St Paul in Athens: ‘For in [God] we live and move and have our being’

Le rocher de l’Aréopage, d’où Saint-Paul prêcha le ” Dieu Inconnu” aux Athéniens, vu de l’Acropole. Athènes, Grèce (Creative Commons).

OK, here’s the windup — (for any readers who might surf onto this page by accident and wonder what the verbatim quotes and links are all about). For Lent this year, I decided to add a discipline instead of giving something up. After talking it over with my spiritual director, I decided to work on prayer — specifically by learning a technique called lectio divina (it’s pronounced “lexio diveena,” it means divine reading, and I’ve linked some basics to the blog). Basically, you read scripture and prayerfully meditate on it. One tip sheet I’m following, from Our Lady of Victory parish in Centerville, Mass., counsels, “Do Continue reading “St Paul in Athens: ‘For in [God] we live and move and have our being’”

Preliminary notes on faith, hope and trust in the ER: Insights from a Lutheran college textbook and a Swedish-English dictionary

DRAFT NOTES for a journal I hope to write when things settle down a little and I get time. My wife was taken to the ER at St. John’s Hospital in Springfield Wednesday night, and I found some thoughts in a book I took with me — more or less by accident — that crystalized some of the ideas I’ve been wrestling with, especially about intercessory prayer and whether a personal God exists to whom such prayers can be addressed. It took me in an unexpected direction, and I’ve posted the notes to this blog so I can send my spiritual director a link. Debi was pretty ill, and it’s been quite a rodeo, so I didn’t have time to write. But I’ll have a lot to talk about Monday at our next spiritual direction meeting.

D R A F T OF THE LEDE, OR INTRO, TO THE JOURNAL I HAVEN’T GOTTEN AROUND TO WRITING YET. THE EPIGRAPH COMES FROM A SWEDISH-ENGLISH DICTIONARY, WITH A DEFINITION OF BELIEF, FAITH AND TRUST — THE SAME WORD [“TRO”] IN SWEDISH — AND A QUOTATION FROM THE PASSAGE IN ST. PAUL’S LETTER TO THE CORINTHIANS ABOUT “FAITH, HOPE AND CHARITY”:

Tro 1. belief; faith; trust; tro, hopp och kärlek = faith, hope and love [charity]; den kristna tro = the Christian faith …” Engelsk-Svensk — Svensk-Engelsk Ordbok (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1997), p. 405.

Believe me, none of this was planned. When the ambulance came for Debi, I figured we’d have a good long wait in the Emergency Room. So I grabbed the nearest book in order to have something, anything, to read. It turned out to be Bradley Houston’s A Graceful Life: Lutheran Spirituality for Today (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 2000). Houston is a religion professor at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and it reads like an undergraduate text or collateral reading book.

It turned out to be an inspired choice.

… AND THAT’S AS FAR AS I GOT WHEN I STARTED THIS DRAFT SOMETIME FRIDAY. VERBATIM EXCERPTS FOLLOW FROM BRADLEY HOUSTON’S BOOK [THE TYPOS ARE MINE, FROM TRANSCRIBING IT LATE SATURDAY WHEN I GOT HOME FROM THE HOSPITAL]:

Faith is trust in the present Christ, loving him, seeking from him all that is best. This notion of Christ present is often hard to grasp. A great many Christians think of Jesus mainly as someone who long ago set and example and paid a price for their sins. In such an understanding, Christ accomplished mighty things in the past and now dwells in heaven. Such a Christ Feels rather distant. But for Luther, Jesus Christ is alive and very much present in and with the believer. Luther had a powerful sense of living day by day in the intimate companionship of Christ. (49)

* * *

Why does God not quickly deliver us from suffering? The fact that God did not spare Jesus from the cross tells us something very significant about the way God works. It is not God’s highest goal to each of us live a long, carefree life. God is more concerned in fashioning people who have deep faith in God and love for one another. These are the primary characteristics of Jesus, and it is God/s goal to conform us to Christ. According to Christian beliefs, this goal is ultimately what is best for us. … 53

Luther says that if we look carefully at the cross of Jesus, then we discover a different God, one who is most deeply revealed in weakness, suffering, and death. … In the end, to be sure, God does overcome evil in the resurrection of Jesus. But the path to the glory of resurrection is through suffering. Since God dealt that way with Jesus, we should not expect anything different. God will not shield us from all sorrow and pain; at some points in our lives, we will have to endure them. … God may not bring us deliverance from trouble, but will share the trouble with us. … (69-70)

In summary, we can say that the central reality of relying upon the word of God is the personal relationship of trusting in Jesus Christ. Both law and gospel point to this center and especially to the cross of Jesus that helps us trust in God even in the midst of suffering. (70)

[AS I HAVE DONE HISTORICAL RESEARCH ON THE OLD SWEDISH-AMERICAN AUGUSTANA LUTHERAN SYNOD, I HAVE BEEN STRUCK BY THE WAY SWEDES (AND GERMANS) USE THE SAME WORD FOR FAITH, BELIEF AND TRUST. HENCE THE EPIGRAPH WITH THE QUOTATION FROM A SWEDISH-ENGLISH DICTIONARY (ORDBOK) ABOVE. HOUSTON GAVE ME A WAY TO MAKE THAT CONNECTION IN MY OWN THEOLOGIZING. ESPECIALLY IN LIGHT OF WHAT HE SAYS ABOUT SUFFERING.

