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

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

When Love is Born at Christmas

When love is born at Christmas                                 
the busy world is hushed,      
all creation waits to hear        
the infant’s cry of life.           

The sheep and oxen gather    
‘round the humble manger,    
The young mother kneels to see         
God’s holy child, now hers.   

God Himself is bending there,           
Yielding self to human care,  
To Mary humble mother        
and to Joseph standing there.

In the fields not far away      
Shepherds guard their flocks by night,          
When all the heavens shine bright     
With angels in brilliant light,  

Singing loud Hallelujahs,       
Jesus Christ is born tonight.   
Let no evil you affright,         
He comes to set things right. 

And what do these shepherds see?    
A baby in a manger,   
such a simple thing to see;     
with the mother kneeling by.


Birth moans
in strawed stable.
The King has come,
his lusty wailing
rends dark night.

Birth bloody
as his death,
the King has come.
His reality
mouth and mother's breast.

Birth starlit in musked air,
The King has come,
God swaddled in human need.
Jesus Son of God Most High.
Gloria in Excelsis Deo!

Wondrous Love

What wondrous love,
my Lord that you should leave
bright heavens realms above
to dwell with us below.

Enthroned above
with the Father and the Spirit
in eternal glory,
in majesty supernal.

Myriad’s of angels.
Seraphim and cherubim
in ceaseless adoration
sing the praises of Your Name.

Now time bound.
In human flesh appearing,
The Virgin’s womb
Not distaining.

King of kings
yet born of Mary
God’s only Son
now one of us.


Bells ringing!                          
Bells singing!                         

In simple joy,                         
Love's own alloy,                   
God's babe is born                 
this happy morn.                    

Bells ringing!                          
Bells singing!                         

The infant's tear                     
Cries God is here.                  
He’s come at last,                                           
Now life will last.                  

Bells ringing!                          
Bells singing! 

The Winding Centuries Have Come and Gone

The winding centuries have come and gone
Still the Christmas song goes on and on.
Some have loved the Babe, some still hate him;
Christmas joy is for hearts that welcome him.
Peace on earth, the thronging angels sing,
Throughout the heavens hear the merry chorus ring.
Simple shepherds on the hill rejoice to hear
The news that Almighty God has drawn near.
Herod on his throne feels a deadly chill;
Any who threaten his power he will kill,
Wife, or son, or even little baby child.
There is no safety for child or mother mild.
King Herod is dead; the years have come and gone,
Only Christ will come with the breaking of the dawn.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Toasted Cheese Sandwich

Sometimes life is more simple than we think!

There is a marvellous sequence in one of C. S. Lewis’s books.  An old tramp and a younger man named Mark are held captive in a situation fraught with danger.  Mark points out that they are in considerable danger.  The tramp offers his solution.  “Ah,” said the man approvingly, “I got a plan.” “What is it?” “Ah,” said the man, winking at Mark with infinite knowingness and rubbing his belly. “Go on. What is it?” said Mark. “How’d it be,” said the man. . . . “How’d it be if you and I made ourselves a nice bit of toasted cheese?”[i]

The situation is not one that either the tramp or Mark could do anything about.  Mark is a well-educated young man concerned with the potential danger.  The tramp, a simple man, was more concerned with the immediate present and making the best of a difficult situation. 

I would not counsel passivity in the face of things that we can do something about, and our Christian faith is not a faith of passivity, nor is it a faith that ignores the reality of the present.  On the other hand the tramp has a point.  His main thing is to enjoy the present and make of it what he can.  While we can learn from the past if we will, there is no point in trying to relive the past; that never works.  The future is not something within our grasp.  What the tramp does is live in the present.  There are times when planning to make a toasted cheese sandwich is just the right thing.

There is a Zen story about a man who is being chased by tiger and leaps over the edge of a cliff to escape.  As he falls he grasps the branch of a tree and hangs dangling over a precipice.  Then he spies a strawberry growing out of the craggy side of the cliff.  “My, how sweet that strawberry tasted.”

