Out of the Woods

By Elaine Knudtson

jumping pound

“The Return”

The valley has been dark and deep,

But I heard your voice in the stillness.

The whispering wind chased the rippling creek,

and the season changed in an instant.

I felt your presence in the morning sun,

the darkness dissolved on the meadow.

The table of blessing before me was laid,

I feasted on joy and thanksgiving.

The dark, dry, places were watered anew,

my voice returned with your presence.

A songbird descended and rested by me.

Hallelujah!  Sing of his glory!

I have returned to the garden.

 

“The Choice”

By Elaine Knudtson

photography of woman surrounded by sunflowers
Photo by Andre Furtado on Pexels.com

Genesis is the first book of the Pentateuch, traditionally ascribed to Moses.  The first three chapters of Genesis and the last three chapters of Revelation form a parenthesis around the story of God’s relationship with humanity.  Created in perfection, sin and death entered the world through disobedience.  From the beginning, God seeks to return us to the garden, even though it leads through the valley of the shadow of death to the cross.  We are imprinted with the image of God and a longing for the divine that haunts humanity from Adam and Eve through Noah and the patriarchs all the way to the final apocalypse.

 “The Choice”

The choice has been made. 

Like gods, we know good and evil. 

Banished from paradise,  darkness hides his face.

We labor in brokenness, calling to Death, “Who’s to blame?”

The Seed confronts evil with love.

Choose to dance in the symphony of creation.

Paint a rainbow after the monsoons of destruction.

Weave a tapestry of redemption with Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel. 

Retell the stories of promise in Egypt’s exile.

Ferment hope into the fine wine of  joy.

Dare to rise from the dead.

Transform our fallenness in the chrysalis of redemption, as we await the bloom of the new creation.

Where Eve failed, Christ has triumphed.

Restoration

By Elaine Knudtson

I am currently working on a collaborative project with Mindi Oaten, an artist who has painted a symbolic picture for each book of the Bible.  You can access her art on the following website:  www.mindioaten.com

My role is to “paint with words”, using the scripture as the basis for interpreting Mindi’s paintings.  The book of Haggai is a small Old Testament book written after the Jewish exile.  It is strangely pertinent to our situation with the COVID19 shut down.

Haggai | “Restores Our Worship”

God of Renewal

Now this is what the LORD Almighty says:  “Give careful thought to your ways.  You have planted much, but have harvested little. . . What you brought home, I blew away.  Why?” declares the LORD Almighty.  “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house.  Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops.” (1:5-6; 9-10)

 Then Haggai, the LORD’s messenger, gave this message of the LORD to the people: “I am with you,” declares the LORD.  So the LORD stirred up the spirit of the whole remnant.  They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God. (1:13-14

 Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory?  How does it look to you now?  Does it not seem to you like nothing?  But now be strong, . . .all you people of the land,” declares the LORD, “and work.  For I am with you,” declares the LORD Almighty.  This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt.  And my Spirit remains among you.  Do not fear.” (2:3-5)

 “The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,” says the LORD Almighty.  “And in this place I will grant peace.” (2:9)

 Haggai was a prophet during the time of Ezra.  The building of the temple stalled as people focused on their own priorities and lost sight of the work of the Lord.  They are asked to consider the consequences of ignoring the things of God by remembering the former glory before the exile.  The Spirit of the LORD charges them to be strong and fear not.  A promise is given of ultimate deliverance when the Messiah comes.  The “glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house.” (2:9)

 “Restoration” by Elaine Knudtson

 Give careful thought to former ways.

Remember the times of prosperity,

when the fruit trees bloomed and the harvest was plentiful,

before the enemy destroyed our peace.

We worshiped together.

Now all is silent.

The Spirit empowers.

Be strong.

Fear not.

I am with you.

Rebuild the temple.

Worship, and be restored.

