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Musings from Eight Miles High

May 13, 2013

The soul quickens at hearing what it didn’t know it already knew.

   Gregory Boyle, Tattoos of the Heart

I love this quote, as I can totally relate to exactly what Boyle is describing.  I have come to refer to such revelatory adventures as “Yes!” moments.  Most always, unearthing the treasures that trigger them sends me back to my Bible, the Spirit illuminating the Word from a slightly different angle, perhaps revealing hitherto unseen facets, nudging me toward an understanding closer to the reality of my own experience, reminding me of what I already knew.  For as C.S. Lewis put it in his masterful apologetic work, Mere Christianity,

We need to be reminded more than instructed.

The quotes I cite here were such for me reminders and characteristically I squirreled them away in the notepad that always stands ready in my MacBook’s dock.  As I winged my way back to Canada, hunting for something to agreeably while away my time in the confinement of my airplane seat, I delved into that trove.  As I was idly leafing through its familiar contents, it occurred to me it would be fitting to share my bounty with you, for “wisdom that is hid, and treasure that is hoarded up, what profit is in them both” (Ecclesiasticus 20:30).  Perhaps a few of these meaty morsels will spawn “Yes!” moments for you as well.  Perhaps they might even provoke you to search out one or two of the books I mention.

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Richard Frechette, in his book Haiti:  The God of Tough Places, the Lord of Burnt Men, speaks very simply of progressively allowing the Word of God and the Holy Spirit to permeate our lives.

Everyone makes their own decision during the course of their life as to how deep in the heart one lets his Word enter.

If we want, [the] sacred heart beats first next to ours, then with ours, and then in ours. 

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Although I have come upon the following quotation many, many times on the Internet, none of the writers cited it properly, so I am unsure of its source.   I do know, however, that these words of Brennan’s are a prelude to dc Talk’s song What If I Stumble.)

The single greatest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

   Brennan Manning

Amen.  Some don’t even make it to the door to do so.  In his epistle, James speaks to this:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

 

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

 

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.  You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

 

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?  Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.  And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.  You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

 

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?  As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.  (James 2:14-24  NIV)

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As I recently watched The Hobbit: An Unexpected Adventure, a singular remark jumped out at me.  A pensive Gandalf affirms to Galadriel:

“Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I’ve found it is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keeps the darkness at bay… simple acts of kindness and love.”

Anyone who does not believe God speaks through popular culture has blinders on in my opinion.  By the way, in case you were unaware, J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, was a contemporary and close friend of C.S. Lewis, and was instrumental in Lewis’ conversion to Christianity.

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Prayer requires more of the heart than of the tongue, of sighs more than words, of faith more than discourse. The eloquence of prayer consists in the fervency of desire, and the simplicity of faith, and in the earnestness and perseverance of charity. The abundance of fine thoughts, studied and vehement motions, and the order and politeness of the expressions, are things which compose a mere human harangue, not an humble and Christian prayer. Our trust and confidence ought to proceed from that which God is able to do in us, and not from that which we can say to him.

This quote, in edited form, is often attributed to Adam Clark, the 18th century British Methodist theologian, but is in reality from The Gospels: With Moral Reflections on Each Verse by Pasquier Quesnel, a 17th century French Jansenist theologian.  This quotation brought to mind Paul’s words from his letter to the Romans:

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along.  If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter.  He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.  He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God.  That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.  (Romans 8:26-28, The Message)

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Our God is greater than our own heart and mind, and too easily we are tempted to make our heart’s desires and our mind’s speculations into the will of God.

Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  (Isaiah 55:8-9  NIV)

How sad it is that so many try to stuff God into a tight little box of their making.

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We’ve just forgotten that we belong to one another.  

   Mother Teresa

This diminutive self-effacing  Albanian woman, with the Lord for more than 15 years now, continues to be a fountain of deep, simple wisdom and inspiration for me.

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The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines compassion as “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”  To me, this is an entirely inadequate definition.   I believe true compassion goes beyond sympathy, beyond empathy.

The following lines from Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle come far closer to how I understand compassion.

Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded.  It’s a covenant between equals. 

Compassion is always, at it’s most authentic, about a shift from the cramped world of self-preoccupation into a more expansive place of fellowship, of true kinship.

Kinship—not serving the other, but being one with the other.  Jesus was not “a man for others”; he was one with them.  There is a world of difference in that. 

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As I looked back on the excerpts I selected for this post, I noted something that is at least interesting, if not significant:  every one of the writers, save Lewis, is Catholic.  I find their writings, far from being “dangerous” and/or “leading me astray” as those who advocate religious prophylaxis would exhort, add textures and colours to my personal beliefs that I long felt were missing, though at the time I didn’t know enough to know what I did not know.  As Protestants we should never lose sight of the fact that our roots are grounded in Catholicism.  Where we disagree, we can disagree.  But let us not misguidedly throw the baby out with the bathwater.

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When the title for this post occurred to me, it immediately headed me off on one of my bookish rabbit trails.  When Eight Miles High, the 1966 classic by the American rock band The Byrds, was released, I remember it immediately setting off a firestorm of controversy, one that occasionally ignites spotfires yet today.  Some vociferously contended the lyrics were about recreational drug use, while the band claimed  the song was about an airline flight to London—“rain gray town, known for its sound”.  The brouhaha resulted in the song being banned from many US radio stations, and ultimately not achieving the billboard ratings I thought at the time it deserved.

I see that controversy as analogous to many of the disputes over biblical interpretation.  Those who are fond of prooftexting and eisegesis—reading their own biases into a text—rather than exegesis—objectively working outward from the text to determine what it is really saying—often muddy the waters of understanding, inevitably producing a quarrel that is no sooner laid to rest than some misguided soul picks up a shovel and disinters it.

It has long been my contention that when approaching the Bible one must always keep in mind the whole story (see my March 2, 2013 post, The True Never Ending Story).

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I close with what is to me a comforting statement, again from Brennan Manning, from The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up and Burnt Out.  I suspect some will consider it irreverent, and perhaps adamantly disagree with it, though the Bible, in my opinion, confirms it.

Those who have the disease called Jesus will never be cured. 

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