Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Prayer as the unity of life

Prayer as unity of personal life

Abraham Kuyper:

In prayer lies not only our unity with God, but also the unity of our personal life.

Prayer as a struggle for the highest will of God: Personal unity in God, for transformation

P. T. Forsyth notes that there are many obstacles to the deepening of spiritual life. Among these obstacles he says that resignation to the easy, apparent will of God is perhaps the chief stumbling block to deep spiritual life.

The obstacle…which I desire to name here…is prayer conceived merely, or chiefly, as submission, resignation, quietism. We say too soon, "Thy will be done"; and too ready acceptance of a situation as His will often means feebleness or sloth. It may be His will that we surmount His will. It may be His higher will that we resist His lower. Prayer is an act of will much more than of sentiment, and its triumph is more than acquiescence. Let us submit when we must, but let us keep the submission in reserve rather than in action, as a ground tone rather than the stole effort. Prayer with us has largely ceased to be wrestling. But is that not the dominant scriptural idea? It is not the sole idea, but is it not the dominant? And is not our subdued note often but superinduced and unreal?

Forsyth goes on to say that real, biblical prayer is prayer that is called into the will of God, actually struggling through the ‘permissive’ levels of life, natural states of people around us, to the highest will of God: a struggle until the blessing is conveyed, but, paradoxically, a struggle destined and called forth by grace.

This is a high view of prayer as miracle, prayer as delighting in God’s highest will and refusing to settle for lesser will – painful at times, but affecting supernatural change.

If we are guided by the Bible we have much ground for this view of prayer. Does not Christ set more value upon importunity than on submission? "Knock, and it shall be opened." I would refer also not only to the parable of the unjust judge, but to the incident of the Syrophenician woman, where her wit, faith, and importunity together did actually change our Lord's intention and break His custom. And, there is Paul beseeching the Lord thrice for a boon; and urging us to be instant, insistent, continual in prayer. We have Jacob wrestling. We have Abraham pleading, yea, haggling, with God for Sodom. We have Moses interceding for Israel and asking God to blot his name out of the book of life, if that were needful to save Israel. We have Job facing God, withstanding Him, almost bearding Him, and extracting revelation. And we have Christ's own struggle with the Father in Gethsemane.

It is a wrestle on the greatest scale -- all personhood taxed as in some great war, or some great negotiation of State. And the effect is exhaustion often. No, the result of true, prayer is not always peace!

Not always "peace," but unity with God!

Let us consider and be wise...and change our world.


Wednesday, July 20, 2005

In great deeds something abides

In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls.

I can't escape the Civil War, recently. Specifically, the Battle of Gettysburg. For some reason it keeps coming to me -- there is some great lesson for me in it all, so I'm trying to learn and listen.

It started innocently, with a phone call from my brother, asking advice regarding a mutual friend who has been seeing apparitions near Gettysburg. [That is a fascinating story in itself, but not the subject of my post.] Anyway, that phone call began a series of 'Gettysburg facts' over the last few weeks, related to Providence at the battle. I guess I'd never realized the level of Divine intervention, not only in the battle, but in the exact preparation of persons and events for the battle. Phenomenal and amazing. I now have a list of over 14 specific things, that, if any single one of them would have been different, the outcome of the battle would have been different.

One aspect of this Divine intervention is the story of Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain and the 20th Maine, under General Vincent. Chamberlain's story is riveting: theological student, fluent in the biblical languages, brilliant mind...who sensed the call to sign up, and mastered military prowess in the process. By no accident, he drilled the 20th Maine into one of the most disciplined units in the war, training them in technique and perseverance. And, again no Divine timing, they force-marched 24 miles through the night to get to Gettysburg [by the morning of the 2nd day]. Then, they *coincidentally* marched right to the most strategic place on the battlefield, without orders. Following their intrepid General Vincent, they went straight to Little Round Top -- which had been left unprotected -- and took up a vulnerable position on the left Union flank. Vincent immediately grasped the crucial nature of the position, and told Chamberlain to 'hold the ground at all hazards,' i.e. hold it till the death. In less than 10 minutes, they were attacked.

