Thursday, December 23, 2010

Advent Hope

This passage in Wright's Surprised by Hope struck me yesterday, particularly because of its relation to the present season:
"Christ has died," we say in the Anglican Eucharist, "Christ is risen; Christ will come again."  And of course in the creed too: "He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead."  If we sing it once during the season of Advent, we sing it a dozen times.  "Alleluia! Come, Lord, come!"
And if we are ordinary mainstream Christians in Britain today - and in many other places too, including parts of North America - we may well add under our breath, "even though I haven't a clue what it means." The so-called second coming of Jesus is not a hot topic in the preaching of the mainstream churches, even in Advent. (117)
The truth of this struck me, both saddening me and making me want to read on to better understand the theology of the church in this matter.  Wright goes on to first discuss why it is that people have become confused on this topic and then to carefully explain the problems with some of the troubling but popular perspectives on this.  He begins by writing,
At one end, some have made the second coming so central that they can see little else.  At the other, some have so marginalized or weakened it that it ceases to mean anything at all.  
Both positions need to be challenged.  I shall shortly show that the focus on the so-called rapture is based on a misunderstanding of two verses in Paul and that when we get that misunderstanding out of the way, we can find a doctrine of Jesus's coming that remains central and vital if the whole Christian faith is not to unravel before our eyes. [...] (121)
Side note: 
Please don't mis-interpret this quotation as leading into a speculative chapter on end-times.  Instead, Wright calls the church back to orthodox theology (based on careful study of the New Testament) and warns us of the dangers of diverging from this  (for example, an escapist perspective which abandons the world to its future destruction).   It is not so much "who has the right interpretation", but "is it sound?" and "does it fit with scripture as a whole?" As he states,
We must remind ourselves yet once more that all Christian language about the future is a set of signposts pointing into a mist.  Signposts don't normally provide you with advance photographs of what you'll find at the end of the road, but that doesn't mean they aren't pointing in the right direction. (132)
I highly recommend this book to all of us who pray, "come, Lord Jesus, come" during Advent, with only a dim sense of what that ancient prayer has meant throughout the history of the church and of what it means to us today.

A Scientist and the Resurrection

The resurrection of Jesus is central to the Christian faith.  In his book Surprised by Hope, N. T. Wright argues that we must grasp its significance in order to understand the present and the future.  A physically alive, transformed and risen Jesus Christ is indeed the worshiped Lord of the church.

The problem is that this event - bodily resurrection - doesn't fit into our framework of how the world usually works.  Wright gets at the heart of this in a passage in his book I will now quote.  In addition to its centrality in his argument, I think this passage is especially relevant to those of us in science - even (or perhaps even more so) simply to those who subscribe to a scientific worldview.
But how far does the "scientific" position go?  When we ask what a scientist can believe about something, we are asking a two-level question.  First, we are asking about what sort of things the scientific method can explore and how it can know or believe certain things.  Second, we are asking about the kind of commitment someone wedded to scientific knowing is expected to have in all other areas of his or her life.  Is a scientist, for example, expected to have a scientific approach to listening to music?  To watching a football game?  To falling in love?  The question of whether a scientist  can believe in Jesus's resurrection assumes, I think, that the resurrection, and perhaps particularly the resurrection of Jesus, is something that might be expected to impinge on the scientist's area of concern, somewhat as if one were to ask, "Can a scientist believe that the sun could rise twice in a day?" or "Can a scientist believe that a moth could fly to the moon?"  This is different, in other words, from asking, "Can a scientist believe that Schubert's music is beautiful?" or "Can a scientist believe that her husband loves her?"  There are those, of course, who by redefining the resurrection as simply a spiritual experience in the inner hearts and minds of the disciples pull the question toward the latter pair and away from the former.  But that is ruled out by what, as we shall see, all first-century users of the language of resurrection meant by the word.  Resurrection in the first century meant someone physically, thoroughly dead becoming physically, thoroughly alive again, not simply surviving or entering a "purely spiritual" world, whatever that might be.  Resurrection therefore necessarily impinges on the public world.
But at this point we meet a third element in knowing, a puzzling area beyond science [...].
The challenge is in fact the challenge of new creation.  To put it at is most basic: the resurrection of Jesus offers itself, to the student of history or science no less than the Christian or the theologian, not as an odd event within the world as it is, but as the utterly characteristic, prototypical, and foundational event within the world as it has begun to be.  It is not an absurd event within the old world but the symbol and starting pint of the new world.  The claim advanced in Christianity is of that magnitude: Jesus of Nazareth ushers in not simply a new religions possibility, not simply a new ethic or a new way of salvation, but a new creation."
(p 66-67, boldface added)
Our celebration of Christmas is not complete without understanding the resurrection.  The resurrection means we celebrate not just a historic event of God coming to us, but a present reality as well.  I hope the above quotation, though perhaps a bit lengthy, was as helpful to you as it was to me on this topic.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Surprised by Hope

What is the central Christian hope?  What happens to you when you die?  These are questions that N. T. Write seeks to answer in his book Surprised by Hope.  This book was highly recommended to me by my family and I am enjoying reading it so far.  Reading of this book - as well as a nearly finished knitting project - are the main reasons for my lack of posting earlier this week.  I apologize for the delay and hope that, in the meantime, you can have a chance to ponder the two questions at the beginning of this post.  Or maybe just browse the archives... or go make Christmas cookies or cards ... or find that book to read it for yourself!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Seasons of the Church (Part III): Christmas

Just as Christianity is pointless without Christ, so Advent makes no sense without Christmas.  For Christ is at the center of our faith, and it is His coming, His Advent, which we eagerly anticipate in the four weeks before Christmas.

We all have things we look forward to at Christmas.  For students, it means a pause in the pace of studies, a welcome time with family.  For many of us, we have traditions with family to anticipate.  There is decorating and gift-making and baking.  If we pay attention to the messages of our culture, we should look forward to rushing about to make everything perfect, to spending lots of money on people (regardless of what they really need), and an ideal, cheery, holiday.

