My Messy House (The Monster Who Was Sorry)

Marc Chagall, The Yellow Room, oil on canvas, 1911.

Hey TD!

During this off-weak from TD, we want to continue to lay the groundwork for real enjoyment of the life and call God has for us; and it starts with cleaning house. Please read this Slice of Infinity from Jill Carattini that illustrates what we’re looking for here at TD:

Kathleen Norris tells a story of a little boy who wrote a poem called “The Monster Who Was Sorry.” The poem begins with a confession: he doesn’t like it when his father yells at him. The monster’s response is to throw his sister down the stairs, then to destroy his room, and finally to destroy the whole town. The poem concludes: “Then I sit in my messy house and say to myself, ‘I shouldn’t have done all that.’”(1)

The confession of Saint Paul bears a fine resemblance: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but I do what I hate.” Regret has a way of shining the flood lights on the mess within us. Norris further expounds the faithful candor of the child describing his own muddled story: “‘My messy house’ says it all: with more honesty than most adults could have mustered, the boy made a metaphor for himself that admitted the depth of his rage and also gave him a way out. If that boy had been a novice in the fourth-century monastic desert, his elders might have told him that he was well on the way toward repentance.”(2)

The journey of a Christian through the many rooms of faith posits countless opportunities to peer at the monster within. There are days in the life of faith when I question whether I am living up to the title of Christian or disciple—or even casual acquaintance. In certain rooms of awareness I find there is no question: I am not. Yet, as G.K. Chesterton wrote in his autobiography, I have only ever found one religion that “dared to go down with me into the depth of myself.”(3) This is precisely the invitation of Christianity. What we find are messy houses, filled with hidden staircases built of excuses, and idols of good deeds atop mantels of false security—in short, the home of Christ in disarray at our own hands.

If we were to remain shut up in this place alone, we might begin to wonder why we should ever hope for anything other than mess and wreckage. Paul’s confession marks the futility of our own efforts to clean the house. But we do not make the journeys to the depths of ourselves alone. In fact, we should not have discovered the messes had they not been shown to us in the first place. We are guided to these places in our consciences, to images of ourselves unadorned, and finally to broken and contrite hearts. Faith in Christ is the opportunity to be searched by the Spirit of Truth, the Breath of Holiness, the God who maneuvers us through messy rooms and sin-stained walls and mercifully exposes monstrous ways. It would indeed be a futile journey if we walked this path alone.

Instead, the very Spirit that shows us the monster in a messy house shows us the one who removes the masks, clears the wreckage, and makes us human again. In a scene from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia, Aslan the lion is seen tearing the costume off the child in front of him.(4) The child writhes in pain from the razor sharp claws that feel as though they pierce his very being. With mounting intensity, Aslan rips away layer after layer, until the child is absolutely certain he will die from the agony. But when it is all over and every last layer has been removed, the child delights in the newfound freedom, having long forgotten the weight of the costume he carried.

The journey of a soul through its messiest rooms is not merely a drive-by glimpse of the depths of our sin and our need for repentance; it is not a journey for the sake of guilt or even right-living. It is true that we are shown the weight of our masks and the extent of our messes; we are handed the great encumbrance of our own failures. But all so we can be shown again the one who asks to take them all from us. All so we can be fully human. “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows… But he was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:4-5). Quite mercifully, it is through the dingy windows of a messy house that one has the clearest view of the cross.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace (New York: Riverhead, 1998), 69.
(2) Ibid., 70.
(3) G.K. Chesterton, The Autobiography of G.K. Chesterton (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006), 334.
(4) Story told in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (New York: HarperCollins, 1994), 115-117.

 

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Learning How to Think

Hey TD!

