Saturday, March 24, 2012

Lent Week 5

A reading on Christian charity from A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life by William Law

Miranda (the sister of Flavia) is a sober, reasonable Christian:  as soon as she was mistress of her time and fortune, it was her first thought how she might best fulfill everything that God required of her in the use of them, and how she might make best and happiest use of this short life.  She depends upon the truth of what our blessed Lord has said, that there is but “One thing needful,” and therefore makes her whole life but one continual labor after it.  She has but one reason for doing or not doing, for liking or not liking anything, and that is the will of God.  She is not so weak as to pretend to add what is called the fine lady to the true Christian; Miranda thinks too well to be taken with the sound of such silly words; she has renounced the world to follow Christ in the exercise of humility, charity, devotion, abstinence, and heavenly affections.

Miranda does not divide her duty between God, her neighbor, and herself; but she considers all as due to God, and so does everything in God’s Name, and for God’s sake.  This makes her consider her fortune as the gift of God, that is to be used, as everything is that belongs to God, for the wise and reasonable ends of a Christian and holy life.  Her fortune therefore is divided between herself and several other poor people, and she has only her part of relief from it.  She thinks it the same folly to indulge herself in needless, vain expenses, as to give to other people to spend in the same way.  Therefore as she will not give a poor man money to go see a puppet-show, neither will she allow herself any to spend in the same manner; thinking it very proper to be as wise herself as she expects poor men should be.  For it is a folly and a crime in a poor man, says Miranda, to waste what is given him in foolish trifles, while he wants meat, drink, and clothes.

It may be, says Miranda, that I may often given to those that do not deserve it, or that will make an ill use of my alms.  But what then?  Is not this the very method of Divine goodness?  Does not God make his “sun to rise on the evil and on the good”?  Is not this the very goodness that is recommended to us in Scripture, that, by imitating of it, we may be children of our Father in Heaven, who “sends rain on the just and on the unjust”?  And shall I withhold a little money, or food, from my fellow-creatures, for fear they should not be good enough to receive it of me?  Do I beg of God to deal with me, not according to my merit, but according to God’s own great goodness; and shall I be so absurd as to withhold my charity from a poor brother or sister, because they may perhaps not deserve it?  Shall I use a measure towards them, which I pray God never to use towards me?

You will perhaps say, that by this means I encourage people to be beggars.  But the same thoughtless objection may be made against all kinds of charities, for they may encourage people to depend upon them.  The same may be said against clothing the naked, or giving medicines to the sick; for that may encourage people to neglect themselves, and be careless of their health.  But when the love of God swells in you, when it has enlarged your heart, and filled you with bowels of mercy and compassion, you will make no more such objections as these.

This is the spirit, and this is the life, of the devout Miranda; and if she lives ten years longer, she will have spent sixty hundred pounds in charity, for that which she allows herself, may fairly be reckoned amongst her alms.

When she dies, she must shine among Apostles, and saints, and martyrs; she must stand among the first servants of God, and be glorious among those that have fought the good fight, and finished their course with joy.

She considers all as due to God.

On what basis do we give?  How do we balance stewardship & alms?  What is the difference between personal and impersonal almsgiving.

From A Time To Turn by Christopher Webber

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Lent Week 4

A reading from The Spirit of Prayer by William Law

The Spirit of Prayer is a pressing forth of the soul out of the earthly life.  It is a stretching with all its desire after the life of God.  It is a leaving, as far as it can, all its own spirit to receive a Spirit from above, to be one life, one love, one spirit with Christ in God.  This prayer, which is an emptying itself of all its own lusts and natural tempers, and an opening itself for the light and love of God to enter into it, it’s the prayer in the Name of Christ, to which nothing is denied for the love which God bears to the soul.  His eternal, never-ceasing desire to enter into it, to dwell in it, an open the birth of his Holy Word and Spirit in it stays not longer than till the door of the heart opens for him.  For nothing does, or can keep God out of the soul, or hinder his holy union with it, but the desire of the heart turned from him.  And the reason of it is this.  It is because the life of the soul is in itself nothing else but a working will and therefore wherever the will works or goes, there, and there only, the soul lives whether it be in God or the creature.