European Cathedrals

By Elaine Knudtson

This summer we visited Europe.  During our three week stay, we always found ourselves drawn to the cathedrals and churches in each city or region.  It connects us with believers down through the ages in various parts of the world.  Our first week was in Molde, Norway, where Paul’s grandfather Eilert was born in the late 1800s.  The following week we listened to a Schubert Mass in St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, and finally, we completed our journey in Iper, Belgium, at a cathedral damaged during the First World War.  It was located in Flanders Fields, not far from the place where John Macrae penned his famous poem.

Three very different experiences joined together by prayer and liturgy; strange and yet oddly familiar, we felt part of something much bigger than ourselves.

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Veoy, Norway

(Worshippers gathered outside the Medieval Church near the graveyard waiting to get in)

“Perspective from Veoy Island “

Iron crosses and moss-covered tombstones recline in the spongy knoll overlooking the fjord on Veoy Island.

I sit silently on a cornerstone, waiting to go inside, listening for Your voice in this strange land of Norway.

Their voices are the background hymn to the joy of reunion on this misty summer day near Molde.

 

I cannot speak their language, but the tone and posture captures the easy comfort of being together.

It was the home left behind by the immigrants who came to Canada–the place that haunted their dreams and combined with regret and hope in their memories.

Homesteading transformed roses into dandelions, fjords into prairies, and fish into gophers.

Out of nothing they built my life, content to surrender their past for my tomorrow.

Soon the bell will toll and we will file inside the stone church to worship with ghosts from the past.

I am in the stream of pilgrims who responded to an unnamed call to a distant land, stoked by a longing for something more.

I will never again visit this place.

The door will close behind opportunity forever.

But I will remember, just as they did, when I stare across the lonely prairie and hear their voices echoed in my relatives who sprang from their pilgrimage 100 years ago.

We will picnic on the banks of the coulee, remembering the fjords, and the wild roses, and will speak of the greater glory of this day.

But I will be home with you, and we will embrace as the prairie sun sets in the endless sky.

 

-Postcard_of_Stephansdom-20000000016179526-375x500(Schubert’s mass was sung by the choir from the loft on the side.  The priest recited the liturgy from the front, and a schizophrenic beggar echoed his words from the back of the aisle behind us.  Suspended in the middle of all this, was a crucifix, lost between the chandeliers.  We went there on our 40th wedding anniversary)

Impressions from St. Stephen’s”

“Get me to the church on time,” we chuckled, holding hands, strolling through the mist on our way to St. Stephen’s.

40 years since our journey began “Beneath the Cross of Jesus”, surrounded by the saints who have passed through the veil.

We carry their torch of faith to the next generation as we enter the cathedral.

The high Gothic arches stretch like the fingers of God above our heads, encircling us below in the palm of His hand.

The Schubert mass echos in the hollow spaces between the ornate pillars, chiseled and carved to reveal the cherubs and legends of ancient rhymes.

Candles illuminate masterpieces, positioned like banners on the walls, proclaiming the gospel to the illiterate.

I choose to enter as a child: innocent and open to the presence of God in symbol and sound.

A holy triangle is formed between the altar, choir and madman at the gate.

Each speaks in liturgy, song and words too deep for groaning:

The priest recites

The choir crescendos

The madman babbles

together in union, independent of each other.

I stand at the center, between them, under the suspended wooden crucifix, obfuscated by chandeliers and masterpieces.

His breath unifies us all beneath that cross–the nexus of faith between the priest, the madman and the tenor.

Our eternal praise rises to the throne of heaven, surrounded by those saints who sat with us 40 years ago in our own cathedral as we began our sacred journey.

 

 

“Worship in Ypres”

The carillon tolls its welcome to travel-worn pilgrims recalling the days of old when God was silent.

A century to sanitize the memory and rebuild the streets that teemed with soldiers marching to the Western Front.

What prayers did they offer as they passed the dead and wounded carried back from the battle?

Whose side was God standing on in the trenches?

What language did He speak?

Or did He turn His face away in horror at our shame?

He who taught us the love of neighbour stood alone, in the blood-soaked mud beside those breathing their last, while the bullets and artillery scattered all others.

