Tag Archives: reflection

Be Thou My Vision: A Reflection

By Bella Gamboa, Jonathan Edwards ’22. Bella in majoring in Humanities.

Even in times when I feel farthest from God, hymns have had a singular ability to remind me of who He is and of his presence. The value of song has clear Biblical precedent, particularly in the Psalms (which themselves were designed to be sung!). The psalmist frequently presents song as an imperative part of a relationship with God, such as in Psalm 98:4-5: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises! Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody!” Praise to God overflows in song, and so singing also reminds us of who we are in Him and how we ought to relate to Him. With all that in mind, what follows is a brief meditation on several verses from one of my favorite hymns, “Be Thou My Vision.”

 

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart 

Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art 

Thou my best Thought, by day or by night 

Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light 

 

God’s presence at the center of one’s life is essential to the Christian life; He is not to be kept on the periphery, relevant only at certain times or in certain spheres, but He is intended to always be central. He ought to be primary in our sight, what we see and look to above all. And when God occupies His appropriate place in our lives, He, in His overwhelming greatness and perfection, is sufficient for us and our needs. This verse recalls Paul, who said, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). God is incomprehensibly, indescribably superior to anything else.

 

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word 

I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord 

Thou my great Father, I Thy true son 

Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one 

 

As undergraduates, we seem to endlessly pursue knowledge; whether compelled or enthused, we accrue information and skills in various classes, extracurriculars, and conversations with our peers. And knowledge is certainly valuable, but we must be careful to put the quest for it in context — the Bible makes a distinction between different sorts of wisdom or knowledge. In Matthew 11:25, Jesus thanks God that “‘[He has] hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.’” Here, Jesus refers to the inability of his learned, worldly wise contemporaries, like the Pharisees, to appreciate who He is, while children can grasp it. Yalies certainly occupy a position similar to that of “‘the wise and understanding’” — we know a great deal about coding, or carbon compounds, or Caravaggio. But true, Godly wisdom does not lie in these things, as “Be Thou My Vision” reminds us; indeed, David might call the wise of Matthew fools, for the “fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). God himself is our wisdom. Knowing him provides deeper, truer fulfillment and wisdom than knowing all the material for any course. Furthermore, we have the opportunity for continual companionship with God, as he is our Father, and, through the Holy Spirit, he dwells within us. This continual presence enables God to be our vision and our wisdom, for he is unwaveringly present.

 

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise 

Thou mine Inheritance, now and always 

Thou and Thou only, first in my heart 

High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art

 

This verse is somewhat intimidating to me — I certainly value and hang onto the praise of my professors and peers, and could hardly say that I treat it as if it is “empty.” But, as with Paul in Philippians, the hymn’s dismissal of earthly standards, of wealth and repute, are not arbitrary or melancholy. These are not inherently bad things, but they are so insignificant because God is so much greater. When He is first in our hearts and central in our sight, we have no need for worldly, and almost inevitably disappointing, means of raising ourselves up. 

He alone is our Father, our Treasure, and our King, and He is eternally deserving of our song — let us join as the “heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).

Thanos and Theodicy: Why don’t we just fix the world? (Part 1)

by Bradley Yam, SY ’21

Imagine that you are given a glove that granted you magical god-like powers over all of human life everywhere. You would only need to snap your fingers, and it would in some way make the world perfect. It would be whatever version of perfect you choose. Minmax human suffering and happiness? Done. Eradicate systemic oppression and inequality? Done. Eliminate scarcity of everything, everywhere? Done!

If this sounds like some purple giant from the latest Marvel’s Avengers movie, and if you knew the plot of the movie, you would be suspicious of this line of questioning. “But we all know that Thanos was crazy, after all, if we had that kind of power, we would surely use it for good. It would be unreasonable, irresponsible not to. After all, isn’t that what being at Yale is all about? Making the world a better place? Fixing the injustices of the world?” In fact, this is also one of our perennial gripes with the idea of an all-powerful, loving God, that he hasn’t already fixed the world. This is theodicy: answering why is the world bad if God is good. I am going to argue that if we take the question of Thanos’ glove seriously, we might not have a solution to theodicy, but we will ask the question of theodicy differently.

