Just a little truth and encouragement from C.S.Lewis:
from “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader“ by C.S.Lewis
Just a little truth and encouragement from C.S.Lewis:
from “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader“ by C.S.Lewis
Today’s post comes from one of my favourite sites: Mere Inkling – a writer who always has much biblical wisdom to share, and many insights into the writings of Lewis and Tolkien. Enjoy!
“Have you ever written something that inspired a musician to compose new music? J.R.R. Tolkien hoped to do so one day, and had he lived to hear the scores of the Lord of the Rings trilogy created by Howard Shore, he would have been in awe.
I was reading Tolkien’s correspondence last week and came across a fascinating letter he wrote to a musician who was requesting permission to write a serious composition based on The Hobbit.
This would have been quite different than the quaint “Ballad of Bilbo Baggins,” made famous by Leonard Nimoy. (I wish their choreographer had read the book, so we could have been spared the tiny T-Rex arms sported during the chorus by the dancers.)
Anyway, returning to more serious musical ventures, in 1964 Tolkien received a request for permission to write a “Hobbit Overture.” It came from British composer Carey Blyton (1932-2002) who would become best known for his song “Bananas in Pyjamas.”
Tolkien’s response to the composer’s query is fascinating, on several levels. First, he is gracious in extending his permission, without any restrictions. And, in 1967 Blyton did compose “The Hobbit” Overture, opus 52a. It appears on the CD, British Light Overtures 3.
Secondly, he shares his unspoken desire that his work might someday inspire music. Then he makes a curious comment about the illustrations of Pauline Baynes, which would similarly grace the work of C.S. Lewis.
After that, Tolkien describes his own, musically impoverished, upbringing. Finally he expresses his deep appreciation for good music, despite his lack of knowledge on the subject.
And Tolkien accomplishes all of this in just a handful of sentences!
You certainly have my permission to compose any work that you wished based on The Hobbit. . . . . As an author I am honoured to hear that I have inspired a composer. I have long hoped to do so, and hoped also that I might perhaps find the result intelligible to me, or feel that it was akin to my own inspiration—as much as are, say, some (but not all) of Pauline Baynes’ illustrations. . . . .
I have little musical knowledge. Though I come of a musical family, owing to defects of education and opportunity as an orphan, such music as was in me was submerged (until I married a musician), or transformed into linguistic terms. Music gives me great pleasure and sometimes inspiration, but I remain in the position in reverse of one who likes to read or hear poetry but knows little of its technique or tradition, or of linguistic structure.
It is common for people of sincere Christian devotion, such as Tolkien and Lewis, to express an appreciation for the divine capacity of music to touch the human spirit.
Martin Luther, for example, wrote much about music. “Music is God’s greatest gift,” he proclaimed. He was not only a composer of hymns, but also an acceptable player of the lute, which he used to accompany his children during their family devotions.
Music is deeply intertwined with the heart of Christian worship.
C.S. Lewis on the Subject of Music
One of the modest challenges in contrasting fellow Inklings J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis results from the significantly different natures of their literary corpora. While they both wrote fantasy, though of a vastly different magnitude, Lewis’ vocation as one of Christianity’s chief modern apologists necessitated that he defend the faith in diverse contexts. Thus, he wrote numerous essays and a number of texts addressing a wide range of considerations that his friend Tolkien never discussed in print.
Because of this distinction, it is relatively simple to discover what Lewis thought about the nature and powers of music. Typical of the man’s practical orientation, Lewis appears little interested in the abstract attributes of music. What interests him is its confluence with human existence. The following profound insight comes from his essay “On Church Music.”
There are two musical situations on which I think we can be confident that a blessing rests. One is where a priest or an organist, himself a man of trained and delicate taste, humbly and charitably sacrifices his own (aesthetically right) desires and gives the people humbler and coarser fare than he would wish, in a belief (even, as it may be, the erroneous belief) that he can thus bring them to God. The other is where the stupid and unmusical layman humbly and patiently, and above all silently, listens to music which he cannot, or cannot fully, appreciate, in the belief that it somehow glorifies God, and that if it does not edify him this must be his own defect.
Neither such a High Brow nor such a Low Brow can be far out of the way. To both, Church Music will have been a means of grace; not the music they have liked, but the music they have disliked. They have both offered, sacrificed, their taste in the fullest sense.
