Daily Prayer :: Water

Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

July 30, 2021 — The Tree of Life

Alan Jones, in his book Passion for Pilgrimage: Notes for the Journey Home (1989), displays an amazing depth of reading! Often we pass over quotes as if they did not come from anywhere. So I thought it would be interesting to peel back the cover of Jones’ work and shine a light on seven people he references. As you will see, he thinks all his listening to authors and artists is listening to the Spirit at work in them. As he keeps saying: “God has fallen in love with you and wants you to come home.” Let’s see how far we get with that.

Today’s Bible reading

For unto you is paradise opened, the tree of life is planted, the time to come is prepared, plenteousness is made ready, a city is builded, and rest is allowed, yea, perfect goodness and wisdom. — 2 Esdras 8:21 KJV

Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, “Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree” — Galatians 3:13 KJV

He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God — Revelation 2:7 KJV

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. – Romans 8:1 KJV

More thoughts for meditation about Helen Waddell (1889-1965)

Helen Waddell was an Irish poet, translator and playwright. Her father was a Presbyterian minister on the more progressive end of the spectrum at the time. He was a missionary in Spain, China and Japan, where Waddell was born, the youngest of 10 children Her mother died when she was three. When her father died when she was twelve, she and a sister went with their stepmother to  Belfast. When her older sister married, that left Helen to care for her stepmother, now in deteriorating health.

She eventually got on with her education. By 1919 she was studying for her doctorate in Oxford where she won a scholarship that allowed her to study in Paris. There she deepened her groundbreaking work in Medieval history and the translation of source material. She made her reputation in 1927 with the book The Wandering Scholars in which she brought the “goliards” to light. They were mostly young clergy in Europe who wrote satirical Latin protest poetry in the 12th and 13th centuries. Wassell translated and contextualized it.

Her most popular work was her best-selling historical novel, Peter Abelard, published in 1933. It marked the beginning of modern historical fiction. The tragic love story of Abelard and Heloise was her lifelong obsession. “Peter Abelard was somehow Jacques Derrida and David Bowie at the same time, so he was a great philosopher and also a famous singer,” (Medieval historian Sylvain Piron).

Some of us might know her better through her book The Desert Fathers (1936) in which she translated and interpreted these influential people who were mostly lost to modern Christians. At one point in her book Waddell champions what the desert offers the human arrogance of her own time. After an anecdote of a young monk’s sad, unnecessary death, she offers her own, frank Jeremiad that reads as a prophecy not only for the world war only three years in the future, but for the rest of the twentieth century as well:

For the martyr’s grave of these lesser pilgrims is not only the waste of youth in human experience. Leaving aside the annihilation of an entire generation in four years, not yet a quarter of a century ago, how many have died or been maimed in chemical or biological research: how many litter the track to the Northern or Southern Pole: how many have been taken by Everest and his peers: how many dead and still to die in the conquest of the air, or in that last exploration which gives this generation its nearest approach to religious ecstasy, the annihilation of space in speed?

By the end of World War II, her career was beginning to fade mostly due to the early onset of Alzheimer’s.

Suggestions for action by Alan Jones

“Believers through the ages have seen the cross as the Tree of Life, binding together heaven, earth, and hell….In traditional Christian mythology the cross is set up in the exact place where there once grew the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. The cross is a new Tree of Life set up in what is destined to be a new Garden….

I begin to realize that God knows, really knows, what it is to suffer. In God’s agony is mirrored the struggle of my own soul. God and I, God and all of us, are together on the cross. It is a great tree that binds everything together.

I am not given to tears, so that when I do cry it is particularly significant. Over twenty-five years ago I read Helen Waddell’s Peter Abelard. I ended up crying in my room in college. One particular incident near the end of the book triggered it. Abelard, who had suffered terrible misfortunes, is walking in the woods with his friend Thibault. They hear a piercing cry of pain. They run and find a rabbit caught in a trap, “Oh God, let it die. Let it die quickly.” Thibault released it from the trap and Abelard holds the wounded creature in his arms, where it dies.

It was that last confiding thrust that broke Abelard’s heart. He looked down at the little draggled body, his mouth shaking. “Thibault,” he said, “do you think there is a God at all? Whatever has come to me, I earned it. But what did this one do?”

Thibault nodded.