The little 20th Maine held this position against all odds, 3-1 or 4-1 odds, with little sleep, and not enough ammunition. Taking 35 percent casualties, they yet held the line, Chamberlain wounded, leaning on his sword to stand and inspire the men. During the fight, the 20th performed two extremely difficult maneuvers, under fire...eventually sweeping the field, charging with fixed bayonets when their ammo ran out, capturing twice their fighting numbers in prisoners -- battle hardened Alabama boys yielding to a thin blue line that had no ammunition! In retrospect, had they cracked, had they not succeeded, the Union flank would have rolled up...the Battle of Gettysburg potentially lost.

Here is a snippet of the battle, in Chamberlain's words:
The enemy seemed to have gathered all their energies for their final assault. We had gotten our thin line into as good a shape as possible, when a strong force emerged from the scrub wood in the valley, as well as I could judge, in two lines in echelon by the right, and, opening a heavy fire, the first line came on as if they meant to sweep everything before them. We opened on them as well as we could with our scanty ammunition snatched from the field.
It did not seem possible to withstand another shock like this now coming on. Our loss had been severe. One-half of my left wing had fallen, and a third of my regiment lay just behind us, dead or badly wounded. At this moment my anxiety was increased by a great roar of musketry in my rear, on the farther or northerly slope of Little Round Top, apparently on the flank of the regular brigade, which was in support of Hazlett's battery on the crest behind us. The bullets from this attack struck into my left rear, and I feared that the enemy might have nearly surrounded the Little Round Top, and only a desperate chance was left for us. My ammunition was soon exhausted. My men were firing their last shot and getting ready to “club” their muskets.
It was imperative to strike before we were struck by this overwhelming force in a hand-to-hand fight, which we could not probably have withstood or survived. At that crisis, I ordered the bayonet. The word was enough. It ran like fire along the line, from man to man, and rose into a shout, with which they sprang forward upon the enemy, now not 30 yards away. The effect was surprising; many of the enemy's first line threw down their arms and surrendered. An officer fired his pistol at my head with one hand, while he handed me his sword with the other. Holding fast by our right, and swinging forward our left, we made an extended “right wheel,” before which the enemy's second line broke and fell back, fighting from tree to tree, many being captured, until we had swept the valley and cleared the front of nearly our entire brigade.

Some of Chamberlain's men, and some of the captured Alabama boys, said that the ghost of General Washington fought with Chamberlain that day. Who knows about that? Simply reading the recorded destiny at work in Chamberlain is incredible, on its own. It is easy to see that God prepared him 'for such a moment as this' -- an Esther who changed history in the court of death. His acts on the battlefield were more than courageous, they were inspired.

One military analyst said this about Chamberlain's actions:
When I consider all that Gettysburg represents, the battle comes down to a few key lessons. But perhaps the most important occurred on the second day. Col. Joshua Chamberlain and his 20th Maine were the extreme flank of the Union Army, and as the afternoon sun of July 2 began to fade into evening, the 14th Alabama gathered itself for one last assault on the rear of the Little Round Top. If the 20th Maine gave way, the Confederates would literally have been in position to roll up the side.

Chamberlain's genius was manifested that day when he demonstrated a keen understanding of the moment – an understanding of such clarity that few will experience it in a lifetime. Faced with insurmountable odds, he could not stand and fight, for he would be overwhelmed, and he could not retreat, for that would expose the entire army's flank. So, he ordered 'fix bayonets' and swept a superior foe from the field, leading a charge, which became immortal. The lesson? Audacity and courage of conviction. Providence willing, none of us will face such a supreme moment. But, if we do, knowing the story of Little Round Top may just be the insight, the lesson, that pulls us through. We speak and write about core values, but these men left a legacy that transcends our poor attempts to verbalize and give meaning. A lesson in leadership to which we should all aspire.

Amen to that!

But I think that the final word, the final lesson is best given in the words of Chamberlain himself. On October 3rd, 1889 he spoke at Gettysburg, in dedicating the Maine monuments. There he tried to describe the immortal valor, the sacrificial deeds that remain, long after their performance:
In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls. And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.

Wow. In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls.

