CategoryDevotional

The Evening Sky

Calvin-and-Hobbes-HD-night-sky

Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes, once said, “If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I bet they’d live a lot differently.”

It wasn’t that long ago when people did sit outside and look at the stars each night.  This is certainly one of the reasons why anyone who lived before Edison had an entirely different view of reality than we do.

This passage from Psalm 8 is but one example.

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?

When we look up at the night sky, we are seeing a tremendous distance through both time and space.

How far away is the farthest star?

Here are a few of the answers.

  1. The Milky Way galaxy is about 120,000 light years in diameter.  We’re about 25,000 light years from the center.  So, the most distant stars in our galaxy are about 95,000 light years away.
  2. The most distant known object has a redshift of just over 5.  That means that the light from this object started its journey toward us when the Universe was only  30% of its current age.  The exact age of the Universe is not known, but is probably roughly 12 billion years.  Thus, the light from this object left it when the Universe was a few billion years old.  Its distance is roughly 25 billion light years.
  3. Existing observations suggest that the Universe may be infinite in spatial extent.  If so, then the farthest star would actually be infinitely far away!

Calvin and Hobbes

There’s a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon in which Calvin is lecturing Hobbes on astronomical truth.  He explains,

“That cloud of stars is our galaxy, The Milky Way. Our solar system is on the edge of it. . . .  We hurl through an incomprehensible darkness. In cosmic terms, we are subatomic particles in a grain of sand on an infinite beach.”

Then, after glancing at his watch he says,

“I wonder what’s on TV.”

A regular submission to the night sky will certainly leave us impressed by our smallness.  In the modern world, we know it, but we no longer experience it.  Not with any regularity anyway.

Another Calvin and Hobbes cartoon has a similar theme.  Again, while looking at the night sky, Calvin says, “Just look at the stars! The universe just goes out forever and forever,” prompting Hobbes to say, “It kind of makes you wonder why man considers himself such a big screaming deal.”  Calvin explains, “That’s why we stay inside with our appliances.”

When you are in your family room, it’s not difficult to consider yourself to be a big screaming deal.  You are almost God-like in this context.

Omnipotent in your ability to create light.

Omniscient in your access to the internet.

Omnipresent because you have Google Earth.

Which perspective is more real?  The one from your family room, or the one from the campfire?

One of my favourite quotes comes from Robertson Davies’ novel, The Fifth Business:  “You have made yourself in to a god, and the insufficiency of it has turned you into an atheist.”

Have you ever experienced a powerful, unaccountable feeling of Joy?

I took this picture in Renne, France.

This feeling of Joy fell upon me.  I was in the medieval part of Renne, France.  It was a sunny summer afternoon.  I was sitting in an outdoor cafe on an ancient street drinking something called Piçon biere.  It’s hard to describe, but I think it was Joy.  It didn’t last long, but I thanked God for it immediately because I knew him to be the source.

C. S. Lewis was Surprised by Joy

In his spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis describes something similar.  Of these moments Lewis says, “the central story of my life is about nothing else.”   Lewis’ recounts three such episodes in his childhood.  The first occurred while the young Lewis, looking at a blooming currant bush, remembered a toy garden he had built in a biscuit tin.  A powerful sensation came over him which he describes as an intense desire.  Lewis senses this to be a supernatural encounter in that, following this brief glimpse, “the world turned commonplace again.”  The second event was through Squirrel Nutkin by Beatrix Potter when Lewis experienced a “trouble” which pointed toward “the Idea of Autumn”; he became “enamored of a season.”  The experience was again, one of intense desire.  The last glimpse occurred through the poetry of Longfellow’s Saga of King Olaf.  Common to each of these experiences is the feeling of “unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any satisfaction.”  He called this sensation Joy.

His description of these encounters implies that this was a meeting with the transcendent for they came “without warning, and as if from a depth not of years but of centuries” (20).