Now that we are fully vested into the summer, I’d love to encourage you to brush up your mental game, so to speak.  The Apostle Paul exhorts us to not be conformed to the patterns of this world, but to be TRANSFORMED … how? … by the RENEWING OF OUR MINDS (Rom. 12).  In a culture that is increasingly thinking with its feelings, Ravi Zacharias cautions us to remember that our feelings ought to be connected to thinking, and our thinking ought to be right; if we don’t think rightly, we will feel the repercussions of whatever it is that we’re thinking.  As Proverbs 23:7 comments, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”

RZIM’s  Margaret Manning perceptively and honestly challenges us to work through the origins of our own thought patterns with the following contribution to RZIM’s A Slice of Infinity.  Think about it! – Arthur

Learning How to Think

by Margaret Manning Shull

There are patterns of thought that come as natural to us as our daily routines. These patterns of thought emerge from constructs and experiences that color and shape the way in which we view the world and they can emerge in the most unexpected ways. Sometimes we simply repeat what we have heard. Mindless phrases spill out of our mouths forming the patterns of response—even when the response is incongruent with the situation. “It is what it is,” we say, when compassionate silence is called for or “Everything has a reason” when faced with inexplicable chaos.

I recognize in my own life how these patterns of thought belie my true way of viewing the world, much to my chagrin. Oftentimes, they reveal callousness to the suffering of others. I’ll tell someone, “I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers” as a substitute for tangible assistance. Or my desire to fit every happening into a neat, understandable package compels me to speak when I first should listen.

Alexej von Jawlensky, The Thinking Woman, oil on canvas, 1912.Regardless of the situation, it seems a sad reality that so often these patterns of thought and action revolve around placing the self at the center of everything. Many function as if the world really does revolve around the immediate and urgent demands of living one’s own life. Everything is simply an incursion into the routine of putting me, myself, and I front and center. I automatically feel offended, for example, when cut off in traffic. I instinctively feel slighted or defensive that my very presence doesn’t delight and soothe the unhappy. I groan at the inconvenience of having to wait in another line and when I finally have my turn, I take offense at the clerk who doesn’t smile at me the way in which I think I deserve.

In his lauded address to graduates of Kenyon College, the late author David Foster Wallace exposed the routines of thought and action that place the self at the center.(1) In his remarks regarding the benefits of a liberal arts education in shaping one’s ability to think, he suggests that it is the “most obvious, important realities that are the hardest to talk about.”(2) In other words, one of those obvious realities is that when left to our own devices humans think and behave in self-centered ways. But it is one of those routines of thought that mostly goes unmentioned. He continues, “The choice is really about what to think about and how we think about it…to have just a little critical awareness….Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded.”(3) Rarely, Foster Wallace notes, do we think about how we think because what is revealed is that we are basically selfish in action and thought 99% of the time.

But what if we really made thinking about how we think the routine? Foster Wallace conducts a thought experiment to illustrate how this can be done. What if the car that cuts me off in traffic is not about being in my way or being rude to me, but is a father trying to rush his sick son to the hospital or the doctor and I am in his way? What if the person who is critical of me or sullen towards me has only known criticism and neglect her whole life? What if the grocery bagger is not without social skills, but someone who has had little opportunity, whose parents’ have recently split up, and whose general home life is nothing but misery? How different these situations might look if I took the time to think! Indeed, what if my routine became first thinking of the other person?

One of the beautiful aspects of the Christian story is that we really don’t have to live for ourselves in order to find the good life. In fact, the opposite is true: those who seek to save their lives will lose them. Jesus offered an alternative vision as the one who came to serve. As the apostle Paul encouraged the Philippian Christians to not merely look out for their own interests, but also to have the interests of others in mind, he looked to the life of Jesus. “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself taking the form of a servant and made in the likeness of human beings.”(4) How different the world might look if each day we took time to think about the needs of someone else—even just once per day? In so doing, how might that change the very patterns of thought that conspire to keep us living at the center of our own universe, embittered by all the ways we’ve been slighted?

