That due sense

As a boy in the Episcopal Church, I loved to say the General Thanksgiving. My knees ached against the hinged kneeling pads we had spent the last hour repeatedly pulling down and then retracting back up against the pew in front of us. Mom had torn the gold foil from around her last Certs somewhere around the Jubilate Deo. The minister had knocked off what seemed like a massive number of collects and prayers, and, with what seemed like a long, collective exhale, we all finally joined him in “humble and hearty thanks.” It was the General Thanksgiving; the service was almost over.

I loved the General Thanksgiving also for lesser, half-conscious reasons. I loved the way my lips worked out “inestimable,” whatever it meant. I loved the sound of “not only with our lips, but in our lives.” (The difference between hypocrisy and charity is effectively expressed in the difference between a short and long “i.”) And each week my forehead seemed pressed against the glass of those long sentences. What view were these phrases and commas affording of God? Twenty years later I would be writing airtight contracts, settlements, and releases with the kind of thoroughness and droning that the Book of Common Prayer (“BCP”) had planted deep in my soul. Lawyers can get to heaven.

What comes of repeating a prayer almost every week for an entire childhood? More may come of it than the child would understand. Life forms around prayers like that, making sense of the words, and the words help make sense of life.

The General Thanksgiving was added to the BCP in 1662, possibly as the result of the Puritans’ push to add more prayers of thanksgiving to the book. According to An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, Edward Reynolds (1599-1676), Bishop of Norwich, wrote the prayer and may have based it in part on “a private prayer of Queen Elizabeth that was issued in 1596.” The 1979 BCP artlessly updates the prayer’s language (“inestimable” becomes “immeasurable,” for instance, and “that due sense of all thy mercies” becomes “such an awareness of your mercies”). However, the BCP also retains the original prayer.

The prayer is in two parts: a thanksgiving and a petition. The first part, which includes the first two sentences, summarizes what there is to be thankful for. The first sentence sees God’s gifts to us in terms of his intention: “goodness and loving-kindness.” The second sentence mentions six gifts, but its language focuses on life and redemption.

The prayer’s second half – its final sentence – asks for a greater sense of mercy that would lead to a richer thanksgiving and a religious life.

The prayer’s three sentences may be outlined as follows:

I. We give thee thanks
A. For all thy goodness
B. And loving-kindness
II. We bless thee
A. For this life
1. Creation
2. Preservation
3. All other blessings
B. For the life to come
1. Redemption
2. Means of grace
3. Hope of glory
III. We beseech the, give us that due sense of all thy mercies
A. That our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful
B. That we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives
1. By giving up ourselves to thy service
2. By walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days
C. Through Jesus Christ our Lord

The General Thanksgiving’s big turn is foreshadowed in the appositive that begins the prayer: “Almighty God, Father of all mercies…” At the hinge of the prayer, where the prayer turns from thanksgiving to its only petition, is the prayer’s only other reference to mercy. Wrapped up in the petition’s nine words may be the most profound thing I know.

As we thank God for a litany of his gifts in this life and the next, we experience something of the joy of gratitude. We now want our thanksgiving to be a well within us, something we may drink from anytime. So we ask God for “that due sense of” – that appropriate awareness of – “all thy mercies.” With it, “our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful.”

We teach our children to say “thank you” so they will be polite and get along in the world. We also hope our training will lead our children to a more grateful and satisfying philosophy of life. But the General Thanksgiving understands that a true heart of thanksgiving doesn’t come through training alone. We have to understand the value and the source of the gifts we are thankful for.

Jesus told a story to his judgmental host who was watching an “unfeignedly thankful” woman convulse at Jesus’ feet:

Two men were in debt to a moneylender: one owed him five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. As they did not have the means to pay he cancelled both debts. Now, which will love him more? (Luke 7:41-42, Revised English Bible)

Simon, the host, gave the right answer. Then Jesus implied that Simon was the debtor in the story who was forgiven less. Simon would not be as thankful as the woman and would not love as much as the woman, because he was not forgiven as much as the woman.

What Jesus didn’t tell Simon was that he was just as big a debtor as the woman he judged. Simon would have to discover that for himself.

What does it take to have “that due sense” of all God’s mercies? We must be willing to take the path Jesus invited Simon to take. Simon must walk a path of self-discovery that would lead him to a much narrower view of himself. It would also lead him to accept a greater gift from his heavenly Father.