Nothing does or can go with us into Heaven.  Nothing follows us into Hell, but that in which the will dwelt, with which it was fed, nourished and clothed in this life.  And this is to be noted well, that death can make no alteration of this state of the will.  It only takes off the outward, worldly covering of flesh and blood, and forces the soul to see and feel and know what a life, what a state, food, body and habitation, its own working will has brought forth in it.    

Tell me, is there anything in life that deserves a thought, but how to keep this working of our will in a right state, and to get that purity of heart which alone can see and know and find and possess God?  Is there anything so frightful as this worldly spirit which turns the soul from God, makes it a House of Darkness, and feeds it with the food of time at the expense of all of the riches of eternity?  On the other hand, what can be so desirable a good as the Spirit of Prayer, which empties the soul of all its own evil, separates death and darkness from it, leaves Self, time and the world, and becomes one life, one light, one love, one spirit with Christ and God and Heaven.

Think, my Friends, of these things with something more than thoughts.  Let your hungry souls eat of the nourishment of them as a bread of Heaven, and desire only to live that with all the working of your wills and the whole spirit of your minds, you may live and die united to God.

Prayer is an opening to light and love
How do you remember being taught to pray?  What is your experience with prayer?  How has your prayer life changed over time?

From A Time To Turn by Christopher Webber

William Law (1686-1761) was one of those who refused to take the oath of loyalty to George I and therefore was forced to live outside the established church.  His Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life nevertheless became one of the most widely read books of devotion ever published.  He served as tutor to the father of Edward Gibbon and lived a life of great simplicity, working to organize schools and almshouses.  

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Lent - Week 3

A reading on fasting from a sermon by Phillips Brooks on the text:  “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not only by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  (Matthew 6:16-18)

The idea of Lent is spiritual culture, and always, as a part of that idea, has been associated with Lent the idea of abstinence.  We are looking forward to a soberer and quieter life, a life, which in some form or other is to fast from some of its indulgences.  Is it not good that we should try to see what God designs by those Lents, those periods of sobered life and abstinence from outward pleasures, which both in God’s word and in the intimations of our own nature have God’s sanction and authority?

            God has a reason for everything.  Our best religious progress consists in large part of this, the coming by sympathy with God to see the reasons of what have been to us bare commandments.  The change from the arbitrary to the essential look in what God does is the richest and most delightful feature of the spiritual growth. 

            Let us ask what is the use of fasting, for so we shall best come to understand the true methods and degrees of fasting.  And let us begin with this.  All bodily discipline, all voluntary abstinence from pleasure of whatever sort, must be of value either as a symbol of something or as a means of something.  These two functions belong to it as being connected with the body, which is at once the utterer and the educator of the soul within.

            Just suppose any great mental or moral change to come in someone’s life.  We will not speak of the great fundamental religious change of conversion; but any change from frivolity to earnestness, from lightness to seriousness of life.  The one who has been carless, free, and irresponsible, taking life as it came, with no reality, no sense of duty, undertakes a different way of living, begins to study, begins to work, seeks knowledge, accepts obligations. The old life fades away and a new life begins.  Self indulgence is put aside.  Self-devotion takes its place.  This is a spiritual, an inward change.  It is independent of outward circumstances.  One may conceivably live this new life, and everything external be still the same that it has always been.  But practically this more earnest inward life suits the outer life to itself.  Quickly or gradually the one who has begun to life more seriously within, begins to live more simply without.  Such a one comes instinctively to less gorgeous dresses and barer walls and slighter feasts.  The outer life is restrained and simplified.  And this restraint and simplicity is at once a symbol or expression of the changed inner life, and a means for its cultivations.

            If the change is one which involves repentance and self-reproach, the giving up of a life which never ought to have been lived at all for one that always has been a duty, then both of these offices of the outward self-denial become plainer.  The stripping of the old luxury off from the life is at once an utterance of humble regret for a wrong past, and also an opening of the soul to new and better influences.  It is as when a reveler at a banquet is suddenly summoned to a battle where he ought to be in the front rank. As he spring up from the couch in self-reproach, the casting away of his garlands and his robes means, first, his shame at having been idle and feasting when he ought to have been at work; and second, his eagerness to have his limbs free so that the work which he has now undertaken may be well done.  His stripping off of his wanton luxuries is at once a symbol of his self-reproach for the past, and a means of readiness for the new work that awaits him.  And that is the meaning of all voluntary mortification which has any meaning.

Fasting provides an opening of the soul.  What are our luxuries? What are we overwhelmed by?  What should we fast from?

