Monday, July 22, 2019

What it's all about

I wrote about this is in my reading blog and decided to put this part in here, too, since it is something close to my heart. It is about the book, On Reading Well* by Karen Swallow Prior, a chapter about the virtue of kindness.

The chapter revolves around the book Tenth of December by George Saunders, which was one of my book club’s choices, if I remember right, but I did not read it. 

The character Don goes into the woods (on the 10th of December) to end his life after being becoming sick and weak with a fatal disease to “ease the burdens of those he loves” (p.213). A boy, Robin, finds the coat Don took off and searches for the owner. “When Don spies the boy carrying his coat in search of him, even his weakened mind is troubled at the thought of a child stumbling across the scene of death he is about to create…’That could scar a kid,’ he thinks (pp. 213-14). Then the boy falls through the ice on a pond and Don manages to save his life. They go to Robin’s home and the boy’s mother cares for Don, who realizes a “renewed joy in life.” Then he is reunited with his wife.

Before they reunite, though, “Don pauses one more time to consider whether he really wants to continue living, knowing the days he has left are numbered and will be filled with great pain (p. 217). Quote from The Tenth of December:

Did he still want it? Did he still want to live?
                Yes, yes, oh, God, yes, please.
                Because, O.K., the thing was—he saw it now, was starting to see it—if some guy at the end, fell apart, and said or did bad things, or had to be helped, helped to quite a considerable extent? So what? What of it? Why should he not do or say weird things or look strange or disgusting? Why should the s----- not run down his legs? Why should those he loved not lift and bend and feed and wipe him, when he would gladly do the same for them? He’d been afraid to be lessened by the lifting and bending and feeding and wiping, and was still afraid of that, and yet, at the same time, now saw that there could still be many—many drops of goodness, is how it came to him—many drops of happy—of good fellowship—ahead, and those drops of fellowship were not—had never been—his to [withhold].

Prior says whenever she reads this passage, “it pierces [her] every time” (p. 218). She confesses to being “terribly, terribly afraid of dying.” Afraid of all the things Saunders writes of Don fearing. As Prior says, these fears are natural and normal, but she feels they are heightened for her because her husband’s father killed himself when faced with the fate of dying from a fatal disease. It scarred her husband and all his family.

For those so sick or scared or depressed that they think their loved ones would be better off without them, I so wish for them to know what Don Eber came to know; caring for those bodies we inhabit for a while—whether that care is of our own or someone else’s body—isn’t a distraction from what life is all about. It is what life is all about.
                In lieu of death, be kind to one another.

That pierces me, too. I think of many things. Jean Vanier and L’Arche, living with and befriending lonely, mentally challenged people. My brother finding so much humor in his life during the 6 months it took him to die of ALS. My mom feeling so ashamed when she came home from a walk around the block with exactly what Saunders listed, s------ running down her legs. My sister and sister-in-law faithfully present for Mom as she declined both physically and mentally with Parkinson’s. My dad, from his own deathbed saying, “Move her closer, closer,” when we wheeled Mom in to his room so he could hold her hand and say, “Hi, sweetheart.” Dad holding my own hand, kissing it, and saying, “I love you so much.” My aunt – my mom’s sister – sitting beside Mom shortly before she died, looking at old photos and knowing exactly what my mom meant as she managed to speak one or two words the memories those pictures evoked. My sister reading Psalm 23 to Mom as she breathed her last breaths, with Mom silently echoing the words. Yes, that is what life is all about.



* On Reading Well, Finding the Good Life Through Great Books by Karen Swallow Prior. Brazos Press, Grand Rapids, MI. copyright 2018.

Friday, July 19, 2019

I shall not want


Isn't this song beautiful? When I first heard the title ("I Shall Not Want"), I figured the song would be a re-telling of Psalm 23, which begins, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”  The song seems quite different, though, doesn’t it?

A few of the words made me wonder. Many seem logical -- asking God to deliver me from the love of my own comfort, the fear of having nothing, a life of worldly passions. But from “the need to be understood” and from “a need to be accepted”? Why would I want to be delivered from those? We all want to be understood and accepted. Maybe it’s about the need? Deliver me from needing to be understood and accepted so badly that I make compromises. Maybe.

Another line says deliver me from the fear of humility. That one is confusing to me, too. Why would I be afraid of humility? We want to be humble, right? Maybe from the fear of being humiliated? Or a different way to ask to be delivered from pride?