The good that we do, for the kingdom, will never die. Our prayers live before the throne. Our faithful actions endure throughout generations, echoing the Name in which they were done, continuing the great work for which they were offered...


Sunday, July 17, 2005

Boethius: Poems on happiness

The Consolation of Philosophy

Philosophy speaks:


The man who wants to sow a fertile field must first clear the ground of brush, then cut out the ferns and brambles with his sharp hook, so that new grain may grown abundantly.

Honey is sweeter to the taste if the mouth has first tried bitter flavors. Stars shine more brightly after Notus has stopped his rainy blasts. Only after Hesperas has driven away the darkness does day drive forward his splendid horses.

Just so, by first recognizing false goods, you begin to escape the burden of their influence; then afterwards true goods may gain possession of your spirit.


The man who wishes to be powerful must check his desires; he must not permit himself to be overcome by lust, or submit to its foul reins.

For though your rule extends so far that India trembles before you and Ultima Thule serves you, if you cannot withstand [darkness], and live without wretched moaning, you have no power.


The whole race of men on this earth springs from one stock. There is one Father of all things; One alone provides for all. He gave Phoebus his rays, the moon its horns. To earth He gave men; to the sky, the stars. He clothed with bodies the souls He brought from heaven.

Thus all [humans] come from noble origin. Why then boast of your ancestors? If you consider your beginning, and God your Maker, no one is base unless he deserts his birthright and makes himself a slave to vice.


Prayer: Grant, O Father, that my mind may rise to Thy sacred throne. Let it see the fountain of good; let it find light, so that the clear light of my soul may fix itself in Thee. Burn off the fogs and clouds of earth and shine through in Thy splendor. For Thou art the serenity, the tranquil peace of virtuous [humans]: The sight of Thee is beginning and end; One guide, leader, path and goal.


Hidalgo: A horse worth riding

A really neat time Friday night, with Mom -- dinner and a movie. It's not often we get to spend quality time together, so we cherished a few hours in between my trip from WV and return to Chicago. We enjoyed a nice dinner of tomatoes, cucumbers and onions, whole wheat bread, a special chicken dish she makes, and homemade veggie soup. Then we watched Hidalgo [it was either that or The Mummy, which I had already seen, lol].

I was a bit skeptical on the quality of the movie, since the critics had killed it. But -- do I need to say this? Sometimes the critics get it all wrong. And boy, were they wrong on Hidalgo. Or, maybe I'm just a sucker for good movies about horses and dogs, lol. But in my opinion, the movie is excellent.

There are several themes that run throughout the movie which make it very redemptive. The main storyline is about a man trying to find himself, an iron man with an iron horse, who rides 'far away from himself' in life [loosely based on the real life story of Frank T. Hopkins]. His Native name is Blue Boy, but others call him "Far Rider," which he is called not so much because he can ride far and win races, but because he is far from himself...struggling to come to grips with his Native-American ancestry, the past crimes against his Native people, and his inability to make a difference. He slowly dies inside, feeling powerless and trapped. He hides himself in caricature and alcohol...but then a challenge comes to race again -- this time for a lot of money, and this time in Arabia, across 3,000 miles of desert and hatred. The race is more likely to take his life than give him a prize, but either way he wants to be free.

It's a story of personal redemption, the story of a beautiful horse and a true man...who discovers himself in an ocean of burning sand. He is forced by destiny and accept his heritage and live the hero in his soul.

In my opinion, the story is well done. The critics called it cliched and sentimental, but I'll bet none of them have ever wrestled with the inner angst of a man like Far Rider. And I'll just say this: Viggo Mortensen pulls off this lonely, conflicted character about a million times better than Kevin Costner's attempts at the same...and the critics gave Costner a pass [in his weak attempt at Dances with Wolves].

Hidalgo is a great story of Native man and horse, with subplots of Providence: good vs. evil, fatalism vs. partnership with Creator, divine meaning in details...for good.

Mom and I enjoyed it, thoroughly. If that's not reason enough to watch it, why, send me a memo. :-)

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Blogging the Pennsylvania hills

Today I took my mother for a drive through Amish farms. We stopped at a dry goods store, taking care not to park the truck on the buggy section! :-) I got some great deals on dried vegetables and shelled walnuts, hazelnuts and other nuts...literally half the price of what I pay in Chicago for the same items.

