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Christmas at Brede Abbey, Sussex, England, c. 1955

“On the night of Christmas Eve the abbey was so still it might have been thought to be empty, or the nuns asleep, but when the bell sounded at ten o’clock, from all corners, especially from the church, silent figures made their way to their station in the long cloister, and Abbess Catherine led them into choir for Christmas Matins. The first nocturne from the book of Isaiah was sung by the four chief chantresses: ‘Comfort, comfort my people says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned. A voice says ‘Cry!’ and I said ‘What shall I cry?’ All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flowers of the field. . . .’ Voice succeeded voice through two hours until the priests, vested in white and gold, with their servers, came in procession from the sacristy for the tenderness and triumph of the midnight Mass. Lauds of Christmas followed straight after, and at two o’clock the community went to the refectory for hot soup, always called ‘cock soup’ because it was the first taste of meat or chicken they had had since Advent began. The soup was served with rice–‘beautifully filling,’ said Hilary in content–and after it came two biscuits and four squares of chocolate. ‘Chocolate!’ ‘We need to keep our strength up,’ said Dame Ursula.

In the twenty-four hours of Christmas they would spend ten hours in choir, singing the Hours at their accustomed times, and the second ‘dawn’ or ‘aurora,’ Mass of the shepherds as well as the third Mass of Christmas, which came after terce. The wonder was that the nuns had time to eat their Christmas dinner, most of it contributed by friends.”

I picked up a beautiful paperback copy of In This House of Brede by Rumor Godden at Half-Price Books the other day. The blurb on the back calls the book “an extraordinarily sensitive and insightful portrait of religious life.” I have called it “an excellent story about the lives of women within a closed community of nuns. Not only does the reader get to satisfy his curiosity about how nuns live in a convent, but there’s also a a great plot related to contemporary issues such as abortion, the efficacy of prayer, and the morality of absolute obedience.”

I highly recommend it if you’re at all interested in the disciplines of the Christian life or the difficulties and possibilities inherent in attempting to live in Christian community.

Blog reviews for In This House of Brede:
Laura at Lines in Pleasant Places.
Heather at Lines from the Page.
Phyllis at Life on Windy Ridge.
Diane at A Circle of Quiet.
Julie at Happy Catholic.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

Pennyroyal Academy by M.A. Larson

A nameless girl dressed only in spiderwebs enters the Pennyroyal Academy, a place where girls are trained to become princesses who do battle with witches and boys are trained to become knights who fight dragons.

If that introduction intrigues you, Pennyroyal Academy is the book for you. If you got stuck, as I did, on imagining the girl dressed only in spiderwebs, then maybe you’ll get stuck again on some of the other rather odd aspects of this book. I just kept wondering how the the whole spiderwebs-as-clothing thing worked. Wouldn’t they be at least translucent, no matter how many spiderwebs you used. And wouldn’t the stickiness of the webs be nasty and uncomfortable? And how would you take them off? Yuck! There were other details that sidetracked me, too, but as these others are spoiler-ish, I’ll save them to discuss with those who have already read the book.

The princesses-in-training learn that to fight witches they must become courageous, compassionate, kind and disciplined. These are the four cardinal virtues of Pennyroyal Academy. Their commander tells them

“A Princess of the Shield is courageous. She is compassionate. She is kind and she is disciplined. Without these four core values, a girl may have all the crowns and castles she wants, but she will no more be a princess than she will a dragon.
You must prepare for battle as any soldier would, though yours are not the weapons of a soldier. Your weapons are pure hearts and steel spines. Your weapons are already inside you. And the only way to wield them is to know yourself. Which is precisely what we will teach you here.”

I liked that little speech and the idea that the girls must be trained for battle with the witches of the kingdom. However, as a Christian, I would quibble with the ultimate source for courage, compassion, kindness, and discipline (self-control). Disney teaches us, “Know yourself, be yourself, and be true to your heart.” The Bible says that the qualities of a Warrior Princess are gifts of the Spirit of God. To battle real witches and dragons, we Christians must be trained in dependence on that same Holy Spirit. In fact, Pennyroyal Academy reminded me of this song:

Deep inside we are children, not strong, self-sufficient warriors. We only war in His might and in His strength.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

A Hymn to God the Father by John Donne

WILT Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done;
For I have more.

Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sins their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallow’d in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done;
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I’ve spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by Thyself that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as He shines now and heretofore:
And having done that, Thou hast done;
I fear no more.

We were discussing this idea, along with Mary Magdalene, at church this morning. We have such need of a Savior every day. We all have such need of the gospel, the good news that Christ has paid the penalty for our sins and that we are redeemed in Him, every day. We have need of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit every day, every hour.

Jesus, I believe; help my unbelief.

Ezekiel

Repetitive. Hard. Weird. Seriously depressing. Ultimately hopeful?

The things I’m marking in the book of Ezekiel as I try to read and make sense of it are the phrases and ideas that Ezekiel repeats over and over:

Son of man: God’s nickname for Ezekiel. Almost every time God speaks to Ezekiel, the Lord calls his priest/messenger boy, “Son of man” or “Son of Adam.” Ezekiel’s actual name is only mentioned twice in the book of Ezekiel, in Ezekiel 1:3 and 24:24. The Hebrew expression “son of man” (בן–אדם, ben-‘adam) appears 107 times in the Hebrew Bible. The phrase is used mostly in Ezekiel (93 times). (Wikipedia)

I remember that Jesus called himself the “Son of man.” What does that mean? It means that Ezekiel and Jesus were both human, both sons of Adam. We forget the humanity of Christ sometimes, that God took on human flesh, that he humbled himself, that he was a “son of Adam” as well as son of God. This dual nature as the theologians call it is, of course, a mystery. But it is also an encouragement. God spoke to a son of man (Ezekiel), and God became the Son of Man (Jesus).

The glory of the Lord: My pastor preached about this phrase this morning. In Ezekiel chapter 11 the glory of the Lord departs from His temple and the glory doesn’t return until chapter 43. What is this glory?

John MacArthur, Grace to You: “The glory of the Lord is the expression of God’s person. It is any manifestation of God’s character, any manifestation of His attributes in the world, in the universe is His glory. In other words, the glory is to God what the brightness is to the sun. The glory is to God what wet is to water. The glory is what heat is to fire. In other words, it is the emanation, it is the effulgence, it is the brightness, it is the product of His presence, it is the revelation of Himself. Anytime God discloses Himself, it is the manifestation of His glory.”

And the Apostle John wrote, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
“The everlasting Logos, the Word of God, who was with God and who is God, has now inhabited the creation that He made.”

Thus saith the Lord, or the word of the Lord came to me or declares the Lord: Ezekiel indicates over and over again that God actually spoke to him, audibly and in visions. Again, the word came to Ezekiel, but that’s only a hint of the final Word that was and is to come, the Word become flesh and dwelling among us.

Then you will know (or they will know) that I am the Lord This phrase appears more than sixty times in the book of Ezekiel. God tells the people through Ezekiel that He is planning to bring great calamity and judgment upon them and that then they will know that I AM THAT I AM. Sin separates us from the life and the glory of God, but we will no longer ignore His word or His glory when He brings both judgment and mercy to bear upon our sin.

Then they will know that I AM THAT I AM.

He is there, and He is not silent. ~Francis Schaeffer

And the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it. Exodus 7:5

The LORD is known by his acts of justice. Psalm 9:16

The true state, both of nations and of individuals, may be correctly estimated by this one rule, whether in their doings they remember or forget God. ~Matthew Henry

For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 4:9-11

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi.

In the course of one evening, I read this spiritual autobiography of a Muslim who, over a period of years of study and debate, converted to Christianity. I daresay one could give it a week, or a month, and not mine completely all the information and food for thought contained therein. I’ll simply hit a few of the ideas and impressions that stood out for me.

