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December 10 – Thomas Merton

Today’s Bible reading

You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain. ―Psalm 139:1-6

More thoughts for meditation about Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton, known to the other monks as Father Louis, was born in 1915 in the south of France to a American mom (a Quaker) and Kiwi dad (a painter). He was baptized as an Anglican. When Thomas was six years old his mother died of stomach cancer. He was sent to live in the U.S. with his grandparents while his father often traveled. As an early teen, he was reunited with his dad and was educated in Europe until his father passed when he was 16. At this point Thomas was agnostic. In 1933, while in Italy, he experienced a sense of spiritual emptiness, anxiety, and a hope that would lead to a dramatic conversion.

In 1938, while finishing up an M.A. in English (focused on William Blake), Thomas joined the Catholic church after experimenting with other forms of Christianity. He was rejected by the Franciscans and did not feel drawn to become a priest. In 1942, he was accepted as a novice monk at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky.

His abbot directed Merton to write his autobiography, which became The Seven Storey Mountain. The book became an unlikely best-seller and is considered today to be one of the spiritual classics of the modern age.

Merton would go on to write poems, articles, essays, and more than 60 books, among them New Seeds of Contemplation, The Sign of Jonas, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, and No Man Is An Island.

In the latter decades of his life he became increasingly interested in Asian religions, particularly Buddhism.  His leadership helped spark Christian-Buddhist dialogue that continues to this day. Merton is an example of a devoted Christian who had dialogue with others respectfully and as a learner. He was particularly interested in Eastern ways of thinking and understanding of self. His conversations about these issues were largely with other monks, Christian and Buddhist, as well as his superiors.

His abbey still receives revenues from his work. His work telling the stories of the Desert Fathers and Mothers has been inspirational and influential to many among the Circle of Hope. His writings have been translated into over 30 languages.

Merton died on this day in 1968 of an accidental electrocution while attending an interfaith conference of contemplative monks in Thailand at age 53.

Quotes

“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.” ― Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them”
―  No Man Is an Island

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” ― Thoughts in Solitude

Want more? 

The Thomas Merton Center [link]

Director’s page for “Soul Searching,” a documentary about his life [link]

Suggestions for action

Contemplate. Find the point where you are being created by God right now.

December 5 — Nelson Mandela

Today’s Bible reading

Therefore My people shall know My Name and what it means. Therefore in that day I am the One who is speaking, ‘Here I am.’”

How beautiful and delightful on the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who announces peace,
Who brings good news of good [things],
Who announces salvation,
Who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices,
Together they shout for joy;
For they will see face to face
The return of the Lord to Zion. Isaiah 52:6-8

More thoughts for meditation about Nelson Mandela

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (July 18, 1918 – December 5, 2013) was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician, and philanthropist who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the country’s first black chief executive, and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election. His government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid through tackling institutionalized racism and fostering racial reconciliation. Politically an African nationalist and democratic socialist, he served as President of the African National Congress (ANC) party from 1991 to 1997. Internationally, Mandela was Secretary General of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1998 to 1999.

Mandela was not outspoken about his Christian faith. However, in his autobiography, he noted that he has always been and will be a Christian and that his actions and conviction stem from his Christian faith. He kept his Christian beliefs discreet in favor of his great life work of reconciliation. “He was a deeply religious man; he believed sincerely in the existence of the Almighty,” said Bishop Don Dabula, who first met Mandela in 1962 and met to pray with him whenever he was at his home in Qunu

The former president had the last rites administered by a Methodist minister in his Houghton home as he was nearing death. Nearby, in a private room, long-time friend Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana said Mandela’s favorite blessing as he died. “I asked not to be in the room when he died,” said Mpumlwana, who had prayed at the family home regularly towards the end of Mandela’s life. He looked at the time midway during what he knew was Mandela’s favorite blessing and saw it was 8.49pm. He chanted the words that always made the elderly statesman’s face light up when he heard them: May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. “May the Lord look upon you with kindness, and give you peace. “I later realized that was when he died,” Mpumlwana said.

