Friday, November 29, 2013

Wisdom from Thomas Merton (sounding a little like Wendell Berry)

Under the pretext that what is "within" is in fact real, spiritual, supernatural, etc., one cultivates neglect and contempt for the "external" as worldly, sensual, material, and opposed to grace. This is bad theology and bad asceticism. In fact, it is bad in every respect because instead of accepting reality as it is, we reject it in order to explore some perfect realm of abstract ideals which in fact has no reality at all.

Very often the inertia and repugnance which characterize the so-called "spiritual life" of many Christians could perhaps be cured by a simple respect for the concrete realities of every-day life, for nature, for the body, for one's work, one's friends, one's surroundings, etc.

A false supernaturalism which imagines that "the supernatural" is a kind of realm of abstract essences (as Plato imagined) that is totally apart from and opposed to the concrete world of nature offers no real support to a genuine life of meditation and prayer. Meditation has no point unless it is firmly rooted in life.

Quote from Contemplative Prayer (Doubleday/Image Books, 1971) as published in Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups, edited by Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith

Monday, November 18, 2013

Providence's "beautiful history"

Once again, in returning to John Flavel I'm reminded of the value of reading the English Puritans. Giants of the faith like Flavel and John Owen are spiritual heart surgeons, and their writings like spiritual smelling salts for sleepy Christians, of which I am one. Keeping the Heart -- an extended meditation on Proverbs 4:23 -- is a prime example. Here's a great quote from the section where Flavel talks about the importance of tending to one's heart in times of adversity.

We are clouded with much ignorance, and are not able to discern how particular providences tend to the fulfillment of God's designs; and therefore, like Israel in the wilderness, are often murmuring because Providence leads us about in a howling desert where we are exposed to difficulties; though then he lead them, and is now leading us, by the right way to a city of habitations. If you could but see how God in his secret counsel has exactly laid the whole plan of your salvation, even to the smallest means and circumstances; could you but discern the admirable harmony of divine actions, their mutual relations, together with the general respect they all have to the last end; had you the liberty to make your own choice, you would of all conditions in the world, choose that in which you now are in.
Providence is like a curious piece of tapestry made of a thousand shreds, which single appear useless, but put together they represent a beautiful history to the eye. As God does all things according to the counsel of his own will, of course this is ordained as the best method to effect your salvation.

BTW this book is available in a Kindle edition for 99 cents. If you can overlook the many typos it's a terrific value.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Wendell Berry on the conservative revolutionaries

The curious thing is that many agriculture specialists and "agri-businessmen" see themselves as conservatives. They look with contempt upon governmental "indulgence" of those who have no more "moral fiber" than to accept "handouts" from the public treasury—but they look with equal contempt upon the most traditional and appropriate means of independence. What do such conservatives wish to conserve? Evidently nothing less than the great corporate blocks of wealth and power, in whose every interest is implied the moral degeneracy and economic dependence of the people. They do not esteem the possibility of a prospering, independent class of small owners because they are, in fact, not conservatives at all, but the most doctrinaire and disruptive of revolutionaries.

Quote from p. 191 of The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture (Sierra Club Books, 1977)