1)Islam is as fragmented with cults, sects, and denominations as is Christianity, if not more so. Mr. Quereshi’s family were (still are for the most part) members of the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam. Other Muslims consider the Ahmadiyya “not true Muslims.” Mr. Qureshi goes over the differences between Ahmadiyya and other forms of Islam in an elementary fashion in the book, but what I got out of the entire discussion was that while the Ahmadiyya consider themselves to be orthodox Muslims because they pray and recite Quran like other Muslims and believe and recite the Shahadah like other Muslims, those other Muslims do not accept the Ahmadiyya as orthodox followers of Muhammed and of Allah.
Many Muslims will not give credence to Mr. Qureshi’s arguments because his family’s faith is considered to be outside the pale of Muslim orthodoxy in the first place.

2)There is a great divide between the East and the West in regards to their approach to learning and authority.

“People from Eastern Islamic cultures generally assess truth through lines of authority, not individual reasoning. Of course, individuals do engage in critical reasoning in the East, but on average it is relatively less valued and far less prevalent than in the West. Leaders have done the critical reasoning, and leaders know best.”

Mr. Qureshi goes into this divide and its repercussions in relation to explorations of religious truth in part two of his book.

3)Dreams and visions were a part of Nabeel Qureshi’s conversion process. Because I approach revelation of truth and Christianity from a Western, scientific mindset, the idea of God revealing himself through dreams and visions seems subjective and prone to misunderstanding and dispute in my eyes. However, in a paper at Ravi Zacharias’ website, Josh McDowell has this to say about God’s use of dreams and visions to draw seekers to himself:

“Dreams and visions do not convert people; the gospel does. These seekers begin a personal or spiritual journey to find the Truth. As was the case for Nabeel, the dreams lead them to the scriptures and to believers who can share Jesus with them. It is the gospel through the Holy Spirit that converts people.”

That formulation makes sense to me.

4)Mr. Qureshi emphasizes in his story the importance of family and tradition to the Muslim, and parts of his book are heart-wrenching because he tells in detail of the price he and his family had to pay for him to become a follower of Jesus Christ. He had to give up his identity as a Muslim, as a good, loving, obedient son, and a carrier of the family honor and tradition. As he came to an intellectual assent to the truth of the gospel, Mr. Qureshi had to decide whether he was willing to pay this emotional price (and require it of his family) in order to follow the truth that he found in Jesus. I wondered as I read whether I would be willing to pay such a price were it required of me.

I recommend Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus to Christian and non-Christian readers alike. If you read the book with an open mind, you will find yourself questioning your own pre-suppositions, a good thing for all of us to do every now and then.

Against All Odds by Jim Stier

This book is published by YWAM and tells the story of YWAM leader Jim Stier and his missionary work in Brazil during the 1980’s. YWAM stands for Youth With a Mission, “an inter-denominational, non-profit Christian, missionary organization. Founded by Loren Cunningham and his wife Darlene Cunningham in 1960, YWAM’s stated purpose is to know God and to make Him known.” A worthy purpose, but I’m not so sure about the wisdom of all that I read about in Mr. Stier’s book.

I must say that there are some odd episodes in Against All Odds. For instance, the young people who make up Mr. Stier’s “team” receive messages from God by being impressed to look up specific verses in the Bible. It’s almost like the old “let the Bible fall open at random and read God’s message to you”, but for these missionaries the random verses come out of their heads while they are praying. Then, they have to “interpret” the sometimes cryptic message. For instance, one of Stier’s fellow missionaries is impressed to look up Judges 10:22: “Open the mouth of the cave and bring those five kings out to me.” The cave is interpreted as the Bible school where the missionaries are, and the five kings are $500. So they take up an offering.

No, it didn’t make sense to me either, and their interpretation has nothing at all to do with the context or literal meaning of the verse itself. A lot of the book is about how Mr. Stier and his wife and family and other missionaries in Brazil trusted God to provide for their financial needs as they began YWAM ministries in Brazil. Although I believe in trusting God for all of our needs, I also believe that Scripture commands us to work for a living: “Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” I Thessalonians 4:11 Trusting God for Mr. Stier and his partners in missions looked a lot like waiting around until things got so desperate that someone, somewhere had pity on them and bought them some food or paid their rent.

