Friday, October 16, 2020

C. S. Lewis on "trumpery"


I recently re-read one of my favorite C. S. Lewis poems and discovered it to be surprisingly contemporary.




From all my lame defeats and oh! much more

From all the victories that I seemed to score;

From cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf

At which, while angels weep, the audience laugh;

From all my proofs of Thy divinity,

Thou, who wouldst give no sign, deliver me.


Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust, instead

Of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.

From all my thoughts, even from my thoughts of Thee,

O Thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free.

Lord of the narrow gate and the needle’s eye,

Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.


After my initial chuckle (I had forgotten that word), I realized the prayer/poem was really about me. Lest I become smug in my judgments, I was reminded that I, too, am capable of arrogance and small-mindedness.


Lord Jesus, have mercy on us all.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Choosing life: celebrating the milestones

Life’s great moments don’t stop for a pandemic. St. John reminds us that the darkness has never overcome the light.
Family milestones are a light, commemorating past achievements and illuminating the path ahead. Or at least the beginning of the path.
Our family is celebrating three graduations this spring. Three of our grandchildren have reached an important milestone, and while their official ceremonies have been cancelled (along with the parties and other adventures), we still celebrate.
On May 2, our oldest grandchild, Breanna Joy (daughter of David and Debby), became Dr. Breanna Becker. Bree completed her graduate program in physical therapy at George Fox University. We’ve already benefited from her skills (free to grandparents!), applied to Hal’s back and my dizziness. We’re happy that she loves her new profession and has a sense of call to this service.
Our two high school graduates are Alandra Uwizera Thomas (youngest daughter of David and Debby) and Thomas Reilly Gault (oldest child of Jon and Kristin). Alandra and Reilly not only will miss their ceremonies, they both missed their senior proms. About missing the prom, Reilly felt great relief. But Alandra was disappointed. So David and Debby put on their own prom. The family, including sister Gwen, cleaned the house, dressed up in formal attire, had a special gourmet dinner, and then danced in the field next door, to the cheers of their neighbors. Alandra’s smiles tells it all.

Bree looks forward to getting a real job in a clinic. Alandra is going to major in engineering at George Fox University, while Reilly is enrolled in the University of Oregon’s School of Music, specializing in percussion and jazz.
This coming Saturday evening, the extended family will celebrate together via Zoom. From five different households, we will meet over five different dinner tables to eat and talk. Each of our graduates will share their hopes and dreams. Maybe we can persuade Reilly to give his valedictorian speech. (Kristin says he had been preparing it before the pandemic struck.)
We will bless each one in prayer.
And we will celebrate these three marvelous young people.
The light is shining.

                  Our apartment door at Friendsview 

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Choosing life: creative, albeit ridiculous, worship

Here on the fifth floor of Friendsview, the retirement community where I live, we’ve decided to worship together at vespers every Sunday afternoon. We, like everyone else, are under “lock down” rules and can’t congregate.
So, human creativity to the rescue!
The first two weeks we all opened our apartment doors at 4:00 p.m. on the dot, then stood in our door ways, waving and shouting (some are hard of hearing) at each other. Then, music was played, songs were sung, the Lord’s Prayer loudly prayed—and worship concluded with more waves and shouted blessings.
It all passed quickly within the space of ten minutes, but it reaffirmed, not only our faith, but our sense of family up on the fifth floor.
So I wrote it all up in an article, shared it with the Friendsview administration, and sent our director into what he named as a “near panic.” Within a few days, a new restriction was put in place against “doorway meetings.” It seems singing and shouting expel moisture and germs with a force that might overcome the distance between our doors.
I admire and am grateful for the care our administration takes of us. We are, I am told, a vulnerable people. So we complied, of course, with the new regimen, but with a sense of loss.
Until, once again—human creativity to the rescue!
We’ve amended our vespers practice, but we still worship together at 4:00 p.m. Sunday afternoons (this time, with the administration’s approval).
Here’s the procedure: At 4:00 sharp, at the sound of Howard’s trumpet or Hal's French horn, we all open our doors to a two-foot gap, then sit down comfortably in the middle of our apartments. The trumpeter, alone, walks the hall, loudly tooting his horn. Then the Singer-in-Chief, Marie, takes her turn alone in the hall, her loud soprano voice helping us keep on the same verse of the two hymns whose words we hold in our hands. Although the near-deaf among us say they can’t hear a thing, the rest of us manage to make it through the music at roughly the same pace.
Then it’s Francie’s turn, and she stands by herself in the hall and yells the Lord’s Prayer, enabling most of us to follow out loud. Hal ends our worship by walking up and down the hall playing the Doxology on his harmonica.
I miss the waving and shouting that used to come at the end, but it’s still good to worship together—to remind ourselves that God is still sovereign and we, together, are God’s family.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Choosing life: conversing with wise writers

