Monday, September 15, 2008

Libraries, and Centuries Past

It's been a long time since I've been in a university library. Having been to three different university libraries in two days I realize that I love them. Perhaps it's the smell of old books, or the sight of neatly stacked rows of books upon books, waiting to be discovered. What I notice most about libraries is certainly the smell...and the sounds, or lack thereof. I find the soft hum of the heating and cooling systems in a library a comforting sound, combined with the barely audible drone of fluorescent lights. All in all, being in those libraries yesterday and today reminded of how much I enjoyed doing research and research papers back in college.

I'm back to working on my book. I've been praying that God would cause me to read the right stuff. I find myself nosing around, sniffing out hints of ideas and often discovering that what was a puff of a thought has often led me to read something that is quite powerful. I realize too that my prayers for reading the right things for this book were in many ways answered years ago by the books that I happened to read. I remembered a passage from a book that I must have read 10 years ago that was in the MSU library. I found it easily yesterday and it will undoubtedly be central to at least one chapter of the book I'm planning. That's exciting to me, and it's confirmation to me that I'm supposed to be writing the book. And it's fun at the same time to see where God might take me--I'm allowing my mind to run wild and free when I think about this book, and even the slightest wisp of an idea is something I'm going to be pursuing, since I do believe that God will lead me to the writing that he wants me to read.

In my snooping, I've stumbled upon a 12th century monk, Bernard of Clairvaux. I picked up several books of him/about him today and I think some of his writing will shape this book. It stimulates me to read something written by a man seeking out God nearly 1,000 years ago and realize that there is nothing separates him from us, other than time. His writing about God is just as appropriate today as it was then. We men are all the same, from Adam to today.

Here's a rather lengthy excerpt that I scanned in from a treatise he wrote called "On Loving God." The language is redolent of the sensual language of the Song of Songs, and speaks of the Bridegroom and the Bride in beautiful ways. I have italicized the passages that I find particularly powerful. This is a phrase I do not want to forget: She beholds the earth which produced thorns and thistles under the ancient curse blooming once more by the grace of a new benediction.

The fruits which the bride (the Church) gathers from the tree of life (Genesis 2:9) in the midst of the garden of her Beloved are called pomegranates (Song of Solomon 4: 13; 6: 11). They derive their taste from the Bread of heaven (Hosea 13: 16; I Corinthians 15:54) and their color from the blood of Christ. The Church sees death dead, and its author vanquished. She sees captivity led captive (Ephesians 4:8) from hell to heaven, from earth to heaven. For "at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth" (Philippians 2: 10). She beholds the earth which produced thorns and thistles under the ancient curse (Genesis 3: 18; Hebrews 6:8) blooming once more by the grace of a new benediction. In all of these realizations, the Church can say with the Psalmist: "My heart dances for joy, and in my song will I praise Him" (Psalm 28:7). She refreshes herself with the fruits of His Passion which she gathered from the tree of the cross, and with the flowers of His resurrection, whose fragrance will induce the Bridegroom to visit her frequently.

Then she exclaims: "You are fair, my beloved, yes handsome indeed, also our couch is covered with flowers" (Song of Solomon 1:15, 16). But speaking of the couch, the bride intends to express that all her desires are surrendered, and by reference to the flowers, she clearly indicates from whence her hopes are realized. She does not depend upon her own merits, but on the flowers of the field which have been blessed by God (Genesis 27:27, cf. Matthew 6:28-30). Jesus Christ delights in such flowers, for He willed to be conceived and raised in Nazareth (a name which means the consecrated).

Pleased by such perfumes, the Bridegroom enters willingly and frequently into the chamber of the heart that He finds is decked with the flowers and fruits of grace. For when He sees a mind occupied with the grace of His passion and the glory of His resurrection, He enters frequently and dwells there freely. For the tokens and memories of His passion are like the fruits of the past year. After all the times spent under the domination of sin and death (Romans 5:25), they now come to fruition in the "fullness of the times" (Galatians 4:4). The signs of the resurrection are like the flowers of a new year, blossoming like the verdure of summer under the power of grace. There fruit will then come forth in the general resurrection when time shall be no more in the eternal state. And so it is written, "Winter is over, the rain is past and gone, and the flowers appear on the earth" (Song of Solomon 2: 11, 12). The betrothed marvels at the arrival of summer in her companionship with the One who passed through the winter cold of death into the spring of a newness of life saying, "Behold, I make all things new" (Revelation 21:5). His flesh was sown in death and rose again in resurrection (l Corinthians 15:42). By His fragrance, the dried-up grasses revive in the valley fields, the frozen plants are warmed once more by the sun, and all the deadness is restored to life.

The renewal of these flowers and fruits, and the beauty of the field, all giving off a sweet perfume, enchant the Father Himself, So He speaks of His Son who has made all things new (Revelation 2 I :5). "The smell of my Son is as the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed" (Genesis 27:27). Yes, indeed, it is a full field, "of whose fullness we have all received" (John 1:16). But the spouse enjoys greater intimacy by the knowledge that she may gather flowers where she is so inclined, and strew them over the depth of her conscience, so that the couch of her heart will be redolent with sweet perfume for the Bridegroom as He enters.

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