Friday, July 27, 2018

When the Holy Ghost is Come by Samuel Logan Brengle

Don't let the quaint language in When the Holy Ghost is Come fool you into thinking it's fluffy reading. Samuel Logan Brengle (1860-1936) was a famous teacher and preacher in the Salvation Army and this is just one of several classics he wrote on the Spirit-filled life.

Some denominations focus on the gifts of the Spirit. Others emphasize signs and wonders. Others highlight sanctification and heart-cleansing. I often pray for more of the Spirit's power for sharing my faith. (Acts 1:8) Which is the right emphasis? Brengle begins by reminding us that the Holy Spirit is not a mere influence or impersonal force, but a divine Person and member of the Trinity. He is the indwelling presence of Christ.

Many have looked at the promise of power when the Holy Ghost is come and they hastily and erroneously jump to the conclusion that the baptism with the Holy Ghost is for work and service only. . . . [but] the primary work of the baptism is of cleansing. In a water mill, the flood first washes out the obstructions and then you have power. The great hindrance in the hearts of God's children to the power of the Holy Ghost is inbred sin. When the Holy Spirit comes, His first work is to sweep away the carnal and make free and clean all the channels of the soul. (Chapter V) There must be purity before there can be any power. In fact, When we seek the Holy Spirit's infilling for His power, it can easily lead to pride, but when we seek His cleansing, it naturally leads to self-emptying and humility.

In Chapter VI, Brengle writes of spiritual power unlike our normal definitions of it (power to do impressive supernatural acts). Instead he says the Spirit gives us power to overcome this world's temptations. Next there is power to overcome "the flesh;" bodily appetites no longer control us, because it is only the soul cut off from God that seeks satisfaction in sensual excesses. Third, is power over the Devil. We are no longer blind to his machinations and are given the ability to resist him. Finally, it does not make us powerful in the worldly sense because it is power to do the will of God patiently and effectively, with naturalness and ease, to suffer the will of God with patience and good cheer. It is power for service or sacrifice, according to God's will.

No earth-shattering revelations in this booklet, just good solid teaching. My sister says his Helps to Holiness is life-changing, so I may try that one next.


Friday, July 20, 2018

Collected Poems by Mervyn Peake

I stumbled upon this book by accident and what a fortuitous fall! I had only recently heard of Mervyn Peake because C.S. Lewis mentioned him in On Stories. Out of curiosity I checked out his Collected Poems and was rewarded with surprising riches.

Peake (1911-1968) was born to missionary parents in China but when he was eleven, the family returned to England. Christian imagery is occasionally woven into his poems. He wrote about love, nature and the horrors of war. He is much better known as an artist and novelist than as a poet. This book has 230 of his poems (80 of them never before published).

One of his repeated themes is the lavish wealth of creation. He describes the colors of spring as minted coins in this excerpt from “Colored Money” -

How can I spend this coinage when it floods
So ceaselessly between the lids,
And gluts my vaults with bright
Shillings of sharp delight
Whose every penny
Is colored money?
Storm, harvest, flood or snow,
Over the generous country I go
And gather helplessly
New wealth from all I see

In another poem he describes a budding tree in springtime: The green hesitation of the leaf was prophecy for richness. He succeeds in writing poems that are hauntingly beautiful and deeply meaningful yet accessible without a PhD in literature. That doesn’t mean I understood every one of them (some were only fragments that he never finished), but I reveled in the lush imagery and sumptuous language of each one. Even the war poems weren’t nearly as full of bitterness as the poetry of some other poets such as A.E. Houseman and Edna St. Vincent Millay.

I’ll close with the first half of his poem called “Autumn”

The lit mosaic of the wood
Stayed me at the turn of the road
To stare
At autumn standing there
In Joseph’s coat; a tree
Golden, and bright, and free
For head; his feet In the rich earth were set.
The wind
Was tugging blind
At the fierce rainbow rags, the tattered turban,
Under a fitful sun.

A feast for poetry lovers!


The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis

Sometimes reading C.S. Lewis' non-fiction is like taking your medicine. You know it will be good for you, but you're not enthusiastic about taking the first dose. BUT once you begin reading, the effect is so bracing and health-giving that you wonder why you put it off so long. Knowing that The Abolition of Man would not be easy reading, I set a goal of 10 to 15 pages a day. Every morning I'd sit in the armchair for my daily Lewis "vitamin," and after each reading I would sit in stunned silence at his brilliance and clarity. It's no wonder he never goes out of print.