This time of restriction and isolation has certainly provided more time to read. The introverts among us (myself included) welcome this more than the extroverts do. At times I’m tempted to read for escape and so choose superficial mysteries, spy intrigues, or romances that encourage quick, easy reading. But I find that a week after I’ve finished such a book, I’ve forgotten the characters, the plot, or why I ever read it.
Other times I choose my reading well. Often that means re-reading an old favorite. Currently I’m re-reading Eugene Peterson’s Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology. I’m reading it very slowly.
The title itself reminds me of how much I love the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Peterson took his title from Hopkins’ poem, “When kingfishers catch fire.” The poem ends with the lines,
For Christ play in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features in men’s faces.
I’m reading the book slowly, heeding the word “conversation” in the subtitle. I frequently pause and in my imagination converse with Eugene Peterson. I ask him how he came up with this metaphor or what path he traveled to come to that insight. I offer my own thoughts. Actually, I develop my own thoughts through the means of this conversation. Often we just sit silently together.
(This shows one way an introvert interacts socially. I’ve always conversed with the authors of books that move and challenge me. In actual flesh-and-blood book discussions, I’m usually the quietest person in the room.)
Right now we’re considering the image of the Holy Spirit “hovering” over the emptiness and chaos at the beginning of creation. It comes in Genesis 1, right before God says, “Let there be light.” The eagle in Deuteronomy 32:11 also “hovers” (same Hebrew word) over the young in his nest. It’s an image of cherishing and hope for life to come. I’m finding (in consultation with Peterson) an image to guide me as I pray over this present darkness and chaos.
Actually, my imaginary conversations with Eugene Peterson have a basis in reality. About 20 years ago I visited my friend Miriam Adeney in Seattle. At the time she was teaching a class on book-writing in Regent University (Vancouver, British Colombia). I spent three days with her as observer and participant in the class.
Across the hall from Miriam’s faculty office at Regent, Eugene Peterson had his office. His book of reflections on the life of David, Leap over a Wall, had just been released. Knowing my admiration for Peterson, Miriam introduced us.
Eugene Peterson graciously invited me into his office for a conversation. Our visit was brief, probably about half-an-hour. I can’t even remember what we talked about. What I do remember is Peterson himself—his attitude of welcome, warmth, curiosity, and attentiveness. For that short visit, he was totally focused on me. His was a pastoral presence in every way. I sense that same presence as I read his books. I suppose it’s a type of gentle hovering.
This book, these conversations, are a way of choosing life today.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Choosing life: letters from prison

I need to begin with a confession. Choosing life is hard. It’s hard during normal times (whatever “normal” may mean). It’s certainly hard now in this time of pandemic. Everyday I struggle with lethargy, some inner resistance to reaching out to communicate, to being creative, to expressing gratitude, to simply being positive. At the end of each day as I take the time to look back and reflect, I have to confess my failures, as well as thank God for the small triumphs.
Even so, I choose to choose life. Part of it is this blog. I write to myself as well as to any readers out there in cyberspace. I write as a way of groping for courage, hoping to encourage others along the way.
So, on to another way of choosing life: through the Holy Scriptures. Paul calls them “the word of life” (Phi. 2:16). It occurs to me that Paul’s prison epistles (Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians) might be good reading material for such a time as this. Talk about isolation and restriction! A Roman prison was probably worse than what I am facing. And Paul’s context, the persecution of the early Church, while different than ours, was every bit as fraught with danger.
I start with the book of Philippians and find that it focuses on joy. Paul rejoiced in the midst of his hardship. He exhorted the believers in the city of Philippi to rejoice at all times, even as they suffered for the cause of Christ. He repeats the words “joy” and “rejoice” at least 12 times in this short letter. He encourages us to follow his example. He tells us that this is not a grit-your-teeth-and-endure-it time. Even now, this is a time to trust and rejoice.
I’m going to need some help doing that. Apparently, that help is available.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Choosing life: poetry

Earlier this week, the BBC posted a series of poets reading different poems that spoke life to them during this time. One of the poems shared was the following, by John O’Donahue:

“This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.

Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.

If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.”

― John O'Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Choosing life in a time of pandemic

As the children of Israel were approaching the promised land at the end of their 40-year trek in the wilderness, Moses delivers God’s words of warning and promise to the people. He tells them, “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him” (Deuteronomy 30:19).
Choose life. God speaks those words to us, now in this time of pandemic.
As I walked along Hess Creek yesterday, the clash of two realities became clear. The current crisis is real and choosing life doesn’t mean negating the danger or the darkness. But the other reality I met along the creek is the coming of spring. The green of new leaves, the sounds of running water and the occasional afternoon bird, the sense of hope this season bring—all sang, “This is my Father’s world.” Such a contrast. And both are real.
So I hold the two. I continue to walk by the creek and nourish myself with the beauty of the earth, even as I keep praying for the world, affirming that the darkness has never yet (and never will) overcome the Light.