Virtues

ATTENTIVENESS: Paying Attention—Welcoming God’s Attention, Or Not by Leighton Ford

June 15, 2018

From The Attentive Life There are people whose attentions we resent because they are very annoying.  And it may be that sometimes we resent God’s attentions not so much out of a reasoned denial of his existence as from a deep instinctive refusal to conform to what we perceive as some kind of celestial busybody who tries to run everyone else’s affairs. Simon Tugwell is a British scholar who has a deep understanding of how our imaginative “cramps” – our pictures of God – affect our belief, or lack of it.  He remembers from his childhood an old Book of Common Prayer with a picture of Guy Fawkes trying to sneak a bomb into the Houses of Parliament.  At the top of the picture was an enormous eye watching him.  Here was an image [...]

POETRY: Prayer by Carol Ann Duffy

June 15, 2018

Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer utters itself. So, a woman will lift her head from the sieve of her hands and stare at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift. Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth enters our hearts, that small familiar pain; then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth in the distant Latin chanting of a train. Pray for us now. Grade I piano scales console the lodger looking out across a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls a child’s name as though they named their loss. Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer— Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.*   *The poet is English, and these geographical markers are a well-known feature of the local shipping [...]

HUMILITY: Humility And Death To Self by Andrew Murray

June 14, 2018

From Humility Humility is the most difficult of all virtues to achieve; nothing dies harder than the desire to think well of oneself. (T. S. Eliot)   He humbled himself and became obedient to death. (Philippians 2:8) Humility is the path to death, because in death it gives the highest proof of its perfection.  Humility is the blossom of which death to self is the perfect fruit.  Jesus humbled himself unto death and opened the path in which we too must walk.  As there was no way for him to prove his surrender to God to the uttermost or to give up and rise out of our human nature to the glory of the Father but through death, so it is with us.  Humility must lead us to die to self: so we prove how wholly we have given ourselves up to [...]

POETRY: October by David Brendan Hopes

June 13, 2018

It’s nuthatch on the box elder outside the window. He’s making his clown’s voice, nnink, nning, nnink, pecking to grubs, seeds, scraps. The first snow powdered down last night while he slept, and as birds have dreams there’s snow in his song now. Nighthawk heard it. He is gone. Warbler heard it. She is gone. Thrasher went. Finch went. You could hear them at night, little bells so far off you thought they were the stars ringing. I sat on an empty hill and said goodbye. The geese, like tragic actresses, keep nothing to themselves. They eat down the center of the air crying, and crying, how the white north snaps behind them, how their nests are shoveled under, how their circle is broken by fox, bullet, and cold. The [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: Paying Attention—What Would It Be Like If God Did Not Pay Attention? by Leighton Ford

June 8, 2018

From The Attentive Life What if he did withdraw it from us?  G. K. Chesterton suggested that the sun rises over and over again because God is enjoying it so much!  Suppose his mind wandered and he forgot what time it was, and sunrise and sunset did not happen? What if God simply got bored with the banality of our evil and overlooked seedtime and harvest?  Or if he got distracted with the other billions of planets and forgot when it was our time to be born?  Or to die? One night when David the shepherd king could not sleep, with the weight of his nation on his shoulders and his soul, he lay awake remembering the long nights out in the fields when he was a boy watching to protect the flocks from wolves.  Perhaps that night he composed [...]

HUMILITY: Humility And Faith by Andrew Murray

June 7, 2018

From Humility Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish yourself to be. (Thomas à Kempis)   How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God? (John 5:44) In an address I heard recently, the speaker said that the blessings of the higher Christian life were often like the objects displayed in a shop window: one could see them clearly and yet could not reach them.  If told to reach out and help himself, a man would answer, “I can’t; there’s a thick pane of plate glass between me and them.”  In the same way, Christians may see clearly the blessed promises of perfect peace and rest, [...]

POETRY: A Drink Of Water by Seamus Heaney

June 2, 2018

She came every morning to draw water Like an old bat staggering up the field: The pump’s whooping cough, the bucket’s clatter And slow diminuendo as it filled, Announced her. I recall Her grey apron, the pocked white enamel Of the brimming bucket, and the treble Creak of her voice like the pump’s handle. Nights when a full moon lifted past her gable It fell back through her window and would lie Into the water set out on the table. Where I have dipped to drink again, to be Faithful to the admonishment on her cup, Remember the Giver, fading off the [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: Paying Attention—The Mindfulness Of God by Leighton Ford

June 1, 2018

From The Attentive Life This God creates, playfully, purposefully – out of nothing – space and stars, sun and moon, light and darkness, dandelions and donkeys, whales and kingfishers, and a handsome couple.  And then he doesn’t get bored: he sees everything he has made and takes delight in it.  And instead of standing at a distance, he comes to visit his creatures in a garden in the cool of the evening. But things don’t go happily ever after.  Still, when Adam and Eve are not mindful of him and the good boundaries he has set, he doesn’t walk away and wash his hands.  He walks in the spoiled garden and calls, “Where are you?” – still paying attention. Later he does wash the whole world he made with a flood.  But even [...]

