Christianity


Now for some non-concrete thoughts.

I dislike Halloween. I especially hate yard decorations. For one thing, do you know how eerie a fluttering ghost or witch can be when you’re driving by in the dark, early in the morning, barely awake, trying to get to the hospital?

For another, I think covering your house in Halloween images is downright foolish. Witches, for instance, are not benign jokes. Sure, many self-titled witches today probably can’t accomplish much of anything. However, that doesn’t mean the concept isn’t real. In the Bible, for example, the witch of Endor summoned the spirit of the dead prophet Samuel, who accurately foretold King Saul’s death in battle. In general, the idea of trafficking with Satan should not produce warm fuzzy holiday thoughts. (And even if you want to talk about different kinds of magic, in the end any real magic, in this world, comes down to the same thing: rebelling against God’s providence and trying to control Nature and events through your own power.)

Ghosts? Only in modern American cotton-candy thinking are ghosts friendly. I don’t believe they actually exist (as opposed to witches, who are at least a theoretical/historical possibility); “it is given unto men once to die, and after that the Judgment.” But if they did, they have been portrayed from time memorial as unhappy spirits, either trying to escape from an unpleasant afterlife, or with some vengeful business to accomplish. There’s a reason haunted houses have been viewed with terror. Why would you try to bring that atmosphere to the house you live in?

Jack’o’lanterns: designed to scare evil spirits away from the house. Also not originally funny.

Spider-webs: yes, personally there’s nothing I detest more than a real live spider, no matter how small. So my view may be skewed. But are any of you really fans of spiders in the house? So why drape giant ones over the outside of the house?

In short, people who celebrate Halloween, and especially who decorate enthusiastically for it, are demonstrating a breathtaking lack of imagination. For a Christian perspective on the reality of evil and the supernatural, and its potential for devastating intrusions into the everyday, try Charles Williams’ Descent Into Hell or All Hallows’ Eve, which could be described (by extreme oversimplification) as a ghost story and a zombie story, respectively. For a (slightly) more upbeat approach, still involving a powerful and evil wizard, read War in Heaven, which is my favorite of his seven supernatural novels. (For those of you now questioning my literary taste, these are nothing like the current pulp vampire toxins flooding the market. Charles Williams was once a dabbler in black magic, who then converted to Christianity, and was a member of the Inklings, along with C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. So he knew what he was talking about, and he wrote as only an Englishman trained to write Latin verse from childhood can write English.)

I’ve been listening to a Christmas CD from the Boston Camerata – An American Christmas, which contains few familiar carols, but many beautiful early American hymns, which demonstrate an understanding of [I cringe to use the cliche] the true meaning of Christmas far beyond that which pervades pop culture today. This song is called Bozrah, from the Biblical reference given further down; you can hear a rendition of it by the Rose Ensemble here, very similar to the Camerata version, but with different verses at the end.

Who is this that comes from far,
With his garments dipped in blood?
Strong triumphant traveller
Is he’Emmanuel, is he God?

I that reign in righteousness,
Son of God and Man I am.
Mighty to redeem your race -
               Jesus is your Savior’s name.

Hark the trumpet’s awful voice
Sounds abroad through sea and land.
Let his people now rejoice -
Their redemption is at hand.

I that reign in righteousness,
Son of God and Man I am.
Mighty to redeem your race -
                Jesus is your Savior’s name.

See, the Lord appears in view;
Heav’n and earth before him fly.
Rise ye saints, he comes for you;
Rise to meet him in the sky.

I that reign in righteousness,
Son of God and Man I am;
Mighty to redeem your race -
               Jesus is your Savior’s name.

The first half of the song is a paraphrase of  Isaiah 63:1. The  prophet asks,  “Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? this that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength?” And Christ answers, “I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save.”

Messianic prophecies often refer to blood-red garments: either the Lamb’s blood, shed to cover his people’s sins, or the blood of the Lion’s enemies, spilled as he comes in judgment.

