Morning by Morning

"The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward." Isaiah 50:4-5

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Advent has always struck me as an odd season of the year.  The word “Advent” comes from the Latin, adventus, which means arrival or approach.   Our minds and our hearts are turned towards the Advent of Christ at Christmas, yet the great Advent themes expressed in our lectionary are the coming of Christ at the end of the world, and the accompanying themes of death, judgement, heaven and hell.

In conversation today with our appliance repairman the discussion turned to the stress people feel around this time of year.  What was on his mind was the first of the Advent themes, death, and the implication of judgement, heaven and hell.  Having had conversations with him a couple of times before I wasn’t entirely surprised.   One of the things that we were discussing was the moment of dying.  One minute the person is there; the next moment the person has left and only the shell remains.

We talked about what happens when we die.  My repairman friend is badly crippled and he  is looking forward to being absent from his body and alive in heaven with Christ Jesus, and he looks forward to having a new physical body with legs that are fit for running and jumping.
It turned out that there was a serious point behind all this.  My friend’s older brother died last week.  One minute he was there, and the next moment he was gone and only his worn out body remained.

All of that comes crashing home during the Christmas season as a counterpoint to Christmas joy.  Christ comes to be born in the world just as we experience it.  It helps a great deal to understand that it’s not about shopping, gifts, Christmas Muzak in the stores, and eating enough to make us nauseous, although we will in all likelihood do all these things.
Consider the nature of this Advent of Christ, called Christmas, or more accurately The Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He who comes to be born a human child, God uniting himself with our flesh for ever.  That act of humility is incredible.  In a lovely poem Christina Rossetti wrote:

Lord God of Mary,
      Whom His lips caress
While He rocks to rest
On her milky breast
      In helplessness.1

In the midst of the inevitability of death we celebrate the birth of Christ Jesus in Bethlehem, an historical act that is eternally present.   Rejoice.  The King is Coming.
1 Christina Rossetti, “A Christmas Carol”, Christina Rossetti: The Complete Poems, (London: Penguin, 2005), p. 383

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Overwhelming Sea

I have seen the sun lie low upon the sea,
All the swelling waters, hammered molten gold.
I have seen God’s fiery light on surging waters bold
Crashing on the rocks that hem the sundering sea.
I have ridden the waves of the roiling sea
When the night was stormy dark, the waters bitter cold.
Up I rose to heaven as the mighty waters rolled
And plunged to the depths of the overwhelming sea.
Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterspouts,
All you breakers and waves have rolled over me.
My sails are stripped away, I am laid bare for You to see.
The angels danced over me with loud cries and shouts.
    At last in sweet surrender I am at perfect peace.
    As I rest quietly in You, all my strivings cease.

There is a danger swimming in the overwhelming sea.  The danger is the desire to struggle on gasping for air as the waves and billows crash against you.  Surrender is a gift that can, and often is, refused, and so, Judas went and hung himself kicking at the end of the rope until the very end.

Surrender once accepted is a tremendous relief.  The truth is that the first complete surrender is the worst to endure, so many fears, a dread of abject helplessness; but once received, what peace, what joy, and as one finally catches one’s breath, what jubilation.  Who could ever have thought that sweet surrender could be so grand!

All subsequent surrenders harken back to the first surrender, and surrender becomes a delight and not a dread. Of course there are moments of stupid, even sluggish, resistance.  But the memory and the joy of surrender calls you back to the beginning and you find that surrender itself is a foundation stone that lies upon the Bedrock who is Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Mortality's No Joke!

I have had death and dying on my mind for some time now, not constantly, just fitfully re-emerging at odd  moments and tugging at my consciousness.  With it comes a tingle of fear, a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.  Why?  There are a combination of factors, my age, the fact that at the moment I’m serving an older congregation, and certainly my reading; C. S. Lewis and Charles Williams among others.

From C. S. Lewis the figure of Mark Studdock contemplating death in his cell at Belbury comes to mind.  “The killing was the important thing.  On any view, this body—this limp, shaking, desperately vivid thing, so intimately his own was going to be returned into a dead body,”[i] or again, It came to him as a totally new idea that this very hand, with its five nails and the yellow tobacco stain on the inside fingers, would one day be the hand of a corpse, and later the hand of a skeleton.”[ii]

It may also be the result of watching too many C. S. I. shows with their callous dismemberment of human bodies.  Did  the internment of ashes in Ireland this summer also play a role?  One thing, is evident, I have always have had a highly participatory imagination.

Tonight I have been reading and understanding as never before Charles Williams’s novel, Descent into Hell.  I have known for some time that Williams is not good bed-time reading, at least not for me.  It is not for nothing that we are told not to fear him who can kill the body.  Death is only a passage into life.

[i] C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, p. 241
[ii] Ibid.