Friday, November 20, 2009

The Full Glory of Love

Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken

- Shakespeare, Sonnet 116

Many are well-acquainted with these words. They fall over us in a splendid sigh that is filled with hopes for such a love to prove so true. Love: The great marvel of souls. It is either zealously sought after or vehemently rejected. Either way, all souls have, in some way, been affected and touched by the idea, desire, or feeling of Love. Time after time, we think we have grasped it. We convince ourselves that we finally know it, that we truly understand it. It is so beautiful that we believe that it can transcend all time. To the romantic, Love is the ultimate God - self-sufficient and eternal. And then somewhere along the ecstasy of such a journey, it dies. It always dies. Even for those whom it has proven true, through many years or many trials, there comes a moment when it ceases to be.

Recall the scene in the film, Sense & Sensibility, when Marianne staggers over the hill facing Allenham (the estate of her lover and betrayer, Sir Willoughby) and recites Sonnet 116 in remembrance of what she and Willoughby once shared in "true Love." The tears streaming from her eyes are mingled with the icy rain falling around her. She stands there, unfeeling of the harsh elements that she finds herself in. In the love that she knew, there only awaited death. To her, there was nothing of value, worth, or meaning outside of that love. She was ready to die for it; to die a death that simply amounted to nothing. Instead of becoming a conqueror through love, she became conquered by love.
So it is with many of us. Never are we victorious. We are merely victims of that which we faithfully follow and call love. And like fools being led to the slaughter, we would rather meet that same piercing defeat again and again than ever dare to consider that maybe that "Love" is not truly Love. That, perhaps, our understanding, vision, and ideas of love are distorted, artificial, and empty. That true Love is not meant for base fools such as ourselves, who fondle cheap trifles and fanciful ideals that fall short of eternal worth.
And then our gaze is drawn ever upward, held captive, and fixed upon one whom we despise to think of as the fulfillment of the purest, truest Love.

Calvary, the word pierces even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit.
It is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. It searches our love for our beloved. It discovers the quality of that love.
An Indian refiner puts his glistening gold into a small earthen crucible.
He blows up the fire, the grey scum floats to the surface of the gold.
The grey scum of selfishness in our human love will float to the surface of our soul and be discovered by us, if we are willing to allow the Refiner to blow up His fire.
There is a rooted possessiveness about much of human affection. “My loved one for myself” - that is the underlying thought of much that looks so beautiful.
God’s thought was different.
The love that our Lord asks for us is different.
His Father’s love was a giving love.
- Amy Carmichael

On the evening of His betrayal He did not desire for us the less costly lover, the natural love which shrinks from a hard way for a beloved one, and never contemplates anything approaching shame.
Human love with its loopholes of escape from the supreme demand was not in His mind, It was Divine love that He desired should be in us, the love wherewith He Himself was loved, Divine love with all its agonizing possibilities - but with great certainty of eternal joy.
We have lowered the standard. That which should be usual has become so unusual that we are surprised and stirred, and write books about these bright particular stars in our firmament who have shone mightily in loving. Such lives should be the rule, the others the exception. Have we in our refusal of the Crucifix refused also the Cross? We do refuse the Crucifix. The sign of our faith, as Westcott said long ago, is an empty Cross, an empty tomb; He is not here, He is risen. But it is strangely possible to decorate that empty Cross, to smother it in flowers, even (but surely this borders on blasphemy) to use the symbol as an ornament. And yet the great law stands: “Whosoever doth not bear his Cross, and come after Me, cannot be disciple.”
We who follow the Crucified are not here to make a pleasant thing of life; we are called to suffering for the sake of a suffering, sinful world. The Lord forgive us our shameful evasions and hesitations.
His brow was crowned with thorns; do we seek rose-buds for our crowning?
His hands were pierced with nails; are our hands ringed with jewels?
His feet were bare and bound; do our feet walk delicately?
What do we know of travail? Of tears that scald before we fall? of heart-break?
Of being scorned?
God forgive us our love of ease.
God forgive us that so often we turn our faces from a life that is even remotely like His.
Forgive us that we all but worship comfort, the delight of the presence of loved ones, possessions, treasure on earth.
Far, far from our prayers too often is any thought of prayer for a love which will lead us to give one whom we love to follow our Lord to Gethsemane, to Calvary - perhaps because we have never been there ourselves.
Lord, we kneel beside Thee now, with hands folded between Thy hands as a child’s are folded in its mother’s. We would follow the words of Thy prayer, dimly understanding their meaning, but wanting to understand….
"That the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26)
- Amy Carmichael