In his book No Man is an Island, Thomas Merton describes the process to something like “that due sense” this way:

If we are to love sincerely, and with simplicity, we must first of all overcome the fear of not being loved. And this cannot be done by forcing ourselves to believe in some illusion, saying that we are loved when we are not. We must somehow strip ourselves of our greatest illusions about ourselves, frankly recognize in how many ways we are unlovable, descend into the depths of our being until we come to the basic reality that is in us, and learn to see that we are lovable after all, in spite of everything!

A heart of unfeigned thanksgiving is more than manners. It comes from more than religious insight or intuition. For most of us, it is the welcome city at the end of a long road.

According to the prayer, “that due sense” leads to more than a heart of thanksgiving. It leads to the life God intended for us. It leads to the charity and the holiness that Isaiah frequently links and that James joins to describe “true religion.”

Giving up ourselves to God’s service is not possible without this due sense. Walking in holiness is not possible without this due sense. All of our religion and all of our life must be a response to God’s mercy. Until it is, our real work is to walk the hard road we asked for when we prayed the General Thanksgiving.


The General Thanksgiving

Almighty God, Father of all mercies,
we thine unworthy servants
do give thee most humble and hearty thanks
for all thy goodness and loving-kindness
to us and to all men.
We bless thee for our creation, preservation,
and all the blessings of this life;
but above all for thine inestimable love
in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ,
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
And, we beseech thee,
give us that due sense of all thy mercies,
that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful;
and that we show forth thy praise,
not only with our lips, but in our lives,
by giving up our selves to thy service,
and by walking before thee
in holiness and righteousness all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost,
be all honor and glory, world without end. Amen.


William at forty

On my first visit home after William died, a storm shook brittle branches and brown needles from my parents’ longleaf pines for my father to pick up and rake. My father’s ’68 Continental, no longer subject to falling branches thanks to a tree removal he had ordered, was still in the driveway with one side of its black convertible top still sagging. But the feeling about the large, old subdivision lot was different, and after the storm I walked the place to look closer. Songbirds chirped with impunity and thought nothing of hopping on the grass. My shoes sank into the sandy, Tidewater soil beneath the lawn, now undermined by moles. And, for the first time in sixteen years (as far back as my memory served), there were cats.

My parents’ place was full of life that day; nature’s balance seemed restored; the great ring was somehow destroyed in the mountain where it was forged long ago by some immortal hand or eye. In short, there was a general sense of ruin.

For most of my childhood, our home had been the center of a vast empire. In contrast, my parents’ place that day had the feeling of an outpost of some lesser empire, or the feeling maybe of an overlooked parcel between two small, competing empires, the ground between the two clay feet in the great king’s dream.

I wonder if William’s dreams ever sent him to the astrologers, or if he fretted much over succession. He had ruled our neighborhood with an iron paw, but the compromises of his declining years and his Prince Hal-like ambivalence toward his subjects – chiefly my parents, my two siblings and me – must have brought succession to mind on bright, fall afternoons he spent dozing in the warm hammock he created out of my father’s ragtop. The cat, though, generally kept his own counsel, and he always had a healthy sense of what was beyond his grasp.

“Where’s Billy?” my brother’s friend asked my brother Ford, who, like my sister and me, was home from college the Christmas following my walk.

“‘Billy?'” Ford repeated, raising his eyes momentarily from the TV. “He would have scratched out your eyes for that.”

“Okay. Where’s ‘William’?”

Ford fingered the remote. “He caught a cold, so my father had him destroyed.”

The vet told my parents it was leukemia, and certainly my father wasn’t going to pour hundreds of dollars into propping up the house’s rival alpha male in a losing battle against cancer. Besides, we all had seen the signs during recent summers home: the dusty, gray-brown coat replacing the sharp, gray stripes of his youth; the battle scars after difficult nights fighting a new, young male down the street; the bitter bites he would give guests (like Ford’s friend) who wanted to rub him but who always rubbed him the wrong way. The end was near, and the sickness probably wasn’t a pretext, in fairness to my father.

I was eight when William was born the biggest and liveliest of a large litter produced by our neighbor’s Siamese cat and “a traveling man,” as a deed my father later drew up at his law office put it. William spent his first night with us running around inside Molly’s box spring, bringing to life her six-year-old fears of monsters and causing her to cede the cat to me the next morning. William, of course, never acknowledged the deed or any indicia of ownership. In a single day, though, my sister had given him the benefit of a suitable name – William Thomas – though her subsequent relationship with the cat led her to refer to him only as “the Devil.”