If we try to live in the griefs of the past or live in fear of the future, we will miss the simple joys of the present.  Pascal would remind us that we have pain in the present.  And so?  Should that prevent us from accepting those moments of love, of joy, of beauty that flow to us in the present moment; the purr of a cat, the happy wagging friendship of the family dog, the love of a child, or a parent, or a friend, the beauty of a sunset, the wonder of a balmy day in the middle of winter or the wonder of cold crisp winter day.  St. Paul counsels us, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”[ii]  Sometimes a toasted cheese sandwich is really the right thing.

[i] C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, (New York: Scribner, 1974) p. 309
[ii] Philippians 4:8   

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Is This the Sound of Singing That I Hear?

An Alfred Montrose Sonnet from the Mother and Alfred Stories on  When we pray for those whom we love it is sometimes so very difficult to wait patiently for the work of the Spirit of Grace, to speak only when we should, and equally important to wait patiently while He is at work.  Sometimes we are called only to say a simple word and to wait for a long time for that seed to bear fruit. The great temptation is to attempt to do for Him that which He alone can do.  

Is This the Sound of Singing that I Hear?

Is this the sound of singing that I hear?
A sweet melody lights upon my ear;
Melodious notes floating in the air,
Oh sweet joy now joyous beyond compare.
How I tremble lest I should dissemble
And by too ready hope disassemble
Pulling petals from the rose ere it may bloom
In my eagerness to try its sweet perfume.
How patiently we must meekly stand and wait
While grace alone determines another’s fate.
To surrender even now my own true hope
And not intrude beyond my proper scope.
For my eager heart might too rashly act,
And kill the blossom by a lack of tact.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Attack

Would that all spiritual attacks were obvious; that would be easy for us to cope with, but no fun for the devils.  They do their best work when we are miserable and unaware of their presence.  They are opportunists and leap to take advantage of any opportunity that we provide for them.  Yes, that’s right, we provide the opportunity.  They have no power to create, not even the power to create misery ex nihilo, out of nothing. 

Temptation arises when we are lured and enticed by our own desires (see James 1:14).  We are capable of being misled, led by the nose, by the evil ones.  That is part of their skill packet.  We have been misled to think that temptation is only, or at least primarily, related to the various lusts of the body. 

There is some perverse logic to that for there is often a fine line between legitimate desire and illegitimate desire.  The Psalmist says, “every desire of mine is before you” (Psalm 38:9 St. Benedict).  Every desire, good and bad alike!  There are good and acceptable desires and a whole realm of more subtle illegitimate desires that arise from the soul and not the body.  Foremost of these is our sense of entitlement. 

We forget that in Eve we ate the apple and still are glad to do so.  We are no longer entitled to all the blessings of Paradise; but rather to those entitlements that come from eating the apple.  Oh, yes, I know that through Christ we are forgiven and accepted, but I have no intention of mistaking this place of testing for the Paradise of Heaven.

The tender mercy of God is that we don't receive that which we actually deserve, but as a loving Father he gives us many blessings because he loves us and wishes us well.  We shouldn't misunderstand the nature of these blessings.  They are pure gift, not that to which we are entitled.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Through the ups and downs of life my old friend The Rev. Ralph Johnson has learned that his security rests in God in his Rock.


I am sure that I am secure when:

The Father counts the hairs on my head.
The Son paves the way for me.
The Spirit walks beside me.

I am sure that I am secure when:

The Father confirms that I am His child.
The Son is my Great Shepherd.
The Spirit dwells within me.

I am sure that I am secure when:

The Father grants me wisdom.
The Son reminds me that He is my Lord.
The Spirit’s waters refresh me.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Purifying Ground

     It has occurred to me that I have lived twice the age of Jesus when He ascended into heaven.  When you are a child looking forward to my age it seems like a very long time.  Long enough that fortunately I can’t remember all that happened.  Not only that, grace and forgiveness have filtered out some of my past wickedness leaving only a pale sepia toned impression of those events.

