Reading & Musing on a Sunday Morning

I was reading a passage of scripture this morning and decided to write my thoughts down, in case anyone is interested.

II Corinthians 12: 2-10

In this account, the Apostle Paul is telling the church members at Corinth about an experience he has had, and the effect this vision has had in his life. He doesn’t name himself, yet Bible scholars agree that he’s telling his own story here.

2 I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago…such an one caught up to the third heaven.
3 And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth)
4 How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.

Some scholars have read the story of when Paul was stoned and left for dead, wondering if he really did have an out-of-body experience. The Apostle himself isn’t certain, and leaves it open as to whether he was really dead or if this was a vision he had. However, during this experience he saw such beauty and glory, and heard such words as could never be described to an audience here on earth.

5 Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities.

So why doesn’t he tell the world about his experience? Why does he refer to it so discreetly, not mentioning that this happened to him? Why does he rather rejoice that he has these infirmities that drag him down? First, he doesn’t want people lifting him up:

6 For though I would desire to glory…now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me.
7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.

Most scholars agree that this “thorn in the flesh” was an infirmity that slowed him down, and probably a disfiguring one. We get the impression from different passages that Paul wasn’t such an attractive man.

8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

God has chosen to leave him weak so that the Spirit of the Lord can speak through him. People aren’t meant to look to Paul for the answers in life. The Lord Jesus doesn’t want people following Paul because he’s physically attractive or such a persuasive orator. So the Lord leaves him with this weakness, one which seems, from other scriptures as well, to be obvious to Paul’s audience.

Paul accepts this situation with grace:
10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

It’s so human to want to be strong, to be talented, articulate, to have our listeners nod when we present our ideas. The thought of stepping up to speak, either to an individual or to a crowd, and having absolutely no speech planned out is frightening. The thought of stammering and groping for words is abhorrent to most of us. Likewise we’re inclined to shy away from a task if we’ve had no prior experience in that line. None of us want to sound, or look, dumb.

When we lived in Ontario our neighbour was a minister in another denomination. One day his wife explained to me how ministers were hired. A congregation in need will hear of a pastor who wants to move from the place he’s at, so a small delegation from the pastor-less church goes to hear him —or her, in this group— speak. If the pastor presents a good sermon, if they like the looks of him and feel he’d be a good fit for their own congregation, they offer to hire him. (Again, or her.) How tempting would it be to put a lot of effort into making a good physical impression.

Paul has adopted a different mind-set. In one place he says, “The ways of God are higher than ours.” Aware of his own weakness as a human being, he “takes a step back from himself” and rather goes forward in the Lord. The idea of winning followers of using eloquence to gain a good salary, these are laid aside. He doesn’t take pains to please the audience or “keep out of trouble.” He rather lets the words of Jesus flow through him and speak to the hearts of his audience.

This is more pleasing to God and the Gospel more effective, than if Paul could attract listeners and entertain them with his own oratory ability, or persuade them by his skillful reasoning. He leaves us this example, so none of us can feel we’ve nothing to offer. When we feel we have no talent, skills, physical attraction, or never “the right words,” we can comfort ourselves God’s words to Paul: “My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

 

He Signed His Name

By Michael D. Blythe

He signed His name in granite
as the mountains tall were formed;
He signed His name in sunlight
and the cold earth slowly warmed.

He signed His name in water
as He filled the seven seas;
He signed His name in fertile soil
where He placed the mighty trees.

He signed His name in clay made flesh
as He created man;
He signed His name on the earth He made
according to His plan.

He signed His name in wrath
as He destroyed the world by flood,
but to save us from our wicked ways,
He signed His name in blood.

Since we’re coming up to the Easter season I’ll post this verse as today’s contribution to National Novel Month. Sadly, Mr Google can’t tell me anything about the writer.

Of Puffer fish & Willpower

after weeks of
cleansing fast  a large pizza
her puffer fish act

Another haiku with a story behind it.

Twenty-some years back I met a lady in her mid-forties; in time she became a dear friend. Was it because of her dysfunctional childhood, or the accident she was in that left her in a coma for twelve days, or maybe some of both? At any rate, you’d have to say she was emotionally unbalanced — and had been attending a church where emotional responses were often stirred and encouraged. She was cheerful, likeable, outgoing — but not very disciplined or stable.

At some point she had accepted the concept cleansing fasts, and even discovered a retreat in the country where she could go and cleanse her body of all the impurities tainting our modern diet. In addiction to the physical benefits, she felt that fasting brought her closer to God and told me that one time she had actually fasted for 40 days, just like Jesus. However, I suspect the dream of getting back to a slimmer figure hovered not far in the background.

My dear friend had a couple of weaknesses that affected her health. Like most of us, she was fond of tasty food — which included baking and other sweets. Plus, she smoked — a habit she didn’t like at all. So she viewed going to this retreat for a month or so, where she neither eat nor smoke, was a blessing four-fold: she could relax in a no-pressure environment, lose weight, crack the nicotine habit, and gain spiritually.

We visited her there a couple of times. It appeared she had nothing much to do at this retreat except relax, read, meditate, and detoxify in the small room she was given. There were a number of other guests, with a nurse present 24/7 to make sure no one suffered serious health problems because of the regime. When my friend’s fast was over she was put on a juice diet for a couple of days to re-adjust her body to food. Then she paid the rather hefty bill — this place was into making money as well as healing bodies — and went home.

