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Archive for April, 2012

“What is a wand of death?” he asked.

“I beg your pardon?”

“A wand of death?”

“I don’t understand.”

The delirium of the conversation was too much for Ashe. He burst out laughing. A moment later the girl did the same. And simultaneously embarrassment ceased to be.

“I suppose you think I’m mad?” said Ashe.

“Certainly,” said the girl.

“Well, I should have been if you hadn’t come in.”

“Why was that?”

“I was trying to write a detective story.”

“I was wondering whether you were a writer.”

“Do you write?”

“Yes. Do you ever read Home Gossip?”

“Never!”

“You are quite right to speak in that thankful tone. It’s a horrid little paper—all brown-paper patterns and advice to the lovelorn and puzzles. I do a short story for it every week, under various names. A duke or an earl goes with each story. I loathe it intensely.”

“I am sorry for your troubles,” said Ashe firmly; “but we are wandering from the point. What is a wand of death?”

“A wand of death?”

“A wand of death.”

The girl frowned reflectively.

“Why, of course; it’s the sacred ebony stick stolen from the Indian temple, which is supposed to bring death to whoever possesses it. The hero gets hold of it, and the priests dog him and send him threatening messages. What else could it be?”

Ashe could not restrain his admiration.

“This is genius!”

“Oh, no!”

“Absolute genius. I see it all. The hero calls in Gridley Quayle, and that patronizing ass, by the aid of a series of wicked coincidences, solves the mystery; and there am I, with another month’s work done.”

She looked at him with interest.

“Are you the author of Gridley Quayle?”

“Don’t tell me you read him!”

“I do not read him! But he is published by the same firm that publishes Home Gossip, and I can’t help seeing his cover sometimes while I am waiting in the waiting room to see the editress.”

Ashe felt like one who meets a boyhood’s chum on a desert island. Here was a real bond between them.

“Does the Mammoth publish you, too? Why, we are comrades in misfortune—fellow serfs! We should be friends. Shall we be friends?”

“I should be delighted.”

“Shall we shake hands, sit down, and talk about ourselves a little?”

“But I am keeping you from your work.”

“An errand of mercy.”

P. G. Wodehouse, Something New ch. 1 (1915).

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. . . an adventure is, by its nature, a thing that comes to us. It is a thing that chooses us, not a thing that we choose. Falling in love has been often regarded as the supreme adventure, the supreme romantic accident. In so much as there is in it something outside ourselves, something of a sort of merry fatalism, this is very true. Love does take us and transfigure and torture us. It does break our hearts with an unbearable beauty, like the unbearable beauty of music. But in so far as we have certainly something to do with the matter; in so far as we are in some sense prepared to fall in love and in some sense jump into it; in so far as we do to some extent choose and to some extent even judge—in all this falling in love is not truly romantic, is not truly adventurous at all. In this degree the supreme adventure is not falling in love. The supreme adventure is being born. There we do walk suddenly into a splendid and startling trap. There we do see something of which we have not dreamed before. Our father and mother do lie in wait for us and leap out on us, like brigands from a bush. Our uncle is a surprise. Our aunt is, in the beautiful common expression, a bolt from the blue. When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we do step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has its own strange laws, into a world which could do without us, into a world that we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family we step into a fairy-tale.

This colour as of a fantastic narrative ought to cling to the family and to our relations with it throughout life. Romance is the deepest thing in life; romance is deeper even than reality. For even if reality could be proved to be misleading, it still could not be proved to be unimportant or unimpressive. Even if the facts are false, they are still very strange. And this strangeness of life, this unexpected and even perverse element of things as they fall out, remains incurably interesting. The circumstances we can regulate may become tame or pessimistic; but the “circumstances over which we have no control” remain god-like to those who, like Mr. Micawber, can call on them and renew their strength. People wonder why the novel is the most popular form of literature; people wonder why it is read more than books of science or books of metaphysics. The reason is very simple; it is merely that the novel is more true than they are. Life may sometimes legitimately appear as a book of science. Life may sometimes appear, and with a much greater legitimacy, as a book of metaphysics. But life is always a novel. Our existence may cease to be a song; it may cease even to be a beautiful lament. Our existence may not be an intelligible justice, or even a recognizable wrong. But our existence is still a story. In the fiery alphabet of every sunset is written, “to be continued in our next.”

G. K. Chesterton, Heretics ch. xiv (1905).

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“And we’re extremely regrettable,” said the Chief Monopod, “that we can’t give you the pleasure of seeing us as we were before we were uglified, for you wouldn’t believe the difference, and that’s the truth, for there’s no denying we’re mortal ugly now, so we won’t deceive you.”

“Eh, that we are, Chief, that we are,” echoed the others, bouncing like so many toy balloons. “You’ve said it, you’ve said it.”

“But I don’t think you are at all,” said Lucy, shouting to make herself heard. “I think you look very nice.”

“Hear her, hear her,” said the Monopods. “True for you, Missie. Very nice we look. Couldn’t find a handsomer lot.” They said this without any surprise and did not seem to notice that they had changed their minds.

“She’s a-saying,” remarked the Chief Monopod, “as how we looked very nice before we were uglified.”

“True for you, Chief, true for you,” chanted the others. “That’s what she says. We heard her ourselves.”

“I did not,” bawled Lucy. “I said you’re very nice now.”

“So she did, so she did,” said the Chief Monopod, “said we was very nice then.”