But where the opposite situation arises, where the musician is filled with the pride of skill or the virus of emulation and looks with contempt on the unappreciative congregation, or where the unmusical, complacently entrenched in their own ignorance and conservatism, look with the restless and resentful hostility of an inferiority complex on all who would try to improve their taste—there, we may be sure, all that both offer is unblessed and the spirit that moves them is not the Holy Ghost.
This discussion about church music is particularly interesting due to Lewis’ personal dislike for much of the music used in worship, which I’ve written about before.
Lewis described his own church music pilgrimage in “Answers to Questions on Christianity.”
My own experience is that when I first became a Christian, about fourteen years ago, I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology, and I wouldn’t go to the churches . . .
If there is anything in the teaching of the New Testament which is in the nature of a command, it is that you are obliged to take the Sacrament [holy communion], and you can’t do it without going to Church. I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it.
I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit.
In “The Weight of Glory,” Lewis addresses this notion that we must look beyond the music itself, to assess its influence on our humanity.
The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.
For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.
Lewis recognized the deep influence and mystery with which music communicates and inspires. It is no accident that Narnia’s creation itself comes through Aslan’s song.
The Lion was pacing to and fro about that empty land and singing his new song. It was softer and more lilting than the song by which he had called up the stars and the sun; a gentle, rippling music. And as he walked and sang the valley grew green with grass. It spread out from the Lion like a pool.
It ran up the sides of the little hills like a wave. In a few minutes it was creeping up the lower slopes of the distant mountains, making that young world every moment softer.
Returning to “On Church Music,” Lewis expands on the importance of our intentions as we approach music.
It seems to me that we must define rather carefully the way, or ways, in which music can glorify God. There is . . . a sense in which all natural agents, even inanimate ones, glorify God continually by revealing the powers He has given them. . . . An excellently performed piece of music, as natural operation which reveals in a very high degree the peculiar powers given to man, will thus always glorify God whatever the intention of the performers may be. But that is a kind of glorifying which we share with the ‘dragons and great deeps,’ with the ‘frost and snows.’
What is looked for in us, as men, is another kind of glorifying, which depends on intention. How easy or how hard it may be for a whole choir to preserve that intention through all the discussions and decisions, all the corrections and the disappointments, all the temptations to pride, rivalry and ambition, which precede the performance of a great work, I (naturally) do not know. But it is on the intention that all depends.
When it succeeds, I think the performers are the most enviable of men; privileged while mortals to honor God like angels and, for a few golden moments, to see spirit and flesh, delight and labour, skill and worship, the natural and the supernatural, all fused into that unity they would have had before the Fall. . . .
We must beware of the naïve idea that our music can ‘please’ God as it would please a cultivated human hearer. That is like thinking, under the old Law, that He really needed the blood of bulls and goats. To which an answer came, ‘mine are the cattle upon a thousand hills,’ and ‘if I am hungry, I will not tell thee.’ If God (in that sense) wanted music, He would not tell us. For all our offerings, whether of music or martyrdom, are like the intrinsically worthless present of a child, which a father values indeed, but values only for the intention.
At the outset of this column I declared Tolkien would have been “in awe” of the musical score written to accompany the Lord of the Rings movies. Lewis too, I believe, would have been impressed by the scores composed for the three Chronicles of Narnia films made thus far. We owe a debt of gratitude to three composers: Howard Shore,* Harry Gregson-Williams,** and David Arnold***.
An Historical Postscript
In the spirit of Lewis and Tolkien, who appreciated the importance of music, we’ll close now with another engaging quotation from the wry pen of Doctor Martin Luther.
I wish all lovers of the unshackled art of music grace and peace from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ! I truly desire that all Christians would love and regard as worthy the lovely gift of music, which is a precious, worthy, and costly treasure given to mankind by God.
The riches of music are so excellent and so precious that words fail me whenever I attempt to discuss and describe them…. In summa, next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.
A person who gives this some thought and yet does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs.”
* Howard Shore has nearly a hundred credits as a composer, conductor and orchestrator on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb). In addition to the Tolkien cinema projects, he has also worked on a number of other very successful films and ninety-six episodes of Saturday Night Live. Shore won three Oscars for his work on Lord of the Rings.
** Harry Gregson-Williams has nearly a hundred credits on the IMDb, including a number of box office successes, a variety of popular video games, and several productions in the Shrek series. He won awards for his work on the Chronicles of Narnia series and another of my favorite films, Kingdom of Heaven.
*** David Arnold, wrote the score for the third Narnia film, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. He has seventy-three credits listed on IMDb, ranging from this year’s Independence Day: Resurgence, all the way back to a BBC made for tv picture entitled Mr. Stink.
