Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Post: He looked through the lattice of our flesh and He spoke us fair

I don't suppose I really screamed. What had happened was that I had fallen asleep at last and drifted into nightmare. I was imprisoned in stone. I knew then what men suffered who are walled up alive....And when I had been still for a little while I found myself slowly edging forward. There was a crack in the stone....I went on scraping through and at last there was a glimmer of light. It came to my feet like a sword and I knew it had made the crack, a sword of fire splitting the stone. And then the walls drew back slightly on each side of me, as though the light pushed them. I had a sense of conflict, as though the darkness reeled and staggered, resisting the light in an anguish of evil strength....But the light, that seemed such a small beam in comparison with that infinity of blackness, kept the channel open and I fled down it. There was room now to run. I ran and ran and came out into the light.

I had escaped. I was so overwhelmed with thankfulness that I nearly fell. I sank down on the ground and sat back on my heels, as children do sometimes when they are saying their prayers and are tired. It was ground, not stone, it was a floor of trodden earth. The stone walls were still there but the light had hollowed them out into a cave and they no longer frightened me. There was a lantern in the cave and people were moving about, a man and woman caring for a girl who lay on a pile of hay. And for a newborn child. As I watched, the woman stooped and put Him into His mother's arms....It was like one of the nativity scenes that the old masters painted, only not tidy and pretty like those. The girl was exhausted, her clothes were crumpled, and the sweat on her face gleamed in the lantern light. The man was dusty and tired and not yet free of the anxiety that had been racking him for hours past. The woman was one of those kindly bodies who turn up from somewhere to lend a hand in times of human crises. She made soft clucking noises as she gave the baby to His mother, and the two women gave each other a long look of triumph before the girl bent over her baby. He was like all newborn babies. He looked old and wizened, and so frail that my heart nearly stopped in fear, as it always does when I see a newborn child. How could anything so weak survive? His thin wail echoed in the stony place and then was stifled as He sought His mother.

...I remembered the rocks of the wilderness and the multitude of sinners surging in, selfish and clamorous, sick and sweaty, clawing with their hot hands, giving Him no time so much as to eat. I remembered the mocking crowd about the cross and the thick darkness. I remembered the second cave, the dark and stifling tomb....And I remembered Saint Augustine saying, “He looked us through the lattice of our flesh and He spake us fair.”...He was not the weakness that He seemed, for He had a sword in His hand and all evil at last would go reeling back before it. He had entered the prison house of His own will. And so He was not trapped, nor was I. There was always the way of escape so long as it was to the heart of it, whatever it was, that one went to find Him.

Elizabeth Goudge, from The Scent of Water

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not. Thanks be to God.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

He is here

"Not for me the Hound of Heaven, but the never-ceasing silent appeal of Tabernacle, and the sense of starving hunger."

J.R.R. Tolkien, from a letter to his son Michael, November 1, 1963

The Hound of Heaven, I would add, may have many ways of catching His quarry, not least with hunger.

I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world....Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him....This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. (John 6:51ff)

I don't talk theology nearly as often on this blog as I think about theology. And the doctrine of Holy Communion is such a fraught one, over which many a literal war has been fought.

I believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Not being Roman Catholic, I am not required to believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation, and not being an Aristotelian, I'm rather glad of that, because I don't. But the pure memorialist view does not, in my opinion, do justice either to Christ's words of institution or to Christ's teaching in John 6 or to the Apostle Paul's solemn warnings to the Corinthians about Eucharistic abuses and the grave consequences thereof. At a minimum, it seems to me that these Scriptures imply that Holy Communion is a source of real spiritual life and strength--and that not only from the act of meditation on Christ's passion and atonement, but objectively: spiritual food. Beyond that I cannot and do not go--I simply know no farther to go. But, as the Ark of the Covenant was a place where the Lord God met His people and was, in that sense, present, so in the Sacrament. Here God acts. Here God meets man, objectively, on holy ground, in a physical object.

And for that I am thankful. As creatures of flesh and blood, we crave the ability to give and receive tangibly and physically. The Book of Common Prayer says of the Sacrament that Christ has "ordained holy mysteries as pledges of his love." A side note, or maybe not such a side note: Edmund Spenser, when he portrays the lady Charity as married and surrounded by her babies, calls them "pledges" of her husband's love.

Here is the prayer of thanksgiving after receiving the Sacrament. It was, to add to the head-shaking, convoluted uniqueness of Anglican history, apparently written (rather than translated) by Thomas Cranmer, who died because he was unwilling to return to Rome and accept the doctrine of transubstantiation.

Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee for that thou dost vouchsafe to feed us, who have duly received these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favor and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people; and are also heirs, through hope, of thy everlasting kingdom, by the merits of his most precious death and passion. And we humbly beseech thee, O heavenly Father, so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honor and glory, world without end. Amen.

He "assures us thereby of his favor and goodness towards us." By giving us these gifts and coming to us in them, by deigning thus to condescend to us, He continually assures us, week by week, of His favor and goodness towards us.

I am a Protestant and will never be anything else. I will never even be a high Anglican; indeed, I will no doubt always be so low as to be in danger of falling right out at the bottom. There are many times when I feel a distinct reaction against high churchmanship. What's a nice Baptist girl like me doing in a place like this? But the holy mysteries are not the sort of thing one can whip up in one's kitchen, and if (per improbable) they are to be found in the Welch's grape juice and the broken matzos passed in plates from hand to hand in the churches that teach that they are not there, this is more a matter for trembling and fear than a reason to return.