[picture of William]By his third year, William was carousing every night, and the vet bills led my parents to have him neutered when I was about thirteen and had just begun my paper route. From then on it wasn’t about the sex but about the territory, and I still heard William far away from home on those dark mornings at this dawn of his empire. I would be about to throw a folded newspaper at a stoop when I would make out a gray shape or perhaps his sharp, yellow eyes, and William would start those long, guttural moans that frequently precede catfights. He was on the stoop, demanding that the cat that he knew to be inside come out and fight. This happened on three different mornings at three different homes on my route. Why we didn’t get more calls from the neighbors I don’t know. I guess they knew who ran our place.

William had Odysseus-like craft to complement his large size, and he frequently had recourse to both his size and craft while hunting. William was the largest half-Siamese imaginable – his small Siamese pinhead only accentuated his size – but he would somehow seem small just before he turned the tables on his favorite victim, the catbird. He would emerge wide-eyed from underneath a parked car, crawling tentatively until this show of weakness attracted a catbird. At the lowest point in the bird’s trajectory, the cat would flip himself on his back, grab the bird around the neck with a paw, and bounce the bird’s head on the pavement. Then he would lunge at the neck of his stunned prey. After sharing the carcass with his protégé, a younger, full Siamese with the ignoble name “Duppy” who lived next door, William would drag it into my parents’ shrubbery, which he stocked year-round with a wide variety of bird and rodent carcasses. It was always gratifying to watch a real professional.

When the kids next door first introduced us to Duppy, we figured he would quickly go the way of our catbirds.  But William stared at the month-old kitten for a minute or two, and then began to bathe him with his sandpaper tongue.  It was Elijah throwing his mantle on Elisha, who was to be prophet in his place.

But if William ever harbored hopes that Duppy would succeed him, they sank quickly. William was a realist and a keen judge of talent. He must have remembered the day Duppy, under William’s tutelage, caught his first bird. Duppy trotted proudly from the woods bordering our lot with a bluebird in his mouth, but then he stopped and coughed. The bluebird found some wiggle room and flew out of his mouth. Duppy just stood there, coughing up blue feathers, and I never saw him hunt much after that. Duppy was like a son to William, and I’m not sure how William coped with his disappointment over how Duppy turned out.

Except for Duppy, William let no cats near our place. A large tabby lived two doors down, and infrequently he would lose his bearings and stumble into the heart of William’s realm. I would hear Thomas (the cat went by William’s middle name) give the cat fight moans for about ten minutes as I watched William and him slowly circle each other beneath my bedroom window in the predawn light. William would finally cut to the chase, his voice about two octaves lower than Thomas’s, and the rout was on. Thomas wouldn’t be back for at least a year.

William died at sixteen years of age, and he would have been forty years old this coming week. I suspect that my father and sister aren’t aware of the anniversary, and I will call them in time for them to celebrate it in their own ways.

My parents still live at our childhood home, and my wife and I visit two or three times a year. Not much has changed in the twenty-four years since that first walk around the lot following William’s death. A few more pines have succumbed to lightning and hurricanes. Birds, raccoons, dogs, and moles still punch in and punch out. But everything there just reminds me of when the yard carried a real distinction, when all of nature seemed to bend around where I grew up.

Categorized as People

Via negativa

When the day comes, many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Out of my sight; your deeds are evil!” (Matthew 7:22-23 – REB)

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God… (Galatians 4:9 – NNAS)

Now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. (1 Corinthians 13:12 – KJV)

If anyone fancies that he has some kind of knowledge, he does not yet know in the true sense of knowing. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. (1 Corinthians 8:3 – REB)

What distinction may Jesus and Paul be drawing between knowing and being known?

If I know God, then I may know him no longer.

But if God knows me, then I may know him by his mercy. I have only to let him know me enough to know myself.

Categorized as Devotional

Summer reading: the case for poetry

Summer reading is escape reading, and the archetypal summer reading is done on a blanket at the beach or by a pool while sipping a drink and lapsing in and out of consciousness. Traditional summer reading is light novels, romances and mysteries, generally – novels that permit us to get away from our daily world and that don’t make us think too hard. If one examines these purposes of summer reading, however, one may set aside light novels and pick up a couple of volumes of poetry.

Poetry, particularly short poetry, seems made for summer reading. A lot of poetry offers a faster and more complete escape than a light novel offers, and poetry often speaks to a part of us that is below the surface, a part of us that hides from the kind of analytical thinking from which vacations remove us.

