Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest…
you who have had so far
to come.) Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigor hurled
a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.
His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world.
Charmed by dove’s voices, the whisper of straw,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed
who overflowed all skies,
Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught that I might be free,
blind in my womb to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth
for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn. – Luci Shaw
“Into the Darkest Hour,” a poem by Madeleine L’Engle
It was a time like this,
War & tumult of war,
a horror in the air.
Hungry yawned the abyss —
and yet there came the star
and the child most wonderfully there.
It was time like this
of fear & lust for power,
license & greed and blight —
and yet the Prince of bliss
came into the darkest hour
in quiet & silent light.
And in a time like this
how celebrate his birth
when all things fall apart?
Ah! wonderful it is
with no room on the earth
the stable is our heart.
— from Winter Song: Christmas Readings by Madeleine L’Engle and Luci Shaw
They sought to soar into the skies
hose classic gods of high renown
For lofty pride aspires to rise
?But you came down.
You dropped down from the mountains sheer
forsook the eagle for the dove
The other Gods demanded fear
But you gave love
Where chiselled marble seemed to freeze
their abstract and perfected form
Compassion brought you to your knees
Your blood was warm
They called for blood in sacrifice
Their victims on an altar bled
When no one else could pay the price
You died instead
They towered above our mortal plain,
Dismissed this restless flesh with scorn,
Aloof from birth and death and pain,
?But you were born.
Born to these burdens, borne by all
born with us all ‘astride the grave’
Weak, to be with us when we fall,
?And strong to save.
A friend of mine has begun to attend a small new church plant, led by a young man who has been ordained through an independent and charismatic revivalist network. This young man, and a few other speakers that have visited the church plant, have talked about God’s divine judgment upon individuals who are not in submission to the Lord’s word or plan. They have shared that they believe the Lord is bringing back divine judgment as a means to discipline the church, as in the NT story of Ananias and Sapphira.
As part of this attempt to establish very clear (and rigid) authority – in the face of, let’s admit – a deep and destructive individualism – they are sharing testimonies of how individuals in the flock have been bitter or angry with the ‘sent one’ or ‘set man.’ And then illness, trouble, even death have fallen upon the individual not in submission. However, when the “apostle” prayed for restoration after repentance, the illness was healed. One example offered was a pastor whose estranged daughter was led into rebellion to his church. The couple began speaking against the father (pastor) and the church. After attempts at discipline (not sure what these were or how it was handled) the Pastor had to ‘turn them over’. Within several weeks his daughter was dead of a mysterious illness.
As you read this I’m sure the alarm bells are ringing!
But what about the Ananias and Saphira story?
How do we establish biblical authority in our day, when the center seems not to hold? And where or in whom does it reside?
Is divine judgment like this to be expected or sought in our day? If so, who administers it and under what conditions?
Interesting, my friend, who has a teaching gift, remarks that he did not like the presentation by the two speakers. Neither were teachers. Both used anecdotal experiences and only shared a few passages from scripture. It was as though the speakers were relying upon the ‘prophetic’ gift, and they did not spend quality time in opening up the scriptures.
Linda Cannell’s article closes Part IV of Life in the Spirit (IVP, 2010) with, “Theology, Spiritual Formation and Theological Education.” Her essay has some interesting connections to the arguments James Smith makes in Desiring the Kingdom, esp his closing chapter, “A Christian University is for Lovers.” (Or more recently his boiled down version “We Are What We Love”)
In the second part of her article Linda notes four factors that constitute a threat matrix to holistic theological schooling. Taken together they have profound implications for the future of the seminary and the church. There are four, and she spends one or two pages on each. I’ll list them here then provided an extended quote from the fourth.
* The Rise of institutions
* The Rise of academic theology and academic rationalism
* The Rise of professionalism in higher education
* How the church and academy have understood and fostered the desire to know God Read the rest of this entry »
In the first centuries the Church had a beautiful custom of praying seven great prayers calling afresh on Christ to come, calling him by the mysterious titles he has in Isaiah, calling to him; O Wisdom. O Root! O Key O Light! come to us! Malcolm writes,
“Of all the mystic titles of Christ, this is the one that connects most closely with our ‘secular’ psychology. We speak of the need on the one hand for ‘closure’ and on the other for ‘unlocking’, for ‘opening’, for ’liberation’. The same ideas are also there in the lines from O Come O Come Emmanuel that are drawn from this antiphon, which could easily be part of anybody’s work in good therapy:
“Make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery.”
“I see this antiphon, and the sonnet I wrote in response to it, as the ‘before’ picture that precedes the beautiful fifth antiphon O Oriens about Christ as the Dayspring. When l wrote this sonnet I found that I had at last written something clear about my own experience of depression. I hope that others who have been in that darkness will find it helpful.”