Foster Wallace concludes his address by telling the Kenyon graduates:

“Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation…. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about in the great outside world of wanting and achieving. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able to truly care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad of petty and unsexy ways every day.”(3)

In a world that isn’t always sure what it thinks about Christianity, Jesus stands inviting us to encounter a very different kind of kingdom at the center of all creation, a kingdom in which he, the suffering servant, is Lord. In this kingdom marked by his living example of sacrifice and care, it is most freeing to discover you are far from alone.

Margaret Manning Shull is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.

(1) David Foster Wallace, “This is Water,” Commencement Address, Kenyon College Graduation, Kenyon, Ohio, 2005.
(2) Ibid.
(3) Ibid.

 

“We Must Play” (a must read)

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Chloe closely guarding her mom while Elijah tries to help – 2018 TD Ultimate Tourney

Hey TD!

One of the virtues of our Asian heritage is the valuing of hard work.  And yet, like anything else in life, a virtue can become a vice if emphasized too heavily.  In this humorous and compelling Slice of Infinity, dear friend, Jill Carattini, draws upon the mischievous side of CS Lewis to highlight our God-given need to play; and play we must.  Looking forward to playing with you more in the months ahead! – Arthur

We Must Play 

In August of 1963, due to his ailing health and increasing responsibilities, C.S. Lewis announced his retirement from Cambridge. His stepson Douglas Gresham and friend Walter Hooper were sent to the university to sort out his affairs and bring home the two thousand or so books that lined the walls of his Magdalene College office. Knowing the house was already filled to its bursting point with books, the pair wondered all the way home where on earth they would find the space to put them. But Lewis had already contrived an intricate plan for their use.

A nurse named Alec had been hired to stay up nights in case Lewis fell ill and needed his assistance. As the men returned with the enormous load of books, Alec was asleep in his room on the ground floor. As the truck pulled into the driveway, Lewis appeared, cautioning them to silence. “Where’ll we store the books?” Hooper whispered, to which Lewis responded with a wink. Carrying each stack with tedious concern so as not to wake the sleeping victim, the three men piled the works around the nurse’s bed, sealing him in a cocoon of manuscript and literature. When they were finished, the books were stacked nearly to the ceiling, filling every square inch of the room where the snoring nurse still slept.

Much to the relief of the anxious culprits who were waiting outside, Alex finally awoke. From within the insulated tomb, first came sounds of bellowing, and finally the tumbling of the great literary wall. An amused nurse emerged from within the wreckage.

The characters in this story are every bit as spirited as some of the playful personalities from Lewis’s imaginary worlds. These are the whimsical scenes—fiction and non-fiction—that seal in my mind the many weighty lessons I have wrought from him. But perhaps namely: Christianity is a religion with room—and reason—for life and laughter.

Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Banjo Lesson, oil on canvas, 1893, Hampton University Museum.(2)

Much of the thought and work of C.S. Lewis wrestles with the existential evidences of the life-giving presence of God and the winsome invitations around us that beckon us to participate in this life. I am not alone in saying it was Lewis who first taught me to move toward the questions that reappear though we bury them and to at least be honest about the logical outworkings of the philosophies we hold, even loosely. It was Lewis who taught me to search after God with both heart and mind and energy, but with the wonder and imagination of a child who is able to be startled by the very thing she is looking for. A former atheist, Lewis came to believe with everything in him that Christianity gives an explanation—and a face—to the joy we stumble across, joy that “flickers on the razor-edge of the present and is gone.”

On the one hand, if life is but time and happenstance, why do we laugh or wonder, or experience a desire to play, however fleetingly at all? Is the encounter of delight simply the mind’s attempt to distract us from pain? What good is joy, what purpose is humor or laughter or beauty, if life is but a series of instincts to survive and the universe at a cosmic level is meaningless? On the other hand, if we are made in the image of a holy, loving, imaginative God, how wonderful that God has made us with both logic and laughter, with intrinsic worth and immortal wonder.