They fought for King and country and a mythical kingdom called home.

Answering the call to preserve their empires, they are silent now while those who fought are immortalized in eternal flames and the last post from Menin Gate.

How can I worship here against the backdrop of catastrophic hate? 

The beautiful cathedral has been rebuilt, in homage to the past, rising from the old foundations.

The crucified Christ slouches in the corner, unable to escape our sin as witnessed through the millenniums.

The true king waits, in the tear-soaked prayers of victims broken by the fall. 

Thy kingdom come.20190804_113808

 

Ordinary Time

By Elaine Knudtson

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“Ordinary Time between Feast and Penance”

The liturgical church calendar has 32 weeks of ordinary time between major feasts.  By far the longest time in the year, it represents over 70% of our life.  We mistakenly focus on the big events and lose sight of the day to day living that characterizes most of our journey.  If we anticipate or dread the extraordinary events, we might miss out on the best part of life.

“Ordinary Time”

Thirty-two weeks of “ordinary time”.

The time between birth and death

      planting and harvest

      weeping and laughing

      silence and speaking

      feast and penance.

In the ordinary time I learn to sit quietly and let the Spirit breathe through the forgotten memories of

     answered prayers,

            burdens lifted,

                   and insights given on the other side of chaos.

I seek God on the edges of ordinary time.

I EXPERIENCE Him inside it.

When the testing is over; I forget the fear of failure or death.

When the smoke dissipates; I minimize the sacrifice made in carrying me through the fire.

When the waters subside; I neglect to give thanks in proportion to the hours I spent petitioning for rescue.

Creation becomes the backdrop for life.

     A bird is just a bird I’ve heard before.

     The sun always rises.

     The river eternally flows in the same direction.

     Seasons simply follow the rotation of the planet.

     Life is predictable and uneventful.

Chores need to be done.

Work provides pay cheques, weekends, and vacations.

Quiet time becomes the occasion for flights of imagination into “what ifs” that seldom happen.

Family occupies the same space and interrupts the ordinary time, briefly, with chatter or requests.

I exist in this space, choosing not to focus on the death and resurrection on either side of these moments of calm.

The teacher, son of David, King of Jerusalem warns:  Meaningless!  Utterly meaningless.  Generations come and go, but the earth remains forever.  What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again.  There is nothing new under the sun.

One can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their work.  This. . . is from the hand of God, for without Him, who can eat or find enjoyment? (Ecclesiastes 1)

To the one who pleases Him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness.  When God gives wealth and possession and enables us to enjoy them, to accept our lot and be happy in our work–this is a gift of God.

We seldom reflect on the days of our life, because God keeps us occupied with gladness of heart. (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20)

I learn to “be” in ordinary time.

“Be still and know that I am God”

“Be still”

“Be.  . . “

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Transformative Moments

By Elaine Knudtson

altar1When God is in our lives, we know that hardships are His opportunity to show His power.  Life is not fair or kind; we live in a broken world, but He has promised never to leave us or forsake us.  Suffering and persecution is meant to drive us to Christ.  “I Surrender All” is the altar cry at these times.  “Search Me O Lord “ opens our lives to change.  Only His spirit can reveal where that change needs to happen, but the transformative power of a crisis has the potential to either destroy or rebuild us.

I have been working on my family story for a reunion we are having this summer.  It has been a blessing to observe the arc of our family through the transformational moments in each generation.  Our greatest tragedy is often God’s opportunity for His greatest gifts.

