Monday, January 26, 2015

Living in somebody else's imagination

The logic of worldly success rests on a fallacy: the strange error that our perfection depends on the thoughts and opinions of other men!  A weird life it is, indeed, to be living always in somebody else's imagination, as if that were the only place in which one could at last become real!

Thomas Merton, in The Seven-Storey Mountain

Friday, January 23, 2015

Fear of death

On how to rehearse for death and how to diminish fear.
17 June 1963

Pain is terrible, but surely you need not have fear as well? Can you not see death as the friend and deliverer? It means stripping off that body which is tormenting you: like taking off a hair- shirt or getting out of a dungeon. What is there to be afraid of? You have long attempted (and none of us does more) a Christian life. Your sins are confessed and absolved. Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave it with regret? There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.

Remember, though we struggle against things because we are afraid of them, it is often the other way round—we get afraid be- cause we struggle. Are you struggling, resisting? Don’t you think Our Lord says to you ‘Peace, child, peace. Relax. Let go. Underneath are the everlasting arms. Let go, I will catch you. Do you trust me so little?’

Of course, this may not be the end. Then make it a good rehearsal.

Yours (and like you a tired traveller near the journey’s end) Jack
From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III
Compiled in Yours, Jack

First in

Nothing can better dispose us for a third world war than the conviction that we are all doomed to fight anyway, that our enemies are well-armed gorillas too, and the only smart thing to do is to let them have it before they ambush us. In the chaotic atmosphere of a nation torn by race riots, deafened by the stridency of hate groups and of fanatics, it is understandable that readers may derive a kind of perverse comfort from this mythology.

Thomas Merton

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Knowing God's love

If the world exists not chiefly that we may love God but that God may love us, yet that very fact, on a deeper level, is so for our sakes. If He who in Himself can lack nothing chooses to need us, it is because we need to be needed. Before and behind all the relations of God to man, as we now learn them from Christianity, yawns the abyss of a Divine act of pure giving—the election of man, from nonentity, to be the beloved of God, and therefore (in some sense) the needed and desired of God, who but for that act needs and desires nothing, since He eternally has, and is, all goodness.

And that act is for our sakes. It is good for us to know love; and best for us to know the love of the best object, God. But to know it as a love in which we were primarily the wooers and God the wooed, in which we sought and He was found, in which His conformity to our needs, not ours to His, came first, would be to know it in a form false to the very nature of things.

For we are only creatures: our role must always be that of patient to agent, female to male, mirror to light, echo to voice. Our highest activity must be response, not initiative. To experience the love of God in a true, and not an illusory form, is therefore to experience it as our surrender to His demand, our conformity to His desire: to experience it in the opposite way is, as it were, a solecism against the grammar of being.

From The Problem of Pain by C S Lewis

Friday, January 16, 2015

Sabbath is not simply a pause

Sabbath is not simply a pause. It is an occasion for reimagining all of social life away from coercion and competition to compassionate solidarity. Such solidarity is imaginable and capable of performance only when the drivenness and acquisitiveness is broken. Sabbath is not simply the pause that refreshes. It is the pause that transforms. Whereas Israelites are always tempted to acquisitiveness, Sabbath is an invitation to receptivity, an acknowledgement that what is needed is given and need not be seized.

Walter Brueggemann
Sabbath as Resistance

Chesterton on Evolution

Evolution is a good example of that modern intelligence which, if it destroys anything, destroys itself.  Evolution is either an innocent scientific description of how certain earthly things came about; or, if it is anything more than this, is an attack upon thought itself.  If evolution destroys anything, it does not destroy religion but rationalism. . . . It means there is no such thing as a thing.  At best, there is only one thing, and that is a flux of everything and anything.  This is an attack not upon faith, but upon the mind; you cannot think if there are no things to think about.  You cannot think is you are not separate from the subject of thought.

Descartes said, "I think; therefore I am."  The philosophic evolutionist reverses and negatives the epigram.  He says, "I am not; therefore I cannot think."  

G. K. Chesterton in Collected Works. Volume I: Heretics, Orthodoxy, The Blatchford Controversies.  (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), p. 239f.]

Jesus intercedes for us

How encouraging is the thought of the Redeemer's never-ceasing intercession for us. When we pray, he pleads for us; and when we are not praying, he is advocating our cause, and by his supplications shielding us from unseen dangers.

Notice the word of comfort addressed to Peter - "Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat; but" - what? "But go and pray for yourself." That would be good advice, but it is not so written. Neither does he say, "But I will keep you watchful, and so you shall be preserved." That were a great blessing. No, it is, "But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not."

We little know what we owe to our Saviour's prayers. When we reach the hill-tops of heaven, and look back upon all the way whereby the Lord our God hath led us, how we shall praise him who, before the eternal throne, undid the mischief which Satan was doing upon earth. How shall we thank him because he never held his peace, but day and night pointed to the wounds upon his hands, and carried our names upon his breastplate!

