Tuesday, June 28, 2016

On the back porch. . .

Early on summer Sunday mornings, I often sit on my back porch with This Day, a book of Wendell Berry’s Sabbath poems written between 1979 and 2013. While all the machines are silent, I read and savor two or three poems, reading slowly and rereading. For instance, with birdsong, ". . .the day ends/and is unending where/the summer tanager, warbler, and vireo/sing as they move among/illuminated leaves," and "heaven seizes its moment" (1998, VI). For years, Berry has been taking walks into his woods on Sunday mornings. From time to time, a poem emerges, polished on the front porch of his writing cabin at the edge of the trees.

A Small Porch (counterpointpress.com) gives us twenty-five new Sabbath poems from 2014 and 2015, plus an essay, "The Presence of Nature in the Natural World: A Long Conversation." The hardback just appeared in my mailbox, and I don’t want to hurry through it—at my usual rate, this many poems could take a couple of months of slow reading. So we’ll only explore the book a little; a spoonful or two to share the flavor with you.

First the essay, "The Presence of Nature." In surveying more than 50 years of reading, Berry reports that he has been in conversation with Scripture, which imposes "on humans the obligation to take good care of a world both given to them. . .and to which they have been given," and with several poets whose work was formed by Scripture, especially Chaucer, Spencer, Langland, Milton, Pope; and who "seem to have remembered" Alan of Lille’s Plaint of Nature (c. 1170). So, there are several pages about Alan’s Plaint followed by comments on the poets, giving some clues to how Berry reads his fields and woods.

And now, a poem from the Porch (2014, V.). "The silence of the barn at evening,/when the shepherd draws shut the door/and starts home for the night, is heavenly,/for it says almost aloud that every lamb/is found, every ewe has found her lamb/and is feeding, and is content." Reading this just before dark, I notice the silence. The hatchlings in the wisteria have ceased chirping and the wren is with them, settled for the night. She has fed them all day and now they rest.

The second stanza in Berry’s poem speaks of "another of the barn’s silences. . .[when] the ewes and their young ones/now are gone. . .to new pasture." The nest in the wisteria will empty into silence in a few more days, to be discovered by a grandson when the leaves fall in autumn.

—Larry Sibley

Friday, June 17, 2016

Christian Life and Hope

Here we are at McGrath's final book in this series on The Heart of Christian Faith. From wjkbooks it is called The Christian Life and Hope, a Guide for Study and Devotion. McGrath turns now "to the great theme of Christian hope and the way it transforms and sustains the Christian Life." Readers may ask "what is this hope" and "how does it affect how we think and act each day?" McGrath gives answers to these questions in five chapters. First, he writes about the "sacraments: signs and memories of hope." Then, the meaning of "the resurrection of the dead" followed by a chapter on "Heaven and eternity: the Christian hope." Next he discusses "Between the times: the life of faith," and his conclusion is titled: "further up and further in."

McGrath tells the reader he is using material from his earlier sermons and as he goes over his sermons and prepares each chapter he feels as though he needs to hear each biblical passage himself; he needs to understand more about the great doctrinal themes he is exploring; and he knows his need to listen, as he is preaching to himself as well as to readers and listeners.

In his Introduction, McGrath describes each of the five chapters and how they fit together. First, he talks about "the sacraments, how are they helpful to Christians, what do they believe about them, and what are they to do with them." In chapters 2 and 3, we are reminded again of the creeds and the hope of resurrection for those who do believe. And what is Heaven about and how does it fit with everyday life and worship of our God, who is "loving and trustworthy, and who refuses to let violence, death, and destruction have the final word." Though sad things continue to happen, as recently in Orlando, we look for, hope for, and pray for, "our restoration to the life God always wanted for us."

McGrath suggests that those who believe in God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) might find it helpful to have a mentor, a friend who would answer questions, explain things we might not understand. He suggests the writings of G. K. Chesterton, or C. S. Lewis, or Dorothy Sayers as possible mentors.  He himself does have a mentor and has found him very helpful. When McGrath became a Christian, his mentor helped him to see "that his new faith did not call upon him to abandon his love of science, but to see it in a new way." Actually, to have "a new motivation for loving science and a deepened appreciation for its outcomes." Could be helpful...think about it.......

---Lois Sibley, ireviewreligiousbks