Thursday, 11 November 2010

I Knew You’d Come: A Remembrance Day Recollection (found here)

~Author Unknown

He was very old now, but could still hold himself stiffly at attention before the monument. His war, the one to end all wars, now just a fading part of history. Very few could remember, first-hand, the savageness of the ordeal that had sent millions of young men to their deaths. Cannon fodder, they’d called them, sent before the guns to be mown down — blown apart by chunks of metal which had decimated their frail bodies. The cream of a generation; almost wiped out. He was haunted by the faces of the boys he’d had to order into battle, the ones who’d never come back. Yet one nameless ghost was able to bring a measure of comfort to his tormented mind. At the sound of the gun signaling the eleventh hour he was mentally transported back to the fields of Flanders.


The battle had raged for over two hours, with neither side gaining any advantage. Wave after wave of soldiers had been dispatched from the muddy trenches and sent over the top. So many had died already that day that he decided he could not afford to lose any more men before reinforcements arrived. Perhaps they’d give the remnants a few more days of life. There came a slight lull in the battle due to the sheer exhaustion of the men on both sides.

During this interval, a young soldier came up to him requesting that he be allowed to go over the top. He looked at the boy who couldn’t have been more than nineteen. Was this extreme bravery in the face of the enemy or was the soldier so scared he just needed to get it over with?

Why would you want to throw your life away, soldier? It’s almost certain death to go out there.”

“My best friend went out over an hour ago, captain, and he hasn’t come back. I know my friend must be hurt and calling for me. I must go to him, sir, I must.” There were tears in the boy’s eyes . It was as if this were the most important thing in the world to him.

“Soldier, I’m sorry, but your friend is probably dead. What purpose would it serve to let you sacrifice your life too?

At least I’d know I’d tried, sir, he’d do the same thing in my shoes. I know he would.

He was about to order the boy back to the ranks, but the impact of his words softened his heart. He remembered the awful pain he’d felt himself when his brother had died. He’d never had the chance to say goodbye.

“All right soldier, you can go.” Despite the horror all around them, he saw a radiant smile on the boy’s face, as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders.

“God bless you, sir,” said the soldier.

It was a long time before the guns fell silent for the last time and each side was allowed to gather their dead and wounded. The captain remembered the young soldier. He looked through the many piles of bodies. Young men. So many as to give an unreal quality to the scene before him.

When he came to the makeshift hospital, he looked carefully through the casualties. He soon found himself before the prone body of the soldier, alive, but severely wounded. He knelt down beside the young man and gently laid a hand on his shoulder.

“I’m so sorry, son. I knew I was wrong to let you go.”

“Oh no, sir. I’m glad you did and I’m glad you’re here now so I can thank you. You see sir, I found my friend. He was badly wounded, but I was able to comfort him at the end. As I held him dying in my arms, he looked me in the eyes and said: “I knew you’d come.”

The young soldier faded between consciousness and oblivion for some time before he too finally slipped away.

The captain stayed by his side until the end, tears streaming quietly down his cheeks.


As the bugle sounded “Taps”, the old captain envisioned once again the young soldier’s face. Looking up, he could almost hear the stone monument calling out to him: “I knew you’d come.”

Jesus said, "There is no greater love than this: that a man lay down his life for a friend."

Monday, 8 November 2010

Ten of One Thousand

Giving thanks for another ten of one thousand endless gifts:

41. a peaceful and beautiful walk by the canal on Saturday
42. seeing the children running, smiling and just being out of doors
43. healing from sickness of various kinds last week
44. for a husband's humility and service in caring for us all when we were ill
45. for a daughter making progress in riding her bike (through a father's perseverance!)
46. for forgiveness for things I said yesterday which did not build up but rather knocked down
47. for a bonfire party with no injuries!
48. Cranmer's collects
49. for mercy which does not give me what I truly do deserve
50. for grace which freely gives me gifts I truly don't

holy experience

Friday, 5 November 2010

All those prayers we never pray, but should

“Unoffered prayer, and by that I mean prayers that we do not pray that we should be praying, is a direct index to and commentary on the way in which prideful presumption and the sin of self–sufficiency governs us and directs our thinking. I fear... that there are large portions of our lives when we are so proud, so self sufficient, so presumptuous, that we go about trying to get the things we need and want in our own strength as if we had no Heavenly Father to take care of us.”

Thursday, 4 November 2010

How Thanksgiving Became an Institution

I stumbled across Abraham Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863 here.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

Abraham Lincoln

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

When I don't feel like praying or don't know what to say...

Tim Keller offers the following advice on praying,

October 2010
by Tim Keller
"Years ago when I wanted to become more skillful in public prayer, I was fortunate to come across the collects of Thomas Cranmer, the writer of the original Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. The “collects” (the stress is on the first syllable)that Cranmer wrote were brief but extremely ‘packed’ little prayers that tied together the doctrine of the day to a particular way of living. They were prayed by the minister on behalf of the people, or prayed in unison by the whole congregation.
As I have read them over the years they have brought me two great benefits. First, they have given me a basic structure by which I can compose good public prayers, either ahead of time, or spontaneously. Cranmer’s collects consist of 5 parts:
1. The address - a name of God
2. The doctrine - a truth about God’s nature that is the basis for the prayer
3. The petition - what is being asked for
4. The aspiration - what good result will come if the request is granted
5. In Jesus’ name - this remembers the mediatorial role of Jesus
See this structure in Cranmer’s famous collect for the service of Holy Communion:
1.Almighty God
2.unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid,
3.cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit,
4.that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name,
5.through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
See how the prayer moves from a doctrinal basis (why we can ask for it) to the petition (what we want) to the aspiration (what we will do with it if we get it.) It is remarkable how this combines solid theology with deep aspirations of the heart and concrete goals for our daily life.
As time has gone on I have come to use Cranmer’s collects in my personal devotional time (this is the second benefit.) I take up one collect at the beginning of each new week. I read Paul Zahl’s volume The Collects of Thomas Cranmer (Eerdmans, 1999) that provides a very short explanation and meditation on the prayer. Then I pray that prayer to God reflectively every morning for the rest of the week as I begin my personal time with God. I commend this practice to you..." (more here)

So, I have taken his advice and found an online version of the collects here.

For many, the idea of praying a prewritten prayer seems stifling or mechanical. This may be true at times, but if we are honest, isn't much of our own spontaneous praying mechanical anyway - simply because we are battling with our natural instinct to be distracted from praying. (This is my experience, at least.) Sometimes it is simply an act of our wills which keeps us there. And isn't this an act which glorifies God? I don't mean to say that we can only expect prayer to be mechanical but simply that praying when we don't feel like praying is hard but nonetheless glorifying to God. It is precisely at these moments that having a prayer which has been carefully composed and well thought out theologically can be a real aid when we are feeling dry and have nothing particular in mind to say.
Lord Peter Wimsey said,
"A facility for quotation covers the absence of original thought."
If true learning is simply thinking God's thoughts after him, I see nothing wrong with this statement. When praying is hard, let's make good use of the many sources of wonderful prayers available to us and ask that the Holy Spirit would plant the words deep in our hearts and make them our own.

Another good reason for using prayers such as these is that the theology and truth contained in them can be food for our souls and minds as we inwardly digest it. These truths can then change they way we think and pray in accordance with God's word, eventually filtering out through our own spontaneous prayers too.

The prayer for this week (the 23rd week after Trinity) seems quite apt:

God, our refuge and strength, who art the author of
all godliness, be ready to hear the devout prayers of
thy Church, and grant that those things which we ask
faithfully we may obtain effectually; through Jesus
Christ our Lord. Amen.
If you, like me, find praying the hardest thing of all, then take heart and don't give up!