For centuries, the church has also provided something to look forward to  - a rich celebration of the coming of Christ.

Salisbury Cathedral
Photo Credit: Ash Mills
A brief history of Christmas
(summarized from Ireton's book)
Christmas became a Christian holy day in the fourth century, and was chosen to coincide with pagan solstice celebration.  Whatever the reasons for this choice, it is profound for us in the northern hemisphere that we celebrate the coming of the light of the world during the darkest time of the year.

By the twelfth century it was a major celebration with three masses, each celebrating different aspects of the birth of Christ.  Then, and now in some churches, Christmas was not a day but a season, stretching to Epiphany on Jan 6.

In this sense the long wait of Advent makes sense: it culminates in a season of celebration and rejoicing.  Wouldn't it be great if we could bring this tradition back?   Do you have any ideas for celebrating Christmas differently this year?

The Liturgical Colors
white - symbolizing the light of Christ, as well as his purity and innocence.
gold - symbolic of Christs  royal kingship and triumph over sin and death.

Grief in the mist of Joy
Ireton makes an interesting point: that in the midst of the Christmas season is the remembrance of the slaughter of innocent children.  The church calendar does not shy away from the reality of the world to which Christ came.  Ireton states,
Placing [The Feast of the] Holy Innocents here, in the midst of Christmas, forces us to face the wickedness of this world, which will intrude on even our most joyful celebrations, showing them to be incomplete, premature. (39)
I'm not sure that is the reason for it's placement, but nevertheless it does give us pause for thought, and lends a reality, even an audacity, to the celebrations which would not be there otherwise.  The evil and sin in the world does not make Christmas less worth celebrating - rather it is for this reason that Christ came.  And it is because of Christ's coming that we have hope of a time when all evil is truly and forever defeated and we can rejoice in endless light.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

How will you celebrate Advent this year?

Re-adjusting your calendar really does reveal priorities.  As I consider how I will celebrate Advent, I realize once again how important my time is to me, and how hard it is to give it up.  I realize that, subconsciously at least, it feels like I must make a choice between doing well academically (and just coping with life!) and focusing on Christ.  But is this really the case?

The more I think about it, the more I realize this 'choice' is yet another subtle lie that I have forgotten to question.  Instead I need to remember that  "in him we live and move and have our being"(Acts 17:28), and that it is in pushing Christ out that we lose our life. "For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it." (Mat 10:39,16:25, Mk 8:35,Lk 9:24...)   Putting Christ over the 'logic' of self interest is one of the counter-cultural parts of our faith, yet it is something God wants to teach us to do - abd what a gift it is!  Advent gives us an opportunity to practice just that.

Here are a list of practical ideas for celebrating Advent this year:

  • Buy or borrow an Advent devotional book, and take time either on your own or with a group of family or friends to use it once a week or even daily.  
  • Make/buy an advent wreath and light it during these times, and even at meals.  This could be as simple as arranging five candles on your table.    The traditional colors are purple, pink (see previous post) and white (for the Christ Candle - the center one).
  • Give up something (for example, sweets, or the singing of Christmas carols) for these four weeks before Christmas.  This helps remind us of our need for repentance, and also makes more tangible our sense of waiting for the true celebration of Christmas.
  • Simply challenge yourself to spend more time with God in prayer.
  • Participate in advent celebrations within your local church body.
This list is based off things that I have found helpful, but I'm sure there are many other ways you could celebrate advent.  May you be challenged and encouraged!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Seasons of the Church (part II): Advent

Greeting by Sr. Claire Joy, Digital art, October 2008.
This was taken from the blog 
"What is Advent?", a friend recently asked me.  Advent is the four weeks before Christmas in the church calendar, in which we celebrate the coming of our Savior, Christ.  It is, as Ireton calls it, a "season of waiting".  Our waiting is twofold: we await the celebration of God coming into our world as a human (the incarnation) called Jesus, and we look forward to that day when he will return.

Ireton writes a bit about the origins of Advent:
Advent originated as a period of fasting in preparation for the Feast of the Nativity (Christmas), most likely in Gaul (modern day France).  This pre-Christmas fast was practiced in some form by the late 400s, though it wasn't until the second half of the sixth century, when prayers and scriptural texts for the Sundays preceding Christmas began to be written and selected, that Advent as we know it came into being. (18)
How is it relevant to us today?  Ireton challenges us to let it shape us:
If we were to observe Advent as the season of thoughtful reflection and repentance that it has traditionally been, we would have an opportunity to ... rethink our priorities, to realign our lives with God's desire for us, to seek forgiveness and start anew... To spend the weeks before Christmas in this way would be radically countercultural, to be sure, but it would also serve to remind us that we are waiting for Christmas -- and that the celebration of Christmas is worth waiting for. (21)

I will talk more about the 'basics' of Advent.  As you will see, with each part of the celebration of the church is associated a color.  Purple is the color of Advent, symbolic of repentance as we prepare for the coming of Christ.

Each Sunday has a slightly different traditional focus, or "watchword":

  • Wait - not passive, bored waiting, but "active waiting", as Nouwen calls it.  Ireton also points out that "in Hebrew, the word for wait is also the word for hope" (22). 
  • Prepare -  As John the Baptist urged those who would listen before Jesus came, and as Christ warned us, we must be ready for the coming of Christ.  Ireton points out how appropriate this is in the context of the rest of the church year:   " Advent follows a long season of Ordinary Time in which the busyness and dailyness of our lives can distract us, making us forget to pay attention or to remember that we are living in expectation of Christs return.  That is why we need Advent -- it reminds us to pay attention, to be on gaurd, to keep watch that we might be ready for Christ when he comes again" (24)
  • Rejoice - The color pink is used on the third Sunday as a symbol of joy.  Mary's joy is particularly a focus.  I found it particularly meaningful to think about the story of Mary in terms of the way in which God is working.  As Ireton writes, "It is God who does these great things, to be sure, as Mary herself proclaims, but how great a God we serve, that he would allow us, invite us, long for us to participate in his redeeming work in the world."  Yes indeed, how great a God we serve!
  • Love - traditionally associated with Joseph.  It is time when we are challenged both to love and to see more of God's love.  Ireton explains that "Joseph's love for Mary and for Jesus, with its attendant self-sacrifice, points beyond itself, giving us a glimpse of God's great outpouring of himself in love for all of us, love that is seen so clearly in the incarnation, the coming of the God who created the cosmos to live among us as one of us"
Advent is quite possibly my favorite part of the year.  I have many memories of lighting the advent candles with my family and each week seeing the light grow in our darkened house.  It is a time that teaches us to wait in the darkness so that we can really understand that light which we know and for which we hope.