Mr. Stier and his fellow missionaries do a lot of work, evangelizing, and yes, they are to be commended for their radical obedience to the call of God on their lives. However, I wouldn’t really recommend this book (or YWAM) to young people who are looking for a role model in radical obedience and discernment in following Christ. Surely, there are better ways to inspire (maybe reading Scripture itself?) all of us to be moved to follow Christ while rightly interpreting and following the Word of God.

The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days by Michele Weber Hurwitz

Thirteen year old Nina Ross is feeling at loose ends this summer. Her best friend, Jorie, is changing into a boy-crazy clothes horse. Her beloved grandmother, the only person who really got Nina, died last year. Nina’s parents, divorce lawyers, work all the time. And her brother Matt is consistently either holed up in his room or gone to work.

Even though Nina isn’t “the type of person who goes out of her way to help people,” she decides to start a project: one good anonymous deed, small but remarkable, each day for the sixty-five days of summer vacation. Will it make a difference? Will Nina’s project change the neighborhood? Change the world?

This middle grade novel told a really sweet story, maybe too sweet for some readers, but I enjoyed it. Nina surprises herself and is surprised by the new truths she discovers about her neighbors and about her own family. The pace of these revelations and of the story itself is just right–not thriller pace but just enough suspense and charm to keep me reading. (There is mention in the story of a possible kumiho (Korean fox spirit) and a supposed ghost, but you can take or leave those possibilities.) All in all, The Summer I Saved the World . . . is a pretty good and encouraging summer read, a remarkable good deed and inspiration in itself.

The author tells about her purpose in writing the story in the end note:

“I started this story with a question: does doing good really do any good? Random acts of kindness are everywhere, but I wondered, so they really have an effect on people? Can small acts of goodness change our world?
********
The answer to my question—does doing good really do any good—I will always hope, is a resounding and undeniable yes!”

Well, I would say, yes and no. Yes, doing good is good, and of course, even small deeds of kindness and encouragement change the atmosphere of any neighborhood or workplace or home. The Bible says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21) Also, there are all the “one anothers”:

Bear with each other and forgive one another. (Colossians 3:13)
Be kind and compassionate to one another. (Ephesians 4:32)
Love one another. (John 13:34)
Be devoted to one another in love. (Romans 12:10)
Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10)
Encourage one another and build each other up. (I Thessalonians 5:11)
Spur one another on toward love and good deeds. (Hebrews 10:24)
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)
Greet one another with a holy kiss. (2 Corinthians 13:12)
Be at peace with one another. (Mark 9:50)
Serve one another. (Galatians 5:13)
Receive one another. (Romans 15:7)
Rejoice or weep with one another. (Romans 12:15)
Admonish one another. (Romans 15:14)
Care for one another. (1 Corinthians 12:25)
Pray for one another. (James 5:16)
Accept one another. (Romans 14:1; 15:7)
Be truthful with one another. (Colossians 3:9)
Confess your faults to one another. (James 5:16)

If even just Christians obeyed all of those commands, the world would definitely be a “saltier” and better place. However, the world is made up of sinful people (like me), some of whom are unrepentantly evil, and it’s not going to be redeemed and transformed by small acts of “random” kindness. Random kindness is good, but it isn’t enough to save the world. It’s going to take something BIG to change the world: a large act of perfect love and sacrifice.

I wonder what THAT could be?

I Know What Your Mother Really Wants for Mother’s Day

'' photo (c) 2008, Kimberly N. - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/Well, I should qualify that statement: If your mother is a Christian, if she really, truly loves Jesus, and if she’s one of those “religious” moms who goes to church every Sunday and prays for you every day and embarrasses you by listening to old-timey hymns and posting Bible verses on her Facebook feed. If she’s one of those moms who took you to church and helped you memorize Bible verses and and taught you the plan of salvation and told you that God loves you and has a plan for your life. If your mother is an old-fashioned, Bible-believing, hope-filled, Jesus-loving Christian.

