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

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!

Monday, March 25, 2013

I received this beautiful Lenten Offering from an old friend, The Rev. Ralph Johnson and thought you might enjoy it.   


Lord, when I am insecure,
      May the Father count the hairs on my head.
      May the Son pave the way for me.
      May the Comforter walk beside me.   
Lord, when I am insecure,

       May the Father confirm that I am His child.
       May the Son be my Great Shepherd.
       May the Spirit dwell within me.

Lord, when I am insecure,

     May the Father grant me wisdom.
     May the Son remind me that He is my Lord.
     May the Spirit’s waters refresh me.

                      Rev. Ralph Johnson

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Law of Undulation

C. S. Lewis’s character Screwtape, the Senior devil in The Screwtape Letters, has an interesting take on human nature.  He observes that our lives have a natural rhythm, an ebb and flow, a series of troughs and peaks that affects every area of our lives—our interests, our loves, our work.  We go through times of spiritual insight and responsiveness, and times of dryness and dullness.

That shouldn't surprise us; the rhythm is written into nature.  In simpler times I have sat by sea and watched the waves, not just the rhythm of the waves breaking on the beach, then retreating to break interminably upon the beach again, but the long ebbing of the tide, its flowing back, a rhythm governed by the cycle of the moon upon the earth.

The rhythms of our lives are part of the dance of life that all God’s creatures dance.  The dance becomes un-rhythmical, disharmonious, erratic, when the dancers fail to move with the dance and try to force their way unnaturally.  This often happens when the dancers fail to notice that they are dancing the dance, and that the law of undulation is a natural law.

Some of God’s children try to force their way into perpetual spiritual highs, others surrender to the lows and allow depression to govern all their days.  You can’t live on the heights, and you best not camp permanently in the low valleys of our experience.

The first correction that we can make is the simple acknowledgement that we have highs and lows; that highs and lows are a natural part of life, and that there is nothing wrong with having highs and lows.  Barring chemical imbalance, which is a matter for wise doctors and counsellors, having highs and lows is not a call for some pacifying medication to homogenize our days.  Bland is not beautiful.

Rather than that, make use of your highs, those moments of greater energy and joy, and rejoice that your God has made you and all things good.  In those moments step into the flow of His creativity and dance the dance with confidence. 

In the lows, do not condemn yourself or accept Screwtape’s counsel of despair. Instead, use the steady tools of your faith; pray the prayers of Morning Prayer, read Holy Scripture, especially the Psalms, that book of ups and downs.  Talk quietly with your friends, give love, accept love, read quietly things that delight the mind, listen to a symphony, and be at peace; the rhythm always returns and every ebb is always followed by a flow.

St. Benedict reminds us that “We believe that the divine presence is everywhere and that in every place the eyes of the Lord are watching the good and the wicked” (Proverbs 15:3). But beyond the least doubt we should believe this to be especially true when we celebrate the divine office” (RB 19:1,2).  First, understand that your Lord is with you in the lows as well as in the highs.  Even Screwtape knew that our Lord makes great use of the troughs in our lives, observing, “It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be.  Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best” (Screwtape, Letter VIII).

Second, observe that steady discipline maintained through both highs and lows is the clearest channel of grace.  The simple truth is that if we steadily hold our souls aloft to God, He will pour His blessing upon us.  Our daily prayer and Scripture reading doesn’t have to be flashy, it just has to be as regular as we can possibly make it.  There is a difference between infused grace, that moment of gratuitous spiritual intensity that we so often seek and cherish, and acquired grace.  Infused grace is temporarily rewarding, acquired grace builds slowly but steadily towards a deeper union with the God whom we love.

Third, observe that we take ourselves too seriously.  That is a result of our misguided view that we are actually in control.  Banish the thought from your mind.  The Psalmist says, “I am a man who has no strength…I am shut in so that I cannot escape…I am helpless” (Psalm 88:4,8,15 ESV).  You only think you are in control.  That in itself ought to provide the biggest occasion for self-deprecatory humour, that is, if it weren’t so often painful.  Relax into the hands of God, accept His forgiveness, accept His patience with you and extend some of that divine patience to yourself and to others.  From a divine perspective, in all our solemn seriousness, we may all be somewhat amusing.  That is to say, ease up on yourself and live in forgiveness and divine acceptance.

One of C. S. Lewis’s characters, at the moment immediately preceding her encounter with God, had the following flash of insight, “Supposing one were a thing after all—a thing designed and invented by Someone Else and valued for qualities quite different from what one had decided to regard as one’s true self?  Supposing all those people who, from the bachelor uncles down to Mark and Mother Dimble, had infuriatingly found her sweet and fresh when she wanted them to find her also interesting and important, had all along been simply right and perceived the sort of thing she was?” (C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, (New York: Scribner, 1945), p. 315). 

The question really isn't  “What do I want to do?”, or “What do I want to be?”, but “What has my Maker designed me to be?”, and “How has he moulded me through the apparent accidents of life?”

Monday, March 18, 2013

Faith Stories Retreat: A Ministry or Faith Alive

This was a great experience of faith, fellowship and prayer for Trinity Episcopal Church in Dallas.  Many thanks to Tom Riley the President of Faith Alive for his good humored, generous and spiritually challenging Faith Stories.  Among the other themes certain quotes stand out.  “Obedience is the eardrum of spiritual hearing.” “Our prayers have wings.”  “Never look back with regret if you have given God a license to move.” “Practice the ministry of receiving.”  Featured also were two classic prayers, one from the Charles de Foucauld, and the other from The Book of Common Prayer.

The Prayer of Abandonment by Charles de Foucauld 1858-1916

I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures -
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.

A Prayer of Self-Dedication from the Book of Common Prayer
Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to thee, so
guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our
wills, that we may be wholly thine, utterly dedicated unto
thee; and then use us, we pray thee, as thou wilt, and always
to thy glory and the welfare of thy people; through our Lord
and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Blessed is the Man Whose Iniquities are Forgiven

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.  Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.[i]

The text says: “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven”; that is to say: Blessed are they who by grace are freed from the burden of iniquity, namely of the actual sins which they have committed.  That, however, is not sufficient, unless also their “sins are covered,” that is, unless the radical evil which is in them, (original sin), is not charged to them as sin.  That is, covered when, though still existing, it is not regarded, considered and imputed by God; as we read” “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.”[ii]

Take this text to heart!  There is a difference between believing in God and believing God.  Luther tells us that, “To believe in God means to trust Him always and everywhere.” There are those who think that everyone else is always to blame and not themselves, and those who feel that when things go wrong they themselves are probably the cause.  The former want you to live in guilt for their own relief; the latter spend too much time poking their own guilt with the stick of self-accusation.  Of course many sway between these two opposite poles.

The awakened Christian soul increasingly spends less and less time in projecting blame and guilt on others, but runs the danger of proceeding from necessary self-condemnation and legitimate guilt to a morbid state of unrelieved guilt.  Martin Luther, prior to his discovery of justification by faith had that problem.  Luther attempted to confess to Von Staupitz every sinful thing he may have done.  It took six hours. Von Staupitz is reported to have written later, "I was myself more than once driven to the very depths of despair so that I wished I had never been created. Love God? I hated him.” As I remember it his confessor Staupitz finally said something like “For Pete’s sake, Martin, grow a thick skin!”[iii] 

Now, that may be apocryphal, but the point isn’t.  It isn’t possible to confess all your sins, real and imagined, because the human soul, trapped in original sin, is a bottomless pit of iniquity. Confession is both necessary and helpful as John says:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. [iv]

Making a good confession is a response to saving grace, not a means of salvation, and you can’t save your “self” by making a perfect confession very simply because you are not perfect, and it is necessary for that old sinful self to die to itself in order that it might be reborn.  That is why it is both spiritually and psychologically necessary for us to be saved by grace through faith.  There is no other way that will either work or satisfy the soul.
With all of that said, it is necessary once more to go back to the source of forgiveness.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.[v]

We must always go back there and look on Christ crucified.  The wise advice of one of my fellow Scots was this, “"For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ."[vi]

[i] Psalm 32:1-2 ESV
[ii] Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller, (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1976), p.83
[iii] Quoted from my tricky memory of a lecture long, long, ago.
[iv] 1 John 1:8-10 
[v] Isaiah 53:4-7  
[vi] The Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray M'Cheyne.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Lover Is the Cross on Which His Beloved Is Stretched

Many Christians bear the invisible stigmata, for after all suffering is a part of Christian life; but that is only our share in the lot of all humankind.  Our sufferings come from many sources, not the least from ourselves.  I grieve that I cause pain to others, and thus to myself.

Christian lovers, who have considered within themselves the nature of Love, will have known from the beginning that there is another side to the early delight.  To them it is a place of purgation as well as joy; it is in truth a little universe of place and time, of earth, of purgatory, of heaven or hell.  The companion in this experience is to him or to her the instrument of fire which shall burn away his corrupt part. . .

Love is Holiness and Divine Indignation; the placidity of an ordinary married life is the veil of a spiritual passage into profound things.  Nor is this all; the lover knows himself also to be the cross upon which the Beloved is to be stretched, and so she also of her lover.[i]

Paul advocates, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”[ii]  It is sometimes necessary to die to ourselves even as Christ died to himself.  That dying is not academic, but personal and painful.  There is suffering within marriage.  It would be some sort of solace if we could delude ourselves into thinking that we were not at least partially responsible for the pain that we are experiencing.  Sometimes we are largely responsible, at other times we are not; but it really doesn't matter who is to blame.  The blame game has no place in our surrender to being stretched on the cross of our beloved.

It is natural to desire to avoid the pain; but it is necessary to tread the way of acceptance rather than to kick against the goads.  Sometimes the inner being throws up a froth of anger, resentment, and self-pity, stemming from a sense of helplessness.  Giving vent to these things only rubs the wounds raw.  The problem in part is our desire to control the outcome and reduce our pain, but what if that is not possible.  Then what does one do?  Make your surrender to God in the real situation in which you find yourself. Live in the real, the now, and forsake the past.  You cannot yet live in the future; do not borrow its imagined woes. Resist the temptation to fix what is not yours to fix.  Pray and pray again.  Use the tools of your faith.  Read Scripture, learn, and inwardly digest.  Turn your reading into prayer.  Listen, and be responsive.  Fear not, but trust in the One who redeems all things.

[i] Charles Williams, Outlines of Romantic Theology, ed. Alice Mary Hatfield, (Berkeley, CA: The Apocryphile Press,  2005), p. 23. 
[ii] Ephesians 5:25