Thursday, November 26, 2015

C. S. Lewis on Thanksgiving

C. S. Lewis Nature Reserve, Oxfordshire

One of my favorite books written by C. S. Lewis is Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. It contains Lewis' letters to a fictitious friend and is full of wisdom and good sense on the topic of prayer and much else. Here is what Lewis has to say about adoration and thanksgiving in Letter 17 of that book....
You first taught me the great principle, "Begin where you are." I had thought one had to start by summoning up what we believe about the goodness and greatness of God, by thinking about creation and redemption and "all the blessings of this life". You turned to the brook and once more splashed your burning face and hands in the little waterfall and said: "Why not begin with this?" 
And it worked. Apparently you have never guessed how much. That cushiony moss, that coldness and sound and dancing light were no doubt very minor blessings compared with "the means of grace and the hope of glory." But then they were manifest. So far as they were concerned, sight had replaced faith. They were not the hope of glory, they were an exposition of the glory itself. 
Yet you were not--or so it seemed to me--telling me that "Nature", or "the beauties of Nature", manifest the glory. No such abstraction as "Nature" comes into it. I was learning the far more secret doctrine that pleasures are shafts of the glory as it strikes our sensibility. As it impinges on our will or our understanding, we give it different names--goodness or truth or the like. But its flash upon our senses and mood is pleasure.... 
I have tried, since that moment, to make every pleasure into a channel of adoration. I don’t mean simply by giving thanks for it. One must of course give thanks, but I mean something different. How shall I put it? 
We can’t—or I can’t—hear the song of a bird simply as a sound. Its meaning or message ("That’s a bird") comes with it inevitably—just as one can’t see a familiar word in print as a merely visual pattern. The reading is as involuntary as the seeing. When the wind roars I don’t just hear the roar; I "hear the wind." In the same way it is possible to "read" as well as to "have" a pleasure. Or not even "as well as." The distinction ought to become, and sometimes is, impossible; to receive it and to recognise its divine source are a single experience. This heavenly fruit is instantly redolent of the orchard where it grew. This sweet air whispers of the country from whence it blows. It is a message. We know we are being touched by a finger of that right hand at which there are pleasures for evermore. There need be no question of thanks or praise as a separate event, something done afterwards. To experience the tiny theophany is itself to adore. 
Gratitude exclaims, very properly, "How good of God to give me this." Adoration says, "What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!" One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun. 
If I could always be what I aim at being, no pleasure would be too ordinary or too usual for such reception; from the first taste of the air when I look out of the window—one’s whole cheek becomes a sort of palate—down to one’s soft slippers at bed-time. 
I don’t always achieve it. One obstacle is inattention. Another is the wrong kind of attention. One could, if one practised, hear simply a roar and not the roaring-of-the-wind. In the same way, only far too easily, one can concentrate on the pleasure as an event in one’s own nervous system—subjectify it—and ignore the smell of Deity that hangs about it. A third obstacle is greed. Instead of saying, "This also is Thou," one may say the fatal word Encore. There is also conceit: the dangerous reflection that not everyone can find God in a plain slice of bread and butter, or that others would condemn as simply "grey" the sky in which I am delightedly observing such delicacies of pearl and dove and silver.... 
We--or at least I--shall not be able to adore God on the highest occasions if we have learned no habit of doing so on the lowest. At best, our faith and reason will tell us that He is adorable, but we shall not have found Him so, not have "tasted and seen." Any patch of sunlight in a wood will show you something about the sun which you could never get from reading books on astronomy. These pure and spontaneous pleasures are "patches of Godlight" in the woods of our experience.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Preparing for Advent

While everyone is thinking about Thanksgiving Day, eating turkey and spending time with family, we tend to forget that a new church year begins this Sunday, November 29. Advent is all about preparing for the coming of Christ. We remember his first coming 2000 years ago. We welcome his coming into our hearts in the present. And we look forward to his coming again to usher in his new creation.

If you would like some devotional assistance through the Advent and Christmas season, it is not too late to order my book, Open Before Christmas: Devotional Thoughts for the Holiday Season. Here is what one friend of mine has said about the book....
Both informing and inspiring, Will Vaus’ book, Open Before Christmas, reflects the wonder of this “most wonderful time of the year” and provides a feast of biblical meditation for the whole season. Starting with the weeks of Advent preceding Christmas Day and travelling through the “Twelve Days of Christmas” to Epiphany, Will leads our hearts and minds through the story of our Lord’s Incarnation with daily readings, seasoned with inspiring, touching, and sometimes humorous illustrations. His introduction is a helpful summary of the origins of the Christmas calendar and of certain Christmas customs, which everyone needs to know. I found his writing immediately engaging and, the more I read the book, the more I liked it. God has touched my heart by reading Open Before Christmas, and I believe he will touch your heart as well. 
The Reverend David Beckmann 
Founder & Moderator  
The C. S. Lewis Society of Chattanooga
You can order from Amazon or a signed copy from my web site here:

Monday, November 23, 2015

Evening Prayer

As I promised in my last post, here is the plan for evening family prayer from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. The prayer following The Lord's Prayer was one that was most meaningful to Sheldon Vanauken and his wife as described in A Severe Mercy....