DSCN2693_2133.jpgIn 1885 Jons Larsson had lost his first wife shortly after the birth of their fourth child.  Raising four sons in a small log cabin in Sweden proved to be a challenge.  When he remarried and began having children with his second wife, the tiny log cabin forced a life-changing decision.  His oldest son was asked to move out and establish his own home.  His youngest son, a dwarf, was allowed to stay.  However, Louie and Ole, ages 15 and 13 were sent to a farmer in Wisconsin as indentured farm hands. There they were treated cruelly and given unrealistic expectations.  Through a series of events, Ole eventually came to Amisk, Alberta under the Canadian Homestead Act in 1909.  Shortly thereafter, he made a decision to sponsor his father and step mother, along with their four children, to come to Canada.  His act of forgiveness and grace towards the very ones who sent him into exile, became the transformational story for Jons Larsson.  Just as Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt, only to become the means by which the children of Israel (Jacob) were saved from famine in Canaan, so Ole became the means by which his family came to Canada.

By 1921, Ole had a thriving farm in Amisk , but he lost two of his sons within 11 days of each other to scarlet fever.   “Why God?”  he asked.  He listened and heard, “Because you have made your farm an idol that has replaced me.”    That seemed harsh and he could have walked away from God and become bitter.  At a time when prayer seemed futile, he sold his farm and built a church.  His prosperity was eventually restored, but his greatest legacy is in the lives of the people in the community and in his own family who were influenced by his faith. He didn’t get his sons back, but God changed the trajectory of his life.  The church he built still stands.

My grandfather, Nels, came from a nominal Christian home.  He married Ole’s daughter, Ruth.  She remained faithful to the Lord throughout the years despite watching Nels go through 3 failed businesses that moved her from Amisk to Killam to Wildwood and Edmonton.  Nels was a mechanic and an entrepreneur.  He owned car dealerships and fixed vehicles.  He was good at it, but the war and bad timing left him bankrupt.  After the third financial collapse, he returned to Edmonton and gave up the dream of being an entrepreneur.  The only work he could find was cleaning wood that had been damaged by a fire;  humiliating for someone who had bigger aspirations.  During that time he sought the Lord.  There was a revival in the church they were attending and it grabbed Nels’s soul.  His priorities shifted to the church where he became a secretary/treasurer and faithfully attended over the years.  My Dad tells me that his heart melted.  When Dad was growing up, Nels was a rigid and a strict disciplinarian.  By the time God finished with him, he was beloved, gracious, and full of good humour.  God raised him up.  Although he never again owned a business, he did become a mechanic, with a steady income, that allowed him to support the family.  More importantly, his heart opened to the love and mercy of God.  Bitterness was replaced with faith, even in his darkest moments.

I suffered a marriage breakdown in my early twenties just before my daughter was born.  Looking to the future I saw nothing but hardship and loneliness.  I asked my father, “Why is that my life is so hard when all I wanted to do was serve the lord?”  He reminded me of the Lord’s question to Saul on the Road to Damascus, “Saul, Saul, how long will you kick against the pricks?”  It was my call to surrender to the love, mercy and grace of God.  Learning to trust in the faithfulness of God, despite the circumstances, lead me to a lifelong career as a teacher and principal, and marriage to a compassionate man of God.  He became a pastor and biblical teacher at several Bible schools and colleges while helping me raise four wonderful children.  What might have happened if I had walked away from the Lord at my moment of crisis?

Death of children, loss of vocation, financial devastation, marriage breakdown—this is the stuff of life.  God doesn’t make it happen, but he waits there to be our spiritual director, remolding old habits and entrenched attitudes that keep us from being everything He has in mind for us.

I don’t know why we suffer.  What happens to us is often beyond our control, but our response is totally our own.  Joshua said to the children of Israel, 14 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

When the path is dark and uncertain, consider that this may be your transformative moment.  May God give you the grace to stand firm in Him.

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The Choice

By Elaine Knudtson

Image result for adam and eve painting

And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.  In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. . .

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made.  He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’”

The woman said to the serpent.  “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman.  “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.  She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”

And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.  He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”  So the Lord banished him from the Garden of Eden. . . (Gen. 2:9; 3:1-6, 22-23)

The Choice

The choice has been made. 

We are like gods, knowing good and evil. 

The forbidden fruit tempts with eternal youth, beauty, happiness, fame and glory.

Consequences are revealed in aging, decay, despair, loneliness and mocking death.

