Saturday, April 30, 2011

prayer for a joyous life

I pray for you a joyous life,
Honor, estate and good repute,
No sigh from your breast,
No tear from your eye.
No hindrance on our path,
No shadow on your face,
Until you lie down in that mansion,
In the arms of Christ benign.

Ancient Celtic prayer collected by Alexander Carmichael (1832-1912), published in Carmina Gadelica (Edinburgh: Floris Books, 1992). These are prayers, hymns, and incantations collected in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland in the 18th century.

Monday, April 25, 2011

William Cowper (1731-1800)

Cowper is one of my personal favorites. His struggle with depression and the place of his faith in the middle of it have been truly an inspiration. Born in Berkhamstead, Hertferdshire, England in 1731 and educated Westminster School as a solicitor. In1825  he fell in love with his cousin Theodora, whom he wished to marry. the desire was mutual. His uncle Ashley Cowper, her father, refused to give his blessing, sighting that  "union of persons so nearly related was improper"  This refusal left Cowper distraught.

In 1763 he was offered a Clerkship of Journals in the House of Lords, but under the strain of the approaching examination experienced a period of insanity. He tried three times to commit suicide and was sent to Nathaniel Cotton's asylum at St. Albans for recovery. His poem beginning "Hatred and vengeance, my eternal portions" (sometimes referred to as "Sapphics") was written in the aftermath of his suicide attempt.

After recovering, he settled at Huntington and befriend a retired clergyman named Morley Unwin and his wife Mary. Cowper grew to be on such good terms with the Unwin family that he went to live in their house, and moved with them to Olney. Not long afterwards, Morley Unwin was killed in a fall from his horse, but Cowper continued to live in the Unwin home and became extremely attached to Mary Unwin.

At Olney, John Newton, a former slave trader and then curate invited Cowper to contribute to a hymnbook that Newton was compiling. The resulting volume Olney Hymns was published in 1779. It includes hymns such as "Praise for the Fountain Opened" (beginning "There is a fountain fill'd with blood") and "Light Shining out of Darkness" (beginning "God moves in a mysterious way") which remain some of Cowper's most familiar verses. Several of Cowper's hymns, as well as others originally published in the "Olney Hymns," are today preserved in the Sacred Harp. He composed a whole series if hymns using the names of God.

In 1773, Cowper, now engaged to marry Mrs. Unwin, experienced a new attack of insanity. at times imagining not only that he was condemned to hell eternally, but that God was commanding him to make a sacrifice of his own life. At this point the engagement was broken off. Through this season with great devotion Mary continued to take  care of him and after a year he began again to recover. In 1779, Newton left Olney to go to London, Cowper started to write further poetry. Mary Unwin, wanting to keep Cowper's mind occupied, continually encouraged him to write. In 1782 all His poems were published under the title Poems by William Cowper, of the Inner Temple, Esq..

In 1795 Cowper moved with Mary to Norfolk. She died in 1796. This plunged Cowper into a gloom from which he never fully recovered. He did, however,continue to write and translate. During this time he translated  the verse of Madame Guyon into English. His poem Mary in my mind is one of the most beautiful love poems in the English language

Cowper was seized with dropsy in the spring of 1800 and died. He is buried in the chapel of  St Thomas Church, East Dereham. A window in Westminster Abbey honours him.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Sunday (4)

Christ the true sun is risen
  from the dark last night
The mystic harvest of the Lord's own field
  Now wandering tribes of bees joyously sport
Between the flowers
   Seeking their nectars sweet
The honeyed winds with
   bird songs are bedewed
Nocturnal melody of nightingales abounds
   In church, the people chorus
out their Sion song
   Their hundred folded alleluia sounds 
Tado*, our father, may  heavenly Easter joy
    Gather you to the threshold of light.