Nearing the end of one of his most remarkable lectures, in which he spoke hauntingly of the glory of the God and the immortality of the soul made in God’s image, Lewis added a word of warning: “This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously.”(1)

The resurrected, vicariously human Son of God invites us in to such a story, a creator who made us to live fully, coming in person to confront our desolation and to be our consolation, that we might encounter what the very word means. What if the door on which we have been knocking all our lives will one day open at last? Seeking and playing, finding and living may well be among life’s greatest efforts.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

TD Vlog – “How the Arts Can Deepen Your Faith” w/Jill Carattini

Hey Masterpieces of God!

This summer, while at ReFresh with in Atlanta with some TD’ers, I had a chance to spend some time with dear friend, Jill Carattini, writer extraordinaire on the deeper spiritual life, managing editor of Ravi Zacharias Int’l Ministries’ (RZIM) Slice of Infinity, and curator of RZIM’s formal art gallery, Stillpoint.

Jill agreed to come on camera with me and share with you TD’ers how the arts can deepen and energize your faith, and help you to get a greater apprehension of who we are. It’s spiritually insightful and very personal and vulnerable, reflecting her journey, my journey, … and for many of you … your journey. Where she was is where many of you are at. It will be a worthwhile viewing.

With Offerings 8 coming up on November 16, I thought this would be a great time to give you some inspiration and perspective, so you can prepare to give a meaningful offering to the Lord. Enjoy! – Arthur

Confessions of a Churchgoer

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Introducing Jill to Almond Green Milk Tea with Boba (or bubble tea, as they say in Atlanta)

Hey TD!

The old maxim says, confession is good for the soul.  As I was reading today’s A Slice of Infinity by my friend, Jill Carattini, I must confess that I too share the same shortcomings that she references in her Slice. Read on, fellow churchgoer, and see if you do too. If so, let’s confess, repent, believe, and let God continue His redeeming work in our lives, so we can share the greatest confession of all:

“If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9

– Arthur

Confessions of a Churchgoer

In a world of finger-pointing, Tetsuya Ishikawa paused instead to confess guilt. After seven years at the forefront of the credit markets, he took the idea of a friend to write a book called How I Caused the Credit Crunch because, in the friend’s analysis, “it sounds like you did.”(1) In the form of a novel that discredits the notion of the financial sector as a collaboration of remote, unthinking forces, he admits in flesh and blood that he believes he is guilty, too. Though reviewers note Ishikawa does not remain long with his admission of responsibility, he succeeds in showing the financial markets as a reflection of human choices with moral dimensions and, ultimately, the futility of our ongoing attempts at finding a better scapegoat.

Whenever the subject of blame or fault comes about in any sector of life, whether economic, societal, or individual, scapegoating is a far more common reaction than confessing. Most of us are most comfortable when blame is placed as far away from us as possible. Even the word “confession,” the definition of which is concerned with owning a fault or belief, is now often associated with the sins of others, which an outspoken soul just happens to be willing to share with the world. We are interested in those confessions of a former investment banker/warlord/baseball wife because the “owning up” has nothing to do with owning anything.

Perhaps like many of us in our own confessing, Charles Templeton’s 1996 book, Farwell to God, and the confessions of a former Christian leader, is filled with moments of confession in both senses of the word—honest commentary and easy scapegoating. In his thoughts that deal with the Christian church, it is particularly apparent. Pointing near and far and wide, Templeton observes that the church indeed has a speckled past: “Across the centuries and on every continent, Christians—the followers of the Prince of Peace—have been the cause of and involved in strife. The church during the Middle Ages was like a terrorist organization.”(2) He admits that some good has come from Christian belief, but that there is altogether too much bad that has come from it. He then cites the church’s declining numbers as evidence that the world is in agreement; people are losing interest because the church is failing to be relevant. Pews are empty; denominations oppose one another; the church is floundering, its influence waning—except perhaps its negative influence, according to this confessor.

Paul Klee, City of Churches, pen, pencil, watercolor, paper, 1918.