Later, Joy reprises its invitation.  Lewis uses the imagery of a sudden spring to describe the second summons of Joy.  The encounter came with a quote from and an illustration of Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods which produces the feeling of “pure Northernness,” a deliberately ambiguous term describing the feeling derived from “a vision of huge, clear spaces hanging above the Atlantic in the endless twilight of the Northern summer, remoteness and severity . . . .”  This feeling awakens and fuses with the memory of Joy to create an “unendurable sense of desire and loss.”  He characterizes the feeling as “incomparably more important than anything else in [his] experience.”  From this point in his life, Lewis pursues Joy; he is on a quest to find its source.

What do encounters with Joy mean?

A clearer idea of what these experiences may mean was suggested to me at a recent teacher’s convention.  Syd Hielema was talking about looking at our lives using the Creation-Fall-Redemption-Fulfillment paradigm.  I’ve looked at a lot of things with this template, from coffee to zombies, why not myself?

Here are Hielema’s questions:

  • Creation: How am I wired? What are my gifts? What gives me joy? In what situations in my past have I felt most fully “myself”? (Read Psalm 139:13-14)
  • Fall: In what ways do sin and fear affect me?  In what ways do I pretend to be someone I’m not?  What interferes with me loving God and loving others?  How do the wounds I’ve received from the brokenness of life affect me? (Read Jeremiah 17:9)
  • Redemption: Where have I seen God in my life? What helps me and what hinders me in terms of walking with him?  What am I quite clear about and what am I quite confused about?  Are there particular events or people that stand out on my road to Redemption? (Read Isaiah 43:1-2)
  • Fulfillment:  What might I be like when God has finished his refining work in me?  What might his universe be like?  How might I live anticipating that completion as a new creation?

It’s not very difficult to find creational goodness in ourselves, nor is it very difficult to see how we are distorted by sin.  The movements of redemption are also apparent when we look for them.  But the Fulfillment piece was something I figured was out of my experience–we get that when Christ returns.  But Hielema suggests that we might have the occasional glimpse by which we can extrapolate who we will be when God has finished his work.  And what it will feel like.

I instantly thought of my moment of Joy in medieval Renne. Are those moments that Lewis called encounters with Joy, a small sip of what it will be like when I am made new?

If they are, oh, I’m looking forward to it!

 

 

Maybe the day doesn’t start when you wake up.

 

Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

After I had finished my little devotional rant about Bad Theology on a Bookmark, one clever image bearer asked, “How I can include God in my sleep—I can’t have Godly dreams every night.”

After a pause an idea came to me, and I turned to Psalm 1.  That didn’t help me a bit, because what I was looking for was in Psalm 4.

My thought is that by adopting a more Hebrew, less Western, concept of the day, we can make our physical act of sleep a little more sacred.  This ancient concept is apparent in the ordering of Psalm 4 and Psalm 5.  Psalm 4 includes these lines: “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”  Psalm 5 says, “In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.”  The editors of the Psalms placed the evening poem before the Psalm about the morning.

In Genesis 1 we find the same pattern.  The first day of creation is described and then it says, “And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.”  A few verses later, the same thing, “And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.”  You get the idea; the day begins in the evening.  Anyone who has watched Tevye hurry home before nightfall in Fiddler on the Roof knows that the Sabbath starts on Friday night, but it’s not just the Sabbath Day that starts in the evening; in the culture from which the Bible came, every day starts in the evening.

Already in Progress

Thinking about the day starting at night will change how you think of sleeping and, indeed, yourself.   In our culture, the day begins with me.  I wake up, and then the day begins.  I must be pretty important if the day—and you might as well say, the universe—doesn’t start until I roll out of bed.  It would be quite appropriate to declare upon waking, “I am here, and, thus, the day may now begin.”

Consider the Hebrew concept of the day starting in the evening.  The day starts when I stop.  The first seven hours of every day have passed while I drooled on my pillow.  But God hasn’t slept; He’s been at work through the night.  He has a plan and a pattern for the day and I join it, already in progress, and fit into that plan.