After reading a brief portion of Holy Scripture, let the Head of the Household, or some other member of the family, say as followeth, all kneeling, and repeating with him the Lord's Prayer.

Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of thy only Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Here may be added any special prayers.

The Lord bless us and keep us. The Lord make his face to shine upon us, and be gracious unto us. The Lord lift up his countenance upon us, and give us peace, this night and evermore. Amen.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Morning Prayer

I remember reading many years ago in Sheldon Vanauken's endearing book, A Severe Mercy, how he and his wife, Davy, after they came back to faith in Christ, would pray together morning and evening, kneeling before a wooden cross, using the Book of Common Prayer. It was not until I got more into reading the Book of Common Prayer myself, and was doing research for my book, Sheldon Vanauken: The Man Who Received A Severe Mercy, that I realized exactly what Vanauken was talking about.

In the American version of the Prayer Book (Vanauken used the 1928 version) there is a section called "Family Prayer". I believe this is what Vanauken used for his daily devotions with Davy. The form for Evening Prayer contains one of Vanauken's favorite prayers that he mentions in A Severe Mercy. We will look at that tomorrow. For now, here is the shorter form for Morning Prayer, which you may find helpful for your own devotional life as I have for mine. There is a longer form as well in the 1928 Prayer Book. And in the most recent American version of the Prayer Book there are family prayers for morning, noon, early evening, and the end of the day....

A Shorter Form.

After reading a brief portion of Holy Scripture, let the Head of the Household, or some other member of the family, say as followeth, all kneeling, and repeating with him the Lord's Prayer.

Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

O Lord, our heavenly Father, Almighty and everlasting God, who hast safely brought us to the beginning of this day; Defend us in the same with thy mighty power; and grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger; but that all our doings, being ordered by thy governance, may be righteous in thy sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Here may be added any special prayers.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all evermore. Amen.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Book of Common Prayer

As everyone who knows me or reads this blog is aware, two of my spiritual, literary mentors are C. S. Lewis and Sheldon Vanauken. Both were shaped in their spiritual lives by the Book of Common Prayer and used the Prayer Book daily in their devotional lives. Through them, in recent years, I have been led to a use of the Prayer Book in my own devotional life.

C. S. Lewis had this to say about the benefits of what he called a "ready-made" form of prayer, including that from the Book of Common Prayer....
First, it keeps me in touch with "sound doctrine". Left to oneself, one could easily slide away from "the faith once given" into a phantom called "my religion". 
Secondly, it reminds me "what things I ought to ask" (perhaps especially when I am praying for other people). The crisis of the present moment, like the nearest telegraph-post, will always loom largest. Isn't there a danger that our great, permanent, objective necessities--often more important--may get crowded out? By the way, that's another thing to be avoided in a revised Prayer Book. "Contemporary problems" may claim an undue share. And the more "up to date" the Book is, the sooner it will be dated. 
Finally, they provide an element of the ceremonial. On your view, that is just what we don't want. On mine, it is part of what we want. I see what you mean when you say that using ready-made prayers would be like "making love to your own wife out of Petrarch or Donne". (Incidentally might you not quote them--to such a literary wife as Betty?) The parallel won't do. 
I fully agree that the relationship between God and a man is more private and intimate than any possible relation between two fellow creatures. Yes, but at the same time there is, in another way, a greater distance between the participants. We are approaching--well I won't say "the Wholly Other", for I suspect that is meaningless, but the Unimaginably and Insupportably Other. We ought to be--sometimes I hope one is--simultaneously aware of close proximity and infinite distance. You make things far too snug and confiding. Your erotic analogy needs to be supplemented by "I fell at His feet as one dead." (Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, Letter 2)
Tomorrow I will share something about Sheldon Vanauken and The Book of Common Prayer that you may find helpful....

Thursday, November 19, 2015


"I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord." - Psalm 27: 13, 14 (NIV)
I have been doing a bit of waiting lately, waiting on the Lord for an answer to a certain prayer. Thus, I found these words from Henri Nouwen's Bread for the Journey very encouraging today....
Waiting is essential to the spiritual life. But waiting as a disciple of Jesus is not an empty waiting. It is a waiting with a promise in our hearts that makes already present what we are waiting for. We wait during Advent for the birth of Jesus. We wait after Easter for the coming of the Spirit, and after the ascension of Jesus we wait for his coming again in glory. We are always waiting, but it is a waiting in the conviction that we have already seen God's footsteps.

