Valley of the Shadow of Death

Valley of the Shadow of Death is a photograph by Roger Fenton, taken on April 23, 1855, during the Crimean War. It is one of the most well-known images of war.

Fenton observed, “in coming to a ravine called the valley of death, the sight passed all imagination: round shot and shell lay like a stream at the bottom of the hollow all the way down, you could not walk without treading upon them.”

The Unconscious Mind in the Sacred Scriptures

Was the unconscious mind unknown to the prophets and poets of ancient Israel? Or were they aware our awareness had limits? No doubt it would be anachronistic to attribute a modern understanding of the mind to the ancient authors, but I think there’s evidence enough that they knew of dark recesses within themselves.
Consider for instance the words of the Psalmist, who cries, “But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults” (Psalm 19:12) and “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)
Though it is sometimes unclear whether the secrets of the “heart” being spoken of refer merely to that which is hidden from others or also to that which is hidden from self, phrases like “Who can discern their own errors?” seems to strongly suggest elements of self deception. As does the reflection of Jeremiah when he says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
Then of course there are figures like Daniel, who unpack dreams that are obscure to the dreamers. “As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than anyone else alive, but so that Your Majesty may know the interpretation and that you may understand what went through your mind.” (Daniel 2:30)
An understanding of hidden depths to the self seemed to carry though into New Testament times also. The apostle Paul writes, “He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart” (1 Corinthians 4:5) and “As the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God” (1 Corinthians 14:25) and “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being”. (Ephesians 3:16)
And yet, it would appear that we are not without their own resources, for the Psalmist also writes, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11)

 

Autumn in the air

Chills on my skin,
I feel an Autumn breeze,
Red, gold and orange
Glow upon the trees.
The air is crisp,
Refreshing to breathe in,
Excitement stirs in my heart
As starts a new season.
Lord Jesus, I marvel
The rhythm You create,
Surely but a glimpse
Behind Heaven’s gate.
With perfection and beauty
The seasons do dance;
Each one has its glory,
Each one its chance.
So amidst these changes,
As trees are cloaked in glory,
I remember all is Yours,
Your unfolding story.
The refreshing air,
The trees of red and gold,
Sing a song of Your love,
Extending from days of old.
The cool Autumn air
I delight to breathe in;
Excitement stirs in my heart
As starts a new season.
Yes, my Lord Jesus,
As I feel an Autumn breeze,
The glory of Your presence
Brings me to my knees!
– Caroline Gavin, 2013

 

Listening to God through the land

Did the prophets think God could only speak through them? Did they think the God was mute without them? On the contrary, the prophets recognised it was the Spirit of prophecy who enabled them to speak, and that God could speak through anyone or anything. Job was emphatic on this point:
But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
     or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
     or let the fish in the sea inform you.
Which of all these does not know
     that the hand of the Lord has done this?
Is it such a strange suggestion then, that God can still speak to us through the land?
Might we experience the stones crying out, even today?

Is entertainment the only cure for boredom?

Challenge_vs_skillWhen people say they find church boring, is it entertainment they’re lacking? Or challenge?

In his article, Amusing Ourselves To Death, Neil Postman said “I believe I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether.”

I find it interesting to consider this in light of what psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi found about flow, also known as the zone. Csíkszentmihályi defined flow as a mental state in which a person performing an activity were fully immersed in what they’re doing, with energized focus, to the point that they can lose their sense of space and time. Ever experienced it? I certainly have. Though rarely in a church service. Well, what Csíkszentmihályi found was that flow kicked in when both challenge and skill levels were high. To experience flow we need challenges that are commensurate with our skill levels. Making it easy can actually be counter productive to experiencing life to its fullest.

Jesus never set his expectations so low. Why should we?

A pillar of fire by night

fire devil
This photograph of a fire devil in Portugal reminds me of the account from the book of Exodus where it is said, “By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.” Are you open to the possibility that, in attuning ourselves to the ways of the elements, God can still guide us through them today?

How to hide Jesus

img_0414How to hide Jesus

There are people after Jesus.
They have seen the signs.
Quick, let’s hide Him.
Let’s think; carpenter,
fishermen’s friend,
disturber of religious comfort.
Let’s award Him a degree in theology,
a purple cassock
and a position of respect.
They’ll never think of looking here.
Let’s think;
His dialect may betray Him,
His tongue is of the masses.
Let’s teach Him Latin
and seventeenth century English,
they’ll never think of listening in.
Let’s think;
humble,
Man of Sorrows,
nowhere to lay His head.
We’ll build a house for Him,
somewhere away from the poor.
We’ll fill it with brass and silence.
It’s sure to throw them off.
There are people after Jesus.
Quick, let’s hide Him.

– Steve Turner

Remembering the tree

THE TREE FOR THE CROSS
by Colin Moffett

I stood in the forest growing so strong
From all of my companions I was numbered among
They picked me out as the rough barked tree
To crucify the Saviour of men on the hard wood of me

I felt each blow as they cut me down
Then pared of the branches of my leaf topped crown
And used one of them, the limbs of my loss
To nail it to my trunk and form me as a cross

They brought Jesus out with His thorn crowned head
The wounds of His body were dripping blood red
And they tossed me over His shoulder to carry me along
But they had abused Him so much He was no longer strong

He could not carry me but I carried His frame
For He was fixed to my trunk and they pinned on me His name
As they nailed His hands and feet I felt that I could
Feel His pain, for each nail through Him also pierced into my wood

Secured to my timber, they lifted us both high
And they stood back to mock and watch Jesus die
In the long dreadful hours so solemn and dark
I felt His poor body writhe on my bark

Its roughness I hated and wished it to be smooth
For I would have given anything His body to soothe
My sap mixed with His blood and sweat He was perspiring
And knew by His breathing His life was expiring

The trembling in His body slowly diminished
Then ceased all breathing for life was finished
The Saviour of sinners hanging dead on me
And I wished otherwise it could be

For I did not want to be the one
To carry on me God’s dear Son
But it was ordained that Jesus should die on a tree
And His blood that was spilled was spilled on me

The wood of my body is long since gone
A risen Saviour still lives on
When by coming to Jesus sinners can recover their loss
I am glad I played my part by being the tree for the cross