Tuesday, June 20, 2017

L. M. Montgomery on Living Education

I love reading L. M. Montgomery's works. They are just delicious. With any of my favorite authors, I also love, when I am nearing the point of expecting any further enjoyment from them to be in the form of re-reads, to discover a book I have never read. Finding an old green-covered copy of Jane of Lantern Hill at the big city library, next to the familiar Anne books was a treat indeed. Is it really the same Montgomery? Yes, oh yes!

As with nearly all Montgomery's heroines, Jane's domesticity, sympathy and industry inspire me. In this particular work, Jane's relationship with her father is exceptionally lovely, and I appreciated these lines on her summer education under his tutelage. (For context: Jane had grown to hate the Bible because of being forced to read the Old Testament each evening under the critical gaze of her stern grandmother and severe aunt.)
When dad had converted Jane to the Bible, he set about making history and geography come alive for her. She had told him she always found those subjects hard. But soon history no longer seemed a clutter of dates and names in some dim, cold antiquity but became a storied road of time when dad told her old tales of wonder and the pride of kings...Thebes...Babylon...Tyre...Athens...Galilee...were places where real folks lived...folks she knew. And knowing them, it was easy to be interested in everything pertaining to them. Geography, which had once meant merely a map of the world, was just as fascinating.
'Let's go to India,' dad would say...and they went...though Jane would sew buttons on dad's shirts all the way...Soon Jane knew all the fair lands far, far away as she knew Lantern Hill...or so it seemed to her after she had journeyed through them with father.
~ Jane of Lantern Hill by L. M. Montgomery
What an inspiration for a living-books based education! But more than that, a reminder that the best things I will teach my children are things that I have learned myself to love and can pass on to them wrapped in the glow of my own delight.

  Views across the Bosphorus, Constantinople by Hermann Corrodi

Saturday, June 17, 2017

What Happened to Margalo - Part 5

When Margalo woke, the dripping had stopped and bits of early morning sunlight were winking through the spruce boughs.  She noticed that the spruce tree was also very noisy. Many birds had taken refuge in the tree during the long, wet night and this morning they were all going on at once - singing, chirping, chattering and whistling. One of them was chattering rather more loudly than the others. It was a blue jay.
“Yes siree, I tell you,” he was saying, “I wasn’t a bit afraid of that fella, though he was twice my size. Were the wife and I about to let that hawk have a look at our nest and young’uns? No, sirree! We went a flying at him like all get-out, and he was mighty surprised. Yes siree, I tell you, mighty surprised. He turned that red tail right around and went back from a-whence he came!”
“And the crow,” mentioned a similar, but softer voice - the jay’s wife.
“Oh, yes, the crow,” the jay continued. “Well, he did help a little - not being our friend you know, but common enemies with the hawk - he came along and made a con-tree-bution to our chasing the hawk.”
“We couldn’t have done it without him, I think,” said the jay’s wife.
“Couldn’t have done it!” the jay exclaimed. “I won’t argue he was useful, but really now...”
Margalo shuddered. They were talking about that hawk again. She hoped she might never meet him - being less than half the size of even a blue-jay, and having no mate to help protect her. But there was nothing to do about that now - except to take care of this disgracefully matted plumage! Margolo fluffed her light brown feathers and began to preen herself discreetly, keeping near the trunk so as not to be noticed. When her feathers were once more sleek and tidy, she decided to have a look around and hopped a few inches out on the limb, turning her head and tiny bright black eyes this way and that. The birds were still chattering away.
Then, from high up in the spruce, there was a loud sound of feathers being shaken - loud, because they were LARGE, rough, rustling feathers. Margalo froze. The other birds froze. The chattering stopped. A dozen feathered heads tilted upward, and a dozen sets of small shining eyes gazed warily into the topmost boughs of the spruce.  Most of them had forgotten the fact that little birds were not the only kind of birds to hide from storms in giant trees. In the stillness, they all sensed a trembling in the treetop and felt the branches quiver lightly as two large clawed feet sprang from the spruce’s height, and two great brown wings flapped crisply upward into the morning air.
Another small brown finch besides Margalo had slept in the tree that stormy night. His name was Benedict. Benedict slept in the spruce tree every night – not just when there were storms. He had not seen Margalo, because he was perched several branches higher, but he did notice when the hawk had first landed in the tree late in the rainy evening.  The hawk seemed more interested in resting at the moment than in looking for small birds to attack, for which Benedict was grateful. Besides, Benedict (who was sensible as well as courageous) knew there was no use in getting away on such a night, so he remained where he was and went promptly back to sleep. But he was relieved when the hawk flew off in the morning, taking his sharp eyes and sharp talons with him.  
After the hawk had gone, Benedict ventured out from the dim, damp inside of the tree to the wet and prickly outside which glistened gently in the morning sun. The clouds, having spent themselves on the land, were floating loose and lacy in the blue sky. Everything was fresh and delicious and bright again. Benedict decided to have a good hearty sing. So he did.
Swee-e-et is the morn!
A new day is born!
Swee-e-et is the air!
The sunshine is fair!
Then Benedict saw Margalo on a branch below him. She too, had hopped out into the sunshine and was refreshing herself by drinking beads of rain from the dripping spruce needles, pausing now and then to delicately shake the moisture from her brown feathers. Benedict thought she was very beautiful, and was sure he hadn’t seen her before. “Perhaps she is lost” he thought, “and will need my help.” So he flew down to Margalo’s branch. “Good morning,” he said.
        “Good morning,” Margalo replied.
        “Have you spent a pleasant night?” asked Benedict.
        “Pleasant enough,” Margalo answered. “I would much rather have spent the night in Mr. Grove’s barn, but I lost my way in the storm, so I was glad for the shelter of this tree.”
“I am familiar with Mr. Grove’s barn,” said Benedict. “Would you like me to show you the way back?”
        “Oh, yes, please – and thank you very much” said Margalo, which Benedict thought was quite proper, and he said “You are welcome” then turned toward the sun. “Follow me,” he said and with a flutter of wings rose into the air. Margalo with a flutter of her own was not far behind.