I’m probably overthinking it. Definitely a tendency of mine. But if you have any thoughts, I welcome them!

I love listening to the song. I hope you enjoy it, too. The beauty of the music and Assad’s pure voice, pondering the words. “When I taste your goodness, I shall not want.”

Thank God for his love, that gives us his goodness. Thank God we shall not want.

I Shall Not Want by Audrey Assad

From the love of my own comfort
From the fear of having nothing
From a life of worldly passions
Deliver me O God

From the need to be understood
And from a need to be accepted
From the fear of being lonely
Deliver me O God
Deliver me O God

And I shall not want, no, I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want

From the fear of serving others
Oh, and from the fear of death or trial
And from the fear of humility
Deliver me O God
Yes, deliver me O God

And I shall not want, no, I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness I shall not want

No, I shall not want, no, I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness I shall not want

When I taste Your goodness I shall not want
I shall not want
I shall not want

Psalm 23  A Psalm of David

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

What can I pray about for you?

love and blessings,

Mavis

If you would like to send me specific prayer requests, email mavis at moonfamily.cc. I will gladly pray with you. I'll keep all communication confidential.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

How do I know God loves me?


There are times in life where we wonder, where we doubt, where we really can’t see how the love of God -- or God himself -- can be true. How do I know God loves me?

I’ve read various answers to this question in books, sermons, and so on. What I’ve seen as the answer runs along the lines of the list below. But is that enough?
  • He tells you in the Bible. “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Great song, and great truth. There are myriads of verses where God tells us he loves us, and will forever.
  • He sent his son to die for you. What greater love could there be, than to take his son, who loved, who never sinned, and give him to us, to carry our sins and be punished for them as if they were his sins?
  • He gave us his holy spirit. One author, Nancy Missler, wrote:
It's the Spirit of God that bears witness or validates to our spirit not only that we are His children, but also that He loves us. (Romans 8:10) It's God's Spirit that empowers us, teaches us, guides us, gives us discernment as to how to walk and enables us to commune and fellowship with Him.
We are also cautioned not to trust our emotions, but, even when we don’t feel God’s love, to cling to the Scriptures and knowledge that God does love you. Trust. Billy Graham said:
Don’t trust your emotions; they can deceive you. Instead, trust Christ and what He has done for you. Invite Him to come into your life today, and then thank Him every morning for His unchanging love for you.
As I read these various answers to the question “How do I know God loves me?” they felt kind of circular. Like: Believe it because God says it.

But what about people who don’t believe in God? Or what if I am in a time of doubt and not sure I believe in God?

I don’t know the full answer to that. What do you think is the answer? Here’s a thought I came up with. People who don’t believe in God don’t know God loves them. For the doubters, and hopefully also for those sure of their disbelief, it’s temporary. At the time, they don’t know God loves them.

But here’s the thing: He does. Whether they know it or not.

It reminded me of a scene in C.S. Lewis’ book (and yes, those who know me are probably thinking, What doesn’t remind Mavis of a scene in a Narnia book?), The Last Battle. At the end of Narnia, the characters go through a door into “The Stable.” It turns out that the Stable is actually a new world, with “blue sky overhead, and grassy country spreading as far as [you] could see.” A group of Dwarfs is in that new world and…
They had a very odd look. They weren’t strolling about or enjoying themselves… They were very close together in a little circle facing one another.
They couldn’t see the others in the Stable or the beauty around them. They described it as “this pitch-black, poky, smelly little hole of a stable.” When Lucy tried to give them some flowers, they yelled at her for “shoving a lot of filthy stable-litter in [their] face.” When Aslan gave them a “glorious feast,” they thought they were eating hay, an old turnip, raw cabbage, and other animal feed you might find in a stable. Surrounded by that beautiful world, they could not see it. Surrounded by God’s love, not all see or know it.

So, yes, the answers are circular. Because we do need to trust in God -- and hang on to that belief even when we can’t feel it -- in order to know God loves us. And regardless of whether we know it or not, he does.
Paul Zahl, in his book, Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life, described grace as “love coming at you that has nothing to do with you.” Amazing.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


What is this?? A while back, I had an idea. I was thinking of some friends I wanted to pray for, but I didn't have a specific thing to pray about on their behalf. I decided to pray that they would feel God's love. I decided to send them an email when I prayed, so they'd know and be encouraged. Then I thought about my many other family members and friends who I would like to encourage with prayer, and decided to start this email. Two things I try to do:
 -- Encourage you with a reminder of God's love. My goal is to avoid anything where the response is "I should..." Just a short reflection of God's love
.-- Pray for you. I'll pray with each email, and please reply or email me at mavis at moonfamily.cc with anything you'd specifically like me to pray for you. I'll keep it confidential, don't worry.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Heavenly and earthly, spirit, soul, and flesh

I am a part of a group that meets monthly to discuss theological ideas, led by Paul VanderKlay. One of the participants sent this.