For the uninitiated, in the latest Marvel Avengers blockbuster, Thanos gains the Infinity Gauntlet, the glove grainting sovereignty over Soul, Reality, Mind, Space, Time and Power. The wielder of the glove gains god-like dominion over the universe. Our purple giant Thanos uses this unrestrained power to exterminate half of all life in the universe in order to end the suffering caused by overpopulation. You can complain about Thanos’ failure at Economics 101, but Marvel chose to portray him as basically altruistic. Thanos, unlike almost every other character on the good side, sacrifices his emotions in favour of his ideals. He sets aside his own interests, for the sake of what he thinks is the higher good. Regardless of how we feel about those ideals, we are led into admiring his methodical and relentless pursuit of his goals over the last gazillion movies. Now this is the kind of pursuit that Yalies can resonate with.

Thanos’ unyielding and unswerving determination confronts us with the potential problems with our own expectations of the perfect world. We all think we could do better than Thanos, but we seldom stop to consider that in his position, we might do far, far worse. That the world is not yet prefect is clear to everyone. Yet, if we press the the more rigorous flipside of the theodical question, “what is a reasonable version of the best possible world?”, there is unlikely to be any consensus at all! We might all agree that a marginal increase in freedom, a marginal increase in equality, and a marginal decrease in suffering are all good things, but our imagination fails us when we try to take the limit of those ideals. All our utopias turn into dystopias. We trust the old adage that good things can be taken too far. We criticize Thanos, but cannot really offer the perfect alternative.

Since it seems impossible to concur on what to do with Thanos’ glove, we ought to ask the questions related to theodicy with at least a sense of our lack of complete knowledge. The question: “Why does evil exist?” is still valid, because it is apparent that evil does indeed exist! But that hardly puts the nail in the coffin for the an all-powerful, benevolent God – because we ourselves are unable to articulate what exactly we would expect an all-powerful, benevolent God to do! In effect, we are left with a mystery: we don’t want things to stay as they are, but we do not know what we want them to become. If we are seekers of the truth, then we need to confront that mystery, not use it to explain God away.

We will think about what that mystery suggests to us in the second half (yet to be published) part of this article. For now, as privileged and empowered people, we need to be conscious that of our desire “to seek, to strive, and not to yield” after our ideals. We only imagine that we might do good, but we are all always wearing Thanos’ glove- will you snap?

 

Psalm 42

by Bradley Yam, SY ’21

Sing, sing out my Soul,

And cry, cry out my Soul,

Cry of all your troubles,

Of your pains, let them flow

 

And feast on all our tears,

And spill out all your fears

For not one of them is wasted

Not one does he not hear.

 

And then we will sing, my Soul

Our hope is in our God,

Our hope is in our God

Sing, we will still sing, my Soul,

We will praise him,

Our savior and our God.

 

When you have been alone,

And love has seemed forgone

When there was nothing left

Inside us to go on,

 

Then cry, cry out my Soul,

That we were once told,

How much we were loved,

The love that made us bold.

 

And then we will sing, my Soul

Our hope is in our God,

Our hope is in our God

Sing, we will still sing, my Soul,

We will praise him,

Our savior and our God.

 

When you lie down at night

And you are not alright

The pain is in our bones

And there is no respite

 

Then hear, hear my soul,

That other voice of sorrow,

It cries, “forgive them, Father”

“I will never let them go”

“Oh I will never let you go”

 

So, sing, sing my soul,

Our hope is in our God,

Our hope is in our God.

Sing, we will still sing, my soul,

We will praise him,

Our savior and our God.

Finding Home and Unlimiting love

by Jadan Anderson, Morse ’22

“Our love is really limited, isn’t it? I’m only capable of giving my love and energy and time to three people, my wife and two kids, and then some friends, some coworkers, some neighbors that I live by and then I’m maxed out… I just don’t have the capacity. Our love has limits.”

In his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri J.M. Nouwen suggests that our true Home “is the place within [us] where God has chosen to dwell.”  

“Where is home for you?” was the most frequent question I was asked before leaving my first semester at Yale for winter break. Answering this question was supremely important to me, but was complicated. As a child of divorced military parents, I spent most of adolescence trying to designate a hometown– or at least a “homepeople”– for myself. Life was like an ever-incomplete draft: one out of two of my homes bounced from Washington to Alaska to Texas to Idaho to New Mexico at what seemed to be an increasing distance from my other home and the dotted locations of my homepeople. What’s more, a sweeping gaze over my dorm before I left for Christmas revealed a third home and new set of homepeople in the making. That’s too many! I always dreamed of a singular home, a singular collective of others.

