Tuesday, January 30, 2007

When hope dies

I didn't go to the Goddess Exhibition on the weekend but I did go to Opera in the Domain on Saturday evening to see Puccini's Turandot. It was wonderful. The story is not so beautiful (the Opera was forbidden in China for many years for betraying the Chinese unfavourably), except perhaps for the story of Liu, but the music, the costumes and the settings were all done so well. I don't know quite what I was expecting from a free opera performed out-of-doors but they were not at all parsimonious in the production.

It wasn't like the Jazz or the Symphony in the domain, during which people chatted and picnicked. For the Opera all eyes were glued to the stage and the screens and a general silence prevailed, which was quite dream-like.

The basic plot of this Opera is that there lives a beautiful princess, Turandot, whose hand in marriage is coveted by many a fine fellow, but Turandot has a burning vengeance against all men going back thousands of years to a grievance against an ancestor, so she requires all potential suitors to correctly answer three riddles. If they get any of the three riddles wrong it's off with their head, and the heads lost have been numerous up until this point. A stranger, Calaf, arrives on the scene, falls madly in love with the princess (why nobody knows, because she's beautiful but awful) and can't be dissuaded from an attempt to answer the three riddles.

We all sat waiting for these three riddles to be given. When they finally were I was intrigued, especially by the first and its answer:

What is born each night and dies each dawn?
Calaf correctly replies, "Hope".

The idea that hope dies with the dawn just doesn't quite align with my notions. In the bible hope seems to be metaphorically linked to the morning, with the coming of Christ likened to the light of dawn. And how often do we hear the phrase "the dawn of hope" or "hope is dawning" in general language ...

I amused myself at lunch time searching the ESV online and below are just a few of the many bible references I found that link dawn and hope:

But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love
of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
"The Lord is my portion," says my soul,
"therefore I will hope in him."
Lamentations 3: 21-24

Let the stars of its dawn be dark;
let it hope for light, but have none,
nor see the eyelids of the morning ...
Job 3:9

... the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.
Matthew 4:16

... because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Luke 1:78-79

And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts ...
2 Peter 1:19

It would have been off with my head had I been presented with Turandot's riddles I fear.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Enlighten mint

Today one of the girls at work gave me an "enlighten mint" which she got from the Goddess Exhibition at the New South Wales Art Gallery on the weekend. I sucked on it and waited for the epiphany ...

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The KTN principle

I am just going to post something else real quick so this doesn’t look like a craft blog :).

At the moment we are having a series at our church summer fellowship on "How to be happy in church". It might sound like an odd title, and the reality is that it is not even a good question (as Peter Sholl, who is taking us through the series, has pointed out). We have been working through Ephesians chapter four, with frequent reference back to the first three chapters, to make sure we keep in mind that these chapters contain a fitting response to grace and the riches that have been lavished upon us. Chapter four onwards details what a mature, serving Christian will look like (as a mature Christian will be one who contributes to the building of the body) within the community of Christians around them.

I think one of the main things people in the demographic of myself and others at my church, and churches like it, end up looking for, from church, is a certain level of social engagement and personal friendship. At one level “fellowship” ought to be at the very heart of church, but I do remember Mark Thompson saying to the class, when we did the doctrine of the church in the Moore College evening lecture course, "intimacy is not a measure of fellowship". This got me thinking about what is a measure of fellowship? Should there even be such a thing? Perhaps it is another one of those unhelpful questions. Should we actually be expecting anything from the community to which we belong? And if so what? (I am happy to take answers to those questions).

One a slightly different note, in elaborating on how to be a contributing and healthy member of the community, the body, we went through the list of things to put off and things to put on in verses 25 to 32 of chapter four. We then had to asterisk which one of those commands was particularly hard for us. I have to say that verse 29 got the asterisk for me. To take seriously the exhortation to only, and always, speak words that are good for others, and gives them grace - and even only words that are fitting to the occasion (which is the part of the verse that prodded me on this particular reading). How often do we get half way there and then add a whole lot of superfluous talk, which is not fitting to the occasion, or even just distract people from higher things by chatter about more trivial things at the wrong time. Obviously you have to keep those things in the balance, and sometimes the chatter can be a service to others, but it did remind me of something an old family friend used to say to us when we were kids:

Is it kind?
Is it true?
Is it necessary?

Pausing to ask myself those questions occasionally might become a belated New Year's resolution.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The craft of blogging


Drew over here thinks there is something the rest of us could learn from the craft bloggers (not that I am a theological blogger either) so, in the interest of including something for everyone, and endeavouring to be open-minded and keep on learning, here is my craft post. I actually have lunch with the lovely Ell most weeks and she knits while I crochet and we both chat. At Ell's introduction I have visited the blue blog, and been amazed at how many hats are being prepared for a baby yet unborn.

