(Check back tomorrow for what songs we’ll sing Sunday)
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October 23rd, 2014
The next time I take some time off I think I need to wear a disguise. I’m not worried about being seen or intruded upon. I run no risk of being assaulted by photogs with cameras. But on more occasions than I’d like to recount, some microscopic menace finds me or one of my family.
It was my turn to be targeted and hunted down this go around, and there were moments when I had to wonder if I’d crossed paths with someone on the Ebola watch list. But as you’ve all felt when you’ve fallen ill, sometimes accompanying the experience of physical depletion is a more fundamental sense of disorientation–almost like your framework for seeing the world begins to crumble. The true virulence of food-borne, water-borne, or airborne pathogens would seem to lie in their capacity to cross the body-soul “barrier.”
‘Tis the season of disguises and innocuously donning alternative identities with endearing intent. But for some it’s an exercise in bemused dabbling in the spiritual, thereby marginalizing it in their minds further, and otherwise obscuring an ancient practice’s original intent to remember those who’d demonstrated deep faith. Reading C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters in some sense aligns itself with the mirth of this season in the humorous articulations of one demonic spirit to his underling, while it also offers a sobering, even bracing, reflection on forces unseen but which necessitate respect.
Late in the book (and to my original point about how physical duress impacts spiritual sight), Screwtape explains to his protege, Wormwood, both the possibilities and limits to seizing upon a person’s physical depletion for the purpose of tempting them.
The only constructive passage in your letter is where you say that you still expect good results from the patient’s fatigue. That is well enough. But it won’t fall into your hands. Fatigue can produce extreme gentleness, and quiet of mind, and even something like vision. If you have often seen men led by it into anger, malice and impatience, that is because those men have had efficient tempters. The paradoxical thing is that moderate fatigue is a better soil for peevishness than absolute exhaustion. This depends partly on physical causes, but partly on something else. It is not fatigue simply as such that produces the anger, but unexpected demands on a man already tired. Whatever men expect they soon come to think they have a right to: the sense of disappointment can, with very little skill on our part, be turned into a sense of injury.
Whether sapped or sick, one’s physical state can create the conditions for a deeper turmoil, and its corresponding offenses, so long as the mind is led to believe the situation is beyond what they can bear or deserve. But the personal affliction in itself is incapable of fomenting inner chaos. For how many stories do we know of those who, rather than degraded were deepened by their affliction?
But Screwtape has a bigger fish than a man’s inner volatility for Wormwood to reel in and fry up. As his missive continues, the true catch for his underling is to convince the man amid his various adversities–both without and within–that what is real is only what is seen. Referring to a man’s wartime experiences, Screwtape instructs
Probably the scenes he is now witnessing will not provide material for an intellectual attack on his faith – your previous failures have put that out of your power. But there is a sort of attack on the emotions which can still be tried. It turns on making him feel, when first he sees human remains plastered on a wall, that this is “what the world is really like” and that all his religion has been a fantasy. You will notice that we have got them completely fogged about the meaning of the word “real”‘. They tell each other, of some great spiritual experience, “All that really happened was that you heard some music in a lighted building”; here “Real” means the bare physical facts, separated from the other elements in the experience they actually had.
One’s emotional faculties pushed to their limits by experiences vivid and awful, the thought may occur (and which, Screwtape insists, must be nurtured to grow) that the sharpness of the witnessed, palpable experience somehow invalidates the notion of the unseen–read: the spiritual. The task of the tempter, he explains, is to whisper in one ear, “real things are only what you can verify, catalog, dissect, and reproduce,” while whispering in the other ear, “real things can only be found by experiencing them,” thereby creating enough confusion in a person that he has no confidence in what really is real. What lies behind the material world remains so indistinct as to be insignificant. Screwtape almost celebrates to say,
The general rule which we have now pretty well established among them is that in all experiences which can make them happier or better only the physical facts are “Real” while the spiritual elements are “subjective”; in all experiences which can discourage or corrupt them the spiritual elements are the main reality and to ignore them is to be an escapist. Thus in birth the blood and pain are “real”, the rejoicing a mere subjective point of view; in death, the terror and ugliness reveal what death “really means”. The hatefulness of a hated person is “real” – in hatred you see men as they are, you are disillusioned; but the loveliness of a loved person is merely a subjective haze concealing a “real” core of sexual appetite or economic association.