 When I was in middle school, I spent my eighth-grade Christmas with my Dad. I remember that Christmas, Grandma lined up all six of her grandchildren in front of the tree before opening presents. “Is Christmas about the presents?” she asked. Dutifully, we all shook our heads: no. “What is it about, then?” she pressed. We had the answer she was looking for: Jesus, of course– and family. Smiling warmly, she nodded in approval. “Yes, and God has blessed me. My family is home this Christmas.” I didn’t have the heart to correct her; I was actually in one of my two homes. And now, as a college student, one of three.

Those words from Nouwen were part of a gift God had ready for me this season. As I was trying to make sense of the latest revision in my home theory, those words helped bring me into peace, and close the book on my question of home. I found comfort in the singularity, mobility, closeness, and scope of Nouwen’s idea. I had one home that I could take anywhere. It is within me where God dwells and, because the Creator of all dwells there, so can His creation; for me, that meant all three homes and all my homepeople from every place in which I’d ever constructed relationships. Strangely, knowing my true Home allowed me to find a singular home in my multitude of “earthly” homes. They could all be fit into my true Home, under God. This Christmas, that burning, futile question of my childhood was laid to rest.

 

There was a second part to God’s gift: another question.

After twenty years of service, my mother retired from the United States Air Force in September. Her first move was to relocate her family back to Washington state. Ever fond of nostalgia, this is where she graduated high school and began her military career. It is also a fifteen-minute drive from my other childhood home, with my father.

 I think to most, this was great. Finally, the distance between the two homes of my adolescence was practically nonexistent. I could agree with my grandmother and finally be at home– both of them– for Christmas.

But instead, this nearness has been a cause for anxiety.

When I realized that my true Home is the place in me where God dwells, I also realized with that comes a bit of power. Not “walk-on-water-and-turn-it-into-wine” power but the power of living in the spirit. I think that’s what Nouwen is describing when he writes “Having ‘received without charge,’ I can ‘give without charge.’” This is what it means to be Beloved. “As the Beloved, I can confront, console, admonish, and encourage without fear of rejection or need for affirmation.” Even more, we wield God’s power of love, He being both Love itself and the boundless source of love. Knowing and accepting the God dwelling within ourselves means accepting both the power that comes with it and the call to use those powers to love others.

“‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.'” (Matthew 22:36-40)

 The transcontinental plane ride from Connecticut to Washington was fraught with calculations as to how I should be dividing my time between the two sides of my family. Should I stay with my Mom who insisted that she should buy the ticket in late autumn? Is that fair to my Dad, whose work schedule is so hectic and stressful he’s hardly able to squeeze in a blink before December breaks? No, I’ll stay with my Mom: I have my own room there. But I’ve missed my family and am on break to spend time with them– a room shouldn’t matter so much. Mom goes back to work during the second half of break– I’ll stay with Dad then. But he’s working practically the whole break. I’d hate to visit him later in the day because I’ll be tired, but that may be my only option. I’ll just wing it, I guess.

 In between the car rides from Mom’s to grandparents’, grandparents’ to Auntie and Uncle’s, Auntie and Uncle’s to Dad’s girlfriend’s, Dad’s girlfriend’s to Dad’s, and finally Dad’s to Mom’s again, I obsessed over each exchange. Did I spend enough time there? Was it enough to let them know that I love them no less than I love the other? Sometimes I thought I was successful; but, more often than not, I would hear “You have to go now? Stay a little longer!” Though I longed to explain my intent, I very well couldn’t reply “I don’t have to, but your time is up. I’m dividing my break evenly, you see? I’m leaving so everyone else knows, too, just how much I love them.”

 Of course, most of the time– if not all of the time– my family understands. But sometimes their emotions betray their understanding. The “You have to go now?”, usually riddled with fondness and affection, becomes sad. When I saw those moments, my heart tore for them.. Am I doing this right? Is there even a correct way to do this?

 I was reminded that the distance that once existed between the two homes of my adolescence served as an advantage– I could at least pretend I had a singular home. I was able to dedicate all my time and energy and love to one side of my family. The other side was too far, anyway. I would focus on them when I was with them.

 Sometime during the back and forth car rides, “You have to go now? Stay a little longer!” went from sounding like loving gesture to sad request to demand. Sometime during the back and forth car rides, I grew bitter. Was this not my break? Why am I meeting them always, never vice versa? This was easier when I was far– why am I so close? Why is this so difficult to do? It would be far easier to be by myself.

 

Brake check.

