Monday, November 08, 2010

Bent World

I was reading an article tonight by N.T. Wright, on "How Can the Bible Be Authoritative?" It was originally given as a lecture, and it's really worth reading, mainly for what I believe to be very worthwhile thinking about the questions involved. I also have to give credit to anyone who can write about the Bible and questions of authority--and work Shakespeare, the piano, and G.M. Hopkins into the mix! An author after my own heart!

Because of the Hopkins connection, I want to share this on my Hopkins-inspired blog:

In a paragraph on how "the church is always in danger of getting too like the world," Wright writes,

We then have to allow the story to challenge our traditions, not to get rid of traditions but in order to see where we've come from, and who we are as the people of God in the 20th century, and to reshape our traditions honestly and properly. But, also, we must allow scripture to stretch our reason back into shape. We must allow scripture to teach us how to think straight, because by ourselves we don't; we think bent, we think crooked. Gerard Manley Hopkins said, "The Holy Spirit over the bent world broods with warm breast and with Ah! bright wings." And the Spirit broods over us as we read this book, to straighten out our bent thinking; the world-views that have got twisted so that they are like the world's world-views. God wants us to be people, not puppets; to love him with our mind as well as our soul and our strength.

From what I know of Hopkins and Wright, I kind of think they would probably get along well with each other. I know I'm thankful to both of them for their relentless search for truth, their fresh ways of seeing and writing about it, and their willingness to share what they write (even if Hopkins made us wait a while before reading his.)

From what I know of myself, I do need scripture to teach me how to think straight, because by myself I don't. Sometimes I try to imagine what I would be like without the influence of the Bible in my life. Of course it's impossible to know and practically impossible to imagine. But when I try, the result is not very pretty!

And trying to imagine western civilization without the influence of the Judeo-Christian scripture is just as impossible a task. As bent and crooked as the world is now, how much more so would it be without "Love thy neighbor as thyself," without "God is love," without the story of the "good Samaritan," or without the belief in a God who forgives and teaches us to forgive?

Tonight I'm thankful for Hopkins, thankful for N.T. Wright, and thankful for the Spirit that broods. And thankful to be a little bent part of this bent, crooked world.

Monday, November 01, 2010

All Saints

It is November 1st. All Saints Day, for those who follow the church calendar.

This weekend I went for my annual fall retreat at St. Columba. (The photos are from a past visit there.)

Yesterday I looked for a hymn for today and found one that immediately became a favorite. It's "Who are these like stars appearing?"

Who are these like stars appearing,
these, before God's throne who stand?
Each a golden crown is wearing;
who are all this glorious band?
Alleluia! Hark, they sing,
praising loud their heavenly King.

It has quite a lot of such glorious descriptions of the saints around the throne. But what made it a favorite is the fourth verse:

These are they whose hearts were riven,
sore with woe and anguish tried,
who in prayer full oft have striven
with the God they glorified;
now, their painful conflict o'er,
God has bid them weep no more.

God knows I've done my share of striving with Him, of having my heart torn apart (riven), and while I sometimes dare to hope the worst of it may be behind me, it's hard to believe it's over at this point in life.

While on retreat I also read over half of Come, Be My Light, the account of Mother Teresa's spiritual struggles as shared largely in letters to her spiritual directors. Her story certainly fits the image of striving with God even while glorifying Him, about a thousand times more than mine.

I have a hard time reading her story, and stories of other people of faith, because as I read them, a part of my mind is almost continually hearing a critical voice, the voice of an imaginary psychologist, I suppose, who attempts to explain everything away with some kind of diagnosis, or at least to show that the people living these lives had unrealistic or perhaps "neurotic," as the word is still used, thinking and emotional experiences.

And you have to wonder, would Mother Teresa have suffered so much if she just hadn't believed in God so much?

And almost certainly the answer is no, she would not have. You could say she brought on the suffering because of her belief system and the crazy choice it led her to make with her life. (She did fear greatly at the beginning that people would call her crazy for doing what she felt called to do.)

The problem with that critical psychologizing voice, however, is that she and many others have had such spiritual experiences, and many have suffered in their faith, and yet their thinking and behavior in all other respects cannot be shown to be aberrant, unrealistic, or neurotic. In fact, their thinking and living were (and are, for those still living) much healthier thinking and living than that of people with more "realistic" ways of looking at life. Mother Teresa functioned extremely well, under extremely difficult circumstances that would break most people emotionally, if not physically and mentally.

In fact, it's people like her--and many others, like my friends who have just moved to a remote region of India where he will travel to even more remote places to give medical care to people who would not get it otherwise--who fly in the face of my inner psychologizing voice which sometimes mimics the ideas of skeptics who insist that belief in God is a way of comforting ourselves, of making life easier, of not having to face the hard realities of life.

The people I know who truly believe in God live harder lives than just about anyone else, and they do it by choice, not by chance.

And so, Mother Teresa strove with God even as she glorified Him in her relentless commitment to love others, no matter what she felt, or didn't feel, and couldn't feel, inside.

And I trust (because, despite my inner psychologist critic, I'm one of those people who share her basic belief system) that one day we will see her, and she will appear like a star--a real star, not the kind of people we call "stars" in our crazy, neurotic, unhealthy world.

He will be her Light, as He was all along, even though she experienced such darkness.

And her tears will have been wiped away at last, forever.