Of course, many of these confessions regarding the church are indeed riddled with difficult truths that someone somewhere must indeed own. Other assertions are not only difficult to posit as relevant, but are simply dishonest attempts to point blame and escape the more personal, consistent answer. As Templeton determinedly points out the steady decline of attendance in the church as reason to disbelieve, it is unclear how this supports his personal confession that Christian beliefs are untrue. Does the claim of the church’s decline (the veracity of which is debated) say anything about whether Christianity is based on lies, lunacy, or fact? Jesus spoke of those who would turn away, churches that would grow cold, faith that would be abandoned. Moreover, if one is truly convinced that Christianity is an outlandish hoax, isn’t it odd that so much energy is taken in criticizing the church in the first place—as if one had a vision of what the people of God should look like?

Of course, responding to Templeton’s darker admissions regarding the church, I am at times tempted to make a scapegoating confession of my own. Specifically, if I could reasonably judge God by some of God’s followers, I would surely say farewell as well. Like Templeton, I have seen so many lives badly wounded by the pulpit, people trampled by those who call themselves Christians. I have been more disillusioned within the church than I ever have outside of it. Templeton confesses in his book that the church “has seldom been at its best,” and on this point, I couldn’t agree more.(3) But I would also have to add a critical addendum; namely, that I am rarely at my best. I am a part of this church who fails to love well, who says things that hurt, and falls short of its best on a regular basis. But if the church is truly meant to be the place where followers learn to become more like Christ, then I also can’t imagine a better place to be holding such a confession. Failings and all, it is the community that communes with the one who longs most for our human flourishing, who embodies God’s hope for humans at our best. Of the one who meets us in this human place, it was once confessed: “The righteous one shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:12).

It was with such a conviction that G.K. Chesterton responded to a newspaper seeking opinions on the question “What’s wrong with the world?” in one sentence. “Dear Sirs,” he replied, “I am.” In confessions of dark or disappointing realities, can our own hearts really be excluded? It was with visions of war and brokenness around him that David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”(4) It was before the cross scarred body of the human Christ that Thomas confessed, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” This, I believe, is humanity’s best confession.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) Sathnam Sanghera, “Confessions of the Man Who Caused the Credit Crunch,” The Times Online, April 20, 2009, http://timesonline.co.uk, accessed April 21, 2009.
(2) Charles Templeton, Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1996), 129.
(3) Ibid., 127.
(4) Psalm 51:10.

The Key to Living Well?

Hey TD!

What is the key to living well? I believe it is abiding in Christ.  John 15 speaks quite a bit on this:

4“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6“If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. 7“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8“My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. 9“Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 10“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. 11“These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.

Our friend, Margaret Manning Shull, from Ravi Zacharias Int’l Ministries, recently posted a very valuable article in RZIM’s A Slice of Infinity.  Please read the article below and grow your acumen in abiding in Christ, not only for your sake, but for the sake of all those around you! – Arthur

The Art of Abiding by Margaret Manning Shull

When it comes to exercise many of us ask: “How long will it take?” or “How much do I have to do?” The shorter the duration the better, we hope. Scientists at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario have researched the benefits of shorter-duration, high-intensity workouts. They found that the aerobic benefits were just as high as those who had worked out for much longer periods of time.(1) As one professor noted, “If you are someone, like me, who just wants to boost health and fitness and you don’t have 45 minutes or an hour to work out, our data show that you can get big benefits from even a single minute of intense exercise.”(2) This is good news for all who feel there are not enough hours in a day.

Yet, as good as this news may be for some, I am increasingly nervous about all the schemes and strategies to make one’s life more efficient. From the One Minute Manager to the One Minute Workout the short-cutting of our lives appears endemic. If one needs a quicker, faster, shorter version, there is an app for that. But I worry about what happens to our aptitude for endurance in the elevation of the efficient?

Edgar Degas, Musicians in the Orchestra, oil on canvas, 1872.