There is so much more I could say that I'm guessing there will probably be more posts on the subject.  I hope this has helped you think about the four weeks ahead in a different way.  I know I am challenged to consider what I will do to incorporate into my life this kind of "active" - not busy - waiting.

How are you going to celebrate Advent this year?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Church Year Spirituality - a related blog post

The InternetMonk blog is also starting a series on the church calendar.  The first post makes some similar points, but I thought you might be interested in reading it.  I found it helpful.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Seasons of the Church (part I)

For the past few years, I have had a growing interest in learning more about the liturgical year of the church.  I decided to do some reading on the subject, and will discuss what I am learning on this blog, in the form of a series of posts.  I thought it was an appropriate time to do so, since the beginning of Advent (at the end of this month) marks the beginning of the church calendar.

I am reading The Circle of Seasons by Kimberlee Ireton.  The book is subtitled "Meeting God in the Church Year".  Here are some of the tings she has to say about why we should, as a church and as individuals, learn to celebrate the seasons of the church.

First, it helps us relate and understand all of our time "through the lens of the Christ-story"(12).  She writes
"The church year has seasons of darkness, of light, of sorrow, of rejoicing, of just getting through.  Our lives have such seasons too.  By incorporating these experiences, the church year hallows them, reminding us that all time is sacred because God is present in it." 
 Time is an important part of our lives, and God is present in that, too.  Ireton writes
"The church year is another way God reaches into time to draw us to himself.  In living each year the mystery of our faith - Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again - we open ourselves to receive a deeper understanding of that mystery..."  
There is also in this cyclical nature of the church year the graceful allowance for us to learn more from it each year as we come back again and again to these truths and mysteries.

Ireton also points out that celebration of the church year is "necessarily communal".  This is something that the Church has always been.   Yet what a witness it can be!  As she points out, "In an individualistic culture, this focus on community celebration is a witness to the wholeness that people can have only in living life together." (14).  I have personally experienced the truth of this statement many an Advent and Easter season.

Finally, and perhaps most personally motivating, is the potential for celebration of the church year to help change our perspective God-ward instead of culture-ward.  Ireton writes
Observing the seasons of the church year also helps us embrace the church's telling of time instead of our culture's.  Our culture's calendar is grounded in capitalism, which requires consumption.  Back-to-school sales, day-after-thanksgiving sales, the Christmas shopping season, after-Christmas sales, Valentine's Day, Easter, Mother's Day, graduation, Father's Day, the Fourth of July -- there is a sale associated with each and every cultural holiday or occasion to induce us to consume more.  This way of measuring time reduces us to mere consumers, instead of inviting us to be fully human, with all the varied emotions, experiences and roles that entails.
Isn't this so true?  It is so easy to slip into this.  Yet when we consider the rich potential of understanding our lives in the context of the church and God's workings - why would we ever want this consumer version?  The way we measure our time is perhaps more powerful than we always realize.  God knows this.  He works in time, and invites us to join Him.  I hope you are as excited as I am to grow in this area!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

You should listen to this.

I don't think I've ever just forwarded something like this, but I just listened to this sermon and I think it really bears listening too.  I recently had two brief discussions with friends about whether or not there is a spiritual world. What do you believe?  What you believe affects how you live and pray.

Listen to this while you make dinner tomorrow, or while you're getting ready for bed, or whenever it is you have 45 minutes.  And if you don't have time, at least include Ephesians 6:10-20 in your thoughtful reading of the bible this week.

How to Win in Prayer: Spiritual Warfare
a message by Pete Grieg at Holy Trinity Brompton, London.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Spiritual Discontent

As Christians, we are supposed to be satisfied and content.  Not only does God's presence satisfy us (See, for example, Psalm 17:14), but through his works he has given us everything we need - and so much more!  And yet...

I propose that on another level, at least at some times, it is a good thing for us to be discontent.  Many times in the bible we see  people expressing their discontent with the injustice and evil  and sin in our world.  Certainly this is in line with God's perspective.

But there is yet another kind of spiritual discontent.  This is when we are unsatisfied with our own spiritual state.  We begin to expect more of God and, as a result, we expect more of ourselves.  Discontent such as this drives us to vulnerability and to more earnest waiting on God.

In all of our spiritual discontent, I pray along with the apostle Paul in high expectation:
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength...
Ephesians 1:17-19
How have you experienced spiritual discontent in your own life?

Monday, October 25, 2010

photoblog: Mount Hope

This week instead of finding time to blog, I took some pictures in Mt Hope cemetery.  I think the best way to view them is to go to my flickr photostream.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

"with the thanksgiving breath"

O cry created as the bow of sin
Is drawn across our trembling violin.
O weep, child, weep, O weep away the stain.
O law drummed out by hearts against the still
Long winter of our intellectual will.
That what has been may never be again.
O flute that throbs with the thanksgiving breath
Of convalescents on the shores of death.
O bless the freedom that you never chose.
O trumpets that unguarded children blow
About the fortress of their inner foe.
O wear your tribulation like a rose.

