Morning at the Window

Reading through Eliot’s Prufrock and Other Observations this morning, I came across this gem. The last two lines of the first stanza made me laugh. I love Eliot’s ability to describe what he sees.

They are rattling breakfast plates in basement kitchens,
And along the trampled edges of the street
I am aware of the damp souls of housemaids
Sprouting despondently at area gates.

The brown waves of fog toss up to me
Twisted faces from the bottom of the street,
And tear from a passer-by with muddy skirts
An aimless smile that hovers in the air
And vanishes along the level of the roofs.


Systematic Surrender

John Webster on Barth in “From the Substance to the Word:”

[R]evelation is no more and no less than the life of God himself turned to us, the Word of God coming to us by the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ.’  Such a divine approach cannot be formalised into a set of axioms, and to attempt to do so (by, for example, developing a systematic biblical theology) is to take up a false stance to divine revelation, treating it as ‘a presupposition [Voraussetzung] which we can control.’  Properly undertaken, biblical theology effects no such settlement; it is simply ‘a series of attempted approximations, a collection of individual exegeses’.  What is required of the exegete is not systematic ambition but ‘surrender’.

Lord of the Word

I found this paragraph to be strikingly beautiful in John Webster’s Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch (Current Issues in Theology):

Second, as God’s free self-presentation, revelation is a free work of sovereign mercy. God’s revelation is God’s spiritual presence: God is the personal subject of the act of revelation, and therefore revelation can in no way be commodified. God is – as Gèrard Siegwalt puts it – revelation’s ‘uncontainable content’. As spiritual presence, the presence of God is free: it is not called forth by any reality other than itself; it is majestically spontaneous and uncaused. Its origin, actualisation and accomplishment require nothing beyond God. Like the entire history of the divine mercy of which it is a part, revelation is unexpected, undeserved, possible only as and because God is, and present after the manner of God. In Barth’s curious phrase, ‘God is the Lord in the wording of his Word.’

Scripture is where we meet God in all the freedom of his self-revealing Lordship.

Fireworks in Faerie

Good morning!

One more MacDonald- and let me say a little something about reading the great Scot. His works are not for the literarily faint of heart. His plot moves at a very leisurely pace; in fact, he makes Robinson Crusoe or Kidnapped! look like thrilling action blockbusters. But if you persevere, you’ll find some of the cleverest and most endearing gems in English literature, in my opinion. So, one more example of why I love MacDonald. Here’s Anodos again, wandering through Fairyland at night, describing what he sees in the underbrush:

They were just like the glowworms of our own land, for they are fairies everywhere; worms in the day, and glowworms at night, when their own can appear, and they can be themselves to others as well as themselves. But they had their enemies here. For I saw great strong-armed beetles, hurrying about with most unwieldy haste, awkward as elephant-calves, looking apparently for glowworms; for the moment a beetle espied one, through what to it was a forest of grass, or an underwood of moss, it pounced upon it, and bore it away, in spite of its feeble resistance. Wondering what their object could be, I watched one of the beetles, and then I discovered a thing I could not account for. But it is no use trying to account for things in Fairy Land; and one who travels there soon learns to forget the very idea of doing so, and takes everything as it comes; like a child, who, being in a chronic condition of wonder, is surprised at nothing. What I saw was this. Everywhere, here and there over the ground, lay little, dark-looking lumps of something more like earth than anything else, and about the size of a chestnut. The beetles hunted in couples for these; and having found one, one of them stayed to watch it, while the other hurried to find a glowworm. By signals, I presume, between them, the latter soon found his companion again: they then took the glowworm and held its luminous tail to the dark earthly pellet; when lo, it shot up into the air like a sky-rocket, seldom, however, reaching the height of the highest tree. Just like a rocket too, it burst in the air, and fell in a shower of the most gorgeously coloured sparks of every variety of hue; golden and red, and purple and green, and blue and rosy fires crossed and inter-crossed each other, beneath the shadowy heads, and between the columnar stems of the forest trees. They never used the same glowworm twice, I observed; but let him go, apparently uninjured by the use they had made of him.

I’m glad MacDonald let us know that no glowworms were injured in the making of this novel.

Glass Poetry

Good morning!

By the time this publishes, I shall be winging my way to New York for Christmas. Flying has always seemed a little magical to me- I’ve had the mechanics explained to me by a pilot, but I don’t buy it. My best explanation for the phenomena I experience when I get into this huge metal bus and fly though the air is that somehow our wizards have harnessed the power of fire and air (HT Doug Wilson). Anyway, here’s another bit from MacDonald’s book Phantastes, a fairy romance which you all should read. Anodos, the main character, has gone to sleep in the forest. He wakes up in the middle of the night and wanders over to a pond to see the reflection of the moon therein.

Why are all reflections lovelier than what we call the reality?—not so grand or so strong, it may be, but always lovelier? Fair as is the gliding sloop on the shining sea, the wavering, trembling, unresting sail below is fairer still. Yea, the reflecting ocean itself, reflected in the mirror, has a wondrousness about its waters that somewhat vanishes when I turn towards itself. All mirrors are magic mirrors. The commonest room is a room in a poem when I turn to the glass.

I love the way MacDonald sees things.

“One Day We Shall All Be Men And Women”


The semester is over, and so I will return to blogging, for however long. In honor of my return (I can do that, because it’s my name in the URL), I will post some of my favorite bits from George MacDonald’s Phantastes. It’s a story about a man who travels to Fairyland.

After a particularly close encounter with Ash Tree, a nasty creature who wishes nothing but his harm, the main character Anodos (which means something like “wanderer” in Greek) is rescued by Beech Tree. She appears to be a beautiful woman, and he awakens to find himself in her arms, her stroking his hair and murmuring “I may love him, I may love him; for he is a man, and I am only a beech tree.”

“Why do you call yourself a beech-tree?” I said.
“Because I am one,” she replied, in the same low, musical, murmuring voice.
“You are a woman,” I returned.
“Do you think so? Am I very like a woman then?”
“You are a very beautiful woman. Is it possible you should not know it?”
“I am very glad you think so. I fancy I feel like a woman sometimes. I do so to-night—and always when the rain drips from my hair. For there is an old prophecy in our woods that one day we shall all be men and women like you. Do you know anything about it in your region? Shall I be very happy when I am a woman? I fear not, for it is always in nights like these that I feel like one. But I long to be a woman for all that.”

I don’t know if MacDonald intended it, for all that he was fond of interweaving his faith into his writing, but this reminds me of the apostle John’s words, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). We are not yet what we will be. Someday we will all be men and women, as we ought to be. Until then, we wait with eager expectation, entrusting our not-yet-fully-formed souls to our faithful Creator while doing good.