By contrast, author Malcolm Gladwell argued in his book Outliers that ten thousand hours of deliberate practice are needed before one can become good at some things. He cites Mozart, Bill Gates, and the Beatles as examples of brilliant artists and inventors whose patient practice and discipline began at an early age.(3) In fact, many artists suggest that their creative expression is something that must be practiced—exercised, as it were, just like any muscle. Significant achievement—in any area—is realized when bounded by discipline, and a tireless commitment to practice, routine, and structure. The painter, Wayne Thiebaud, once said that “an artist has to train his responses more than other people do. He has to be as disciplined as a mathematician. Discipline is not a restriction but an aid to freedom.”(4) Sadly, Thiebaud’s and Gladwell’s views are often the minority report in our hurried age.

Assumptions about growth in the spiritual life often parallel these assumptions about efficiency. Often, the drive to see measurable results creates unrealistic expectations. We often want a One Minute Spiritual Life that still yields unbounded growth and instant transformation. We expect the constant flow of “good feelings” surging through us. If we do not experience these things, or if we don’t perpetually experience something novel and instant from the rhythm of worship, prayer, or study, then we believe that something isn’t right. Sadly, we eschew the repetitive nature of discipline and routine.

Ritual, discipline, commitment, and structure seem impediments to growth, rather than the soil in which spiritual growth is nourished and fed. The drive for efficiency lures us into wanting a spiritual life more like osmosis—a process over which we have little control or responsibility.

There are not three easy steps to a vital spiritual life, nor an efficiency guide to greater transformation. And in his life and ministry, Jesus makes this connection between growth and discipline. In the gospel of John he exhorts his followers to “abide” in him—literally to rest and to take nourishment from the life Jesus offers.(5) Rest is the opposite of the efficient. In addition, he describes abiding in terms of love and obedience. “Just as the Father has loved me, I have also loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love; just as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”(6) Jesus insists that joy flows from a life of discipline and obedience that includes keeping his commands. They are not separate endeavors, but intimately enjoined to produce abundant life.

How ironic this statement seems when most of us do not associate joy with discipline or endurance! Our daily living often feels like monotonous routine. We can understand the desire to find a short-cut that brings excitement or instant results. But joy cannot be reduced to a feeling, nor is it dependent on the whims of our personalities. Joy is the result of a life lived in the rhythm of rest, routine, and discipline. Following in the way of Jesus can sometimes feel both tedious and difficult, as surely it is both tedious and difficult at times. But disciplined obedience is not a blockade to fullness of joy, but rather a doorway that opens into the abiding presence of God. There, we encounter one who produces something beautiful that remains.

Margaret Manning Shull is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.

(1) Gretchen Reynolds, “One Minute of All-Out Exercise May Have Benefits of 45 Minutes of Moderate Exertion,” The New York Times Blog, April 27, 2016, Accessed 20 May 2016.
(2) Ibid.
(3) As cited by Timothy Egan in “The One Minute Life,” The New York Times, May 13, 2016, Accessed 20 May 2016.
(4) As cited in Clint Brown, Artist to Artist: Inspiration & Advice from Artists Past & Present (Corvalis, OR: Jackson Creek Publishers, 1998), 87.
(5) John 15:4-5.
(6) John 15:9-11.

 

Something to Consider on Good Friday

Hey TD!

Blessed Good Friday to you. Have you ever wondered why it’s called Good Friday? There are reasons people have offered: that what God was doing was ultimately good, or that it was really God Friday and morphed into Good Friday, etc. One answer that seems quite plausible is that the word good used to mean holy; so, Holy Friday was more the idea than the usual meaning we ascribe to the word good. 

On this Holy Friday (holy means set apart), please take extra time to commune and relate with our Lord, in remembrance, in appreciation and thanksgiving, in prayer, in meditation and contemplation.  Fill your senses and faculties and imagination with Him. Make it all about Jesus.

