To Tune a Heart

“Come, Thou Fount of ev’ry blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy grace.”

We know this one, right? Written by Robert Robinson in the 1700s, tune by John Wyeth (as I literally just now learned)? What a hymn, friends–what a concept: that our hearts must be tuned like instruments to praise our Master Craftsman. The hymn goes on–

Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount–I’m fixed upon it–mount of Thy redeeming love.

Here I raise mine Ebenezer–hither by Thy help I’m come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger, wand’ring from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger, interposed His precious blood.

O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wand’ring heart to Thee.
Prone to wander–Lord, I feel it–prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart–O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.

This is helpful stuff. But what on earth is an “Ebenezer?”

Other than a type of Scrooge, I mean.

I looked it up in our huge, Random House Dictionary of the English Language (because I’m stubborn and because I wrote this long paper once about posthumanism), and I didn’t learn the definition. [I did, however, learn what an ebeniste is: a French cabinetmaker, if you were wondering].

SO I caved and went to the online OED, which defined “Ebenezer” so:

1a. The name of the memorial stone set up by Samuel after the victory of Mizpeh: see 1 Sam. vii. 12. Used appellatively in religious literature in fig. phrases, alluding to the sentiment ‘Hitherto hath the Lord helped us’, associated with the origin of the name.

Okay cool–so I looked up 1 Samuel 12. It’s a great passage, all about Samuel giving the Israelites a reminder of what he’s been telling them all his life: Trust God. Serve the Lord. Fear Him.

But I don’t see any mention of a memorial stone. It’s kind of a sad passage–the people have demanded a king, even though God was their king–and God has given them Saul, and Samuel says that if the people and their king will continue to follow God, all will be well. But the people have a habit of forgetting, and it’s pretty clear Samuel knows this.

He ends with something that’s a cross between a blessing and a warning:

“Do not be afraid,” Samuel replied. “You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless. For the sake of his great name the Lord will not reject his people, because the Lord was pleased to make you his own. As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right.

But be sure to fear the Lord and serve hm faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you. Yet if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will be swept away.” (1 Samuel 12: 20-25)

Wherever that memorial stone is in the passage–that same idea pervades Robinson’s hymn: that God tunes our hearts by reminding us what He has done.

Fount of blessing. Streams of mercy. Redeeming love. Let these reminders bind our hearts to our Savior, who rescued us before we knew how lost we were, back when we were wandering aimlessly and serving useless idols.

What’s reminded me of this is a poem by George Herbert (my favorite poet) called Denial. I’ll give the whole thing, but especially note the rhyme and meter and how they change:

When my devotions could not pierce
Thy silent ears,
Then was my heart broken, as was my verse;
My breast was full of fears
And disorder.

My bent thoughts, like a brittle bow,
Did fly asunder:
Each took his way; some would to pleasures go,
Some to the wars and thunder
Of alarms.

As good go anywhere, they say,
As to benumb
Both knees and heart in crying night and day,
Come, come, my God, O come!
But no hearing.

O that thou shouldst give dust a tongue
To cry to thee,
And then not hear it crying! All day long
My heart was in my knee,
But no hearing.

Therefore my soul lay out of sight,
Untuned, unstrung;
My feeble spirit, unable to look right,
Like a nipped blossom, hung

O cheer and tune my heartless breast;
Defer no time,
That so thy favors granting my request,
They and my mind may chime,
And mend my rhyme.

Do you see how crazy the meter is in here? And the rhymes go back and forth in each stanza until the last line, when there’s an effect of brokenness: Disorder. Alarms. Discontented. Untuned. Unstrung. 

And then. The speaker’s prayer is that God will “cheer and tune [his] heartless breast,” and that, being in tune with the will of His Father, his offering will be acceptable.

Teach us some melodious sonnet, God–and let us remember what You’ve done throughout history to glorify how good and great You are. Mend our feeble spirits, and let our hearts be satisfied with Your mercy.


Thoughts on Herbert and Lewis

Sometimes, you can tell when I have a paper to write because it’s then that I have most of my ideas for the blog. This is partly the inconvenience of inspiration; but mostly the delicate art of procrastination. It’s not that I actively delay writing required essays. It’s just that they do have a tendency of being written eventually…at ungodly hours of the morning. I don’t always remember, on the other hand, what it was I wanted to blog about. So blogging usually wins.

I finished C.S. Lewis’s The Four Loves just now. Holy smokes. His were such good, good thoughts, and I am sorry it took me this long to read them. Most of this post will likely consist of me quoting Lewis, and, later, a sixteenth century poet named George Herbert. Less Jo, more Clive Staples. It should be good:)

First, though, here’s an introduction for why this particular section resonated so much. I’ve been trying to understand why everybody hates Calvinism/Calvinists. And while that sentence is probably too much (and too vague) to tackle right now–besides being off-topic–I will say that I think a big part of it is that big, fat “T” in their whole TULIP acronym. Total Depravity.