“I know,” he said. “Only – I think God is in it too.”

Abelard looked up sharply.

“In it? Do you mean that it makes Him suffer, the way it does us?”

Again Thibault nodded.

”Then Why doesn’t He stop it?”

“I don’t know,” said Thibault. “Unless – unless it’s like the Prodigal Son. I suppose the father could have kept him at home against his will. But what would have been the use? All this,” he stroked the limp body, ‘is because of us. But all the time God suffers. More than we do.”

Abelard looked perplexed…”Thibault, do you mean Calvary?”

Thibault shook his head.

“That was only part of it – the piece that we saw – in time. Like that.” He pointed to a fallen tree beside them, sawn through the middle. “That dark ring there, it goes up and down the whole length of the tree. But you see only where it was cut across. That is what Christ’s life was; the bit of God that we saw. And we think God is like that, because Christ was like that, kind and forgiving sins and healing people. We think God is like that forever, because it happened once, with Christ. But not the pain. Not the agony at last. We think that stopped.”…

“Then Thibault,” Abelard said slowly, “you think that all this…all the pain in the world was Christ’s cross?

“God’s cross,” said Thibault. “And it goes on.”

“The Patripassian heresy,” muttered Abelard mechanically. “But, O God, if it were true. Thibault it must be. At least, there is something at the back of it that is true. And if we could find it – it would bring back the whole world.“

In the death of the rabbit, Abelard caught a glimpse of the God of Pathos. For a moment he let go of his conception of the God of classical theism and saw something of the God who suffers. His automatic reaction: ‘the Patripassian heresy‘ (literally, the doctrine of God the Father suffering) gave way to a more spontaneous response. An apathetic God is hardly a God at all.

Alan Jones is very smart, isn’t he? Helen Waddell was probably even smarter. Praise God for smart people! But let’s not just admire them (or resent them); let’s listen. One of the points in all this brilliant stuff is the ring of the tree of life.  That ring we see right now is just one moment of a timeless history. Jesus did not suffer with and for us “back then,” the core of the Trinity is Abelard-like love, a passion that makes us suffer and makes us alive. Go back through today’s entry and pick out a part to which God draws you to mediate. It could be one word, a sentence, a metaphor, a “scene.” What are you hearing?

July 29, 2021 – The cleansing power of hatred

Alan Jones, in his book Passion for Pilgrimage: Notes for the Journey Home (1989), displays an amazing depth of reading! Often we pass over quotes as if they did not come from anywhere. So I thought it would be interesting to peel back the cover of Jones’ work and shine a light on seven people he references. As you will see, he thinks all his listening to authors and artists is listening to the Spirit at work in them. As he keeps saying: “God has fallen in love with you and wants you to come home.” Let’s see how far we get with that.

Today’s scripture reading

So Jesus’ brothers advised him, “Leave here and go to Judea so your disciples may see your miracles that you are performing. For no one who seeks to make a reputation for himself does anything in secret. If you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” (For not even his own brothers believed in him.)

So Jesus replied, “My time has not yet arrived, but you are ready at any opportunity! The world cannot hate you, but it hates me, because I am testifying about it that its deeds are evil. You go up to the feast yourselves. I am not going up to this feast because my time has not yet fully arrived.” When he had said this, he remained in Galilee.

But when his brothers had gone up to the feast, then Jesus himself also went up, not openly but in secret. So the Jewish leaders were looking for him at the feast, asking, “Where is he?” There was a lot of grumbling about him among the crowds. Some were saying, “He is a good man,” but others, “He deceives the common people.” However, no one spoke openly about him for fear of the Jewish leaders. – John 7:3-13 (NET)

More thoughts for meditation about William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

William Butler Yeats is one of the most celebrated poets in the English language. He is also one of the most difficult to talk about in relation to following Jesus.

He was born into a Protestant family who was part of the minority rule of Ireland for hundreds of years. His grandfather was a rector in the Church of Ireland. Yeats told a familiar, almost clichéd story about what took away any Christian faith in his upbringing. It was, he said, empirical science. Charles Darwin and John Tyndall, as for many other Victorians, persuaded Yeats that Christianity was a fraud.