We think the day begins when we join it. So, each day begins with a ritual reminder of our personal significance. How might our perspective change if we adopt the Hebrews day? When we wake, we join it already in progress. Click To Tweet

I’ve been trying to live in Hebrew time for at least 10 years now, and every morning when I wake up, well almost every morning, I say, “Good morning, Lord. Thank you.”

Understanding the day in this way reframes the seven hours that I sleep in that it reminds me of my cosmic insignificance in the context of His divine Providence.  It also reframes the hours I am awake.  It is a quotidian reminder and that the all-powerful king of the universe loves me because he’s there every morning to hear me say, “Good, morning Lord. Thank you”

How to Give God 100% and Still Have a Little Fun

Photo by Niklas Hamann on Unsplash

I couldn’t find my copy of The Screwtape Letters which I have been reading with my English class so I picked up a Bible that was sitting close by.  As I was turning to Psalm 51 I came across a little slip of paper that someone had presumably used as a bookmark.  What was written on this bookmark caused a bit of a rant, and I never did get around to reading Psalm 51.

On the paper was the following information:

 

Sleeping – 7                    ||                   God:

Eating – 2 hrs                  ||

School – 6 8 10               ||

TV – 30min                      ||

Hobbies – 5 hrs              ||

Total: 24.5 hours/day     ||         Total 2hrs. per week

Between the list of daily activities on the left and God on the right, they had drawn a heavy line.

On the back the calculations continued:

Calculations

Other things:                                       God:

Total 1: (24.5) x 365= A                     Total 2: (2) x 52 = B

A = 8942.5                                          B = 104

Minus 5 years from age                   – 5 years from age

A x 12 = 107310                                   B x 12 = 1248

Again, between these two sets of calculations was this heavy line.

I don’t claim to know the reason for these calculations.  My guess is that some well-meaning adult was trying to make the point with a group of young people–the point being they weren’t giving enough of their life over to God.

Sadly, this sort nonsense is all too common in Christian circles and the young people are particularly susceptible to taking it seriously.  This is the case even if someone isn’t deliberately teaching it to them.

Can you give everything to God and still have some fun? Click To Tweet

Christian Guilt

The child that made these calculations predictably fell far short of what God demands—God demands a lot, 100%.  This child couldn’t get past 1%.  The certain result is guilt.  With this approach, you can never escape the guilt.  Do we really want to be guilting our young people toward better religious performance?  I think not, for it is contrary to the Gospel.

What if this seventeen-year-old spent an hour a day in prayer and meditation instead of doing homework or wasting time on that hobby?  That’d certainly improve things, for they’d get God bumped up to receive 5%.  Two and a half hours a day would get God around 10%; that’s like the tithe–would that be enough?

No.  God demands our all—everything–so 10% just won’t cut it.  Guilt!

The Separation of Nature and Grace

This whole problem starts with the premise that the things of God—spiritual things—are distinct from the things of “real” life.  It’s the problem of the separation of Nature from Grace, or the Natural from the Supernatural.   (I’ve posted on this problem before, here and here.)

The problem is right there in the line that the child drew down the middle of the bookmark.  Unless you engage in some sort of focused devotional activity every minute of the day, every day of the week, every week of the year, you’d never be able to satisfy God’s demand on your life.  But, even Jesus slept and went to the bathroom.

So get rid of the line!  Hobbies and homework can’t be any less about God than singing and supplication.  The only way to give everything to God is to remove the line and let him have school and eating.  When we stop separating Nature from Grace, he gets both.

So, you can have fun and God at the same time–it means that he doesn’t just get a few hours on Sunday.  He gets hobbies and homework.  He calls the shots in your friendships and family relationships.  He is lord of what comes out of your mouth and what goes in.  Although this may sound restrictive, it is actually the only path to freedom and really having fun.

After this little rant,  one clever image bearer asked, “How I can include God in my sleep—I can’t have Godly dreams every night.”

Here is my answer.

 

 

© 2019 crossing the line

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