 Taking a note from Nouwen, that bitterness at my own family was indicative of my straying from my true Home. How soon after I found it that I left it! Why is it that I strayed when focusing all my strength to communicate love? God, who had made His home in me, loves all without abandon. Why, then, could I not do that same?

 The answer was fairly clear when I asked myself that question. I was drawing from the well of my own power, not God’s. While God’s love is the model for what Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 13), human love in severely limited. It’s exhaustive, selective, capped. We max out and grow tired and weary and bitter. Without God, our love is not all that patient and only sometimes kind. It’s prone to jealousy and pride. It’s demanding of both the giver and the receiver. It is irritable and keeps tabs of injustices against it. It gives up and fizzles out. When people love each other– that’s a remarkable thing. It’s like feeling the sun’s gentle rays warm your skin in the early morning. It’s a glimpse of heaven. But it’s always temporary. Only in God do we have hope that, as He turned water into wine, He will make our flawed, temporary love perfect and eternal.

 But is that even possible now? Perhaps that can only be true in the new creation? I’m not sure if an affirmative answer to that last question would relieve me of guilt and bitterness or plunge me into despair. What good is it if we only love those who love us? Remember, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”(Matthew 5:44) Judging by how hard it has been to love my own family, this is a clear call to draw from God’s eternal well. So, what’s stopping me?

 Once more, Nouwen’s words as he battled the limitations of his own love helped me: “When would I be ready to accept that kind of love?”

 My own pride keeps me from so much. It keeps me from trying new things. It keeps me from asking for help. No doubt, it keeps me from accepting God’s unconditional, unearned love. It would rather see me a servant, earning my blessings, rather than freely receiving them as a child of God. How, then, do I expect to give a love I will not accept for myself to my family. To love all my homes, I must remember my true Home. And so, as with all of creation, love begins and ends with God.

 It is written:

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:12-13)

 What we see dimly but will see face to face, what we know in part but will know fully– it’s His perfect, eternal love.

This is a new point of faith for me. This is of supreme importance. Going into this new year, I will be praying in hope that God will help me remember Home, in hope that He will replace my pride with faith enough to accept the love he offers me. I will be praying in hope that as freely as it is given to me, I will soon be able to freely give.

 

“Imagine a universe where that limitation is removed. Imagine a universe where nobody feels unwelcome. Imagine a universe where every life is cherished, everybody knows that they belong and have a place, that they’re loved. And imagine if you were capable of giving that love to everybody. That sounds awesome.”

 

A Reflection: Just a Closer Walk with Thee

By Pedro Enamorado ES Class of ’17

I am weak but Thou art strong
Jesus keep me from all wrong
I’ll be satisfied as long
As I walk, let me walk close to Thee

My heart melts with the beauty of this confession. I, a creature of clay and breath, can lean on the Lord of Glory. It makes me pause. It makes me sigh tenderly in delight. What is it like to stand on an immovable rock while the earth around you trembles? I am small and frail. And while the seas rage and the winds blow, and the world crumbles into itself, I stand unshaken on the Rock. Greater is my Lord’s healing comfort than those of my mother’s arm when I knew that her love would ease my fevers. And as my father’s prayers cast away my terrors in the night, His intercession pours courage into my trembling bones. Great is His strength.

How can we stray from such a Friend? Can we walk so far from the Lover of our souls? Yet, He is not like us. If we walk away, He will follow us and overcome us with His jealous love. And to resist His love is futile. Let us speak! He inclines His ear toward us so let us beg that we may walk near to Him. He will not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Our affections He shall tame, and our restless hearts will find sweet repose in Him. His tender heart is open to us, and a fountain of life springs from His side. Let us cherish His gift! Let us wash in His living water!

Oh, God, keep us far from the ways of the lawless.

The darkness of this world will not overcome me, and its coldness shall not harden my heart- I walk with Him. I treasure the warmth of my Savior’s love and His mercies know no bounds. These are my satisfaction. His Spirit chisels at my broken heart, and without violence or torment, He exposes a heart of flesh underneath.

Let us walk close to Thee, dearest Jesus. May we take your nail-pierced hand and walk with you till the sun goes down on the number of our days. Lead us to our eternal home.

Road Less Travelled

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Chances are you skipped that entire stanza before even finishing the first line because you knew the rest of the words. These opening lines are probably some of the most recognizable words ever written by an American, behind only the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence and perhaps some of Taylor Swift’s catchier lyrics. These lines are common to nearly every high school graduation ceremony, introductory English class, and piece of advice your parents gave you when you were having that identity crisis in middle school. These are, of course, the opening lines of Robert Frost’s famous poem, The Road Not Taken.

