I am cheese

It is no secrete that Flannery O’Connor is a bit of a hero of mine. Her writings have been very influential to me these past few years at seminary, but not in a normal way. I’ve read a lot of Barth and he has shaped my theology more than any other theologian and I never miss an opportunity to talk to people about him, but with Ms. O’Connor, it has been a more of a private journey. She has shaped my spiritual life– of which I don’t talk to many people about.

With that being said, I have recently found a prayer she wrote. This prayer describes my journey this semester.

What I am asking for is really very ridiculous. Oh Lord, I am saying, at present I am a cheese, make me a mystic, immediately. But then God can do that—make a mystic out of cheeses. But why should He do it for an ingrate slothful & dirty creature like me. I can’t stay in the church to say a Thanksgiving even and as for preparing for Communion the night before—thoughts all elsewhere. The Rosary is mere rote for me while I think of other and usually impious things. But I would like to be a mystic and immediately. But dear God please give me some place, no matter how small, but let me know it and keep it. If I am the one to wash the second step everyday, let me know it and let me wash it and let my heart overflow with love washing it. God loves us, God needs us. My soul too. So then take it dear God because it knows that You are all it should want and if it were wise You would be all it would want and the times it thinks wise. You are all it does want, and it wants more and more to want You. Its demands are absurd. It’s a moth who would be king, a stupid slothful thing, a foolish thing, who wants God, who made the earth, to be its Lover. Immediately.

If I could only hold God in my mind. If I could only always just think of Him.

This has been my journey this semester.

Lord, I am cheese. Make me a mystic.

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Easter and Tolkien

 

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My Easter thoughts have brought me, as many thoughts do, to Tolkien. In the final installment of the Lord of The Rings, The Return of the King, after death himself, Sauron has died and the Ring with it, the hobbits find themselves in Gondor. Sam, coming around asks Gandalf what day it is, and thus Tolkien writes:

‘Noon?’ said Sam, trying to calculate. ‘Noon of what day?’

‘The fourteenth of the New Year’ said Gandalf; ‘or if you like, the eighth day of April in the Shire reckoning. But in Gondor the New Year will always no begin upon the twenty-fifth of March when Sauron fell, and when you were brought out of the fire to the King. He has tended you, and now he awaits you. You shall eat and drink with him. When you are ready I will lead you to him’

A Tolkien scholar by the name of Tom Shippey describes the significance of this:

No one any longer celebrates the twenty-fifth of March, and Tolkien’s point is accordingly missed, as I think he intended. He inserted it only as a kind of signature, a personal mark of piety. However, as he knew perfectly well, in old English tradition, 25th March is the date of the crucifixion, of the first Good Friday. As Good Friday is celebrated on a different day each year, Easter being a mobile date defined by the phases of the moon, the connection has been lost, except for one thing. In Gondor the New Year will always begin on the 25th of March… One might note that in the Calendar of dates which Tolkien so carefully wrote out in Appendix B, December 25th is the day on which the fellowship sets out from Rivendell. The main action of the Lord of the Rings takes place, then, in the mythic space between Christmas, Christ’s birth, and the crucifixion, Christ’s death.

Knowing this, we understand the full force of Gandalf’s words and what is about to happen on the precipice of the city of Gondor. Death has died, Sauron is dead. The King has tended to us and awaits us. The king has returned to Gondor.

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

I pray that as you celebrate Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday tomorrow, this will be what is on your mind. “But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”

–Your Humble Servant

A Seminarian’s Reminder

This semester has been a roller coaster. More and more I find myself drowning under the weight that is piled upon me. I feel like how I can only assume Atlas feels, carrying his yoke, all the while wishing it would crush its bearer. I am continuously reminded of all that I have left to do on this journey I have chosen. The next resulting thing is a question, one I have pondered late into the night, like tonight; “What the hell am I doing here?”

Tonight as I asked that question to myself I began to read Isaiah, chapter six.  Here I am presented with Isaiah having a vision of the throne room of God. I am given two different reactions to the presence of God.  Isaiah sees the seraphim before him, glorifying and praising their God. They say to Him, “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY, is the LORD of host, the whole earth is filled with his glory!”

I love how this sounds in the original Hebrew:

קָדֹ֧ושׁ קָדֹ֛ושׁ קָדֹ֖ושׁ יְיָ צְבָאֹ֑ות מְלֹ֥א כָל־הָאָ֖רֶץ כְּבֹודֹֽו׃

qädôsh qädôsh qädôsh [Adonai] tz’väôt m’lo khäl-hääretz K’vôdô

And then Isaiah gives his response to the presence of God. “Woe to me! For I am destroyed! For I am a man of unclean lips and I am living among a people of unclean lips! For my eyes have seen the king, LORD of hosts!”

Too often I follow Isaiah when presented with God and his plan for me. I am destroyed, for I am a man of unclean lips. I am not smart enough! I am not capable! I am not able to fulfill all that you have planed for me! I am a sinner! I am ‘so mean that in remembrance of my mortality, I mayest say to corruption, “Thou art my father,” and to the worm, “Thou art my sister”’  I see God’s glory and the possibility of an abundant life because it is centered around Jesus Christ and I shudder.  Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?

I forget about the provision of the Lord. I forget His promises of love and forgiveness. I forget that  the LORD God condescended to Isaiah and a seraph flew down to him and touched a hot coal to his lips and told him; “Look! This has touched your lips and has removed your guilt, and your sin is annulled.”  I forget that ‘in Christ thou art so honored that thou canst say to the Almighty, “Abba, Father,” and to the Incarnate God, “Thou art my brother and my husband.”’