     Some of those events show up in a quite different light; grace often throws into clear relief the ridiculous side of human actions, so much so that even we can see the humorous side of our stupidity.  At the time those events were embarrassing and the cause of great guilt and remorse.  Further, the record of our sins, through grace, becomes the very stuff of our testimony of redemption.  When Christ Jesus our Kinsman Redeemer redeems us He does so completely.  With joy we can tell another, “These are the foolish things I have done, and I am forgiven.”  Every effective testimony must carry within it the vulnerability of Truth, not an idealization of the past.

     Over all that lengthy period of time, lengthy to me, but only the opening and closing of a door to Him who loves me; over all that lengthy period of time I see at play the law of undulation.  Screwtape fears that we will see and understand that the course of human spiritual experience is an undulating wave, a series of troughs and peaks, moving ever on as we slowly ascend to our heavenly home.

"'So you 'have great hopes that the patient’s religious phase is dying away', have you? I always thought the Training College had gone to pieces since they put old Slubgob at the head of it, and now I am sure. Has no one ever told you about the law of Undulation?

Humans are amphibians—half spirit and half animal. (The Enemy’s determination to produce such a revolting hybrid was one of the things that determined Our Father to withdraw his support from Him.) As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation—the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks. If you had watched your patient carefully you would have seen this undulation in every department of his life—his interest in his work, his affection for his friends, his physical appetites, all go up and down. As long as he lives on earth periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty. The dryness and dullness through which your patient is now going are not, as you fondly suppose, your workmanship; they are merely a natural phenomenon which will do us no good unless you make a good use of it.'"[i]

     Christ Jesus came for this, to become one with us and to catch us up and carry us home to God the Father.[ii]  The pilgrimage of our lives is a Purifying Ground and the God of love is a consuming fire.  As we draw closer to Him the intensity of the fire of His love will burn away our dross.   Being transformed into the image of Christ does not come from keeping a list of rules.  Transformation, purification, comes from drawing close to God, and is a natural result of being close to Him.

     C. S. Lewis often quotes George MacDonald, and published an anthology of Macdonald’s sayings.  The following is his second entry titled “Inexorable Love.’

"Nothing is inexorable but love. Love which will yield to prayer is imperfect and poor. Nor is it then the love that yields, but its alloy. . . . For love loves unto purity. Love has ever in view the absolute loveliness of that which it beholds. Where loveliness is incomplete, and love cannot love its fill of loving, it spends itself to make more lovely, that it may love more; it strives for perfection, even that itself may be perfected--not in itself, but in the object. . . . Therefore all that is not beautiful in the beloved, all that comes between and is not of love's kind, must be destroyed. And our God is a consuming fire."[iii]

     And again, “As always, the first step is to keep knowledge out of his mind. Do not let him suspect the law of undulation.  Let him assume that the first ardours of his conversion might have been expected to last, and ought to have lasted, forever, and that his present dryness is an equally permanent condition.”[iv]  From the viewpoint of Screwtape you are to forget that you have read this; remembering can only arm you against his deceptions.

     In those troughs the battle can be hazardous for we travel through the Valley of the Giants; the sons of  Anak are there, whom the Israelites feared. “And there we saw the … the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”[v]   What are the contemporary giants that need slaying?  We know them by their old names and they have not changed: Unbelief, Accidie,   Self-love, Anger,  Pride, Addictions, Porneia, and Mammon, and all their maleficent cousins.   The Valley of Giants is part of the Purifying Ground; all must pass through it on the way to Zion.   “For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. 11 You brought us into the net; you laid a crushing burden on our backs; 12 you let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.”[vi]  

     Like Paul kicking against the ox goad[vii] we resist the grace extended to us and often reap the resulting pain of flying in the face of grace.  That is part of the undulation.  There are troughs and there are lofty mountains where we are drawn into the sweet intimacy of God’s love and reassured by His presence we stride forward on our upward journey.  We are not to rest in the troughs, and we are not yet fit to live for ever on the heights, but even as we journey on our pilgrimage we are to embrace with joy the presence of God in both the valleys and the heights. 