This was a verse I heard sung on Friday.  It is from a work by Benjamin Britten entitled Hymn to St. Cecilia, and the words are by British poet W. H. Auden.   It speaks of that which is beautiful, sorrowful, fragile and strong, intangible and yet resonate.  It is poignant in its understanding of fallen humanity.  This theme is one common in the arts, and one we would do well to grasp.  Or perhaps we all grasp as much of it as we can handle at a given time, and that is enough.  For do you not think that in understanding the sorrow of man we can better grasp the depths of the love of God?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Relevantly Irrelevant

I have been reflecting this week on the importance of titles and names, in particular with regard to blogs.  Then I realized that more importantly than just the name, the blog or thing itself must be intriguing.  This, I think, is the true challenge of blogging.  I have come up with three things that I think make people want to read a blog:

  1. The blog is interesting.  Whether because it is strange or quirky or well written or mysterious, it catches interest.  Since blogs are read by choice, it makes sense that only the ones that people find interesting enough to want to read will be read.
  2. It is relevant.  The reader, consciously or not, most likely desires some benefit from reading.  Ideally, it should stimulate thinking in an area the reader  thinks is important.  Perhaps a blog will even answer questions that the readers have (see below!).
  3. The blog resonates with the reader.  There is some point of reference that the reader and writer share.  This connection makes the writing easier to read, and the reader (with an open mind) can more readily learn something from it.
Notice that something is lacking in this list.  I did not say that the blog says something of value.  Interesting does not equal important.  Relevant is closer to the mark but resonance could happen with many topics.  Isn't this true with much of our life?  We get distracted with the interesting things and can't find time for the important things.  How wonderful yet rare when all of these things come together!

I want to leave you with a challenge and a question.

The Challenge:  Think about the important and interesting things in your life.  When are they distinct?  Are there things for which both words are equally good descriptors?

The Question:  I am searching for things to blog about which are interesting, relevant, resonate with you, and have some value.  What would you like me to write about?

Post your answer in the comment space for this post, or email me at cupofsky [at] hotmail . com.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Psalm 77 and a couple of thoughts

Psalm 77
For the director of music. For Jeduthun. Of Asaph. A psalm.
1 I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.

2 When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands,
and I would not be comforted.

3 I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.

4 You kept my eyes from closing;
I was too troubled to speak.

5 I thought about the former days,
the years of long ago;

6 I remembered my songs in the night.
My heart meditated and my spirit asked:
The Psalmist is not afraid to ask the hard questions.  He openly repeats the doubts that he had:

7 "Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?

8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?

9 Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?"
This marks a shift, and we begin to understand why the psalmist, writing in the past tense, was able to write this whole psalm.  The questions and uncertainty are not the whole picture.
10 Then I thought, "To this I will appeal:
the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.

11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
Now he switches from talking about "the LORD" to a personal "You".  This psalm takes him from talking about God to talking to God.  This transition was not necessarily automatic - it was the result of intentionally remembering God's constant character and works.  This is something from which I am trying to learn. 

12 I will consider all your works
and meditate on all your mighty deeds."
"I will".  This is intentional prayer.

13 Your ways, God, are holy.
What god is as great as our God?

14 You are the God who performs miracles;
you display your power among the peoples.

15 With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.

16 The waters saw you, God,
the waters saw you and writhed;
the very depths were convulsed.

17 The clouds poured down water,
the heavens resounded with thunder;
your arrows flashed back and forth.

18 Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
your lightning lit up the world;
the earth trembled and quaked.

19 Your path led through the sea,
your way through the mighty waters,
though your footprints were not seen.

20 You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron. 
 Wrapped up in meditating on God's goodness, he describes in joyful detail an event which, although he did not witness it, still shapes his view of God.  Is this not how we as Christians should meditate upon all of scripture?

From your experience, do you have any techniques for remembering that you would like to share?

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Today I spent my blogging time uploading photos.  If you like you can think of it as a photoblog of my week.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Contentment I

There's a happy cricket in the yard
and clean sheets between which to slip.  Now
tired muscles can rest
and mind slide softly
into sleep while the cricket sings
and the spinning earth
brings the quiet coolness of night.

Two recent pictures:
a delightful culinary experiment: tabbouleh  made with quinoa
Heron on the Genesee

Sunday, August 8, 2010

This afternoon I (finally) watched the 5th Harry Potter movie.  It is an intense struggle against evil, a struggle of trying to find the good worth fighting for.  Reflecting on the film, I realized that his very struggle is likely one of the things that makes the film so popular.

Good and evil are very real parts of our world.  In a culture full of apathy, there is something very appealing about a group of people who will band together and do something to fight against the evil.  In some ways, the imagined evil in the fantasy world of these stories can teach us something about the evil that is already present in our world.

At the end of the movie, Harry quotes Dumbledore (often the voice of wisdom in these stories) , saying
[...] even though we've got a fight ahead of us, we've got one thing that Voldemort doesn't have -- something worth fighting for. 
What are they fighting for?  Friends and family, peace and laughter, truth?  The answer is slightly ambiguous, but the statement is striking nevertheless, if only because it makes the fight of Voldemort seem so futile.

What are we fighting for?  The joyful reign and light of Christ to permeate every part of our world, bringing glory to our triune God?  That all may know this God of all love, beauty, grace and truth? 

I challenge you to consider this question, and let the answer transform the way you live.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

a poem

Here's another poem by Wendell Berry. Between reading his poems and being friends with writers, I've decided I should read more poetry.


A bulldozer digging in a pond
on my mother's family's land
unearths two stoneware jugs
buried four feet in the ground,
one broken and one intact.
Who put them there? When? Why?
We suppose, but can't explain.
Those who have come and gone
are gone. How lost to us
they are whose lives passed here
in the sun's beauty and sorrow!
And who in a hundred years
will know us as we are
in our present living and dying
here under the very sun, lost
to the future as to the past?

