Thursday, July 26, 2012

Closing words

The closing words of George MacDonald's last book, Salted with Fire. 

God is deeper in us than our own life; yes, God's life is the very centre and creative cause of that life which we call ours; therefore is the Life in us stronger than the Death, in as much as the creating Good is stronger than the created Evil. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Two letters

The following are extracts from letters George MacDonald wrote, quoted in the book, George MacDonald and His Wife, by Greville MacDonald.  

Page 530: in a letter from George to Greville:

My dearly loved son, It puzzles me a little that you, to whom God has given more insight than many have into the necessities of the spiritual relations, should be so changeable and troubled by the appearances of things.  "In quietness and confidence shall be your strength."  "Wait on the Lord."  You are so impatient!  You will hardly give him time to do anything for you!  As you are so easily troubled, as your faith in him seems so much in the abstract, and when it comes to the matter of next month or next year you are full of doubt - as if what the day was to bring forth must be evil and not good, notwithstanding that perfect goodness is at the heart of your affairs - this being the case, I see why you should be troubled and tossed about as you are.  Do not be always speculating on your future and thinking what you shall do.  You are not a bit nearer knowing for that; and it is a great waste of brain tissue, to say nothing of spiritual energy left dormant....There is more action in dismissing a useless care than in a month's brooding over the possible or the probable..When the hour for decision arrives, one moment's clear untroubled thought will do what weeks and weeks of brooding beforehand will only make more uncertain and difficult.  

Page 534 - a poem included in a letter to W Carey Davies

When I look back upon my life nigh spent,
Nigh spent although the feeble stream flows on,
I more of follies than of sins repent, 
Less for offence than Love's shortcomings moan,
With self, O Father, leave me not alone,
Leave not with the beguiler the beguiled;
Besmirched and ragged, Lord, take back thy own; 
A fool I bring thee to be made a child. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012


From George MacDonald and His Wife, by Greville MacDonald. 
Page 494 ff 

After the death of her daughter, Louisa MacDonald, struggled with doubt...

[George MacDonald] took to himself the mother's own misery, namely, that the old conventional forms of religion's comforting were failing her utterly.  In this present renewal of 'Death's terror' we find the victory over it.  Just as death's denial is forced upon us by its fearsome evidences -

Have pity on us for the look of things
When blank denial stares us in the face -

and declares our utter dependency, so is life's triumphant affirmation of its immortality, independently of any evidences, the essence and truth of all religion.  Death and its trappings we may know of, Life and its resurrection we believe in.  Just as we will not, cannot put our trust, our belief, in Death, so we cannot know - in the way we know the beloved body lies dead in that box - that the darling life has realized Love's own immortality   Small wonder - with battalions of braggart facts ranged before our senses and souls in denial of Him who is the Resurrection and the Life - small wonder that, in days of this poor mortality, we have always, day by day, year by year, to fight 'the Apollyon of Unbelief.' [A phrase MacDonald used more than once.] For us to doubt that my father and mother did in the spring of 1879 triumph over the enemy, while still they must remain in the fighting line, is to throw down our arms and turn traitors.  Yet proof of immortal life, as proof is counted by the scientist, can never be given.  Nor shall we ask for it when at the last we are delivered from the body of this death; for we shall understand that such faith as George MacDonald's was not other than divine knowledge.  This he puts very definitely:

To make things real to us is the end and battle-cause of life.  We often think we believe what we are only presenting to our imaginations.  The least thing can overthrow that kind of fatih.  The imagination is an endless help towards faith, but it is no more than a dream of food will make us strong for the next day's work.  To know God as the beginning and end, the root and cause, the giver, the enabler, the love and joy and perfect good, the present one existence in all things and degrees and conditions, is life; and faith, in its simplest, truest, mightiest form is - to do his will.  [From the novel, Donal Grant, 1883 pg 14]

Do you ask [again writes my father] why no intellectual proof is to be had?  I tell you that such would but delay, perhaps altogether impair for you, that better, that best, that only vision, which by its own radiance will sweep away doubt for ever.  Being then in the light and knowing it, the lack of intellectual proof will trouble you no more than would your inability to silence a metaphysician who declared that you had no real existence...The mists and the storms and the cold will pass - the sun and the sky are for evermore.  [from the novel, Paul Faber, Surgeon, 1879, pg 217]

Friday, July 20, 2012


Mrs George MacDonald in a letter to her children:

Don't get weary of forbearing each other and patiently loving.  I feel that Love wants patience more perhaps than anything - to keep it alive and flowering - to water its roots too.  It won't grow without it.  For even our dearest don't always fit into our notions of what we thought they would do, look or speak.  