It is impossible to be insouciant about the use I am about to make of a Gospel music song. I would like to make the usual flippant remark about my on-going and ungrateful project of uniting low Protestantism, Southern Gospel, and liturgical Christianity, but it's not just so simple as that.

The following song is one I cannot listen to without thinking of the Holy Sacrament. Yet that is not what it is about, where "about" is taken accurately to refer to the intention of the author and, for that matter, the performers. Quite obviously, it is a work of evangelical, perhaps even Pentecostal, Christianity. The teaching intended is that Jesus is present wherever "two or three are gathered" and that we become especially aware of His presence when reminded of it in the gathering of believers. That is a good teaching, one worth hearing and remembering. But how can anyone who believes in the Real Presence (in any sense whatsoever) hear "Holy, holy," "holy manna," and "You can touch him" and not think of that other Presence?

"He is here, listen closely. Hear Him calling out your name. He is here, you can touch him. You will never be the same."

So, with apologies to Wes Hampton, to the Gaither Vocal band, and especially to Kirk Talley (the composer), I put my own entirely unjustified personal significance on this song and present it for what it is worth, if there should happen to be anyone among my readers who finds it useful, as a meditation before receiving Communion. "He is Here."

Gaither Vocal Band - He Is Here [Live] from emimusic on GodTube.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

God closes the book--Sunday quotation

"Men choose one side or the other, making the best choice that they can with the knowledge that they have. Yet they know little and the turns and twists of war are incalculable. They may fight for a righteous cause and yet at the end of it all have become as evil as their enemies, or they may in error espouse an evil cause and in defense of it grow better men than they were before. And so the one war becomes each man's private war, fought out within his own nature. In the last resort that's what matters to him, Froniga. In the testing of the times did he win or lose his soul? That's his judgment."

His voice trailed away into a silence heavy with dread and sorrow...

"One life knows many judgments," she said. "They are like the chapters in a book. What if every chapter but the last is one of defeat? The last can redeem it all. And God knows the heart that in its weakness longs for Him. Patient still, He adds another chapter, and then another, and then in the hour of victory closes the book."

From Elizabeth Goudge, The White Witch

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

A couple quotables from LA

I've been neglecting this blog recently and realize it. Call it laziness. Call it Christmas rush. Call it busyness home schooling. Probably more the first and the third. In any event, I'm now shamelessly going to borrow from another blogger, because he's made a couple of zinger statements recently that I think deserve to be repeated.

First, Lawrence Auster on Afghanistan:

From last Friday’s New York Times, a horrifying story about a young Afghan woman named Gulnaz who was raped, bore a child by the rapist, and was imprisoned for “adultery,” i.e., for having been raped. Then, in response to a documentary movie that featured Gulnaz’s plight, the Afghan government of our ally Karzai pardoned her, but there was a catch. To be pardoned, she had to marry the man who raped her. Gulnaz doesn’t want to marry the man and she fears him, but she feels she has no choice, since there is no place for her in Afghan society unless she is married and part of a family. But she also feels that her prospective husband is likely to kill her because of the shame she has brought on him by publicizing her case. So she is putting down a condition too: in order for her to marry him, one of his sisters must marry one of her brothers. That way, the rapist will hesitate to harm her, because if he harms her, his sister would stand to be harmed by her husband.

Afghanistan is a sub-human hell on earth. We should have nothing to do with that goddamned country unless it is directly threatening us and our allies, in which case we go in, topple the regime that is threatening us, kill its leaders, and leave, promising to come back and wreak much worse havoc if they threaten us again.

My one quibble would be with the term "sub-human." The people who perpetuate such a culture are not sub-human, they are human, and there is nothing so good nor so bad that it cannot be done by man. Gives a whole new meaning to the "what a work is man" concept. As in, sometimes man is a piece of work. But as a foreign policy prescription, let's go over there, beat the unholy hell out of governments that are threatening us, get done, and come back has a lot to be said for it. I've thought it sensible for a long time. War is not the problem per se, when a country is a threat to us or to allies. Nation-building is the problem.

Second, Lawrence Auster on a judge's wrist-slap for a wilding in London:

So: Somali Muslims carry out a typical black wilding on a white woman pedestrian, an extremely aggravated attack in which they knocked the victim to the ground then repeatedly kicked her in the head and tore her hair from her scalp, while also repeatedly shouting anti-white statements, and they don’t go to jail (1) because they’re Muslim and therefore not responsible for their behavior under the influence of alcohol, no matter how aggravated, violent, and racially motivated the behavior may be, and (2) because the victim’s boyfriend used force (ineffectively) to defend her.

This is not an event in the life of Britain. This is the rotting of the stinking corpse that once was Britain. And there’s much rot in the corpse of a great nation, many, many victims yet to come, incalculable human misery, yet to come.

Brits have always been a bit soft on regrettable acts committed under the influence of alcohol, but this takes it to a whole new level. My perception from old British novels is that the softness took the form of avuncular chuckles over Oxford undergraduates committing pranks and minor vandalism or old men making fools of themselves at the club, not aggravated assault and battery.

Friday, December 02, 2011


A couple of years ago I put up a post about this hymn and its new incarnation by blind singer Ken Medema. At that time it was not available on-line; now it is, on Grooveshark.

Someday the Silver Cord Will Break by Ken Medema on Grooveshark

Ken has written a beautiful new tune for Fanny Crosby's words, which are partly taken from St. Paul in I Corinthians 13: "Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known."