Saturday, January 31, 2009

In amazement at all She does

With thanks to Mark Meynell, who posted it on his blog, click on the title of this post to view an amazing video ("Her Morning Elegance). It shows something, not sure what it means entirely, but it is attractive to me for two reasons:

1. I've always been fascinated with the prospect of stop-motion photography. How life in motion is really made up of singular moments. One can see some embarrassing videos linked to my facebook profile for proof of this interest...

2. The Authoress has been caring for ill children this week, finished a few thousand words on her next book, visited a dear friend who was hurting, ran the household, made homemade coffeecake this morning, and a myriad of other things in addition to showering me and the children with love and companionship. In short, she seems to do these many things well. And it amazes me because I can only get frustrated when pulled in different directions, while she handles it gracefully and graciously.

So I'm thankful.

For all she does, but more for who she is, and Who she loves (who gave her to me, if you follow).

Friday, January 30, 2009

Marking the stages of life

I recently turned 38 and had a nice birthday with all the trimmings. In our home that means home-made birthday cards from my kids declaring their love, a steak dinner and the foods I enjoy by the amazing Authoress and a new Johnny Cash CD. I am thankful!

I notice that many feel sadness as they mark their increasing age. I did one year, in my early 20's, I think. My theory is that being bummed out by turning a particular age shows a lack of satisfaction with life at that time rather than with the age itself.

Anyway, rather than with numbers, life events seem to mark the life stages. And right now, I am very excited about the prospect of improving my family's dental coverage as orthodontics looms on the horizon. So whether 38 years old is a marker, or the beginning of middle age, or whatever it might be, the big idea for me is that I will soon be entering the "Father Paying For Braces" stage of life...for years to come!

I always want to bring these life observations back to the eternal. So here is one purely for speculation and silliness: Jesus ate after his resurrection. And there will be eating in heaven, I take, given that there is a fruit tree in the middle of the New Jerusalem, and the whole thing is likened to a great banquet. What will teeth be like? Any thoughts? Pearly whites only within the Pearly Gates, maybe...

Incidentally, Jesus was resurrected on the Festival of First Fruits, i.e., the first Easter Sunday. The Apostle Paul thus calls his resurrection the first fruits of the resurrection for all in Christ. Did you know that? Neat.

Monday, January 26, 2009

On His Blindness

The Authoress is going to write a book "on demand", to fit in with a series of other books her publisher is coordinating. The main character of this book is an RAF pilot who will, over the course of the story, lose his sight and become completely blind. On hearing the idea, I mentioned with some excitement that the Authoress could work into the story a reference to one of her favourite poems, John Milton's "On Blindness". I realised that I had not read it in a very long time, and did so.

It took awhile for this Bear of Very Little Brain to work out quite what Milton meant. But I think I have it. What do you think Milton intends as he reflects on his own blindness? And what is your favourite line? In the hubbub of our modern lives, the Authoress selects "they also serve who stand and wait."

John Milton. 1608–1674

318. On His Blindness

WHEN I consider how my light is spent
E're half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide,
Lodg'd with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present 5
My true account, least he returning chide,
Doth God exact day-labour, light deny'd,
I fondly ask; But patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts, who best 10
Bear his milde yoak, they serve him best, his State
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o're Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and waite.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Man Who Dislikes Beer

With my sister and her delightful daughter visiting us briefly, we came up with "Alice's Tea Cup" as a quick morning experience that would be rather nice for a little girl visiting Manhattan.

It was neat to see my niece (one of thirteen, and nine nephews) swing up not only a fine china teacup, but also a mug (filled with hot cocoa) nearly as big as her head. I enjoyed the scone with cream and jam, and reflected on why the pleasures Alice's Tea Cup offers are thought to be especially for women.

I like beer. I like cigars. I like single malt scotch (The Cragganmore, if you're buying...). I like watching sports, mostly live rather than on tv. But I really don't like doing any of those things when men are doing them to be self-consciously manly. It evaporates my enjoyment of those things entirely. There is even an odd Christian subculture of doing supposedly manly things like this and it comes off as posing -- what the surfers I met in La Jolla, California described derisively of those who surfed for show rather than the simple pleasure of it.

So I admire more a man I know who, in the days when Mad Men was set, went into a tough bar and ordered a glass of milk. Because he doesn't like beer, and doesn't care what the other guys at the bar thought of him.

That's manly.

Of course, this leads me to consider my own vanity. I'd rather have a suntan than not, and the adage "you can tell a lot about a man from his shoes" has probably affected my footwear choices once or twice. I do plenty of things to appear cultured, intelligent, sound (in my settings, having the right views on theology) and am not worried about appearing macho, so maybe a post about each of those is in order. But until then, I'll have a milk, please.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Richer Wine and Marriage

A friend and former colleague used to work in London, and said that he had to convey the truth of Christianity to those whose lives, they felt, were going quite nicely. He called it a "Theology of Claret" (which means a nice red wine, a Bordeaux).