Monday, July 26, 2010

July Street

Six a.m. Loud and clear the day begins. A garbage truck sighs loudly, alternately starting and stopping
seven a.m. The roofers arrive and begin work, air compressor lurching on and off, hammers and ladders banging.
eight a.m. Bartok plays on the radio, the accompaniment of the roofers strangely appropriate.
noon. Cicadas buzz high up on leafy branches.
three p.m. The yells and shrieks of children at play are heard through the hot afternoon air
six p.m. As the sun relents, people gather on porches, shouting greetings to passing friends.
eight p.m. A rap beat pulses out of a car as it saunters down the street.
eleven p.m. Friends gather on the neighbor's porch in the cooler night. Conversation and music drift down the street.
five a.m. Dawn. Silence.
And then - a cardinal begins his song, ringing in the stillness, joyfully welcoming a new day.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Monday night seems to be becoming a pattern here... hmm. It's 11 and I should go to bed (so that my lectures are coherent tomorrow), but the neighbors are having a party so maybe I should just stay up and write. It's a good night for a party, I have to admit - a nice cool evening after so many days of heat.

This week my thoughts are more of a confession than anything else. I have been humbled to learn how much my study of the bible has been lacking intentionality and vigor. I have learned how to study physics without really learning how to study the bible. The book "How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth" by Fee and Stuart is teaching me a bit of what it really means to study the bible. Also my friends. Considering I've been a 'student' for something like 17 years now, you would think I'd have caught on sooner to the necessity of this.

I am grateful for what I have learned, and leaning on His grace and strength to change.

Monday, July 5, 2010

the most incredible event

I've been reading the Message paraphrase, and have been struck anew by certain passages. Paul's argument for the necessity of believing the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 is powerful. Even though I claim this to be true (every time I say the creed, for example) Paul's words challenge us to consider how this affects the way we think about and live our lives. I have selected portions of the passage (it is somewhat lengthy) below for you to read and consider as well.


Friends, let me go over the Message with you one final time [...]

The first thing I did was place before you what was placed so emphatically before me: that the Messiah died for our sins, exactly as Scripture tells it; that he was buried; that he was raised from death on the third day, again exactly as Scripture says; that he presented himself alive to Peter, then to his closest followers, and later to more than five hundred of his followers all at the same time, most of them still around (although a few have since died); that he then spent time with James and the rest of those he commissioned to represent him; and that he finally presented himself alive to me. It was fitting that I bring up the rear. I don't deserve to be included in that inner circle, as you well know, having spent all those early years trying my best to stamp God's church right out of existence.

But because God was so gracious, so very generous, here I am. [...]

Now, let me ask you something profound yet troubling. If you became believers because you trusted the proclamation that Christ is alive, risen from the dead, how can you let people say that there is no such thing as a resurrection? If there's no resurrection, there's no living Christ. And face it—if there's no resurrection for Christ, everything we've told you is smoke and mirrors, and everything you've staked your life on is smoke and mirrors. Not only that, but we would be guilty of telling a string of barefaced lies about God, all these affidavits we passed on to you verifying that God raised up Christ—sheer fabrications, if there's no resurrection.

If corpses can't be raised, then Christ wasn't, because he was indeed dead. And if Christ weren't raised, then all you're doing is wandering about in the dark, as lost as ever. It's even worse for those who died hoping in Christ and resurrection, because they're already in their graves. If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we're a pretty sorry lot. But the truth is that Christ has been raised up, the first in a long legacy of those who are going to leave the cemeteries.

There is a nice symmetry in this: Death initially came by a man, and resurrection from death came by a man. Everybody dies in Adam; everybody comes alive in Christ. But we have to wait our turn: Christ is first, then those with him at his Coming, the grand consummation when, after crushing the opposition, he hands over his kingdom to God the Father. He won't let up until the last enemy is down—and the very last enemy is death! As the psalmist said, "He laid them low, one and all; he walked all over them." When Scripture says that "he walked all over them," it's obvious that he couldn't at the same time be walked on. When everything and everyone is finally under God's rule, the Son will step down, taking his place with everyone else, showing that God's rule is absolutely comprehensive—a perfect ending!


And why do you think I keep risking my neck in this dangerous work? I look death in the face practically every day I live. Do you think I'd do this if I wasn't convinced of your resurrection and mine as guaranteed by the resurrected Messiah Jesus? Do you think I was just trying to act heroic when I fought the wild beasts at Ephesus, hoping it wouldn't be the end of me? Not on your life! It's resurrection, resurrection, always resurrection, that undergirds what I do and say, the way I live. If there's no resurrection, "We eat, we drink, the next day we die," and that's all there is to it. But don't fool yourselves. Don't let yourselves be poisoned by this anti-resurrection loose talk. "Bad company ruins good manners."

Think straight. Awaken to the holiness of life. No more playing fast and loose with resurrection facts. Ignorance of God is a luxury you can't afford in times like these. Aren't you embarrassed that you've let this kind of thing go on as long as you have?

Some skeptic is sure to ask, "Show me how resurrection works. Give me a diagram; draw me a picture. What does this 'resurrection body' look like?" If you look at this question closely, you realize how absurd it is. There are no diagrams for this kind of thing. We do have a parallel experience in gardening. You plant a "dead" seed; soon there is a flourishing plant. There is no visual likeness between seed and plant. You could never guess what a tomato would look like by looking at a tomato seed. What we plant in the soil and what grows out of it don't look anything alike. The dead body that we bury in the ground and the resurrection body that comes from it will be dramatically different.


This image of planting a dead seed and raising a live plant is a mere sketch at best, but perhaps it will help in approaching the mystery of the resurrection body—but only if you keep in mind that when we're raised, we're raised for good, alive forever! The corpse that's planted is no beauty, but when it's raised, it's glorious. Put in the ground weak, it comes up powerful. The seed sown is natural; the seed grown is supernatural—same seed, same body, but what a difference from when it goes down in physical mortality to when it is raised up in spiritual immortality!


I need to emphasize, friends, that our natural, earthy lives don't in themselves lead us by their very nature into the kingdom of God. Their very "nature" is to die, so how could they "naturally" end up in the Life kingdom?

But let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I'll probably never fully understand. We're not all going to die—but we are all going to be changed. You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes—it's over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again. At the same moment and in the same way, we'll all be changed. In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen: everything perishable taken off the shelves and replaced by the imperishable, this mortal replaced by the immortal. Then the saying will come true:

Death swallowed by triumphant Life!
Who got the last word, oh, Death?
Oh, Death, who's afraid of you now?

