Posts Tagged With: C.S. Lewis

Teach Me Where I Keep Company with Fear: Psalm 51

Psalm 51 is a staple of Lent, of Fridays, of pleading for mercy and forgiveness. As Friday has just passed, I share with you this translation/poetic rendering of the psalm from Nan Merrill’s Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness.  I particularly have been moved over the years praying with these words, and offer it for your Lenten lingering.

The bold in the text below is mine, with some comments which follow for your rumination.

But first, here’s a suggestion for your presence with the psalm. Simply read through it once and notice the echoes in your own heart/being.  Then take some moments of silence and read through/pray through it once more, lingering wherever feels right.  Do not analyze it to death or think up a storm of words and concepts to tame or control your time with it; just let it say some of your heart to God and listen too for what God may be speaking to you.  Enjoy some conversation of your own with Our Compassionate Friend then, and close your time with the psalm with a last reading.  If you wish, then see my last notes below the text.  But pray with it first! And last!  And perhaps, only!

Have mercy on me, O Gracious One,
according to your steadfast love;
According to your abundant kindness
forgive me where my thoughts and deeds have hurt others.
Lead me in the paths of justice,
guide my steps on paths of peace!

Teach me, that I may know my weaknesses,
the shortcomings that bind me,
The unloving ways that separate me,
that keep me from recognizing your life in me;
For I keep company with fear, and dwell in the house of ignorance.
Yet, I was brought forth in love,
and love is my birthright.

You have placed your truth in the inner being;
therefore, teach me the wisdom of the heart.
Forgive all that binds me in fear,
that I might radiate love;
cleanse me that your light might shine in me.
Fill me with gladness; help me to transform weakness intro strength.
Look not on my past mistakes
but on the aspirations of my heart.

Create in me a clean heart, O Gracious One
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Enfold me in the arms of love, and fill me with your Holy Spirit.
Restore in me the joy of your saving grace,
and encourage me with a new spirit.

Then I will teach others your ways,
and prisoners of fear will return to You.
Deliver me from the addictions of society, most Gracious One,
O keep me from temptation
that I may tell of your justice and mercy.

O Gracious One, open my lips and my mouth shall sing forth your praise.
For you do not want sacrifice;
You delight in our friendship with You.
A sacrifice most appropriate is a humble spirit;
a repentant and contrite heart, O Merciful One, is the gift You most desire.

Let the nations turn from war, and encourage one another as good neighbours.
O Most Gracious and Compassionate Friend,
melt our hearts of stone,
break through the fears that lead us into darkness, and
Guide our steps into the ways of peace.

We are not to be those who keep company with fear.  Love is our birthright.  Still, we each have our own endlessly creative ways of getting lost, becoming separated, not consenting to living as one who is loved so very much.  We need teaching from the one who delights in our friendship.  We need rescue (isn’t Lent about being with the one who rescues us?) from our distinct patterns of fear and isolation, of consenting to being bound to an identity that is not our true one.

We are loved!  We are beloved ones!  We are cared for by One who sees much farther than we do into our hearts and who – with all the heavens, the stars, the planets, the sparrows, the lilies of the field, the wondrous creations which flow from Trinity Love – intended us to be and to know joy.

Most of us keep company with fear to some degree and in some seasons.  We have our reasons to.  That we become afraid, that we are limited, that we do not understand – this is no problem.  Inviting fear to be our close companion and the traveling partner that we attend to and allow most to shape us – this is.

Once more, we must learn to live loved – learn to live in the light of One who scatters darknesses we are not even entirely conscious of.  Our humility is simply fact – we don’t know and don’t see.   We are creatures, not Creator.  But we are oh so precious.

So, have mercy on our weakness and blindness, Lord.  Guide us truly.  Show us where we keep company with fear, and give us heart to choose more consciousness of you than of what freezes us.  Teach us to lean on your grace.  We will trust that you know what we each need to be restored.  Help us choose reconciling and freedom; and help us be gentle with ourselves as you unfold for our vision our attachments to lesser ways, our holding tight the ropes which bind us.  We will find joy as we watch you unravel our complicated patterns, our clutched protections and pretenses.  We will learn to relax in your love, and so more deeply live in it.  And perhaps we may yell with pain and joy at our releasement, like Eustace in C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader when his dragon skin is removed by Aslan (Christ figure in Narnia) so he may once again become a boy – an oh so much wiser, humbler, easier to be around boy.