Sedulius Scottus 820 AD.
Born Siadhal Mac Feredach,  an  Irish cleric he was also a fine poet 

Graphic: Sculpture, The Risen Christ, El Greco

*this Easter Sunday poem was written for Tado, Archbishop of Milan

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday, Great Friday (4)

The Eastern Churches have different customs for the day they call "the Great Friday." The Orthodox Church begins the day with Matins (Morning Prayer), where the "Twelve Gospels" is chanted, which consists of 12 passages drawn from the Passion narratives. In the morning, the "Little Hours" follow one after the other, consisting of Gospel, Epistle, and Prophet readings. Vespers (Evening Prayer) ends with a solemn veneration of the epitaphion, an embroidered veil containing scenes of Christ's burial. Compline (Night Prayer) includes a lamentation placed on the Virgin Mary's lips. On Good Friday night, a symbolic burial of Christ is performed. 

Traditionally, Chaldean and Syrian Christians cease using their customary Shlama greeting ("peace be with you") on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, because Judas greeted Christ this way. They use the phrase "The light of God be with your departed ones" instead. In Russia, the tradition is to bring out a silver coffin, bearing a cross, and surrounded with candles and flowers. The faithful creep on their knees and kiss and venerate the image of Christ's body painted on the "winding sheet" (shroud).

graphic: Russian Icon of the Crusifixtion

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Maundy/ Holy Thursday (4)

Washing the Disciples Feet  (Gospel of John 13:1-15)

And before the feast of the passover, Jesus knowing that His hour hath come, that He may remove out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own who are in the world -- to the end He loved them. And supper being come, the devil already having put it into the heart of Judas of Simon, Iscariot, that he may deliver Him up, Jesus, knowing that all things the Father hath given to Him -- into His hands -- and that from God He came forth, and unto God He goeth, doth rise from the supper, and doth lay down his garments, and having taken a towel, he girded himself; afterward he putteth water into the basin, and began to wash the feet of his disciples, and to wipe with the towel with which he was being girded. He cometh, therefore, unto Simon Peter, and that one saith to him, `Sir, thou -- dost Thou wash my feet?' Jesus answered and said to him, `That which I do thou hast not known now, but thou shalt know after these things;' Peter saith to him, `Thou mayest not wash my feet -- to the age.' Jesus answered him, `If I may not wash thee, thou hast no part with me.' Simon Peter saith to him, `Sir, not my feet only, but also the hands and the head.' Jesus saith to him, `He who hath been bathed hath no need, save to wash his feet, for he is clean altogether; and ye are clean, but not all;' for He knew him who is delivering him up; because of this He said, `Ye are not all clean.' When, therefore, He washed their feet, and took His garments, having reclined at meat again, He said to them, `Do ye know what I have done to you? Ye call me, "The Teacher" and "The Lord", and ye say well, for I am; if then I did wash your feet -- the Lord and the Teacher -- ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given thee an example, that ye should do as I have done to ye. Verily, verily, I say unto ye, the servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palm Sunday (4)



 All Glory Laud and Honor

Thou art the King of Israel,
thou David's royal Son,
who in the Lord's Name comest,
the King and Blessed One. R

All glory, laud, and honor
to thee, Redeemer, King!
to whom the lips of children
made sweet hosannas ring.

The company of angels
are praising thee on high;
and mortal men and all things
created make reply. R

The people of the Hebrews
with palms before thee went;
our praise and prayer and anthems
before thee we present. R

To thee before thy passion
they sang their hymns of praise;
to thee, now high exalted,
our melody we raise. R

Thou didst accept their praises;
accept the prayers we bring,
who in all good delightest,
thou good and gracious King. R

Theodulph of Orleans; tr: John Mason Neale

graphic: oriental,  Christ enters Jerusalem on a donkey 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Writings of Bonhoffer ( Part 2)

Life Together (1938)

In Life Together (Harper & Row, 1954), written the following year, Bonhoeffer theologically interprets the daily life of the seminary he directed. “The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes,” he writes “the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us.”