The natural loves are not self-sufficient. Something else, at first vaguely described as "decency and common sense," but later revealed as goodness, and finally as the whole Christian life in one particular relation, must come to the help of the mere feeling if the feeling is to be kept sweet.
To say this is not to belittle the natural loves but to indicate where their real glory lies. It is no disparagement to a garden to say that it will not fence and weed itself, nor prune its own fruit trees, nor roll and cuts its owns lawns. A garden is a good thing but that is not the sort of goodness it has. It will remain a garden, as distinct from a wilderness, only if someone does all these things to it. Its real glory is of quite a different kind. The very fact that it needs constant weeding and pruning bears witness to that glory. It teems with life. It glows with colour and smells like heaven and puts forward at every hour of a summer day beauties which man could never have created and could not even, on his own resources, have imagined. If you want to see the difference between its contribution and the gardener's, put the commonest weed it grows side by side with his hoes, rakes, shears, and packet of weed killer; you have put beauty, energy and fecundity beside dead, sterile things. Just so, our "decency and common sense" show grey and deathlike beside the geniality of love. And when the garden is in its full glory the gardener's contributions to that glory will still have been in a sense paltry compared with those of nature. Without life springing from the earth, without rain, light and heat descending from the sky, he could do nothing. When he has done all, he has merely encouraged here and discouraged there, powers and beauties that have a different source. But his share, though small, is indispensable and laborious. When God planted a garden He set man over it and set the man under Himself. When He planted the garden of our nature and caused the flowering, fruiting loves to grow there, He set our will to "dress" them. Compared with them it is dry and cold. And unless His grace comes down, like the rain and the sunshine, we shall use this tool to little purpose. But its laborious - and largely negative - services are indispensable. If they were needed when the garden was still Paradisal, how much more now when the soil has gone sour and the worst weeds seem to thrive on it best? But heaven forbid we should work in the spirit of prigs and Stoics. While we hack and prune we know very well that what we are hacking and pruning is big with a splendour and vitality which our rational will could never of itself have supplied. To liberate that splendour, to let it become fully what it is trying to be, to have tall trees instead of scrubby tangles, and sweet apples instead of crabs, is part of our purpose.

The loves prove that they are unworthy to take the place of God by the fact that they cannot even remain themselves and do what they promise to do without God's help....Even for their own sakes the loves must submit to be second things if they are to remain the things they want to be. In this yoke lies their true freedom; they "are taller when they bow." For when God rules in a human heart, though He may sometimes have to remove certain of its native authorities altogether, He often continues others in their offices and, by subjecting their authority to His, gives it for the first time a firm basis.

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.
Christ did not teach and suffer that we might become, even in the natural loves, more careful of our own happiness. If a man is not uncalculating towards the earthly beloveds whom he has seen, he is none the more likely to be so towards God whom he has not. We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armour. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it.

We are all receiving Charity. There is something in each of us that cannot be naturally loved. It is no one's fault if they do not so love it. Only the lovable can be naturally loved. You might as well ask people to like the taste of rotten bread or the sound of a mechanical drill. We can be forgiven, and pitied, and loved in spite of it, with Charity; no other way. All who have good parents, wives, husbands, or children, may be sure that at some times - and perhaps at all times in respect of some one particular trait or habit - they are receiving Charity, are loved not because they are lovable but because Love Himself is in those who love them.
Thus God, admitted to the human heart, transforms not only Gift-Love but Need-Love; not only our Need-love of Him, but our Need-love of one another. This is of course not the only thing that can happen. He may come on what seems to us a more dreadful mission and demand that a natural love be totally renounced. A high and terrible vocation, like Abraham's, may constrain a man to turn his back on his own people and his father's house. Eros, directed to a forbidden object, may have to be sacrifice. In such instances, the process, though hard to endure, is easy to understand. What we are more likely to overlook is the necessity for a transformation even when the natural love is allowed to continue.
In such a case the Divine Love does not substitute itself for the natural - as if we had to throw away our silver to make room for the gold. The natural loves are summoned to become modes of Charity while also remaining the natural loves they were.
One sees here at once a sort of echo rhyme or corollary to the Incarnation itself. And this need not surprise us, for the Author of both is the same. As Christ is Perfect God and perfect Man, the natural loves are called to become Charity and also perfect natural loves. As God becomes Man "Not by conversion of the Godhead into the flesh, but by taking of the Manhood into God." so here; Charity does not dwindle into merely natural love but natural love is taken up into, made the tuned and obedient instrument of, Love Himself.”

