Saturday, January 31, 2009

Wisdom at the Movies

The following is an introduction to a document that I wrote to explain a display I put up in the library to accompany the college's Christian life week. The theme for the week was wisdom. One of the chapel staff members had suggested we do a display of DVDs the library had that portrayed some aspect of wisdom. I put up 53 DVDs of feature films and it looks like almost all have circulated at least once. At least 35 were checked out yesterday.

What is wisdom and where is it to be found? How does one become wise? Scripture teaches us to search diligently for wisdom wherever it might be found. Wisdom, the skillful application of knowledge and insight to daily life, begins with the fear of the Lord. We begin by recognizing our life as a gift that is dependent on the mercy and grace of God. By trusting in the Lord and acknowledging Him in all our ways we are able to recognize the meaning in the order and patterns in the world He has given us and then to apply that knowledge as we seek our way in that world.

Because this world has been founded and established by divine wisdom there is a great deal of knowledge and insight available even to those who do not begin with the fear of the Lord. Certainly anyone can learn to observe those patterns and to recognize the vanity and contingency of our life under the sun. Filmmakers of all faiths are able to portray many facets of wisdom as they assemble their stories on the screen. Some show us the power of wisdom in a particular person’s life such as Atticus Finch, Captain John Miller, or Will Kane, characters who live by a strong standard of right and wrong combined with the knowledge and skill to back it up. Other filmmakers show us wise mentors and teachers guiding their students on the path of life. Sometimes the wisdom comes from an outsider or, apparent, fool who teaches wisdom by the way they question what everyone else takes for granted. Others show wisdom in the lives of tragic wise men. Michael Corleone, Charles Foster Kane, and Eldon Tyrell have great gifts of skill and knowledge but pursue them to evil ends. Some like “Wise” Sir Bedivere even show us wisdom by its complete absence in their life and actions. At times wisdom comes through a journey as we follow the characters away from their home and daily context to new levels of insight into their lives. Some stay home but encounter wisdom as they face sudden changes in the world they thought they knew. Finally, some receive a wisdom that comes from outside their world.

The movies on the display included To Kill a Mockingbird, Saving Private Ryan, High Noon, The Godfather pt. 2, Blade Runner, Chariots of Fire, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Babbette's Feast and many others. It was a lot of fun to think about and put together.

On a completely unrelated note I discovered that I apparently think of work as "home." It's probably not a good thing that I think of that fact as more amusing than scary.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Lord's Prayer with Dante and Dorothy in the Snow

The preaching team at church has been doing a series on the Lord's Prayer as part of our church's prayer initiative. Last Sunday we had an extended worship night that was structured according to the Lord's Prayer. That service was a huge blessing for me.

At lunch I've been reading Dante's Divine Comedy in Dorothy Sayers translation. Today I came across this at the beginning of Canto XI of Purgatorio (p. 150 in the 1955 Penguin ed.). Dante and Virgil have entered the first circle of Purgatory and encounter the formerly prideful struggling under burdens and praying thus:

"Our Father, dwelling in the Heavens, nowise
As circumscribed, but as the things above,
Thy first effects, are dearest in Thine eyes,

Hallowed Thy name be and the Power thereof,
By every creature, as right meet it is
We praise the tender effluence of Thy love.

Let come to us, let come Thy Kingdom's peace;
If it come not, we've no power of our own
To come to it, for all our subtleties.

Like as with glad Hosannas at thy throne
Thine angels offer up their wills away,
So let men offer theirs, that Thine be done.

Our daily manna give to us this day,
Without which he that through this desert wild
Toils most to speed goes backward on his way.

As we, with all our debtors reconciled,
Forgive, do Thou forgive us, nor regard
Our merits, but upon our sins look mild.

Put not our strength, too easily ensnared
And overcome, to proof with the old foe;
But save us from him, for he tries it hard.

This prayer is not made for us - we know,
Dear Lord, that it is needless - but for those
Who still remain behind us we pray so."

Finally, I had a couple of moments of pure weather joy recently as I walked outside.
On Tuesday I came home from work around 4 in the afternoon. As I walked across the hard packed snow that's been in our lot since I don't know when, I thought about how much delight I take in a sunny 'teen degree day with snow crunching under my feet. When I came home last night around 9:30 and I walked the parking lot under the stars and Menelmacar (Orion) shining over the street I had the same feeling. Fresh fallen snow is beautiful, but there's also something about snow that's settled in and is a little dirty and cracked but firm. When it's been there for a while and paths have been tracked through it and its been cleared from the road and the sidewalks it's just a glorious, wonderful thing. I just wanted to share.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Desert Fathers

I'm finally breaking the ice on my blog for 2009. It's been real cold up here for a while and apparently my blogging system froze. I've thawed it.

This afternoon I attended a lecture hosted by the Carl F.H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding. Presumably it will eventually be available for listening there among their podcasts. The lecture was Scripture and the Quest for Holiness in Christian Antiquity by Dr. Bradley Nassif from North Park University. The focus was on the scripture and holiness in the Egyptian Desert Fathers. I don't have time to do a full blog of my notes but here are some of the interesting thoughts and quotes.

The early Desert Fathers had an understanding of the desert based on Deuteronomy 8 and Matthew 4 where the desert is a place of testing and spiritual warfare but also a place of forgiveness, repentance, and new beginnings that came from the ritual of the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16. Because of the ideas of testing and warfare the move to the desert was not a flight from the challenges of living in the world but an advance and desire to follow the command of Christ to take up their cross and follow Him. Also the landscape of the desert offered a place of simplicity and silence where it was impossible to hide from God and one's own sin. The expansive open space helped them to see themselves in proper proportion to God's greatness.

The Desert Fathers believed that one learned scripture by living scripture. The scriptures were not something to be talked about and known but something to be done and practiced. Dr. Nassif pointed out that we often approach the Bible today to learn something new but our chief challenge with scripture is not to learn new things but to learn to obey the old ones.

The Fathers often used scripture in their fight against the "Noonday Demon". So they called the attack of despondency, regret, and boredom that strikes in the middle of the day and tempts one to abandon one's calling in life. The believed in overcoming the attacks of the enemy by fitting the proper scripture to the situation and reciting it to themselves.

Meditation for the Desert Fathers was an oral rather than mental exercise. The meditated on scripture by constantly reciting and practicing its words. It was said that the Desert Fathers were "living texts." Dr. Nassif pointed out in relation to this that it is vital for us to recover the practice of memorization of large swaths of scripture.

"What is the Christian life? I fall down and I get up." St. Antony of Egypt

"Someone asked Abba Anthony, saying, What must we keep in order to be pleasing to God? And the elder answered, saying, Keep what I tell you. Whoever you may be, always keep God before your eyes. And whatever you do, do it from the witness of the Holy Scriptures. And in whatever place you live, do not leave quickly. Keep these three things, and you will be saved."

"Sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything." Abba Moses the Black