Below is a Slice of Infinity by our friend, Jill Carattini, that will give you something to consider this Good Friday.  Blessings – Arthur

The Absence of Beauty

Posted by Jill Carattini on April 14, 2017
Topic: A Slice of Infinity

I stood in front of the painting long enough that my neck hurt from craning upward, long enough to make the connection that onlookers that day likely held a similar stance as they watched Jesus of Nazareth on the cross. Francisco de Zurbarán’s massive 1627 painting The Crucifixion hangs in gallery 211 of the Chicago Art Institute. Viewers must stand back from the piece and gaze upward in order to take it all in. Zurbarán depicts the point just before Christ takes his last breath. His body leans forward from exhaustion; his head hangs downward. All details of any background activity are absent, the black backdrop a jarring juxtaposition beside his pale, bruised skin. The artist’s use of light intensifies the stark pull of sympathy towards a body that is both clearly suffering and yet somehow beautiful. At the time, I wasn’t sure what I believed about Christianity. But there was something about the painting I couldn’t stop trying to grasp.

There is indeed something about beauty that for many of us is intensely spiritual. Whether peering into the natural beauty of a majestic waterfall or the exquisite lights of the Eiffel Tower, many describe a connection between beauty and the transcendent in religious terms—at times, even contradictingly so, our own theories of the world either undercutting or cutting off the very possibilities we want to espouse. For many of the minds I admire today, beauty is both a compelling part of their faith and compelling evidence for God’s existence. A blind and mechanistic universe cannot answer for the longings stirred by earthly beauty. Stated more personally, I could not account for the longings stirred by the beauty of a suffering God in person. Staring at Jesus in The Crucifixion, I could not explain the quality of beauty that seemed distinctive of his very soul—choosing even in pain and death to forgive tirelessly, though surrounded by people who do not. As a hen uses her wings to gather her chicks, there are indeed times I suspect the Spirit uses beauty to bring us quietly before the Son.

There are also times when the opposite is true and it is the absence of beauty that leaves us scattered and scurrying, aware and afraid, and longing for the shelter of divine wings. Good Friday offers such an occasion. In Christian churches all over the world yesterday, the last moments of Jesus were remembered and reenacted in various ways. In his final moments before he would be tortured and killed, he shared the Passover meal with his closest friends. He washed his disciples’ feet and he tried to comfort them, though death no doubt loomed with suffocating force. In some services, following a foot washing ceremony or a last celebration of the Lord’s Supper before Good Friday, a ceremony called theStripping of the Altar concludes the worship service.

I was privileged to participate in such a service one year at King’s College Chapel, the stunning cathedral built by Henry VI in 1446. With a deafening silence that amplified the sense of heaviness at the approach of the crucifixion, objects were removed piece by piece from the altar: communion chalice and plate, the altar cross, the holy Bible, the altar candles, the liturgical coverings. As the altar was slowly stripped to a stark table, the dramatic Tudor glass windows were simultaneously growing dark as the sun set. I was struck with the impending sense of death. What happened next unexpectedly heightened that sense. Behind the altar, a massive painting by the artist Peter Paul Rubens portrays Jesus as an infant in Mary’s arms; the magi are gathered around in adoration, leaning toward the child expectantly. The sound of the painting being shut was jarring; the echo sounded like the closing of a tomb.

But it was the image of the baby suddenly and jarringly absent, beauty extinguished, that finally compelled tears. As the congregation exited in silence, I left thinking about the crucifixion in way I hadn’t before. I left with the disquieting thought of God’s absence—a Son crucified, a mother mourning, a world without Christ.

In his famed Nobel Prize acceptance speech Alexandr Solzhenitsyn eloquently hoped aloud that when the day comes that truth and goodness are crushed, cut down, not allowed through cultures and minds, then perhaps the fantastic, unpredictable, unexpected stems of beauty will push through and soar to that very same place.(1) Today, on this Good Friday, it is the absence of Christ, the death of truth and goodness and beauty himself, that pushes through, pleading with a noisy world to stop and listen to the deafening silence, which just moments earlier heard him plead: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

 

 

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

 

(1) Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Nobel Lecture in Literature 1970, from Nobel Lectures, Literature 1968-1980, Editor-in-Charge Tore Frängsmyr, Editor Sture Allén, (Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co.: 1993).