Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Hardy's Tess

Amongst the books I'm reading currently, one of the most interested has been 'Tess of the d'Urbervilles' by Thomas Hardy. My Dad protests whenever Hardy or his books are mentioned. I invariably hear the words 'depressing', 'morose' or something similar uttered, before discovering that he hasn't actually read Hardy in quite some time. In fact, whilst Hardy novels are known for their sadness and somewhat depressing bent, they are also full of beautiful portrayals of rural England, exquisite tenderness (in the case of Tess) and fascinating character studies.

All to say that, I thoroughly recommend him.

Yes, ‘tis true that he will, in someone's words 'tug at heartstrings you never knew you had', but his novels are glorious. If you're a fan of the English countryside, they are a feast for the imagination, as Hardy lovingly describes in full colour the area of Wessex where most of his novels are based. Not only that, but in some ways Hardy is thoroughly contemporary in his concerns. In Tess, Hardy rages against the superficial moralism, self-righteous pietism and injustice of his day. At the heart of Tess, Hardy is wrestling with what makes someone innocent, guilty, and who is to blame. Perhaps most striking is his understanding of who God is. There is no triune God of love and fellowship here, only a 'First Cause' who watches as dispassionately as Hardy watches tenderly. Hardy's critique of late Victorian moralism is damning, portrayed as a fusion of morals and a sense of social superiority based on class upbringing.

Some of what Hardy critiques is no doubt true; who and what decides innocence or lack of it, what is sin and who is to blame. The despair felt by Tess, ‘all is vanity’ she sighs, chimes with the sense of futility we find in Ecclesiastes (which I’m studying with Dave Bish at the moment). On the other hand, a medieval scholastic understanding of God has replaced the triune God Yahweh. Just shows the damage when we start from ‘unmoved Movers’, rather than the Trinity.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Pray then like this...

John Bunyan defines prayer as:

"a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Spirit, for such things as God has promised, or according to his Word, for the good of the church, with submission in faith to the will of God"

With such a great privilege before us, why do we (read 'I') struggle so much? So often, my prayers are distracted, apathetic and I feel as if I've given God a 'shopping list'. If this is you, then I want to recommend Richard Coekin's recent book 'Our Father: Enjoying God in Prayer'. One of the joys of Relay with UCCF is we are given a number of IVP books during the year. This is the first I've tackled and finished (two very different things!). And what a book!

'Our Father' draws you back to considering God, setting our sights on who he is; his name, his purposes and his grace to us. The book's simplicity is found in that it takes us back to the 'Our Father' as a basis for praying. Each chapter focuses on a verse from the prayer, teaching us what it means and how we could pray this in on a daily basis.

Easy results are not promised, but the book’s advice to learn from the prayer that Jesus taught couldn't be more straightforward to put into practice. In praying through the prayer, we are drawn first to consider God's character, his name YHWH and his goodness to us in Jesus Christ. We then are committing ourselves to his kingdom's extension, to his will in our lives and the world. So straight up, shopping lists are dispensed with! And then in the second half of the prayer, we see how to depend on our Father for every need we have, confident in who he is and his character.

So buy the book, and enjoy God in prayer.