Yet he found a materialist view of the world inadequate for his searching, speculating mind. In this he was, again, not unlike many other upper-class non-Christians during the Victorian period when England was the most powerful empire in the world. In the first instance, Yeats followed Matthew Arnold in understanding Celtic identity as unusually alert to the spirit world, particularly fairies. Yeats’s earliest work as a writer focused on distilling Irish folk narratives and myths into verse and prose, describing a world where there was always a chance of seeing a spirit or “eternal beauty wandering on her way”.

When Yeats was 24 he wrote a poem that may be one of the all-time favorites. In it, you can see his influence in many movies of the last 20 years in which a child is lured in fairyland or left for the fairies: Peter Pan, of course, Hellboy, Changeling, and Outlander, to name a few. Here is part of it.

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.  — The Stolen Child (1889)

Yeats may be the stolen child himself. In another Victorian-like way, he filled the gap in his early spiritual life with theosophy and then with a commitment to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. After infighting led to the dissolution of that secret society, Yeats maintained his commitment to magical thinking. His marriage to Georgie Hyde-Lees in 1917 further deepened  his sense that he lived among the revelations of other worlds as they devoted themselves to automatic writing led by spirit guides.

But Yeats never quite gave up on Christianity. Take The Ballad of Father Gilligan (1890). In this poem an old priest is too tired to visit a dying man. But his place is taken, he learns, by an angel, visiting on his behalf. When Father Gilligan awakes and realizes this, Yeats has him say:

He who hath made the night of stars
For souls who tire and bleed,
Sent one of His great angels down
To help me in my need.

He who is wrapped in purple robes,
With planets in His care,
Had pity on the least of things
Asleep upon a chair.”

Those are not the lines of a man unable to imaginatively sympathize with a priest’s prayer.

At the end of his life Yeats writes the poem Jones quotes, below. His Supernatural Songs blur the lines between Christian and pagan principles. In his fantasy world, “Ribh” is Yeats the “wild old wicked man,” an imaginary hermit and theologian.

Suggestions for action from Alan Jones

“Our anger and disappointment seem justified. Things are not as they should be, and if God isn’t responding, then who is?

One of the hardest things for people to admit is their hatred of God. Hatred of and disappointment in God underlie a great deal of what passes for unbelief. They are also common among people who consider themselves religious. ‘God’ is continually letting them down by not doing what he is supposed to do. People believe, but resent what they believe. Hatred of  God, however, can be a very important stage in our homecoming. William Butler Yeats wrote, ‘I study hatred – a passion in my own control.’ [full 24-line poem] Hatred is a dangerous route back to God, but one that many have to take.

Then my delivered soul herself shall learn
A darker 
knowledge and in hatred turn
From every thought of God mankind has had.
Thought is a garment and the soul’s a 
That cannot in that trash and tinsel 
Hatred of God may 
bring the soul to God.

The pilgrimage of Lent places us in a crucible of love that purges away the trash and tinsel of our thoughts and feelings about God. We may even have to get to the stage of ‘hating God,’ or, better, ‘hating’ the idol we worship instead of God. What we worship is often a trashy (vindictive or sentimental, according to our mood and training) ‘God’ made to our own specifications. We live in a culture that specializes in custom-built gods for personal use. Westerners have often been guilty of judging other forms of belief in parts of the world in a supercilious way. Christians have denigrated non-Christians for worshiping many gods and for indulging in what looks like superstitious practices. But our pantheon is no less crowded and our behavior no more rational than that of other peoples.”

It would be nice if we had a soul friend to ask whether we have “trash or tinsel” littering our spiritual landscape. As it is we might just have our own self-reflection which is often filled with the same hate we have for “god.” Jones at least brings up some good questions to ask, like a caring friend might, if they were not afraid of being hated for asking.




Today is William Wilberforce Day! Get to know this bon vivant who became a serious foe of slavery at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body.

July 28, 2021 – Facing what we dread

Alan Jones, in his book Passion for Pilgrimage: Notes for the Journey Home (1989), displays an amazing depth of reading! Often we pass over quotes as if they did not come from anywhere. So I thought it would be interesting to peel back the cover of Jones’ work and shine a light on seven people he references. As you will see, he thinks all his listening to authors and artists is listening to the Spirit at work in them. As he keeps saying: “God has fallen in love with you and wants you to come home.” Let’s see how far we get with that.

Today’s Bible reading

Therefore, because we know the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade people, but we are well known to God, and I hope we are well known to your consciences too. We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to be proud of us, so that you may be able to answer those who take pride in outward appearance and not in what is in the heart. For if we are out of our minds, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, since we have concluded this, that Christ died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised. — 2 Corinthians 5:11-15

More thoughts for meditation on William Golding (1911-1993)

William Golding published his first book, Lord of the Flies, in 1954 after 20 rejections. But it did not make him rich until it became a movie in 1963. Now it has sold probably 50 million copies in 30 languages. His daughter, Judy Carver, said under the influence of his editor, her father “realized the religious references would be more effective if they were more subtle.” The role of Simon became so. “My father was never a fully paid-up Christian but in his own way he was a religious man. But he’d never been baptized or confirmed and he thought his books couldn’t be pinned down merely to Christianity.” Lord of the Flies set Golding on the road to decades of success. In 1980 he took the Booker Prize and he won the Nobel Prize for Literature three years later. He was knighted in 1988.

The “inward sight” Simon possesses is not rational. It is a product of intuitive understanding, a faculty which transcends human reason and enables a person to contact the spiritual center of the universe, which Golding terms “the hidden invisible.” Such contact can be made only when the individual recognizes the folly of attempting to explain this world with reason and intellect alone. [from The Moral World of William Golding]

In the influential E.M. Forster’s introduction to the 1962 edition of Lord of the Flies, he said Golding “believes in the Fall of Man and perhaps in Original Sin. Or, if he does not believe, he fears.”

Golding said, “I regard myself as a religious, but possibly incompetently religious man….Originally I think in metaphor.” His novels are extended metaphors whose moral intent, as well as their method, make the term “parable” an appropriate choice (London Times 1959).

Suggestions for action from Alan Jones  

“Without holy dread and the encounter with myself as frail and weak, my life becomes a game of Trivial Pursuit. My trivial way of believing and my trivial sense of self go together. The paradox is that, the more I learn to surrender my self, a more generous and available me comes into existence. When I concentrate on my self, the less there is of me.

Sim Goodchild in William Golding’s Darkness Visible was a man who had lost his way and knew it. He knew he was far from “home” and from time to time he

Sat at the back [of his shop] and tried to think of First Things…he knew that after a moment or two on First Things (getting back, he sometimes called it) he knew he would be likely to find himself brooding on the fact that he was too fat, also as bald as bald…bald, old and breathless.

The human heart, when left to itself, inclines to dissatisfaction and is easily distracted from its true home. We concentrate on the loss of our powers, our looks, our ability to control events. We become mesmerized by the triviality of it all. Sim Goodchild’s attempt to “get back” was a  depressing failure. All he got back to was his lost and fragmented elf.

[He] at this point began to silently rehearse his own particular statement [of belief]. It is all reasonable. It is equally unreasonable. I believe it all as much as I believe anything that is out of sight; as I believe in the expanding universe which is to say as I believe in the Battle of Hastings, as I believe in the life of Jesus, as I believe in…It is a kind of belief which touches nothing in me. It is a kind of second-class believing. My beliefs are me; many and trivial.

Our trouble is that we do not want to be in constant touch with our profound weakness and vulnerability. Still less do we believe that a new energy for living comes when we begin to live from them.”

Dissatisfied, distracted, depressed — that sounds a bit like 2020! Did the virus get you in touch with your vulnerability? Jones says we can get energy when we live out of our weakness. How does that resonate with you?

Today is Johann Sebastian Bach Day! Honor this suffering musical servant at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body.

July 27, 2021 – The realities of self-giving love

Alan Jones, in his book Passion for Pilgrimage: Notes for the Journey Home (1989), displays an amazing depth of reading! Often we pass over quotes as if they did not come from anywhere. So I thought it would be interesting to peel back the cover of Jones’ work and shine a light on seven people he references. As you will see, he thinks all his listening to authors and artists is listening to the Spirit at work in them. As he keeps saying: “God has fallen in love with you and wants you to come home.” Let’s see how far we get with that.

Today’s Bible reading

When Judas had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and he will glorify him right away. Children, I am still with you for a little while. You will look for me, and just as I said to the Jewish religious leaders, ‘Where I am going you cannot come,’ now I tell you the same.