Then, more than she wants chocolate-covered strawberries or twelve dozen roses, more than a diamond ring or a dime store bracelet, more than breakfast in bed or lunch in a fancy restaurant, more than cards or phone calls or words of appreciation, more than new clothes or shoes, more than a trip to the movies or to the Bahamas, more than your gratitude and even more than your love, I know exactly what your mother wants for Mother’s Day.

She wants you to love Jesus, too. She wants you to know Jesus, obey Jesus, live for Jesus, worship Jesus and follow Jesus through this life and straight to heaven. She wants you live where Jesus leads you to live, even if that’s far away from where she is, and to do what He calls you to do, even if it’s something she would never have imagined you doing. She wants you to be filled with the Holy Spirit, connected to God’s church, and busy with the work of God’s kingdom. She wants you to be reading your Bible and praying and listening to the voice of Jesus. She wants you, her beloved child, to be His child. For Mother’s Day and every day, your Christian mom wants St. Patrick’s prayer to be incarnate in both of you:

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right,
Christ on my left, Christ in breadth, Christ in length,
Christ in height, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

If you can’t give your mom what she wants for Mother’s Day, Jesus can. Just ask Him. Then get yourself humbled and accept His forgiveness and grace. Then follow Him. Then tell your mom.

It will be the best Mother’s Day present ever. Trust me. I really, really know.

The 3rd Gift of Christmas in New Guinea, Indonesia, 1964

Peace Child by Don Richardson tells the story of Christian missionaries Don and Carol Richardson and their attempts in the early 1960’s to bring the gospel of Jesus to the Sawi people, headhunting cannibals of New Guinea. For the Sawi, treachery was an ideal, and the only way to make peace between enemy tribes was to give the sacrifice of a “peace child” to ensure the treaty between warring groups.

“You want Hurip to die?” I asked.
“Yes!” Amio hissed.
Anxiously I rose and faced Amio, “Why?”

Amio’s voice choked with emotion as he replied: “Remember I told you my father Hato once gave a tarop child to the Kayagar, only to learn later that they had killed the baby and devoured it?”
I nodded, and Amio continued, “The man lying in this canoe is the man to whom my father gave that child! He is the same man who killed and devoured my little brother! Tuan, I’ve been waiting for years for a chance to . . .”
Now I was trembling, too. The Christmas spirit was not coming easily to the banks of the Kronkel that day. . . . was I really being realistic in hoping they would forgive their enemies for Christ’s sake?
For a moment I stood speechless before Amio, praying for wisdom. Then an old memory stirred in the back of my mind. Reaching out with both hands, I gripped Amio by his earlobes. He was startled, but he did not draw away. He listened carefully while I said: “Tarop Tim titindadeden! I plead the Peace Child!”
Amio shot back, “The peace child my father gave to Hurip is dead! Hurip himself killed him!”
“But the Peace Child God gave still lives!” I countered. “And because He lives, you may not take vengeance against Hurip. Forgive him, Amio, for Jesus’ sake!”
My fingers still gripped his earlobes.

Today’s Gifts from Semicolon
A song: Moon River, music by Henry Mancini. OK, it’s not a Christmas song, but it’s vintage Andy Williams. Enjoy.

A booklist: Barbara H and 31 Days of Missionary Stories.

A birthday: Andy Williams, b.1930. We always used to watch Andy Williams’ Christmas special on TV, back in the day.
Joseph Conrad, b.1857.

A verse:
Moon River by Johnny Mercer.

Moon River, wider than a mile,
I’m crossing you in style some day.
Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker,
wherever you’re going I’m going your way.

Two drifters off to see the world.
There’s such a lot of world to see.
We’re after the same rainbow’s end–
waiting ’round the bend,
my huckleberry friend,
Moon River and me.

A Christmas idea: Redeeming Christmas, Kindness-Bombing by Juanita at Once Upon a Prairie.