     St. Augustine gives us direction on the manner of our pilgrimage, “So now, my brethren, let us sing, not to delight our leisure, but to ease our toil. In the way that travellers are in the habit of singing, sing, but keep on walking. What does it mean, “keep on walking”? Go onward always – but go onward in goodness, for there are, according to the Apostle, some people who go ever onward from bad to worse. If you are going onward, you are walking; but always go onward in goodness, onward in the right faith, onward in good habits and behaviour. Sing, and walk onwards."[viii]

     When we walk as pilgrims through this Purifying Ground on Middle Earth[ix] an attitude born of faith is everything.  While all the valleys may not be as deep as the Abyss and all the Peaks may not be an Everest, the journey downhill and up can be arduous.  Not every spiritual height is alpine, even though some are.  Abide in Christ.  To walk in the Presence is not to walk alone, but to walk with him who brings the comfort of a solemn joy throughout our journey.  Our experience of the Faith is not meant to be cold and distant.

     The great 19th Century Scottish Preacher Robert Murray M’Cheyne, observed:

“Some people are afraid of anything like joy in religion.  They have none themselves, and they do not love to see it in others.  Their religion is something like the stars, very high, and very clear, but very cold.  When they see tears of anxiety, or tears of joy, they cry out, Enthusiasm, enthusiasm!  Well, then to the law and to the testimony.  “I sat down under His shadow with great delight” (Songs 2:3).  Is this enthusiasm? O Lord, evermore give us this enthusiasm! May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing!  If it be really sitting under the shadow of Christ, let there be no bounds to your joy.  O if God would but open your eyes, and give you simple, child-like faith, to look to Jesus, to sit under His shadow, then would songs of joy rise from all our dwellings. Rejoice in the Lord always, and again, I say rejoice!"[x]

[i] C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, (new York: Simon and Shuster, 1996), p. 40 [Ch. VIII].
[ii] The Creed of St. Athanasius, “Who although he be God and Man, yet he is not two, but one Christ; One not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the Manhood into God.” (BCP, p. 865).
[iii] C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald an Anthology, (New York: Macmillan). p. 1 [Currently available at Amazon].
[iv] Screwtape, p. 44
[v] ESV Numbers 13:33
[vi] ESV Psalm 66:10 -12
[vii] Acts 26:14-15 [ESV]  “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.'  15 And I said, 'Who are you, Lord?' And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”
[viii]   St. Augustine, “Universalis”, Saturday 26 November 2011
[ix] “The turning circle of the years had spun . . . Still thirty more since Almighty God, The King of Glory, had been born on this Middle-Earth of ours, light for the faithful In Human form, ”Elene,” trans: Burton Raffel, Poems and Prose from the Middle English, (New York: Vail-Ballou Press, 1998), p. 35, lines 1-7
[x] Robert Murray M’Cheyne, “Sermon 2”, in Memoirs and Remains of the Rev. R. M. M’Cheyne, ed. Andrew Bonar, (Edinburgh: William Oliphant, MDCCLXV), p. 316-317.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Long Johns

Up in Maine there is a tradition of “Down East Humour.”  One of the common characters was Virgil Bliss who was featured in the stories of the humourists Marshall Dodge and Rob Ryan.  Their “Bert and I and Other Stories of Down East” stories funded airplane missions in Labrador for a number of years.  The following story, while mine, is in the same genre.

Virgil Bliss was the durtiest man in Hancock County,[i]  why he was so durty that when he put his Long Johns on at the first frost, he wouldn’t take ‘em of agin’ till blossom time in the spring.  His wife Hettie would put on her gardenin’ gloves, pick ‘em up off the floor, hold ‘em at arm’s length and march ‘em straight out to the gahbage can.  Mind you, she didn’t mind the stink till about mid-wintah, but by March they were gettin’ a mite ripe, even for Hettie.