There were two parts to this, matching the aims of Gospel preaching: "to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

The task of bringing to mind the goodness of God is one aspect, that life lived with Him is different than life without Him. It will include sorrow and persecution (that's a promise from Jesus), but it is also life that "may richer, fuller be" as the hymn goes.

The other task is to tackle what I must this weekend, which is the preaching of the Law of God such that it brings conviction of the hidden sin to those who are outwardly moral, even or especially those within the Church visible.

But as to the first, that Jesus stated his purpose was to bring life, and life to the full, I turn once again to Richard Wilbur, who gave this toast as his son's wedding:

St. John tells how, at Cana's wedding feast,
The water-pots poured wine in such amount
That by his sober count
There were a hundred gallons at the least.

It made no earthly sense, unless to show
How whatsoever love elects to bless
Brims to a sweet excess
That can without depletion overflow.

Which is to say that what love sees is true;
That this world's fullness is not made but found.
Life hungers to abound
And pour its plenty out for such as you.

Now, if your loves will lend an ear to mine,
I toast you both, good son and dear new daughter.
May you not lack for water,
And may that water smack of Cana's wine.

Do Christians seem to possess joy, or go around with faces downcast?

I think that heaven relates to both of these aspects, because it will be a great banquet, the joy of the ultimate wedding feast. It will also be the place where (as Daughter Number Two will sing lustily) "sickness, sorrow, pain and death are felt and feared no more".

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Philosophy, Time & Poetry

Greek primordial deity Χρόνος (Chronos) strikes the hours on this pocket watch.

Time is a tricky thing to grasp. Intellectually, I mean. It seems to be easily measured in objective terms, but hard to nail down philosophically. (Do keep in mind that I am ignorant of quantum physics, which questions whether time exists at all). Because the present is, as St Augustine, described, following Greek philosophers of nearly a thousand years earlier, on the knife-edge between the past and present. He wrote "in te, anime meus, tempora metior" (in you, my mind, I measure time). He meant that the present was something that could not be grasped, and that his mind measured his impression of any moment: "I do not measure the things themselves whose passage occasioned the impression; it is the impression that I measure when I measure times. This therefore is either what times are, or I do not measure them" (as quoted in Augustine and the limits of virtue by James Wetzel, Cambridge Univ Press).

There are objective means of measuring time, of course, such as the movement of planets, or today, the movement of electrons. But this knowledge does not change that our perception affects our experience of time.

My father-in-law has written about the nature of exponential versus linear change, and uses our perception of time as an example:

Consider a very simple example – our perception of time. “A second is a second is a second”, we say. So time must be “linear”, that is, it is not accelerating. A second when we are 65 is the same as a second when we are 5. There is no acceleration there.

If that is true, then why do we feel that time is moving faster as we get older? “I can’t believe another year has gone by”, we say, as we get older. Have you ever heard a child say that? Most of us pass that off as “one of those funny things in life”.

When I am 5, one year is one year, but it is 20% of my life. When I am 50, one year is still one year, but now it is only 2% of my life. So, for me, at age 50, time has sped up. Time itself may not have sped up, but, time, for me, is accelerating.


That interests me because it accepts the objective nature of time but shows how it is inherent to our nature (as beings who live in time) to perceive the passage of time differently over the course of our lives. This shows itself in many ways, such as the clarity of my memory of certain events, or the existence of dozens of musical albums from adolesence but few since then.

What benefit is there to realizing the passage of time is "felt" differently over the course of our lives? I suppose that as we age, we get the slightest glimpse of what it is to have eternity as our experience. To have plans come to fruition over centuries rather than years, or quarters as the financial markets demand.

The Bible recognizes that God's eternal nature gives him a different view of time than his limited creatures, so Psalm 90:
For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.

What do you think, dear reader? How has your experience of time changed over the years? Had you in mind what your life would be in 2010? What poet captures the subjective experience of time best? Do tell.

Philosophy, Time & Poetry

Time is a tricky thing to grasp.

Intellectually, I mean. It is easily measured in objective terms, but hard to nail down philosophically. A simple example is how tricky it is to define the present, because time, as the hymn says, "like an ever rolling stream bears all its sons away". That is, it moves forward so that there is, in a sense, never any "now" that can be pinpointed.

Experientially, time is trickier still.

A philosophy professor of mine noted how time "slows down" when an athlete is in the zone. That's an experience most athletes have experienced, how the intensity of the sport (particularly competition) puts a focus on that time. I think I remember the six minutes of rowing races more than the sixty hours of practice that preceded those.

People remember their wedding day, the birth of a child, intense experiences of joy as well as grief (particularly violence) in a special way. So while we know time is linear, we don't quite experience that way. Wasn't it Poe who called sleep "little slices of death"?

