Saturday, November 30, 2013

The liturgical year

Those who see the spiritual life as a life of restrictions and demands, of only yes or no, of life bounded by limits and denial, fail entirely to understand that the spirituality of the liturgical year is a spirituality made out of the shards and triumphs of life. It is a spirituality for the living and the joyful, the insightful and the wise, as well as for the suffering and the sinful. It makes of us the spiritual poets who see the beauty of life. In all its minuscule pieces magnified for us to see as we have never seen them before, perhaps -- one rose, one windstorm, one baby, one tomb -- life over time becomes, without doubt, one great, happy feast day.

Joan ChittisterThe Liturgical Year

Friday, November 29, 2013

Rejecting joy

I know there is poor and hideous suffering, and I've seen the hungry and the guns that go to war. I have lived pain, and my life can tell: I only deepen the wound of the world when I neglect to give thanks for the early light dappled through leaves and the heavy perfume of wild roses in early July and the song of crickets on humid nights and the rivers that run and the stars that rise and the rain that falls and all the good things that a good God gives. Why would the world need more anger, more outrage? How does it save the world to reject unabashed joy when it is joy that saves us? Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn't rescue the suffering. The converse does. The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to all the world.

Ann VoskampOne Thousand Gifts

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Liturgy as Life

We worship God as the ekklēsia; the body of Christ literally comes together on Sunday morning. It is in these moments that we are released from “clock time” and enter into “festival time.” That release is perhaps the most countercultural thing we as a body can do. For it is in this moment that we are affirming not the kingdoms of the world but Jesus’s kingdom. We recognize that Jesus is truly Lord of lords and King of kings. We also recognize that the entire “ordering” of the world that we experience outside of the ekklēsia is a counter-ordering. Yet then we go out into the world to live out the liturgy. We work to become the liturgy in all we do. Like Jesus, we become ministers to all those around us. We represent Christ to the world in the sense that we take the values of the ekklēsia and try to live them out in the world. Our goal is to become a living liturgy each day.

Bruce Ellis Benson
Liturgy as a Way of Life

The centre of everything

To bring sin home, and grace home, the Holy must be brought home. but that again can be done, on the scale of the Church and the world, only by replacing [re-placing,] the cross at the centre of Christian faith and life, as an atonement not indeed to outraged dignity, nor to talionic [eye for an eye] justice, but to this holy love. The centrality of the cross belongs to it only as a holy and atoning cross. Only if Christ atoned for the world did he culminate in the cross, and do the great thing there. and it is as an atonement that the Church has kept the cross at its spiritual centre. This is still the moral problem of the Church in relation to society, to keep the gospel of the cross at the centre. The form, indeed, of the Church’s moral problem will always depend on the social conditions of the hour; but the substance of it is always the same. It is practical. It is to place the moral centre of society upon the moral centre of the soul, [not the individual soul, but the soul of everything], upon the moral centre of the moral universe. And what is that but to place the conscience of society on Calvary?  

From The Cruciality of the Cross, by P T Forsyth, page 24. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Holiness is the foundation

To bring sin home, and to bring grace home, we need that something else should come home which alone gives meaning to both - the holy. The grace of God cannot return to our preaching or to our faith till we recover what has almost clean gone from our general, familiar, and current religion, what liberalism has quite lost - I mean a due sense of the holiness of God. This sense has much gone from our public worship, with its frequent irreverence; from our sentimental piety, to which an ethical piety with its implicates is simply obscure; from our rational religion, which banishes the idea of God's wrath; from our public morals, to which the invasion of property is more dreadful than the damnation of men. If our Gospel be obscure it is obscure to them in whom the slack God of the period has blinded their minds, or a genial God unbraced them, and hidden the Holy One who inhabits eternity. 
This holiness of God is the real foundation of religion - it is certainly that ruling interest of the Christian religion. In front of all our prayer or work stands "Hallowed be Thy name." If we take the Lord's Prayer alone, God's holiness is the interest which all the rest of it serves. Neither love, grace, faith, nor sin have any but a passing meaning except as they rest on the holiness of God, except as they arise from it, and return to it, except as they satisfy it, show it forth, set it up, and secure it everywhere and forever. Love is but its outgoing; sin is but its defiance; grace is but its action on sin; the cross is but its victory; faith is but its worship. The preacher preaches to the divinest purpose only when his lips are touched with the red coal from the altar of the thrice holy in the innermost place. We must rise beyond social righteousness and universal justice to the holiness of an infinite God. What we on earth call righteousness among men, the saints in Heaven call holiness in him.

Have our Churches lost that seal? Are we producing reform, social or theological, faster than we are producing faith? Have we become more liberal than sure? Then we are putting all our religious capital into the extension of our business, and carrying nothing to reserve or insurance.  We are mortgaging and starving the future. We are not seeking first the Kingdom of God and His holiness, but only carrying on, with very expansive and noisy machinery, a "kingdom-of-God-industry." We are merely running the kingdom; and we are running it without the cross - with the cross perhaps on our sign, but not in our centre. We have the old trade mark, but what does that matter in a dry and thirsty land where no water is, if the artesian well on our premises is going dry?