A lot of people have been known to remark at Christmas-time that they “relate best to baby Jesus,” or some similar nonsense; as though it is possible to believe only in Jesus as a helpless infant, and to ignore the rest of his life. Jesus’ birth was a real moment in time and space, when one Person of the Triune God took a human body. But he existed before that, indeed from all eternity, as the Son of God, the Word, the Wisdom of God who breathed life into creation (Proverbs 8, John 1). He existed after that, as a sinless man, the perfect sacrifice who died, and then rose from the dead. He exists now, reigning at the Father’s right hand, while all enemies are put under his feet.

And now, when we remember his birth, we also remember and long for his second coming, which will be from the heavens, awesome and full of glory; when those who have denied and mocked him will see the One who was pierced for our transgressions, and weep at their fatal error; when those who have believed in him will realize in full the truth of his promise, “He who believes in me, though he be dead, yet shall he live; and he who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

As the historic church recognized in the observance of Advent, Christmas is a joyful time, not only because our Savior was born, but because he is coming again.

Belatedly, Merry Christmas.

I’m trying to figure out what it was about my appearance or manner that made a guy sitting in the cafeteria last night feel free to start sharing his feelings about the latest episode of House with me. He was disgusted by the storyline (involving two lesbian women, one of course being on the verge of death, and her partner donating half of her liver to save her), and went on to share many of his opinions about gays with me.

It’s not like my clothes were unique (scrubs and white coat are fairly nondescript, no room for personal fashion statements there). Maybe it’s my distinctively feminine long hair, which I do try to maintain in distinction to many female doctors and surgeons.

I was upset with myself, for being so infected by the current air of political correctness, as to feel it impolite to state in public one’s opinion that being gay is wrong and unnatural.

On the other hand, about two minutes after we went our separate ways, I figured out what I really ought to have said to him: “You’re right, that homosexuality is a sin against God. But you’re wrong to think that just because you’re straight, you’ve committed no sins. Every time you or I are angry at someone, in God’s eyes we’ve committed the crime of murder. Every time you look at a woman wrongly, let alone sleep with a woman you’re not married to, you’ve committed adultery. Every time you bend the truth, you’re a liar. One way or another, we’ve all broken God’s law, and deserve his judgment on us. In the end there’s no difference between straights and gays. We all need God’s mercy and forgiveness, and the only way to receive it is through faith in Christ.” I’ll have to keep that in mind the next time I make the mistake of glancing towards an episode of House.

(It’s been too quiet on this blog lately; comments, anyone?  :)

Another magnificent piece of music: Haydn’s Te Deum, which was performed for a visit of Admiral Nelson to the Austrian court in 1800. It can be sampled (and even better, acquired) here.

This ancient hymn is glorious in itself, and Haydn’s triumphal score sets it beautifully. Some great lines:

Te Deum laudamus,
te Dominum confitemur.
We praise thee, O Lord; we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.

Te aeternum Patrem omnis terra veneratur. . .
Thee, the Father everlasting, all the earth doth worship. . .

Te gloriosus apostolorum chorus,
te prophetarum laudabilis numerus,
te martyrum candidatus laudat exercitus. . .

Thee, the glorious choir of the apostles,
Thee, the admirable company of the prophets,
Thee, the white-robed army of martyrs doth praise. . .

Tu rex gloriae, Christe.
Thou, O Christ, art the King of glory.

Tu Patris sempiternus es Filius.
Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.

Tu, ad liberandum suscepturus hominem,
non horruisti Virginis uterum.
Thou, having taken upon thee to deliver man,
didst not disdain the Virgin’s womb.

Tu, devicto mortis aculeo,
aperuisti credentibus regna caelorum. . .

Thou, having overcome the sting of death,
hast opened to believers the kingdom of heaven. . .

Salvum fac populum tuum, Domine,
et benedic hereditati tuae
. . .
O Lord, save thy people, and bless thine inheritance. . .

Fiat misericordia tua, Domine, super nos,
quemadmodum speravimus in te.

Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, as we have trusted in thee.

In te, Domine, speravi;
non confundar in aeternum.

In thee, O Lord, have I trusted;
let me not be confounded for ever.

That last line is absolutely magnificent, as Haydn plays it out into a minute-long meditation of confidence and faith.

I don’t know why, but somehow prayers and psalms mean more to me in Latin. Maybe because the language forces me to think about them slowly, rather than racing glibly through the phrases.

In te Domine speravi; non confundar in aeternum.

I didn’t make it to church this morning. I’m feeling almost guilty about it, I don’t know why. I thought for the first time in six weeks I’d get there. I even dressed up before going to the hospital, just to be efficient. Then the attending was late, some patients were more complicated than expected, and a teammate got stuck in the OR and I had extra work to do. . . I could have rushed out, but it would have been irresponsible; there were labs to tidy up, orders for tomorrow to put in, and it takes time to sign out properly to the on-call team. So I didn’t make it.

I’ve been listening to this CD non-stop for the last several days; one of my absolute favorites: Chanticleer’s Mexican Baroque. The best tracks are a setting of Psalm 110, which was one of my favorite psalms in English anyway (and the most quoted OT pasage in the New Testament), but now I’ve got the Latin practically memorized. Buy it or get it from the library; the triumphal music matches the words perfectly. Here’s the Vulgate and English translation (a little different from King James rendering):

Dixit Dominus Domino meo: Sede a dextris meis, donec ponam inimicos tuos scabellum pedum tuorum.
The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool.

Virgam virtutis tuae emittet Dominus ex Sion; dominare in medio inimicorum tuorum.
The LORD shall send forth the rod of thy strength from Zion; rule thou in the midst of thine enemies.

Tecum principium in die virtutis tuae, in splendoribus sanctorum; ex utero ante luciferum genui te.
Thine is the foundation in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness; I have born thee from the womb before the morning star.

Juravit Dominus, et non paenitabit eum:
The LORD has sworn, and will not repent:

Tu es sacerdos in aeternum, secundum ordine Melchisedec.
Thou art a priest forever, according to the order of Melchisedec.

Dominum a dextris tuis confregit in die irae suae reges.
The LORD at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath.

Judicabit in nationibus, implebit ruinas; conquassabit capita in terra multuorum.
He shall judge among the nations, he will fill them with ruins; he will break the heads over populous lands.

De torrente in via bibet; propterea exaltabit caput.
He shall drink of the spring in the way; therefore shall he lift up the head.

Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

In accordance with my resolution for the next [school] year to write more about the Bible:

The first ten or twelve verses of Ephesians 1 are amazing from many perspectives, but today I was noticing the emphasis on the role of God’s will and God’s choice in our salvation. Words denoting the supremacy of God’s will and purpose are mentioned at least twelve times in six verses:

“According as he [the Father] hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love;
Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.
In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace, wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence,
Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he hath purposed in himself,
That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth, even in him. . .”
Ephesians 1:4-10

Which (if you don’t get along well with King James English, and that passage is particularly convoluted in both English and Greek) is to the point that God, from the beginning of the world, chose his children, and set his love on us and forgave us and planned everything for the purpose of bringing us together in Christ, for his own glory. He planned it all. It doesn’t depend on me – which is good, these days, because I haven’t always been paying as much attention as I should.

He makes us accepted in his beloved Son. What else is left to desire?

(Ok,  now we can discuss predestination, if you like. . . )

I picked up a CD of spirituals lately. One of the songs goes like this:

“Keep so busy servin’ my Jesus,
Ain’t got time to die.
‘Cause when I’m healin’ the sick,
I’m servin’ my Jesus.
Keep so busy servin’ my Jesus,
Ain’t got time to die.
‘Cause when I’m healin’ the sick,
I’m servin’ my Jesus.

“If I don’ praise him,
The rocks gonna cry out,
Glory and honor! Glory and honor!

Ain’t got time to die.”

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