Another poet, the subject of recent postings, has some great insights to offer. Again, here is Richard Wilbur, this time in the recent issue of the New Yorker magazine, a subscription of which my most excellent sister gave as a welcome to Manhattan gift:


by Richard Wilbur (New Yorker, January 5, 2009)

Out of the snowdrift

Which covered it, this pillared

Sundial starts to lift,

Able now at last

To let its frozen hours

Melt into the past

In bright, ticking drops.

Time so often hastens by,

Time so often stops—

Still, it strains belief

How an instant can dilate,

Or long years be brief.

Dreams, which interweave

All our times and tenses, are

What we can believe:

Dark they are, yet plain,

Coming to us now as if

Through a cobwebbed pane

Where, before our eyes,

All the living and the dead

Meet without surprise.

What has your experience been -- has an instant ever dilated for you? Or long years been brief?

Maybe we'll look again at this poem from another angle. But what he says about time has a lot of truth. On the theme of heaven and infinite time (or eternity beyond linear time), I have always been amazed to ponder the last verse of Amazing Grace: "When we've been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we've no less days to sing God's praise, then when we first begun."

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Yesterday, Today and Forever the same...

It never ceases to amaze me how the Bible interacts with current events. That is, a long-planned out series of scripture studies seems to be just the right passage for what is happening in the news. The first rector I served under spoke of "God's Word interpreting God's world", and that's been my experience.

In the autumn, a series of discussions were planned on the Wisdom literature in the Bible, and it happened that Proverbs on the subject of wealth, identity and justice in society were lined up right with the market crash. This week, a series on the book of Judges began with troops moving into Gaza as today's news describes, too.

It proved helpful to discuss how the descriptions of Israel in the Old Testament relate today, and particularly how they do not relate in a direct manner to modern nation states (of Israel, America or (in days of Empire) Great Britain) but rather to the Church, primarily.

Turns out the book is really about the faithfulness of God to a faithless people. There's nothing new under the sun...

(In a slightly incongruous video linkage, click the title of this post to listen to Bruce Cockburn's Lord of the Starfields)

Friday, January 2, 2009

In the winter, looking to summer

The change of seasons is a marvelous thing.

I think it was CS Lewis who noted that humans inhabit time with both a linear and cyclical experience. We grow up and get old, but each year brings a rhythm of the seasons and, in my experience along with Lewis, the cycle of the church year. Now we are in Epiphany, and on Sunday I will be preaching on Matthew 2, when the magi came to Bethlehem to pay homage to the newborn king.

(Theological aside: the seasons seem to me to be part of the Creator's goodness to us, and I wonder if the new creation will have them.)

As someone resident in the Northern Hemisphere, Epiphany is also tied up with winter and snow in my mind. And that of Number One Son as well, who was answering a number of Brain Teaser questions on the car ride home from Canada on New Year's Day. He got almost all of the questions right (for the grade ahead, his proud father noted to himself), but answered the question, "what are the four seasons?" with "Spring, Summer, Fall and Snow".

He could be forgiven for mixing up snow and winter, as we were visiting our family in a remote section of Ontario, where it was minus five degrees (Fahrenheit) on our departure, with snow and ice abounding. The ice was thick on the lake, where Number One Son had skated for the first time, and where a couple of wolves were spotted the previous morning. And as we drove away, I encouraged to the children to look over the lake realizing we might next see it in the summer when the colors will be blue and green, rather than white and gray it was in its frozen state. We drove down the driveway talking about how all the colors would change, and the things we looked forward to in the summer. One of those was picking raspberries and making them into jam. I sat around too much this vacation, except when clearing some trees that were felled in a storm, and so hope for a more active visit come summer.

But staying with Richard Wilbur for awhile longer, here is a poem that was published in the New Yorker five years ago that pretty much captures the children's hopes for the summer when we return to visit grandparents. We had wild raspberry jam from last summer on toast this morning, as there was not yet any milk or eggs for breakfast, having returned late last night from the five hundred mile drive...

Blackberries for Amelia
By Richard Wilbur

Fringing the woods, the stone walls, and the lanes,
Old thickets everywhere have come alive,
Their new leaves reaching out in fans of five

From tangles overarched by this year's canes.

They have their flowers, too, it being June,
And here or there in brambled dark-and-light

Are small, five-petalled blooms of chalky white,

As random-clustered and as loosely strewn

As the far stars, of which we are now told
That ever faster do they bolt away,

And that a night may come in which, some say,

We shall have only blackness to behold.

I have no time for any change so great,
But I shall see the August weather spur

Berries to ripen where the flowers were --

Dark berries, savage-sweet and worth the wait --

And there will come the moment to be quick
And save some from the birds,and I shall need

Two pails, old clothes in which to stain and bleed,

And a grandchild to talk with while we pick.

Originally published in the New Yorker, July 7, 2003

But maybe we'll go back in the spring to make maple syrup...