Posted in musings, quotes

a brief thought on contraception

“Only by the hypocritical ignoring of a huge fact can any one contrive to talk of ‘free love’; as if love were an episode like lighting a cigarette, or whistling a tune. Suppose whenever a man lit a cigarette, a towering genie arose from the rings of smoke and followed him everywhere as a huge slave. Suppose whenever a man whistled a tune he ‘drew an angel down’ and had to walk about forever with a seraph on a string. These catastrophic images are but faint parallels to the earthquake consequences that Nature has attached to sex; and it is perfectly plain at the beginning that a man cannot be a free lover; he is either a traitor or a tied man. The second element that creates the family is that its consequences, though colossal, are gradual; the cigarette produces a baby giant, the song only an infant seraph. Thence arises the necessity for some prolonged system of co-operation; and thence arises the family in its full educational sense.” – G.K. Chesterton, What is Wrong With the World

Nowadays we have the promise of contraception to hold back these “earthquake consequences” of the intimacy between a man and a woman – the ability to prevent the occurrence of a baby tying the two together and piling upon them that shared responsibility. So a man and woman can share their moment of love and not fear that a baby will come to demand their cooperation and attention, and they can afterwards abandon each other for new love without a corresponding betrayal of the new person they’ve created.

But do we avoid this treachery against our potential children by betraying our own selves? Do we avoid the creation of splintered families by splintering our own souls? When we set aside the natural purpose of an act that we might solely pursue our own pleasure, or even the pleasure of another, we do ourselves a great disservice, and sin against ourselves; beyond that, we frustrate the great powers that could work through us and in us for the redemption and beautification of the world.

It is good not to beget a baby only to abandon him. It is good not to form a family when there is no intention or desire to endure with and labor for the good of that family. But it is not good to pursue the pleasure that is meant to accompany the formation of the family while simultaneously refusing the family; it separates the act from its purpose, like the ancient Romans vomiting so that they could continue to enjoy the pleasures of the table. It damages our souls like prolonged vomiting damages the body – slowly, subtly, but surely.

(caveat – there is so much more to be said on this topic and this isn’t intended to be a complete argument – it is just a thought, a consideration, a part of the bigger picture of human dignity and sexual ethics.)

Posted in family life

before Christmas is totally gone…

…I’d like to share some of our pictures from the season! (And knowing me, probably some random meditative thoughts as well…)

I had wanted to find a tabletop-sized tree for our home this Christmas, but it didn’t end up happening. However, the city generously provided us with a Christmas tree by putting one up in the center of downtown – conveniently located about two blocks away from our house ūüėČ

It is, I suppose, the urban child’s equivalent of a tree out in the woods, uncut, decorated with a single candle perhaps, and ribbons, and cookies and popcorn for the birds – the sort of tree described in Temple Bailey’s exquisite Christmas story¬†The Candle in the Forest. It is what we have, beautiful and special, and we make it meaningful by sharing our delight in it together.

(If you haven’t read¬†The Candle in the Forest, you should remedy that as soon as you can. It is one of my favorite Christmas stories of all times, for how well it captures the beauty of simple traditions and family love and doing the best with what one has; I have never read it without tears.)

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Even Limerick was sufficiently entranced by the lights and ornaments to cease his endless running (usually into the road) and examine the tree! And Rondel couldn’t get enough of it – he asked to see the tree everyday for at least two weeks after the city put it up.

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The specialness, the difference, of the Christmas season stood out to him for the first time this year – for some reason everyone was making everything more beautiful, and baking special treats more often, and lighting different candles, and secretly collecting gifts to give. We read the Christmas story to him over and over again, revealing more of the story as the day grew nearer, and he delighted with us in the coming Baby because of whom all the celebration was taking place.

Babies are very precious things in the minds of toddlers – they are just about the only people smaller than toddlers, and so I think they evoke feelings of responsibility, power, and protective love: essentially, they give the toddler a foretaste of being an adult and specifically a parent, and the toddler finds it quite an exciting experience. Not that they could bear that responsibility for long, of course, and they don’t try to – but when you’re always the small and the weak, who needs to be helped and taught and directed and cared for, it’s nice to find someone even smaller and weaker whom you can help teach and take care of. Babies bring that gift, the opportunity to serve and be a blessing to someone else, to even the smallest children – and¬†in becoming a baby, God reminds us of the importance of that gift. For He did not come to be served, although as a human baby He was helpless and needy; rather He came to serve us, with His life, with His death, and with His intercession for us before the throne of the Father for all eternity.