Waiting for God is an active, alert - yes, joyful - waiting. As we wait we remember him for whom we are waiting, and as we remember him we create a community ready to welcome him when he comes.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The King, the Servants, and the Money

Today's Gospel lectionary reading is from Luke 19:11-27....
Jesus went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. So he said, 'A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return. He summoned ten of his slaves, and gave them ten pounds, and said to them, "Do business with these until I come back." But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, "We do not want this man to rule over us." When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading. The first came forward and said, "Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds." He said to him, "Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities." Then the second came, saying, "Lord, your pound has made five pounds." He said to him, "And you, rule over five cities." Then the other came, saying, "Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow." He said to him, "I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest." He said to the bystanders, "Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds." (And they said to him, "Lord, he has ten pounds!") "I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them-bring them here and slaughter them in my presence." 'After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
If you find this parable of Jesus bewildering, then I am right there with you. Because I was not quite sure what to make of this today, I turned to a greater mind than my own, that of Tom Wright who has written a wonderful commentary entitled Luke for Everyone. Here is Wright's commentary on this passage....

Jesus' story of the returning king, and of those who had not wanted him to rule over them, is all the more terrifying because there is no pardon. We cannot flatten the story out, or creep nervously round its sharp edges, because Luke has made sure in the rest of the chapter that the meaning will stay with us. Jesus' tears over the city, and his stern action in the Temple, indicate well enough that the judgment at the end of the parable was meant to be taken seriously 
Who then is the king? Who are the servants? When is the judgment taking place? 
For most of church history, this parable has been taken as a picture of the last judgment, the time when, at the final end of history, Jesus returns as king to reward his faithful followers and punish the disloyal. But we can be sure that Luke didn't think of it like that. Luke believes, of course, in Jesus' second coming (see Acts 1.11), but he does not intend us to read this story as a reference to it. The parable is about something happening much closer to Jesus' own day. 
Jesus is telling a story about the king who comes back to see what his servants have been doing, and he tells it for the same reason as he told almost all his parables: to explain what he himself was doing, and what it meant. He was coming to Jerusalem, the end and goal of his long journey. And he was challenging his hearers to see and understand this event as the long-awaited return of Israel's God, the sovereign one, the rightful king. This was the hidden meaning of his journey all along. This was what it would look like when the true God finally returned to Zion.  
The prophets had spoken of this day. Long after the exiles had returned geographically to Jerusalem, Malachi had spoken of 'the Lord whom you seek' coming suddenly to the Temple, bringing fiery judgment. Zechariah also spoke of God coming at last, and all the holy ones (angels?) with him. Clearly many Jews of the time believed that, though the Temple had long since been rebuilt (and was now being beautified and extended by Herod), the living God had still not returned to live in it. Now, Jesus is saying, this is happening at last. But who will be able to stand before him? 
Within the world of first-century Judaism, as we have seen before, a story about a king and his servants would naturally be read as a story about God and Israel. How should one then interpret the period of time between God's leaving Israel at the time of the exile and his eventual return? The answer of this parable is: as the time in which Israel has been given tasks to perform, which God on his return will investigate. Jesus has been warning, throughout the previous ten chapters, that judgment will fall on the nation, the city and the Temple itself if they do not finally heed his call. Now God himself is coming and the servant who has hidden his master's money in a handkerchief will be found out. 
The darkest strand in the story concerns the citizens who don't want this man to be their king. This almost certainly echoes the story of Archelaus, the older brother of Herod Antipas. After the death of their father, Herod the Great, in 4 BC, Archelaus went to Rome to be confirmed as king, followed by a delegation of Judaeans who didn't want him. (Ten years later, after much misrule, he went again, only to find another delegation of Jews and Samaritans opposing his appointment--this time successfully.) But now, Jesus is implying, the unwanted King is coming back in power: not another wicked Herod, but the true King, the King who comes with a message of grace and peace, the King who was rejected because his people wanted to keep the kingdom for themselves. 
The story therefore says three things to Jesus' hearers. First, to the people who supposed God's kingdom was coming immediately, it declares that it is indeed coming, but that it is coming with judgment as well as with mercy. Second, it indicates that as Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, the city that is already rejecting his message, God's judgment is being prepared. If they will not receive his kingdom-announcement, there is no more that can be done. Third, it brings together dramatically Jesus' own journey and the return of God himself, and thus unveils the hidden secret inside so much of the gospel story. Jesus is not just speaking about God, God's kingdom, God's return to Zion. Jesus is embodying it. Concealed within his own messianic, royal mission is the ultimate, and more fateful, mission: Israel's God himself, in human form, is returning at last to the city and Temple dedicated to his honour, to put to rights, at every level, that which has gone wrong. We who still await the final day of God's judgment, the final 'coming' of Jesus to our world, do well to ponder this 'coming' to Jerusalem as its sign and foretaste.