Even in the darkness where I sit
And huddle in the midst of misery
I can remember freedom, but forget
That every lock must answer to a key,
That each dark clasp, sharp and intricate,
Must find a counter-clasp to meet its guard,
Particular, exact and intimate,
The clutch and catch that meshes with its ward.
I cry out for the key I threw away
That turned and over turned with certain touch
And with the lovely lifting of a latch
Opened my darkness to the light of day.
O come again, come quickly, set me free
Cut to the quick to fit, the master key.
Malcolm Guite, Sounding the Seasons (London: Canterbury Press, 2012)
When everything that can be shaken is being shaken, we look to traditional authority structures and authority figures to pull us through. Unfortunately, traditional authority is not up to the task. Frequently they are isolated in mini-worlds that have insulated and protected them from change. They have stopped “listening.” In other cases, they defend the status quo in order to protect their own interests.
Yet we need leadership. Where do we find it? In two places.
1. Among the ordinary, yet gifted and called people, who are following Christ. But these are not normally episcopal figures. Bonhoeffer writes that, “The desire we so often hear today for ‘episcopal figures’ .. springs from a spiritually sick need for the admiration of men.. because the genuine authority of service appears so unimpressive.” (109) And later he writes, “The question of trust.. is determined by faithfulness to the service of Jesus Christ.. never by the extraordinary talents [one] possesses. Pastoral authority is attained only.. by the brother among brothers.” (Life Together) A friend of mine put it like this: “Never give anyone authority over you who has not washed your feet.”
2. In a communitas of leaders: an order of people dedicated to the kingdom and to God’s mission.
Having spent a week among two faculty and a group of students from Tyndale Seminary, I believe the key to the growth and vitality of this organization is that a communitas of leaders has been created. Tyndale has found a way to actualize a proposal made by Alan Roxburgh some years ago.
At the end of The Sky is Falling, Alan Roxburgh proposes a communitas of missional leaders. A communitas is a creative commons, but with shared purpose and discipline. Roxburgh outlines the reasons why we need a communitas of leaders.
“The potential of communitas is for something innovative to emerge across the differences that have characterized the last several decades. Communitas is the willingness of people to risk entering a new commons where they journey together as God’s pilgrim people in order to discern the future that God’s Spirit might be bringing forward to them. It calls for leaders on both sides of the polarity to recognize the gifts of the other and a readiness to submit themselves as novices to each other.” (111) Read the rest of this entry »
In the first centuries the Church had a beautiful custom of praying seven great prayers calling afresh on Christ to come, calling him by the mysterious titles he has in Isaiah, calling to him; O Wisdom. O Root! O Key O Light! come to us!
The evening prayer, also know as Vespers, always includes the great prayer of Mary known as the Magnificat. Each day, the Magnificat is preceded by a short verse or “antiphon” that links the prayer to the feast of the day or the season of the year. In the last seven days of Advent (December 17-24), the antiphons before the Magnificat are very special. Each begins with the exclamation “O” and ends with a plea for the Messiah to come. As Christmas approaches the cry becomes increasingly urgent.
These moving “O Antiphons” were composed when monks put together texts from the Old Testament, particularly from the prophet Isaiah, which looked forward to the coming of our salvation. They form a rich, interlocking mosaic of scriptural images. The great “O Antiphons” became very popular in the Middle Ages when it became traditional to ring the great bells of the church each evening as they were being sung.
Each of the O Antiphons highlights a different title for the Messiah: O Sapientia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O Rising Sun), O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations), and O Emmanuel. Malcolm writes,
“The third Advent antiphon, O Radix, calls on Christ as the root, an image I find particularly compelling and helpful. The collect is referring to the image of he ‘tree of Jesse the family tree which leads to David, and ultimately to Christ as the ‘son of David, but for me the title radix, goes deeper, as a good root should. It goes deep down into the ground of our being, the good soil of creation. God in Christ, is I believe, the root of all goodness, wherever it is found and in whatsoever culture, or with whatever names it fruits and flowers, a sound tree cannot bear bad fruit said Christ, who also said, I am the vine, you are the branches.”
All of us sprung from one deep-hidden seed,
Rose from a root invisible to all.
We knew the virtues once of every weed,
But, severed from the roots of ritual,
We surf the surface of a wide-screen world
And find no virtue in the virtual.
We shrivel on the edges of a wood
Whose heart we once inhabited in love,
Now we have need of you, forgotten Root
The stock and stem of every living thing
Whom once we worshiped in the sacred grove,
For now is winter, now is withering
Unless we let you root us deep within,
Under the ground of being, graft us in.
This sonnet based on the third O Antiphon is composed by Malcolm Guite.