It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power. But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three—sin, guilt, death—are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God!

With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don't hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.

Friday, June 25, 2010

June Lights

The weekend was so full I didn't realize until just now that Sunday had come and gone without a post. Here's a poem-in-the-rough I wrote earlier and hoped to revise. Perhaps I still will, but not tonight.

The summer sun has slipped below the horizon
and fragrant dusk darkens the familiar path among the trees
as it bends away from the road
and so my bike wheels propel me forward on the empty road
steadily and nearly silently, I make my way home
before the smooth grey of pavement joins the shadows of the trees.

And then -- an unexpected glimmer --
and before I have time to think I'm seeing things --
another over above the grass

Now I barely see the road ahead
not because of growing darkness
but because of growing expectation of light,
flecks of gold in the dusky green-blue-grey of this place
rising above the ground and vanishing
as quickly as they came.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


I am wordless so today I will simply post a few recent photos. These were not meant to be artistic shots - simply quick captures of things I enjoyed.


red paint

growing shadow

the Erie Canal

sunset sketch

Monday, June 14, 2010


This week I moved into a new apartment –well, really it feels more like a house than “just” an apartment. Both my housemate and I are ridiculously excited about it. So excited that it makes me stop and think. Why? Sure, it is a nice old place with lots of character and even though it may not be in the best neighborhood by some standards we like the location. But why is moving in so important?

My hypothesized answer is that we want to settle. We were excited about moving into our first apartment last year, but we knew that it would most likely be temporary. Now we can hope that we won’t have to move in a year, as both of us have been doing since we left our parents’ homes for college. Settling means putting down some roots, doing things well now as small investments – hanging curtains with care, planning for a garden – hoping we will be here for a while to enjoy them.

Settling means security, in the wisdom of the world. I am again reminded of the challenging words of Jesus “the Son of Many has no place to lay his head”, and continue in my struggle to understand what it means to follow Christ here and now. It seems to me that we must be willing to loosen our grasp on the gift of place even as we treasure it, knowing our hearts truly long for another home (eg Heb 11). In our fervor of settling in here, I pray that we may avoid the temptation to comfortableness and apathy, and learn rather the art of contentment and generosity.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

summer rain

It is a rainy day. This is unfortunate because it is also our moving day. Usually, however, I like the rain, especially during the warmer months. I am reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and I liked this passage so much I thought I'd share. It takes place on an island in the Mississippi, where Huck and Jim are hiding, and staying in a cave high up on the island.
We spread the blankets inside for a carpet, and eat our dinner in there. [...] Pretty soon it darkened up and begun to thunder and lighten; so the birds was right about it. Directly it begun to rain, and it rained like all fury, too, and I never see the wind blow so. It was one of these regular summer storms. It would get so dark that it looked all blue-black outside, and lovely; and the rain would thrash along by so thick that the trees off a little ways looked dim and spider-webby; and here would come a blast of wind that would bend the trees down and turn up the pale underside of the leaves; and then a perfect ripper of a gust would follow along and set the branches to tossing their arms as if they was just wild; and next, when it was just about the bluest and blackest --fst! it was as bright as glory and you'd have a little glimpse of tree-tops a-plunging about, away off yonder in the storm, hundreds of yards further than you could see before; dark as sin again in a second, and now you'd hear the thunder let go with an awful crash and then go rumbling, grumbling, tumbling down the sky towards the under side of the world, like rolling empty barrels down stairs, where it's long stairs and they bounce a good deal, you know.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

death for freedom

Tomorrow is Memorial Day in the US. I did some wiki research and noted a couple interesting things about the day:
  1. The first people to celebrate the day were "formerly enslaved" people immediately following the Civil War, on May 1, 1865. The date was later changed to May 30.
  2. In 1971, the holiday was moved to the last Monday in May, a change that is still resisted by many veterans, who argue that "this has contributed a lot to the general public's nonchalant observance of Memorial Day"
Remembering is something many people these days would rather not spend time doing. I myself confess to this tendency. Yet it is an important part of our culture and identity, and should shape who we are today. It seems we should strive to remember well.

Today is Sunday. There are many similarities between this day and Memorial Day. This day is for remembering and celebrating Christ's death which brought life. We are the formerly enslaved people. This day is also one that people often celebrate nonchalantly. How are you actively remembering Christ's work today?

But Sunday is different from Memorial Day. Sunday ultimately celebrates life and defeat of death, for Christ did not stay dead! As the bible joyfully cries:
"Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?"
Will you joyfully remember with me today?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


You may or may not have noticed, but I didn't post this weekend. I am fine :) but was away for the weekend. For today I found a good Heisenberg quotation to make you think:
We have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Art for God's Sake (Part II)

A theology of Art

Ultimately our standards for art should come from our understanding of God. As Ryken writes,

What we believe about art is based on what we believe about God. Art is what it is because God is who he is.

He emphasizes that because of the character of God, we should seek, in our artistic endevours, to make things that are good, true, and beautiful. In addition to this, our goal is to give him glory.

Since God is so infinitely beautiful, all our art is rightly dedicated to his glory. What comes from him should return to his praise.

Ryken also points to passages of scripture which speak more specifically about art as a vocation, or career. He spends a good deal of time discussing Exodus 31, where God gives detailed instructions about how the tabernacle is to be made, and appoints and gifts two specific men for overseeing this task.

One thing to be learned from this passage, for instance, is that we should not think "that certain forms of art are more godly than others", such as (in the visual arts) representational or symbolic art versus abstract or even non-representational art. He points out that the art of the temple included all of these kinds of art.

Finally, he addresses the theology of the crucifixion. How do we deal with the ugliness of the cross?

“The cross screams against all the sensibilities of his divine aesthetic. God did this because it was the only way that he could save us. […] In order to save his lost creation, God sent his Son right into all the absurdity and alienation.

For all eternity the body of Jesus will bear reminders of the suffering he endured for sin – now transformed into glorious beauty…

With an understanding of God’s beauty and love of beauty comes a deeper appreciation of both the sacrifice of the cross (and thus his love for us!) and the artistry of salvation.