pg 441 of George MacDonald and His Wife, by Greville MacDonald

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A poet's life

An interesting quote from Matsuo Bashō, on the life of a poet:

In this mortal frame of mine, which is made of a hundred bones and nine orifices, there is something, and this something is called a wind-swept spirit, for lack of a better name, for it is much like a thin drapery that is torn and swept away at the slightest stir of the wind. This something in me took to writing poetry years ago, merely to amuse itself at first, but finally making it its lifelong business. It must be admitted, however, that there were times when it sank into such dejection that it was almost ready to drop its pursuit, or again times when it was so puffed up with pride that it exulted in vain victories over others. Indeed, ever since it began to write poetry, it has never found peace with itself, always wavering between doubts of one kind and another. At one time it wanted to gain security by entering the service of a court, and at another it wished to measure the depth of its ignorance by trying to be a scholar, but it was prevented from either because of its unquenchable love of poetry. The fact is, it knows no other art than the art of writing poetry, and therefore, it hangs on to it more or less blindly.

The extract comes from Journal of a Travel-Worn Satchel (translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa) and quoted in the opening of Jane Hirschfield's book, The Heart of Haiku. 

I perhaps should be grateful that I don't feel that writing poetry is my 'lifelong business', nevertheless I understand Bashō's comments. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012


It is only possible to speak of the gospel as a source for a remedy of the planetary crisis that we face if we are talking about a gospel that makes possible, indeed requires and in fact produces, a radical and visible transformation in all dimensions of life. Only a gospel that produces holiness can transform the economy of death -- or rather, abolish it and give in its place something that can really be "good news to the poor."

Theodore Jennings, Jr.
Good News to the Poor

Friday, July 13, 2012

Coming rather than going

"May we go where he is gone," we sing at the end of one well-known hymn, "rest and reign with him in heaven!" But that is precisely not the point that the New Testament draws from Jesus's resurrection. Yes, there is a promised rest after the labors of this life, and word heaven may be an appropriate, though vague, way of denoting where this rest takes place. But this time of rest is the prelude to something very different, which will emphatically involve earth as well. Earth -- the renewed earth -- is where the reign will take place, which is why the New Testament regularly speaks not of our going to be where Jesus is but of his coming to where we are.

N.T. Wright
Surprised by Hope

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Our hands...

Make us worthy, Lord, to serve our fellow men throughout the world who live and die in poverty and hunger. Give them through our hands this day their daily bread, and by our understanding love, give peace and joy.

Mother Teresa
qtd. in Something Beautiful for God

Self, and Chaucer

I have been talking, penwise, all this about my ugly self.  Is it not strange that in the Christian law we can offer to God the most deformed and diseased thing we have got - ourselves?  I have had a most strange, delightful feeling lately - when disgusted with my own selfishness - of just giving away the self to God - throwing it off me up to heaven - to be forgotten and grow clean, without my smearing it all over with trying to wash out the spot.  

This evening I could relish nothing but a poem of Chaucer's.  We really have never surpassed him.  He was a non-dramatic Shakespeare - not un-dramatic.  There is no greater delight in Coleridge or Keats at hearing the nightingale than old Chaucer manifests.  The man of genius may not be a prophet but he is a prophecy: he forestalls what it will take ages to bring round for the many; but theirs it will be one day.
Two extracts from a letter written by George MacDonald to his wife on March 7th, 1861. Quoted in George MacDonald and His Wife, by Greville MacDonald, pages 326/7

Saturday, July 07, 2012


We’ll continue to practice faithful presence even when the numbers don’t add up, to be good friends even when fear of the unknown threatens to swallow us whole, to be joyful though we’ve “considered all the facts.”  It’s not about a heroic effort to save a neighborhood; rather, I hope it’s about becoming a community of people who can hold our hands open to the promises of radical hope and perceive signposts of success that portend the mysteries of eternity — and I’ll take that work with a heaping side of patience, please.

Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma
"A side of patience" in catapult magazine

Wednesday, July 04, 2012


Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.... I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.

Tim Kreider
"The 'Busy' Trap" in The New York Times

Sunday, July 01, 2012


We only do what humans can do, and our machines, however they may appear to enlarge our possibilities, are invariably infected with our limitations. Sometimes, in enlarging our possibilities, they narrow our limits and leave us more powerful but less content, less safe, and less free. The mechanical means by which we propose to escape the human condition only extend it; thinking to transcend our definition as fallen creatures, we have only colonized more and more territory eastward of Eden.

Wendell Berry
"Two Economies" in Home Economics