Sunday, March 31, 2013


I Jesus is condemned to death
The very air that Pilate breathes, the voice
With which he speaks in judgment, all his powers
Of perception and discrimination, choice,
Decision, all his years, his days and hours,
His consciousness of self, his every sense,
Are given by this prisoner, freely given.
The man who stands there making no defence,
Is God. His hands are tied, His heart is open.
And he bears Pilate’s heart in his and feels
That crushing weight of wasted life. He lifts
It up in silent love. He lifts and heals.
He gives himself again with all his gifts
Into our hands. As Pilate turns away
A door swings open. This is judgment day.
--Malcolm Guite

"Halfway to poetry"

So wrote C.S. Lewis when describing “sentences that stick to the mind” from the prose of William Tyndale (c. 1494-1536).

What were these phrases? Here are two that Lewis singled out for special praise in his classic text, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama
 Who taught the eagles to spy out their prey? even so the children of God spy out their Father, that they might see and love again.
Where the spirit is, there is always summer.
Then followed a succinct tribute, as memorable as it was evocative. In the best of Tyndale’s prose, Lewis concluded, “we breathe mountain air.”

We also hear echoes of Tyndale’s prose every day, throughout the English-speaking world.
Does that seem far-fetched? A simple presentation of Tyndale’s best-known phrases shows that it’s not. All are present in his celebrated translation of The New Testament, published in 1534. In Matthew, chapter five, we find “the salt of the earth.” Nine chapters later, in Matthew 16, we read of “the signs of the times.” Turn to Luke’s gospel, chapter twelve. There, we discover “eat, drink and be merry.” In Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, chapter 13, there is an admonition regarding “the powers that be.” And, in the Book of James, chapter 5, we encounter this memorable phrase: “the patience of Job.”

Our surprise only grows upon learning that Tyndale’s rendering of these phrases mark the first time they entered our language.
William Tyndale (from Marshall's Dayspring bio 1883)
William Tyndale (from Marshall’s Dayspring bio 1883)

For people in the family of faith, the debt to Tyndale becomes greater. Do we love lines of scripture such as “Let there be light,” “seek, and ye shall find,” “fight the good fight of faith,” or “be not weary in well doing”? They come to us from Tyndale.

Tyndale translated The New Testament by himself—a staggering thought when one considers how many committees have undertaken the task in subsequent centuries. His was a beautiful flowering of scholarship and artistry, the more poignant because his work of translating the entire Bible was cut short by his tragic martyrdom.

Movingly, it’s been said that Tyndale’s translation, timeless and beautiful, bears the hallmarks of a “solitary music.” Today, though we scarcely know it, we are his fortunate heirs. The English we speak owes a great and lasting debt to his scholarship and sacrifice. Many cadences of our literature issued from his pen. More than 475 years have passed since his death. Bless God, we may hear his music still.
--Kevin Belmonte
Did not thy father eat and drink, and do judgment and justice, and then it was well with him?

He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well with him: and was not this to know me? saith the Lord.
--Jeremiah 22:15-16.

But most days, if you're aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she's not usually like this. Maybe she's been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it's also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you're automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won't consider possibilities that aren't annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

--from David Foster Wallace commencement speech

Saturday, March 30, 2013

What kind of explanation of the development of these organisms, even one that includes evolutionary theory, could account for the appearance of organisms that are not only physically adapted to the environment but also conscious subjects? In brief, I believe it cannot be a purely physical explanation. What has to be explained is not just the lacing of organic life with a tincture of qualia but the coming into existence of subjective individual points of view— a type of existence logically distinct from anything describable by the physical sciences alone.
The existence of consciousness is both one of the most familiar and one of the most astounding things about the world. No conception of the natural order that does not reveal it as something to be expected can aspire even to the outline of completeness. And if physical science, whatever it may have to say about the origin of life, leaves us necessarily in the dark about consciousness, that shows that it cannot provide the basic form of intelligibility for this world.
--Thomas Nagel

Consider a story from the life of D.L. Moody. As a fatherless boy raised in rural poverty, he was once sent several miles from home to work alongside an elder brother on a local farm. No more than ten, perhaps younger, he was overwhelmed with homesickness. Forty years later, as a world famous herald of the gospel, Moody frequently told this story. “It seemed,” he said, “that I was then further away from home than I had ever been before, or have ever been since.”

But then, one day, Moody and his brother were walking down the street of the town where they’d been sent to work. As Moody remembered—

"While we were walking down the street we saw an old man coming toward us, and my brother said, 'There is a man that will give you a cent. He gives every new boy that comes into this town a cent.' When the old man got opposite to us…my brother told him that I was a new boy in the town.

The old man, taking off my hat, placed his trembling hand on my head. He told me I had a Father in heaven.

It was a kind, simple act, but I feel the pressure of the old man’s hand upon my head today. You don’t know how much you may do by just speaking kindly.


There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.

It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

--Jane Kenyon

Monday, March 4, 2013

The loveliest argument I know against unbelief was made by a woman whose name I have forgotten, quoted by the theologian John Baillie in Our Knowledge of God; it boils down to this: "If there is no God, whom do we thank?"

The force of this hit me on a mild November evening when I was oppressed by woes; I prayed for a little relief and tried counting my blessings instead of my grievances. I've long known that a great secret of happiness is gratitude, but that didn't prepare me for what happened next.

As I munched a cheeseburger, I could hardly think of anything in my life that couldn't be seen as a gift from God.  As one of the characters in Lear tells his father: "Thy life's a miracle." Of whom is that not true?

The more we reflect on the sheer oddity of our very existence and, in addition, of our eligibility for salvation, the deeper our gratitude must be. Amazing grace indeed! To call it astounding is to express the matter feebly. Why me? How on earth could I ever have deserved this, the promise of eternal joy?

And given all this, in comparison with which winning the greatest lottery in the world is just a minor fluke, how can I dare to sin again, or to be anything less than a saint for the rest of my life?

Yet I know that my own horrible spiritual habits will keep drawing me downward every hour. Like most men, or maybe more than most, I am my own worst enemy, constantly tempted to repay my Savior with my self-centered ingratitude. When I think of my sins, the debt of thanksgiving itself seems far too heavy to pay. No wonder He commands us to rejoice. It's by no means the easiest of our duties.
--Joe Sobran

For Pietr

To Linnell on her Birthday

The Blue Robe
     By Wendell Berry

How joyful to be together, alone
as when we first were joined
in our little house by the river
long ago, except that now we know

each other, as we did not then;
and now instead of two stories fumbling
to meet, we belong to one story
that the two, joining, made. And now

we touch each other with the tenderness
of mortals, who know themselves:
how joyful to feel the heart quake

at the sight of a grandmother,
old friend in the morning light,
beautiful in her blue robe!

Saturday, March 2, 2013