Musings: August 2018

One true gift of God is the tension of struggle:

challenges that come out of nowhere just when you think the coast is clear;
the demon Comparison that threatens to anchor you always in the Desert of Lack;
besetting sins that cycle and re-cycle in a life that resembles an on-going game of Whack-a-Mole.

Up close, the struggle feels overwhelming, but taking one step back so the light of Truth can fall upon the day’s page, it becomes clear that struggle is evidence of life. Paul knew this in his bones, following up his Romans 7 howl (“For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”) with a Romans 8 rallying cry (“If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”).

The struggle is not for nothing.
Watching my grandson’s fervent pursuit of the ducks on Damariscotta Lake is a study in futility, for he is still learning that his feathered friends have the secret weapon of flight –which is not available to him. By contrast, the believer’s pursuit of righteousness is supported by every weapon in the Spirit’s arsenal.

Your struggle is exactly fitted to your soul,
your soul to it exactly fitted.

The mark of a sincere following life is struggle, but we do not struggle alone, and we do not struggle in vain.

The World of Words

Five books read and five books reviewed!

 

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Of course there’s always reading going on behind the scenes, and the number of books that have shown up in my mailbox this month tells me that this must be book launch season! I’ve been sharing my meandering through Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian in Community over on the Living Our Days Facebook page (which, by the way, passed the 500 followers mark this month, so thank you to everyone who gathers there!).Bonhoeffer Listening

Now I’m moving on to C.S. Lewis’s The Weight of Glory, and the edition I’m reading includes an introduction by Walter Hooper, Lewis’s assistant during his final days. He shares biographical insights I have not read elsewhere, and then, of course, Lewis’s incredible essays follow.

Capture

Desiring God very graciously shared an article that I wrote from the gleanings of one of our more challenging seasons of parenting. Based on John 17, it’s a call to prayer for our teens, and a reminder that when parents pray over an open Bible, the words of Scripture wrap themselves around the desires of our hearts and give us the words we don’t have. While you’re there, be sure to take advantage of their many helpful resources.

The Gardening Life

My basement shelves are filling up with shiny jars of spaghetti sauce, pickles, relish, green beans, salsa, and canned tomatoes. Much to the delight of our adorable grandson, we’re growing a bumper crop of cherry tomatoes this year, and in addition to squirreling away the bounty, it’s been a delight to have plenty to share with family and friends.

Around the Dining Room Table

The youngest son and I have already resumed the daily routine of homeschooling. This will be my last round of algebra and chemistry, and since he’s taking his English at the local community college, someone else will be singing the praises of the Oxford comma with him this year. God has used the rhythms and routines of homeschooling to speak patience into this flibbertigibbet of a soul with the reality that school happens one day, one subject at a time, and the thick textbook that looks so intimidating in September is conquered by showing up and doing the few things required on any given day.

Standing with you in the freedom of the struggle,

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase any of the books mentioned in this recap post, simply click on the image below, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Madeleine L’Engle and the Practice of Believing

A week of teaching children in a backyard Bible club can have a clarifying effect on one’s theology. Just exactly what is it that happened in Zaccheus’s heart when he changed from being a dirty rotten tax collector to a repentant and honorable Christ-follower? When Jesus spoke to Saul on the road to Damascus, how did he just stop believing one thing and start believing something quite the opposite? However it happened, it would appear that both of these iconic New Testament characters became really good at believing. But how to describe this in terms that are meaningful to an eight-year-old . . . ?  Practice.

Children know about practice, because there is so much in this world that they need to master:  reading and writing; throwing a baseball into the strike zone; making a foul shot most of the time; playing scales; fingering an instrument.
But it’s not only children who need practice in believing, and in A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L’Engle, Author of A Wrinkle in Time, Sarah Arthur has reached into the store house of accumulated wisdom from Madeleine L’Engle’s life to help readers along in the practice of believing. Always a champion of the genius of “and” — and a detractor of the tyranny of “or”– L’Engle’s life story is framed around some of the seeming contradictions she embraced in her writing as well as in her own practice of believing:

Icon and Iconoclast

It is ironic with her tremendous word count on the difference between idols and icons that Madeleine L’Engle managed to become both in her 88 year sojourn on this planet. As an icon, she pointed her readers’ hearts toward the God she also loved, but her prodigious output and her words of wisdom on the writing life made her, unwittingly, an idol to many. As an iconoclast, she seemed to delight in exposing the uncomfortable places around faith as she explored the troubling questions and invited  everyone from the “fundalits” to the practical atheists into a reasoned and imaginative place to stand.

Sacred and Secular

“There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest messages of the Incarnation.”  (35)

Madeleine’s fictional characters quoted Scripture, and she was noted in the publishing world as a “practicing Christian,” and yet A Wrinkle in Time ended up on the banned books list–as well as receiving the Newbery. She was both lionized and pilloried by both secular and sacred audiences. This must be the price for having set her sights on setting people free “from binary thinking about how God chooses to engage the world.” (45)

Story and Truth

Coming from a family of story tellers, story was a powerful element in L’Engle’s life, and her understanding of the Bible as truth was shaped by her gratitude that she “was able to read the Book with the same wonder and joy with which [she had] read The Ice Princess or The Tempest.” (55) She embraced passionately the idea that truth is embodied in story and lived out in our own personal narratives through our use of language and imagination.

