Monday, December 25, 2006

The Hound of Heaven

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,

Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.

But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,

Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,

They beat -- and a voice beat
More instant than the Feet --

"All things betray thee, who betrayest Me."

I pleaded, outlaw-wise,

By many a hearted casement, curtained red,
Trellised with intertwining charities;
(For, though I knew His love Who followèd,

Yet was I sore adread

Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside.)
But, if one little casement parted wide,
The gust of his approach would clash it to :
Fear wist not to evade, as Love wist to pursue.
Across the margent of the world I fled,
And troubled the gold gateways of the stars,
Smiting for shelter on their clangèd bars ;

Fretted to dulcet jars

And silvern chatter the pale ports o' the moon.
I said to Dawn : Be sudden -- to Eve : Be soon ;
With thy young skiey blossoms heap me over

From this tremendous Lover--

Float thy vague veil about me, lest He see !
I tempted all His servitors, but to find
My own betrayal in their constancy,
In faith to Him their fickleness to me,
Their traitorous trueness, and their loyal deceit.
To all swift things for swiftness did I sue ;
Clung to the whistling mane of every wind.

But whether they swept, smoothly fleet,
The long savannahs of the blue ;

Or whether, Thunder-driven,

They clanged his chariot 'thwart a heaven,

Plashy with flying lightnings round the spurn o' their feet :--
Fear wist not to evade as Love wist to pursue.

Still with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,

Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,

Came on the following Feet,
And a Voice above their beat--

"Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me."

I sought no more that after which I strayed,

In face of man or maid ;

But still within the little children's eyes

Seems something, something that replies,

They at least are for me, surely for me !
I turned me to them very wistfully ;
But just as their young eyes grew sudden fair

With dawning answers there,

Their angel plucked them from me by the hair.
"Come then, ye other children, Nature's -- share
With me" (said I) "your delicate fellowship ;

Let me greet you lip to lip,
Let me twine with you caresses,


With our Lady-Mother's vagrant tresses,


With her in her wind-walled palace,
Underneath her azured daïs,
Quaffing, as your taintless way is,

From a chalice

Lucent-weeping out of the dayspring."

So it was done :

I in their delicate fellowship was one --
Drew the bolt of Nature's secrecies.

I knew all the swift importings
On the wilful face of skies ;
I knew how the clouds arise
Spumèd of the wild sea-snortings ;

All that's born or dies

Rose and drooped with ; made them shapers

Of mine own moods, or wailful or divine ;

With them joyed and was bereaven.
I was heavy with the even,
When she lit her glimmering tapers
Round the day's dead sanctities.
I laughed in the morning's eyes.

I triumphed and I saddened with all weather,

Heaven and I wept together,

And its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine ;
Against the red throb of its sunset-heart

I laid my own to beat,
And share commingling heat ;

But not by that, by that, was eased my human smart.
In vain my tears were wet on Heaven's grey cheek.
For ah ! we know not what each other says,

These things and I ; in sound I speak--

Their sound is but their stir, they speak by silences.
Nature, poor stepdame, cannot slake my drouth ;

Let her, if she would owe me,

Drop yon blue bosom-veil of sky, and show me

The breasts o' her tenderness ;

Never did any milk of hers once bless

My thirsting mouth.
Nigh and nigh draws the chase,
With unperturbèd pace,

Deliberate speed, majestic instancy ;

And past those noisèd Feet
A Voice comes yet more fleet --

"Lo ! naught contents thee, who content'st not Me."

Naked I wait thy Love's uplifted stroke !
My harness piece by piece Thou hast hewn from me,

And smitten me to my knee ;

I am defenceless utterly.
I slept, methinks, and woke,

And, slowly gazing, find me stripped in sleep.
In the rash lustihead of my young powers,

I shook the pillaring hours

And pulled my life upon me ; grimed with smears,
I stand amid the dust o' the mounded years --
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.

Yea, faileth now even dream

The dreamer, and the lute the lutanist ;
Even the linked fantasies, in whose blossomy twist
I swung the earth a trinket at my wrist,
Are yielding ; cords of all too weak account
For earth with heavy griefs so overplussed.

Ah ! is Thy love indeed

A weed, albeit an amaranthine weed,
Suffering no flowers except its own to mount ?

Ah ! must --
Designer infinite !--

Ah ! must Thou char the wood ere Thou canst limn with it ?
My freshness spent its wavering shower i' the dust ;
And now my heart is as a broken fount,
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever

From the dank thoughts that shiver

Upon the sighful branches of my mind.