It is testament to Mandela’s universal appeal that he has been claimed to be everything from a communist to a true liberal by his many admirers. And the image of the father of South Africa’s secular democracy as being deeply religious may well sit uncomfortably with some. But Mandela’s relationship with religion was always significant, if muted.

He was raised and schooled as a Methodist, an experience he recalled fondly in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. Mandela was married to his third wife, Graça Machel, by the then head of the South African Methodist church, Bishop Mvume Dandala. At a religious conference in 1999, he said: “Without the church, without religious institutions, I would never have been here today…Religion was one of the motivating factors in everything we did.”

But Mandela held an aversion to speaking publicly about his own faith for fear of dividing or—even worse—using religion as a political tool, as the apartheid regime did.

“The [apartheid] policy was supported by the Dutch Reformed Church, which furnished apartheid with its religious underpinnings by suggesting that Afrikaners were God’s chosen people and that blacks were a subservient species,” he wrote in his autobiography. “In the Afrikaner’s world view, apartheid and the church went hand in hand.”

The head of the Methodist Church in South Africa, Bishop Zipho Siwa, agreed: “He is a leader whose role was to unite everybody.” Ultimately, his faith, like everything else about Mandela, played to the great theme of his life: reconciliation. This was illustrated in a 1994 speech to the Zion Christian Church Easter conference, in which he said: “The good news was borne by our risen Messiah, who chose not one race, who chose not one country, who chose not one language,  who chose not one tribe, who chose all of humankind.”

Want more?

More biography.

Mandela and the church

Suggestions for action

Mandela spent years in prison waiting his opportunity to serve. He had no choice, and maybe you do not either. Will you be bitter when you receive your chance, or ready?

Who can you help reconcile today? Be sincere as you provide a way for people to love. They need your help.

November 30 – Mother Jones

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Jeremiah 22

“Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness,
    his upper rooms by injustice,
making his own people work for nothing,
    not paying them for their labor.
He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace
    with spacious upper rooms.’
So he makes large windows in it,
    panels it with cedar
    and decorates it in red.

“Does it make you a king
    to have more and more cedar?
Did not your father have food and drink?
    He did what was right and just,
    so all went well with him.
He defended the cause of the poor and needy,
    and so all went well.
Is that not what it means to know me?”
    declares the Lord.
“But your eyes and your heart
    are set only on dishonest gain,
on shedding innocent blood
    and on oppression and extortion.”

More thoughts for meditation

As a social reformer, Mary “Mother” Jones exposed disturbing truths about child and adult factory workers and miners and perpetual poverty in the United States through numerous marches, demonstrations, strikes, and speeches. The influence of Christianity was evident throughout her life. She received a Catholic education as a girl and became a teacher in a convent as a young adult. Letters and speeches by her, and those about her, were filled with the imagery of Christian beliefs.

Jones worked as a teacher and dressmaker, but after her husband and four children all died of yellow fever in 1867, and her dress shop was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, she began working as an organizer for the Knights of Labor and the United Mine Workers union. In 1903, upset about the lax enforcement of the child labor laws in the Pennsylvania mines and silk mills, she organized a Children’s March from Kensington, in Philadelphia, to the home of then president Theodore Roosevelt in New York.

She wailed about the unjust experiences of the poor like an Old Testament prophet, often dressed in old‐fashioned black dresses that seemed similar to the black habits worn by the Catholic sisters that taught and mentored her during her early years. She was described by others as the “walking wrath of God,” the “incarnation of labor’s struggles” decrying injustice and calling to account its perpetrators. She was even introduced by the author Upton Sinclair one day as “Mother Mary” — an allusion to the New Testament Mary who gave birth to the Christ child and was considered one who interceded on behalf of poor and exploited adults and children.

Her use of the word “hell” is notable. Once she was introduced as a humanitarian and quickly bellowed “I’m not a humanitarian, I’m a hell‐raiser.”  Two noteworthy quotes that peppered her speeches on behalf of factory workers and miners were “fight like hell until you go to heaven” and “pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.” When a West Virginia district attorney, Reese Blizzard, in 1902, Called her “the most dangerous woman in America” at her trial for ignoring an injunction banning meetings by striking miners, the title stuck.

