Monthly Archives: September 2014

7 Days of Thankfulness – Day 6

Today my thankfulness has been grounded in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. It is a book overflowing with thankfulness, care, kindness and joy. It was a balm to the eyes of my battle-wearied mind today; a mind that hated the sin it committed even as it committed it; sick of the mechanical pattern of being beaten down again and again by the same thought patterns and weakened and waylaid as if being battered repeatedly with the turning paddles of a water wheel; wasting hours of my time chasing the winds of some adolescent disappointment and lying there trapped in my fanciful, godless world of reanimated, decomposing dream-corpses.

Sin paralysed me and left me gasping for the Word today, and when I could remove myself from my stupor, he delivered – and what a balm; what a mind-freeing ointment to deliver me from my bonds. As I turned my eyes away from the text to search for a pen, and the footsteps pacing downstairs gathered speed and force, and the anxiety began to blossom in my mind once more, I wrote the following before the peace of Christ gave way to the banal, chilly dread, lest I should be walked in on with a Bible open instead of a job application by those who would mistake the divine doctor for the one who was keeping my mind in chains.

O love of Christ that keeps on giving, what should I offer to your name?

Yearning for us through and with your saints down the ages.

All you want is to see us grow and flourish in you.

That wasted body of Paul exulting in its throes, that they might prove the Son of their Father, holding very life as cheap, but that he might be your visage to us.

O Fount of Love, like a Mother Hen, you delight in your own little chicklings, hastening them in to grow that they might meet death with the same aplomb.

What can I give you for all that you gave? What can ransom the life of a man, even a God-man? Were I to give my deepest-seated loves, my shelves full of sin-records and old memories, it would still be a cheap offering for the blood and love of such a God.


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7 Days of Thankfulness – Day 5

Thank you God…
That you’re there helping me to say ‘no’ to the things I need to say no to.

Thank you God…
For libraries. When the surrounds of my room with its souvenirs, memoirs and shelves full of books that I can’t bear to get rid of lure me back to that cushy, imaginary, godless world which I built in my teens on nostaliga and broken dreams, I’m just so thankful that you provide libraries. I’m thankful that you’ve provided an alternative to that room, where nearly every other object I touch is an invitation to haunt and distort my own memories like a poltergeist. Thank you for these clear, functional, public spaces; ‘neutral’ worlds where nothing, neither the furniture, nor the books, nor the décor, nor the ambient aroma of the building, can serve as a cognitive hook onto my old, futile longings for the never-materialised past wants that were absorbed into my pillow, my bed, my books, my bedroom floor. No, the library is far removed from these ambiental triggers. These are houses of ‘otherness’ and unfamiliarity, where every object is a blank slate, an artefact without any history that could lock me back inside the dream-world that I haunt. In the library, hand-in-hand with you, I can try and pave a way for myself in your far less saccharine world of the real, the concrete and the social, which you intended me to inhabit. My brave new world is Planet Earth, which you made for me to live in with you. Though more savage, more prickly and more raw, the world of the Cross is a more beautiful place to be.

Thank you God…
That you gave me a job to go to tomorrow. After so long unemployed, it is such a privilege to be able to say that I do the humblest of things, even if only part-time. Please bless my work, and let my co-workers witness you through me.

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Here is Love – the power-packing classic that got modern

I had no idea that Matt Redman did a ‘refurbed’ version of this amazing hymn I learnt and loved at one of my old student churches. These first two verses of the hymn capture the key elements of the gospel so boldly, and so well. Feast your hearts on this, friends. I hope it blesses you greatly.

Here is love, vast as the ocean,
Lovingkindness as the flood,
When the Prince of Life, our Ransom,
Shed for us His precious blood.
Who His love will not remember?
Who can cease to sing His praise?
He can never be forgotten,
Throughout Heav’n’s eternal days.

On the mount of crucifixion,
Fountains opened deep and wide;
Through the floodgates of God’s mercy
Flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
Poured incessant from above,
And Heav’n’s peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love.

Words are by Reese Williams (1802-1883), with the melody written by Robert Lowry (1876). Matt Redman’s version came out in 2004 with Kingsway.

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7 Days of Thankfulness – Day 4

Seeing through the brain fog is hard these days… I was on such a spiritual high earlier this summer, but now there’s this restlessness. Still delighting in things of a quasi-academic nature; still enjoying the exercise of what they taught me during my degree. Those things I can be thankful for – to the point where the perfectionism and the temptation to over-edit enslaves me; then I’d rather lay them to rest and get on with something more important.

1) Since yesterday’s ordeal I’ve fallen sick with a head cold. But I’d like to thank God for friends who care, and who pray for me. They are my hands and my feet right now. I was at my usual fortnightly Bible study tonight, and some of them were there. One of our friends who hasn’t been for a while had come too – I was really glad to see her. I can be thankful for that. There seemed to be a vibe of guilt, or of under-confidence about her. I wish I could have made her more comfortable and reassured her. Such a precious lady. I had wanted her to relax and feel at home.