A vision for “Christian” art

Because of God's character, art by Christians should be similarly good, true, and beautiful. This is the opposite of it being superficial or naïve. Ryken explains:

Modern and postmodern art often claim to tell the truth about the pain and absurdity of human existence, but that is only part of the story. The Christian approach to the human condition is more complete, and for that reason more hopeful (and ultimately more truthful). Christian artists celebrate the essential goodness of the world that God has made, being true to what is there. Such a celebration is not a form of naïve idealism, but of healthy realism. At the same time, Christian artists also lament the ugly intrusion of evil into a world that is warped by sin, mourning the lost beauties of a fallen paradise. When truly Christian art portrays the sufferings of fallen humanity, it always does so with a tragic sensibility […] There is a sense not only of what we are, but also of what we were: creatures made to be like God.
Finally, Christian art can reflect the redemptive nature of God's work with humanity. I think this is a beautiful vision art. As Ryken states,

Even better, there is a sense of what we can become. Christian art is redemptive […].

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Art for God's Sake (Part I)

A dear friend has graciously lent me a book entitled Art for God's Sake, by Philip Graham Ryken. It is a short book which briefly discusses some of the theology of why Christians value and create art. It was helpful to think about how the close ties between human art and very character of God. It also provides a vision for the possibilities of art made by followers of Christ.

As I wrote this post, I found myself writing in three categories: A Call to the Church, A Theology of Art, and A Vision for "Christian" Art. I have decided to post the first topic today, and the other two next week.

A Call to the Church
This book is clearly addressed to those in the church. Although Ryken reveals himself to be more of a theologian than an artist, his intent to build up the church is clear, and I think it is worth listening to what he has to say.

Ryken first addresses why the church in general has been skeptical of, and even at times rejected, the arts. I found the following to be a good insight:
More recently, many Christians have objected to art on the grounds that it is dominated by an anti-Christian view of the world. They rightly perceive that over the last century or more many artists, writers, and musicians have become increasingly cynical about the possibility of knowing truth. [...] Art has also suffered a tragic loss of sacred beauty, as many modern and postmodern artists have been attracted instead to absurdity, irrationality, and even cruelty. [...] a good deal of contemporary art is the art of alienation, which, if it is true at all, is true only about the disorder of a world damaged by our depravity. God can use transgressive art to awaken the conscience and arouse a desire for a better world. But as a general rule, such artwork does not reveal the redemptive possibilities of a world that, although fallen, has been visited by God and is destined for his glory.

The church must acknowledge this, but not assume that the art of followers of Christ must be like this. The implication is that there is hope - yes, even need- for art. We must develop and embrace a vision for Christian art.

Ryken also points out the need for Christians to value good art, warning us of some of the grievous consequences when we don't.
All too often we settle for something that is functional, but not beautiful. [...] Ultimately this kind of art dishonors God because it is not in keeping with the truth and beauty of his character. It also undermines the church's gospel message of salvation in Christ. [...] Furthermore, when we settle for trivial expressions of the truth in worship and art, we ourselves are diminished, as we suffer a loss of transcendence.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, art is a part of our churches and our lives. The question is, does it reflect who God is and bring glory to him? We must be thoughtful and careful with our art, striving for excellence and for art that comes out of a true understanding of who God is and his workings in our world. This is something I think is too often excused: we do not feel comfortable excusing our ignorance about God – why would we with art? Ryken cautions:
The problem with some modern and postmodern art is that it seeks to offer truth at the expense of beauty. It tells the truth only about ugliness and alienation, leaving out the beauty of creation and redemption. A good deal of so-called Christian art tends to have the opposite problem. It tries to show beauty without admitting the truth about sin, and to that extent it is false. Think of all the bright, sentimental landscapes that portray an ideal world unaffected by the Fall, or the light, cheery melodies that characterize the Christian life as one of undiminished happiness. Such a world may be nice to imagine, but it is not the world God sent his Son to save.
As a church we must be more intentional with respect to the arts. Next week I will write on a more hopeful note, about a better theology of and vision for Christian art.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

has praying gone out of style? (or was it every in style?)

I have a quantum exam tomorrow but I have started a new book this week so I think I will briefly quote from that. The book is called Praying and it is co-authored by Packer and Nystrom. This section, however, is a quotation from "A Call to Prayer" by John Charles Ryle (1852). Here are a few excerpts which struck me:

Have you forgotten that it is not fashionable to pray? It is one of the things that many would be rather ashamed to own....

Praying and sinning will never live together in the same heart. Prayer will consume sin, or sin will choke prayer. I cannot forget this. I look at men's lives. I believe that few pray.

Brethren who pray, if I know anything of a Christian's heart, you are often sick of your own prayers... The devil has special wrath against us when he sees us on our knees...

... Whatever else you make a business of, make a business of prayer.

Tell me what a man's prayers are, and I will soon tell you the state of his soul. Prayer is the spiritual pulse... Oh, let us keep an eye continually upon our private devotions.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

I'm not really sure what to write today... I don't really have the intellectual energy to make an argument for something or even an interesting observation. However, I finally remembered to bring my camera to school so here are a few photos. Today was a different kind of beauty with it's rainy wet greenness, but both kinds of days have reminded me how much I am thankful for spring!

I think I'll also share with you a verse I read earlier in the week that has been on my mind quite a bit:

"Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy."
Ezekiel 16:49

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Unmaking makes the world

I feel the need to rest, so I turn to one who is better at resting - and writing- than I, and share with you a poem by Wendell Berry. I feel as though I have been in this place (in the poem), and hope to return again some Sabbath soon.