Phillips Brooks (1813-1893) was rector of Trinity Church Boston for over twenty years before serving briefly as bishop of Massachusetts.  Many volumes of his sermons were published and his hymn, “O little town of Bethlehem,” is one of the best known of all Christian hymns.

From A Time to Turn by Christopher Webber

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Lent Week 2

Each week in Lent we are reading one of the writings from Christopher Webber's book A Time to Turn.

You can join the discussion each week at one of three times:
Sunday 9:15 am; Wednesday 6:15 pm; Thursday 1:00 pm

A reading from a meditation on God’s love by Elizabeth Rowe
O Lord God, permit a worthless creature to plead a little with you.  What honor will my destruction bring you? What profit, what triumph to the Almighty will my perdition be?  Mercy is your brightest attribute; this gives you all your loveliness, and completes your beauty.  By names of kindness and indulgence you have chosen to reveal yourself to us, by titles of the most tender meaning you have made yourself known to my soul: title which you do not yet disdain, but are still compassionate, and ready to pardon.

But that you have or will forgive me, O my God, aggravates my guilt.  And will you indeed forgive me?  Will you remit the gloomy score, and restore the privilege I have forfeited?  Wondrous love! Astonishing benignity!  Let me never live to repeat my ingratitude; let me never live to break my penitent vows; let me died before that unhappy moment arrives.

Almighty Love, the theme of every heavenly song! Infinite Grace, the wonder of angels! Forgive a mortal tongue that attempts thy praise; and yet should we be silent, the mute creation would find a voice to upbraid us.

But, oh, in what language shall I speak? With what circumstance shall I begin? Shall I roll back the volumes of eternity, and begin with the glorious design that determined our redemption before the birth of Time, before the confines of Creation were fixed?  Infinite years before the day, Or heavens began to roll? 

Shall I speak in general of all the nations of the redeemed? Or to excite my own gratitude, shall I consider myself, my worthless self, included, by an eternal decree, among the number of those who should hear of a Redeemer’s name and be marked out a partaker of that immense privilege?  Before the foundations of the hills were laid the gracious design was formed, and the blessed plan of it schemed out before the curtains of the sky were spread.

Lord! What are we? What am I? what is all the human race, to be so regarded? O narrow thoughts, and narrower words! Here confess your defects.  These are heights not to be reached by you.  Adorable measures of infinite clemency! Unsearchable riches of grace! With what astonishment do I survey you!  I am swallowed and lost in the glorious immensity.  All hail, you divine mysteries! You glorious paths of the unsearchable Deity: let me adore though I can never express you.

Yet should I be silent, heaven and earth, no hell itself, would reproach me; the damned themselves would call me ungrateful, should I fail to celebrate that grace, whose loss they are for ever lamenting, a loss that leaves them for ever desperate and undone.  ‘Tis this grace which tunes the harps of heaven, and yields them an immortal subject of harmony and praise.  The spirits of just men made perfect fix their contemplations here; they adore the glorious mystery, and while they sing the wonders of redeeming love, they subscribe sublime and living honors to the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb for ever. And infinitely worthy are you, O Lord, to receive the grateful homage.  Who shall not praise and magnify your name? who shall deny the tribute of your glory? 

But alas! What can mortals add to you?  What can nothingness and vanity give? We murmur from the dust, and attempt your praise from the depths of misery.  Yet you condescend to hear and listen to our broken accents; amid the hallelujahs of angels our groans ascend to you, our complaints reach you; from the height of your happiness and from the exaltations of eternal glory, you have a regard to us, poor wretched humanity!  You receive our homage with delight, our praises mingle with the harmony of angels, nor interrupt the sacred concord.  Those natives of heaven whose morning stars sing together in their heavenly beatitudes, nor disdain to let the children of earth and mortality join with them in celebrating the honors of Jesus, their Lord and ours.  To him be every tongue devoted, and let every creature for ever praise God.  Amen.

Who shall not praise God? What is grace?  For what do we praise God?  How can we praise God enough?

Elizabeth Rowe (1674-1737) was encouraged to write by Bishop Thomas Ken of Bath and Wells and published several biblical character sketches.  Her devotional prose was not published until after her death.  The fervor of her language embarrassed her editor, who modified language that he considered too extravagant.

From A Time to Turn by Christopher Webber