We know the story well: a traveler reaches a fork in the road and has to decide which path to take. We find ourselves in the woods with the traveler, looking down the path, trying to glimpse a hint of what lay ahead, of which path holds more promise. Sometimes the choices we face are weighty and irrevocable; we want to make the right choice, since life may not grant a chance at a do-over. This is the quintessential dilemma of choice.

In writing this poem, Robert Frost demonstrated incredible cultural prescience, accurately foreshadowing the emergence of FOMO, or Fear Of Missing Out, long before it struck anxiety into the indecisive hearts of over-worked college students and twenty-something millennials trying to figure out where they fit in. If only we could weigh our options, we think, and have some kind of assurance, concrete and tangible, that the path we choose is actually the better of the two. Then we wouldn’t have to live the rest of our lives ruminating on what might or could have been, if only we had chosen differently at the fork in the road.

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

While reading this poem, it occurs to me that there is no better exemplar of FOMO than choosing to adhere to the Christian faith. On the winding road of life, we reach a point where the trail parts and we stop to consider our options: Christ on one side, everything else on the other. Each path comes with considerable opportunity cost. I often find myself returning to this spot, looking both ways, taking inventory of what I stand to gain or lose down either path.

When this poem is read at graduation ceremonies and in classrooms and by sagacious parents, it is always accompanied by a lesson that goes something like: Don’t be afraid to choose a path different than the one everyone else is choosing; even if it’s more challenging, take the road less traveled; it’ll be worth it in the end. We are told to take the road less traveled because we stand to reap greater rewards for having done so. But that is not the narrative that Frost presents us with in the poem.

Quite the opposite, Frost describes both paths as equally appealing and uncertain. And so it is at the crossroads of life and faith. We actually don’t have any way of knowing for certain if the life Jesus calls us to live is better than the alternative. Neither path is discernibly more or less travelled, nor harder or more rewarding by virtue of being more or less travelled. There are those who might claim that one or the other path is the obvious choice, a no-brainer. But to deny the substantial appeal of the alternative is shortsighted; if one option really were so preferable to the other, then it would be an easy decision for all to make. Anyone who claims that the decision to follow Christ is easy belies the consequence of the decision and betrays the self-honesty required of the traveler trying to decide which path to take.

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

Eventually our traveler makes a decision and sets down a path, almost haphazardly. The traveler realizes that reason and reflection are of no use in arbitrating the decision, abandons them altogether and just starts walking. And this is the breakthrough of the poem.

Similarly frustrated by the stagnation of indecision, Kierkegaard, a 19th century Danish philosopher, finds a solution in what he calls a leap of faith. Kierkegaard understands that reason and rationalization will only get one so far, especially in the context of deciding to follow Christ. We can stand at the fork in the road and look down each path all day long and get no closer to the truth we are seeking. In fact, Kierkegaard argues that the breakdown of reason and logic is such that one can actually lapse into inaction—a sort of paralysis by analysis—if one spends too much time trying to discern some sort of certainty from the inherently uncertain. And that is the point. It is precisely at the end of certainty that faith can begin, and it is by making the leap of faith that we keep from losing ourselves in the infinity of choice. Because reason cannot help choose which path to take, making the leap of faith is not only the better option, it is the only rational option we can make.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

And yet, we are left with those two pesky lines at the end of the poem that have skewed interpretation of the poem for so long. Didn’t we read just a few lines ago that both paths had equal appeal when viewed from the fork? What exactly is the missing factor that accounts for the realization that one path has more to offer than the other? Maybe we can chalk it up a combination of hindsight and confirmation bias.

Or maybe, it’s just the fact that we began walking at all. Maybe it’s the realization that making a leap of faith has allowed us to move forward rather than be stuck at the crossroads of indecision. And that has made all the difference.

 

Fishers of Men

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

(Matthew 4:18-20)

The above verse is one of my favorite verses in the Bible. Matthew 4:18-20 is more than just another display of Jesus’s (naturally) perfect play on words. It puts me in the moment – dehydrated and dirty, hopelessly waiting for fish that never come – standing beside Simon Peter and Andrew as Jesus calls to us. In an instant, our once laughable attempt at considering ourselves fishermen bears more meaning than we could have ever imagined. Yes, we are fishermen (albeit poor ones). However, if we drop everything and follow Jesus we can be great fishers of men. All we need is a little faith.

Continue reading Fishers of Men