Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Surprised by Joy

I have been hungry for C.S. Lewis's writing, and Surprised by Joy: the Shape of my Early Life was a satisfying read for February. Walking through Lewis's youth in Ireland and into his exploration of the occult, then atheism, and his eventual arrival at Christianity was a fascinating journey to follow. He writes with honesty (and a vocabulary that humbled me -- I can now define quiddity, farrago, and elenchus). I was so grateful for his perspective on academics, friendship, and God's pursuit of us. Some of my favorite quotes from the book are below, and I hope you, too, might find Surprised by Joy in your hands this winter.

On joy:
"As I stood beside a flowering currant bush on a summer day there suddenly arose in me without warning, and as if from a depth not of years but of centuries, the memory of that earlier morning at the Old House when my brother had brought his toy garden into the nursery. It is difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me; Milton's 'enormous bliss' of Eden (giving the full, ancient meaning to 'enormous') comes somewhere near it. It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what?...Before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse... withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased... In a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else...[It] is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again... I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is.”

On the space around us:
“The truest and most horrible claim made for modern transport is that it “annihilates space.” It does. It annihilates one of the most glorious gifts we have been given. It is a vile inflation which lowers the value of distance, so that a modern boy travels a hundred miles with less sense of liberation and pilgrimage and adventure than his grandfather got from traveling ten. Of course if a man hates space and wants it to be annihilated, that is another matter. Why not creep into his coffin at once? There is little enough space there.”  

On reading:
“In reading Chesterton, as in reading MacDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere — "Bibles laid open, millions of surprises," as Herbert says, "fine nets and stratagems." God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.”

Monday, February 9, 2015

January into February

    Our midwinter days find us...

...still enjoying carrots from the garden...
...learning to rollerskate...

...delighting in splashes of color...

 ...discovering old books as new...

...playing games of football and tag as often as the sun shines...

...grateful for the promise of spring.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Pursuit of God

In the weeks that preceded this new year, I thought long about what marks to make on the coming days. The gifts of new beginnings and fresh chapters are not lost on me…but I feel lost in them. How do I live purposefully in these days? I know well that my day without a plan is often frittered, and I wanted to look back at this year as one lived intentionally.

I inked a word for my year by my kitchen sink (and because decisions aren’t easy for me, there are two words, not one). I set goals for my feet (literal goals, like tracking my miles walked). And I made a reading plan. The worn leather book by my bed will still get picked up every day, but I will also tackle some of those books that I have had on my shelves for years. The ones one that I thought I would tackle when life settled down… The book that I was waiting to read and process when I had that ever elusive quiet stretch… The tome that sat waiting for when I had the mental energy to tackle the subject in those thick pages…

My life hasn’t settled down, but believing that it will do so will only keep me waiting for tomorrow. I don’t have quiet stretches, but I do have quiet moments. And I didn’t wake this morning with extra mental energy, but I did wake with a hunger for learning more about my God, this world, and my reason for being here, now.

The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer was the book in my hands this January. I picked it up while eating a peanut butter sandwich with my kids. I read a few lines while supervising a history test. I turned pages in the winter sunshine on my front steps. These short chapters were a gift to me this month. In the chapter titled The Blessedness of Having Nothing, Tozer wrote:

“There is within the human heart a tough, fibrous root of fallen life whose nature is to possess, always to possess. It covets things with a deep and fierce passion. The pronouns my and mine look innocent enough in print, but their constant and universal use is significant… They are verbal symptoms of our deep disease. The roots of our hearts have grown down into thing, and we dare not pull up one rootlet lest we die. Things have become necessary to us, a development never originally intended. God’s gifts now take the place of God…”

He writes words of conviction, but Tozer also writes of God’s love for us and desire for relationship. In the chapter titled The Speaking Voice, he says:

“Every one of us has had experiences which we have not been able to explain – a sudden sense of loneliness, or a feeling of wonder or awe in the face of the universal vastness. Or we have had a fleeting visitation of light like an illumination from some other sun, giving us in a quick flash adn assurance that we are from another world, that our origins are divine… Explain such things as we will, I think we have not been fair to the facts until we allow at least the possibility that such experiences may arise from the presence of God in the world and His persistent effort to communicate with mankind… The Bible will never be a living Book to us until we are convinced that God is articulate in His universe.”

And in the chapter Meekness and Rest, Tozer writes:

“The burden borne by mankind is a heavy and crushing thing. Rest is simply release from that burden. It is not something we do; it is what comes to us when we cease to do. His own meekness, that is the rest. Let us examine our burden. It is altogether an interior one. It attacks the heart and the mind and reaches the body only from within… The labor of self-love is a heavy one indeed. Think for yourself whether much of your sorrow has not arisen from someone speaking slightingly of you… The heart’s fierce effort to protect itself from every slight, to shield its touchy honor from the bad opinion of friend and enemy, will never let the mind have rest. Continue this fight through the years and the burden will become intolerable. Yet the sons of earth are carrying this burden continually, challenging every word spoken against them, cringing under every criticism…such a burden as this is not necessary to bear. Jesus calls us to His rest…”


What a gift it was to spend hours of this month learning from the gentle and articulate A.W. Tozer. The words he penned nearly 70 years ago have truth in them yet today.