Mr. Standfast

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

November 07, 2003

Feeling a little bit listless today (although a cup of coffee at noon has helped tremendously--am I really that chemically dependent?). Listless, yes. I was going to use the fancy word ennui, but I looked it up and found it meant boredom, and that's not exactly what I'm feeling. How about enervated. Yes, that sounds serious enough. Something more than mere boredom, which is a condition I've never had much sympathy with. includes "devitalized" and "spiritless" among its synonyms. Hmmm.

Well, now that I've chosen the proper descriptor, let's move on to the money-question: why? Something more than "lack-of-caffeine," or so I assume. Small-group last night was a little bit troubled. It began with a rather vehement declaration by one of us that the rest had been insensitive toward a disabled person the week before. I reacted badly to this, I suppose. And this exchange set the tone.

We were a smallish small group, too. It seemed we were lacking in critical mass or something. I had wanted to spend a lot of time praying for C., but most of those who came this week were the one who just don't pray much (or not at all) publicly. I have to confess also that I have not been praying much this week in my private devotions. L., on the other hand, was very "juiced," feeling strongly that many of us had been coming under attack lately and that it was time to do battle.

Well, after five worship songs (with the CD player as our "worship leader") which were actually sung by only two of us, I asked several members to read Jeremiah 29:11-14. That is, four different readings from three different translations. I wanted the repetition. I wanted the message to guide us into prayer. Perhaps I should have invited more dialogue at this point, asking people to express in their own words just what were the plans that God had for them personally, but instead we went directly into prayer for C. This is what I was eager for and what, I felt, we were called to do that evening. It was, I believed, our purpose.

And yet the going was slow, the view murky. The prayer felt like slogging. Of the seven of us, three were people who struggle with depression and seldom if every pray aloud. One other that never does. Were spiritual forces at work to inhibit us? C. would be going into rehab in a few days, and there is just no doubt in my mind that the "powers of the air" have really been working to undermine and destroy that family and that household. C.'s years of addiction are only the groundwork of the evil one, and he does not want to see his hard work undermined.

So, well, nothing seemed quite right. The meeting just sort of petered out, earlier than usual, and we just sat talking. Afterward L. and I went to a club to hear N.'s band, "Touchin' Ground." They were very good. N. was happy, smiling broadly--a rare sight lately. The audience was receptive, even at times boisterous. So that was the positive note on which the day ended.

But what about my own difficulty praying lately? Is this dryness? Even the Scriptures seem to strike no spark of response. I know this will pass, I'm not particularly worried here, but I'm just wondering if I'm feeling the effects of spiritual warfare. That's what L. thinks.

The Word says famously that God is working all things together for good. But the devil's plan is quite the opposite. He would arrange the conditions and circumstances of our lives for a downfall. This is what the Psalmist so often refers to as a snare, pit, or trap. The good news is of course that the victory in this battle has already been won, but this fact does not prevent us from having to labor under the effects of sin and to engage in the struggle with evil that continues in and around us. This is one aspect at least of the working out of our salvation that Paul so earnestly enjoins upon us. [Philippians 2:12]

Well, the answer is, pray! It is for times like these that persistence is called for. Persistence in prayer. Persistence in abiding, in dependence, in faith. Persistence in the Word. Persistence in the armor of God and heavenly-mindedness. Persist. Press in. Be among the things that remain, not those that are shaken. Amen to that!

On a different note:
I just read an excerpt from President Bush's speech at Goree Island, Senegal, the infamous "holding pen" where wholesalers in human flesh carried on their trade on a massive scale. Robert John Neuhaus writes about this speech in the October issue of First Things. Here is an excerpt from the speech along with Neuhaus' commentary. I quote it here because,well, I just think it's a powerful moment in Presidential rhetoric and an insight into the heart of this president. Neuhaus' judgments are, I think, quite sound as well.

I remember visiting Goree Island in Senegal. It was thirty years ago, and I braced myself against the emotional impact that it evoked. Goree Island is the place where captured Africans were collected and shipped off to slavery in the New World. Your local paper reported that President Bush was there in July, but it likely did not report much of what he said there, which is a pity. Was JFK the last President whose moments of eloquence were widely celebrated and declared to be historic? School children learned them as the words of Kennedy, not of Ted Sorenson or other gifted speechwriters. We're a long way from Lincoln's scribbling the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope. Although, more recently, we've learned about those legal pads of Ronald Reagan, and how he wrote out some of his best lines. But we've grown more sophisticated, perhaps more jaded, about presidential speeches. Of course, with Bush there is the factor of partisan prejudice in the media, and the belief that he is illegitimately President. Add to that the assumption that he is dumb and inarticulate. Such biases have blocked much attention being paid the remarkable presidential rhetoric--in the noblest meaning of that term--of the last nearly three years. So Mike Gerson drafted the speech; the fact is that the President of the United States approved it, delivered it, and, for all I know, rewrote it. His words at Goree Island deserve to be called historic. He said: "For 250 years the captives endured an assault on their culture and their dignity. The spirit of Africans in America did not break. Yet the spirit of their captors was corrupted. Small men took on the powers and airs of tyrants and masters. Years of unpunished brutality and bullying and rape produced a dullness and hardness of conscience. Christian men and women became blind to the clearest commands of their faith, and added hypocrisy to injustice. A republic founded on equality for all became a prison for millions. And yet in the words of the African proverb, "No fist is big enough to hide the sky." All the generations of oppression under the laws of man could not crush the hope of freedom and defeat the purposes of God. In America, enslaved Africans learned the story of the Exodus from Egypt and set their own hearts on a promised land of freedom. Enslaved Africans discovered a suffering Savior and found he was more like themselves than their masters. Enslaved Africans heard the ringing promises of the Declaration of Independence and asked the self-evident question, 'Then why not me?'" Then Bush mentioned William Wilberforce and others who early on recognized the evil of slavery and agitated against it. "These men and women, black and white, burned with a zeal for freedom, and they left behind a different and better nation. Their moral vision caused Americans to examine our hearts, to correct our Constitution, and to teach our children the dignity and equality of every person of every race. By a plan known only to Providence, the stolen sons and daughters of Africa helped to awaken the conscience of America. The very people traded into slavery helped to set America free." He concluded with this: "The evils of slavery were accepted and unchanged for centuries. Yet, eventually, the human heart would not abide them. There is a voice of conscience and hope in every man and woman that will not be silenced--what Martin Luther King called 'a certain kind of fire that no water could put out.' That flame could not be extinguished at the Birmingham jail. . . . It was seen in the darkness here at Goree Island, where no chain could bind the soul. This untamed fire of justice continues to burn in the affairs of man, and it lights the way before us." Powerful stuff, that. School children could learn, and no doubt are learning, a great deal that is less worthy of their attention.


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