Good confronts evil with love, creativity, joy, praise and eternal life.

I MAY choose the good:

                To dance in the light

                To harmonize with the symphony of creation

                To encourage and comfort the sojourner I meet on the way who has turned back                    in despair before encountering the true presence.

I WILL embrace the good:

                Seek the peace of God

                Imbibe on hope until I am drunk with the joy of the Lord

I DARE to rise from the death of mortal fears and stroke my aging skin, feeling the softness of your touch that reminds me that I am not alone.

We have chosen to accept the good and resist the allure of despair and death.

We see our sagging and creaky tent as a guarantee that we will be reborn,

Not to evil, but to good.

“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” I will see the good.

The choice was made.

The curse of death arrived with my birth certificate.

Eternal life and goodness were secured in my baptism into His death and resurrection.

I live under the curse in a broken world with the hope of eternal life guaranteed by the one who gave me the choice in Eve.

Where she failed me, Christ has triumphed.

“See what love the Father have given us that we should be called children of God.”

Enlightened

By Elaine Knudtson

Morning sun drenches the gullies with an amber glow.

The waterfall of light cascades down the hill as the sun takes its place overhead.

Soon the colours fade into the predictable background of green and beige and gray as the cars crawl up and down the ribbon of road like ants leaving the colony.

When they return at day’s end, the light will again appear for a moment, to those with eyes to see, casting shadows on the hill until the darkness descends like a shade.

What is the true color of that hill?  Amber, green or black?

Where does its essence lie? 

Moments of brilliance followed by hours of shade;

The promise followed by the unexceptional,

Potential followed by the mundane,

Illumination dependent on the Son to reveal her beauty.

Can I be content to wait in the shadows for that brief moment of enlightenment?

 

 

 

The Beginning Without God

By Elaine Knudtson

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“. . .  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, . . . “ Gen. 1:2

Beginnings:  formless, empty, dark.

Infinite, random possibilities.

One wrong move and I could cut myself off from ultimately winning the game of life.

Every choice limits outcomes until I’m left with the consequences of being the master of my own universe.

Eliminate God from the equation and this is all we are left with.

 

 

My daughter had a dialogue with my husband that illustrated this point.  She had been listening to an atheist speak about the freedom of seeing the universe as random.  Hence illness and suffering were simply inexplicable events devoid of meaning.

Kristy:

I heard an author speak about the randomness and probabilities of life.  He is talking about how people want to make meaning in life, actually it is just very random. I think that our search for meaning has to do with our search for God.  What do you think?

Paul:

I agree with you.  I think our longing for meaning is itself telling.  Human longings may correspond to the object of our desires, just as physical desires correspond to that which satisfies these desires (C. S. Lewis).  It seems to me that if randomness and purposelessness define all that is, then life is totally absurd and tragic.

The gospel affirms a good and joyous message which addresses the deepest longings of humans.  Atheistic materialism faces profound problems of its own. Popular atheists have not been honest and upfront about the essentially tragic and gloomy character of their worldview.  As I see it, it does not provide the basis for fundamental and enduring happiness and joy.

Kristy:

Exactly.  If there is nothing more than random moments, why bother living?

Genesis 1 without God.  

At the beginning of a new year, I renew my understanding of grace as revealed in scripture:

Creation  – Extravagant love

The Fall –   Brokenness and Alienation

The Promise – God will make it right

Christ – God with us: birth, death and resurrection

The Future – Return to the Garden

I choose to begin the new year by including God in Genesis 1.

genesis one.jpg

 

“If we really trust God, we don’t have a care in the world.”   (Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O.)

Why?

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved. . . And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. . . What then, shall we say in response to this?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? . . Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. . . For I am convinced that neither death or life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:22-23, 28, 31-32, 35, 38)

This is not mindless optimism.  There are good and sufficient reasons to believe in God.

 

Arguments with Materialism   by Paul R. Knudtson, Ph.D.

