Monday, February 28, 2011

Practicing the Presence

Sometime in the past decade, I lost the ability to plan for and keep up with regular, personal, spiritual retreats. A legitimate excuse might be that, when I worked a manual-labor job with set hours, vacation days, holidays, etc., it was easier to schedule a time to go to the park and be alone with the Ever-Present One for several hours. Now that I live the life of a missionary-teacher, I'm either reading the Bible, reading about the Bible or teaching the Bible. I'm getting much more spiritual input than when I was making photocopies of psychology dissertations at Biola's Duplicating Center. But that's a bad excuse because I still need the silence and solitude that my current shared office and child-filled home don't afford.

Well, feeling the weight of the absence, I took a "personal day" last week. Man, did I need it. One of the things that I did was to pray through a spiritual classic, which also used to be part of my former regime. It's uniquely refreshing to let someone much more experienced and mature than you guide you in your thoughts about and conversations with God. Since I didn't have a lot of time I wanted to pick something that I could work all the way through in the amount of time I had. So I picked Brother Lawrence's, The Practice of the Presence of God. What a kickpuncher! There's nothing like a 17th century monk to shake your modern (or postmodern) mindset and get you thinkin' new thoughts!

Aside from recommending that you spend some time with a spiritual classic (click here and here for some good collections), I want to offer a few of the thoughts I found most powerful (or shocking, or encouraging, or challenging, etc.) this time 'round with Larry. (The quotes that begin with "Brother Lawrence told me ..." are from conversations that M. Beaufort had with him.)

1. "[Brother Lawrence told me] that we should establish ourselves in a sense of God's presence by continually conversing with Him."

2. "I engaged in a religious life only for the love of God, and I have endeavored to act only for Him; whatever becomes of me, whether I be lost or saved, I will always continue to act purely for the love of God. I shall have this good at least, that till death I shall have done all that is in me to love Him."

3. "[Brother Lawrence told me] that all bodily mortifications and other exercises are useless, except as they serve to arrive at the union with the love of God."

4. "[Brother Lawrence told me] that is was a great delusion to think that the times of prayer ought to be different from other times; that we are as strictly obliged to adhere to God by action in the time of action as by prayer in the season of prayer."

5. "[Brother Lawrence told me] that we ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed."

6. "[Brother Lawrence told me] that all things are possible to him who believes; that they are less difficult to him who hopes; that they are more easy to him who loves, and still more easy to him who perseveres in the practice of all three virtues."

7. "Sometimes I consider myself there [in set hours of prayer] as a stone before a carver, whereof he is to make a statue; presenting myself thus before God, I desire Him to form His perfect image in my soul, and make me entirely like Himself."

8. "There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God. ... It is not pleasure which we ought to seek in this exercise; but let us do it from a principle of love, and because God would have us."

9. "I wish you could convince yourself that God is often (in some sense) nearer to us, and more effectually present with us, in sickness than in health."

10. "Let all our employment be to know God; the more one knows Him, the more one desires to know Him. And as knowledge is commonly the measure of love, the deeper and more extensive our knowledge shall be, the greater will be our love; and if our love of God were great, we should love Him equally in pains and pleasures."

Sunday, February 20, 2011

At Long Last

If you're proud of your alma mater, you probably like to see your former profs publish good books and write good articles (or the appropriate equivalent in whatever field you studied) so that more people than just you can enjoy the fruit of their labors. I definitely feel that way about Talbot School of Theology and think that many more people should be familiar with her faculty than actually are.

Now it's much easier with the launch of a Talbot blog — The Good Book Blog. Not all profs are posting there; I think it's a little less than half. But that's better than none and there are already some great posts to digest (see Dr. Ken Berding's posts on prayer and the family here and here) (also check out Dr. Ken Way's story of how he chose where to earn his Ph.D.). Check it out as often as possible, stretch your mind and enrich your soul.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Tribute to Oksana (Photos by Sergei)

If you get our newsletter then you've seen this picture of my philosophy students from the class in November.

I'm obviously not in the photo because I'm taking the picture. However, there's one more person who should be in the picture but isn't. Her name is Oksana and, although I taught the class in Russian, things would have been a whole lot worse without her help. Here's just a few of the things she did:

-She went through my notes (which had been translated by someone else previously and contained mistakes due to the fact that I didn't have any live contact with that person during the translation process) and made extremely thorough revisions.

-She translated 2 new sets of lecture notes that I hadn't finished for the previous semester's class.

-She sat through the whole class and, whenever I didn't know a word/phrase or sufficiently slaughtered a word/phrase, she informed me of what I really should be saying.

-She helped me grade the assignments that were written Ukrainian, a language which is still way out of my reach.

So, as you can see, my pedagogical success (if you want to call it that — my students probably don't), is due in large part to Oksana's able and effective service.

Well, last Monday was her birthday and, in typical KTS fashion, she made a cake and brought it to the office. When the available seminary personnel gathered around to sing and congratulate her, we all partook of the goodies. Present at the shindig was Sergei Tarasenko, KTS librarian, TST-KE student and budding photographer. He graciously offered to give me the pictures that he took of me at the occasion and, in a rare moment of blogging forethought, I asked him for a number of other pictures so that I could post a tribute to Oksana for her wonderful work in my class. So, I present to you a few photos of Oksana and her office party, courtesy of Sergei.

Oksana, the marvelous translator

The food

Eric messin' up Sergei's shot

Eric doing some serious eating

Igor and Sergei (no, not photographer Sergei) doing some serious eating

Thanks again for all the help, Oksana, and happy birthday!