And yet, I believe, the necessity for the conversion is inexorable; at least, if our natural loves are to enter the heavenly life. That they can enter it most of us in fact believe. We may hope that the resurrection of the body means also the resurrection of what may be called our “greater body”; the general fabric of our earthly life with its affections and relationships. But only on a condition; not a condition arbitrarily laid down by God, but one necessarily inherent in the character of Heaven: nothing can enter there which cannot become heavenly. “Flesh and blood,” mere nature, cannot inherit that Kingdom. Man can ascend to Heaven only because the Christ, who died and ascended to Heaven, is “formed in him.” Must we not suppose that the same is true of a man’s loves? Only those into which Love Himself has entered will ascend to Love Himself. And these can be raised with Him only if they have, in some degree and fashion, shared His death; if the natural element in them has submitted – year after year, or in some sudden agony – to transmutation. The fashioned of this world passes away. The very name of nature implies the transitory. Natural loves can hope for eternity only in so far as they have allowed themselves to be taken into the eternity of Charity; have at least allowed the process to begin here on earth, before the night comes when no man can work. And the process will always involve a kind of death. There is no escape. In my love for wife or friend the only eternal element is the transforming presence of Love Himself. By that presence, if at all, the other elements may hope, as our physical bodies hope, to be raised from the dead. For this only is holy in them, this only is the Lord.
- C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Dearest Lord, transform our feeble hearts. Transform these lowly, natural loves.
That which you have justified, Lord, glorify!
Purify these loves and make them victorious through Thy Divine Love!
May our loves on earth be seated beneath Thee, reflections of Thy Glory!
Through Him, who loved us, we are more than conquerors in all things.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Simplicity, Names, Love

"There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort." - Jane Austen

I awoke this morning with a fresh resolve to bake something! It has been awhile since I have had a free day to myself, especially to bake a treat. I decided to try a delicious Dutch Apple Bread recipe (as seen in my photo above). Thanks to Mia for the wonderful recipe! It was so delicious!! I enjoyed it during afternoon tea with my sister whilst reading chapters 20 and 21 in Sense and Sensibility. I believe it's my third or fourth time reading S&S and I find myself more captivated by the story this time than ever before! Oh, it was glorious to be at home all day long! I am not ungrateful for my college studies, but it's just very exhausting to be at school six days a week. My heart longs for simple living. School just complicates everything.

I have been reflecting on my name recently. It's been frustrating to me that my parents meant to name me Erika with a K but never got around to changing it on my birth certificate so on official documents it is always Erica with a C. According to the state, I'm Erica, not Erika. You wouldn't think that one letter could make such a huge issue, but it surely does. I have always much preferred Erika for it's roughness in appearance. Does it not suggest a bold independence and romantic, warrior-like personality? Whereas, a C gives a softer appearance of a submissive, calm, and gentle soul. I usually prefer to sign my name as Erika wherever I go, but when it comes to signing documents I am forced to keep with the C. To most people, I am Erica - shy, sweet, quiet. To those who are my family and closest friends, I am Erika - much too passionate, excessively romantic, and terribly independent (not for my best, I assure you). If it has ever confused anyone as to why I go by both names, depending on the situation, now you all know why. Most of the time I am forced to with the C when I am signing for something. It gets me irritated every time; why couldn't my parents just have done it right from the beginning? haha! I could very well just change it now, but you know what a taxing process these supposedly simple tasks are. Having to change one letter in my name just doesn't seem worth the effort...but it would comfort me knowing that I can sign it as EriKa whenever and wherever I want. Nevertheless, I cannot help but think of there being a more divine purpose for this small mistake in my name. It has made me consider keeping the C and accept it as the way I was meant to be named (along with cultivating the type of personality it suggests - more submissive and gentle-hearted) and yet I cannot help but prefer Erika. Do you not see what a dilemma this has become?!
I realize I think too much on these little issues. Anyway, for the sake of fun, I placed a search on my name and came up with a bunch of fascinating results:
Erika is Old Norse for "ever powerful" or "ruler of the people."
It is of Old Norse origin, and its meaning is "forever or alone, ruler".
The Scandinavian form of the name means Ruler of All.
The English form of the name means Brave Ruler.
The Germanic origin means Honorable Ruler.
The Latin origin is known in English as the plant Heather.
Erika is also the name of a yellow German flower.
Erica has 28 variant forms of the name.

A brief analysis of the name (this made me laugh; this is me in a nutshell):
Your name of Erica makes you very idealistic and generous, with the strong desire to uplift humanity leading you into situations where you can express your desire to serve others.

