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Posts Tagged ‘personal devotions’

I have delayed this entry far too long. I kept waiting to be inspired to write something uplifting, encouraging, amazing. It could be months. My life contains aggravatingly long stretches of completely uninspired days. The question is, whose fault is that, and if it’s mine (which it probably is), how do I make it stop?

Logophile that I am, I have to pause a bit here and examine the word “uninspired,” because I believe that language (diction) often chooses me more than I choose it, in a way. What I mean is, I could have chosen any number of synonyms to describe this stretch of days (“unexciting,” “unremarkable,” “commonplace”…), but what came off my fingertips is “uninspired,” and I believe that word moved from my unconscious onto my computer screen for a reason that bears examination. (Word choices often do bear examination, particularly for people who think as metaphorically as I tend to do.) Here’s the significance: I know consciously that “inspire” means breathe in, and I certainly connect that image (and etymology) to the Holy Spirit (spirare – to breathe), but I wasn’t consciously thinking about the relation of my creative doldrums to my spiritual doldrums until I saw the word on the screen. See now, this is why writing matters: to write is to think.

Given that rabbit trails–such as this one I just took–are the stuff of life, or at least the stuff of writing, what can I learn from that little rabbit trail? Simply that it reminds me of why I started this blog in the first place, and subtitled it “Weekly musings on life in Christ.” I need the discipline. To have musings to write requires reflection, and God knows I need to be doing more reflecting. And to do more reflecting requires taking time to be still. Which is exactly why I’ve had several uninspired weeks: no stillness.

Why? Because when a family of five takes a memorable, adventurous vacation in August, someone spent hours in April planning it (mom). Because once you start arranging flights and lodgings for Maine-Boston-NYC, big money is on the line, so you better be sure of your plans and book quickly while affordable things are available. Because Skybus pretends that all is well just two days before it declares bankruptcy and announces that your tickets are worthless (but of course you have already booked rooms for the cities you now have no way to get to, unless you re-book tickets with another airline, which will completely bust your budget). Because retrieving your money is your responsibility, not the bankrupt airlines’. Because our puppy hasn’t quite learned proper respect for the invisible fence yet. And because, at the end of a solid week of all this time of pretty much full-time travel-planning on the internet (and puppy chasing), my mood and my mind defaulted to black scribble, which is the best way I know to describe that foulness of outlook, that ticked-off funk I get into from time to time. It looks like Lucy in the cartoon here. Words are just inadequate. Everything is a mess of ugly knots. Oh, and I pretty much resent everybody I know.

Remember that comment I made on the last entry about knowing that in the parable of the sower, I am the “good soil?” Well I’m still claiming that by faith, but these are the days when the Savior has to remind me of it, if I would give him just half an hour: 29 minutes to calm myself down and stop being petulant, and a minute to listen to him call me his child. But for days on end, I gave him no such time. No, I was too busy stewing about whether the owner of that awesome apartment in Brooklyn with the rooftop view of the bridge was going to e-mail me back, or if I should just go ahead and book the one in East Village, which is $100 more per night. Tick tock. Things are booking up. Better not lose this one. Maybe check one more website…

Good soil, but thorns sometimes. The seed still grows, but the fruit is limited, choked by the “worries of this life” (Matt. 13:22). Deep inspiration stops, replaced by shallow panting. Mercifully, God does not forsake us then. But equally mercifully, he also does not usually reward us with his peace until we stop bolting like a frantic deer, realize that we are short of breath for no good reason, and lie down in those green pastures where He will restore our souls, every time.

How timely that the Tozer Daily Devotional (you HAVE to sign up for this one!) yesterday said this:

“Prayer: Take Time to Listen”

The entrance of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. I opened my mouth and panted, for I longed for Your commandments. -Psalm 119:130-131

The Quakers had many fine ideas about life, and there is a story from them that illustrates the point I am trying to make. It concerns a conversation between Samuel Taylor Coleridge and a Quaker woman he had met. Maybe Coleridge was boasting a bit, but he told the woman how he had arranged the use of time so he would have no wasted hours. He said he memorized Greek while dressing and during breakfast. He went on with his list of other mental activities–making notes, reading, writing, formulating thoughts and ideas–until bedtime.The Quaker listened unimpressed. When Coleridge was finished with his explanation, she asked him a simple, searching question: “My friend, when dost thee think?”

God is having a hard time getting through to us because we are a fast-paced generation. We seem to have no time for contemplation. We have no time to answer God when He calls. – Jesus, Author of our Faith, p. 46.

Tozer knew it and I know it:  when there is a dearth of inspiration, it has nothing to do with lack of available air.

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Here’s my typical formula for quiet time:  Read through the passage of scripture (wherever I am in my OT or NT readings), write a short precis of it in journal, pray over it and let the Holy Spirit speak, record discoveries and questions, and then ask God to make that day’s chunk of his word take root in my life and heart.  Then lots more prayer.

 But sometimes, when I need a little change, I pull out a short book I picked up at a used bookstore one time called Praying with CS Lewis.  It’s a collection of meditations by Charles C. Taliaferro that combine biographical information, excerpts from CS Lewis’ writings, a reflection by Taliaferro, a related scripture passage, and then some challenges for meditation or writing or activity in response to the theme. 