From pages 22-24 P T Forsyth's The Cruciality of the Cross.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Humility and loving one's enemies

The only sign of humility is the love of one’s enemies. When one loves his enemies, he says in effect that they are as worthy of life as he is, that the Kingdom of God does not depend upon the vindication of one’s own cause. When one loves his enemies, he has accepted the fact that he is not the center of the universe. He is willing to admit that the grace of God may be at work, even in his own behalf, in the resistance and rejection he encounters from others. By love of enemies and by this standard alone can the humility of Jesus be measured. The ‘humble of heart’ whom Jesus admires are those whose hearts have no hatred for their opponents.

Anthony PadovanoFree to Be Faithful

On a personal note, I'm note sure that the only sign of humility is to love one's enemies. Still I can concede the statement given the point Padovano's making. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Humility in prayer

How is it that the experience of life is so often barren of spiritual culture for religious people? They become stoic and stalwart, but not humble; they have keen sight, but no insight. Yet it is not the stalwarts but the saints that judge the world, i.e. that take the true divine measure of the world and get to its subtle, silent, and final powers. Whole sections of our Protestantism have lost the virtue of humility or the understanding of it. It means for them no more than modesty or diffidence. It is the humility of weakness, not of power. 

To many useful, and even strong, people no experience seems to bring this subtle, spiritual intelligence, this finer discipline of the moral man. No rebukes, no rebuffs, no humiliations, no sorrows, seem to bring it to them. They have no spiritual history. Their spiritual biography not even an angel could write. There is no romance in their soul's story. At sixty they are, spiritually, much where they were at twenty-six. To calamity, to discipline of any kind, they are simply resilient. Their religion is simply elasticity. It is but lusty life. They rise up after the smart is over, or the darkness fades away, as self-confident as if they were but seasoned politicians beaten at one election, but sure of doing better at the next. They are to the end just irrepressible, or persevering, or dogged. And they are as juvenile in moral insight, as boyish in spiritual perception, as ever.

Is it not because they have never really had personal religion? That is, they have never really prayed with all their heart; only, at most, with all their fervour, certainly not with strength and mind. They have never "spread out" their whole soul and situation to a God who knows. They have never opened the petals of their soul in the warm sympathy of His knowledge.

They have not become particular enough in their prayer, faithful with themselves, or relevant to their complete situation. They do not face themselves, only what happens to them. They pray with their heart and not with their conscience. They pity themselves, perhaps they spare themselves, they shrink from hurting themselves more than misfortune hurts them. They say, "If you knew all you could not help pitying me:" They do not say, "God knows all, and how can He spare me?" For themselves, or for their fellows, it is the prayer of pity, not of repentance. We need the prayer of self judgement more than the prayer of fine insight.

We are not humble in God's sight, partly because in our prayer there is a point at which we cease to pray, where we do not turn everything out into God's light. It is because there is a chamber or two in our souls where we do not enter in and take God with us. We hurry Him by that door as we take Him along the corridors of our Life to see our tidy places or our public rooms.

We ask from our prayers too exclusively comfort, strength, enjoyment, or tenderness and graciousness, and not often enough humiliation and its fine strength. We want beautiful prayers, touching prayers, simple prayers, thoughtful prayers; prayers with a quaver or a tear in them, or prayers with delicacy and dignity in them. But searching prayer, humbling prayer, which is the prayer of the conscience, and not merely of the heart or taste; prayer which is bent on reality, and to win the new joy goes through new misery if need be—are such prayers as welcome and common as they should be ?

Too much of our prayer is apt to leave us with the self-complacency of the sympathetically incorrigible, of the benevolent and irremediable, of the breezy octogenarian, all of whose yesterdays look backward with a cheery and exasperating smile.

From P T Forsyth's The Soul of Prayer, pages 69-70

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Rivers of water

Psalm 119: 136. — Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law.

Godly men are affected with deep sorrow for the sins of the ungodly.

Let us consider the nature of this affection. 
1. It is not a stoical apathy, and affected carelessness; much less a delightful partaking with sinful practices. 
2. Not a proud setting off of their own goodness, with marking the sin of others as the Pharisee did in the gospel. 
3. Not the derision and mocking of the folly of men, with that "laughing philosopher": it comes nearer to the temper of the other who wept always for it. 
4. It is not a bitter, bilious anger, breaking forth into railings and reproaches, nor an upbraiding insultation [the act of insulting]. 
5. Nor is it a vindictive desire of punishment, venting itself in curses and imprecations, which is the rash temper of many, but especially of the vulgar sort. 
The disciples' motion to Christ was far different from that way, and yet he says to them, "We know not of what spirit ye are." They thought they had been of Elijah's spirit, but he told them they were mistaken, and did not know of what a spirit they were in that motion. Thus heady zeal often mistakes and flatters itself. We find not here a desire of fire to come down from heaven upon the breakers of the law, but such a grief as would rather bring water to quench it, if it were falling on them. "Rivers of waters run down mine eyes." — Robert Leighton.