We then stopped at a farm where a fresh produce sign hung at the end of a gravel lane. We drove back the lane along well-tended fields, and pulled up to a building with fresh produce...tended by a kind-countenanced woman with several fair-haired children 'helping' her. A black dog moved out of the way so I could park, and I stepped out and whistled softly, it came over and I petted it...made a new friend instantly! Then I bought several containers of fresh tomotoes and cucumbers, enough to do us for the week. Mom and I talked to the lady behind the counter, while the children smiled shyly and listened. She told us where to find fresh corn, newly harvested that day, and we continued on the way. I placed the produce in the bed of my truck, helped Mom in and then pulled out. The young girls ran out and smiled, waving goodbye, with their little brother, too young to talk, waving furiously too...skinned nose and all, just beaming.

A pastoral scene, something right about it. Mom remarked of the wholeness, and I mentioned something to her of the philosophy of C. S. Lewis, who once said that people need to be on the land, caring for it, and feeding from it. He said that dysfunction increases the further one gets from the land. I also observed that the Amish way of life is an attempt to conquer the chaotic force that pervades our world, the 'principalities and powers' of demonic monster Rahav that ever and always opposes Creation order. Mom agreed, and then her eyes glazed over a bit from the *heavy* concepts. It was a good moment, though, in spite of my philosophizing. :-) [And the tomotoes are GREAT!]

Just a great moment, being with her and seeing a 'sanctuary place' from the storms of life, seeing what can be when one creates safe haven for a family or group of children...

Anyway, have to cut this short because I'm speaking tomorrow at the hometown PA church...and then driving to WV for a youth camp. For all those who believe in prayer, I would deeply appreciate your prayers for physical and spiritual strength and wholeness, purity for the days ahead.

I'll try to blog some photos from WV camp area, but until then, good nite and God bless!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The calling and gifting of God

Abraham and Sarah as examples of true faith

Even though it was due to Abraham’s particular situation that he was commanded to leave his own country and go to a distant land, and God led him from place to place, nonetheless these words symbolize the calling that all of us receive. We are not simply commanded to leave our country, we are commanded to deny ourselves. We are not commanded to leave our father’s house, but to bid farewell to our own will and to the desire of our human nature. And [whatever things] hinder us from following God, we must forsake them all.

Abraham was simply commanded to depart, and we are also commanded to do so under certain conditions. If in any place we cannot serve God, we must choose to go into exile rather than to stay in our nest, inactive and depressed.

Therefore, let us keep the example of Abraham before our eyes. He is the father of all the faithful, and was tested and tried in every way. Yet he forgot his own country, his friends, and even himself so that he might yield himself completely to God (Rom. 4:16-17).

If we want to be numbered among God’s children, we must not fall short of the example of Abraham [and Sarah].

Acts 7:3, Commentary

Abraham and Sarah are an example of the vocation in us all. For in them we perceive that, by the mere mercy of God, those things which are not are raised from nothing, in order that they may begin to be something.

Genesis 12:1ff, Commentary

God gifts and calls us so that His glory may shine through us

“That you may declare…”

Peter carefully points out the goal of our calling…to move us to give glory to God. The sum of what he says is that God has favored us with these immense benefits which He constantly manifests to us, in order that His glory might be known through us. By “virtues” he means wisdom, goodness, power, righteousness and everything else in which the glory of God shines forth. It also behooves us to these virtues not only by our tongue but also by our whole life. This teaching ought to be the subject of daily meditation…something that we continually remember. Indeed, all God’s blessings which He gives us are intended for this purpose – that His glory might be proclaimed through us.

1 Peter 2:9, Commentary

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Meditation on lilies

Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these…

How is the lily superior to the glory of Solomon?

Solomon’s coffers were filled with literally thousands of tons of gold. He had so much silver that its value plunged during his reign, replacing tin and cheap metals in common usage. His storage overflowed with the most expensive spices and cedar wood. He owned so many horses that he created a vast underground stable complex to house them. And wives? Well, we know about that. He took 700 wives and 300 concubines: 1,000 women at beck and call.