Subtitled "Reflections on Education", The Abolition of Man is a response to a school textbook (which Lewis calls the "Green Book") that implied that value judgments are based on feelings instead of reality. He defends moral absolutes (what he calls "the Tao") and shows what will happen if they are removed from society. Written 70 years ago, parts of Abolition are so prophetic it is scary.

Lewis contends that virtues cannot exist within a vacuum. Without moral absolutes, a persevering devotion to truth, [and] a sense of intellectual honor cannot be long maintained. Scientific knowledge and reason cannot replace  them. What you get in the long run is men with "big heads" and no hearts. He famously quipped, We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful. (p. 35)

There are many other big ideas in this book such as how the Tao is essential to human flourishing. Without it the powerful will always rule over the weak. They will decide what's good and bad for others based on their own preferences. Those who stand outside all judgements of value cannot have any ground for preferring one of their own impulses to another except the emotional strength of that impulse. . . . I am very doubtful whether history shows us one example of a man who, having stepped outside traditional morality and attained power, has used that power benevolently. (p. 78)

It would take multiple readings to make me feel like I understood half of this book, but it was worth every minute of effort. My brain and heart were stretched.


Friday, July 13, 2018

Benefits of Slow Reading

Earlier this year I had an "aha" moment and decided to slow down my reading pace. Here are a few quotes (with links to the full articles) that I've collected that might encourage you to do the same:

From the Desiring God website, David Mathis writes how he came to peace with his inability to speed read in "Do You Wish You Could Read Faster?"

I have found that I typically get out of reading what I put into it. When I read quick and thin, I access more information, but I suspect it makes me a thin thinker.

Veery Huleatt at First Things writes about how Dorothy Sayers helped her to slow down in "Where Her Whimsy Took Me."

I had graduated with, not only a reading list, but also some terrible reading habits. I had trained myself to gallop through books and journals, armed with multicolored hi-liter pens and a stack of Post-its. Technology had only accelerated my slide. Thanks to Google Books, I could ditch the hi-liters and give the impression of having painstakingly combed through a book with only a few minutes of scrolling. I had perfected the skill of tweaking, recasting, challenging, interpreting—a skill that had saved my life more than once in the over-caffeinated hours of early morning. But I had sold the soul of the literature for it.


Friday, July 6, 2018

The One Year Book of Poetry by Philip Comfort

I've raved about this book on and off through the years, but have never actually reviewed it here. I'll share a few thoughts now that I've read it through for the third time.

The One Year Book of Poetry contains some of the best devotional poetry written in the last 500 years. Although I read a lot of poetry, this book introduced me to many new authors who are now favorites. Along with the better known John Donne, George Herbert and Christina Rossetti, there are poems by Francis Quarles, Edward Taylor and Robert Herrick (metaphysical poets from the 1600's).

There's very little fluff here. In fact, some of the poems are too theologically dense for the average reader (even with Daniel Comfort's explanations on the opposite page of each entry.) Although I love rich, gorgeous language, and depth of meaning, I'm a poetry pragmatist at heart. If I can't understand it without significant outside help, I am not inclined to love it. Even if only half of these poems got a thumbs up from me, those 180 deepened my love for beautifully written poetry that expresses life's joys and sorrows in the midst of earnest hope in a faithful God.

Henry Vaughan's (1621-1695) "Easter Hymn" has this marvelous beginning:

Another overwhelmingly beautiful poem is Edward Taylor's "Stupendous love! All Saints' Astonishment!" which is about the power of Christ's blood to cleanse us. He compares the blood to wine and writes,

My soul had caught an ague, and like hell
Her thirst did burn: she to each spring did fly,
But this bright blazing love did spring a well
Of aqua vitae in the Deity,
Which on the top of heaven's high hill outburst
And down came running thence t'allay my thirst.

How shall I praise thee then? My blottings jar
And wrack my rhymes to pieces in thy praise.
Thou breath'st thy vein still in my porringer ,
To lay my thirst, and fainting spirits raise.
Thou makes glory's chiefest grape to bleed
Into my cup: And this is drink indeed.

(ague = fever fit, porringer = small bowl, aqua vitae = liquor)

This is a book to be read and savored slowly and prayerfully.