Um, guys. You need to work on your marketing. That is kind of heavy stuff for being the first letter in the acronym. It’s not very pleasant, or attractive, to contemplate unless you understand more of the grace side of things. So it makes sense, that, if you just know just a little bit about Calvinism, you might not like it. No one wants to think they’re completely depraved. Maybe? I apologize because I am rapidly getting in over my head here, and I’m talking more than I said I would. Let’s get back to Lewis as fast as we can.

Anyway, every so often something comes on my Facebook newsfeed from this group called “Depraved Wretch,” and, especially early on, my reaction wasn’t exactly charitable. My reaction was usually something along the lines of “Whoa. What is wrong with you guys, guilt-tripping everybody and ruining my day? A Day on which I felt perfectly fine and comfortable and…conveniently forgetting all the ways in which I didn’t measure up. Until now, when I remember them all. Thanks for that.”

[Note to the reader: Every now and then on this blog, the sarcasm setting gets turned on, and it’s hard to turn it back off. Please know that I am genuinely interested in both sides of most things, and I try not to make fun of ideas just for kicks. I’m not a huge fan of cynicism, in fact. Also, while I’m explaining in this parenthetical, I apologize to people I’m probably offending. I don’t always know what I’m talking about–in fact, it’s rare that I do. Helpful comments are both welcomed and filtered.]

What it seemed like to me (past tense, yo) was that those people on the Depraved Wretch page were focusing too much on their sin, almost wallowing in their unworthiness and glorifying that over their new identity in Christ. So my question was this: as a Christian, what’s the balance between a). continually recognizing your unworthiness of God’s grace and b). having hope in God’s grace, not dwelling on your past before Christ. Can you go to either extreme (I think yes) and if so, what’s the difference between remembering your own unworthiness yet rejoicing in Christ’s worthiness on your behalf and being crippled by the temptation to despair in who you once were?

Maybe this is too simplistic, but I think it has to do with the difference between guilt and conviction.

So this is where I’ve been lately. And then I read Lewis, and it made a little more sense. Let’s read some Lewis, shall we?

From his chapter on Charity,

All those expressions of unworthiness which Christian practice puts into the believer’s mouth seem to the outer world like the degraded and insincere grovellings of a sycophant before a tyrant, or at best a facon de parler like the self-depreciation of a Chinese gentleman when he calls himself “this coarse and illiterate person.” in reality, however, they express the continually renewed, because continually necessary, attempt to negate that misconception of ourselves and of our relation to God which nature, even while we pray, is always recommending to us. No sooner do we believe that God loves us than there is an impulse to believe that He does so, not because He is Love, but because we are intrinsically lovable. The Pagans obeyed this impulse unabashed; a good man was “dear to the gods” because he was good. We, being better taught, resort to subterfuge. Far be it from us to think that we have virtues for which God could love us. But then, how magnificently we have repented! As Bunyan says, describing his first and illusory conversion, “I thought there was no man in England that pleased God better than I.” Beaten out of this, we next offer our own humility to God’s admiration. Surely He’ll like that? Or if not that, our clear-sighted and humble recognition that we still lack humility. Thus, depth beneath depth and subtlety within subtlety, there remains some lingering idea of our own, our very own, attractiveness. It is easy to acknowledge, but almost impossible to realize for long, that we are mirrors whose brightness, if we are bright, is wholly derived from the sun that shines upon us. Surely we must have a little–however little–native luminosity? Surely we can’t be quite creatures?

In Jo’s words, surely not quite totally depraved wretches?

Lewis goes on to explain why those strange individuals who embrace their identity as wretches do so:

…Grace substitutes a full, childlike and delighted acceptance of our Need, a joy in total dependence. We become “jolly beggars.” The good man is sorry for the sins which have increased his Need. He is not entirely sorry for the fresh Need they have produced. And he is not sorry at all for the innocent Need that is inherent in his creaturely condition. For all the time this illusion to which nature clings as her last treasure, this pretence that we have anything of our own or could for one hour retain by our own strength any goodness that God may pour into us, has kept us from being happy. We have been like bathers who want to keep their feet–or one foot–or one toe–on the bottom, when to lose that foothold would be to surrender themselves to a glorious tumble in the surf. The consequences of parting with our last claim to intrinsic freedom, power, or worth, are real freedom, power, and worth, really ours just because God gives them and because them to be (in another sense) not “ours.” 

Here is where the connections were made, and Jo got quite happy. There’s this poem, which I love, written in the sixteenth century by a fellow named George Herbert. It’s called “The Holdfast,” and I’m going to put it right here for you to read:

The Holdfast

I threatened to observe the strict decree

Of my deare God with all my power and might.

But I was told by one, it could not be;

Yet I might trust in God to be my light.

Then will I trust, said I, in him alone.

Nay, ev’n to trust in him, was also his:

We must confesse that nothing is our own.

Then I confess that he my succour is:

But to have nought is ours, not to confesse

That we have nought. I stood amaz’d at this,

Much troubled, till I heard a friend expresse,

That all things were more ours by being his.

