Listen Carefully

The air is thick and heavy. Rain threatens. Our neighbourhood is almost silent, except for one loud out-in-the-street voice: irritating, as usual. Boom! I know what a heavy calibre rifle sounds like and that was one. The street voice has stopped.

It begins to rain and we—at home in our lounge room—all look at each other, unsure what to do, what to pray. Even the weather seems to be on pause. We decide to wait, given that there was no preceding, audible fight and that ours is that kind of street.

The best answer to our question about the boom! might be that someone was trying to say, Enough is enough! of that constant, loud talking out on the verge. White noise is what our world is good at. Sometimes we try to silence it with another kind of noise and sometimes we listen carefully to see where God is in it.

 

The Mercies of Perfection

Today, in my class, Adele’s lilting voice sings a soft ‘Hello’ into the room. On the floor, a dozen teenagers laugh and scream as they roll dice and play the ‘chocolate game’: a reward for their achievement of golden points. Another prized thing is here too—infinite love—largely (and appropriately) unrecognised, but surely felt, as if heaven has bent down for a few moments and given us a taste of one of her perfections.

Charles Williams tells us that according to ‘Romantic Theology’ such perfection is implicit in every human being and to sell it and yourself short is a great insult, not just to God but also to the human race. Speaking of those lovely and yet dangerous moments when we glimpse this in another human being—as we do every day—along with all their faults. He says, ‘We cannot look fixedly upon such love and glory because the soul is so intoxicated by it… it at once goes astray…’ The attempt to extort (to obtain by force, threats, or other unfair means) leads to a perversion of the image. Hence what chaos and despair would follow if all men and women were so beheld. Therefore the Divine mercy intervenes, clouding its creation by drawing the veil.

He points out that this is why, in the Garden of Eden, once they had insisted on seeing good as evil, they were mercifully ejected from paradise. He adds, ‘How could they have borne with sanity that place of restrained good, all of which could be known (experienced) as unrestrained evil?’1

I wonder; if it’s true that it could be a ‘mercy to be ejected from a paradise’; might there have been times in our own lives where—because we were unable to bear with sanity some place of restrained good—that we experienced the mercy of being ejected from a paradise, but failed to realise that it was actually a mercy?

1 Charles Williams, The Figure of Beatrice, Apocryphile Press, Berkeley CA, 2005 (originally Faber & Faber 1943) pp: 47-48

Spiritual Symmetry

The symmetry of beauty has been on my mind, especially the way it happens in the symmetry of sacrifice. As an expression of deep love, God shouldered a cross in order to create the universe—in turn—as an expression of deep love, we shoulder our cross and the beauty is impossible to hide. (see CS Lewis’ poem, ‘Love’s as warm as Tears’). It all falls over of course the moment we allow sanctimonious pride, fear, repressed anger, score cards and so on to replace self-forgetful love as the motivation behind the sacrifice. This latter experience would be a bit like finding a flower growing in your yard but you realise that one half of it is plastic. This is what happens when our love starts out well but then slides back into a contrivance.

Imagined to Real

Quote

 

‘The glory of Christ has no weight while ever it is only present in your imagination and your mind; but when it reaches your will, the true weight of glory pours into your soul. The solid weight and gravity of God’s glory is activated by obedience.’

(George MacDonald, The Hope of The Gospel, Sunrise Books, 1989)

A God Delusion

A God Delusion’ is what Richard Dawkins should have titled his book, which (in a dead giveaway of his rather pompous approach) he called ‘The God Delusion’. I haven’t finished reading it yet but every page so far is reinforcing the fact that all of us at different times in our lives—whether we are believers or atheists—harbour various ‘God Delusions’. These tend to be expressed most boldly when we are rich and healthy or angry and in pain.

And this is not all bad, we find much of this in the psalms and other writings in scripture. Putting these kind of thoughts out of there is, not uncommonly, one way of processing them and sometimes realising how silly they are, and that they are delusional. In the light of that, it may well be that Dawkins’ book will help both Christians and atheists to be rid of one particular delusion* about God.

The difference of course with Dawkins’ book is the relentless rage—even hatred—that comes through. This guy is not going to listen to reason and his outbursts read more like those of someone in stage three of faith development** where everything is either ‘black or white’, ‘this or that’. A hallmark of this stage is the inability to see inconsistency in your reasoning and the inability to hear valid criticism.

Sometimes though, it turns out that the expression of our hurts and disappointments about God is not merely delusional, not silly and is in fact quite profound. Dawkins does allude to some of this but in a manner that suggests he’s not actually serious, he just wants to hate—like a propagandist—and that is that. On the other hand, when CS Lewis said the awful pain of having a wife die of cancer made him wonder if we were just ‘rats in a cosmic experiment’, he did it in a way that spoke on behalf of millions and enabled them to go somewhere with it. Interestingly—despite what some Christians thought—he hadn’t lost his faith, he was simply expressing it honestly.

