Sunday, 23 September 2012

He stoops to conquer

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The following is taken from 'The Problem of Pain' by CS Lewis:

Everyone has noticed how hard it is to turn our thoughts to God when everything is going well with us. We "have all we want" is a terrible saying when "all" does not include God. We find God an interruption. As St. Augustine says somewhere "God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full – there's nowhere for Him to put it." Or as a friend of mine said "we regard God as an airman regards his parachute; it's there for emergencies but he hopes he'll never have to use it."

Now God, who has made us, knows what we are and that our happiness lies in Him. Yet we will not seek it in Him as long as He leaves us any other resort where it can even plausibly be looked for. While what we call "our own life" remains agreeable we will not surrender it to Him. What then can God do in our interests but make "our own life" less agreeable to us, and take away the plausible sources of false happiness? It is just here, where God's providence seems at first to be most cruel, that the Divine humility, the stooping down of the Highest, most deserves praise. 

We are perplexed to see misfortune falling upon decent, inoffensive, worthy people - on capable, hard- working mothers of families or diligent, thrifty, little trades-people, on those who have worked so hard, and so honestly, for their modest stock of happiness and now seem to be entering on the enjoyment of it with the fullest right. How can I say with sufficient tenderness what here needs to be said? It does not matter that I know I must become, in the eyes of every hostile reader, as it were personally responsible for all the sufferings I try to explain – just as, to this day, everyone talks as if St. Augustine wanted unbaptised infants to go to Hell. But it matters enormously if I alienate anyone from the truth. Let me implore the reader to try to believe, if only for the moment, that God, who made these deserving people, may really be right when He thinks that their modest prosperity and the happiness of their children are not enough to make them blessed: that all this must fall from them in the end, and that if they have not learned to know Him they will be wretched. And therefore He troubles them, warning them in advance of an insufficiency that one day they will have to discover. The life to themselves and their families stands between them and the recognition of their need; He makes that life less sweet to them. I call this a Divine humility because it is a poor thing to strike our colours to God when the ship is going down under us; a poor thing to come to Him as a last resort, to offer up "our own" when it is no longer worth keeping. 

If God were proud He would hardly have us on such terms: but He is not proud, He stoops to conquer, He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him, and come to Him because there is "nothing better" now to be had. The same humility is shown by all those Divine appeals to our fears which trouble highminded readers of scripture. It is hardly complimentary to God that we should choose Him as an alternative to Hell: yet even this He accepts. The creature's illusion of self sufficiency must, for the creature's sake, be shattered; and by trouble or fear of trouble on earth, by crude fear of the eternal flames, God shatters it "unmindful of His glory's diminution". 

Those who would like the God of scripture to be more purely ethical, do not know what they ask. If God were a Kantian, who would not have us till we came to Him from the purest and best motives, who could be saved? And this illusion of self sufficiency may be at its strongest in some very honest, kindly, and temperate people, and on such people, therefore, misfortune must fall. The dangers of apparent self sufficiency explain why Our Lord regards the vices of the feckless and dissipated so much more leniently than the vices that lead to worldly success. Prostitutes are in no danger of finding their present life so satisfactory that they cannot turn to God: the proud, the avaricious, the self righteous, are in that danger.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Head of the year

L'Shanah Tovah Tikatevu
This morning something wonderful happened. While it may not have been the sound of the shofar I heard, it was definitely a calling. I felt the gentle wooing of my heart and enjoyed the most intimate time with God that I can ever remember. The really bizarre twist to my whole experience is that I realised it was Rosh Hashanah, and while I'm not an observant Jew (in fact I consider myself a Christian, but my roots are Jewish and I am blessed to enjoy such a rich heritage that overlaps so much with my own faith) so much of what was dealt with in my heart this morning was all themed towards the message of Rosh Hashanah.

From what I understand (and it is limited!) at the heart of Rosh Hashanah is our relationship with God – our maker, our sustainer and our redeemer. And central to that is our acknowledgement of God as King of the whole universe, our brokenness and failure and need for repentance and lastly new birth, second chances, the promise of sweet new beginnings...a new year.

Today I feel like a newborn – fresh and alive. Blemish free. Ready to start a new year, a new life. And, I am so grateful for a new beginning.   

Psalm 65 & Psalm 103

Monday, 10 September 2012

To love is to be vulnerable

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Thirty four years ago today, at 2 months early a baby girl arrived in the world.  There was no fanfare.  No joy.  No excitement.  No family waiting in anticipation in the hospital waiting room.  Just reluctant mother and baby. And soon, just baby. 

Fast forward to today, and here I am once again alone.  Not entirely true...I do have 3 beautiful children of my own, but on days like this it seems like I am truly alone in this world.  Sometimes I tell people I prefer it - I'll say 'I'm a lone wolf' and to a great extent I am. I am not fussed by my own company, and in my experience I am more successful acting alone rather than relying on others.  Don't get me wrong. I love people.  I do.  I thoroughly enjoy other peoples company and I would do just about anything and have done for any friend or family member that I love. 

I grew up in a large family, but always felt alone. In the line of siblings I fell in the middle and everyone above and below me was paired up. So, I spent many hours alone in my room, reading and listening to music – 2 pastimes I still thoroughly enjoy today.

For a long time I was a people pleaser – even so up until a few years ago. I felt I needed to behave in a certain way to be accepted by the people I loved. But these days as the real Amy is emerging, certain friends and family are keeping their distance. And, to be totally honest I feel abandoned by those people who I have loved and supported 100% no matter their decisions or actions in the past.

There have been a number of events over my life that have steered me towards being closed up to others and so I have to wonder if my predilection for solidarity is a habit learnt from childhood or as a means of protection from the outside world that has taught me being alone is less hassle.

CS Lewis once wrote:
Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping in tact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

Yes. To love is to be vulnerable. I pray that as another chapter of my life turns, despite the cost I never lose the ability to stay open to others.