere Christianity by C S Lewis

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Dinner party

I wish you well. May your table be graced with lovely women and good men. May you drink well enough to drown the envy of youth in the satisfactions of maturity. May your men wear their weight with pride, secure in the knowledge that they have at last become considerable. May they rejoice that they will never again be taken for callow, black-haired boys. And your women? Ah! Women are like cheese strudels. When first baked, they are crisp and fresh on the outside, but the filling is unsettled and indigestible; in age, the crust may not be so lovely, but the filling comes at last into its own. May you relish them indeed. May we all sit long enough for reserved to give way to ribaldry and for gallantry to grow upon us. May there be singing at our table before the night is done, and old, broad jokes to fling at the stars and tell them we are men.
We are great, my friend; we shall not be saved for trampling that greatness under foot. Ecce tu pulcher es, dilecte mi, et decorus. Lectulus noster floridus. Tigna domorum nostrarum cedrina, laquearia nostra cypressina. Ecce iste venit, saliens in montibus, transilens colles. [Behold, you are beautiful, my love, and fair. Our bed is blooming. The beams of our house are cedar, the ceiling is cypress. Behold, he is coming, leaping over the mountains, jumping across the hills. [From the Song of Solomon) -- Ed]

Come then; leap upon these mountains, skip upon these hills and heights of earth. The road to Heaven does not run from the world, but through it. The longest Session of all is no discontinuation of these sessions here, but a lifting of them all by priestly love. It is a place for men, not ghosts — for the risen gorgeousness of the New Earth and for the glorious earthiness of the True Jerusalem. Eat well then. Between our love and His Priesthood, He makes all things new, Our Last Home will be home indeed.

From Robert Capon's The Supper of the Lamb, in the chapter on staging a dinner party.


Friday, September 16, 2016

The presence of God

And of course the presence of God is not the same as the sense of the presence of God. The latter may be due to imagination; the former may be attended with no “sensible consolation.” The Father was not really absent from the Son when He said “Why hast thou forsaken me?” You see God Himself, as man, submitted to man’s sense of being abandoned. The real parallel on the natural level is one which seems odd for a bachelor to write to a lady, but too illuminating not to be used. The act which engenders a child ought to be, and usually is attended by pleasure. But it is not the pleasure that produces the child. Where there is pleasure there may be sterility: where there is no pleasure the act may be fertile. And in the spiritual marriage of God and the soul it is the same. It is the actual presence, not the sensation of the presence, of the Holy Ghost which begets Christ in us. The sense of the presence is a super-added gift for which we give thanks when it comes, and that’s all about it.

From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III