* a delusion is a false impression that’s held onto despite the contradictory evidence of reality

** James Fowler, Faith Development

Back In Time—Just In Time

Mum, Granddad, Grandma, Uncle John and Aunty Jill

A birthday invitation to my aunt’s 80th has been lying around on my desk for a while now. I’m sure it’s here somewhere. I push a hand underneath the pile and tip it all upside down. There it is! A lovely sheet of pale, silken paper in a stylish font.

I look at the calendar. I can make it if I pull the pin on these other guys—but then I did that last time over a wedding. I probably shouldn’t stretch the friendship.

I send a text to my cousin explaining that I won’t be able to make it. Perhaps I could ‘visit’ via Skype, I suggest. I can already hear her laughing (with her mother’s laughter and a twinkle in her eye) and saying something about this being a rather cheap way of ‘assuaging my guilt’ at not coming.

I add (in the text) that I’ve always enjoyed her mum’s warmth and grace and her beautiful imagination with its storehouse of knowledge, music, art, jokes and memories—and her quiet prayers and joy in Jesus. I want my cousin to know that I thank God for this lovely lady.

In an afterthought I tell her I would have loved to have been able to go back in time—just once—and to have been close by (incognito) when her mother and my own mother were two young women having a picnic in a park. The laughter, conversation and joy in life would have been at once silly, deeply reflective and so human.

While I’m thinking about that I recall something one of my other aunties once told me. She was with my grandmother—on my mum’s side—at a time when it was clear that her daughter was going to lose her struggle with Motor Neurone disease. The news had been a crushing blow to my grandmother.

‘So,’ she said to my aunty, whilst looking up at the heavens. ‘Is there anyone up there?’

I don’t say anything about that in this message. It just sits there in a melancholy space in the back of my mind while I type. I finish the text and touch ‘send’.

Putting the phone down, I look up, and there, scrolling into view on my laptop screen is a photograph of my mother (looking a little gaunt) and the aunty who’s about to have her 80th. Between the two of them are my mother’s parents and her brother. I can’t take my eyes off my grandmother. She’s smiling. She looks so happy!

Once again, heaven has been reading my mind—has told me it’s thinking of me—and I’m losing it. It overheard my deepest longing and took me back in time. It’s so lovely and so terrible. Something deep inside is breaking open, again.

The Joke At The Party of Civilisations

The following news link tells of three Brazilian women ‘challenging the traditional family unit’ by marrying according to law in Brazil. http://elpais.com/elpais/2015/10/27/inenglish/1445948093_804967.html. I suppose it is a new thing for them to have a law officially pronouncing three women to be married but it all seems so beside the point, so tedious, as if—once again—we Westerners are casting about for something to make our lives interesting. Meanwhile, we forget that there are others at this party of so-called civilisations, who are rolling their eyes, even laughing.

Western culture is the funny little glitzy, flirty girl at the party who likes to paint herself up and imagine that everyone is talking about her supposed sexual innovations. Sorry love, but if you read history you will know that it’s all been done before—just with a few male warriors to protect you so you don’t get taken by the gremlins in the jungle. There’s nothing new or surprising here, it’s as old as Genesis.

To say that these women are ‘Challenging the traditional family unit’ is misleading and oh-so ‘tabloid’. Human beings have been getting together in various sexual arrangements since whenever and thinking of themselves as families. It’s embarrassing actually, this thing we in the West do with our narcissistic obsession and our determination to think of ourselves as on some cutting edge, some scandalous, avant gard, sexy thing. Frightening the rest of the world. Really?

Flowering In The Light

 

Flowering In The Light

‘Free will is an attraction to truth the way a flower is attracted to light.’* The more you bend your free will towards the darkness (of your lower self) the more the flower wilts and the less free will you have—hence the frustration, the desperation and sameness when we choose the dark of self-will at all costs.

*quote taken from Jean Vanier in his you-tube talk on ‘Big Questions’

Loved

Our family c. 1964/5

The day is done, the night has come
Our home no longer in the sun.
So quiet and still, the body fades and folds
Sweet as that old brown river’s black soil plains.
We slept—we did—on hot summer nights
And talked and stirred the coals and looked and knew
We were loved, so loved.

Lovely Mess IV

Lovely Mess (Photo: Ambrose Volkofsky)

Looking for quiet and stillness, I walk along a back street. The sun on my shoulders is warm. Nice: almost as good as the sun on the back step where our dog sleeps. I relax and let my mind and soul wander.

This alleyway is a new one to me. I expected something more desolate. Instead it’s rows of cars, parked not long ago by workers who have all walked through the rear entrances of grey and brown buildings. Exhaust fumes are in the air.

Yes, it’s quiet, but more like the ambience of expectant energy. The air hums. If you were a film director this would be a good place to have a killing scene: lots of metallic energy but not a soul in sight. The bitumen is clean and well used, ready to brutally stop the fall of a human body. This is a place of youth, of energy and of death—young death to my mind.