Such is ; what is to be ?

The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind ?
I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds ;
Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of Eternity ;
Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then
Round the half-glimpsed turrets slowly wash again.

But not ere him who summoneth
I first have seen, enwound

With glooming robes purpureal, cypress-crowned ;
His name I know, and what his trumpet saith.
Whether man's heart or life it be which yields

Thee harvest, must Thy harvest-fields
Be dunged with rotten death ?

Now of that long pursuit
Comes on at hand the bruit ;

That Voice is round me like a bursting sea :

"And is thy earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard ?

Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest me !
"Strange, piteous, futile thing !

Wherefore should any set thee love apart ?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught" (He said),
"And human love needs human meriting :

How hast thou merited --

Of all man's clotted clay the dingiest clot ?

Alack, thou knowest not

How little worthy of any love thou art !
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,

Save Me, save only Me ?

All which I took from thee I did but take,

Not for thy harms,

But just that thou might'st seek it in My arms.

All which thy child's mistake

Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home :

Rise, clasp My hand, and come !"
Halts by me that footfall :
Is my gloom, after all,

Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly ?

"Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest !

Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest me."

- Francis Thompson, 1859-1907

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Debating with a purpose

The overall purpose of human communication is -- or should be -- reconciliation. It should ultimately serve to lower or remove the walls and barriers of misunderstanding that unduly separate us human beings one from another. - M. Scott Peck

I like to debate; primarily about theological matters. My favorite medium for debate is Internet forums. Forums suite my preference for using the written word as my foil, rather than the spoken. When writing, I can choose my words more carefully, mull over possible plans of attack, take time to check the factuality of my assertions, try out different approaches in rough draft form, revise, rephrase, review and, finally, release. Then wait for a response.

I've debated entrenched atheists on the historicity of the Bible. I've debated an Orthodox apologist on apostolic succession (which I think is hooey). I've debated the role of women in ministry (for the record, I believe that women should be able to do anything men do in ministry). I've engaged in countless debates on eschatology, speaking in tongues, interpretations of various doctrines and Biblical texts, etc.

Generally I do pretty well. I'm usually able to gain the upper hand on my opponent and watch them retreat or acquiesce. Sometimes we end in a stalemate.

Sometimes my motives are good. As in the case of women in ministry, my desire is to educate and advocate on behalf of the marginalized.

Sometimes my motives aren't so good. At those times I'm really just bored and looking for a schoolyard fight.

Sometimes I debate to stand up for a belief that is important to me. Sometimes I do it to test the structural integrity of a position I've adopted. Sometimes I just want to show off.

This is a confession. Not so often is my goal reconciliation. Advocacy perhaps; education maybe, crude victory sometimes; but rarely reconciliation. And yet, Christ is all about reconciliation. I'm convicted about my heart in this matter. This is one more way in which I desire to be a follower of Jesus. I'm going to try to be more cognizant of the reasons why I enter into any particular debate. I'm going to endeavor to advocate, educate and yes, even, tussle; but with a goal towards understanding the other, bridging the gaps and bringing reconciliation.

Christ was all about reconciliation, yet the Gospels record His share of heated exchanges. Perhaps it's more a question of motive than method.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Don't Bang the Drum

“It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Shakespeare’s description, voiced by Macbeth, of the futility of life reminds me of how we in modern times live our lives enveloped in the continuous noise of TV and music and talk radio and websites and advertising – lots of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

I’m trying to learn to embrace the emptiness: to not fill in the spaces with “sound and fury”. It’s in the emptiness and the silences that I sense God and sometimes hear His "still small voice". It’s hard. I’m conditioned, and perhaps addicted, to stimuli.

I read recently that more than half of Beethoven's music consists of silence. In a commencement address to the Berklee School of Music, Sting said the following: "I'm wondering whether, as musicians, the most important thing we do is merely to provide a frame for silence. I'm wondering if silence itself is perhaps the mystery at the heart of music? And is silence the most perfect music of all?"

In the Quaker tradition, worship gatherings are built around silence. Silence is the central defining characteristic. Robert Lawrence Smith describes a Quaker meeting thusly:

“The traditional Quaker form of silent group worship has no parallel in other religions and has changed very little since the seventeenth century. What others call a religious “service”, Friends [Quakers] call a “Meeting for Worship”, emphasizing that there is no liturgy and that worshippers come together as equal participants … Quakers are unique in their appreciation of the spiritual power of group silence … Quaker Meeting uses shared silence as a medium of group discovery, as a way of sharing ourselves with others – and with God.”