How then is it said that a fragile lily, opening and bending with the sun, is greater in glory than Solomon? Isn’t this crazy talk?

It would seem so, except for the fact that it is Jesus who says these words!

When Jesus says ‘consider the lilies,’ He uses a word which means ‘to see with the mind, to see with the soul.’ In other words, if we can see with our heart, with our soul, there is a lesson in the lily, in the birds of the air and flowers of the field, which sits in judgment of Solomon…and all who take Solomon’s path.

Kierkegaard gives us a clue to this inner meaning: “In nature all is obedience, unconditional obedience.”

D. Anthony Storm comments:
The lilies and the birds obey God naturally. They do exactly what they were created to do without wavering. Since we have volition and intelligence -- not to mention a divided and corrupt nature -- we need to learn obedience. The lilies and birds are thus teachers of obedience by example.

Jesus says more:
If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith? And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things.

Solomon turned toward the strivings of the world. Solomon turned his wisdom toward what is worn, what is eaten, tasted and pleasurable, and it became foolishness: light became darkness.

The birds of the field, however, turn toward Creator. The lilies turn toward the provision of God’s rain and sun. In that they are true to their creation.

And here they trump Solomon.

For something in the opulence of Solomon went against his creation intention: in exercise of natural self he violated his true-intended self. Therefore the simplicity and poverty of the flower ranks far ahead of the glory of Solomon…and the dependent, soaring bird teaches more obedience than the life of Solomon.

Solomon made empirical identity into a false self, where his 'own self became the obstacle to realizing his true self' [Merton]. His glory became, not the glory of true self in obedience to Creator, but the glory of another. And so it became less than lilies.

Solomon exercised self for possessions and killed his true, creation self.

The lilies exercise daily, utter dependence on God, and so teach us the path to true self: abandonment to kingdom.

So Jesus applies the sermon: But seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.

Seek the kingdom, wholeheartedly. Trust and open to the Son, like flowers of the field, drinking rain and life from Father's hand. Live and fly, trusting the air of the Spirit beneath your wings, as a hopeful bird...following out creation call.

Herein is the wisdom of the lily!

God grant it to our hearts.



Lord Jesus, teach me to be like a lily, daily growing in You, opening to your morning sun, and resting in your sustaining rain, your healing dew. In your name I pray, Amen.

Lord Jesus, set my nature at one with You, cause me to be my true You, and with nature I will rise to obedience, unconditional obedience, Amen.

Lord Jesus, save me from the trap of Solomon, that would make an idol out of false self and call it true self. Let me consider the lily and so seek first your kingdom! In your name, strong Son of God, healing Sun of Righteousness, I pray, Amen.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Kierkegaard: Prayers to the Father


Father in Heaven! When the thought of Thee wakes in our hearts, let it not waken like a frightened bird that flies about in dismay, but like a child waking from its sleep with a heavenly smile.


And at times, O Lord, when Thou seemest not to hear my voice, my plaint, my sigh, my thanksgiving, I will even then continue to pray to Thee until Thou hearest my thanksgiving because Thou hast heard me!


Grant that our prayer be not like the flower which today is and tomorrow is cast into the oven, not like the flower even though in magnificence it surpasses the glories of Solomon.


And if one says that earthly love makes one eloquent, how much greater reason for saying the love one bears for Thee will make us eloquent, Thou who formed the mouth of humans for the word!


Lord! Make our heart Thy temple in which Thou wouldst live. Grant that every impure thought, every earthly desire might be like the idol Dagon – each morning broken at the feet of the Ark of the Covenant. Teach us to master flesh and blood and let this mastery of ourselves be our bloody sacrifice in order that we might be able to say with the Apostle: “I die daily.”


Our Father, be near to us with Thy power so that we may feel a joyous assurance of heart that Thou art not far from us, but that we live and move and have our being in Thee.


Yes, Lord, we would turn our thoughts and our soul toward Thy will, for Thou art the One who raises up and casts down – we turn toward Thee, our Father who art in Heaven!




Selections from Perry D. LeFevre, The Prayers of Kierkegaard: Edited and With a New Interpretation of His Life and Thought (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956), 48-54.