There’s a parable of sorts here.  We’re born without Long Johns but sooner or later as we grow we put on our Long Johns and they kinda grow with us.  Up to a point those around us don’t mind the stink; they have Long Johns of their own.   In fact there is somethin’ comfortin’ about the stink, kinda familiar and homey, up to a point; but come about mid-wintah, if not before, the stink of our lives begins to be intolerable.  

Sometimes it gets intolerable for others long before it gets intolerable for us. Now some people either keep perfumin’ themselves with culture, art, music, intelligence and other such stuff, or they just seem to have no olfactory sense at all.  Every time give me a man who knows he stinks, rather than a man who pretends he doesn’t.

Of course there’s a solution.  Own up to the fact that your Long Johns stink.  Take those Long Johns off.  Take a bath.  Make your confession to the only One who can cleanse your soul.  “If your baptism is to benefit you, you must make constant use of it throughout your life.”[ii]

[i] Virgil Bliss is a character from the Bert and I records, but this story is my own.
[ii] Philip Jacob Spener, Pia Desiderata (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978), p. 34

Friday, March 29, 2013

A Personal Journey

On the Easter Saturday of my twenty-first year I had a saving encounter with our Lord Jesus Christ that transformed my life.

            The book had been very inspiring in a negative sort of way.  The story, "The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant," had been popularized as a Broadway play, and most people thought of it as a rather innocent fantasy about a man who sold his soul to become a championship baseball player.  I was eleven years of age, impressionable, and fascinated by the concept that there might be a power greater than myself.  It didn't matter that it was the devil.  What did matter was that there was something other, or should I say, someone!  I did what I thought was the logical thing.  I tried my first experiment in prayer.  I got down on my knees behind a chair in our living room and gave my life to Satan.  There was no flash of black lightning, and on the surface I was mildly disappointed.

            In order to understand the significance of my experiment it helps to know that I grew up in a well-churched family.  Sunday worship, Sunday School, choir, youth group and all the other activities normal to churches were a regular part of our family life.  We were orthodox in our beliefs and conservative in our life style.  What was missing was a concept of personal faith.  We looked on ourselves as Christians, but it was something we did, rather than Someone we knew.  What I hungered for was that Someone to know. As Teilhard de Chardin said, “What I cry out for, like every being, with my whole life and all my earthly passion, is something very different from an equal to cherish: it is a God to adore.”  That I was looking in the wrong direction never even occurred to me.

            While there were no overt manifestations of the evil one, circumstances were to provide an answer of sorts to my offer.  A friend of mine began working at a local store and began to steal from the cash register.  I was glad to share the spoils. The thefts from the cash register continued on a weekly basis for almost two years.   Those years were to see an increasing involvement in petty theft and vandalism.  School, always difficult at that time in my life, became almost impossible.  By the time that I was eighteen I had spent three years just getting through grade ten.  My school career ended with a conflict in my home that forced me out of school and into the Royal Canadian Navy.

            I enjoyed the discipline of boot camp and reveled in the physical challenges, but that six month period was only the calm before the storm.  Immediately on being assigned to a ship in a Canadian port city I took up with the heavy drinkers on board ship.  From the very beginning of my drinking I knew only one possible reason for the use of alcohol, and that was to blot myself out.  Whenever the ship was in port I spent my time drunk, or planning to get drunk, or begging in order to get drunk and became involved in petty theft and violence in order to sustain the ability to get drunk.  I drank away trade ratings and promotions and thought nothing of it.  

           My ship-board career ended when I was working on a live electrical box and failed to warn the Electrical Officer before he stuck his hand in the box to correct my work.  Within twenty-four hours I found myself assigned to a shore hospital.  They really didn't know where else to put me.  Being confined to the hospital interfered with my drinking so I went AWOL in order to spend an evening drinking.  That act transferred me from a hospital room to a cell in solitary detention.  In order to keep track of me they assigned me to duty as a guard at the brig.  During this time came my second and more constructive attempt to pray.  I had spent an entire night drinking and had been unable to get drunk.  That failure to get drunk put me in a state of sheer panic.  I remember rolling over in my bed and crying out, "Oh God, help!"  Shortly after that I found myself with a conditional discharge and was told that if I stayed out of trouble with the law for a year they would give me an honorable discharge.