This “coming back to the real world” got me involved one day — and my involvement brings me to story behind the senryu I’ve penned.

Early one morning my phone rang; my friend was telling me she needed watermelon and could I help her out? Could I buy one and bring it to her apartment? (She didn’t own a car.) She explained that she’d just got home from spending several weeks at the retreat and her body was reacting negatively to food. She needed watermelon to “flush out the salt” being retained in her tissues.

I didn’t know much about what fruits & veggies have diuretic properties, but she mentioned a few and was glad to help. I picked up these foods and went over to her place, where I heard the facts of her current health issue.

When she got home from her fast she’d been so hungry, she ordered an extra-large pizza and ate the whole thing. Her body was reacting big time to the sudden overload.

Reading history I’ve learned this isn’t an uncommon reaction for people who’ve been starved for a time. Their brain registers FOOD! and common sense is lost among the impulses. Their hands automatically start stuffing and people may even eat themselves to death. For my friend, all that salt in her pizza spread through her system, causing her tissues retain fluid until she was uncomfortably bloated.

Maybe puffer fish is an exaggeration, but the simile came to me and I thought it an interesting comparison.

In time my friend discovered one long-term side-effect of those prolonged fasts: starving drains your bones of much-needed minerals like calcium. One day she tripped going down some stairs and broke her leg. Her doctor, after seeing the x-ray, told her, “Your shattered bone looks just like corn flakes.”

It seems self-discipline and will power are rather like muscles. If we don’t use them, they become limp. Bypassing self-discipline in favor of complete abstinence, she short-circuited her willpower. Later, faced with the same temptations, she caved. Food and cigarettes became chronic problems. I won’t say that fasting is either wrong or harmful, in moderation, but nothing can build up the muscles of self-control, or deliver us from our vices, like the day-by-day exercise of resisting temptation.

Sad to say, my friend didn’t live long enough to reap the benefits of all that system-cleansing, either. Shortly after she turned 65 she was diagnosed with intestinal cancer and died a year or so later.

I think of her often, and miss visiting with her.

Haiku: An Old Church

A Monday morning “Hello” to all and “Welcome” to all my new followers. I appreciate every one of you, my followers, and all your encouraging LIKES and COMMENTS.

I have a blog dedicated to haiku, where I’m supposed to be posting all my little verses. However, it just isn’t happening — and the next couple of months are going to be really busy for me. As casual cook at the seniors home I expect to have a lot more shifts next month, plus I’ve agreed to help an acquaintance get his book into print via Amazon Kindle.

So I’ll be posting some haiku on this blog. They may not be amazingly profound, but I hope you’ll find these little thought capsules ponder-able

stained glass windows
splashes of color
muted by dusty pews

If you’d like to read more haiku, here are several great blogs for you to check out:

The Haiku Foundation
cattails
The Heron’s Nest

The Wearing of Beards

In my childhood I don’t think I ever saw a man with a beard, other than “Santa Claus.” Yeah, this dates me. Pre-1960. Hippies with long straggly beards and hair, worn in rebellion against the Establishment, didn’t come to Canada until I was in my teens.

Beatniks there were, but they hung out in far-off American cities, so I had very little idea about their appearance. My dad and his friends, of average Canadian farm folk background, would have considered a beard a disgrace to a man — an odd reversal of natural circumstance. Older men we’ve talked with, whose memories go back to small-town life in the 30s and 40’s, remember beards being ridiculed and young men who wore them being tormented.

When I did hear the word when I was young, it was usually associated with mumbling. If she couldn’t hear his reply, Mom might say, “Dad’s mumbling in his beard again.” I think they even accused me of mumbling into my beard a time or two. I suppose that’s a cliche now?

In my teens I did see some older men with beards, and decided that a neatly-trimmed beard or goatee looks quite distinguished.

Today, in contrast, beards seem to be everywhere. Or “shadow beards.” Look at book covers and magazines: most of the males I see have the three-day-stubble look; some might have a neatly trimmed beard. But clean-shaven men seem to be in the minority in photos. Plus, Amish romances are very popular; on those covers, beards are a given.

As an adult, starting to learn about church and religion, I discovered there’s a Bible-based reason for men wearing beards. Different religious groups (including the one we’ve joined) teach that this natural male-female distinction has been instituted by our Creator for a reason and men should maintain this natural order. This would include Orthodox and Hasidic Jews, Muslims, the Amish, several Mennonite groups, Old German Baptists and others I’m not familiar with.

Jewish and Christian groups refer back to the Mosaic law where “Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.” (Leviticus 19:27) Some Jewish groups take this “corners” to mean “sideburns,” so they let theirs grow into what looks like long ringlets.

The Amish take it to mean, don’t trim your beard at all. However, coming from Europe where army officers had a lot of pride in their elaborate moustaches, the Amish have rejected moustaches as vanity. So, while Amish men have beards, they don’t wear moustaches. Looking at images on Wikki, I see the Old Order German Baptists must share this thinking. Both groups do cut their hair, but more in the style of the Quakers. (When they came to America and settled in Pennsylvania the Amish adopted a lot of the Quaker styles, like the broad-brimmed hat and plain coat.)

Our church believes “the beard” is a symbol of the sexual distinction, one that should not be removed. However, we aren’t living under the Mosaic Law now, so the Church doesn’t take this “not marring” as a rigid law. Our men believe in being all-round neat, and trim their hair and beards to look tidy.

And thus ends my quick overview in response to Fandango’s word for today: BEARD