Faith and Science

L’Engle readers are well-acquainted with the story of her first exposure to the night sky, being lifted from her crib and taken outside to behold the stars. She was profoundly shaped by the moment, which led to a life time of “star-gazing rocks,” and a mindset that allowed science to inform her faith and to enhance her (and her readers’!) understanding that the heavens really do declare the glory of God.

Religion and Art

L’Engle’s compelling plot lines carried theological questions, explored issues around the meaning of life, and in many ways, her art was the vehicle through which she worked out her own “cosmic questions.” As a mother who still finds it difficult to fit writing into my life as either a ministry or as an art form, I have been encouraged by the way she found writing to be a form of worship, a thought which has impacted my own view of writing as an offering to God.

Fact and Fiction

Sarah Arthur references a 2004 New Yorker profile of Madeleine L’Engle in which the memoir of her marriage (Two-Part Invention), is debunked as wishful thinking. I had also read the article, and at the time I mourned — for the loss of a beautiful story and for the sadness of L’Engle’s wanting. The fervency of her belief in the rock solidness of her marriage and the fidelity of her husband (in the face of all evidence to the contrary) communicates something of the intensity of her longing for it. Her willing embrace of a fictionalized personal reality spilled over into her mothering as well:  Could her son just please stay a precocious five-year-old with an amusing vocabulary and stop being a middle-aged alcoholic with a depleted liver?

Readers have a choice at this point: Let Madeleine-the-idol crash to the ground — or make of her failing an icon. My own writing and ministry life have been formed by her cautionary tale, purposefully delaying any substantive foray into writing until my children were older and forcing myself to ask hard questions before sharing my life on this country hill:  Am I idealizing things here? Would my husband and kids recognize the life I’m describing? Would they recognize me?

I was not prepared for my visceral response to A Light So Lovely. Reading with shallow breath and a lump in my throat, I turned pages as if reading news of a loved one, gone for a long season and greatly missed. As Meg declared in The Wind in the Door, believing does take practice. Like finger exercises on the piano, Madeleine L’Engle wrote her way toward a deep belief in some ideas that were false, but many more that were true and admirable. Drawn by her words toward the Light so lovely, let’s commit ourselves to showing up, to serving the work to which we are called, and to anchoring our souls in the practice of believing.

 

Many thanks to Zondervan for providing this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with complete honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L’Engle, Author of A Wrinkle in Time, simply click on the title (or the image) here or within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Ever pursuing the Loveliest of Lights,

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Word Made Flesh — A Celebration of Reading for Advent

In the month of December, the Christmas story often stands alone, lifted with huge parentheses out of the New Testament — maybe delivered in Linus’s hushed boy soprano, and then tucked away with the durable resin nativity set and the white twinkly lights until next year. It’s a great story, so it’s easy to see why authors of every creed are drawn to its rich narrative.  Left in context, of course, it holds a pivotal place in redemptive history, and since it is a Word that was given to us (John 1:14), it is natural to use words and the magic of story to give substance to our celebration.

For me, every holiday is made more festive by the inclusion of books that heighten my understanding and appreciation of the occasion and that encourage me to enter in, to be present to the beauty. That’s why I’m sharing a collection of books that will bring the sacred into your everyday celebration of Advent. Click on over to the Redbud Post to read a joyful sprinkling of content from A.W. Tozer, Madeleine L’Engle, Sarah Arthur, and Luci Shaw.

Letting our hearts rejoice in the incarnation reminds us that even within the hectic pace and hoopla of Christmas celebration, we, too, can make the Word become flesh once again, in our lives and in our deeds.

I hope you’ll join me, and may your heart be encouraged in joy!

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The Head and Heart Behind Narnia

The Romantic Rationalistedited by John Piper and David Mathis:  A Book Review

Even though he died over fifty years ago;

Even though he was an atheist during his early adult life;

Even though, as a confirmed Anglican churchman, he never jumped onto the evangelical bandwagon, C.S. Lewis’s popularity as an author is greater today than at any time during his life.  John Piper attributes this to his “utter commitment to both the life of the mind and the life of the heart,” and has compiled a comprehensive tribute to and analysis of Lewis’s contribution to the shaping of the evangelical mindset.  Because he has partnered with four other Lewis scholars, each chapter of the book brings a fresh perspective on the life, theology and writing of “the patron saint of evangelicalism.”