On Thu, Jul 4, 2019 at 11:43 AM Kevin Zabihi <kevin.zabihi@gmail.com> wrote:
Hi guys,
Read this article today. Reminded me of our conversation last time, on what “is” the spirit. Thoughts? 


Notes I took as I read both the article Kevin linked to, and the original one the author referenced.

The earth on which we live, for example, is not divided from the several heavenly spheres by the lunary sphere, nor is the aerial realm of generation and decay here below separated by that sphere from the imperishable ethereal realm of spiritual forces there above. Thus, for us today, even such words as “heavenly” (ἐπουράνιος) and “earthly” (χοϊκός) convey practically nothing of the exquisite cosmology—at once concretely physical and vibrantly spiritual—in which the authors of the New Testament livedFrom <https://churchlifejournal.nd.edu/articles/the-spiritual-was-more-substantial-than-the-material-for-the-ancients/>

Reminds me of what Paul has said about the world the people of the Bible lived in vs. what we live in -- the sky like a dome or a bowl and so on. Reminder of how differently the words we read were understood by the readers/listeners of the time.

In the world of Protestant scriptural scholarship, this latter strategy reached a kind of cartoonish climax in the early editions of the New International Version of the Bible, where the word “flesh” was in many cases rendered as something like “sinful nature” (I would check the exact wording, but that would involve picking up a copy of the NIV).From <https://churchlifejournal.nd.edu/articles/the-spiritual-was-more-substantial-than-the-material-for-the-ancients/>

Made me laugh out loud, This guy really hates the NIV!

Hence, according to Paul, the body of the resurrection is not one of flesh and blood animated by “soul,” but is rather a new reality altogether, an entirely spiritual body beyond composition or dissolution. And this is how his language would have been understood by his contemporaries.From <https://churchlifejournal.nd.edu/articles/the-spiritual-was-more-substantial-than-the-material-for-the-ancients/>

Resurrected body is a different kind of body. Richard Rohr says?

If we could hear the language of πνεῦμα with late antique ears, our sense of the text’s meaning would not be that of two utterly distinct concepts—one “physical” and one “mystical”—only metaphorically entangled with one another by dint of a verbal equivocity; rather, we would almost surely hear only a single concept expressed univocally through a single word, a concept in which the physical and the mystical would remain undifferentiated. To be born of spirit (or Spirit), to be born of the wind of life, to be born of the divine and cosmic breath vivifying and uniting all things—it would all make perfectly simple, straightforward, “physical” sense to us. Whatever the case, though, this much is certain: it was widely believed in late antiquity that, in human beings, flesh and soul and spirit were all present in some degree; “spirit” was merely the element that was imperishable by nature and constitution.From <https://churchlifejournal.nd.edu/articles/the-spiritual-was-more-substantial-than-the-material-for-the-ancients/> For Paul, both psychical and spiritual bodies were in the proper sense natural objects, and both in fact are found in nature as it now exists. He distinguished, therefore, not between “natural” and “spiritual” bodies, but only between σώματα ἐπίγεια (“terrestrial bodies”) and σώματα ἐπουράνια (“celestial bodies”). And this, again, is a distinction not between natural and supernatural life, but merely between incommiscible “natural” states: ἀφθαρσία (“incorruptibility”) and φθορά (“decay”), δόξα (“glory”) and ἀτιμία (“dishonor”), δυνάμις (“power”) and ἀσθένεια (“weakness”).  In speaking of the body of the resurrection as a “spiritual” rather than “psychical” body, Paul is saying that, in the Age to come, when the whole cosmos will be transfigured into a reality appropriate to spirit, beyond birth and death, the terrestrial bodies of those raised to new life will be transfigured into the sort of celestial bodies that now belong to the angels: incorruptible, immortal, purged of every element of flesh and blood and (perhaps) soul.From <https://churchlifejournal.nd.edu/articles/the-spiritual-was-more-substantial-than-the-material-for-the-ancients/>

Subjective as real as the objective. Just recently heard a discussion of that. Was it on one of Paul's videos? I can't remember.  Interesting to think of Christ as having a spiritual body similar to the body that angels have.

