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The Contemplative Christian

 

AS kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;

As tumbled over rim in roundy wells Stones ring;

like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s

Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:

Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;

Selves—goes itself; myself

it speaks and spells, Crying

Whát I do is me: for that I came.

Í say móre: the just man justices;

Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;

Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—

Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,

Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his

To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89). Poems. 1918.

The vivid sonnet says that living beings were created to have Christ come alive in them. Eugene Peterson said. "Hopkins doesn't talk about achieving this congruence, but how it is achieved in us, when Christ lives in us." Peterson describes congruence as the alignment of who you are and what you do, the harmony of the ends you seek and the means you use to achieve them. Nathan Bierma writes,

This is not the triumphal self-motivated march toward sanctification in which many American Christians are caught up. "It's easier to talk about what Christians do—life as performance," Peterson said. But the three pieces of Jesus' fundamental declaration that he is the way, the truth, and the life, must be in perfect correspondence. "Only when we live Jesus' truth in Jesus' way do we get Jesus' life," Peterson said. Not his truth in our way for the sake of our life.

Peterson speculated that America's current hunger for "spirituality"—which he earlier told the (Christian) Century often "degenerates into a sloppy subjectivism"—may have been brought on by Christian leaders who say the right things but lack this coherent identity—"a life lived whole, with integrity, the inside and outside organic to one another." The deeper problem, Peterson said, is that two things that are basic to the Christian life run counter to the American ethos.

First, the Christian life is not about us, but about God. It is not like giving ourselves a makeover. "We're in on it, but we're not the subject or the action," Peterson said. Ever notice how in the Bible, we always come in after a preposition? God with us, in us, for us. In an individualistic, commercial culture, where the self is the center of everything, an autonomous agent of transformation, we have lost this grammar of shalom—what Peterson called "prepositional participation."

The second principle of the Christian life that runs against the grain of American culture, Peterson said, is that the ways and means must be appropriate to the ends. "We can't participate in God's work if we insist on doing it our own way." He cited two examples of "doing the right thing the wrong way": congregation and Scripture. We consider both to be our matters, not God's. Instead of forming communities that embody self-denial, sacrifice, and patience for God to become present in them, we form "consumer churches," using commercial methods to attract people and cater to their wants. And rather than reading Scripture as a way of "listening to God revealing God," we treat it as information for us to process to become more successful and enlightened people. In both cases, the ways and means—bowing to the gods of salesmanship and efficiency—are out of sync with the ends—forming a community of believers submitting to God's work within them.

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posted 6 April 2007

               

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