Philip Ryken on Inerrancy:  If anyone ever has a beef against Lewis, it’s probably related to his doctrine of Scripture (unless they won’t read him at all because he smoked and drank alcohol).  Ryken is clear on Lewis’s most important theological shortcoming:  he “placed the inspiration of Scripture on a continuum with other forms of literary inspiration, thus downplaying to some degree the uniqueness of the Bible.”  Add to this the fact that he “believed there were contradictions and probably errors in the Bible,”  and that he “doubted or denied that certain parts of the Bible were historical,” and you have to wonder how C.S. Lewis has gained his rock star status among conservative evangelicals.   Oddly enough, Lewis came into criticism from liberals of his day because he was committed to the veracity of the accounts of miracles in the Bible, specifically the resurrection of Jesus Christ.    While I acknowledge the fact of his suborthodox stand on Scripture, Lewis’s story of Aslan’s charge to Jill Pole to remember the signs, to repeat them morning and night, to get them word-perfect so she would have them ready when needed is always my go-to story when I need a strong illustration of the importance of Scripture in the Christian life.  Clearly, Lewis had a high view of Scripture and lived a better theology than he knew when it comes to the importance of biblical truth for discipleship.

Douglas Wilson on Soteriology:  The question in this chapter is:  Was Lewis “reformed” in his understanding of God and salvation?  Wilson comes down on a solid “probably” here, but, of more importance is his exploration of Lewis’s magnificent portrayal of the undragoning of Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, as well as his analysis of the masterful storytelling by which Lewis created a world where we see Truth more clearly for the unfamiliarity of the setting.  Sarah Arthur has said many things well, and this is one:  “When the front door of reason is locked and double-bolted against the gospel, . . . the back door of the imagination often stands wide open.”  This is Lewis’s shining contribution to the conversation on salvation, and the fact that he did not claim to be a theologian at all seems to make the question of whether or not he was “reformed” a case of measuring a mile in ounces.

Kevin Vanhoozer on Imagination:  Laying the foundation of C.S. Lewis’s awakening to the truth of Christ through the baptism of his imagination, largely from the influence of George MacDonald’s writing, Vanhoozer makes a fascinating case for the role of imagination in discipleship and theology.  As a disciple, Lewis was, in the words of one biographer, “the most thoroughly converted person he ever met.”  As a theologian, he was a committed amateur who loved the map that theology provided for being “taken into the life of God.”   He put reason (“the organ of truth”) and imagination (“the organ of meaning”) in their most useful relationship to one another through his use of story.  His body of writing promoted a Biblical imagination, which, in Vanhoozer’s words, “sees reality as it truly is.”

Randy Alcorn on Heaven:  Better than Alcorn’s examination of the end of all things in the Revelation and his enlightening clarification of the term “new earth”; even better than his references to the Chronicles of Narnia — which paint the most compelling picture of the afterlife that I have ever read — is Randy’s own story of finding C.S. Lewis and thereby finding Christ.  The account of his hunger for truth and its satiation is (for me) the most important part of this collection of essays.

John Piper on the Use of Creation:  “[God] likes matter.  He invented it.”  Beginning with this Lewis-truth, Piper urges his readers to join C.S. Lewis in enjoying all the good and enjoyable things that God has made and to do so with thanksgiving.  When we do, it becomes an act of worship, for God has given to us Himself in all of creation.  This is not Pantheism, nor is it true that a shriveled and ascetic approach to all that is good in this world is a higher holiness.  The wisdom of C.S. Lewis is that Aslan (who is good, but certainly not safe) has given all the delights of His creation so that, by enjoying them, our eyes would turn to the Giver and our hearts would long to go “further up and further in” that we might know Him better.

For my review of another recommended biography of C.S. Lewis, click here: https://michelemorin.wordpress.com/2014/07/03/this-is-not-that-kind-of-biography/

Slow Christmas

Light Upon Light

Compiled by Sarah Arthur:  A Book Review

The problem with reviewing a book like Light Upon Light is that Sarah Arthur has done such a fine job explaining her purpose in the introduction that anything I say feels superfluous.  As a guide to prayer during the season of Advent, she has compiled a rich assortment of poetry and prose from long ago and far away as well as from down the road and practically yesterday.

“Finding the works for this collection, discovering some of these authors and poets, has been like lighting one candle after another.  Flame upon flame, light upon light, until the hallowed sanctuary of our quiet devotion becomes something of a shrine.”

And that’s exactly how it feels to read it and savor it, day by day, through the dark of December.

The readings are arranged into eighteen sections for four weeks of Advent, one for Christmas Eve, one for Christmas Day, two for the following Sundays, one for Epiphany and nine for the following weeks of Epiphany. Flexibility is the name of the game, so this is not another holiday straight-jacket, but, instead, a warm, comforting sweater.  Each reading has a suggested prayer, a psalm and suggested Scriptures, an assortment of readings to add flame upon flame, and then a suggested closing prayer.  The index of contributors is a valuable resource for further reading of favorite authors, or for answering the burning question, “Who wrote these gorgeous words?”

Partake of Light Upon Light like a delectable Christmas treat.  Let the words waft over you like the aroma of Christmas tea and hot cider.  Slow down your Christmas and find the Holy that has been right there all along.