Ethics (1943)

Ethics, on which Bonhoeffer worked from 1940 to 1943, was intended to be a magnum opus. But it was never finished.

Bonhoeffer composed its manuscripts during the time of his political resistance activity. Portions were even temporarily confiscated by the Gestapo when he was arrested and imprisoned in April 1943. Thus, questions remain about how the manuscripts are to be ordered. The second English edition (Macmillan, 1965) rearranges the order of the manuscripts; the new German edition will present yet a third arrangement. But such technical problems are for scholars to worry about. The reader looking for insights on living the Christian life will find plenty.

To begin with, Bonhoeffer repudiates the idea that Christian ethics is concerned with the knowledge of good and evil. One must reject the questions “How can I be good?” and “How can I do good?” and instead ask “the utterly and totally different question, ‘What is the will of God?’ ” The God who is incarnate, crucified, and resurrected in Jesus Christ is the ultimate reality. Thus, Bonhoeffer argues, Christian ethics is about the formation of human life into the form of Christ.

For Bonhoeffer, Christians do not live in a separate divine, holy, and supernatural sphere. Rather, they must seek and do God’s will in the natural, historical, public world—in work, marriage, government, and church. As a theologian involved in political resistance against tyranny, Bonhoeffer asked, What does it mean to act responsibly for nation and church? A free and responsible life, he concluded, means acting on behalf of others, in accordance with reality, and being willing to accept guilt. In other words, doing the will of God is finally rooted only in the grace of God.

Fiction from Prison (1944)

In his first year in prison, Bonhoeffer tried to take stock of his life with attempts at a play and a novel. These were published as Fiction from Prison (Fortress, 1981).

This highly autobiographical book gives an intimate glimpse into the Bonhoeffer family. It expresses through characters and conversation some of Bonhoeffer’s most distinctive theological ideas.

Letters and Papers from Prison (1944)

Anyone who has not read Letters and Papers from Prison (Macmillan, 1972) has an intellectual feast in store. The book electrified theological debate in this century.
These letters ask the provocative question: Who is Jesus Christ for modern people who have “come of age” and outgrown religion? What may sound like the much-dreaded “secular humanism” is, on the contrary, a profoundly Christocentric theology of the cross.

If that sounds paradoxical, begin with the letter of July 21, 1944, the day following the failed assassination attempt on Hitler. Bonhoeffer wrote that “the church is the church only when it exists for others.… The church must share in the secular problems of ordinary human life, not dominating, but helping and serving.” In a letter of August 21, he wrote, “If we are to learn what God promises, and what he fulfills, we must persevere in quiet meditation on the life, sayings, deeds, sufferings, and death of Jesus.”

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (February 4, 1906 – April 9, 1945)


The Communion of Saints (1927)
In The Communion of Saints (Harper & Row, 1963)—which Karl Barth called “a theological miracle”—Bonhoeffer explores what it means to say that the church is “Christ existing as community.” To Bonhoeffer, the church is simultaneously (1) a reality of revelation, established in Christ, and (2) a human, social community amenable to sociological analysis. But not any sociology will do. In fact, one of the aims of this ambitious book, completed at age 21, is to articulate a “Christian social philosophy.”
For Bonhoeffer, all Christian doctrines have a “social intention” as well as a meaning for individuals. This book explores the social intention of the Christian doctrines of person, creation, sin, and revelation. Especially important is his view that individuals represent, and bear ethical responsibility for, their various communities: family, ethnic group, nation, and church. This belief undergirded his commitment to the Confessing Church and the resistance movement.