You want to read while half-conscious? A lot of poetry is filled with dreamlike associations our conscious minds don’t usually make. Say you’re easing into a nap while reading a book. You catch yourself reading the same line over and over. Your tired mind dwells on a turn of phrase, or perhaps on a single word. This is disappointing if you’re reading a novel, but it’s perfect for poetry!

Consider the opening lines of “History,” a poem in Gary Soto’s New and Selected Poems, which we review this month and which I’ve read by the pool on two or three occasions this summer:

Grandma lit the stove.
Morning sunlight
Lengthened in spears
Across the linoleum floor.

In four quick lines — two short sentences – the reader knows our story’s time and place, she knows something of the sympathetic tone the poet takes to his subject, and she has some idea of the economic condition grandma lives in. The half-conscious state of the reader’s mind may then help her associate the lighting of the stove with the first light of day – an association that suggests that grandma’s simple action may mean more than it seems to on the surface.

August seems to burn off much of our moist, analytical thinking. What’s left is a slow, thick essence, a pattern of thinking removed from our ordinary world and an analeptic against that world’s ravages. August seems like the perfect month to give over to poetry.

What is conversion?

The root of much of my hypocrisy may have been a fundamental misconception of Christianity. I believe I have shared this misconception with many of my evangelical friends for more than twenty years. The misconception? I equated being a follower of Jesus with conversion.

They’re not the same. Take me, for instance. I became a follower of Jesus at age sixteen. My conversion gained some traction at age forty, though, as the result of a debilitating identity crisis. And my conversion continues (I hope).

For much of the twenty-four-or-so years between my decision to follow Jesus and my most significant conversion experience to date, I struggled to make the Christian ideal real. Because I thought I was converted, I blamed myself for the discrepancy between what I was and what I thought I should be.

Now I think this discrepancy was based on mission creep. Jesus’ main mission is to lead me to the end of my false self. I understood something of that, but my main mission was to be more like Jesus. These are different enough goals to have kept Jesus and me at odds for years without my knowing it. I’m glad I made certain efforts to improve, but I mistakenly saw my efforts as evidence of conversion instead of as preparation for it.

Jesus is also at odds with his apostle Peter over the same mission conflict. Three years into following Jesus, Peter is still trying to show himself worthy of Jesus: you know, cutting off a soldier’s ear, swearing his undying .allegiance, etc. And the hypocrisy of it: Peter says he’ll follow Jesus to the end, but he denies Jesus only a few hours later. The cool thing is that Peter’s willingness to find out just how strong he was brings him to the end of himself

Just before Peter’s spectacular flame-out, Jesus tells him this:

Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail, and you, when once you have turned again [“converted,” the KJV has it], strengthen your brothers. (Luke 22:31-32, NNAS)

When he first meets Jesus, Peter gives up everything to follow him, but Luke suggests that most of Peter’s conversion doesn’t take place until about three years later.

I think the keys to Christianity are elusive to most Christians: concepts such as “the kingdom of God” and “Christ in you,” God in you. I believe conversion is misunderstood because we assume we understand the kingdom of God as well as Christ in us. We assume we understand the birth analogy in the Gospel of John and in two of the epistles.

There’s another way to look at this birth analogy. If we refer to the stages the New Testament uses in this analogy, perhaps Peter receives Jesus’ seed when Jesus first calls him; perhaps Peter labors with child when he betrays Jesus; and perhaps Peter is born again around the time of Jesus’ resurrection. Perhaps Christ is in Peter the whole time, but, for Peter’s first three years in the Bible, “Christ in him” is only a growing seed.

The difference between receiving Jesus (a seed analogy, recall) and being converted may be the difference between being a potential child of God and a functioning one. “To as many as received [Jesus], to them gave he power to become the sons of God.” (John 1:12) For at least twenty-four years I was becoming, all the while taking myself as the genuine article. I wasn’t very childlike at all. (Childish, yes – and still am.)

(Of course, these child metaphors get difficult. In one sense, we’re all God’s children. In another, Paul assigns sonship to “all who are being led by the Spirit of God.” (Romans 8:14) Consistent with an underlying premise in Jesus’ prodigal son story (and in King Lear), there are daughters and sons, and then there are daughters and sons.)

Peter is still a sinner after this conversion. (Luke’s own book of Acts and Paul’s letter to the Galatians point this out; Paul even points out Peter’s continued hypocrisy.) But there is far more evidence of a new person after this conversion experience then there is during Peter’s first three years of following Jesus. After Peter denies Jesus, he finally is capable of being weak and befuddled. Soon after his resurrection, Jesus asks Peter if he loves him more than the other disciples do. (Like any good mentor, Jesus can’t resist piling on when it suits him.) In response, Peter is far more circumspect on this issue than he has been up to his public denial of Jesus.

Peter has come to the end of himself, and he finds that God loves him anyway. I think that’s why our crises can be gifts. Our crises are sometimes opportunities to strip off more of our false selves and to receive God’s love at a deeper level that our false selves are often unwittingly defending.

My trying to live up to something wasn’t all bad, at least when I wasn’t judging someone to make myself feel better. (Peter also found judging others to be an important strategy in following Jesus: he enjoyed comparing himself favorably to his fellow disciples.) My efforts to live up to who I thought I should be actually prepared me for some conversion, if only because my failures in that regard helped me to come closer to the end of myself. (I’d add to my hypocrisy if I now claimed to have reached the nadir of my false self.)

Paul figures that trying to follow the Bible’s laws plays an important role in someone’s conversion. He says, probably with a wry smile, “The law is a schoolmaster, to bring us to Christ.” I need to study, to pray, to try to love — to try and fail. In his book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster puts it this way: “The Disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that he can transform us.”

Conversion is an unmerited gift given over time. It’s a life based on weakness and favor alone. Conversion is the child in me that sometimes sees things I miss as an adult. (“Unless you are converted, and become as children…”)

Conversion means I no longer have to be better than others. It means that what I call Christianity doesn’t have to be better than other religions. Now that I’m a little more converted, I meet people of other religious faiths or with little religious background who are more converted than I am. Who cares? I’m weak – that’s the whole point.

Conversion is the darkness that helps me see and the child that guides me. I hope for more of it. I don’t date it (“I was converted on such-and-such a date”) and I don’t push it (“Are you converted?”). That would be like date-stamping and selling love.

Conversion, in the sense I believe the Bible uses the term, isn’t a decision to accept the tenets of a religion. Instead, conversion may be a gradually increasing ability to receive love.

Categorized as Devotional

Bedtime poetry

For me, poetry is best read before bed, perhaps because the best of it makes the kind of dreamlike connections my body is preparing for, though I never see coming. And – who knows? – poetry may make my mind supple enough to dream well.

Like a vivid dream, good poetry always surprises. Fragments of life and thought add up to more than they should. Multiple readings of a favorite poem bear up like a compelling, recurring dream.

Experiencing a dream and understanding it (if the latter is possible) are two different things. The same goes for experiencing and understanding poetry. Experiencing a poem is like waking up from a dream struck at first with an inexplicable impression or feeling. I’ve been somewhere emotionally I wasn’t expecting to go. Understanding a poem, on the other hand, is like trying to reconstruct a dream’s events in order to explain its force.

I can’t really know a poem I haven’t experienced. I may be only fending off a poem by carrying on about its alliteration and assonance and allusions. After experiencing a poem, though, I might have some unacademic questions: Why do these weak fragments pulsate on the page? How do these six lines reduce me to tears? What is the poem inviting me to see about myself?

Analyzing a poem without experiencing it is like sending a rocket to the moon without ever tasting green cheese. To quote Thomas Merton out of context: “What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves?” I can take poetry courses and still live without poetry and the part of me that poetry would feed.

In a sense, something understood is something diminished; something apprehended is something locked away. No one stays happily married by solving his wife. We infixed a flag in the moon, but we haven’t solved it. Indeed, the moon may help to keep us from solving and benighting ourselves.

Poetry is like the moon. It comes and goes. It shows up in different guises. It can guide us on a journey. It can spare light in a dark time. To live without poetry is to live in a moonless world, or to sleep in an atmosphere sucked clean of dreams.

Unless and until

Or, Just because you fall off a cliff doesn’t mean you don’t have some hard choices to make

The coyote looks down. There’s nothing beneath him but the warm tones of the desert far below the top of the mesa he neglected to keep underfoot. He realizes he’s going to fall. He holds up a sign to us, or he unfolds a well-used parasol. Maybe he waves good-bye. At all events, he falls.