HUMILITY: Humility And Sin by Andrew Murray

May 31, 2018

From Humility Nothing sets a person so much out of the devil’s reach as humility. (Jonathan Edwards) Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. (1 Timothy 1:15) Humility is often identified with penitence and contrition.  As a consequence, there appears to be no way of fostering humility but by keeping the soul occupied with its sin.  But I think we have learned that humility is something else and something more than being consumed with our own sinfulness.  We have seen in the teaching of our Lord Jesus and the Epistles how often the virtue is mentioned without any reference to sin.  In the very nature of things, in the whole relationship of the creature to the Creator, in the life of Jesus as he [...]

POETRY: The Underground by Seamus Heaney

May 26, 2018

There we were in the vaulted tunnel running, You in your going-away coat speeding ahead And me, me then like a fleet god gaining Upon you before you turned to a reed Or some new white flower japped with crimson As the coat flapped wild and button after button Sprang off and fell in a trail Between the Underground and the Albert Hall. Honeymooning, mooning around, late for the Proms, Our echoes die in that corridor and now I come as Hansel came on the moonlit stones Retracing the path back, lifting the buttons To end up in a draughty lamplit station After the trains have gone, the wet track Bared and tensed as I am, all attention For your step following and damned if I look [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: Paying Attention—The God Who Attends To Us by Leighton Ford

May 25, 2018

From The Attentive Life The story of the Bible is not merely the story of a deity who launched the cosmos and then turned his attention elsewhere.  Quite the contrary: it reveals a God who is mindful, who keeps paying attention, whose mind does not wander!  He is a Father who watches with careful attention. This is the very nature of God, and a truth that touches the deepest longings of our lives. Bilquis Sheikh, a Muslim woman, was brought to faith in Christ by coming to know God as a loving Father.  She describes the moment after a long search when this truth seized her imagination: “A breakthrough of hope flooded me.  Suppose God were like a father?  If my Earthly father would put aside everything to listen to me, why wouldn’t [...]

HUMILITY: Humility And Holiness by Andrew Murray

May 24, 2018

From Humility It is no great thing to be humble when you are brought low; but to be humble when you are praised is a great and rare achievement. (Bernard of Clairvaux) All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people who say, “Keep away; don’t come near me, for I am too scared for you!” (Isaiah 65:2,5) We speak of the holiness movement in our times and praise God for it.  We hear a great deal of seekers after holiness and professors of holiness, of holiness teaching and holiness meetings.  The blessed truths of holiness in Christ and holiness by faith are being emphasized as never before.  The great test of whether the holiness we profess to seek or to attain is truth and life will be whether it is manifest in the [...]

POETRY: Pentecost by Malcolm Guite

May 19, 2018

Today we feel the wind beneath our wings. Today the hidden fountain flows and plays. Today the church draws breath at last and sings. As every flame becomes a Tongue of praise. This is the feast of fire, air, and water, Poured out and breathed and kindled into earth. The earth herself awakens to her maker And is translated out of death to birth. The right words come today in their right order And every word spells freedom and release. Today the gospel crosses every border. All tongues are loosened by the Prince of Peace. Today the lost are found in His translation. Whose mother-tongue is Love, in every [...]

POETRY: The Country Clergy by R. S. Thomas

May 18, 2018

I see them working in old rectories By the sun’s light, by candlelight, Venerable men, their black cloth A little dusty, a little green With holy mildew. And yet their skulls, Ripening over so many prayers, Toppled into the same grave With oafs and yokels. They left no books, Memorial to their lonely thought In grey parishes; rather they wrote On men’s hearts and in the minds Of young children sublime words Too soon forgotten. God in his time Or out of time will correct [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: The God Who Pays Attention by Leighton Ford

May 13, 2018

From The Attentive Life Friends (and some not-so-friendly persons) are always emailing stuff that I didn’t ask for and usually don’t want.  Most often I just hit delete.  But one forwarded message insisted I pull it up.  In astonishment I watched “The Power of Ten,” a series of images showing our galaxy from the most distant reaches to one of the tiniest particles of our Earth. Beginning with images of the Milky Way ten million light-years from the Earth, it moved through space in successive leaps through our solar system to the orbits of the planets Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, to our Earth and the Western Hemisphere, down to the southeastern United States and to Tallahassee, Florida.  At Tallahassee it zoomed in to [...]