(more pictures to come in a few days!)

Posted in musings

advent – the candle of peace

Peace is at once the simplest and the most profound of the four Advent candles, and it is for me, at least this year, the hardest to understand.

When I think of hope, I remind myself that the brokenness of this life isn’t the final picture – that there is a coming restoration and redemption of all things.

When I think of light, I picture truth and wisdom coming into the ignorance, confusion, and error of our culture.

When I think of joy, I remember that the goodness and grace of God in this world means that there is always something to rejoice about, and it lifts me out of my worry or sorrow.

But peace is so multifaceted, so intricate, so all-encompassing, that I struggle to grasp it. I know it is more than just the cessation of war promised in Isaiah, though that in itself is almost beyond imagining:

It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the LORD
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.‚ÄĚ
For out of Zion shall go the law,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.

I also know that it is more than just the personal peace promised in Philippians, though freedom from worry and fear is almost unthinkable in this life as well:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

My general feeling is that “peace” approximates¬†the overall abundance, beauty, and well-being that will be when Christ returns at the second coming, and because of that it’s not something I’m ever going to be able to imagine completely. All I can do is remember that it is coming – that all things will be made whole and healed, from the despair of a broken heart, to the snapped cords of friendship and lost love,¬†to the diplomatic relations between nations and ethnicities.

Posted in family life, musings

Advent – the candle of joy

In the midst of the waiting, in the midst of the sorrows of life, the pain and wickedness in the news, the stress of everyday struggles, there is Gaudete Sunday.

It is a day to remember the coming joy, the enduring joy, that the Baby Jesus is bringing to the world; a day to experience a foretaste of the abundance and redemption that will be after His second coming.

In the midst of our longing, our ache for restoration and healing and justice, there is a reminder that one day, all sorrows will be healed, all wrongs righted, all joy restored.

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This season, my mom is doing a fairly good job of embodying that joy for me just through the Christmas spirit and hospitality of her home. Despite a tendency to get somewhat stressed, she loves Christmas deeply and has turned her whole home into a celebration of the season, full of the concomitant happiness and beauty that it entails.

There is joy in the family that holds together with love, in the traditions and celebrations of the family and the church, those two institutions that nurture within them sparks of the coming restoration. There is happiness in seeing the family grow, bringing more people into the reach of the glowing warmth and community of the family heart. And I think of how one day all of us in Christ will be perfectly united as one great family, and I can hardly imagine how great that joy will be.

The joy of Christmas, though it is now only a promise not yet fulfilled, is something we can cultivate in our families, our churches, and our hearts, preparing ourselves and our communities for the restoration, the healing, the coming fullness of joy – because if we can’t experience joy now, if we lock ourselves into the cynicism or despair of a life without the hope of Christ, what chance do we have of living in His joy for eternity? We will have trained ourselves to shut it out.

Joy to the world! The Lord is come;
Let earth receive her king;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

 

 

Posted in musings

some thoughts on prayer

Often, for me, prayer is a far more challenging spiritual discipline than things like Bible reading, church-going, or even fasting. It can feel forced, awkward, uncomfortable, or contrived at times, when I’m not sure what to say or how to start, and the number of things that I could pray about (whether meditative or petitionary) seems overwhelming.

There’s also something somewhat audacious in the whole act of prayer, particularly in intimate and personal Christian prayer: we are stepping into the presence of someone infinitely more powerful, more righteous, and with more authority than us. If meeting someone like the President or the Queen can make us anxious, how much more coming before the God of the whole universe? It can seem silly to bother someone so important with our small and trivial lives. Even though we as Christians are part of God’s family now, and He cares about every detail of our lives with tenderness and love, it can be hard for us to receive and accept that love and care.

I think, too, our own sin pushes us away from prayer at times. While repentant sin will typically bring me into prayer, sin¬†problems that I kind of don’t want to admit or deal with will freeze my prayer life into silence with amazing rapidity. God has a way, simply in His holiness, of exposing those sins I’ve been hiding or denying, and that can be very uncomfortable or disconcerting!

But despite the discomfort, it is always worthwhile to pray, because prayer is the most relational of all the afore-mentioned spiritual disciplines. It is lifting our hearts and minds to God and remaining with Him in conversation and communion. How can we expect to¬†know Him more, to really be God’s friend and child, if we don’t spend time sharing our heart with Him and listening to His heart? Relationships grow through time together, and with God, prayer is that time together.

A lot of people, with a lot more wisdom and experience than I have, have written about practical steps to improving prayer; I will just add that in my experience, structured meditative prayer is what helps me focus best and feel closest to God. The structure keeps me from feeling overwhelmed about everything I could or should be saying or praying for, and the meditative aspect gives the prayer more connection and communion, rather than leaving me feeling like I’m only¬†shooting requests and needs up to God.

What types of prayer come most naturally and work most effectively for you?

Posted in musings

Advent: the candle of light

The people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
Upon them a light has shined.

Of the four candles of Advent (hope, light, joy, and peace), light carries with it the fewest “warm fuzzy” feelings: because, of course, light, in addition to providing wisdom and guidance, showing us the way of life, also brings about the revelation and conviction of sin.

And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.

It clashes emotionally with the joyful and triumphant songs of Christmas to remember one’s sins, and to repent and confess with sorrow. But the lamentation and the confession are necessary to prepare one’s heart for the fullness of that joy and the glory of that triumph; it is impossible, I believe, to truly resonate with the chords of grace and wonder that resound at the birth of Christ while attempting to hide from the light He brings as He comes.

That is one of the roles of Advent – to help us prepare our hearts for His coming – and this candle, this week, presents our choice to us in sharp relief: we have committed sin, and held on to evil, and wandered down paths of destruction; will we turn and repent in the grace He extends us, or will we choose the darkness over the light of life? Personally, my need for this preparation, this repentance, has shown its face in countless little ways: in my focus on my own interests over the needs of others or the responsibilities I have to my family, and in the sharp divisive wounding power of my words in my impatience or carelessness. His light, coming into the world, coming into my life, shows me the little acts of selfishness and callousness that I may have otherwise slipped past obliviously, and that is undeniably comfortable. But it provides me the opportunity for repentance and reconciliation, for praising His grace as I deepen my reliance upon it, for turning back to the light again, and those are equally undeniably good things.

Posted in musings, phfr

{pretty, happy, funny, real} – the beginnings of Advent

Advent is blossoming slowly in our home this year, growing from the seed of a single candle, small and lonely in the darkness, but bearing the power of eternal hope. There’s been a lot more “real” than “pretty” or “happy” this week but I’m realizing that Advent doesn’t have to be a big or glamorous production to invite wonder into my heart or introduce the hushed anticipation of the season to my children.

For me, the most beauty has come in re-discovering the ancient Advent hymns, including one of my all-time favorites:

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descending
Comes our homage to demand.

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King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
Comes the powers of hell to vanquish
As the darkness clears away.

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At His feet the six winged seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

I love how it weaves¬†together the themes of all His comings – the Incarnation at Christmas, His coming into each of our lives as our Lord and King, His presence with us in the Eucharist, and His Second Coming when He will completely conquer sin and death. Though right now we’re specifically remembering the waiting for His birth, there’s a sense in which we both wait for Him and meet Him every day – hailing Him as our Lord, consuming Him in the bread and the wine, longing for Him to come finally and fully heal and redeem all things.

In the meantime, while we wait, we do the little things we can do remember Him and prepare for His coming. I may not have a beautiful handmade wreath this year, but I can get out my plastic evergreen backup wreath and still light the candles and sing the hymns and point my eyes to heaven. I may not have any sort of tree to use for the Jesse Tree devotional, but I can still read the stories with my children and see how God has been writing His plan of salvation through all the pages of history.

He is coming. Into this darkness, He is coming with hope. And I, in my brokenness and inadequacy and sin, am holding desperately onto that hope. In this crossroads between my reality and His promises, I am finding the heart of Advent this year.

(Joined to the link-up at Like Mother, Like Daughter today – the theme is Advent this week, and everyone’s first beginnings of the season, so there should be a lot of beauty there.)

Posted in musings

the eucharist

I’m hungry for it.

I sat in church Sunday night and sang the Advent songs and read the corporate prayers from centuries past and listened to the pastor preaching on the redemptive hope God brings to the most unlikely people and my heart was filled with a deep ache, a powerful longing, a thirst and a hunger.

They called us up for Communion and they didn’t say what they normally say – that the bread and the wine represent the body and blood of Christ. No, they quoted Jesus and said that it is His body and His blood and I thought, “I wish it was.”

The nature of the Eucharist was (and maybe still is) the strangest of all Catholic doctrines to me when I first encountered it; like the disciples in John 6, it almost made me want to turn away because it is so hard to understand and accept. We’ve had centuries of Christians trying to explain it away when maybe we should be taking it seriously… I thought maybe I would just forget about it and instead study the other points of difference, and wait to see how God would move.

And sitting in a Protestant church, I felt an incredibly deep hunger for the presence of God – to feel Him in me, tangibly, here and now, because here and now is where and when I need Him, in my weakness and in my sin. Broken, I need His wholeness; thirsty, I need¬†His¬†living water; struggling, I need His grace. As I sat there, I hungered for His body, broken for me, for the true Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I’m not even sure if I believe it yet, intellectually, but emotionally my heart was telling me that I need it.

Sigh.

Show me Your way, Lord, and light my path with Your Word, that my feet might not stray from the truth. I know that You are true, and righteous, and holy; draw me near to You.

Posted in musings

some thoughts on the nature of sin

I’ve been thinking about what exactly sin is, lately, and struggling to find a good definition for it. Working in secular academia, especially in medical science, I’ve noticed a¬†major definition for “sin” revolving around a preoccupation with physical wellness: that if something¬†damages your health or the health of those around you, it’s wrong and you should either not do it or make some sort of atonement for it. In my own life, growing up as a perfectionist, I tended to operate with the attitude that a social mistake or an academic failure was a sin – getting a B on a test or being ignorant of something I thought I should have known could send me into a tailspin for days, until I could somehow work my way back to “perfection.”

Obviously, I don’t think either of those are the Christian understanding of sin. And I’m left feeling like there’s something lacking with the simple definition of sin as “disobedience to God,” as true as that is. There are just so many situations in which God hasn’t given explicit instructions, but in which one choice may be completely or partially sinful nonetheless.

One thought I had recently was of defining sin teleologically; that is, that maybe some things are sinful because they are contrary to our design as human creatures. It would explain why something like drunkenness is always considered sinful in a traditional Christian morality, while in our modern culture it is considered ok unless your drunk behavior endangers or hurts someone else: it runs contrary to our purpose as human beings to surrender control of our beings to anything other than God (see Eph. 5:18).  This also has been helping me understand a lot of the reasoning behind historical Christian sexual ethics, including the prohibition of contraceptives, because I think they are based on this teleological reasoning as well. Things are sinful if they violate the created purpose of the human person committing the act, or of the act itself. So, in this test case, what is the purpose of the act of sex? What is the purpose of the human person with regards to sex? Those are the questions to ask when wondering why something specific is (or was historically) considered sinful by Christianity Рand I think different answers to those questions will necessarily lead to divergent ethical systems.

That teleological question also opens wide the door of self-examination and conviction, while also giving me a way to evaluate feelings of guilt to determine if there is really a sin issue at play. When I forget to make dinner plans, for instance, that is a mistake that I have to apologize to my family¬†for (especially if we’re out of leftovers!), and find a way to work around, but it’s not a sin – it’s simply a weakness inherent in being a non-omniscient creature! On the other hand, when I lose my patience with my boys and snap at them about some small irritant, that is something I both have to apologize for and repent of before God, because it is a symptom of my fallen and sinful state. It is contrary to the purpose and design with which He created me, and someday, when God has fully sanctified me, that impatience will be gone; the forgetfulness about daily chores may not be ūüėČ

I suppose if this becomes my working definition for sin, my new point of argument/difference with people has to move up to what exactly they think human beings are: what is our purpose, what is our design? Are we intended for certain things, or not? If our ethics is founded on our teleology, we’ll have to examine much more deeply what the Bible actually teaches about who we are and who we’re meant to be – which wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.

Posted in musings

Advent hope

Is there any better day than the first Sunday of Advent to feel the heartache of longing?

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When my house is a mess, I’m exhausted from the holidays, our family routine is in smithereens, the babies aren’t sleeping, my emotions are riding a roller coaster, and I’ve yelled at or spoken sharply to the boys so many times that I can’t see why they even want to be around me anymore, it is good to know that God is bringing hope and healing even into the middle of these messy, ugly, details.

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He is coming.

Coming to break through our sinfulness, our weaknesses, our hard hearts, our apathetic spirits, and our pride.

In beauty and vulnerability He is coming.

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Let us prepare our hearts for His birth, and make room in our minds and our lives for His coming: let us light the candle of hope today, and remember His promises of redemption. All this, even these endless and mind-numbing failures played out in each hour’s trivial details, can be restored and made beautiful. That is the hope that gives me strength to rise up again in the morning and try, once again, to live in the love He has given me.

(all pictures are from a friend’s wedding, in¬†lieu of actual Advent pictures, since I’m a bit behind on that… they fit my mood though)