2) What a joy it was three weeks ago when the Lord let me host my own Bible study for the first ever time in my own home. It remains fond in my memory even now. What a delight it was to have these men and women of God whom I so respect furnishing my living room with their presence, and our good friend leading the Bible study. How wonderful it was that my Christian seeker friend could come, and didn’t find the discussion too hard for him, and liked listening and contributing. May God enable me to have a gift of hospitality one day. It was such a joy to see their smiling faces, and to know that they found the surroundings comfortable and the company pleasant, and that they liked the cookies I had baked for them.  How happy I was that so many stayed for up to half an hour after the end, socializing contentedly and drinking my tea and coffee, just like my student friends had done in brighter days, when I was a final year Oxford student and had hosted prayer meetings in my room. My cup ran over. It had been such a frightening task, inviting them all to come. It went against my usual scripts. God knows I have a big enough voice for debate, or for explorations of ideas or concepts, or for talking about my life on verbal autopilot, but usually I’m assailed by too many doubts and fears to even attempt to make overt social gestures like inviting church friends around to my parents’ home. I’d been wanting to pluck up the courage to do it for so very, very long. It was just like the good old days. God of heaven, grant me the courage to do it again one day. It gave me so much joy.

3) I was really thankful towards the friend who hosted the Bible study tonight, as he gave me some of the tomatoes from his harvest to take home to cheer up my mum. It was wonderful to be able to lay them out on the table, and to say “At the Bible study tonight my friend gave me these for you to have in your lunch tomorrow”. What a witness that act of generosity enabled me to show when I got home. My friend was so kind for letting me do that.

I feel much better now. Meditating on lovely blessings and being thankful to God for them really does transform your mind. Even my headache has lifted slightly. The Apostle Paul’s exhortation is true wisdom from God:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
~ Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

Thank you, Jesus.

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7 Days of Thankfulness – A reprise

I’m writing now in defiance. I received some deep prayer at church this evening and all kinds of ugly things surfaced. The things I said, I couldn’t even believe were falling off my lips. Memories of scowling, clawing in this irrational rage and fear at my dear friend whom I love, who was on the prayer team that day. The words ‘I bind you’ hitting my insides like a sledgehammer, wrenching cries out of me and leaving me clutching at the pew in terror; the horrible sight of her cross necklace making me writhe, so that I had to push it away and cover it with my hand: “Get that thing away from me,” my voice cried. What came over me? What was I thinking? How could I do that, or think that, or even feel that way, about the Cross that I so love? When we were done I felt like I’d been dragged backwards through a hedge. My knees were so weak I could hardly stand up for a moment. Now I’m home. The freshmint ‘new penny’ feeling has faded and distressing intrusive images have been filling my head. With compulsive urges to do things when that still, small voice says ‘no’. So I’m writing in defiance. I’m going to be thankful to God in Christ Jesus tonight and I’m going to praise him even if it hurts.

I’m going to think of three things for which I’m going to thank God, and I’m not going to write them here. I’ve got prayer to do, and I generally do my prayer laptop-closed. Please pray for me, whoever you are reading this. I hadn’t thought that that sort of thing happened to believers, either.

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‘Cantique de Jean Racine’: French choral work -cum- English refurbished Christian rock/worship song? An exercise in stylistic translation, with critical analysis.

Translation of the poetry into English lyrics that might suit a contemporary Christian rock/worship song:

Word at one with the Most High, our only hope;
Eternal dayspring of heaven and earth,
We pierce through the dead of night with our cries:
“Holy Saviour, cast down on us your eyes!”

Pour out on us the fire of your mighty grace,
Let all hell flee at the sound of your voice;
Wipe away the sleep from our weary souls:
Don’t let it lead us to forget your ways!

O Jesus, smile on us your faithful ones,
Now gathered in this place to bless your name!
Receive our praise of your eternal glory:
And send us out filled with your gifts we pray!

Original French:

Verbe égal au Très-Haut, notre unique espérance,
Jour éternel de la terre et des cieux,
De la paisible nuit nous rompons le silence:
Divin sauveur, jette sur nous les yeux.

Répands sur nous le feu de ta grâce puissante;
Que tout l’enfer fuie au son de ta voix;
Dissipe le sommeil d’une âme languissante
Qui la conduit à l’oubli de tes lois!

Ô Christ ! sois favorable à ce peuple fidèle,
Pour te bénir maintenant rassemblé;
Reçois les chants qu’il offre à ta gloire immortelle,
Et de tes dons qu’il retourne comblé.

Hyper-literal ‘semi-English’ gloss of the French mimicking the grammar/syntax and word order of the original, with semantic/morphological amplifications and alternatives in brackets. This is not strictly a translation:

Word equal to the Most High, our only (+singular) hope,
Day eternal of the earth and of the heavens,
Of the quiet night, we break [or, ‘we are breaking’] the silence:
Divine Saviour, cast on(to) us your eyes.

Pour [+spread] out on(to) us your the fire of your grace powerful [i.e. forceful/potent, rather than ‘having power’].
May all the hell flee at the sound of your voice!
Dissipate the slumber of a wilting (+listless +torpid +perishing/decaying) soul
That drives it to the forgetfulness of your laws!

O Christ, be favourable [i.e. ‘show favour’] to this people faithful,
To bless you, now (+’once more’) assembled.
Receive the hymns it offers to your immortal glory,
And by your gifts, may it return filled (up).

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Translation of a Prayer by St Bernard of Clairvaux: To love as much as possible.

My God, my Sustainer,
I know I will not love you as much as you deserve,
But only insofar as you enable me to love.
This will surely not amount to all the love I should show,
But it will amount to all the love I can show

Because it is impossible to love you
Beyond the power to love that I possess.

I will love you more
If you will make me able
Howbeit that this never will amount
To as much as you are worthy to be loved.

~ St Bernard of Clairvaux, my translation from French.

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