Today’s post comes from John Piper, but his childhood story struck a chord with me. I can faintly remember a similar moment when my dad rescued a mini-me from under a freak wave at the beach (in his good shoes). I trust you will find this an encouragement:
I do not nullify the grace of God. (Galatians 2:21)
“When I lost my footing as a little boy in the undertow at the beach, I felt as if I were going to be dragged to the middle of the ocean in an instant.
It was a terrifying thing. I tried to get my bearings and figure out which way was up. But I couldn’t get my feet on the ground and the current was too strong to swim. I wasn’t a good swimmer anyway.
In my panic I thought of only one thing: Could someone help me? But I couldn’t even call out from under the water.
When I felt my father’s hand take hold of my upper arm like a mighty vice grip, it was the sweetest feeling in the world. I yielded entirely to being overpowered by his strength. I reveled in being picked up at his will. I did not resist.
The thought did not enter my mind that I should try to show that things aren’t so bad; or that I should add my strength to my dad’s arm. All I thought was, Yes! I need you! I thank you! I love your strength! I love your initiative! I love your grip! You are great!
In that spirit of yielded affection, one cannot boast. I call that yielded affection “faith.” And my father was the embodiment of the future grace that I craved under the water. This is the faith that magnifies grace.
As we ponder how to live the Christian life, the uppermost thought should be: How can I magnify rather than nullify the grace of God? Paul answers this question in Galatians 2:20–21, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God.”
Why does his life not nullify the grace of God? Because he lives by faith in the Son of God. Faith calls all attention to grace and magnifies it, rather than nullifying it.”
This is an excellent New Year post from Paul Tripp – which proposes an alternative to New Year resolutions (which aren’t all bad, by the way). Here is a summary of his key points:
DON’T MAKE RESOLUTIONS – MAKE COMMITMENTS
1. Be honest about your struggles
2. Rest in God’s presence and strength
3. Don’t look horizontally for what can only be found vertically
4. Deepen your relationship to the Body of Christ
5. Argue with your own heart
6. Work to assure that praise replaces complaint
7. Rest in the complete work of Jesus Christ.
Interested? You can read the whole article below or visit the site:
“I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. While I understand the desire for fresh starts and new beginnings, none of us has the power to reinvent ourselves simply because the calendar has flipped over to a new year. But since the gospel of Jesus Christ carries with it a message of fresh starts and new beginnings – because of the forgiving and transforming power of God’s grace – looking forward at the year to come does give us an opportunity to give ourselves anew to practical, daily-life commitments that are rooted in the gospel.
Let me suggest seven commitments that all of us have been empowered, and should be excited, to make.
Denial of your daily struggles with temptation and sin is never a pathway to change. The work of Jesus frees all of us to be honest about our weaknesses and failures without fear of God’s judgment. The gospel welcomes us in our weakness to run to God and not away from him. The doorway to personal change begins with humbly admitting your need for the help that only God can give.
Refuse to load your personal potential and welfare on your small shoulders. Remember the Jesus is with you, in you and for you, and because he is, your welfare rests on his infinitely huge shoulders. When you measure your potential, don’t forget that your life has been invaded by his power and grace. You could argue that Jesus is your potential.
Don’t allow yourself to be seduced into believing that life can be found in the people, possessions, situations, locations and experiences of everyday life. Remember, the role of created things is not to give you life, but to point you to the One who is the Way, the Truth and Life. Refuse to try to satisfy your heart with things that will never offer you the satisfaction that you seek.
You and I were never hardwired by God to walk with him on our own. God’s plan for us is deeply relational. We’re wired to be connected and dependent, not isolated and independent. Live close to God’s people, inviting those around you to intrude on your private world and to function as God’s tools of comfort, encouragement, confrontation, growth and change.
Remember, sin makes it hard for us to see ourselves objectively and accurately. Personal spiritual insight and growth really is the result of community.
It’s a theme of my ministry that I will continue to repeat: no one has more influence in your life than you do because no one talks to your more than you do. Don’t give way to self-talk that is marked by fear, despondency, futility, hopelessness or discouragement. Preach the gospel of God’s love, grace, presence, promises and power to yourself multiple times a day. Commit to carrying on a gospel conversation with yourself that never stops.
It’s sad, but true, that the default language of every sinner is complaint. Because sin causes me to think that life is all about me, it also causes me to constantly find reasons for being dissatisfied. But when you and I are living for something bigger than our own pleasure and comfort, and when we’re committed to counting our blessings more than we count our complaints, praise will fill our hearts and punctuate our conversations.
