Fresh Starts and Do-Overs

Of the many “making sense of 2020” pieces, I haven’t seen anything that said anything quite like today’s WuMo by Wulff and Morgenthaler.

WuMo 2021The front page of the local paper here called 2020 “a year to forget.”  And while I understand the sentiment, I’m not sure it’s the wisest one to have.  That approach could work against us in the long run in lots of ways.  But I also can’t imagine many people falling in line with doing a 2020 do-over.

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Today I finished (re)reading one book, The Screwtape Letters, and officially started another, the first collection of Augustine’s Homilies on the Gospel of John.  I’ve been slower than anticipated with Screwtape, a book that I read many years ago.  It’s actually much better than I remember it, probably because I’m older. I did, for the first time, read “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” at least as far as I can remember.  I’m surprised that it hasn’t come up in any conversations about the year 2020, actually.  Through Screwtape, Lewis had a lot to say about our dangerous approach to “democracy.”  Quite prophetic.  I’m reading Augustine-on-John as part of my year-long goals.  I’m interested to see how Augustine embraces the Gospel of John from a pastoral perspective.

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One of the cultural shifts that became clearer in 2020 was the ascendance of the digital newsletter.  I follow a few.  One of them, by Matthew Anderson, is often a nice blend of Christian thought and ethics.  Today’s missive, titled “Resolving to Love God,” had some good things to say about resolutions and habits in the life of faith.  He writes:

In so much of life, fruitfulness in a vocation is not up to us: all we can do is do the task that we are responsible for, and hope that we live to see it grow into the good we hoped would come from it. One man plants, another waters–but it is the Lord who gives the growth. The start is the thing we can control: it is the ending that lies outside of us.
 
Yet within the spiritual life, the matter is reversed: the start is the gift of God himself to us, which liberates us from our sins and frees us to act. All the Bible reading, the prayer, the good works that we do–all these are animated by the secret working of God within us, who is forming us to bear witness to his love to the world. What’s known and visible within our spiritual life is not the source of the fruit, but only the exterior conditions for it. The energy we put into cultivating sanctity and holiness is a response to grace, not its foundation. But because of that, we really can be zealous for holiness. And there really are things we can do to become more sanctified than we were before.

 

It is good to be reminded of what “comes first” in the Christian life, that “the start is the gift of God himself to us” and that everything else flows from that.  It’s always interesting to hear someone ensconced in the 21st century talk about holiness.  It’s just not something you hear about these day.  But I think he’s onto something.  You can check out the rest of his newsletter (and even subscribe to it) here.

(image from gocomics.com)

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