“I give you a new commandment—to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples—if you have love for one another.” – John 13:31-35 (NET)

More thoughts for meditation on C. Day-Lewis (1904-1972)

One of the best living actors is Daniel Day-Lewis. He is the son of Cecil Day-Lewis or C. Day-Lewis who was an Anglo-Irish poet and Poet Laureate in Great Britain from 1968 until his death in 1972. He is one of a trio of well-known poets of the 1930s: W.H. Auden and Stephen Spender being the others, three friends whose commitment to Marxism extended to joining and working for the Communist Party.

When the poet was four years old  his mother died leaving her only child to bear the full brunt of his father’s love and need for love, mixed with unpredictable spurts of paternal discipline. The father was a clergyman, and it was assumed that Day-Lewis would follow in his steps. Educated at home until he was eight, he says in his autobiography, The Buried Day (1960), that he began by writing verses, “short stories and sermons with a fine impartiality.” It was an atmosphere of high expectations and high demands, and Day-Lewis’s later memories of it seem dominated by guilt over his failure to meet the expectations and his inability to respond to the emotional demands. At the end of his life his poetry preached the only faith he had left, the romantic faith in poetry itself.

He says, “I was brought up in the Christian church. Later I believed for a while that communism offered the best hope for this world. I acknowledge the need for belief, but I cannot forget how through the ages great faiths have been vitiated by fanaticism and dogmatism, by intolerance and cruelty, by the intellectual dishonesty, the folly, the crankiness or the opportunism of their adherents.

Have I no faith at all, then? Faith is the thing at the core of you, the sediment that’s left when hopes and illusions are drained away. The thing for which you make any sacrifice because without it you would be nothing- mere walking shadow. I know what my own core is. I would in the last resort sacrifice any human relationship, any way of living to the search for truth which produces my poem. I know there are heavy odds against any poem I write surviving after my death. I realize that writing poetry may seem the most preposterously useless thing a man can be doing today. Yet it is just at such times of crisis that each man discovers or rediscovers what he values most….

Men need a religious belief to make sense out of life. I wish I had such a belief myself, but any creed of mine would be honeycombed with confusions and reservations. Yet when I write a poem I am trying to make sense out of life. And just now and then my experience composes and transmutes itself into a poem which tells me something I didn’t know I knew. So for me the compulsion of poetry is the sign of a belief, not the less real for being unformulated . . . a belief that men must enjoy life, explore life, enhance life. Each as best he can. And that I shall do these things best through the practice of poetry. [You can hear this here]

Suggestions for action by Alan Jones

Though C. Day-Lewis mostly has faith in his own creativity, one of his most well-known poems includes God. He has questions about love, and ruminates on his loves and losses as he remembers his son Sean. Alan Jones says,

“[T]he Christian tradition claims we are made in the image of this weak and vulnerable deity!

You belong to this God. Many times you have fancied a deity of your own devising. You have even thought of yourself in the role of God. Well, now is your chance. Your moment is coming. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. If you want to be like God, be like Jesus.

Holy Week, then, presents us with a question. What would it be like to obey a God who reveals himself as self-giving love? We know something of this kind of love, which steps aside to allow others to be, in our everyday experience. The poet C. Day Lewis wrote these words about his son growing up. The scene is a sporting event at the boy’s school during which the son turns from his father and goes off with his friends.

I have had worse partings, but none that so
Gnaws at my mind still. Perhaps it is roughly
Saying what God alone could perfectly show –
How selfhood begins with a walking away,
And love is proved in the letting go.

Love is proved in the letting go! What kind of music plays in your heart when you learn that part of loving is knowing when to allow another to walk away? What kind of God reveals himself to us in such vulnerability? When we wait at the foot of the cross, we learn that love has as much to do with letting go as with holding on. Anyone who has tried to love knows this from the inside. Anyone who has tried to love has caught a glimpse of what God is like. All our hurts and failures to love, all our moments of passion, show us the broken heart of God….

The way of love is cruciform, because love, to be true and free, must always carry within it the possibility of rejection. Our God, in Jesus Christ, always reveals himself to us in a form that we can reject. The cross bullies no one, coerces no one.”

Revisit the questions in the quote and talk to Jesus about the realities of self-giving love.

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