The year relents, and free
Of work, I climb again
To where the old trees wait,
Time out of mind. I hear
Traffic down on the road,
engines high overhead.
And then a quiet comes,
A cleft in time, silence
Of metal moved by fire;
the air holds little voices,
Titmice and chickadees,
Feeding through the treetops
Among the new small leaves,
calling again to mind
The grace of circumstance,
Sabbath economy
In which all thought is song,
All labor is a dance.
The world is made at rest,
In ease of gravity.
I hear the ancient theme
In low world-shaping song
Sung by the falling stream.
here where a rotting log
Has slowed the flow: a shelf
Of dark soil, level laid
Above the bumbled stone.
Roots fasten it in place.It will be here a while;
What holds it here decays.
A richness from above,
Brought down, is held, and holds
A little while in flow.
Stem and leaf grow from it.
At cost of death, it has
A life. Thus falling founds,
Unmaking makes the world.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


What a day! All Israel assembled - people coming from all over in repentance, affirming their commitment to return to God. Many had traveled since dawn; some had started days before. Samuel pleaded with God for them while the people fasted and confessed. Yet just as it seemed that God would show mercy a rumor of terror swept through the crowds. Their enemies, the Philistines, had heard of their meeting and were already closing in on them. The people begged Samuel to continue praying for them, hoping for rescue.

There was no doubt that God had heard. A thunderclap which shook the ground caused panic and confusion amongst their enemies. Within hours the remaining Philistines were miles away, fleeing in fear.

Then Samuel did a curious thing. Before all the people he took a great stone lying by the road and had it set on end in a prominent location. He gave it a name. He called it Ebenezer (meaning stone of help), saying "Thus far the Lord has helped us"
(my retelling of the story in 1 Samuel 7)

When was your latest Ebenezer placed? What was the occasion? Perhaps, like myself, you need to learn to choose larger, more obvious stones as markers - something not easily overlooked.

I will close with a few lines from one of my favourite hymns:
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I'm come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.
(Robert Robinson)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Artistry in Time

1400's. B.C. An entire nation (over half a million men) is freed from slavery through a miraculous event remembered as the Passover. In order that the Egyptians might free the Israelite people, God strikes down firstborn son of everyone in Egypt - but passes over the homes of the Israelites, who are 'covered' by the sign of a cross painted on their doorposts with the blood of a sacrificed lamb. (Exodus 12)

This story of the exodus, as well as the giving of the law are some of the most defining and important parts in the history of the people of Israel. Yet something seems incomplete. Israel is a wayward people under God's kingship. Even when God gives them a king, there are problems and eventually they end up in exile. Yet a remnant remains, and Passover is still celebrated (even to this day!).

Even when God dwells among the people at the tabernacle, the people cannot really approach God, who is holy. A huge curtain hides God's earthly presence. Something is still to come. Prophets look forward to it; the people hope.

30 A.D. Hope. Hopes crushed. A man who is also God dies a terrible death on the very day of Passover. Christ becomes the passover lamb, and the justice and holiness of God is satisfied in this sacrifice. The curtain of the temple tears from top to bottom. This time it is not a nation brought out of slavery - this event means freedom for the entire human race. Freedom from sin; freedom to know God.

Yet - the story is not done. Our savior does not leave us to our own devices, morning his loss and trying to live like free people. This man who is also God is resurrected! He lives, and is spirit dwells among us. And he will come again as King.

2010 A.D. Hope. Rejoicing. This is the power of the resurrection. Who could have imagined such a terribly beautiful salvation?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

An Afternoon in March

The wind is flecked with coming rain
and unexpectedly I miss the sea.
It roars through the trees
and I wish I could round the bend
and instead of woods the sea
would meet me,
salt spray borne across the crests
to greet me
ambivalent of my presence
yet welcoming all the same.

Oh that the end-of-winter-dust
blown in my eyes was instead
sand from a quiet sliver of beach
bounding the tossing, spraying, sea
in an effortless curve echoing
the smooth horizon
and the wings of the gulls
as they rise on the wind.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

the interaction of science and theology

I am having a lovely weekend away visiting a friend, so today I will simply post a few favourite/interesting quotations from a book I am reading: One World - the interaction of science and theology by John Polkinghorne.

Science and theology have this in common, that each can be, and should be, defended as being investigations of what is, the search for increasing verisimilitude in our understanding of reality. (p.42)

Physicists labouriously master mathematical techniques because experience has shown that they provide the best, indeed the only, way to understand the physical world. We choose that language because it is the one thing that is being "spoken" to us by the cosmos. (p.46)

The one God who is well and truly dead is the God of the Gaps. [...] AS the theoretical chemist and devout Christian, Charles Coulson, briskly said, 'when we come to the scientifically unknown, our correct policy is not to rejoice because we have found God; it is to become better scientists.' The demise of the God of the Gaps should not be lamented, least of all by theologians. If God is God he is to be found everywhere, not just in the murkier corners of the world he has made.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ultimate Beauty

"You are beautiful beyond description, to marvelous for words" go the words of an old worship song. Yet even if the author of this song felt he could not express God's beauty in words, surely he had some conception of it. This brings me to a question I've pondered for a few years: how do we begin to understand God's beauty to the point where we can honestly love and worship him as beautiful? Put another way: how can we know the part of God's nature which is his beauty?

I have found several answers to this question. First, we can start to understand God's beauty by rejoicing in what he sees as beautiful. God made the world and saw that it was good. All of creation constantly proclaims a god who is not only beautiful, but delights in creating things which are beautiful. Thus the beauty we see in the natural world and in people around us can serve to teach us about God.

Secondly, we can observe and try to understand what we find as beautiful. This is helpful because, since we were made in his image, surely our understanding of beauty must bear some similarities to his. It is helpful to think of him as the perfection of all things beautiful.

Finally, I think we must clarify and enlarge our definition of beauty. Beauty is not something that is only understood with our physical senses - such as a work of art or a piece of music. A physicist will tell you that the elegance of a theory can be beautiful. Wisdom lends beauty to the old. There can be beauty in someone's actions or words. So it is, I think, with God. It is not just his physical manifestations on earth - not even primarily that- but so much of his character which makes him beautiful.

I still do not feel capable of understanding enough of God's beauty to truly express it (in fact words will alone will never be adequate!), but I can testify that it is possible to grow in the knowledge and love of God's infinite beauty.