[WHAT WAS ENTIRELY UNEXPECTED: HOUSTON MAKES THE CONNECTION BETWEEN FAITH AND TRUST IN THE CONTEXT OF LUTHER’S “THEOLOGY OF THE CROSS,” A CONCEPT I HAVE MORE-OR-LESS IGNORED UP TILL NOW BECAUSE THE EXPLANATIONS I’VE SEEN OF IT GET VERY DEEP INTO 16TH-CENTURY ISSUE(S) OF JUSTIFICATION. WIKIPEDIA EXPLAINS THE CONVENTIONAL WISDOM IN THE EXCERPT BELOW.]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theology_of_the_Cross

The theology of the Cross (Latin: Theologia Crucis,[1] German: Kreuzestheologie[2][3][4]) or staurology[5] (from Greek stauros: cross, and -logy: “the study of”)[6] is a term coined by the theologian Martin Luther[1] to refer to theology that posits the cross as the only source of knowledge concerning who God is and how God saves. It is contrasted with the Theology of Glory[1] (theologia gloriae),[1] which places greater emphasis on human abilities and human reason.

The term theologia crucis was used very rarely by Luther. He first used the term, and explicitly defined it in contrast to the theology of glory, in the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518. During this debate, he represented the Augustinians and presented his theses that later came to define the Reformation movement.

[Wikipedia lists 28 theses, i.e. academic debating points, that were argued at Heidelberg. All, as far as I can tell, deal with Luther’s concept of justification by grace through faith. The Wikipedia page continues:]

According to Luther, the theologian of the cross preaches what seems foolish to the world (1 Cor. 1:18). In particular, the theologian of the cross preaches that (1) humans can in no way earn righteousness, (2) humans cannot add to or increase the righteousness of the cross, and (3) any righteousness given to humanity comes from outside of us (extra nos).

HANSON’S BOOK ON LUTHERAN SPIRITUALITY GOES INTO THE ISSUE OF JUSTIFICATION BY GRACE IN DETAIL — YOU CAN’T WRITE MUCH ABOUT LUTHERANS WITHOUT IT — BUT THE PASSAGES I READ ABOUT LUTHER’S “THEOLOGY OF THE CROSS” IN THE EMERGENCY ROOM AT ST. JOHN’S TOOK WHAT HAD BEEN TO ME AN ABSTRACT 16TH-CENTURY CONCEPT AND APPLIED IT TO REAL LIFE, AT LEAST AS I HAVE LIVED IT. HE TOOK IT DOWN TO WHERE THE RUBBER HITS THE ROAD, AND I COULDN’T HAVE READ IT IN A BETTER PLACE AT A BETTER TIME.

Salvation? More like chopping wood, cooking and frying than pie in the sky …

Utah Phillips sings “Pie in the Sky” [aka “The Preacher and the Slave”] at the Rose Wagner Theater, Salt Lake City, February 2005. The song begins at 1:30, but Phillips was an old union organizer and born storyteller, and his intros were always worth listening to.

So back in August, my spiritual director prefaced what she was about to say with, “Now I don’t want you to take this as an assignment …” So of course, I took that as a sign it would be a very good idea get out my legal pad and start writing:

Behind every resistance there’s grace waiting to be revealed … What does your T-shirt say about salvation? …

I’d better translate that one.
Continue reading “Salvation? More like chopping wood, cooking and frying than pie in the sky …”

The dear angels’ song at Bethlehem and the presence of God in a lovingly annotated 1871 edition of Luther’s House Sermons

2 christmas sermon

Luther’s Sermons, annotated by seminary student ca. 1908.

Everyone has an inner child. But mine took a double major in English and history, so my inner life can get pretty odd sometimes — I guess that’s to be expected when you spend part of your day in another century.

And sometimes it gets really, really odd, like it has this week when I’ve been reading an 1871 translation of Martin Luther’s Hauspostille (house postils, or sermons), first published in 1544, for a project I’m researching on what Swedish immigrants in Chicago thought about theological issues. So I spend at least part of my day ping-ponging back and forth from the 21st Continue reading “The dear angels’ song at Bethlehem and the presence of God in a lovingly annotated 1871 edition of Luther’s House Sermons”

Zen Lutherans? Old post, old blogger jumps in with new thought(s)

The old pond;
A frog jumps in —
The sound of the water.
— Robert Aiken (Matsuo Bashô: Frog Haiku)

While I’m very new at this business of spiritual journaling, I’ve been wrestling with some of the issues for a long time. So I was intrigued when I read something about day-to-day spirituality in a book by members of the faculty at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, Pa. It reminded me of something I love about Zen Buddhism, and — come to think of it! — Martin Luther, too.

Not so much the Luther who wrote the Ninety-five Theses and theological
Continue reading “Zen Lutherans? Old post, old blogger jumps in with new thought(s)”

What is ordinary time? And what are hemlandssånger? Why this blog?

Welcome to my new weblog, which I’m tentatively calling Hemlandssånger — a Spiritual Journey in Ordinary Time. Here’s some background, along with a couple of definitions — and a confession …

First of all, the definitions. Ordinary Time is the liturgical season in the common lectionary, used by mainline Protestants and Catholics, that comes between the celebration of Pentecost, in May or June, and the end of the church year in November. It corresponds to the season we call Pentecost in Lutheran churches. On St. Andrew’s Day, around Nov. 30, the Continue reading “What is ordinary time? And what are hemlandssånger? Why this blog?”