How different a one hour Quaker silent meeting is from the one hour church meeting that I often attend where every moment is filled with something. There can be no silences, no dead air. The service is a whirlwind of songs, an opening prayer, announcements, a sermon, a closing prayer, a closing song and “see you next week”. There is almost a palpable fear of allowing any emptiness to encroach.

For emptiness and silence bring uncertainty. What will happen? Will God speak? Will someone fart or fall asleep or fail to be entertained? When we embrace emptiness we must relinquish control.

There's a great worship song by Scott Underwood that says, "We will stand back and let you move, stand back and see what you will do." Easy to sing. Hard to do.

I was in the car today, not embracing silence but listening to The Best of the Waterboys. One of the songs jumped out at me as if illuminated by the Holy Spirit. I have no idea what the songwriter was referring to when he wrote this, but to me, “Don’t Bang the Drum” is an apt metaphor for letting go of the sound, the fury, the busyness and instead embracing the emptiness, the silence, the uncertainty.

Don’t Bang the Drum
(by Scott / Wallinger, © 1986 Ensign Records Ltd.)

Well here we are in a special place
What are you gonna do here?
Now we stand in a special place
What will you do here?
What show of soul are we gonna get from you?
It could be deliverance, or history
Under these skies so blue
Could be something true
But if I know you
You'll bang the drum
Like monkeys do

Here we are in a fabulous place
What are you gonna dream here?
We are standing in this fabulous place
What are you gonna play here?
I know you love the high life
You love to leap around
You love to beat your chest and make your sound
But not here man, this is sacred ground
With a Power flowing through
But if I know you
You'll bang the drum
Like monkeys do

Here we stand on a rocky shore
Your father stood here before you
I can see his ghost explore you
I can feel the sea implore you
Not to pass on by
Not to walk on by
And not to try
Just to let it come
Don't bang the drum
Just let it come
Don't bang the drum
Just let it come…

Monday, December 11, 2006

Videos and real-life

I'm deeply troubled by what I've been learning about Darfur, at websites such as, Samaritan's Purse and wikipedia. It is now being reported that the killing in Darfur is the worst large-scale massacre of people since Rwanda. Millions of people in the region have been forced from their homes and become entirely dependent on international aid for their survival. The tales of murder, rape and cruelty are numbing. What is most overwhelming to me though is my sense of utter helplessness.

I'm also troubled by the disparity between how much we've spent as a nation on the war in Iraq vs. how much we've spent to mitigate the suffering in places like Darfur. What does it say about us as a people and what we value?

The tragic absurdity of this comes to me in waves. Last night I was standing in the checkout line at the local Blockbuster video, lazily gazing over the candies and cokes and magazines and videos for sale in all their bright variety. It suddenly hit me that at that same moment, millions of people were sitting under tarps in the dry Sudanese dirt, mourning murdered loved ones and wondering when they would eat again. I felt... ashamed.

So what can I do? I don't know. I know what I want to do. I want to forget about it - tune it out with entertainment and busyness. God, please help me not do that.

I think I'll start by making a contribution to Samaritan's Purse.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Quote for the day

“The average church has so established itself organizationally and financially that God is simply not necessary to it. So entrenched is its authority and so stable are the religious habits of its members that God could withdraw Himself completely from it and it could run on for years on its own momentum.” - A.W. Tozer

Derek Webb - A New Law

I've been listening to a CD that I really, really like called "Mockingbird" by an artist named Derek Webb (formerly of Caedmon's Call):

Thanks to Matt Rose at The Narrow Path forums ( for recommending it!

Here's one of the songs from it, entitled "A New Law":

A New Law

Don'’t teach me about politics and government
Just tell me who to vote for
Don’'t teach me about truth and beauty
Just label my music

Don'’t teach me how to live like a free man
Just give me a new law

I don'’t want to know if the answers aren'’t easy
So just bring it down from the mountain to me

I want a new law
I want a new law
Give me that new law

Don'’t teach me about moderation and liberty
I prefer a shot of grape juice

Don’'t teach me about loving my enemies

Don'’t teach me how to listen to the Spirit
Just give me a new law

What'’s the use in trading a law you can never keep
For one you can, that cannot get you anything
Do not be afraid
Do not be afraid
Do not be afraid