Lots of workers come here every day—park their cars and walk inside—not having a clue about why they live, why they work or why they have this urge to keep busy. They ‘love to work’ they say and joke about doing it to fund their weekend hobbies. That one sounds hollower every time you hear it, especially from the tribal elders
of Big Business Inc. I wonder if those kids working in there know what their tribal elders are really thinking. They suspect it, I suspect.

I turn a corner, walking past an office for the unemployed. This is where I feel an affinity. These are my people these days. We emerge from our homes later in the day than the rest of the town. If someone is having a heart attack or getting executed, it won’t be one of us. We drink our coffee and enjoy the sunshine while the other half work and keep the bitumen fresh: just right for that film director.

I turn another corner and stroll along the main, past the old man who’s always there in his motorised chair: drinking coffee in the sun, catching up with his mates and keeping a stern eye on the noisy kids that should be at school. I smile at him as I walk past.

Finally, I make it to the appointed coffee shop. They laugh when they see me. They know why I’m here. I tell them I’ve got a publisher. They smile and look at me with excited disbelief.

There’s no way I’m writing a blog in a place like this. Coffee shops deserve something with much more chemistry: a thriller for example. But then, blogs can be like a thriller, especially when you’ve just read someone saying the following …

‘We can try to deal one at a time with the problems of the sanctity of life ethic. But the overall result will be a jigsaw puzzle, the pieces of which have to be forced into place, until the whole picture is under so much pressure that it buckles and breaks apart. I think there is a better way. There is a larger picture in which all the pieces fit together. Whatever issue of the moment may concern us; in the long run we all need to see this larger picture. It will offer practical solutions to problems we now find insoluble, and allow us to act compassionately and humanely, where our ethic now leads us to outcomes that nobody wants. I want to paint that larger picture.’41

This statement is filled with the language of our age: words like ‘ethic’, ‘a larger picture in which all the pieces fit together’, ‘practical solutions’, ‘paint that larger picture’. It’s the language of pragmatism (making things work) and what is known as ‘reductionism’: ‘the practice of analysing and describing a complex phenomenon in terms of its simple or fundamental constituents, especially when this is said to provide a sufficient explanation.’

In other words, the compassion (and anxiety) that drives such a reductionist’s thinking will mostly be about his or her own beliefs on the origin and meaning of life. Their talk of what is morally right and wrong won’t have much at all to do with intuition or soul, it will mostly be about logic and common sense. Interestingly, Peter Singer describes himself as an altruist, which means ‘someone who has a disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others.’ It raises the question of what is meant by ‘disinterested’, ‘well-being’ and ‘others’.

Peter Singer, for example, has openly stated (the italics are mine), ‘We have seen that the basic reason for taking this view derives from what it is to be a person, a being with awareness of her or his own existence over time, and the capacity to have wants and plans for the future. There is also a powerful social and political reason for protecting the lives of those who are capable of fearing their own death.

‘Universal acceptance and secure protection of the right to life of every person is the most important good that a society can bestow upon its members. …. Only a being able to see herself as existing over time can fear death and can know that, if people may be killed with impunity, her own life could be in jeopardy.

Neither infants nor those non-human animals incapable of seeing themselves as existing over time can fear their own deaths (although they may be frightened by threatening or unfamiliar circumstances, as a fish in a net may be frightened). This provides another reason for recognising that another person has a right to life, or in other words that it is a greater wrong to take the life of a person than to take the life of any other being…

‘Since neither a newborn infant nor a fish is person, the wrongness of killing such beings is not as great as killing a person. But this does not mean that we should disregard the needs of an infant to be fed, and kept warm and comfortable and free of pain, for as long as it lives.’42

According to Nancy Pearcey, ‘Personhood theory,’ tells us that, “Just being part of the human race is not morally relevant. Individuals must earn the status of personhood by meeting an additional set of criteria: the ability to make decisions, self-awareness and so on … many ethicists have argued that non-persons may be used for utilitarian purposes such as research and harvesting organs. Wesley Smith43 describes this as a proposal for ‘human strip-mining.’”44

So, is Peter Singer some kind of complete ‘bad guy’, period? Not at all. He genuinely cares and wants to help us deal with some of the awful dilemmas being created by advances in medical technology. To his credit, he is actually attempting to make us all think about things that many of us would rather ignore. In ‘Lovely Mess V’ (my next blog) we will wrestle with one of his case studies.

41 Peter Singer, Rethinking Life & Death (The Text Publishing Company Australia, 1994) 6
11

42 Peter Singer, Rethinking Life & Death (The Text Publishing Company Australia, 1994) 218-220

43 Culture of Death, W Smith, referred to in Saving Leonardo by Nancy Pearcey, 58

44 Saving Leonardo, Nancy Pearcey quoting W Smith, 58