Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ponder: "according to his own great goodness"

“Shall I withhold a little money or food from my fellow-creature, for fear he should not be good enough to receive it of me? Do I beg of God to deal with me, not according to my merit, but according to his own great goodness; and should I be so absurd, as to with-hold my charity from a poor brother, because he may perhaps not deserve it?  Shall I use measure toward him, which I pray God never to use toward me.”

William Law, A Serious Call, qtd. in Stranks, Anglican Devotion, 185-6.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Ponder: "the means whereby we enter into its bounty"

“Traherne’s devotion to the cross sprang from seeing it the final proof of the nature of God, a nature which had been indicated in all the Divine actions wherever we may look, in the world around us, into our own best thoughts, into the history of man’s redemption, everywhere is to be seen an ever-broadening stream of love.  The cross is both the demonstration of that love and the means whereby we enter into its bounty.  Traherne’s eyes are not fixed upon the damnation from which the passion of Christ saves mankind, but on the felicity into which it admits us.  We learn to prize our own nature by thus seeing the value that God sets upon it.  So our deepest repentance must be for having failed to love and our prayer that we may love more fully.”

C. J. Stranks, Anglican Devotion, 105-6.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Ponder: prayer as "a natural activity of the soul"

“With the dignity, even austerity of the Prayer Book there goes also a basic simplicity which is not affected by the richness of its language. Its prayers are the expression of a filial relationship between a child and his father—a weak, sinful and erring child, a Father of infinite majesty and power, but still a child and a father.  Their language is the direct address of a person talking with a person.  Because of this view, which has been learned from the Bible, Anglican writers have little to say about complicated techniques of devotion; they are content to accept prayer as a natural activity of the soul, as ordinary in its way as converse between human beings.  There must of course be a keen awareness of the overwhelming greatness of the Being who is approached, and a corresponding sense of the unworthiness of the one who is drawing near.  So vast a difference in the capacities of the two may lead to seeming disappointments, to hesitations and doubts s a man is led through ways which he is incapable of understanding at the time, but love, faith, and perseverance will prove the unfailing goodness of God toward us in the end.”

C. J. Stranks, Anglican Devotion, 276-7

The Frog Hollow of Palestine

“When the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word.”  St. John 4:40-41

I’ve seen the sign on the left-hand side of the Harper’s Ferry Road: “Frog Hollow, the Moonshine Capitol of the World.”  I think it’s a bit tamer down in the Hollow these days than it was during the height of Prohibition, when a man would sit watch on the bridge on a summer’s night in case a revenue agent came creeping down the road with an axe and an ultimatum from the IRS. 

Until it burned down a few years ago, though, the center of community life in the hollow was the Mad Dog Saloon.  They say the floors were dirt and they traded in canned beer out of a Coleman cooler, when the locally produced wares weren’t being passed around.  Saturday nights were punctuated with ambulance calls, when one of the hollow boys was wont to get a bit dramatic with the cue stick.  I lived for two years in Sharpsburg, just five miles away. But I never had the guts to cross the threshold of the Mad Dog and see if all the stories were really true.

Ponder: morality with "a continual view of the immensities"

“Morality which is uninspired by a continual view of the immensities which lie beyond it becomes cold and unattractive, and may lead to a deadly self-satisfaction, which inhibits all spiritual progress.  It is certain that in religion above all else, ‘a man’s reach must exceed his grasp,’ and of this, a majority of our teachers are well aware.  But it is equally certain that any system of religion which treats temperance, soberness and chastity as objects of less regard than emotional indulgence, ecclesiastical correctitude or even a far-spreading humanitarianism, is dying at the heart.  A devotion which is rooted in the Bible will never ignore the claims of personal morality.  There it is made unmistakably clear that a righteous God demands righteousness in his worshippers.” 
C. J. Stranks, Anglican Devotion, 285-6.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Limiting Your Options

“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Begone, Satan! for it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”  St. Matthew 4:10

It was great to see last week that my college friend John has finally gotten engaged.  I found out the way the way you often do about these things when you’re my age, when a notice popped up halfway down my Facebook feed.  I haven’t seen John in two or three years, but he seemed about the same, his arm around a beautiful woman.  Both of them looked delighted, and frankly, a little relieved.

John’s all of 38 now, and after a conversation I had with him the last time we were together, I doubted that this day would ever come.  He was kind enough to put me up for the night in his apartment in Hell’s Kitchen the last time I was in New York.  John works in mergers and acquisitions at a big bank, knows a bit about everything, and has friends all over town.  Still no steady girlfriend, though. 

 “You don’t understand what it’s like dating here in the City,” John said to me over his plate of souvlaki.   A few months before he had signed up for Tinder, which was the hottest thing in dating technology at the time.  Tinder is sort of like internet matchmaking on steroids.  It sets up a date for you first thing in the morning by text message and you have an hour or two to decide if you’re in the mood for this option or if you’d like to try someone else instead.  

John had lots of dates.  I expect he had turned down two or three to have dinner with me. 

A Place in the Order of Things

My grandfather died two weeks ago, a few months short of his 89th birthday, in the same room where he was born. Most every night of his long life, he slept under the same roof, in the farmhouse where his parents had settled just after their marriage.

Historically speaking, this kind of stability is unremarkable. But in modern America, where the average person moves 11.4 times in a lifetime, it would be difficult to compute just how rare it is. My eldest son, who just turned eight, has already lived in four different homes, in three different states.

My grandfather also died a farmer, as had his father before him, and his grandfather before him, back as far as the records go. We tucked wheat stalks and an ear of field corn into the floral spray on his coffin. The photos lined up at the back of the funeral home showed him on his tractor and standing in the barnyard with the Angus steers. There was a sign from Esskay, which bought his beef for decades, and an aerial photo of the farm.

He’d only foresworn the tractor two years ago, when a fall from the step landed him in the hospital for a few weeks. He continued to supervise the work done by others and to check the grain prices regularly. I saw him in the hospital a few days before his death, when the medicine was making his mind a bit foggier than usual. He looked out his window over a vast parking lot, but what he saw was a rolling field. “That one would be good for corn,” he told me.