At the same time, of course, no other gospel places greater emphasis upon the physical substantiality of the body of the risen Christ—Thomas invited to place his hands in Christ’s wounds, the disciples invited to share a breakfast of fish with him beside the Sea of Tiberias—but even this is perfectly compatible with Paul’s language. It is, as I say, extraordinarily difficult for modern persons to free their imaginations from the essentially Cartesian prejudice that material bodies must by definition be more substantial, more concrete, more capable of generating physical effects than anything that might be denominated as “soul” or “spirit” or “intellect” could be. Again, however, for the peoples of late Graeco-Roman antiquity, it made perfect sense to think of spiritual reality as more substantial, powerful, and resourceful than any animal body could ever be. Nothing of which a mortal, corruptible, “psychical” body is capable would have been thought to lie beyond the powers of an immortal, incorruptible, wholly spiritual being. It was this evanescent life, lived in a frail and perishable animal frame, that was regarded as the poorer, feebler, more ghostly of the two conditions; spiritual existence was something immeasurably mightier, more robust, more joyous, more plentifully alive. And this definitely seems to be the picture provided by the gospels in general. The risen Christ, possessed of a spiritual body, could eat and drink, could be felt, could break bread between his hands; but he could also appear and disappear at will, unimpeded by walls or locked doors, or could become unrecognizable to those who had known him before his death, or could even ascend from the earth and pass through the incorruptible heavens where only spiritual beings may venture.From <https://churchlifejournal.nd.edu/articles/the-spiritual-was-more-substantial-than-the-material-for-the-ancients/>

Spiritual body capable of all that the physical body has and does, and more. 

As a result, he seems to be laboring under the impression that I was claiming that Paul believed resurrection to be an escape from—rather than a transfiguration of—the conditions of incarnation, and that a “spiritual body” is somehow a “bodiless spirit.”From <https://churchlifejournal.nd.edu/articles/looking-awry-at-ressurection-bodies/>

Talking about Ware's criticism. Not escape but transfiguration. I like the emphasis on transfiguration. We shall all be changed.

We cannot help, it seems, but think of “soul” and “spirit” as utterly incorporeal, lacking all extension and physical presence, pure instances of res cogitans.From <https://churchlifejournal.nd.edu/articles/looking-awry-at-ressurection-bodies/>

Spiritual beings were very real to me as a child, though I never saw them other than in my imagination, It made me quite a fearful child, although I hardly ever talked to anyone about it. I believe because I was brought up with Bible stories, I believed there was this whole invisible (to me) world of spirits all around me, some good and some bad -- hence the fear. Now, as I try to get deeper into Ignation spiritual practices, especially contemplative prayer where you use your imagination as a way to be with and even hear from God, I wonder about that world I lived in as a child, and what was real and was not. Am I still living in that world?

Only God was beyond all embodiment by nature, and therefore omnipresent. All spiritual creatures possessed bodies, albeit of an especially aetherial nature, and all of them were therefore bound to some kind of local existence. Many, for instance, lived in the heavens above, divine or angelic “glories” (James 1:17, 2 Peter 2:10-11), or the astral bodies of the glorified righteous (Daniel 12:3, Wisdom 3:7).From <https://churchlifejournal.nd.edu/articles/looking-awry-at-ressurection-bodies/>

Interesting. All spiritual beings have a body, except God. But then does that mean Jesus, since he is God, lost his spiritual body after he ascended?

Trust on the road

I can relate to this article, "Driven."
Speaking of dividers, another trite but horrifying observation: lanes are painted. Not veering off into an oncoming car is just a social contract.
That often occurs to me, too, as I turn my wheel in a steep curve, with cars coming toward me in the other lane. We trust each other not to go over the line and onto each others' side of the road. It's kind of amazing.

We trust each other about that, but so little about anything else.

Curves in roads or trails also remind me of the cover of my life story book. Several years ago, our pastor led us in a program where each of us thought about, talked about, and shared the stories of our lives, especially our faith journey. As a part of that, we each drew or painted a small canvas depicting the cover of our life story book. Mine was a curved path, with a cross and a ball of light around the corner. I wanted it to show we never know what is coming around the corner, but we always know that Jesus will be with us. Another kind of trust.

from The Smart Local, image credit: @adriansim88