It seems to me that contemporary atheists are generally materialists; that is, they typically define reality in purely material terms. For them, nothing exists outside of the material realm; only that which is material, that is that can be perceived with the senses (or technical instruments of some kind), can be said to exist. There is nothing besides matter (“stuff”) in the universe. The existence of a spiritual realm—including God—that can be distinguished from the physical, material realm is denied.

But as I understand it, materialists (atheists) have difficulty accounting for the following:

  1. Human thought and consciousness (including self-consciousness). Though there is obviously a direct connection between what is happening in the brain (neurons and synapses) and thought, human thought and especially consciousness transcend material categories. The human mind (and brain) differs in this regard from a computer. A computer is not conscious, and does not perceive itself as an “I” (a person), while humans are conscious of themselves as individual persons who have thoughts, desires, self-awareness, memories, feelings, and certain unique traits, and so forth.
  2. Human will and the ability to make decisions. Materialists (like Richard Dawkins) tend to embrace a deterministic view of human decision making. That is, according to these materialists, what appears to be a freely made decision is actually the result of minute chemical and electrical events in the brain that determine what a person will do or think. But again, it would seem to me that humans really do make decisions and can even exercise a degree of free will. This challenges a materialistic worldview which seeks to understand everything in a material and mechanistic fashion.
  3. Good and evil. How can materialists (atheists) legitimately classify human behaviors as good or evil? “Good” and “evil” are non-material concepts. And I would argue that these terms accurately describe reality, and that “good” and “evil” are more than individual judgments or social conventions. For example, I think it is self-evidently true that the holocaust was an evil event in human history and that such a characterization is not simply a personal opinion or the opinion of many people, but that this event is rightly and properly and necessarily described in this way. For example, the holocaust really was evil. It is as if we appeal to some non-material, objective category when we say that something like this was “evil.” But on what basis can a materialist say that Adolf Hitler’s attempt to exterminate all European Jews—men, women, and children—was morally wrong, that it was really and essentially and undeniably evil? How can a materialist/atheist argue about what “should” or “should not” have been done?  Is not the claim that something is “good” or “evil” a claim that uses non-material categories?

And if the theory of evolution is based on the reality that the stronger survive, does this not suggest that “might makes right,” that whatever the strong are able to do to the weak is simply the way things are and therefore legitimate?  Yet, even modern people, in line with the ethic of Jesus and the prophets, sense that it is wrong to disregard or abuse those who are weak and lowly in society, the widows, orphans, and foreigners.  How can materialists (atheists) make a convincing case regarding the full equality of all people—without regard for their gender, intelligence, or ethnicity?  On what basis can a materialistic atheist say that what Hitler did was morally wrong, or that it is ever wrong for the powerful to oppress the weak? On what basis can a materialist say that such action is “wrong”? “Right” and “wrong,” it would seem to me, are non-material categories.

  1. Beauty is another non-material category that catches my attention and seems to call into question materialistic assumptions, as do human emotions like love or sadness or joy. Nature continues to evoke feelings of wonder and awe in us, reactions which are difficult to reduce to merely material categories.
  2. The Anthropic Principle: the laws of nature (constants, such as gravity) provide exactly the right conditions for the emergence of life. The anthropic principle has been described by people such as John Polkinghorn (see below*) as a kind of “Goldilocks Principle” such that conditions are “just right” in our universe for the kinds of biological and human life that thrive on earth. Dawkins and company appeal to the idea of a multiverse in order to explain how it is that our particular universe has evidently been hospitable to biological life. Since it is unlikely that any single universe should just happen to provide the precise conditions necessary for the emergence of life, it is reasonable to think that there were many universes (thousands? millions?) in which at least one provided the precise conditions necessary for the emergence of life. But such an idea—for which there is no empirical evidence as far as I am aware—seems to me like grasping at straws. The anthropic character of the universe (and especially of our world) implies design, a category that transcends what materialism will allow.

   [*The Rev Dr John Charlton Polkinghorne (born in 1930) is an English theoretical physicist, theologian, writer, and Anglican priest.]