I love Nan’s proclamation of promise to God:

Then I will teach others your ways,
and prisoners of fear will return to You.

Joy!  To be with each other, to aid, to support, as we recognize how we are imprisoned by our own choices, and learn to choose trust and living loved.  And we all return to you!  And the Saints will come marching in!  I’ll meet you praying this psalm.

Categories: Lent | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Aslan’s Resurrection Romp and Roar

The rising of the sun had made everything look so different – all the colours and shadows were changed – that for a moment they didn’t see the important thing.  Then they did.  The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan.

“Oh, oh, oh!” cried the two girls rushing back to the Table.

“Oh, it’s too bad,” sobbed Lucy; “they might have left the body alone.”

“Whose done it?” cried Susan.  “What does it mean? Is it more magic?”

“Yes!” said a great voice behind their backs.  “It is more magic.”  They looked round.  There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.


“Oh, Aslan!” cried both children, staring up at him, almost as much frightened as they were glad.

“Aren’t you dead then, dear Aslan?” said Lucy.

“Not now,” said Aslan.

“You’re not a – not a -?” asked Susan in a shaky voice.  She couldn’t bring herself to say the word ghost.

Aslan stooped his golden head and licked her forehead.  The warmth of his breath and a rich sort of smell that seemed to hang about his hair came all over her.

“Do I look it?” he said.

“Oh, you’re real, you’re real!  Oh, Aslan!” cried Lucy, and both girls flung themselves upon him and covered him with kisses.

“But what does it all mean?” asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.

“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know.  Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time.  But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation.  She would have know that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.  And now – “

“Oh yes.  Now?” said Lucy jumping up and clapping her hands.

aslan-resurrection“Oh, children,” said the Lion, “I feel my strength coming back to me.  Oh, children, catch me if you can!”  He stood for a second, his eyes very bright, his limbs quivering, lashing himself with his tail.  Then he made a leap high over their heads and landed on the other side of the Table.  Laughing, though she didn’t know why, Lucy scrambled over it to reach him.  Aslan leaped again.  A mad chase began.  Round and round the hill-top he led them, now hopelessly out of their reach, now letting them almost catch his tail, now diving between them, now tossing them in the air with his huge and beautifully velveted paws and catching them again, and now stopping unexpectedly so that all three of them rolled over together in a happy laughing heap of fur and arms and legs.  It was such a romp as no one has ever had in Narnia; and whether it was more like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten Lucy could never make up her mind.  And the funny thing was then when all three finally lay together panting in the sun the girls no longer felt in the least tired or hungry or thirsty.

“And now,” said Aslan presently, “to business.  I feel I am going to roar.  You had better put your fingers in your ears.”

And they did.  And Aslan stood up and when he opened his mouth to roar his face became so terrible that they did not dare look at it…

“We have a long journey to go.  You must ride on me.”

Excerpted from  The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Macmillan Publishing, 1950, 131-134.

THANKS to C.S. Lewis for this Narnian window into the truth and joy of this day!  I don’t know about you, but the romp and the excitement and the laughter and velveted paws and landing topsy turvy — these all seem SO fitting.  I’d love such an Easter experience – and hope for one, one day!  And I hope to see you there – with all of creation – in the celebrating, romping  joy!  Unending, including everyone and everything – amazing wondrous magical mysterious laughing rescued embraced love and delight!  Blessed Easter, one and all!

Categories: Easter, Triduum | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Child’s First Cry Came Like a Bell: L’Engle’s Further Words on Mary

Happy New Year, readers and friends!  May 2014 bring you much joy.

It must be obvious by now that I value Madeleine L’Engle, as friend and wordsmith.