How about committing yourself to beginning every day by counting the many, many ways God has showered you with blessings you could have never earned or deserved on your own?
You have reason for rest, because even though the calendar has flipped to a new year, your Savior still greets you with new mercies every morning, he still will not send you without going with you or call you to a job without giving you what you need to do it, and he still reigns over all things for your sake. You can rest because you are in the good hands of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.
So, as the new year unfolds, don’t fool yourself with grandiose resolutions that none of us has the power to keep. Rather, celebrate the gospel of Jesus Christ and it’s huge catalog of graces. Re-commit yourself to living every day in light of what you have been given in and through your Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Happy New Year!”
At this time of year many people write and share a recount of the year that has been. They assemble great photos to illustrate their ventures, and list the things they and their family have achieved at work, at school, at home, at church, the house renovations and holidays.
While it is great to reflect on and share all these blessings, in thankfulness to the God who grants them, I can’t help thinking the ‘rosy Christmas letter’ can be somewhat discouraging to others, to people who consider their own personal achievements as nothing but disappointing by comparison. Perhaps their circumstances and God’s plans have taken them down a more difficult and lonely path. (And if I am being honest, such loneliness occurs even in the midst of a busy household at times.)
So, if I were to write an honest Christmas letter about the struggles of the year, here are some of the things I would like to share – to help others know they are not alone. Life is hard and being a Christian doesn’t magically end the difficulties, but God is good and there is joy to be found in Christ amidst the difficulties.
* I have faced ongoing challenges as a parent, spouse, home owner and friend. I have fought to love my children and husband, to serve selflessly.
* I have faced various mysterious and apparently unrelated health issues, which have shown only slight signs of improvement. These challenges will continue in the New Year.
* I have fought the discouragement of watching others pursue fulfilment apart from Christ, and disappointment with myself for not knowing how/being willing to challenge others for such attitudes.
* I have fought to acknowledge the reality of God and his grace in my own thinking about the circumstances of day to day living.
* I have fought disappointment with myself when I see pride or envy, or any of the things Christ died for, rising up in me again.
* I have worked hard as a teacher, with many many unseen extra hours of toil. While this brings some moments of great joy, largely it is draining and I see little gain for all my efforts.
* I have sometimes been cold to others and showed little genuine concern for them.
* I have become more aware of my own sin and selfishness.
* I feel like I have aged more and had worse quality sleep this year than any to date. The ‘days of trouble’ that the writer of Ecclesiastes speaks of have certainly arrived (or at least made an appearance).
* I have been hooked on checking my phone notifications and other comforts that I selfishly enjoy.
* I have battled against staying up later than I should, mindless television and being more excited about things that have no eternal value than I should be!
But all these things do NOT bring me to a point of despair! (Sorry if it sounds that way.) These struggles prove that Christ is at work in me and this is the main reason I can be joyful this Christmas!
As James says (1:2-4): “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
The ‘World’ just doesn’t get this. They think we have bought into a big fat lie which only brings us guilt and hard work.
But we have met the risen Saviour, we have seen the glory of God in the face of Christ, God with us, Immanuel!
What else can we do but follow him?
Blessings to you this Christmas,
This is a post about an album and a song which is no longer new News, but in case you missed it, it may be worth a look: Songs for the Book of Luke by The Gospel Coalition
You can follow links here to listen and access sheet music for all the songs on the album: http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/lukealbum/
Come to the Feast (track 9) is a song about the lavish banquet of God’s grace that abounds for any and all who would have it. Yet, it is also a call for the church to serve as heralds of this feast, both to those who know their need (the poor) and those who don’t (the rich). It comes from the parable of the great banquet found in Luke 14:16-24 where Jesus gives us a picture of the gracious kingdom of God that woos and welcomes the most broken, sinful, and lost of people. The musical style is not the mainstream. You may find it a refreshing change. (If used for the congregation, I would suggest the tempo could go up a little.)
COME TO THE FEAST
Go to the highways and hedges, go to the farthest of fields
Go and compel, the sick and the well
For our Father’s house will be filled
Go to the streets of the city, bring in the crippled and blind
All who would taste this banquet of grace
Must come and waste no more time.
Come to the feast, come to the table
The great and the least, the rich and the poor
Come to the feast, come to the table,
Come and hunger no more
In the robe of the lamb you’ll be covered
Dressed in his pure righteousness
For all of your guilt, his blood it was spilt
So come by your Father be blessed
Words and Music by Jeff Lawson © 2012 Jeff Lawson Music
I prayed this prayer last year on Father’s Day at our church. Praise God for his heavenly Fatherliness!
Dear Heavenly Father
Thank you for sending your Son Jesus to earth, entrusting him into the care of an earthly Father and modelling to us your sacrificial love and servant leadership. We give thanks for our own earthly fathers, for the love, provision and protection they have given us, even though imperfectly at times. Lord, forgive us for demanding perfection from our dads, which is only something you can give. Help us all to be prayerful for our fathers and appreciate the important role they played in leading and guiding us. Help us to show and express our love for our dads today.
We also think of the many children around us who live in a fatherless world, through absence or neglect or abuse. We pray that those children might find in you the father they seek. We pray children and families we connect with through Clubhouse and the Kids holiday program, that they might know your perfect Father’s love, that they might know you as the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you Lord that you are the Father to the Fatherless.
We pray too for those who have lost fathers in the last year, for your comfort at this time while others are celebrating the love of fathers. Thank you Lord for the good memories we can share at this time, and the many good things our fathers have contributed to our characters and lives.
Pray for all dads, that they can love and accept and affirm their children, showing wisdom and patience as they seek to teach their children about Jesus. We pray particularly for new dads, for the task of leading and guiding which they may feel so unprepared for. Thank you that no matter what experiences they have had, with a good, bad or absent father, that they can love like you because your holy and fatherly spirit lives in them, by faith. We pray that your design for families to be led by Christ-following dads, would be lived out amongst us, and would influence the society around us, for good and your glory!
Blessings for the New Year! I’m sure that like me you are keen to be more prayerful in 2015. This post from Blazing Center should whet your appetite for more. Keller’s book, referred to in this post, is certainly on my to read list.
What is prayer?
“Prayer is continuing a conversation that God has started through his Word and his grace, that leads to a full encounter with him,” Tim Keller writes in his book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God.
That’s astounding, if you slow down and think about it. Prayer is talking to the Creator of all that is. Even more, it’s talking back to him, in response to his initiative to start a conversation with us. But even that definition fails to adequately describe what actually happens when we pray. So before he gives a definition of prayer, Keller quotes the English poet George Herbert’s poem “Prayer (I).” Herbert doesn’t define prayer; instead, he describes it, in all its richness and variety. Here is the poem. Don’t rush. Read it slowly.
Prayer the church’s banquet, angel’s age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth
Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
The land of spices; something understood.
Can we define prayer? Yes, certainly. But is defining it the end goal? By no means. We haven’t exhausted the meaning of prayer until we have personally experienced and entered into the riches Herbert describes. Don’t be content with a definition. Hear God’s invitation to you through Christ: you’re invited to the banquet. Enter the conversation. “For through [Christ] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18).
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5 ESV)
I just love the grace and truth of these two favourite passages (of mine) from God’s word. They sum up the compassionate heart of a God who would send his own son to die in order to make alive those dead in their rebellion against himself! They explain that the abundant new life we have in Christ is in no way something we have dreamed up. This is the intervention of an all-powerful God into the hearts of mortal men and women!
I also love the way the band Tenth Avenue North have described this rescue and restoration plan of our loving God (album: Light Meets the Dark). He came to bring us truth, which is his very substance. He came to bring us back to the start, to a relationship with him unhindered by our sin. He came to touch our hard hearts, to soften and make them tender and alive toward him. I trust you will enjoy meditating on the truth of these verses, particularly the grace of God which they reveal, grace which comes to us by no merit of our own.
“The Truth Is Who You Are”
It would be easier if You were just a thought in my head
Simply something that I once read
A belief needing my defense
And it would be easier if You were something I once knew
A hope just to hold on
But You’re holding out Your hands
You came to take us back to the start
You came to touch the hardness of our hearts
You gave us truth, that truth is who You are, it’s who You are
And it’s not enough to just say, “I believe”
‘Cause truth is that talk is cheap
So grace give me eyes to see
You came to take us back to the start
You came to touch the hardness of our hearts
You gave us truth, that truth is who You are
It’s who You are
Flesh and blood You offer us
Oh, to eat the bread and drink the cup
Oh, to taste, to see, to feel, to touch
Emmanuel, God with us
Emmanuel, God with us
‘Cause You came to break the chains apart
To wake the dead and the sleeping of our hearts
You gave us truth that truth is who You are
It’s who You are
It’s who You are
It’s who You are
Here is a video commentary by the lead singer, explaining more about the meaning of the song:
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