A Special Sort of “No Answer”

When I lay these questions before God I get
noanswer. But a rather special sort of “No answer.” It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though he shook his head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, “Peace, child; you don’t understand.” Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask – half our great theological and metaphysical problems – are like that.

–C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

God’s World

O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!
Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
Thy mists, that roll and rise!
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with color! That gaunt crag
To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!

Long have I known a glory in it all,
But never knew I this;
Here such a passion is
As stretcheth me apart,– Lord, I do fear
Thou’st made the world too beautiful this year;
My soul is all but out of me,– let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.

–Edna St. Vincent Millay

 

Yielding to God

When the wise men came from the East, they went to Jerusalem, the capital, to inquire, “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews?” And today those who are “wise” make the same mistake in looking to worldly power to solve the world’s problems. Others go to magnificent cathedrals and follow spiritual paths that appear much more splendid and much more clever than anything which accompanied the birth of Christ.

All this is misguided; it concentrates on the question of “how” instead of the question “why.” We can easily get overwhelmed. How are we to carry out all the tasks laid upon us; how are we to plan our next year; how shall we find the strength both for securing our economic needs and in reaching out to the needs of others? But as important as these questions are, it is more important to remember the ancient question “Why?” Once we realize why Christ came to earth, why he was born as a helpless baby in a manger, and why his whole life was lived as an outcast from the best society, then can we begin to answer the question “how” – “how can we find God again; how can we experience peace on earth?”

We are human and finite, and thus cannot live perpetually in a sense of expectation, or in a continuous Advent. We are distracted by many things. Our spiritual awareness waxes and wanes in intensity.… The swing of emotions is natural to us, and some are more subject to extremes than others. We musn’t despair about this. But we should be aware of cultivating religious emotions under the delusion that these are the workings of the Holy Spirit. Such emotions are unstable; they risk getting in the way of our communion with God.

It is here that we need to see why it was necessary for Christ to come to the earth. God has come to us because we, by our own power of soul, by our own emotions, even the noblest and most sublime, can never attain redemption, can never regain communion with God.

True expectancy, the waiting that is genuine and from the heart, is brought about by the coming of the Holy Spirit, by God coming to us, and not by our own devices. Spiritual depth, if it is true, is the working of God coming down and penetrating to the depths of our hearts, and not of our own soul’s climbing. No ladder of mysticism can ever meet or find or possess God. Faith is a power given to us. It is never simply our ability or strength of will to believe. The spiritual experience that is truly genuine is given to us by God in the coming of his Spirit, and only as we surrender our whole lives to an active expression of his will.

To put it quite simply, spiritual experience, whether it be of faith, hope (or expectancy) or love, is something we cannot manufacture, but which we can only receive. If we direct our lives to seeking it for ourselves we shall lose it, but if we lose our lives by living out the daily way of Christ we shall find it.…

This pattern of complete abandonment of human strength in total surrender to God’s will is of vital importance for us, both in our lives of activity and of spiritual experience. It was in the surrender of herself to God that Mary became the mother of Christ. It was in her acceptance of Gabriel’s message that the great decisive event of history took place. And in our own daily lives, in our efforts to do right, what is decisive is that we accept and live by and surrender ourselves to a strength which is not our own, to the piercing white light of God’s love.…

Although we are tempted to exert ourselves and push ourselves forward in our search for God, the desire to climb nearer to God is nothing but egotistical satisfaction and self-aggrandizement. The way that Christ took was the low way. His way is abandonment. He not only descended from the presence of God, but he came as a baby in the poorest conditions. It is not that we, as pilgrims, climb to a celestial city, but that the Christ child is born in the poverty of our hearts.…

The meaning of Advent and Christmas is thus the coming down of God’s love. This love alone revolutionizes our lives. Only God’s love, not the elevation of human souls, can effect a transformation of the world. Those who mourn the futility of their own efforts receive the comfort of the love of God. Those who are meekly obedient to his will are filled by the love of God, not as a prize to be won after death, but as redeemed life for this earth.

Philip Britts

Childlike Astonishment

A young child believes in miracles, as a natural or normal part of life, because it sees the miracle in everything. And in that seeing, that seeing of miracles, to which our older eyes have become dim, the child is very near to God. Verily, unless we become as a little child, we cannot see the kingdom of God. Let us beware then of doing anything that can pull any child away from its vision, away from God. If ever we find that we have no time for the children, that we are too busy to talk to them, or too tired, let us consider well what is that business we are about–is it really more vital than to share time with a child, is it really more our Father’s business?

It takes much less than a thunderstorm or a field of growing corn to make a child stand in wonder before God. Who has not seen a child transfixed with wonder at a butterfly, a beetle, or a mouse nest in the grass? And a corn plant, or a stalk of kafir, or a tall flowering reed is a thing to be carried aloft and waved in the sky: it is a banner, a torch, a lantern.

If we can capture some of this childlike astonishment, we shall learn more of the Kingdom. Let us not make the mistake of capitalist civilization by considering our human business the sum of life. This error is responsible for who knows how much need, how much starvation of soul, how much lack of light.

–Philip Britts, Yielding to God

Excerpt from Tolkien On Fairy Stories

But in God’s kingdom the presence of the greatest does not depress the small. Redeemed Man is still man. Story, fantasy, still go on, and should go on. The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the “happy ending.” The Christian has still to work, with mind as well as body, to suffer, hope, and die; but he may now perceive that all his bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed. So great is the bounty with which he has been treated that he may now, perhaps, fairly dare to guess that in Fantasy he may actually assist in the effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation. All tales may come true; and yet, at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and as unlike the forms that we give them as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen that we know.

–J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy Stories via Plough’s Daily Dig

Portrait in Graphite and Ornamental Hagiography

You may not believe it, but I have tried.
set my sights on the morning star
in belief it would guide me. I have tried.

 

I have tried, as the Jesuits taught, to be
singular, to be whole, to be one. The labor
of this was exhausting. Time reveals things

 

one need not appreciate when young, and I fear
being singular, being one, is something
damned near impossible for someone

 

like me. Saint Jerome, cloistered in a tiny room,
found his singular calling in updating
the Latin Bible with his knowledge of Greek texts.

 

In Assisi, Saint Francis updated nature, called birds
out of the trees. I am, unfortunately, no saint.
Fractured, divided to the quick, I am incapable

 

of being singular. And the old nun who taught Art
at my high school, who called me a stupid mongrel,
understood this very fact long before I did.

 

Profession, family, belief: I can see now
my background challenges me, prevents me
from remaining true to only one thing. The fog,

 

settled over Ocean Beach, settles the matter
by embracing everything indiscriminately,
and I want to understand why I notice

 

such things. For most of my life, I have desired
a category, a designation, but maybe
that desire was misplaced? Maybe it was just

 

another failure, a failure of imagination?
Outside, two hummingbirds cross-stitch the air.
They have lived here for so long, lived

 

off the “nectar” I boil up for them each week,
that they show me no semblance of fear or distrust—
they hover and feed near me with violent precision.

–C. Dale Young

For Max Jacob Who Saw Christ in Watercolors

and christ is red rover
he blazes on the wall in watercolors
rachel dances in his brain
and her children trail her heels
in flickering pinks and blues

and the armies of the reich
shake loose from their graves
and they hide and seek
and search and destroy
and the wall is blown down

and christ is reeling in the streets
staining the gutters
with the colors of his blood
and the children are calling
come over come over

–John Knoepfle
Cited in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard, pg 205