“Hear ‘em both, hear ‘em both,” said the Monopods. “There’s a pair for you. Always right. They couldn’t have put it better.”

“But we’re saying just the opposite,” said Lucy, stamping her foot with impatience.

“So you are, to be sure, so you are,” said the Monopods. “Nothing like an opposite. Keep it up, both of you.”

“You’re enough to drive anyone mad,” said Lucy, and gave it up.

C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader 183-84 (HarperCollins 1994) (1953).

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“Almighty and most merciful Father . . .”

Whenever we speak with anyone, it is good to begin by reminding ourselves with whom we are speaking. If we do not, the chances of our saying something clear or just or edifying drop precipitously. What is true of conversation in general is equally true of prayers addressed to God.

In the General Confession we address God as “Almighty” first. Surprising, perhaps, considering that when coming to God confessing the deep stains of sin on our hands, its deep, hidden, and stubborn roots in our hearts, the Father’s power probably is not the first attribute of His to which we would instinctively look for comfort. But there it is, first. Why?

I can think of two reasons. First, unless God is almighty, He may not be the proper person to hear our confession. Second, if God is not almighty, His mercy may prove ineffectual to pardon and cleanse us.

I.  The Father’s jurisdiction

The first issue has to do with the Father’s authority, His jurisdiction: If we are going to confess our crimes, why should He be the one to hear the confession and decide how to treat it?

Take David’s prayer in Psalm 51: “Against you, you only, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight.” David was repenting of his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah. Did he overlook the fact that he had taken Uriah’s wife? Did he forget his deceit to Uriah, his craftiness in sending Uriah to his death?

No. This was clarity, the sign that David was finally stirring again, after long tossing and turning in the sleep of death. David’s offenses, lethal to Uriah, injurious to Bathsheba and to himself, were first and foremost sins against God: The God who created him, and Uriah and Bathsheba; the God who’d made Uriah and Bathsheba one flesh in marriage; the God whose image Uriah bore when David struck him down by trickery. David ungratefully forgot who it was that repeatedly delivered him from the murderous hand of Saul, and who made him king in Jerusalem, and who had promised by solemn covenant that his throne would endure forever. David scoffed at the greatness of the giver of the Sixth and Seventh commandments, as he would not have done, had he not first forgotten the First: “I am the LORD your God; have no other gods before me.”

So God — who made heaven and earth, and mankind in his own image, who graciously enters into covenant with his people and gives them the law — is the party chiefly offended by any transgression. As such, He is the proper person to confess to and appeal for mercy.

II. The Father’s might to pardon and cleanse

But even if God is the proper person to whom sins ought to be confessed, has He power to carry out his judgments — that is, if He forgives, can He effect His pardon, and defend, clear, and cleanse the one confessing? The answer can be a blanket “yes” only if God is almighty.

Job, who suffered horribly and took a long, unsentimental look at his sufferings, concluded by saying to God, “I know that you can do all things. No purpose of yours can be thwarted.” Joseph, sold into slavery by his brothers, said to them many years later, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Hannah, after long years of torment and barrenness, prayed thus after bearing Samuel:

The LORD is a God who knows,
and by him deeds are weighed.
The bows of the warriors are broken, but those who stumbled are armed with strength.

* * *
The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up.
The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts.

He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes
and has them inherit a throne of honor.
For the foundations of the earth are the LORD’s;
upon them he has set the world.

When we recognize God as Someone with power like that — that is, when we reflectively address God as “Almighty . . . Father” — St Paul’s question, “it is God who justifies; who is to condemn?” really comes into its own.  God’s might to effect His decrees in the world includes the ability to silence accusers — and when He does so He cannot be gainsaid.

And the accusers that stand silenced before the Almighty Father include the voices of the restless conscience. In his first epistle St John says, “Whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.” So whenever we reproach ourselves — for our unkindness, our short temper, our foolishness and cowardliness and laziness, for not being better parents, better spouses, better friends, better at our jobs, for not making more progress in our arts, hobbies and fields of study, for not being richer or fitter or more powerful or better-looking — John tells us that God sees all this far more clearly and extensively than we do. And that when our misfiring conscience just won’t shut up, God, who is greater than our conscience, can silence it. The question “can I forgive myself?” can be an agonizing one. But its importance, so overblown when we install ourselves as judges in a cramped hell of our own making, vanishes like mist before the rising sun when we place ourselves in the dock before the Judge of all. For He is both more severe and infinitely kinder with us than we are with ourselves.

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My dear brother, we must not mind a little suffering for Christ’s sake. When I am getting through a hedge, if my head and shoulders are safely through, I can bear the pricking of my legs. Let us rejoice in the remembrance that our holy Head has surmounted all His suffering and triumphed over death. Let us follow Him patiently; we shall soon be partakers of His victory.

Charles Simeon to Joseph Gurney — quoted in H. C. G. Moule, Charles Simeon 155 (Intervarsity 1948)(1892).

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Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,

Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,

If I lacked any thing.

 

“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here:”

Love said, “You shall be he.”

“I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,

I cannot look on thee.”

Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,

“Who made the eyes but I?”

 

“Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame

Go where it does deserve.”

“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”

“My dear, then I will serve.”

“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat:”

 

So I did sit

and eat.

 

George Herbert, Love (III), in The Temple (1633).

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ARE there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.

Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

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