In my young adulthood, I knew she gave writers’ workshops in the summer at Wheaton College in Illinois.  I wanted “someday” to go.  I did not make the “someday”, sadly.  Still, I’ve felt – from childhood on – tutored by her characters, her art, her own journey in life and writing in many ways.  She was a purveyor of intuited truth to the child who munched happily on A Wrinkle in Time, and every subsequent novel.  (I’m thinking of rereading them all in 2014… anyone with me?   And then on to all her other books!)  A high school student gifted me with Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, which wound its way into both my masters and doctoral theses, and a theology of ministry too!  Though we never met in the flesh, I feel I’ve met L’Engle in other ways (perhaps in a kything communion, oh Wrinkle lovers?).  There are many dear writers like that for me – C.S. Lewis comes immediately to mind, with Tolkien and MacDonald, poets, and saints and mystics.  I hope that’s true for you as well.

So, on this day that celebrates Mary as God-Bearer, Mother, Theotokos, solemnly – it seemed fitting to offer you this three pronged reflection on Mary from L’Engle.  The last I shared with you was Young Mary, glimpsing her just past the Annunciation.  Here Madeleine again explores the inner experience of Mary, within the context of the Incarnation-Christmas Mystery.  Appropriately, the third poem below has much to do with Joseph, who sees too little ink, methinks.

I invite you to add a comment after your reading, simply sharing a line/a phrase/a word that speaks to you from all the ones below.  We have a right to hear the Spirit speaking in the context of community, so share a whispering or breeze or gust that blows past you, in a repeated word or three or four from her text, would you?

May Mary and Joseph accompany and guide you to the places you need to be this year to better encounter the Word in flesh.


Three Songs Of Mary

1. O Simplicitas

An angel came to me
and I was unprepared
to be what God was using.
Mother I was to be.
A moment I despaired,
thought briefly of refusing.
The angel knew I heard.
according to God’s Word
I bowed to this strange choosing.

A palace should have been
the birthplace of a king
(I had no way of knowing).
We went to Bethlehem;
it was so strange a thing.
The wind was cold, and blowing,
my cloak was old, and thin.
They turned us from the inn;
the town was overflowing.

God’s Word, a child so small
who still must learn to speak
lay in humiliation.
Joseph stood, strong and tall.
The beasts were warm and meek
and moved in hesitation.
The Child born in a stall?
I understood it: all.
Kings came in adoration.

Perhaps it was absurd;
a stable set apart,
the sleeping cattle lowing;
and the incarnate Word
resting against my heart.
My joy was overflowing.
The shepherds came, adored
the folly of the Lord,
wiser than all men’s knowing.


2. O Oriens

O come, O come Emmanuel
within this fragile vessel here to dwell.
O Child conceived by heaven’s power
give me thy strength: it is the hour.SAMSUNG

O come, thou Wisdom form on high;
like any babe at life you cry;
for me, like any mother, birth
Was hard, O light of earth.

O come, O come, thou Lord of might,
whose birth came hastily at night,
born in a stable, in blood and pain
is this the king who comes to reign?

O come, thou Rod of Jesse’s stem,
the stars will be thy diadem.
How can the infinite finite be?
Why choose, child, to be born of me?

O come, thou key of David, come,
open the door to my heart-home.
I cannot love thee as a king –
so fragile and so small a thing.

O come, thou Dayspring from on high:
I saw the signs that marked the sky.
I heard the beat of angels’ wings
I saw the shepherds and the kings.

O come, Desire of nations, be
simply a human child to me.
Let me not weep that you are born.
The night is gone. Now gleams the morn.

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel,
God’s Son, God’s Self, with us to dwell.

3. O Sapientia

It was from Joseph first I learned
of love. Like me he was dismayed.
How easily he could have turned
me from his house; but, unafraid,
he put me not away from him
(O God-sent angel, pray for him).
Thus through his love was Love obeyed.

The Child’s first cry came like a bell:
God’s Word aloud, God’s Word in deed.
The angel spoke: so it befell,
and Joseph with me in my need.
O Child whose father came from heaven,
to you another gift was given,
your earthly father chosen well.