As a passionate public speaker, some people thought she was “unchristian‐like,” mainly because she used of name‐calling, profanity, and dramatic stunts for effect, such as parading children who lost body limbs as a result of accidents in factories and mines. She was compared to John Brown, the abolitionist who believed armed rebellion was the only way to defeat the institution of slavery in the United States. Whether she actually believed such things is doubtful, but the association made her seem “unchristian‐like.” When confronted with the issue of violence in the labor movement she encouraged it at times as a necessary evil. She believed that martyrs died to overcome injustices and the causes that she led were no exception.

Just a few months after her death, the singing cowboy Gene Autry recorded the song “The Death of Mother Jones.” The writer of the lyrics is unknown.

The world today’s in mourning
For death of Mother Jones
Gloom and sorrow hover
Around the miners’ homes

This grand old champion of labor
Was known in every land
She fought for right and justice
She took a noble stand

Through the hills and over the valleys
In every mining town
Mother Jones was ready to help them
She never turned them down

On front with the striking miners
She always could be found
And received a hearty welcome
In every mining town

She was fearless of every danger
She hated that which was wrong
And she never gave up fighting
Until her breath was gone

This noble leader of labor
Has gone to a better land
While the hard working miners
They miss a guiding hand

May the miners all work together
And carry out her plan
And bring back better conditions
For every laboring man.

Want more?

AFL-CIO bio [link]

Suggestions for Action

Jesus was probably considered the most dangerous man in Palestine by the leaders who eventually killed him. Jeremiah was decidedly unpopular with the kings he exposed for their greed and oppression. If we, as Jesus followers, are not at odds with the powers-that-be, or even a threat to the corrupt ones, we might not be too serious about being planted in the soil of a fallen world. Consider who God wants you to stand with and stand up for.

November 29 – Dorothy Day

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Psalm 42:1-4

As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?

More thoughts for meditation about Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day was born in Brooklyn Heights in 1897 to stable, middle class  and marginally Christian parents. After her family experienced several major relocations, Day was raised mostly in San Francisco and Chicago. After two years of college, she dropped out of school in Illinois and moved back to New York City. During these younger years, Day’s interest in adventure grew to include alternative social organizations, particularly socialist anarchism. She began working with several socialist publications around 1916.

Although she had been baptized in the Episcopal Church as a child, at this point she identified as agnostic. The next few years were full of adventure and rocky relationships including heartbreak, abortion, a short marriage, and then an unexpected pregnancy and birth of her daughter, Tamar in 1926. She wished to baptize her child, which caused more tension in her relationship with Tamar’s father. A year later, Tamar was baptized and so was Dorothy, now part of the Catholic church.

In 1932 she met French immigrant Peter Maurin with whom a year later  she would found the Catholic Worker movement. The publication of The Catholic Worker (almost named the Catholic Radical) began in 1933 and continues to be published. It’s goals were to promote Catholic social teaching in the depths of the Great Depression and to stake out a neutral, pacifist position in the war-torn 1930s.  The vision grew to include “establishing houses of hospitality to care for the destitute, establishing rural farming communities to teach city dwellers agrarianism and encourage a movement back to the land, and setting up roundtable discussions in community centers in order to clarify thought and initiate action.”

She became famous for saying “I have long since come to believe that people never mean half of what they say, and that it is best to disregard their talk and judge only their actions.” By 1941 over 30 independent yet affiliated Catholic Worker communities had formed in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. While the Catholic leaders told her to change the name of the publication because it did not represent the Church, they refused. By the 1960’s, Day became enamored by Catholics, organizers, and counterculture leaders. While maintaining radical social ideas and practice, she opposed the sexual revolution of the decade, describing the ill effects she had suffered years before. She continued to be critical of transnational companies like United Fruit and violent governmental policies and praised aspects of Communist movements in Russia, China, and Cuba.

Day was a prolific writer and joined movements for justice. At 75, she spent a week in jail helping Cesar Chavez working for justice for farm workers in California. Dorothy Day died on this day in 1980, three weeks after her 83rd birthday.

More:

The Catholic Worker Movement homepage [link]

The Dorothy Day Collection [link]

Day teaching on TV [link]

Suggestions for action

Dorothy Day’s radical views and uncompromising caused her grief and trouble. But her long loneliness, as she called it, made her faith deep and her influence wide. What is it that you must do?

November 26 — Sojourner Truth

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt from it

Read Joel 2:28-31

“In those days, I will also pour out my Spirit on the male and female slaves.”

More thoughts for meditation

Today we celebrate the prophetess Sojourner Truth, who died on November 26th, 1883 at the age of 86. She is remembered for her relentless, Spirit-filled work as an abolitionist, women’s suffragist, and evangelist.

She was sold as a child into slavery in New York. She worked on a farm and often retreated into the woods nearby where she prayed to God by a “temple of brush” that she had made. In her twenties, she obeyed a vision from the Lord to take her baby, Sophia, and walk away from the family that enslaved her. It was a frightening experience for her to live out on her own, and she considered going back to work on the farm, but Jesus appeared to her in a vision and prayed for her, giving her the strength to continue.

After these and other experiences with God, she saw her life and ministry as uniquely situated to be a leader involved in two movements in the United States: the abolition of slavery, and the right of women to vote. As a woman leader and a former slave, she saw her gifts of leadership and freedom from slavery as something that God wanted for all women and all people who were enslaved. She used her life story and experiences with God as the basis for her political and theological views.

She is also remembered fondly for her straight-gazed challenges to live by faith. When some other notable abolitionists were advocating for violent uprisings to end slavery, Truth asked them the question: “Is God gone?”

Quotes

“If women want any rights more than they’s got, why don’t they just take them, and not be talking about it.”

“That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne five children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?”

“Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.”

“You have been having our rights so long, that you think, like a slave-holder, that you own us. I know that it is hard for one who has held the reins for so long to give up; it cuts like a knife. It will feel all the better when it closes up again.”

“And what is that religion that sanctions, even by its silence, all that is embraced in the ‘Peculiar Institution’? If there can be any thing more diametrically opposed to the religion of Jesus, than the working of this soul-killing system – which is as truly sanctioned by the religion of America as are her minsters and churches – we wish to be shown where it can be found.”

More?

Great bio from her home town association in Battle Creek: [link]

Sojourner Truth’s famous speech of 1851, “Ain’t I a Woman” Re-enactment

Suggestion for action

Look racism and sexism straight in the face and expect the same Spirit of Jesus, who inspired Sojourner Truth, to say something through you, too.

Encouragement from Dru Hart to take a stand: [blog post]

November 22 – Eberhard Arnold

Today’s Bible reading

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” — Matthew 5:43-45

More thoughts for meditation about Eberhard Arnold

Eberhard Arnold was born in 1883 to a middle class family in Königsberg, Germany (now Kalinigrad of the Russian Federation). After a rambunctious childhood, he experienced an inner change at the age of 16. He became active in evangelism and had increasing compassion for the poor.

He married Emmy von Hollander. They would have five children. Both grew increasingly discontent with the new movements of urbanization and factorization in Germany. They criticized the state church of Germany for various reasons, Later their critique would provide a model for a new movement. In 1915 Arnold became editor of Die Furche (The Furrow) and became a sought-after speaker in the region.

Arnold supported Germany during the first World War at first, even enlisting for a few weeks before being discharged for medical reasons. He sent copies of The Furrow to young people at the front lines. The returning soldiers had a profound influence on Eberhard, and he had an increasingly difficult time reconciling the gospel with war.

During the war, the Germans sustained incredible losses. Afterwards, hunger protests and strikes were common responses to the political upheaval and national shame. Among groups working for change, the Youth Movement inspired Arnold with their love of nature, rejection of materialism, and aspirations towards joy and love.  Eberhard and Emmy began meeting with Youth Movement people once or twice a week in homes.

In 1920, the couple along with Emmy’s sister Else moved to the village of Sannerz to found the Bruderhof (place of brothers) community with seven adults and five children. Their community was founded on the Sermon on the Mount and the witness of the early church. The community grew and needed a bigger farm. Eberhard’s writing continued and he began corresponding with the Hutterite Brethren, an Anabaptist group that had fled to and flourished in the United States. The Bruderhof’s values now also included a common purse as well as pacifism.

The rise of the Nazi party was a catalyst for the Bruderhof to send their children (school age and draft age) out of the country. The rest of the community eventually also fled, during the travel Eberhard sustained a leg injury that led to his death on this day in 1935. The Bruderhof groups re-assembled in England before being forced out of the country. The Mennonite Central Committee helped them relocate to Paraguay, the only country that would accept a pacifist community with mixed nationalities. The Bruderhof Communites are now in four states in the US as well as Germany, Paraguay, and Australia.

Quotes:

“Love sees the good Spirit at work within each person and delights in it. Even if we have just been annoyed with someone, we will feel new joy in them as soon as love rules in us again. We will overcome our personal disagreements and joyfully acknowledge the working of the good Spirit in each other.”—printed in Writings 

“Only those who look with the eyes of children can lose themselves in the object of their wonder. ”
“Truth without love kills, but love without truth lies.”
“Even the sun directs our gaze away from itself and to the life illumined by it.” —Salt and Light: Talks and Writings on the Sermon on the Mount
 “We must have the love that exists among children, for with them love rules without any special purpose.”
Salt and Light: Talks and Writings on the Sermon on the Mount
“The whole world is shaking at its joints. We have the frightening impression that we stand before a great and catastrophic judgment. If this catastrophe does not take place, it is only because it has been averted by God’s direct intervention. And the church is called to move God—yes, God himself—to act. This does not mean that God will not or cannot act unless we ask him, but rather that he waits for people to believe in him and expect his intervention. For God acts among us only to the extent that we ask for his action and accept it with our hearts and lives. This is the secret of God’s intervention in history.”—Salt and Light: Talks and Writings on the Sermon on the Mount
“We kill at every step, not only in wars, riots and executions. We kill every time we close our eyes to poverty, suffering and shame.”—Salt and Light: Talks and Writings on the Sermon on the Mount
“We must live in community because we are stimulated by the same creative Spirit of unity who calls nature to unity and through whom work and culture shall become community in God.”—Why We Live in Community: With Two Interpretive Talks by Thomas Merton

Want more?

Biography and more: [Eberhard Arnold]

The Bruderhof website [link]

First of five interesting videos on Bruderhof history. Here’s one on Arnold:

Suggestions for Action

Arnold was a deep thinker who was open to the movement of God’s Spirit. He did not just think, he acted. His life was an incarnation of his convictions. He formed communities that had an influence much greater than their size might justify. Let his example inspire you to express your own faith and devotion in your troubled day.

November 22 – C.S. Lewis

Today’s Bible reading

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him. —Luke 1:57-66

More thoughts for meditation about C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)

Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland in 1898. His mother, Flora, was the daughter of a Anglican priest (Church of Ireland). His father, Richard, immigrated from Wales and worked as a lawyer (solicitor). He and his brother Warren had a dog named Jacksie, who was killed by a car when Lewis was four years old. He decided that he would take the dog’s name in his mourning, eventually allowing his family to call him Jack—the name friends would refer to him by for the rest of his life.

He was privately tutored and sent to the notoriously abusive Wynyard School in England for two years with his brother after his mother died. He came back home to Belfast and attended Campbell College (for boys 11-18) only to drop out because of respiratory problems. He was sent to a health-resort town back in England where he attended preparatory school. It was there, while he was 15 that he decided he was an atheist. Later in life he would reflect that this decision was largely based on being mad at God for not existing.

His interest in mythology, beast fables, and legends developed—especially Norse, Greek, and Irish mythologies. In them, he sensed what he later named “joy.” He was bound for Oxford to study when he volunteered to fight for the British Army in the trenches of France during World War I. The trauma and horrors during the war confirmed his atheism. Lewis was injured during an accidental friendly fire explosion that killed two of his comrades. He had a pact with a close friend that if either died the survivor would take care of the other’s family, and after “Paddy” Moore died Lewis took care of Jane Moore until her death in the 1940s. The two had a close relationship, during both Lewis’ recovery and the period before Moore’s eventual death. Lewis often referred to her as his “mother.”