I recently decided to take up crochet again (and my interest in some of the fine arts seems to surprise those who think I am either completely the outdoorsy, sporting type - the reality is that I am not at all sporting, I just like the outdoors and physical activity, all references to the workings of such things as cricket, rugby ... being completely lost on me, and I perform best in those sports with the least implements involved and the least interaction with members of the opposing team, eg beach volleyball suits me, there's only one ball, no bats, and the other team stays on their side and waits their turn – or completely the bookish type, neither of which is true.) I got my Nana to teach me crochet a few years ago because I decided it was one of those family skills that oughtn’t to be lost. Crocheting tastefully is all about the thing you're making and the colours you're using, in my opinion. Think very carefully before making something you are actually going to wear - scarves and funky hats excluded - and over-utilising autumn tones.

Anyway, what all good craft posts need is a photo, so here's my scarf in progress (with a little piece of my toe and the base of the fan, which made it into the photo). It's just plain old double crochet. I abandoned working any sort of pattern into it, because the wool itself goes from thick to thin consistently (a challenge to my "tension") and varies colour all by itself. If anyone actually wants details on the name of this wool, and the gauge of my hook, well just ask!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Golden Key

I still remember the quiet afternoon at work at Matthias Media (one element of my job there was just to be there, so I wasn't slacking off at this point) when I took The Golden Key, by George MacDonald, off the eclectic shelf full of books that Phil Miles left in our office while he went to Japan, and read it. And I still remember that indescribable feeling of having actually been someone else - of having been entranced and taken somewhere completely outside the interior of that office. W.H. Auden writes of this particular book "History, actual or feigned, demands that the reader be at one and the same time inside the story, sharing in the events and feelings narrated, and outside it, checking these against his own experiences. A fairy tale like The Golden Key, on the other hand, demands of the reader total surrender; so long as he is in its world, there must be for him no other". That is unwittingly what happened to me the afternoon I opened that book.

C. S. Lewis writes of the kind of writing MacDonald does:
To call it literary genius seems unsatisfactory since it can co-exist with great inferiority in the art of words - nay, since its connection with words at all turns out to be merely external and, in a sense, accidental. Nor can it be fitted into any of the other arts ... It produces works which give us (at the first meeting) as much delight and (on prolonged acquaintance) as much wisdom and strength as the works of the greatest poets ... It goes beyond the expression of things we have already felt. It arouses in us sensations we have never had before, never anticipated having ... hits us at a level deeper than our thoughts or even our passions ... and in general shocks us more fully awake than we are for most of our lives.
Auden also reaffirms C. S. Lewis' sentiments from an earlier post in saying "To me, George MacDonald's most extraordinary, and precious, gift is his ability, in all his stories, to create an atmosphere of goodness about which there is nothing phony or moralistic. Nothing is rarer in literature".

All of the above taken from the Afterward to The Golden Key by W. H. Auden.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Fishpond

The other day I came across a book website that I have never come across before, which seemed to have a great range of books - for sale from Australia, in Australian dollars, and without the exhorbitant postage you often pay ordering from Amazon. It's called Fishpond.

I have my eye on this book about Christian "mythmakers" many of whom I mentioned in the post below. Sigh, so many books ...

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Baptism of the imagination

I have been trying to straighten up the pile of books by my bed this weekend. Sometimes I get quite annoyed with it and my lack of a bedside cupboard, but the books are always there and one title that perpetually comes and goes from this pile is Phantastes by George MacDonald. It is for me a thoroughly enrapturing little book and I read morsels from it time and time again. George MacDonald has a theology at odds with mine at a number of points and is decidedly anti-Calvinism in some of his writing, but he is a master story-teller and a man who sought to know the heart of God.

His writings, particularly his fairy tales and fantasy novels, have inspired deep admiration in such notables as W. H. Auden, J. R. R. Tolkien, Madeleine L'Engle, G. K. Chesterton and C. S Lewis. Auden claims that as a mythopoeic writer his “power to project his inner life into images, beings, landscapes which are valid for all” makes him "one of the most remarkable writers of the nineteenth century", while Lewis calls him “the greatest genius of this kind that I know" and writes that he has “never concealed the fact that I regarded MacDonald as my master". G. K. Chesterton cited The Princess and the Goblin as a book that had "made a difference to my whole existence".