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The Lord God then says “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Because Isaiah’s sins are cleansed and he is made right in the eyes of the Lord, he is able to respond;

I am here! Send me!

Sometimes I forget, that is why I am here. I am here because the only response that I know of to God’s grace and provision, and his forgiveness and love is the phrase “I am here! Send me!”

I have dedicated my life to spurring others on to a deeper relationship with Christ through discipleship, being intentional with my relationships, and by humbly seeking after the deep things of God and teaching others what I have learned. And I, like St. Peter, know of no where else to go and know of no one to go to. For Christ has the words of eternal life and I believe and have come to know that He is the the Holy One of God. I am convinced that he will provide manna for me while at seminary.

Sometimes I just need a reminder.

My Reflection

Not good enough, When I view the mirror
This is the grim image that stares right back
No other image will become clearer
Than that which eludes me and thus I lack.
What do you see in my dim reflection?
This bright image you see can not be mine!
Is this image worthy of affection?
Could my reflection be what you see shine?
The image you see staring back at me,
I am afraid that I do not compare.
This dim image may close my heart to thee,
But rapturous beauty bids me declare
    Your affections bids shine this dim image
    Your love bids this dim image diminish

Letters to a Pilgrim Pt. 7

The final letter in our series, we find the pilgrimage complete and both the seeker and discipler thrilled.

 

Dear Bear Necessities,

I am thrilled to hear of your success and that you have finally made it back home.  And yes I would agree with you, there does seem to be a link between aesthetics and ontology.  Realizing that we are creations of the most high God leads us to realize our ‘beauty.’ He has placed us above the creatures of the earth and even the earth herself.  We, being bent creatures, are sought after by our creator, a relationship, though not needed by Him, is sought by Him and is achieved through our Lord Jesus Christ.  The mighty world in which you saw on your pilgrimage may point to Christ, it may be glorious and magnificent, but we are the only creation that a relationship is sought by God.  I am reminded of what Spurgeon once said, and it would be quite appropriate to state it here, “Pause here, devout reader, and see if thou canst without ecstatic amazement, contemplate the infinite condescension of the Son of God in thus exalting thy wretchedness into blessed union with His glory. Thou art so mean that in remembrance of thy mortality, thou mayest say to corruption, “Thou art my father,” and to the worm, “Thou art my sister”; and yet in Christ thou art so honored that thou canst say to the Almighty, “Abba, Father,” and to the Incarnate God, “Thou art my brother and my husband.””

Christ condescended to save US! That, friend, is more glorious than anything you may have seen on your journey.  It is through communion with and salvation through Christ that we are able to, like other creations, point to and glorify the artist.

I am ecstatic to hear that this is what you have realized. That you friend are a son of the most high God, the same God that numbered the stars and placed them in their place, the same God that built the mountains in which you climbed for six months.  From here, I am not sure there is much more I can say, so I will leave you with this

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

I look forward to hearing more about your pilgrimage over a pint and bowl of fine Virginian Pipe Tobacco.

Until then, with much love,

Rufio

Letters to a Pilgrim Pt. 6

Dear Bear Necessities,

Yes I agree, your pilgrimage could in fact be considered a ‘aesthetic experience.’ But like I mentioned in my previous letter, you must be careful to remember that it is not the beauty itself you should attend to, it is that which the beauty points to that deserves your attention.  It is only then that the beauty will mean anything. Without a wholly Other, that created this beauty, the object holding said beauty would be worthless.  Furthermore, I am convinced that without the existence of a wholly Other, the idea of beauty would make no sense at all.  In order for us to label something as beautiful, we must refer to something that transcends us, it would mean nothing if we are simply referring to how an object makes us feel.  Beauty, friend, is not in the eye of the beholder, it is in the object beheld. Simply stating an subjective observation would mean nothing to the object in which we are talking about.  If we are indeed talking about the object, and not our feelings that are manifested by it, then we are talking about a value it holds, a value that is given to it by its Creator, during its creation by a wholly Other.  Now, there is indeed a subjective way in which we experience the objective, this is where Kant’s idea of the sublime comes in.  The sublime is that in which illicits a reaction from us, it is our subjective experience.

By the time you receive this, you will be arriving near the 100 mile wilderness. I indeed hope this reaches you in time.  This area is the longest portion of the Appalachian Trail with no civilization, hence the name.  This will be one of the hardest parts of your pilgrimage, not only because of the distance but because of how close it is to the end. You must push through friend.  Take courage, you have prepared for this.  It is here that solitude will be at its height.  It is here that you are least likely to run into your fellow hikers.  This portion will, if you have not already, draw you closer to your creator than ever before.

Love

Rufio

P.S.   Look out for moose.

Letters to a Pilgrim Pt. 5

Dear Bear Necessities,

You are approaching the final and hardest leg of your journey.  This is when most pilgrims drop out and give up. I pray you will not be one of these unfortunate many.  I think Nietzsche got it wrong.  It is not the end that will justify the means, I believe the end will, however, justify the pain it took to get you there.  Drawing a metaphorical line to your pilgrimage to life is not so hard in this sense, although, that may have been the point of pilgrimages in the first place.  Life here on earth is in no way simple or easy.  Christ never said following Him would be easy, but he did say the end will be worth it when we have ‘shuffled off this mortal coil.’ But it is not the dreams that must give us pause, it is everlasting communion with Christ. Oh to be there now, to live with the Almighty, that must give us pause. “ For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.”

Your friend.

Rufio