HUMILITY: Humility In Daily Life by Andrew Murray

May 12, 2018

From Humility The more humble a man is in himself, the more obedient toward God, the wiser will he be in all things, and the more shall his soul be at peace. (Thomas à Kempis)   For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20) It is a solemn thought that our love for God is measured by our everyday relationships with others.  Except as its validity is proven in standing the test of daily life with our fellowmen, our love for God may be found to be a delusion.  It is easy to think that we humble ourselves before God, but our humility toward others is the only sufficient proof that our humility before God is real.  To be genuine, humility must abide in us and become our [...]

HUMILITY: Humility In The Disciples Of Jesus by Andrew Murray

May 5, 2018

From Humility God created the world out of nothing, and as long as we are nothing, he can make something out of us. (Martin Luther)     The greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. (Luke 22:26) We have studied humility in the person and teaching of Jesus; now we will look for it in the circle of his chosen companions – the twelve apostles.  If we see a lack of humility in the disciples, and a contrast between Christ and men is brought out more clearly, it will help us to appreciate the mighty change that Pentecost brought and prove how real our participation can be in the triumph of Christ’s humility over the pride Satan breathed into humankind. In the texts quoted from [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: Paying Attention—Paying Attention To The Other by Leighton Ford

May 4, 2018

From The Attentive Life Attentiveness means respecting, attending to, waiting on, looking at, and listening to the other – the persons and things that we encounter – for what they are in themselves, not what we can make of them.  We are called to pay attention to the Other – our Creator God – to know and worship him. Paradoxically, attentiveness may be just the opposite of “fixing our attention.”  Instead it involves a letting go of our usual need to control, an opening of ourselves to what we are being told or shown. Our instinct is to hold on. Elia Kazan said of the poet Sylvia Plath that “the world for Sylvia Plath only existed for her to write about.”  Plath paid attention to her work and her words, but the [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: Paying Attention—Pay Attention by Leighton Ford

April 27, 2018

From The Attentive Life From the time we were children we were told to “pay attention,” as if this were the simplest thing in the world.  But in fact attentiveness is one of the most difficult concepts to grasp and one of the hardest disciplines to learn.  For we are very distractible people in a very distracting world. God wants us to be attentive people, as he is an attentive God.  Many of the words of God in the Bible call his people to “look,” “see,” “listen,” “give heed.”  Jesus (as paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in The Message) said in his Sermon on the Mount, “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now,” (Matthew 6:34).  The influential French writer Simone Weil believed that attention is [...]

HUMILITY: Humility In The Teaching Of Jesus by Andrew Murray

April 26, 2018

From Humility Humility must always be doing its work like a bee making its honey in the hive: without humility all will be lost. (Teresa of Ávila)     Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart. (Matthew 11:29) Whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve. (Matthew 20:27-28) We see humility in the life of Christ demonstrated in how he laid open his heart to us.  Through his teaching we hear him speak of it – how he expects his disciples to be humble as he was.  Let us carefully study the passages to see how often and how earnestly he taught it: it may help us to realize what he asks of us. Look at the commencement of his ministry. In the Sermon on the [...]

POETRY: A Night Visitor by Brother Paul Quenon

April 25, 2018

A grey cloud cover hides the moon blanketing light as night grows lonely. My ears are stifled by the crush of my own thoughts ’til silence says: Hush. These ears are windows Opening on quiet night where my soul can breathe. If I could reach out to touch this fragile silence she would shy away. She offers presence, not familiarity, to my calloused hand. Close as my own breath, though my mind be far away, precious as a prayer. Rare is the moment when, with nothing on my mind, I hear her passage, subtle as a [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: Paying Attention—An Invitation To Practice The Hours by Leighton Ford

April 20, 2018

From The Attentive Life Observing the hours can be a helpful practice for us in learning to pay attention to God throughout our days.  Further, the hours can also be an illuminating way to reflect on the seasons or passages of our lives.  I invite you to explore with me as we pay attention to how God has been and is at work in each of the “hours” we have lived. Our word hour goes back to the Greek word, hora, which, David Steindl-Rast points out, originally meant more than a unit of time. It was “not a numerical measure,” he writes, “but a soul measure.”  Isn’t it true that we usually think of the seasons of the year less in terms of the dates they begin and end than in terms of their effect on us: the cold of winter, the [...]