 I did the first one (again) the other day and have been thinking about it ever since.  It is called “Awakened Desire.”  It explores the usefulness of wonder to our life of faith.  This sounds obvious, but what it led me to is a great thankfulness for my childhood:  that I was secure and free to wade creeks and lie on my back in the grass at night gazing at stars.  That I had an aunt who could weave tales that would set my imagination spinning.  That I had parents who took me trout fishing and camping, and who thought I was amazing when I asked weird questions like “if we can have a dream and in the dream we’re really sure it’s real life, how do we know we’re not dreaming now?” In short, I am grateful that I was taught to wonder, to be aware, to enjoy the moment.  Not all children are given this gift.

And it also made me thankful that I never fully outgrew that wide-eyed amazement at life and thoughts and story.  I still have, thank God, a tendency to have heart-surge moments.  By this I mean a sudden awareness of something I can only describe as eternal and inutterable that completely takes my breath away, makes my eyes tear up, and makes my heart pound. 

 Now, I am NOT talking about the cloying “gardens just make me feel so close to God” moments that so-called inspirational poets put into so-called inspirational poetry, or even those moments of amazement such as most of us would have at a mountaintop panorama that bursts unexpectedly into view, though those are cool (the amazement moments, not the Hallmark verses).  The Romantics’ concept of the “sublime” might come closer, but their association of this concept to death and terror do not ring true to what I’m trying to describe.  In fact, the moments don’t even have to involve nature.  I’ve had them in the bathtub, in traffic, in church.  For me, they require a complete loss of self-consciousness and time-consciousness (which is dangerous in traffic, by the way).  It’s like I have suddenly tuned my dial to a radio signal coming out of … Mars?  Heaven? 

Here’s how Lewis puts it:

What is universal is not the particular picture, but the arrival of some message, not perfectly intelligible, which wakes this desire and sets men longing for something East or West of the world; something possessed, if at all, only in the act of desiring it, and lost so quickly that the craving itself becomes craved.  (The Pilgrim’s Regress, qtd. in Taliaferro p. 33)

 Yes.  That’s it.  A message.  A craving. 

The words that came to mind when I read that were “deep calls to deep,” which I knew to be a biblical phrase but couldn’t remember the context.  So, I looked it up, of course.  It’s in verse 7 of Psalm 42, where David is having one of his slightly schizophrenic conversations with his momentarily tortured soul.  In the chapter he is hounded by his enemies and a sense of abandonment, so he inventories what he knows to be true about God (wise man that he is), and he begins down at the Jordan and ends up in the mountains, like a geographical survey of the creator. 

I have to insert here that commentators mostly explain his phrase “deep calls to deep” as meaning that his suffering is coming in deep waves, like the waterfall he mentions. 

Well, maybe.  But sometimes I have to wonder about commentaries on Biblical poetry.  Can someone really decide conclusively what a poem means, universally?  (And perhaps not a very poetic someone, at that.)  I mean, it’s poetry!  You can’t parse poetry!  You have to swim around in it and see where the current takes you…this time.  Maybe next time it will roll a different way.  Poetry as a form is often somewhat ambiguous (if it’s any good), and always the reader brings his own imagination to the reading.  This seems quite safe to me, when we approach religious poetry with a sanctified imagination.  Don’t treat it like a doctrinal creed or historical narrative.  Do not murder to dissect.

So in that poetic interpretive freedom, couldn’t “deep calls to deep” mean that as he surveys glorious creation, with the acute awareness that all poets have, he has one of those rare Lewis moments of extreme longing, when the deepest parts of him are quickened to life by a sudden awareness of the deep mystery of God’s immanence, when God whispers right into his ear “I’m here!” 

1 As the deer pants for streams of water,
       so my soul pants for you, O God.

 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
       When can I go and meet with God?

 3 My tears have been my food
       day and night,
       while men say to me all day long,
       “Where is your God?”

 4 These things I remember
       as I pour out my soul:
       how I used to go with the multitude,
       leading the procession to the house of God,
       with shouts of joy and thanksgiving
       among the festive throng.

 5 Why are you downcast, O my soul?
       Why so disturbed within me?
       Put your hope in God,
       for I will yet praise him,
       my Savior and 6 my God.
       My soul is downcast within me;
       therefore I will remember you
       from the land of the Jordan,
       the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.

 7 Deep calls to deep
       in the roar of your waterfalls;
       all your waves and breakers
       have swept over me.

 8 By day the LORD directs his love,
       at night his song is with me—
       a prayer to the God of my life.

 9 I say to God my Rock,
       “Why have you forgotten me?
       Why must I go about mourning,
       oppressed by the enemy?”

 10 My bones suffer mortal agony
       as my foes taunt me,
       saying to me all day long,
       “Where is your God?”

 11 Why are you downcast, O my soul?
       Why so disturbed within me?
       Put your hope in God,
       for I will yet praise him,
       my Savior and my God.

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