Thursday, March 27, 2008

Songs of Hope

In the spirit of the mountains, here is a link to download the bluegrass night of worship at Campus Outreach at Samford on March 11, 2008. I apologize that the tracks are not split up, but I don't really know how to do that just yet... The featured players: Keith Davis (banjo), Ryan Warden (miscellaneous hand-struck instruments & intricate third-part harmonies), Alyson Snow (vocals), Trey Wagoner (improvisational violin/fiddle action), Cliff Cook (mandolin), and myself (vocals & guitar). We played "Come Thou Fount, "On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand," "Amazing Grace," "O Love That Will Not Let Me Go/I'll Fly Away," and "O Praise Him." It's not the best quality, we don't mesh all that well at times, but it's bluegrass, so it's beautiful, it's fun, and it speaks to the soul. Enjoy.

Quotes of the Day:

"Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle, curved tunnels of leaf miners on the face of a leaf. We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what's going on here. Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise." -Annie Dillard

"The end of wisdom is design; the end of goodness is doing good. To suppose these perfections not to be exerted would be to represent them as insignificant. Of what use would God's wisdom be, if it had nothing to design or direct? To what purpose his almightiness, if it never brought anything to pass? And of what avail his goodness, if it never did any good?" -G. Tennent

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

From the top of Slieve Donard

Pictures compliments of Dwight Castle

"...The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least me can do is try to be there." -Annie Dillard

I spent this Saturday climbing the top of Slieve Donard, the highest mountain in Northern Ireland. Some beauty is so staggering that words run in fright from the tongue for fear of being clumsily lumped together into a dreadfully paltry description. When we reached the peak, with the wind beating us like a jealous lover, furious that we’d intruded upon his secret space, we were left completely speechless.

From atop the wall, we could see for miles in all directions- a range of emerald mountains at our backs and the rugged, grey-blue Irish Sea on three sides. God’s righteousness is like those mighty mountains. Everything around them changes, grows, retracts, and develops, but the mountain sits unchanged, unmoved, unaffected. Revolutions of thought and science make man more and more “modern,” but The Moutain. Is. Constant. Like the sunrise. Always faithful. Always the same.

I looked upon the homes far below the mountain near the shore. With one eye closed, I held my thumb up over them. I was reminded of the astronaut who went into space and held his thumb over the earth, and then of the cosmonaut who said, with great joy, that he “had not found God in space.” I think it would have been far more surprising to learn that he had. I looked upon the tumultuous sea that sailors and fisherman and warriors had no doubt crossed these past millennia.

Even in Ireland, the sea is still the sea. It’s amazing how just feeling the breeze and watching the waves angrily crash upon the rocks can be so comforting. There’s such constancy. Rough waters conjure up so many memories for me: sailing in the Keys after 8th grade; Destin my freshman year; the failed sunrise of St. Augustine; Joseph Rhea & I fighting the hurricane waters of Panama City; So many nights on Beach Project spent with the air full of Black & Milds and talk of God. The water puts my soul at ease. When I look at it, I am consumed by it; I am brought to peace. It is such a reminder of how small I am, how small my problems are, and how great & constant God is. When I look at it, I wonder how anyone can think of their own importance, how great they are, or how big their accomplishments are. The ocean would destroy them without thinking. The ocean would destroy them simply by being itself and doing what it does (much like the glory of the divine, eh C.S.?)

I looked again upon the homes and shops below. How small they seemed. How insignificant. How frivolously their inhabitants surely live their lives, unaware or purposefully ignorant of how tiny & fleeting they are. It is so easy for me, in my routine in the concrete jungle, to grow self-important, to forget the fragile, brief nature of my existence. I will pass; my body will decay and nothing will remain of me. My flesh will surely be consumed by creeping insects and returned to the earth from whence it came. Rot will not fail to eat my bones. It seems that one of the most important things that I can do is to simply remind myself of the inevitability of my own demise and to live as I should wish that I had lived, supposing I live to old age.

The earth is about 4.5-4.7 billion years old. Countless tests all point to it. Even rocks taken from the surface of the moon give the same report. An American man generally experience seventy or so heliocentric revolutions before he is laid bare upon the cold steel and made to look pleasing, to be beautiful, before the world one final time.

Maybe that, then, is the fundamental quest, our raison d’etre, the reason why we must shout our barbaric yawps before the race of man before we go. We are all on the quest for beauty… to behold it…. to be called it… to know it by its name and have it wait for us solitarily by the fireplace in the lobby after the doors have closed for the night.

Mute-inducing beauty is what drove me to the top of the hill. It is what I came to see. In the face of something so magnificent and timeless, I am still. Be at rest once more, o my soul. You have caught a glimpse of the passing backside. Let your face now radiate unveiled that the world might now the beauty you’ve seen.

This beauty is a gift to us; all of creation stands as an ebenzer to us: Behold, I AM! I AM truth; I AM freedom; I AM beauty.

The waves swallow the shoreline again and again. As spectacular as they seem, as timeless as the ocean and these mountains are, they are but glimpses. They only point us towards the epicenter of the beatific earthquake, towards the truth of our incomparable artist, the Unmoved Mover. He is beauty and eternity defined. And He is asking us to behold these shadows of Him and to faith that He is so much more than we could know or dream of. To praise and wait in hope for the day when we will no longer see through a glass darkly, but face to face.

Even the earth, the sky, and the seas are groaning with death. Every mountain, even this one upon which I stand, will be brought low. Even these hills are fleeting. But for now they stand like holes punched in a black canvas in front of a spotlight, revealing the brilliant light that lies underneath, giving undeniable evidence to what lies beyond the present darkness. One day the canvas will be ripped from top to bottom, and the Artist will paint His final masterpiece, where he, the Great Floodlight of truth and beauty, will rest with his children, the partakers of his glory.

Beauty is only made true when it is shared. We are all the proselytizers; let us proclaim the beauty of the King who was and is and is to come.