Act and Being (1930)

Act and Being (Harper & Row, 1962) qualified Bonhoeffer as a university lecturer. A tour de force, this most difficult and most ignored work of Bonhoeffer shows that the theologian is a sophisticated philosophical thinker. In it, he explores the subjects of his first book, but in dialogue with two major philosophical traditions—idealistic philosophies, and philosophies of being.
Above all, Bonhoeffer wants to show that philosophical systems presuppose particular views of human nature. And he engages the problem of the modern person who tries to reach self-understanding apart from God—a problem that was part of his own spiritual struggle. In contrast, he writes, a Christian self-understanding comes from hearing the Word of God.
Full of intellectual and personal passion, the book also yields some beautiful theological passages. “God is not free from human beings but free for us,” he writes. Christ is the Word of God’s freedom. Here is the deepest root of the famous phrase in Bonhoeffer’s later prison letters—the Christian life as “being for others.”

Creation and Fall (1932–33)
In the winter of 1932–33, Bonhoeffer gave lectures at the University of Berlin on the theological interpretation of the Genesis creation stories. These were published as Creation and Fall (Macmillan, 1966, now issued together with Temptation). This book is the most accessible entry into Bonhoeffer’s early theology. Many basic ideas from his two dissertations were presented here in a form that undergraduates could grasp.
In a meditation on the first three chapters of Genesis, Bonhoeffer asks this question: What do we learn if we read Genesis neither from the perspective of Darwin, nor from the perspective of creationists, but from the New Testament perspective of Christ? Bonhoeffer argues that being created in the image of God means we are created to live in co-humanity, as expressed in the relation of man and woman. God has covenanted to be free for us, so we reflect God’s freedom in being free for others. “Freedom is not a quality of a person, nor is it an ability, capacity, or attribute.… Freedom is not a possession, a thing, or an object. Freedom is a relationship and nothing else—a relationship, indeed, between two persons.”
Bonhoeffer further understands from creation that human beings are both spirit and body. “Flight from the body is as much flight from humanity as is flight from the spirit.” Here is a strong corrective to any unbiblical spirituality, important for a whole range of ethical issues from ecology to sexuality.

Christ the Center (1933)

Hitler became chancellor in January, 1933, and Bonhoeffer’s lectures that summer were his last at the university. His subject was Christology. Carefully reconstructed from sets of student notes, these lectures were published as Christ the Center (Harper & Row, rev. translation, 1978).

Bonhoeffer insists that Jesus Christ is God “for me.” He is present in Word, sacrament, and congregation. But this Christ who is present in the most personal way is also Mediator of all human existence, of history, and of nature.

Bonhoeffer also saw Christ as mediator of the political history of the state. Bonhoeffer’s reflections on false messiahs was a direct challenge to Hitler. His meditation on Jesus, the humiliated and crucified Messiah, was a call to himself to walk the way of the cross, to take up political resistance for the sake of a better state more truly reflecting God’s rule.

The Cost of Discipleship (1937)
 Bonhoeffer’s next major work was The Cost of Discipleship (in German, simply Nachfolge, “following after”; English translation, Macmillan, 1963). This extended meditation on the Sermon on the Mount reflects his commitment to personal discipleship. It also captures the struggle of Christians in Germany to remain faithful, rather than become followers of a religion that legitimized Hitler.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Martinn Luther King Jr. (1929 -1968)

 Prayer and Martin Luther King Jr.

“To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”

Martin Luther King Jr

I remember one very difficult day when he came home bone-weary from the stress that came with his leadership of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In the middle of that night, he was awakened by a threatening and abusive phone call, one of many we received throughout the movement. On this particular occasion, however, Martin had had enough.

After the call, he got up from bed and made himself some coffee. He began to worry about his family, and all of the burdens that came with our movement weighed heavily on his soul. With his head in his hands, Martin bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud to God: "Lord, I am taking a stand for what I believe is right. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I have nothing left. I have come to the point where I can't face it alone.

Later he told me, "At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced Him before. It seemed as though I could hear a voice saying: 'Stand up for righteousness; stand up for truth; and God will be at our side forever.'" When Martin stood up from the table, he was imbued with a new sense of confidence, and he was ready to face anything.

--Coretta Scott King from "Standing in the Need of Prayer" as published by The Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster.