Archive for the ‘Henri J. M. Nouwen’ Tag

Passing or Failing Spiritual Tests   Leave a comment

Above:  Temptations of Christ

Image in the Public Domain

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For the First Sunday in Lent, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Almighty God, who givest us our quiet seasons of thought and prayer:

help us now and at all times to find in thee our true peace.

Save us in the hour of trial, deliver us from evil thoughts and desires,

and from the tyranny of outward things.

May we learn of Christ to be strong and brave in the struggle with temptation,

and to over come even as he overcame.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 120-121

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Genesis 22:1-8

2 Corinthians 6:1-10

Matthew 4:1-11

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One’s sole basis of identity should be God, according to Henri J. M. Nouwen, writing in The Way of the Heart (1981).  That standard proves daunting for me, for my ego rests on several factors, including my intellect.

In Matthew 4 we read of the temptations of Jesus.  Analyses of the temptations, with slight variations, follow the same pattern.  Nouwen’s argument is that the temptations were, in order, were “the three great compulsions of the world”:  to be relevant, spectacular, and powerful.  The case according to M. Eugene Boring, writing in Volume VIII (1995) of The New Interpreter’s Bible, follows:

  1. To fulfill messianic expectations and gain political power by feeding the masses,
  2. To demonstrate dramatically that he is the Son of God, and
  3. To serve Satan, to rule as the Roman Emperor did, and to accept and fit in with the status quo.

The case according to Douglas R. A. Hare (1993) is that the temptations were, in order, to distrust God, to dishonor God, and to commit idolatry.

I would be remiss if I chose not to quote the play, Cotton Patch Gospel (1982), set in the U.S. South.  In that paraphrase, Satan tempts Jesus to turn stones into grits.  Jesus replies,

Man doesn’t live by grits alone, but on every word that drips from the lips of God.

–35

I experience no temptation to justify the actions of Abraham in Genesis 22.  My analysis differs from what one may have read and heard elsewhere:  God tested Abraham, and Abraham failed, for he should have argued from the beginning.

Abraham cared more about strangers, on whose behalf he haggled with God in Genesis 18, than he about his sons.  He exiled Ishmael in Genesis 21 and was prepared to kill Isaac in Genesis 22.  Arguing faithfully with God has long been part of Judaism and, by extension, Christianity.  Abraham, at the root of Judaism, had argued with God.  Why was he submissive at this crucial moment?  And how much did he damage his domestic relationships?

I have probably read every traditional rationalization of Genesis 22:1-19.  Not one has satisfied me.

One could write about more than one theme present in 2 Corinthians 6, but verse 3 stands out in my mind.  Erecting spiritual obstacles is a frequent human activity.  One might even mistake doing so for being properly devout.  Who is an outsider?  Who is an insider?  Our answers to those may be predictable, but God’s answers may shock us.  Also, we must trust in God if we are to grow spiritually, but do we really understand divine intentions at crucial moments?

One may wish for a clear–even spectacular–sign or signs.  Yet would we understand those, or would we find the signs distracting and miss the message?  Yes, we would, correct?

I ask God for no spectacular signs.  No, I need simply to pay attention to my surroundings.  As I type these words, the seasons are finally turning–from an abbreviated autumn to an early winter.  The splendor of autumn leaves, cold temperatures, and other wonders of nature satisfy many of my spiritual needs.

Trusting in God remains difficult for me much of the time, but doing so is at least less difficult than it used to be.  Grace accounts for that change.  I trust more progress will ensue.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 12, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSAPHAT, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF POLOTSK, AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCES XAVIER CABRINI, FOUNDRESS OF THE MISSIONARY SISTERS OF THE SACRED HEART

THE FEAST OF RAY PALMER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM ARTHUR DUNKERLEY, BRITISH NOVELIST, AND HYMN WRITER

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Pointing to God, Not Ourselves   1 comment

Moses Striking the Rock in Horeb

Above:  Moses Strikes the Rock in Horeb, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Numbers 12:1-16 or 20:1-13 (14-21) 22-29

Psalm 106:(1) 7-18, 24-18 (43-48) or Psalm 95

Luke 1:(57) 58-67 (68-79) 80

Hebrews 3:1-19

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Many times he delivered them,

but they were rebellious in their purposes,

and were brought low through their iniquity.

Nevertheless he regarded their distress

when he heard their cry.

–Psalm 106:43-44, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,

as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,

when your ancestors tested me,

and put me to the proof, though you had seen my work.

–Psalm 95:8-9, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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In most of the readings for this day we read of grumbling against God and/or Moses despite God’s proven track record, frequently in the presence of those who go on to grumble.  Miriam and Aaron question the authority of Moses in Numbers 12. Miriam becomes ritually unclean because of this (Do not question Moses!), but her brother intercedes for her.  People witness then seem to forget God’s mighty acts in Psalms 95 and 106, as well as in Hebrews 3.  And, in Numbers 20, Moses disobeys instructions from God.  He is supposed to speak to a rock to make water come out of it, but he strikes it instead.

By word and act Moses is thus appropriating to himself an act of God.  In doing this he is undoing the message that God and Moses himself have been conveying to the to the people up to this point.  The people have continuously directed their attention to Moses instead of to God….Until this episode Moses has repeatedly told the people, “It is not from my own heart,” and “You are congregating against YHWH,” but now his words and actions confirm the people’s own perception.

–Richard Elliott Friedman, Commentary on the Torah with a New English Translation and the Hebrew Text (2001), page 495

Moses was generally trustworthy in the sight of God, per the positive assessment of him in Hebrews 3.  At Meribah he gave into human weakness.  All of us have caved into our own weaknesses on multiple occasions, have we not?  Have we not, for example, sought our own glory instead of that of God?  Have we not yielded to the temptation to be spectacular, which Henri J. M. Nouwen identified in The Way of the Heart (1981) as one of Satan’s temptations of Jesus in Luke 4 and Matthew 4?   If we have lived long enough, yes, we have.

And you, my child, will be called Prophet of the Most High,

for you will be the Lord’s forerunner to prepare his way

and lead his people to a knowledge of salvation

through the forgiveness of sins:

for in the tender compassion of our God

the dawn of heaven will break upon us,

to shine on those who live in darkness, under the shadow of death,

and to guide our feet in the way of peace.

–St. Zechariah in Luke 1:76-79, The Revised English Bible (1989)

St. John the Baptist grew up and became one who admitted the truth that he was not the Messiah (Luke 3:15-17 and Mark 1:7-8).  He pointed to cousin Jesus instead (Matthew 3:13-14 and John 3:25-36).

The spiritual vocations of Christians vary in details, but the common threads run through those calls from God.  We who call ourselves Christians have, for example, a responsibility to glorify God, not ourselves, and to point to Jesus.  We also have an obligation to lead lives defined by gratitude to God, not rebellion against God.  We can succeed, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 20, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN BAJUS, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2016/08/20/devotion-for-the-second-sunday-of-advent-year-d/

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The Spitfire Grill (1996)   Leave a comment

Spitfire Grill 01

Above:  Percy Talbott, Seeking a Second Chance

All images in this post are screen captures I took via PowerDVD.

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THE SPITFIRE GRILL (1996)

Starring

Alison Elliott as Perchance “Percy” Talbott

Ellen Burstyn as Hannah Ferguson

Marcia Gay Harden as Shelby Goddard

Will Patton as Nahum Goddard

John M. Jackson as Eli Ferguson

Kieran Mulroney as Joe Sperling

Directed by Lee David Zlotoff

Rated PG-13

117 Minutes

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Is there no balm in Gilead,

no physician there?

Why has no new skin grown over their wound?

–Jeremiah 8:22, The Revised English Bible (1989)

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The Spitfire Grill (1996) is a remarkable, low-key movie with themes such as judging improperly, forgiving, reconciling, and healing.  It exists largely due to a Roman Catholic organization, Sacred Heart Southern Missions, Walls, Mississippi, which provides social services and applied its profits from from the film toward a school.  The main character is a wounded healer.  As Father Henri J. M. Nouwen wrote in his 1972 book, The Wounded Healer:  Ministry in Contemporary Society (1972), wounds can become sources of healing.

The movie is the story of Perchance “Percy” Talbott, a young woman recently released from prison, and Gilead, Maine, a dying small town.  Percy has a difficult past, but she hopes to start over in Gilead.  Most of the residents are willing to welcome her, at least after an initial phase of distrust, but Nahum Goddard, who is carrying a large load of guilt, suspects the worst about her during most of the narrative.

Spitfire Grill 04

Above:  Nahum Goddard

Percy works at the town’s restaurant and site of social interaction, which elderly and cranky Hannah Ferguson operates.  As the sheriff, who states simply that Percy has paid her debt to society, tells Hannah, she needs the help.

Spitfire Grill 03

Above:  Hannah Ferguson

Perhaps Percy’s most enthusiastic supporter in the town is Shelby, the long-suffering wife of Nahum.

Spitfire Grill 02

Above:  Shelby Goddard

Percy becomes a positive influence in the town.  She functions as the catalyst for the revival of Gilead as she struggles with her guilt and the suspicions other people harbor.  Meanwhile, Joe Sperling, a young man with his own family problems, extends unconditional love to her.  Percy also helps Hannah accomplish a major goal which Nahum has failed to accomplish.  Our main protagonist also facilitates the reunion of Hannah with Eli, her reclusive son who lives in the woods behind the restaurant.

Providing a thorough plot summary is not among my purposes in this post.  No, watching this movie attentively provides much spiritual food for thought.  Not knowing the full story prior to watching the movie for the first time is an asset, I think, for discovering the depth of the movie for oneself is a wonderful thing to do.  Identifying aspects of the film one had missed during previous viewings is also edifying.  I will however, provide two hints relevant to the end of the movie:  Percy is the Christ figure.  Her legacies to the town include reconciliation and a better future.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 17, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTONY OF EGYPT, DESERT FATHER

THE FEAST OF SAINT BERARD AND HIS COMPANIONS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS IN MOROCCO

THE FEAST OF EDMUND HAMILTON SEARS, UNITARIAN PASTOR AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF RUTHERFORD BIRCHARD HAYES, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA