Tag Archives: Annie Dillard

I don’t know the answers…

Lately I’ve been wondering:  How does God speak?

How does God speak to you?  Does He speak the same way to everyone?  Did He speak the same way to everyone in days of old?  Is Scripture the only way God speaks?

How can God speak through Scripture when it’s not in front of us?  If we have committed Scripture to memory just a little bit wrong, can that create a problem?  If He speaks to us in other ways, how can we hear Him?  How can we discern what is God what is Not God?  How can Satan distort what we hear?  What’s the danger of saying, “God told me…”?

If God’s Word is living and active, can it have both a primary meaning for the original audience and many layers of meaning for new situations and generations?  How does the Bible intend itself to be used?

How do you approach the study of Scripture?  Systematically?  Scatter shot?  Have you ever been surprised by the relevance of a passage you came upon in a regularly scheduled reading plan?  Does God have sovereignty over the calendar?

If you hear no direct answer when you seek God’s will, guidance, or counsel, what does this mean?  Is He not listening?  Does He withhold an answer sometimes?  What should we do in that circumstance?  Is it disappointing when He is quiet?  Can we find an answer in His Word?

Is it better to keep asking under the theory that it is good to persevere, or to remain silent under the theory that He already heard and is firmly in control?  How does His silence present an opportunity for relationship?

What does it mean that Jesus is the Word?  The Word is a person?  What’s the role of the Holy Spirit in prayer?  How does He assist in decision-making?  How do you know?  Jesus said His sheep know His voice — what does it sound like?  Is it easily duplicated?  Is ear-tickling the tactic only of bad preachers, or also of devils?  Does God speak through our emotions, our minds, our circumstances, or in our ears?  Does He still use visions and dreams?  Is there anything that constrains God to use particular means in speaking to us?

If you felt like God did indeed impress something on you, would you take action immediately?  What if you don’t?  What if you do?  Does God ever say one thing at one time and then contradict Himself?  If God never contradicts Himself, why do we, over time, stray from what we believe He first said?  If God never contradicts Himself, how can Scripture be useful in approving what we feel we have heard?

Do you listen to the Lord?  Do you expect to hear Him?  Do you diligently keep a pen handy to write down what you hear?  Do you expect to hear Him on a range of topics, or only certain things?  How detailed is God?

Does He care what cereal I eat for breakfast?

Does He care what music I listen to, which route I take to arrive somewhere, or whether I speak to strangers at the grocery store, or are certain things outside His purview?  If He does care about these things, do I ask His opinion about them?  How do I tune my heart to hear Him?

If you knew that God would speak to you 100 times today but you would hear him only once or twice, how would you feel?  Is this the state of things?  If you believed that the Bible had specific things to say to your situation moment by moment, would you treat it differently? If God spoke to you every day for thirty thousand days, would there be paper enough to write it all down?

If He spoke to me just once, would I be all astonishment?

Have I paid attention to the ways the created world speaks, giving God glory?  How does the Bible unpack the redemptive analogies present in nature?  Does God continue to speak in metaphor through advancing knowledge of creation?  That is to say, is there more to hear?

How do different faith communities approach these questions?  What is there to learn from different camps?  How did heroes of the faith, theologians, and sages, understand these things from different angles?  Am I dogmatic about this?  Should I be?  How earnestly do I seek wisdom in hearing God?  Is there perhaps uncharted territory for me in listening to Him?

What might God have to say to me today?

From Annie Dillard, The Writing Life:  “Rebbe Shmelke of Nickolsburg, it was told, never really heard his teacher, the Maggid of Mezritch, finish a thought because as soon as the latter would say ‘and the Lord spoke,’ Shmelke would begin shouting in wonderment, ‘The Lord spoke, the Lord spoke,’ and continue shouting until he had to be carried from the room.”

Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.

Stretching my brain a few pages a day.

Ahhh… books.  Summer’s here, and for a lot of people, that means a stack of paperbacks and a beach towel.  As always, I used my summer birthday to get a small pile of wanna-read, need-to-read, and gotta-read titles; the only problem is deciding what to tackle first!  Tim Challies’ blog has a fantastic 2016 reading challenge (I know, I know, I’m a little late).  But I actually did list out a dozen books I wanted to get to this year, and slowly, I’m working my way through them.  On my list?  Les Misérables (thought it would be tough but I’m loving it!), Holy the Firm by Annie Dillard (started it and lost steam), Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry (really great — now I’m reading some of his poetry, which is even better), The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie King (it is staring at me from the bookshelf), Tim Keller’s book on prayer.

One on my list I’ve been chipping away at on and off for a few years.  It’s called Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups,  edited by Richard Foster and James Bryan Smith — two guys from one of those little Quaker colleges in the midwest.  Michael assigned it for a class, and I’ve been meandering through it ever since.

I LOVE this book.  When I finish it I’m going to have to go back to the beginning and do it again.  Here’s the thing.  When you find an author or a style that you like, you tend to go back again and again, and maybe, after some time, you find yourself kind of stuck in a rut.  You read people who think like you.  You start to hear all of the same conversations repeated by new voices.  Yeah?  You can relate, right?  But this book is a survey of some pretty stinking amazing people over the span of 2,000 years of history.  It’s devotional, so you can dip a toe in without committing to the diving board (hello, 1,200 pages of Les Mis).  It’s a perfect kick-start to reading the Bible, just the right length for a cup of coffee.

Some of these folks are deep end of the pool thinkers (OK, most of them are.)  Some are mystics.  Some are poets.  Some are missionaries, scholars, monks, people the world was not worthy of (and yet the world has forgotten.)  There are folks in here who strike me as flat-out crazy and others who make me weep, people who challenge my assumptions and my complacency.  I could crank through this book in a short time, but I’d rather keep going my lazy way through, because there are words in this book that float around in my mind for a week or two if I don’t rush past.

Hmm… let me give you a few quotes to chew on.

There is no Christian who does not have time to pray without ceasing.... No one can believe how powerful prayer is and what it can effect, except those who have learned it by experience.

There is enough light for those who desire only to see, and enough darkness for those of a contrary disposition.

The basic response of the soul to the Light is internal adoration and joy, thanksgiving and worship, self-surrender and listening. The secret places of the heart cease to be our noisy workshop. They become a holy sanctuary of adoration...

What if a few pages a day could change your life?  What are you reading?

Zeke

Zeke ate a mouse the other day. Bit the head right off. Zeke is the name of our neighbor’s 7-year-old son, but fortunately, he does not come into this story. Zeke also happens to be the name of a very fluffy black cat that has adopted us.

I am not a cat person. I hear the old joke about the difference between cats and dogs* and think, why would anyone want to own a cat? But Zeke is a very dog-like cat in many respects, and he has charmed our family. Every morning, he waits on the windowsill to greet us. When we open the door, he flops on his back to have his tummy scratched. He follows us when we go for walks. He watches us eat dinner. It’s not that he’s hungry or neglected, quite the opposite, he just likes us.

The kids have gone bananas for this green-eyed cat. Having never been around felines much, they are amazed and delighted at everything he does. Patrick, almost 8, has been the most enamored. Until the mouse.

We had heard that Zeke likes to entertain guests up here with his feats of strength, catching small rodents and tossing them into the air, leaping up and snatching them with his paws. He’s auditioning for America’s Got Talent, I think. But the actual stalking and maiming of the little mouse was too much for our little guy, who was completely horrified. “Nature, red in tooth and claw.”

It reminds me of Annie Dillard’s cat story in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Her cat, free to come and go from the window, I guess, would wake her every morning, returning from nighttime adventures and pouncing onto her bed. One day, pawed and pounced on by the cat, Dillard looked in the mirror and saw bloody pawprints all over her shirt. (Please forgive if I’ve mixed up the details; I don’t have my copy of the book up here at the cabin to consult.)

They say housecats are the most — what? efficient? vicious? — predators in North America, expertly, ruthlessly stalking and killing anything small and available. They haven’t lost their hunting instincts. They are carnivores. (Patrick, after the mouse incident, insisted that he would no longer be a carnivore, and pulled the turkey out of his sandwich at lunch.) Though the kids know this academically, the reality of messy death, victim and victor, was a jolt. Living in the city, we are out of touch with the wildness of nature and the heartlessness of the food chain. We are not farmers, have never slaughtered a chicken, don’t see where our food comes from, other than the Krispy Kreme conveyor belt of sticky goodness. Life is sanitized, safe.

I have been reading a biography of C.S. Lewis by Alister McGrath, and came across his famous description of Aslan this week: “The most characteristic feature of Lewis’s Aslan is that he evokes awe and wonder. Lewis develops this theme with relation to Aslan by emphasising the fact that he is wild — an awe-inspiring, magnificent creature, which has not been tamed through domestication or had his claws pulled out to ensure he is powerless. As the Beaver whispers to the children,’He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.'”

There is something about this wild place of woods and mountains, who-knows-what creatures (another kind of lion, perhaps) living in the vast expanse of untamed wilderness, that evokes to me a sense of God’s own wildness. The Bible stories that we so often declaw for children hint at a God beyond our Sunday school pictures, a God who invented carnivores.

The world is wilder than we remember, fiercer, untamed. On one hand, we participate in dark things without even pausing to consider, and on the other, we forfeit the experience of the wonder and awe all around. What if God is bigger and more unpredictable than we allow? What if there is mystery outside your window?

What if the Easter story unfolding again this week, was unfamiliar, new, permitted to shock and astound and dismay and poke us in some tender place? The White Witch has got hold of Aslan and howls in her triumph; we are Lucy and Susan crouching in terror at a distance to watch the Deep Magic work. Are we moved? Are we undone?

Who knew? Life lessons from Zeke, the terrifying cat. I miss my goofy dog.

Zeke the Cat
Zeke the Cat

*There once was a man named Bob, the proud owner of a cat and a dog. Every day, Bob took care of Rover. He fed him, scratched his tummy, brushed him, tossed a ball for him, and picked up his poop. Rover thought, “Bob is my master and I love him. He must be God.” Every day, Bob took care of Tom. He fed him, scratched his ears, groomed him, tossed his yarn ball, and picked up his poop. Tom thought, “Guess I’m God!”