12/15/2015 1:21:57 PM
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
As we come to the end of another year and turn the page on new calendars we come also to a time of reflection and anticipation. This reflection and anticipation leads often to the writing of resolutions: proposals for a new start in life as well as a new start on a calendar.
In these days after Christmas I have read a little in a couple of old books (that is, books written when I was a child!). One is The Christian Century Reader, a collection of articles from the first half of the twentieth century, ending in 1961. The Christian Century is a magazine dating from the early 20th century reflective of the politically liberal wing of Protestantism which emphasized a social gospel. While not always agreeing with their views, it does lift up the important role Christian faith played in the life of our nation and world, a role often ignored in the rewriting of history. (Among the topics, for example, are selections which lift up the importance of the church in the civil rights movement.) As to why this came to mind with regard to resolutions, it is a reminder of the important responsibility of the Christian in the world; the degree to which we are called and have the ability to change things for the better. One strength of many of the writings was their reminding the Christian( and the church) to live lives of compassion, service, and reconciliation.
It is also interesting to see the change in perspective on some issues. In 1937 the great historian Arnold Toynbee wrote about the contrast between what he called the modern pagan movements (fascism and communism) and Christianity. One of his points about their success was their demand for commitment and sacrifice on the part of their people, in contrast to the absence of that expectation in modern Christianity. He wrote of them as modern expressions of an ancient idolatry - that is, the worship of the creature rather than the creator. Later writers would be much more sympathetic to the communists and reflect the better red than dead viewpoint of the 1960s. Of interest also, given the current economic crisis, are writings reflecting the suffering and concerns of the depression era.
The other book which I read in from time to time is A Diary of Readings by John Baillie. It is a companion to his earlier Diary of Private Prayer. There are a year's worth of daily readings from a variety of writers both ancient and modern who represent a broad spectrum of Christian thought and practice. Day one is by a Baron Freiedrich Von Hhgel and focuses on a daily quarter of an hour during which he reads to feed his soul. That time is spent without judgement or analysis but openly and receptively. He thinks about 15 minutes is all one can do before it turns into ordinary reading. One may want to do it more than once a day, he says, but only that long at a time. It is interesting to note that most of the Bibles that are published in sections for daily reading are based on about 15 minutes. If one spends fifteen minutes reading and at least an equal time in prayer it provides a good basis for the day.
In thinking of the new year I would share a few lines from some of the other readings. Think about three lines by Henri Amiel on Day 92: Self-government with tenderness--here you have the condition of all authority over children.... The child who can arouse in us anger or impatience or excitement feels himself stronger than we, and a child respects only strength.... This is why the first principle of education is: train yourself; and the first rule to follow if you wish to possess yourself of a child's will is: master your own. Day 95 by Albert Schweizer begins and ends thus: One other thing stirs me when I look back at my youthful days,... So many people gave me something, or were something to me without knowing it.... If we had before us those who have thus been a blessing to us and could tell them ...they would be amazed....
Consider this from Samuel Johnson on day 176, A wise man will make haste to forgive, because he knows the true value of time, and will not suffer it to pass away in pain.... The man who retires to meditate mischief and exasperate his own rage...may justly be numbered among the most miserable of human beings.... This is from John Donne on day 189, How many men sin over the sins of their youth...by a sinful delight in the memory of those sins.... How many men sin over some sins...which they never sinned...by filling their imaginations with such thoughts as these?William Law writes on day 197, having described a woman named Celia: This is the disquiet life of Celia, who has nothing to torment her but her own spirit. If you could inspire her with Christian humility, you need do no more to make her as happy as any person in the world.
Day 242 is from a book by Nicholas Berdyaev: Man without God is no longer man.... Interiorly divided and drained of his spiritual strength, man becomes the slave of base and unhuman influences; his soul is darkened and unholy spirits take possession of it.... The flowering of the idea of humanity was possible only so long as man had a deep belief in and consciousness of principles above himself, and was not altogether cut off from his divine roots....Praying for others is the subject for day 294. William Law concludes with It would be easy to you to bear with and forgive those for whom you particularly implored the divine mercy and forgiveness.
As you think of the coming year I would offer, in closing, some of Jonathan Edwards resolutions which appear on day 193. 7. Resolved, never to do anything which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hours of my life.... 46. Resolved, never to allow the least measure of any fretting or uneasiness at my father or mother....and to be especially careful of it with respect to any of our family.... 65. Resolved, to exercise myself much in this all my life...with the greatest openness to declare my ways to God and lay open my soul to Him; all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and everything, and every circumstance....
Resolve, above all, to grow closer to Christ and to live more fully in His love and hope and service.