I concede less than perfect clarity on Lewis’ point “in reverse” in this passage, but I think he means that while our experiences, including our physical and emotional afflictions, can offer true insights, they can just as easily be “made to” disguise deeper realities if we allow them to circumscribe our total interpretation of things. In other words, we often need a word from outside, from beyond experience, to, if not make sense of experience, keep it from being our predominating interpretive authority. Or to bring it down to earth a bit, when I am tired or sick, I must weather the moment by refusing to let the moment confine my interpretation of it. For I am just as prone to a subjectivity that denies God’s reality as I may be accused of one in more serene times that affirms His reality.
All to say, in sickness (as in health) rest. Rest, though you cannot see all nor control much. Rest from making sense of the moment or the malady. On that day when I was over the sickness but still feeling its residual effects, I could but lay my head in my hand and take heart that I could but rest. Rest in stillness. Rest in Grace.
Physical illness is but one of the burdens from which we long to be freed when, with all the groaning creation, the futility to which everything has been subjected shall have its hold removed from us (Rom 8:20). Freedom is the subject of this Sunday’s passage, Galatians 5:1-15. We’ll ask what this freedom consists in, what its nature is, what its purpose is, and what its practice looks like.
“They’re asking me if we can continue to meet in the spring.”
“Some folks stay an hour or two after group just to talk.”
That’s some of the heartening feedback coming out of our Community Groups that have commenced over the last couple months. For all the natural trepidation of entering into close quarters with others, participants in these new groups have already begun to see the purpose and privilege of becoming present to one another in the context of community. It’s not only deepening their connection to one another, but enriching their sense of God’s trustworthiness and mercy.
We as a session are encouraged by the interest to practice this kind of Faithful Presence, and even more grateful for the investment of those tapped to be Group Facilitators.
It’s tempting to find a superficial satisfaction in the blossoming of an effort, but as I recently read from Lesslie Newbigin, erstwhile Bishop of the Church of South India,
There is no true [shepherding] work which merely involves people in programmes and does not deal with them as people, as each a uniquely precious person for whom Christ’s blood was shed. . . .What matters is not just that programmes should succeed, but that people should grow in holiness, wisdom, and love.
Our deeper satisfaction derives from the belief that that this kind of community is key to our growth in “holiness, wisdom and love.” And since it is essential to the vitality and maturity of all CtK (and those not yet part of any Christian community), we’d like to see this effort expand.
We put out an invitation several months ago to members of our community who might be interested in serving as Group Facilitators. We’re raising that flag again in hopes of new groups forming early next year. It may only be October, but it’s not too soon to begin thinking and planning for startup in January.
Then email us about your interest, not just if the interest lies in facilitating a group but in participating in one, too.
In Paul’s litany of gifts God has given to the Church, he does not fail to mention the gift of administration (kuberneisis): the aptitude to organize efforts in order to get things done efficiently and well (1 Cor 12:27f). Any of you who’ve worked in group settings know well how it’s nothing short of heaven-sent to have a team member with the ability to coordinate people, tasks, and timing without becoming unglued.
So we’re glad to announce that Imelda Ottmers has become a part-time administrative assistant for CtK. She brings a breadth and depth of experience from both the business and the church domains, having served in a variety of project management and administrative roles.
Imelda is married to Brent, the two of whom I had the privilege of marrying not long before I became your pastor. She has two grown sons both of whom are married and live in the Metroplex.
Her responsibilities will include assistance in communication, coordination of various activities, visitor follow-up, database management, and worship bulletin finalization. Imelda will office from home but receive calls to the church’s office number and direct them accordingly.
We’re thankful that CtK has grown in need of coordination of its efforts, and now even more grateful to have Imelda come alongside to assist us in that. Feel free to greet her on some Sunday morning, or you can reach her at imelda (at) ctktexas (dot) com
Responding to our invitation to show us where you’ve been in this wide, wide world, here’s a couple of snapshots from Suzanne Sellers in Oklahoma, and Jane Pappenhagen in Thailand.
So where’ve you been? Bring along a CtK bulletin and send us a pic!
Community Quick Hits:
We’re gathering at the home of Bill and Robin Harris this Sunday evening, October 26th, 6-8p, just to relax and enjoy one another’s company. Bring a finger food and plan to learn something new about someone else.
Next Sunday, November 2, we’re having our bi-monthly potluck lunch. Have a look here on our calendar for details.
“Pray. . . until you pray” for
- for your prospective officer candidates as they continue in training
- for your session in its plans for 2015
- for those sick, recovering–and some slowly
- for those longing for wholeness in themselves and those they love,
- for those longing for new mercies, and swift justice
- for those longing to see the Lord move in human hearts