HUMILITY: Humility In The Life Of Jesus by Andrew Murray

April 19, 2018

From Humility The only hope of a decreasing self is an increasing Christ. (F. B. Meyer)   I am among you as one who serves. (Luke 22:27) In the gospel of John we have the inner life of our Lord laid open before us.  Jesus spoke frequently of his relationship to the Father, of the motives by which he was guided, of his consciousness of the power and Spirit in which he acted.  Though the word humble does not occur in scripture, the humility of Christ is clearly revealed.  We have already said that this virtue is nothing but the simple consent of the creature to let God be all, the surrender of itself to his working alone.  In Jesus we see how both as the Son of God in Heaven and the Son of Man on Earth, he took the place of entire [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: Paying Attention—The Hours Of Our Lives (The Benedictine Hours) by Leighton Ford

April 13, 2018

From The Attentive Life Matins, lauds, prime, terce, sext, none, vespers, compline – that your hours will pierce me with arrows and sounds of praise. (Luci Shaw) Time is not our enemy, nor is it a hostile place from which we must flee. It is a meeting place, a point of rendezvous with God. (Dorothy Bass, Receiving the Day) Seven times a day do I praise you. (Psalm 119:164) Long centuries ago a young poet recorded praise to God that rose up in his heart seven times a day.  We can surmise that he was young, because the very long psalm he wrote (the longest of all the psalms) records the longing of a young man to keep his way pure by paying attention to the words of God. Could it be that this young poet, like David the shepherd boy, was an [...]

POETRY: In Church by R. S. Thomas

April 13, 2018

Often I try To analyse the quality Of its silences. Is this where God hides From my searching? I have stopped to listen, After the few people have gone, To the air recomposing itself For vigil. It has waited like this Since the stones grouped themselves about it. These are the hard ribs Of a body that our prayers have failed To animate. Shadows advance From their corners to take possession Of places the light held For an hour. The bats resume Their business. The uneasiness of the pews Ceases. There is no other sound In the darkness but the sound of a man Breathing, testing his faith On emptiness, nailing his questions One by one to an untenanted [...]

HUMILITY: The Secret Of Redemption by Andrew Murray

April 12, 2018

From Humility If you are looking for an example of humility, look at the cross. (Thomas Aquinas) Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on the cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name. (Philippians 2:5-9) No tree can grow except on the root from which it sprang.  Through all its existence it can only live by the life that was in the seed that gave it being.  The full [...]

ATTENTIVENESS: An Introduction —Short Flights And Quick Returns by Leighton Ford

April 7, 2018

From The Attentive Life I am sitting on a bench at Lost Lagoon, on the edge of the hundreds and hundreds of acres of trees and trails that make up the vast Stanley Park in Vancouver, Canada.  Behind me are the tall buildings of the city.  Surrounding the park on three sides are the waters of English Bay and Burrard Inlet.  In the background, clouds hover over the mountains that slope down to frame Vancouver – my favorite city in the world, at least to visit. For much of the past decade and a half I have been coming here for a summertime pilgrimage.  I call it a pilgrimage not because Vancouver is such a holy place but because I can get away from my usual routines and hopefully resharpen my attentiveness and imagination. It is a lazy [...]

POETRY: In A Country Church by R. S. Thomas

April 6, 2018

To one kneeling down no word came, Only the wind’s song, saddening the lips Of the grave saints, rigid in glass; Or the dry whisper of unseen wings, Bats not angels, in the high roof. Was he balked by silence? He kneeled long, And saw love in a dark crown Of thorns blazing, and a winter tree Golden with fruit of a man’s [...]

HUMILITY: The Glory Of The Creature by Andrew Murray

April 5, 2018

From Humility Humility is the proper estimate of oneself. (Charles Spurgeon) They lay their crowns before the throne and say: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. (Revelation 4:10-11) When God created the universe, it was with the objective of making those he created partakers of his perfection and blessedness, thus showing forth the glory of his love and wisdom and power.  God desired to reveal himself in and through his creatures by communicating to them as much of his own goodness and glory as they were capable of receiving.  But this communication was not meant to give created beings something they could possess [...]

POETRY: Like A Brazier’s Bronze Cinders by Boris Pasternak

March 23, 2018

Like a brazier’s bronze cinders, the sleepy garden’s beetles flowing. Level with me, and my candle, a flowering world is hanging. As if into unprecedented faith, I cross into this night, where the poplar’s beaten grey veils the moon’s rim from sight. Where the pond’s an open secret, where apple-trees whisper of waves, where the garden hanging on piles, holds the sky before its [...]