The items listed and described above (1-5) are intended to challenge or raise questions regarding the worldview known as “materialism.”  Clearly this matter has great significance for those who believe in God. If materialism is right and there is indeed nothing more to reality than physical, material stuff, then there is no God. Now it is not necessarily the case that the alternative is true; that is, it is not necessarily the case that if one can speak of a non-material dimension to reality that God (or, a god) necessarily exists. But if one allows for any kind of non-material aspect to what is, then one has at least opened the door to a spiritual dimension that may include God.

What I have written here should be considered in relation to such scriptural passages that indicate that God’s reality has been made known through creation. See, for example, Romans 1:19-21 and Acts 14:15-17.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He Prepares a Feast Before Me

Elaine Knudtson

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. . . Ye thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me. . . You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. . . I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Ps. 23

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As Christmas approaches, my mind is preoccupied with the family gatherings scheduled for December.  It is a privilege to prepare a feast for my loved ones and I take special care to make sure it is an expression of the love and appreciation I have for each of them.

I recently examined the 23rd Psalm in light of the phrase, “He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”  When I was a little girl, my parents would often prepare me for a doctor or dentist’s appointment by promising me something special at the end.  “If you’re a good girl, we’ll go out for ice cream when it’s done.”  I kept my eye on the reward at the end and somehow it made it easier to go through the event.

In the same way, knowing that God has prepared a feast for us even while we are facing our enemies, gives us hope that we might otherwise not have.  No one wants to go through the valley of the shadow of death.  Those are the “Good Friday” moments of our lives where we experience darkness, doubt, fear, loneliness and death, whether real or imagined.  Knowing that there is a feast, the resurrection, awaiting us on the other side doesn’t make it easier, but it gives us hope in the bleakness.

I CAN

I was visiting my new granddaughter in Ontario when I had a “valley of the shadows” experience.  I woke in the middle of the night and began to cough up bloody phlegm.  Because of my cancer scare in the 2000s, any unusual physical symptoms send me back to those dark days and I begin to panic.   My instincts are always to deny and hide, hoping I can dodge a visit to the doctor simply by waiting it out, but I knew I could not overcome this on my own.

The hours ticked away slowly as I waited for the dawn, knowing that my husband would also feed into my panic when I told him what was happening.  I wanted to talk to my Dad, but he was two time zones away, so it was even earlier in Alberta.  In the darkness I remembered all the lessons of the past:  Fear Not, Be Healed, I Am With You, Peace Be Still.  But these thoughts did not comfort me.

“I need to hear fresh words of assurance, Lord.  Why this darkness?  Why has my joy been taken?  Who can deliver me from this bondage of fear and death?  I can’t release myself, I need you to do it, but it’s dark, in the middle of the night, and I feel so very alone.”

I spent the day in the emergency ward at the hospital, going through a series of tests that revealed a treatable pneumonia.  I had come through the other side, but the trauma of uncertainty and the ambiguity of illness took its toll.  “What if. . . ”  “Maybe. . .” All the questions I had fought through when I had cancer returned.  They came like demons and attacked me, stealing the confidence and certainty I needed to heal.

As we were driving to our hotel I cried out to the Lord:  “I can’t add any more worries to the catalog of fears I already carry.”

I CAN—those words stopped the conversation.  “Come to me all who are burdened and heavy laden and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am weak and lowly of heart, and you will find rest for your souls” Matt.11:28-20.

come-to-me“Come all of you who thirst, come to the waters; and you without money, come, buy and eat!  Come buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” Is. 55:1

“If anyone is thirsty, let Him come to me and drink” Jn. 7:37.

Jesus was offering me a drink from the well–a feast as I came through the valley of the shadows.  The joy of His love and presence filled my longing as He drew near to me in the sweetness of peace and love.  My husband and I felt loved that night as we considered what it meant to be “carried” through the valley to the feast God had prepared for us on the other side.

I CAN

I AM

Perfect love casts out all fears.