He resumed studies at Oxford in 1918. He excelled academically and began getting published. In 1929, largely because of the influence of friends and colleagues J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson, Lewis decided to “admit God was God,” kneel, pray, and admit he was a Theist. Two years later had a conversion experience with the two friends playing a huge role in his shift to becoming a Christian. He would later recall in Surprised By Joy, “When we set out [on a motorcycle trip to the zoo] I did not believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did.”

Two years later, the three friends along with some others began a group they called “The Inklings” which would meet up once or twice per week for 16 years. For most of 1941, Lewis published 31 weekly “Screwtape Letters,” donating the proceeds for them to charity. He began giving radio talks on the BBC that developed from “Right and Wrong” to a later series about “What Christians Believe” and then “Christian Behavior”—these later became his enduring classic Mere Christianity. He published The Great Divorce in weekly installments. In all, he wrote about 60 books, most of which are non-fiction, often apologetics of the faith. It was perhaps in his fiction, like the Space Trilogy, where he did his heaviest theological lifting.

In 1956, Lewis and his intellectual companion Joy Davidman, entered into a civil marriage so she and her two sons could stay in the U.K. She was separated from her abusive husband. Later that year, after discovering her advanced-stage bone cancer, the two had a Christian marriage ceremony. Joy died in 1957 while on a family holiday. Jack raised her sons as his own. Four years later, Lewis had kidney issues that developed shortly into renal failure. C.S. Lewis died on November 22, 1963 a week before he would have turned 65 (the same day as John F. Kennedy).

Quotes

  • I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
  •  I have found a desire within myself that no experience in this world can satisfy; the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.
  • There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘All right, then, have it your way.’
  • It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.
  • If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.
  • A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word “darkness” on the walls of his cell.
  • Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.
  • God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.
  • Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.
  • Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.

More?

Christian History biography

BBC biography

C.S Lewis’s surviving BBC radio address

C.S. Lewis – from atheism to theism

Mere Christianity — PDF online

The Great Divorce — audio book on YouTube, PDF online

Till We Have Faces — PDF online

The Silver Chair (BBC dramtization) — Episode 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Lewis was a medievalist and his take on chivalry is a critique of democracy and pacifism:

Suggestions for action

C.S. Lewis was a brilliant apologist for Jesus in the mid-20th Century. Some of what he wrote is beginning to sound dated. Most of it is timeless. Some of it has been perverted by marketing and profit-taking. If you have never read one of his adult books, try one: Mere Christianity is a compilation of his radio productions. Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce are allegorical tales about life and death. Till We Have Faces is his last work that makes a Christian story out of a Greek tale.

Consider the time it takes to think deep thoughts. Lewis learned about Jesus before there was TV. After TV, our information started coming to us in ever-decreasing bites. Plan for a few hours to read, pray and think. Plan some time when there is no plan. Those are good times to be freed from your “silver chair.”

November 20 – Leo Tolstoy

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Luke 17:20-37

“The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

More thoughts for meditation about Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)

Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy was the fourth of five children born to a family of old Russian nobility in 1828. His mother died while he was young, so he and his siblings were in the care of his aunt. His father died next, followed by the his aunt and caretaker. He and his siblings moved under the care of another relative.

Tolstoy struggled school. He eventually became a farmer until his brother convinced him to join the military, where his writing began to develop. He grew into one of the most celebrated novelists of all time. His two greatest works War and Peace and Anna Karenina are considered masterpieces.

After he enjoyed some success, Leo fell into a deep depression that ultimately led to his conversion to following Jesus. He tried joining the Russian Orthodox Church, which he found corrupt. While under watch of the secret police, he founded the new publication The Mediator in 1883. He gave away nearly all his wealth, but took care of his wife by signing the copyrights and proceeds from his writings pre-1881 over to her.

During the last 30 years of his life, his richest spiritual work and international movement-building flowered. In 1894 his magnum opus The Kingdom of God Is Within You inspired practitioners of non-violent resistance, as it continues to do. Gandhi cited this last book as one of the three texts that most influenced him. The two developed a relationship in which Tolstoy strongly urged nonviolence as a means of social change.