My eight-year-old son and I have watched this Looney Toones gag over and over on DVD together, and we laugh every time. I always thought we were both laughing at the foolish coyote because he carelessly steps (or rockets or bicycles) over the mesa’s edge. But it turns out Warren has been laughing because the foolish coyote foolishly looks down. Now I understand my son better.

I discovered Warren’s point of view last night, halfway through Warren’s bedtime routine. Warren’s routine includes our adaptation of the coyote gag. Warren’s stuffed snake loses control of his tail and it becomes a helicopter blade. The snake screams as he takes off from the bed, but things get worse for him: his tail sputters and droops when it runs out of gas. The snake looks Warren in the face, the snake’s eyes bigger than usual, if that is possible. “Oh, no,” he says, softly; then he falls.

Warren laughed, as always, but last night he was not completely satisfied.

“Pause the game. Next time, have the snake look down before he falls.”

Huh? Oh.

The difference between the truths we extrapolate from the coyote’s fall is precisely the difference between Warren and me. Examine the competing laws, stated succinctly here.

My Law: The coyote won’t fall until he looks down.

Warren’s Law: The coyote won’t fall unless he looks down.

Get the distinction? I understand that the gag works because the coyote will fall. Warren, on the other hand, sees the possibilities.

It comes down to the difference between unless and until.

Until is a preposition, inexorable as its object. Prepositions let you know things about the world, things you have to know to get along. Your job is to adjust, to understand your limitations, and to show as much individuality as conformity will permit. Your medicine fell under the table. You’re driving on the wrong side of the road. You came after your sister. That remark was over the top, Warren.

Unless is a conjunction, a grammatical contrivance evincing a far different human impulse than a preposition. Conjunctions put pieces of life together, and you have a lot of latitude there. Stick an “and” in for an “or,” and maybe you have two cookies instead of one. (Warren, in fact, often holds up his index finger and says, with a slow detective-like voice, “Unless…”) Life is not preset. Just because you fall off a cliff doesn’t mean you don’t have some hard choices to make.

Until has its soft side, too, when it also serves as a conjunction. I can relate to until’s ambivalence. After all, many of my fixed stances have fallen before Warren’s conjunctive assault. Here’s a discussion we had two weeks ago:

W: [Holding up two of my screwdrivers.] If you were going to give me one of your screwdrivers, would you give me the big one or the small one?

P: Warren, I’m not giving you any of my screwdrivers.

W: I know…

P: You may use my screwdrivers, but they remain mine.

W: I know, but if you were going to give me one, I think I know which one you would give me.

P: Okay, which one?

W: The small one. [Grins.]

A week later, it was his screwdriver.

I hasten to add that I’m not the only authority figure bending. When Warren was about five, he discovered prayer. He applied it by his bed each month on the night before his children’s church program held its drawing. He won the drawing and took home nice toys four months in a row as children more needy than he looked on.

Warren got so confident of his hotline to God that he tried to whip up a little unscheduled vacation for us that winter. One morning when I woke him up for school, Warren closed his eyes and mumbled for a moment, then gave me a knowing grin and rolled up the window shade. He was surprised not to see two feet of snow.

I thought Warren was in for a crisis of faith that morning. Instead, he took the bungled snowstorm in stride and walked down to breakfast. But he doesn’t pray much anymore, as far as I know.

Sometimes I wonder how Warren can have lived on this planet for eight years without assimilating more of the rules required for life down here. Victoria and I struggle to make sure Warren is aware of some certainties, expectations, and conditions precedent. But our work doesn’t often seem to have much effect. Maybe Warren showed up on the planet just yesterday, after all. How long have any of us been here?

Or maybe Warren never got here, and never will. Unless he looks down.

Categorized as People

The nose knows

Paul describes knowledge as a scent. God “uses us to spread abroad the fragrance of the knowledge of himself,” he says. (2 Cor. 2:14, REB) I understand that the sense of smell brings back memory and emotion more viscerally than does any other sense. I remember smelling my grandmother’s apartment in some strange place six years after she had died. It was as if she were in the same room with me.

Who else might an acquaintance of mine experience while with me? If I have knowledge like a scent, the possibilities are endless, I suppose. Paul goes on: to those on the way to salvation he and his pals are “a deadly fume,” but to those on their way to destruction they become a life-giving fragrance.

Paul understood the kind of religious knowledge I focused on for years. It’s a cheap substitute for knowledge like a scent. “’Knowledge’ inflates a man, whereas love builds him up. If anyone fancies that he has some kind of knowledge, he does not know in the true sense of knowing.”

Categorized as Devotional