The CCEL Times 3.10 (October 2, 2008)
In This Issue:
From the Director
What is prayer?
In order to pray do I have to say the right words or think the right thoughts? As long as they are addressed to God, have I prayed? Is prayer really a cognitive process, like reciting (or thinking the words of) a poem? Can one pray accidentally by saying certain words?
Surely prayer is more than that. It involves the intellect, but it also involves attention in the form of spending time with God. It no doubt involves the affections—loving God. And it seems that the will is important—"your will be done."
This month's classic on prayer is The Cloud of Unknowing, a fourteenth-century English book on contemplative prayer. The anonymous author describes prayer as a "blind intent stretching to God," a "sharp dart of longing love” aimed at piercing the cloud between us and God. Those two phrases capture the emphasis in this book: prayer is "blind" because it is not (merely) a matter of knowing or cognition. And it is by love that we find God: "by love may he be gotten and holden; but by thought never."
The book gives practical advice about prayer, including advice about repeating a favorite name for God as a means bringing oneself into God's presence. This type of prayer and is still promoted, for example in the Centering Prayer movement led by William Meninger, Basil Pennington, Thomas Keating, and others.
This classic is a good example of a class of books on contemplative prayer and a fascinating and illuminating read if you are patient enough to wade through the only-partially-modernized language. Like many of the classics at the CCEL, this book has a history of changing lives.
NRSV iPhone App
The CCEL NRSV iPhone app brings the NRSV Bible and three books of devotional readings from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library to the palm of your hand. With the NRSV Bible, all of the standard NRSV features are supported including the notes. The app remembers your previous location so you can immediately pick up where you left off. Navigation is easy through the hierarchical table of contents. Scripture references are linked, so you can view the passage in a slide-up window. All books are included in the original install, so you don't need an Internet connection to use the application.
Coming soon: the ability to download and install books from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, search capabilities, and more. Get it now at a special introductory price, with no charge for upgrades to later editions.
"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," African American spiritual
This is one of the best-known African American spirituals in Christian history. Its source is the oral tradition of African Americans, but the concerts of the Fisk Jubilee Singers and the Hampton Singers brought "Swing Low" to the attention of white audiences. J. B. T. Marsh includes an early version of text and tune in his The Story of the Jubilee Singers, with their Songs (1876 ed.).
Considered by Erik Routley to be one of the "archetypal" African American spirituals, "Swing Low" welcomes death as the occasion "to carry me home" to glory. The text incorporates the imagery of "Jordan" and "chariot" from the Old Testament narratives of Elijah's ascent into heaven (2 Kings 2). In spite of the "ups" and "downs" of earthly life (st. 3), it is comforting for Christians to know with certainty that their final destination is the glory of a new heaven and earth.
Introduction on the Epistle to the Romans
Martin Luther wrote: "This epistle is the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest gospel. ... It can never be read or pondered too much, and the more it is dealt with the more precious it becomes, and the better it tastes." The four Gospels present the words and works of the Lord Jesus, but Romans, "The Gospel According to Paul," delves more into the significance of His death and resurrection. The theology of Romans is balanced by practical exhortation, because Paul sees the believer's position as the basis for his practice.
Augustine on John 15:
This passage of the Gospel, brethren, where the Lord calls Himself the vine, and His disciples the branches, declares in so many words that the Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, is the head of the Church, and that we are His members. For as the vine and its branches are of one nature, therefore, His own nature as God being different from ours, He became man, that in Him human nature might be the vine, and we who also are men might become branches thereof. What mean, then, the words, "I am the true vine"? Was it to the literal vine, from which that metaphor was drawn, that He intended to point them by the addition of "true"? For it is by similitude, and not by any personal propriety, that He is thus called a vine; just as He is also termed a sheep, a lamb, a lion, a rock, a corner-stone, and other names of a like kind, which are themselves rather the true ones, from which these are drawn as similitudes, not as realities. But when He says, "I am the true vine," it is to distinguish Himself, doubtless, from that [vine] to which the words are addressed: "How art thou turned into sourness, as a strange vine?" For how could that be a true vine which was expected to bring forth grapes and brought forth thorns?
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