            Here is where the miracle began.  When I arrived home several things happened.  First, God temporarily removed both the opportunity and the desire for alcohol.  It was an act of sheer grace.  Second, I went to lunch with my father who leaned across the table and asked me an utterly incomprehensible question.  He said, "Have you asked Jesus into your heart?"  I didn't even know what he meant, but in the following conversation he shared with me that he had asked Jesus to be his Savior at a Billy Graham Rally in Toronto.   

I was enrolled in a special school designed to help people who had not finished high-school to take two years of schooling in one year.  I discovered that several of my classmates, all young people who had been out in the work force and were returning for an education, were more different than I could have imagined.  They had a light about them, a radiance that came from the personal knowledge of Jesus and from an openness to His Spirit.  I began to attend evangelical meetings and began to hear the steps of salvation clearly for the first time.  Several times I earnestly sought repentance, but one thing always held me back.   That was the theft from the cash register so many years ago. 

Finally on an Easter Saturday I read a chapter in a book that bore the heading, "Repentance and Restitution."  The Holy Spirit confronted me with the fact that God, in my case, made a very clear connection between confession and going to talk to the shop-keeper from whom we stole the money.  I got down on my knees in my bedroom and began to pray.  "Father, I can't confess this to you, because If I do, then I will be arrested and then what good will I be to you?"  

It was at this point that I heard the voice of God.  Not inwardly, but outwardly with an audible voice!  He said, "Go ahead, son."  I said, "But I can't, because my friend will become involved, and I don't have the right to do that."  He said, "Go ahead, son."  I came up with four or five more reasons, but each time He patiently answered, "Go ahead, son."  I got up off my knees and walked to the corner store and took the owner aside and told him my part in the affair without identifying the other person or giving the date when it happened.  The owner merely asked, "Is it all right in your heart now?"  He gave his forgiveness without lecturing or preaching and in so doing gave me a most precious gift.  I went down the street after our meeting with a tremendous feeling of my burdens being rolled away.  For the first time I felt an immediate sense of the presence of the Father and of Jesus without an accompanying sense of guilt.  But the miracle was not over yet.

            A few weeks later I knelt in a humble living room with a small group of people praying.  It was my first experience of an actual prayer meeting.  The meeting was so dull that the person kneeling beside me kept turning the pages of Life magazine.  Every time he turned a page he would say, "Amen," or "Hallelujah!"  I took a look at that strange performance and turned to God and asked Him, "What am I doing here?"  With that He poured out his Holy Spirit on me with the waves and billows of his love.  I lost all awareness of my surroundings and became only aware of Him.  I stayed under an intense anointing for what seemed like hours.  During all of that experience He was making me anew.  How precious those moments were when He let me know that there was a Power greater than myself and that He Himself loved me.

© 2013 Robin P. Smith

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Chrysos Chrystos

Chrysos.                                           Gold                      
Chrystus.                                         Christ                                                                    

Shell Chrysallis
I shed thee
Spreading golden wings
For him to see.

Poor pupa
Golden pain
Springing joyous
Christening me.
Death’s baptism
Into life,
Into love,
In the midst of life.

Cristo sunestauromai                       I am co-crucified with Christ
Shedding only shell
My being ever living.
Ever living
Lives in me.

Sanctifica me,                                  Sanctify me
Salve me,                                           Save me
Inebria me.                                       Inebriate me
Christen me
with thine own self,
For thou dost know me
for what I am.
Thou knowest I need thee.

Deep-laid in a soft red womb,
Absconde me                                    Hide me
Ne permittas me                              Do not permit me
Separari a te,                                     To be separated from Thee
Intra tua vulnera!                            In your wounds!
Bring to me
third birth
beyond death,
Spreading golden wings
for Him to see.

He died,
He lives,
I died.
I will die again,
I will ever live.

Deo gratia!                                        Thanks be to God!