Benedict guided Margalo safely to Mr. Grove’s barn, where a cluster of worried pigeons greeted her with much relief and chortles of pleasure. Margalo thanked him again very cordially, and Benedict replied, “I am glad to be of service.” Then, having accomplished his mission, he flew back into the morning air and headed south towards the rye fields.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Definite Love

I've been on a George MacDonald spree lately - audio book listening through Thomas Wingfold, Curate, The Wise Woman, and now The Day Boy and the Night Girl. Oh, how I love his stories! MacDonald's writing is exquisite, transporting and thought-provoking - all the loveliness of a fantasy escape sobered by wise meditations. With all that he understands and beautifully describes about the nature of God, people, and the world, MacDonald's theology has a great flaw - that is, he fails to grasp the God-centeredness of the love of the triune God.

Writing in the midst of a nation and church decayed in formal religion and starved for a glimpse of intimate, divine love, George MacDonald tried beautifully to give hungry souls what they lacked - pictures of a kind, compassionate Heavenly Father whose heart was open to true communion with those who would seek Him. But he forgot, or never really saw, that God's love begins and ends with God, and not with creatures. Over and over, MacDonald's portraits of divine love portray a brooding, yearning being whose chief desire is the transformation of the beloved creature, and a heart unwilling to leave any finally ruined. This is so close to being perfectly right, because God's love for His people is deep, passionate and transforming - but close is only close, and a tiny gap in one's view of God can lead to chasms of error. God's love for His people is aimed at His final glorification in them. (Eph. 1:4-6) A deity whose heart's passion is all for his creatures may look nice, but such a God could never condemn anyone to final, eternal punishment. From the innocent-appearing blossoms of man-focused love in MacDonald's stories, can grow (and has in some cases, grown) the dangerous fruit of universalism - the teaching that all creatures will finally be saved, even if they must pass through judgments (i.e. hell may be real, but not eternal), for they are God's beloved creations and He could not bear to see any finally lost.

This is one of the reasons I like to read multiple books at a time - blending fiction, history, practices, and theology reading throughout my days. Solid, straightforward theology writing sheds light on the more obscure philosophies one encounters in fiction and other reading. For instance, Jonathan Leeman's The Church and The Surprising Offense of God's Love is the perfect counterbalance to my recent fiction spree. Here's a quote that grasps so clearly what George MacDonald did not:

Insofar as God's affections uphold something as most precious, he will evaluate or judge all things by whether they, too, ascribe proper value and worth to that thing. He intends for us to call 'good' what he calls 'good' and to call 'evil' what he calls 'evil' (Mal. 2:17). If, therefore, God love his glory more than anything, upholding it as most precious, everything in the world that redounds to his glory would be called 'good'. Anything opposed to his glory would be called 'evil,' the law of God would be that which upholds the standards of his glory, and the judgment of God would be rendered according to these glory-promoting laws. On the other hand, if God loves us more than anything - if his greatest affections are bent toward our glory - God's law and judgments would be in precisely the same direction.
All God's judgments serve the God-centeredness of his love. His love evaluates and assesses in accordance with his God-centeredness. His love expects, it demands, and it enacts penalties in accordance with his God-centeredness.
A theological system that presents a God who loves his creatures more than anything is a system that will probably tend over time toward universalism...any doctrine of eternal judgment or damnation will dry up. Man-centered systems might inconsistently keep such a doctrine for a time because the doctrine can easily be found on the pages of Scripture, but the inevitable logic of the system will eventually determine that , if humanity is most precious and if God loves man more than himself, there is no higher law that constrains God to do anything other than grant all humanity eternal bliss." (Chapter 2, "The Nature of Love")

God's love for His people is mighty, sweet, transformative (MacDonald pictures this beautifully in some places) and it has nothing to do with us. It is as free and unconstrained as His freedom to not love us. He loves Himself, His Son, His glory first, because He is best and first. That is right and good. That would have made George MacDonald and many of his contemporaries uncomfortable. But that is what ultimately makes the intimate fatherliness of divine love even more breathtaking than the loveliest word picture a human author could paint. He didn't have to have us at all, but if we love Him, He first loved us - and the God that first loved us, loved God first, and calls us to love Him first. From Him and through Him and to Him are all things.

Illustration from MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin, Jessie Wilcox Smith, 1920