C. S. Lewis considers Phantastes to have been instrumental in his conversion. His introduction to this book reads thus:
It must be more than thirty years ago that I bought – almost unwillingly, for I had looked at the volume on that bookstall and rejected it on a dozen previous occasions – the Everyman edition of Phantastes. A few hours later I knew that I had crossed a great frontier. I had already been waist deep in Romanticism; and likely enough, at any moment, to flounder into its darker and more evil forms, slithering down the steep descent that leads from the love of strangeness to that of eccentricity and thence to that of perversity. Now Phantastes was romantic enough in all conscience; but there was a difference. Nothing was at that time further from my thoughts than Christianity and I therefore had no notion what this difference really was. I was only aware that if this new world was strange, it was also homely and humble; that if this was a dream, it was a dream in which one at least felt strangely vigilant; that the whole book had about it a sort of cool, morning innocence, and also, quite unmistakably, a certain quality of Death, good Death. What it actually did to me was to convert, even to baptise (that was where the Death came in) my imagination ... The quality which had enchanted me in his [MacDonald’s] imaginative works turned out to be the quality of the real universe, the divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic reality in which we all live. I should have been shocked in my ‘teens if anyone had told me that what I learned to love in Phantastes was goodness. But now I know, I see there was no deception. The deception is all the other way round – in that prosaic moralism which confines goodness to the region of Law and Duty, which never lets us feel in our face the sweet air blowing from ‘the land of righteousness’, never reveals that elusive Form which if once seen must inevitably be desired with all but sensuous desire – the thing (in Sappho’s phrase) ‘more gold than gold’.
You can actually download Phantastes as an e-book here. I highly recommend reading Chapter XIII, which stands alone as a story within a story, if nothing else.

Oh, well for him who breaks his dream
With the blow that ends the strife;
And, waking, knows the peace that flows
Around the pain of life!

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Child That Books Built

Also while at CMS Summer School I spent some of the afternoon hanging about with the lovely Nixon's in the apartment where they were staying, in between lazing about in Katoomba parks, and as always I had a cursory look at the bookshelf. There I spied an interesting looking book called The Child That Books Built, by one Francis Spufford, which I took off the apartment-owner's shelf to peruse quickly. It's a book by a book addict about how he was shaped by his childhood addiction, and I think I am hooked on the prospect of reading it. Here is a list of reviews of the book for any other book addicts. I am recklessly rushing into this blog before I have actually read it myself. Unfortunately you don't seem to be able to get the nice hardcover version I came across anymore (I'm so shallow I am still influenced by a book's cover) but there is a new paperback edition.

This weekend I plan to begin Bleak House, by Charles Dickens, because I am one of those impoverished souls who, despite a love of classics, has never read a Dickens novel and because Drew thinks it is fabulous and Ben thinks the BBC production was the best TV series of 2006. It is a formidable sized book, which doesn't exactly sound like it will brighten up my day, so wish me well.

The life lost

On Wednesday I went to CMS Summer School for the day. William Taylor, the Rector of St Helen's in London, was speaking on 'Understanding the Times' from Matthew, chapters 9-10 and the parables of chapter 13. It can take a little while to orient yourself when you come in on the fifth talk of a series, and I came in for Matthew 10:34-42. They are powerful and compelling verses, which most Christians could almost recite, but William did a splendid job of making us all think about them anew ... Very briefly he said that the gospel brings a change in family relations (vs 34-36) as a result of a change in family values (vs 37-39) (Christians have a new love (vs 37), a new lifestyle/first loyalty (vs 38) and a new longing (vs 39)) which brings a change in family fortunes (vs 40-42).

William explained that this life we want to find is a life without reference to Jesus, a life of "doing in my way", which is the very thing God hates. Thinking about longings we have which can hold us back from losing our lives for Christ's sake (particularly in the context of world missions - which include such things mentioned as love for family, longing for what this world has to offer) referred me back to this post by Byron, a fellow blogger, who is currently battling cancer, which I found quite challenging. Sometimes our longings are for good things, but they become unhealthily disproportionate and eventually completely prohibitive in terms of our real service of God. Those must be "lost" also. Lilias Trotter in Parables of the Cross makes the point that we mustn't limit our idea of surrender to the renouncing of unlawful things. "The life lost on the Cross was not a sinful one - the treasure poured forth there was God-given, God-blessed treasure, lawful and right to be kept: only that there was the life of the world at stake".