Tolstoy’s beliefs and regular visits from disciples plagued his wife. He finally fled with his daughter and began an incognito pilgrimage that he was never able to complete. He died on this day in 1910.

Quotes:

On revolution: There can be only one permanent revolution—a moral one; the regeneration of the inner man. How is this revolution to take place? Nobody knows how it will take place in humanity, but every man feels it clearly in himself. And yet in our world everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself.

On progress : People usually think that progress consists in the increase of knowledge, in the improvement of life, but that isn’t so. Progress consists only in the greater clarification of answers to the basic questions of life. The truth is always accessible to a man. It can’t be otherwise, because a man’s soul is a divine spark, the truth itself. It’s only a matter of removing from this divine spark (the truth) everything that obscures it. Progress consists, not in the increase of truth, but in freeing it from its wrappings. The truth is obtained like gold, not by letting it grow bigger, but by washing off from it everything that isn’t gold.

On passions: The whole world knows that virtue consists in the subjugation of one’s passions, or in self-renunciation. It is not just the Christian world, against whom Nietzsche howls, that knows this, but it is an eternal supreme law towards which all humanity has developed, including Brahmanism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and the ancient Persian religion. And suddenly a man appears who declares that he is convinced that self-renunciation, meekness, submissiveness and love are all vices that destroy humanity (he has in mind Christianity, ignoring all the others religions).

On Nietzsche: One can understand why such a declaration baffled people at first. But after giving it a little thought and failing to find any proof of the strange propositions, any rational person ought to throw the books aside and wonder if there is any kind of rubbish that would not find a publisher today. But this has not happened with Nietzsche’s books. The majority of pseudo-enlightened people seriously look into the theory of the Übermensch, and acknowledge its author to be a great philosopher, a descendant of Descartes, Leibniz and Kant. And all this has come about because the majority of pseudo-enlightened men of today object to any reminder of virtue, or to its chief premise: self-renunciation and love — virtues that restrain and condemn the animal side of their life. They gladly welcome a doctrine, however incoherently and disjointedly expressed, of egotism and cruelty, sanctioning the idea of personal happiness and superiority over the lives of others, by which they live.

Want more?

The School of Life on Tolstoy:

A flawed saint: [article]

More bio: [link]

Movies: Anna Karenina, War and Peace

Suggestions for action

Depression led Tolstoy to faith. Often depression is not an enemy, it is our heart speaking to us about change, about redemption, about unknown possibilities. Consider your own depression. Some of us have chronic conditions that need the help of doctors. Others are self-medicating what needs to be heard.

After Tolstoy wrote his masterpieces, he found his deepest calling. While his literature remains influential, it could be argued that his influence for nonviolent resistance did more to change the world. What are you growing into? Do you dare consider what your legacy will be and who you might influence for good?

November 18 — Odo of Cluny

Today’s Bible reading

The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure and full of quiet gentleness. Then it is peace-loving and courteous…It is wholehearted and straightforward and sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of goodness.—James 3:17-18

Odo Cluny-11.jpg
11th Century miniature

More thoughts for meditation about Odo of Cluny

Odo (c. 880-942) was the great abbot of the Benedictine Monastery of Cluny, which started a huge program of monastic and clerical reform. He was the second abbot of Cluny but began his religious life as canon of St. Martin of Tours, to whom he always had a deep devotion.

When Odo, then a cleric at Tours, read The Rule of St. Benedict for himself, he was stunned. Judging that his Christian life did not measure up to Benedict’s standard, he determined to become a monk. In 909, Odo went to Beaume, a monastery (unlike many) where the rule was strictly observed, and Abbot Berno received him into the community.