You want to assume responsibilities and to look after people; however, you can become too involved in other people's problems and tend to worry.

Your name gives you a natural desire to express along artistic and musical lines.

You desire a settled home and family life, and are expressive and attentive to your loved ones.

Although the name Erica creates the urge to be reliable and responsible, we emphasize that it causes an emotional intensity that is hard to control.

This name, when combined with the last name, can frustrate happiness, contentment, and success, as well as cause health weaknesses in the nervous system, worry, and mental tension.

Emphasis on emotional intensity. haha...oh dear!

I have taken up a weighty topic in my Biblical studies as of late: Love. The vastness of it is gloriously humbling. I shall continue my discipleship posts with any noteworthy reflections or quotations that I come upon, but I find myself pulled to search out True Love - to know it, to live it, to give it. I was very stupid once to think I knew it. It took a sin, a betrayal, and then the power of the Cross to open my eyes to reality. I have only ever seen a distorted, self-seeking reflection of it. And I myself lived that way for a time. Only after my heart had been pierced and shattered did I realize my great ignorance. It was only then that I came to the Lord in desperation, "Father, make me a student of Thy Love. I need it! I must know it or I shall never truly live!" And ever since that day that I cried from a place of deep, unimaginable pain, by the grace of God, I have awoken everyday to the fresh resolve: Lord, teach me Your Love. I am, most humbly, a student of His Love.

But man's love for God, from the very nature of the case, must always be very largely, and must often be entirely, a Need-Love. This is obvious when we implore forgiveness for our sins or support in our tribulations. But in the long run it is perhaps even more apparent in our growing - for it ought to be growing - awareness that our whole being by its very nature is one vast need; incomplete, preparatory, empty yet cluttered, crying out for Him who can untie things that are now knotted together and tie up things that are still dangling loose.- C.S. Lewis

"There are times when something comes into our lives which is charged with love in such a way that it seems to open the Eternal to us for a moment, or at least some of the Eternal Things, and the greatest of these is love.
It may be a small and intimate touch upon us or our affairs, light as the touch of the dawn-wind on the leaves of the tree, something not to be captured and told to another in words. But we know that it is our Lord. And then perhaps the room where we are, with its furniture and books and flowers, seems less “present” than His Presence, and the heart is drawn into that sweetness of which the old hymn sings.

The love of Jesus, what it is
None but His loved ones know.

Or is it the dear human love about us that bathes us as in summer seas and rests us through and through. Can we ever cease to wonder at the love of our companions? And then suddenly we recognize our Lord in them. It is His love they lavish upon us. O Love of God made manifest in Thy lovers, we worship Thee.
Or (not often, perhaps, for dimness seems to be more wholesome for us here, but sometimes, because our Lord is very merciful) it is given to us to look up through the blue air and see the love of God. And yet, after all, how little we see! “That ye may be able to comprehend what is the breadth and length and depth and height and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge” – the words are too great for us. What do we comprehend, what do we know? Confounded and abased, we enter into the Rock and hide us in the dust before the glory of the Majesty of love – the love whose symbol is the Cross.
And a question pierces then: What do I know of Calvary love?

Some of my sources for study:
Studying Love (part one)
Studying Love (part two)
The Greatest of These Is Love (A sermon series by John Piper)
If - Amy Carmichael
The Four Loves - C.S. Lewis

Monday, November 9, 2009

Simple Woman's Daybook

Outside my window...another sunny day, except this time it's nice and chilly out!
I am thinking...about a Bible school that I was recently accepted by for a 10-week course next summer (in Windsor, CO). I am overwhelmed with so many emotions - excitement for being accepted, joy for being able to meet some of the other participants online and getting to know them, and yet discouraged because money has proven to be a problem and I realize how much I need to have faith that God will provide for this path in my life.
I am thankful for...this wonderful past weekend that I had spent with friends.
I am wearing...a flowy, long white skirt and a dress-like top filled with ornate, flower designs.
I am creating...nothing at the moment. I have a list of things I would like to create, but I haven't the time at the present.
I am school today: Choir, voice rehearsal with piano accompanist, and Digital Audio Workstation class.
I am reading…Deuteronomy and Morning & Evening by Charles Spurgeon.
I am hoping...that the Lord's power will be made perfect in my weaknesses.
I am hearing...monks singing Latin chants.
One of my favorite things...simple days.
A few plans for the rest of the week: Many of my plans are school-related. It's not very exciting to report.
Here is picture thought I am sharing...This is what I wish I could do all day today:

Thanks to the 'Simple Woman'