Saturday, September 26, 2015

Augustine on loving God and beauty

I am benefitting a great deal from Tim Keller’s book on Prayer (though now to sit down and implement it), and I have appreciated much of the material he quotes from John Calvin, Augustine, Luther, John Owen. But here are two quotes from Augustine on what it means to love God (it’s sometimes so hard to grasp what that means) and how good and beautiful things are encapsulated in it, and on the place of beauty.
But what do I love when I love you? Not the beauty of any body or the rhythm of time in its movement; not the radiance of light, so dear to our eyes; not the sweet melodies in the world of manifold sounds; not the perfume of flowers, ointments and spices; not manna and not honey; not the limbs so delightful to the body’s embrace: it is none of these things that I love when I love my God.

And yet when I love my God I do indeed love a light and a sound and a perfume and a food and an embrace—a light and sound and perfume and food and embrace in my inward self. There my soul is flooded with a radiance which no space can contain; there a music sounds which time never bears away; there I smell a perfume which no wind disperses; there I taste a food that no surfeit embitters; there is an embrace which no satiety severs. It is this that I love when I love my God. (Confessions 10.6.8.)
I think the quote above helps us understand what beauty is a reflection of, which makes the quote below easier to follow.
Wherever the soul of man turns, unless towards God, it cleaves to sorrow, even though the things outside God and outside itself to which it cleaves may be things of beauty. (Confessions 4.10.15)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Prayer - a poem

I am just bushed, is all I've really got to say for myself. I worked all of the weekend before last at our annual Diocesan Synod, which is like an AGM that goes over three days, involving 320 people and all that admin, then I worked all last week, had to go into work on the Saturday morning just gone briefly to assist a meeting (was silly enough to invite people for dinner on Saturday night, necessitating cleaning my whole house, which had gone to the dogs), taught the youth bible class at church on Sunday morning and am now working this week ... But if I can just make it to Friday it will all be worth it as I have the four days next week between the two long weekends off, giving me ten whole days of leisure!

In my brain-fried state I thought it might be time for a poem. Curiously, Tim Keller quotes a survey in his book on Prayer which found that nearly 30% of atheists admitted that they prayed sometimes and that prayer (of some sort) inhabits all cultures. This poet claims she doesn't believe in God, and yet here is a poem on prayer. I don't really know what the ending is supposed to mean but to say that the names in the last line are all outlying places around Britain, and Finisterre in Spain was once thought to be the end of the world.


Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child's name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside, the radio's prayer -
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.
    Carol Ann Duffy
The Times Saturday Review, 1992

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Book of Good Thoughts

I should perhaps be referring to the Bible with that title, but how fabulous is this little leather-bound journal I received in the mail? It's a belated birthday gift from a dear old friend made by Gild Bookbinders and was purchased in Estonia.

Inside is some Hahnemühle Artist mould-made ivory paper called Ingres from a very old German paper mill, with endleaves of Iokta paper from Nepal.

I am only going to write in it the very goodest thoughts, and I might even use a fountain pen.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

A bushwalk

On Saturday I took myself on what may or may not be the first of many solo bushwalks.

I actually got all excited a few weeks ago when I mentioned a walk I wanted to do to someone at work, and they were actually keen to come along, then I found yet another person who was keen to come as well. Bushwalking is one of those things I have mentioned to people over the years, which has not usually met with much enthusiasm, thus the reason for the rejoicing.

So, we planned it about three weeks ago for the Saturday just gone. Then one person was called up on Thursday to “desperately” fill in for music at and event at their church and felt obliged to do so, the other had an engagement party in the afternoon to attend, which was going to make it tight for them anyway, so on Friday we cancelled, with vague plans to go some other time in the future, in and around a whole lot of other events. But that left me with a weekend with no plans at all, so I thought to myself, ‘well, that had been the plan for weeks, I was looking forward to it, I have no other plans, so I am just going to go’.

One of the ways singleness can become somewhat misery-inducing or debilitating is if you are always waiting for someone to be available to do a thing, which can be difficult when dealing with other independent adults, or for someone to give an answer, so you don’t do the thing. Granted, some things are not overly suitable for doing on your own, bushwalking perhaps being one of them, but I decided to give it a go. It was perhaps a little reckless as I am still not finished with the physiotherapy on my leg (and while walking is fine and I have been told I can increase the jogging, I hadn’t really counted on so much calf-stretching climbing up and down rugged steps and over things), I did not actually tell a soul I was going, I had zero mobile phone coverage when I got out there, and I walked right past a big fat red-bellied black snake, which I was a little surprised to see out on only the fifth day of spring. (Black snakes do not particularly concern me. They can be deadly but are typically non-aggressive and fairly predictably found by rivers and creeks – brown snakes, taipans and tiger snakes worry me more.) While driving out there I realised that I had forgotten the snake bandages and the map, so I was hoping I wouldn’t need either.

But I quite enjoyed myself and felt satisfied for having not wasted the day because no-one was available or hadn’t answered ... It was a gorgeous day and it was nice to be out in it.

Without further ado here are some photos. The creek crossing was questionable, and I hadn’t really thought about how much rain there had been recently, but that added to the adventure. But then the sophisticated stile over a barbed wire fence amused me. (The walk was actually a bit odd, and I appeared to be on private land in a cattle paddock for some of it, and there was not so much "bush". It starts from a lookout not far from my house and then a loop begins on the other side of the river, so I came back to the same river crossing from the other direction.)

Below is the meeting of the Molonglo River with the Murrumbidgee River.

I’m extremely naughty because on the way back I noticed a lovely little white flower growing in patches beside the path, and so I stopped to examine it and then actually dug a couple of plants up to bring home (the walk is not actually in a National Park where wildlife is protected). But then when I got home and googled this plant, which I discovered is a native lily called ‘Early Nancy’, I realised it has separate male and female plants, and I had only collected one female. So, because I am now officially the crazy plant lady, and had no Father’s Day plans, I actually went back down the path on Sunday afternoon after church and dug up a couple more female plants (they are very small plants that grow from a tuber underground). I don't know whether they are going to survive yet, but hopefully might sprout again next spring.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

I aspire to a full consent

I’ve been reading Tim Keller’s book Prayer for the last week or so. But I’ve been trying to read it on the bus, which is not really working, and I think I will begin again at home with a pencil and notebook.

It’s both convicting and encouraging – makes one feel like the worst pray-er ever but also gives hope of improvement. In one section he works through what Augustine, Luther and Calvin had to say about prayer, and their treatment of the Lord’s Prayer, and so here is a part from “Thy Will Be Done”:
Luther adds, following Augustine, that without this trust in God, we will try to take God’s place and seek revenge on those who have harmed us. We will be protected “from the horrible vices of character assassination, slander, backbiting ... condemning others” only if we learn to commit ourselves to God. If we can’t say “thy will be done” from the bottom of our hearts, we will never know any peace. We will feel compelled to try to control people and control our environment and make things the way we believe they ought to be. Yet to control life like this is beyond our abilities, and we will just dash ourselves upon the rocks. This is why Calvin adds that to pray “thy will be done” is to submit not only our wills to God but even our feelings, so that we do not become despondent, bitter, and hardened by the things that befall us.
George Herbert expressed it with beautiful economy:

For my heart’s desire
Unto Thine is bent:
I aspire
To a full consent.
(From George Herbert's poem Discipline.)

Tuesday, September 01, 2015


One of Austin Kleon's newspaper popouts, for the collection (to tie in with the other day's post about the givenness of our lives).
Assigned #newspaperpopoutsA photo posted by Austin Kleon (@austinkleon) on