That same year Berno started a new monastery at Cluny in Burgundy. He established it on the pattern of Beaume, insisting on a rigorous application of the Benedictine rule. In 927, St. Odo succeeded Berno as Cluny’s abbot and spread its influence to monasteries all over Europe. He encouraged lax monasteries to return to the original pattern of the Benedictine rule of prayer, manual labor, and community life under the direction of a spiritual father. Under his influence, monasteries chose more worthy abbots, cultivated a more committed spiritual life in the monks, and restored the solemnity of daily worship. Thus Odo helped lay the foundation for a renewal movement that in two centuries reformed more than a thousand monastic communities and transformed the religious and political life of Europe.

In the following passage, John of Salerno, Odo’s biographer, says he combined his power with wry humor to compel members of his entourage to behave charitably:

The blind and the lame, Odo said, would be the doorkeepers of heaven. Therefore no one ought to drive them away from his house, so that in the future they should not shut the doors of heaven against him. So if one of our servants, not being able to put up with their shameless begging, replied sharply to them or denied them access to the door of our tent, Odo at once rebuked him with threats. Then in the servant’s presence he used to call the poor man and command him, saying, “When this man comes to the gate of heaven, pay him back in the same way.” He said this to frighten the servants, so that they should not act in this way again, and that he might teach them to love charity.

At the pope’s request, Odo traveled to Rome three times to pacify relations between Hugh, king of Italy and Alberic, called the Patrician of the Romans. On each of these trips Odo took the opportunity to introduce the Cluniac reform to monasteries en route. On returning from Rome in 942, he became sick and stopped at the monastery of St. Julian in Tours for the celebration of the feast day of St. Martin. He took part in the celebrations on November 11 and after a lingering illness died on November 18. During his last illness, he composed a hymn in honor of Martin.

More?

Video on the Cluniac Reform Movement.

The Abbey of Cluny is ten minutes from the Taize Community. 

Video history of the Abbey.

Poem of Odo

The Odo Ensemble, based at Cluny.

Suggestions for action

Admiration for a saint can lead to sanctity. Odo of Cluny was deeply devoted to St. Martin of Tours and as a young student imitated Martin in his love of beggars. He always kept the example of Martin as his guide.

Perhaps the poor we refuse to care for or people we snub will be our greeters after death. Imagine that the person meeting us at heaven’s gate will be the person we have offended most, now empowered to welcome or to reject us. That thought might make us hurry to be reconciled with anyone we have hurt.

The church in the United States has a “lax rule” and is embroiled in corrupt politics and many scandals. Will you desert Jesus as a result? Or will you refocus our “rule” and transform the society?

November 17 – Hild

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Matthew 10:5-15

You received without having to pay. Therefore, give without demanding payment.

More thoughts for meditation about Hild

Today is the feast day of Hild of Whitby, who died on this day in 680.

She lived in the 7th Century and made her mark in the kingdom of Northumbria, now part of England. She took her first vows as a nun somewhat later in life, at the age of 33, but managed to help start several monasteries and became the founding Abbess at Whitby, a monastery where men and women had residence. Her reputation for wise counsel made her a coveted adviser to several kings and crucial to the conversion of much her territory to Christianity. She also is known for her great love and devotion to the ordinary people.

While her Celtic people were pushed further and further North by the pagan groups such as the Saxons, a vital mission to the invaders remained. The church in Rome often competed with the Celtic tradition, and Hild was known for helping to settle the big question of when Easter would be celebrated. This was just one example of the peacemaking she was known for in rather turbulent times.

Her relationship with the farmhand, Caedmon, is a good example of her devotion to developing regular people. She recognized Caedmon’s gifts for music and poetry and encouraged them. He became the first published poet in English.

Want more?

From an Anglican church named after her: [link]

Another church’s bio: [link]

Saint Hilda’s snakes

Three-minute bio

Suggestions for action

Hild was an unusual leader, mainly because she was a woman leading men in a time when that was almost unheard of. She was also a leader in difficult times when the church was challenged by antagonists and also divided from within. Her native Celtic church was being overrun by the legalists from Rome who desired to unite the church under the monarchy of the Pope.

The United States and the Church worldwide are changing. We see ourselves as an outpost, in some ways, where true, old and better ways provide and alternative to the turmoil and self-interest around us. Like Hild, look around our church, starting with your cell, and notice the gifts of the Spirit God is providing us in our ambition to make Jesus known and followed.