Even before Satan had begun to tempt, Jesus had forestalled him and entered a plea in heaven. Mercy outruns malice. Mark, he does not say, "Satan hath desired to have you." He checks Satan even in his very desire, and nips it in the bud. He does not say, "But I have desired to pray for you." No, but "I have prayed for you: I have done it already; I have gone to court and entered a counterplea even before an accusation is made." O Jesus, what a comfort it is that thou hast pleaded our cause against our unseen enemies; countermined their mines, and unmasked their ambushes. Here is a matter for joy, gratitude, hope, and confidence.

Charles Spurgeon...Devotional Classics of C H Spurgeon: Reading for evening, January 11th. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Becoming part and parcel of beauty

We want so much more—something the books on aesthetics take little notice of. But the poets and the mythologies know all about it. We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.

From The Weight of Glory, by C S Lewis

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Surveys come to an end...

I think I've finally unsubscribed from all the survey sites I've been on. (There may be one or two left, but they'll go as soon as I get the next email invite from them.)

I joined up with a bunch of these sites way back in 2006 when I was out of work and thought I might make a few extra dollars from doing online surveys. Fat chance. I mean fat chance that I could make those dollars quickly enough even to fund a cup of coffee.

Some sites have slowly totted up the points over years, until I now have - or would have had, if I hadn't unsubscribed - vast numbers of points, such as 45, or 23. And of course, unless you attain some magnificent number that in fact you haven't a hope of getting close to you'll never earn anything.

Some sites, to be fair, do actually pay you. It takes a while (and it doesn't help that they cut you out of a number of surveys almost before you've started) but I have had movie passes, and vouchers for shops like Farmers and so on. One particular New Zealand survey company is legitimate in every sense, was in existence long before the Internet was available, and knows what it's doing.

Most of the other survey sites are cheapskates, who won't give away anything more than they have to. (And I'm afraid most of those appear to be in the US of A.)

But even apart from the rewards, I got sick of answering the same kinds of questions over and over. The lack of imagination in many of these surveys has to be seen to be believed. It's almost as if they copied each other's surveys and then used them for a slightly different product. After a while your mind loses interest completely. Worse, sometimes the survey goes on and on and on, and you wonder if there's any finishing point. Of course, you don't get any extra points just because it's three times as long as the one you did last time. All you've done is churned through dredge to find that your brain has clogged and you need to go and find some drain cleaner pretty damn quick....

Finding God

When you come to knowing God, the initiative lies on His side. If He does not show Himself, nothing you can do will enable you to find Him. And, in fact, He shows much more of Himself to some people than to others—not because He has favourites, but because it is impossible for Him to show Himself to a man whose whole mind and character are in the wrong condition. Just as sunlight, though it has no favourites, cannot be reflected in a dusty mirror as clearly as in a clean one.

You can put this another way by saying that while in other sciences the instruments you use are things external to yourself (things like microscopes and telescopes), the instrument through which you see God is your whole self. And if a man’s self is not kept clean and bright, his glimpse of God will be blurred—like the Moon seen through a dirty telescope. That is why horrible nations have horrible religions: they have been looking at God through a dirty lens.

From Mere Christianity by C S Lewis

Friday, January 02, 2015

The missing part

Let us suppose we possess parts of a novel or a symphony. Someone now brings us a newly discovered piece of manuscript and says, ‘This is the missing part of the work. This is the chapter on which the whole plot of the novel really turned. This is the main theme of the symphony’. Our business would be to see whether the new passage, if admitted to the central place which the discoverer claimed for it, did actually illuminate all the parts we had already seen and ‘pull them together’.

Nor should we be likely to go very far wrong. The new passage, if spurious, however attractive it looked at the first glance, would become harder and harder to reconcile with the rest of the work the longer we considered the matter. But if it were genuine then at every fresh hearing of the music or every fresh reading of the book, we should find it settling down, making itself more at home and eliciting significance from all sorts of details in the whole work which we had hitherto neglected.

Even though the new central chapter or main theme contained great difficulties in itself, we should still think it genuine provided that it continually removed difficulties elsewhere. Something like this we must do with the doctrine of the Incarnation. Here, instead of a symphony or a novel, we have the whole mass of our knowledge.

The credibility will depend on the extent to which the doctrine, if accepted, can illuminate and integrate that whole mass. It is much less important that the doctrine itself should be fully comprehensible. We believe that the sun is in the sky at midday in summer not because we can clearly see the sun (in fact, we cannot) but because we can see everything else.

From Miracles by C S Lewis

Suggestions, not resolutions

Be kind to yourself in the year ahead. Remember to forgive yourself, and to forgive others. It's too easy to be outraged these days, so much harder to change things, to reach out, to understand. Try to make your time matter: minutes and hours and days and weeks can blow away like dead leaves, with nothing to show but time you spent not quite ever doing things, or time you spent waiting to begin. Meet new people and talk to them. Make new things and show them to people who might enjoy them. Hug too much. Smile too much. And, when you can, love.

Neil Gaiman
"New Year's Wishes and Gifts" from Neil Gaiman's Journal