My currently swirling thoughts on this (realise I am not exactly following a logical train of thought in this post) include the point that has been raised by C.S. Lewis and John Piper about our loves and desires being too weak, being for the lower good. They also include that fear that's involved when "with what misgivings we turn over our lives to God, imagining that somehow we are about to lose everything that matters. Our hesitancy is like that of a tiny shell on the seashore, afraid to give up the teaspoonful of water it holds lest there be not enough in the ocean to fill it again. Lose your life, said Jesus, and you will find it" (Elizabeth Elliot).

Monday, January 08, 2007

The end of Sophie's World

I did finish Sophie’s World just before the weekend. To save a regurgitation of old material, and doubling of effort, if anyone is interested in a critique of the book I also went on to read Phillip Jensen’s essay “Whose history of philosophy?” (from Kategoria and also contained in the book Prodigal World: How we abandoned God and suffered the consequences, both of which are available from Matthias Media), which summed it up very nicely, in particular mentioning the problems that a “history” will always be a biased collection and the dangers of a seeming objectivity which yet compels readers to one conclusion.

I did find the ending of this book rather curious in that there was a suggestion of a communication between "worlds", which doesn't make a whole lot of sense in the actual context of the plot, or in the context of where the philosophical history has left us (which doesn't align so well with the parallel plot of the story in places), but is there as a hint regardless (there's something in the fog ...). Humanity can never, it seems, completely escape the possibility of something beyond influencing the events of our lives.

Wanting it NOW!

This morning as I walked to work I passed a delivery trucked parked on the kurb for Supré, that cheap and nasty clothing store that has taken over the Gowings building (OK, so it's not all bad, but does contain a lot of skimpy junk), that said "For girls who want it NOW!!". Yet another reminder that society nowadays seems to think that being so demanding and lacking in any kind of patience or discipline or self-control is a good thing, cool even.

My mother always said to us "one of the chief lessons of adulthood is deferring pleasure". Hmmm ...

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Into the New Year


Here I am in another year, with Christmas and New Year unbelievably in the past. Just before Christmas I drove to Queensland with some very good friends and their delightful 11 week old daughter, stopping off at Sawtell overnight on the way, which was a lovely way to make the journey home. Christmas lunch was a nice immediate family affair, with extended family dropping by later in the afternoon. Most of the rest of the week was spent lazing about with family, totally over-indulging on a selection of decadent foodstuffs and reading one of my Christmas books, Sophie's World. Fifteen years after it was published I decided it was time I read it. I haven't yet finished it, to reach any overall conclusions, but I have been quite fascinated thus far. One thing it has revealed to me that I am indeed a "romantic" in that “for many Romantics, philosophy, nature study, and poetry formed a synthesis. Sitting in your attic dashing off inspired verses [not that I do this very often] and investigating the life of plants or the composition of rocks were only two sides of the same coin because nature in not a dead mechanism ...” only I don’t base it on their premise of a universal “world spirit” but of a single creator. When I came to Kierkegaard things started to ring truer and I liked this sentence: “So we must therefore distinguish between the philosophical question of whether God exists and the individual’s relationship to the same question, a situation in which each and every man is utterly alone.”

One night we were at my Aunt and Uncle's for dinner, fortuitously, when their Japanese friends called to say they had tickets for themselves and some friends to Moreton Island the next day which they were unable to use and did my Aunt and Uncle know of anyone who could. So, my Mum and I, my sister, husband and two nieces had a day out doing Moreton Island Japanese-tourist style. We didn't know quite what we were in for but found ourselves on a 4WD tour, bumping around the bush and cruising along the beach in the back of a troop carrier, sand tobogganing on what are apparently the world's tallest sand dunes (which was loads of fun and the kids loved it - photo is me and my nieces setting off – if I am going to turn around and reveal all I am at least going to wear my large pterygium-prevention sunglasses :), unlike my poor nieces who can clearly see hardly anything), swimming in a beautiful fresh-water lagoon ... It was a great day out, which took me back to my past – out of that philosophy book and back into nature, reaffirming that "romantic" thing.

I decided we should have a birthday dinner for the January birthday's of my older sister and oldest niece (which I always miss) on New Year's Eve, which became a sleepover. After we’d all just about popped on my risotto and mud cake we sat down to watch my sister's birthday present, the BBC DVD of Elizabeth Gaskell's 'North and South', and the four hours took us nicely into the new year. Right on cue, as midnight fireworks exploded in the distance, Margaret and Thornton kissed - and the movie ended shortly thereafter and left us with our own lives to take into 2007. I really enjoyed it and think that all those of us who love period dramas need to watch it and be aware of what was happening beyond the drawing rooms.

Anyway, I shall keep most of my new year's resolutions a secret, but a friend did send me this “challenge to women”, from the Desiring God website, which I thought was a great way to begin.
And so, Happy New Year!