With Joseph I was always warmed
and cherished. Even in the stable
I knew that I would not be harmed.
And, thou above the angels swarmed,
man’s love it was that made me able
to bear God’s love, wild, formidable,
to bear God’s will, through me performed.

Categories: Christmas, Mary of Nazareth, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Repent: Change Our Minds This Time

“Change our minds this time.”  I’m still humming this line from a Rory Cooney song we sang at the Ash Wednesday liturgy I attended.  Did you know that to REPENT is literally to change our thoughts, our minds?  The Greek word metanoia (μετάνοια) is a compound word that combines the concepts of time and change; literally after/with (meta) and to perceive/think (noeo).  It says that we think differently after.  After what?  Hold that thought for a moment!  I perceive a three part invitation in the words we hear when ashes are traced on foreheads this day:  Repent and Believe the Good News! 

First, meet and experience the Good News in a person, Jesus of Nazareth.  (After what?  This is the ‘what’ that the rest of the phrase is ‘after’.  First comes meeting and experiencing the Good News!)  Do you think this is too obvious?  Can we presume this basic experience of evangelization is a given in every case?  I mean, those of us standing in line to receive ashes have already heard and experienced this Good News, right?  We are baptized believers, after all.  We are disciples of Christ and members of the community which is formed by the mission of sharing this Good News forward.  But sometimes there may be those among us who have not  tasted this Good News personally – or who have not lately.  Virginia Finn in a little book titled Pilgrim in the Parish noted that ministry done about God but without God was perhaps more frequent than we’d like to hope.  Our ministries sometimes discuss if we have catechized before we have evangelized, which is why we speak of a need for an evangelizing catechesis.  Our learning must always be in the context of encounter with the person of Jesus. 

Perhaps as you and I begin Lent we need first to experience or recall how the Good News feels and tastes.  What is Good about this news?  Where is the joy, the hope, the peace, the companionship, the adventure, the energy, the life, the abundance?  How does it speak to our fears, our deaths, our suffering, our failures?  How does it energize our gifts, our passions, our core values, our life commitments? 

Do our hearts need to hear a retelling of the Gospel stories, of God’s interactions over history with God’s people?   We are fallible and forgetful, and we lose track of how much we have been freed and cared for.  Perhaps the first invitation to you and to me is the re-encounter the Gospel, to reconnect with God in Christ, and to let our hearts and lives be touched. 

How can that happen for you or me?  Reading scripture?  Going to a talk?  You have to discern this.  What will help you remember the fire that already burns, the grace already given, the love you already live within?  Sometimes I’ll dwell with certain well loved encounters of Jesus with individuals in the Gospels and reflect on what was happening in that moment for that person or persons.  I may re-read part of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, especially Aslan’s encounters with Lucy or Eustace or Edmund along the way.  I might listen to certain music that teaches and tutors me – Sarah Hart or Eden’s Bridge, or many others.  Or perhaps watch a clip from a movie, take a walk in nature, pray in a chapel or beneath the stars – look  to connect with the freshness and challenge those at the time of Jesus encountered.  I could well read a favorite (or new to me) companion-saint’s words and description of God or the Christian journey.  But what I might do is of little consequence.  What do you need in order to meet and experience the Good News?  And what better gift can you give to God this season than the willingness and courage to simply meet?  Like the Prodigal Father of Luke 15, God waits to embrace with generous grace.  Perhaps this (unstated in the invocation for today) movement is the absolute essential for our Lenten journeys – for our Christian journeys.

Second, change our minds after re-meeting the Good News in Christ.  The lyrics of that Rory Cooney song continue, “Change our minds this time, your life could make us free.”  To repent is to change our minds, upon encountering the Good News.  The life of Jesus can free us from other ways of perceiving life, lesser priorities, inaccurate judgements of ourselves or others or the world or history or the cosmos!  And our minds, when they are “made up”, tend to dictate our actions. 

Richard Rohr has mused that it’s interesting that the ashes are placed on our foreheads, wondering about the need for conversion and turning located there – in our thoughts and minds.  Such changing after (metanoia) can only happen after.  And so this step presumes needing to go back to the first – the meeting the Good News – over and over and over again.  (Call it ongoing conversion, turning, evangelization… whatever the term, we need to go to it!)  The action of memory, of anamnesis, is particularly important for we humans with short attention and life spans.  Who is the God we met and meet?  Who am I in that meeting?  Who are we?  What is this all about?

If it is our thinking and perceiving that needs changing, it may be that we need devices to help us remember.  Symbols and images, sacraments and one line scripture verses, prayer cards and quotes, song lyrics and art pieces, reminders in nature or in our pockets – all of these may be helpful.  Eucharist, our thanksgiving and our remembering, particularly can wake us up to what we already hold and have encountered in the reality of now.  God knows our need to encounter over and over again the sacred mystery, and provides Real Presence to and with us, as we are taught with the Word. 

Our minds can also be changed through practices we take up and try on and, perhaps in time, make part of our living.  This has had some play in previous blog entries, and more options for planting practices will come in the next few days.  Stay tuned.

Third, believe – which means to set your heart by – the Good NewsAs has been explored previously to believe means to literally set our hearts by (see Feb. 11th blog on Setting Our Hearts… For Lent, For Life).  If we change our minds according to the encounter with the Good News, then this must not only be a change of perspective.  It must be the truth we set our hearts, our priorities, our actions, our life choices, by.  If it’s true, it’s everything.  No part of our lives can be immune to or set apart from the Good News.  This makes havoc of dichotomies and boundary making that isolate faith and life – in any aspect of our lives – work, relationships, money, commitments, political involvement, worldview, our bodies, our emotions, our behaviors.  If we are told to not only REPENT (change our minds) but BELIEVE (set our hearts by) THE GOOD NEWS, this means nothing can be left untouched by this news.  God embraces all, and we can set our lives by the truth that is God’s presence and action in us and with us. 

So, if you find yourself at Lent’s beginning wondering how to begin, consider these three invitations outlined above.  Go, meet and experience the Good News.  Let that encounter impact and change your mind – and work at that!  And determine to set your heart by the Good News you believe.  What that means in terms of some aspect of your life you choose to focus on today – a relationship, a habit, a perspective, work, family, time – I do not know.  But I know someone who wants to travel it with you.  Jesus is the companion of the Lenten journey for us all.  And may God’s Spirit provide light, gentleness and wisdom for each step.

Categories: General, Lent | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Setting Our Hearts – For Life, For Lent

Do you remember this – 844-1212?  When I was a kid, it was the phone number we called to get TIME.  If your watch had stopped, your clocks gone off because of an outage, or it was daylights savings time… you called in and got a recording.  “At the tone the time will be 8:14 and 20 seconds BEEEEEEP!”  When our clocks or watch were out of whack – and potentially ourselves too because of it – we called TIME to get reset.  It was an ongoing practice, this checking and resetting, ensuring that the ‘local authorities’ on time that dwelt on the walls of our homes or that we carried around on our wrists were synced with the ‘ultimate truth’ – Greenwich time, to the second!

Long ago I came across an etymology of the word faith or belief – literally to engage in the action of faith is “to set one’s heart”.  Our hearts – what is most core to us – have the frequent possibility of going a bit (or a lot) off course; becoming out of whack, out of tune, in need of correction or realignment.  We are like fragile, complex and fickle clocks whose time-keeping gets jarred easily.  We need some re-booting now and then, and perhaps even a little tinkering with our inner workings if we are in need of more repair.  That to which we set our hearts is not Greenwich time .  For the Christian, it is to the ‘content of faith’ embodied in the Gospel – the God revealed to us in Jesus – and the relationship and mission we are invited into living fully in cooperation with and embraced by the Trinity.  This is the truth to which we set our hearts.  And we set our hearts by the practices in which we engage.

Heady stuff, huh?

What I’m most interested in, as Lent approaches, is this dynamic of HEART-SETTING.  I believe it is an essential practice for people of faith.

The power of practices has been written about from a number of different starting points.  Here’s what I know.  What we practice is important.  Engaged in over time, doing certain things and training ourselves to think and behave in certain ways and patterns forms more than habits.  Practices form and shape our desires. 

Vincent Miller in his important work, Consuming Religion, used this basic example.  Reading the Sunday ads every week for an hour may be a weekly practice.  In some ways, this behavior trains us.  It affects what we hope for, wish for, dream about, desire.  It may impact how we judge our success or achievement, our relationships.  This does not mean don’t read the ads – but it does speak to being aware of the power of habits that become practices.

Practices are more than habits – they are activities we may even look forward to, once they are part of us, with a degree of hunger.  The day – the work project – the conversation –  is not complete unless I engage in this practice.  Saying something positive in every conversation, saying “I love you” to a family member at the end of any phone call, writing a thank you note every day to someone, counting our blessings each night – these are simple, but formative examples of practices that can shape our perspectives.  They are expressive of some truth and shape us.  Habits which become practices are like clothing we put on that becomes skin.  They become part of us, and they influence how we perceive the rest of life and with what sensitivities.

As the old saying goes, “practice makes perfect”.  Our practices deepen in us a certain way or perspective about life or values, and can impact our choices because they give shape to our desires.  So, it should be obvious that we need to pay attention to the practices we have developed over time, and be deliberate about the ones we want to shape us.

So, for Lent, I invite you – with me – to engage in actions that may become habits that may become practices that set our hearts.  We have rich examples of many of these in our Christian tradition, and you and I probably have some we have developed on our own journeys that are particularly helpful.  But I think Lent is a time especially to give attention to the actions we take to set our hearts on the WHO who loves us first. 

We DON’T engage in heart setting practices in order to earn God’s love.  Heresy!  We are already lovingly created and held in being, uniquely and particularly as ourselves.  In many ways, heart setting is for us, not for God.  We are happiest and whole when we work in accord with the way our loving Creator designed us.  Engaging in heart-setting practices helps us remember and get back and realign so that we can breathe and live more fully as who we most truly are.  And, when we do, we are also able to best engage in the mission of God in the world – to do our particular part in being light and life in the world for and with others, and serving them as God would wish.  If we “keep time well” by being well tuned, we can help others get back on beat too. 

So let’s consider what practices you and I might initiate or be more faithful to that function as ways to set and sync our hearts to what is true – to WHO is true.  In future posts, I’ll explore categories for these practices, as Ash Wednesday approaches.  Key questions for these next two weeks that may help in preparation for a Lenten attention to Heart-Setting:    

  • What do you notice about what you desire?
  • What actions, habits, practices reinforce these desires?
  • What is a desire that gets drowned out – not given enough play – that you would like to feed and grow in your life?
  • What actions, habits, practices might feed this desire?
  • What is God inviting you to? 

We may find there are practices we engage in that are SO life-giving and SO heart-setting that we just want to celebrate them.  We may need to pay more attention to the good that already exists, and be grateful and reinforce what is happening.  Or perhaps these wonderful practices need more room or space in our lives, and our Lenten journey calls for redistributing our resources in time or focus so that there is more space for this good.  And we may find that there are practices we have that are already part of our skin that do not serve us well, are not expressive of what we want to be or become, or that are at odds with what we say we believe.  We may need to shed that practice that has become like skin to us, which is difficult.  Like Eustace in C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader, we may have become something we hardly recognize – in Eustace’s case, a dragon, due to his greed!  And we may need Aslan’s (Christ’s) help in separating that dragon skin from us.  What a powerful image of the invitation to conversion and new freedom – and Christ’s joy and ours!  (See the book for more richness here than the movie!) 

So, dial in.  Don’t call 844-1212.  Try prayer and reflection and silence as the ‘call-in method’.  See if considering HEART-SETTING is part of what might be a Lenten invitation to you.  There will be reflections here that feed this.  Looking to Jesus and the practices that were his “skin” will be important.  Looking to the saints and Saints who are our special friends and witnesses will also inform.  But most, sink down deeply within and let the Spirit speak to your heart.  There you will find courage – couer-age – HEART – for the journey.

Categories: General, Lent | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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