What Adam had, and forfeited for all,

Christ keepeth now, who cannot fail or fall.

If you think about it, it is sort of a comical picture, how we try to get this relation between ourselves and God exactly right. It’s this ridiculous cycle of humility and unconscious pride, and I guess I understand my initial frustration. Sometimes it seems like it would be better simply to rest in the finished work of Christ. But then I go back and read what Lewis said, and I waver again. After being clear as mud, and probably offending all seven people who read this, I better conclude with the thing I really wanted to say all along, quoting Herbert:

All things are more ours by being his.

A Tale of a Recovering Perfectionist

A Tale of a Recovering Perfectionist

in which Jo Horton acts like a brat


If you haven’t noticed by now, on this blog I talk about me. A lot. I’m sorry. Today’s story is a way for me to get out some of the annoyance I feel, and hopefully by the end I’ll have said something that’s worth my while and the reader’s.

This is the story.

In class today we got back an assignment that involved compiling a list of terms to study. We were given very specific instructions on how to format the list and how many terms we should include. I thought I’d done everything required; I’d completed it early and even gone by the professor’s office (as he’d advised) to have him check over it before I turned it in. I expected an A. I got a B.

That’s the story, folks, and some of you might choose to stop reading, you’re so turned off by my pompousness, my audacity to complain about getting a B on an assignment. If you feel that way, it’s okay—I understand. You’re not alone—I am confused by my own response. So I’m going to try to figure out why: why is it such a big deal for me to be “not perfect,” and why do I let things like this affect my attitude so much? I think it probably reflects a deeper issue that has nothing to do with grades at all.

And therein lies the tale.

Maybe I should clarify that the reason I got the B was because my list of terms fell short of the required number by 4. My professor and I have since decided that Microsoft Word probably counted all the tabs, so whether I had a term on a “line” or not, it counted it. [If that made absolutely zero sense to you, it’s okay. It’s really not important]. The important thing is that when I turned in the assignment, I genuinely believed I’d gotten all the terms I needed. My professor pointed out (probably rightly) that I shouldn’t have relied on the computer, but was responsible for confirming that I’d done the assignment correctly. Then he said that the grade would serve as a “kick in the pants” that would ensure I followed the directions exactly, next time. I smiled, said “ok, thanks,” and went directly to the practice room (cause I was about to cry) and I…

Threw. A. Fit.

I mean, you can call it whatever you want—a meltdown, a pity party, a tantrum—but I was in there for about ten minutes, crying, sniffing, glaring in the general direction of Professor__’s office. I even took out my pencil and marked each term, just to see if I could prove him wrong. He was right, though. I hadn’t gotten enough words.

Once I calmed down somewhat, I read George Herbert for my English Lit class, and the poetry was on themes that were strangely fitting. At any rate, what I read got me thinking about my motivations, which maybe lent a little more significance to an episode that I might otherwise have blamed on not much sleep and too much studying. That’s not what it was, really.

I want to do things really well. I’m also a perfectionist. If you’ve been wondering what the distinction is between those two statements, then let me enlighten you. Wanting to do things really well means you want to do things really well. Being a perfectionist means there’s a chance that, if you don’t succeed, you might go throw a fit in a practice room.

One means that you want to do your best, and the other means you want to be the best. That’s what it seems like to me, anyway. I’m absolutely a fan of the first one—often the people I find most inspiring are those that live and breathe missionary Jim Eliot’s advice. “Wherever you are,” he said, ”be all there!” “Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.” I like this and I want this; this is the sort of person I want to be.

I’m not sure about this compulsion to be the best at things, though. I’m not sure it’s ever really helped me out, when it’s been distinct from trying my best. In some ways it feels like a corruption of something good: I had to be taught to work hard and do my best, but once I learned it I never had to learn how to be competitive. Nobody taught me how to be a perfectionist—I learned it all on my own.

This is why I say I am a struggling perfectionist—because I’m not sure I want it anymore. Yes, I want to do my best always, but I don’t want to define myself with how I measure up or with how I think I appear to others. What I am discovering more and more and more is that I am not and cannot be perfect. It’s exhausting, trying.

If you couldn’t tell, I’m not talking about grades anymore. It’s funny—when I began writing this post I was still pretty upset, but since then I’ve been to a wonderful 11-year-old’s birthday party and eaten my mom’s cooking, and suddenly Professor­­­­__’s message in red ink doesn’t make me mad or sad or anything at all. If anything, it’s gotten me thinking about something I probably should have considered more before now.

Although I really believe one way of honoring God is to use your talents or gifts wholeheartedly and without apathy, I’m realizing how many times my actions are motivated by pride. Somebody asked me, the other day, what motivates my “sweet” behavior (this person obviously has never seen me having a pity party in a locked room with a piano in the corner). I gave a pretty durn good (righteous) answer. But the honest truth is that mostly, I just want to be liked. I want to be remembered—I want to be known as perfect.

And what I’m learning is, one, that it’s exhausting trying to be perfect, and two, that I’m kind of missing the point. I never was, nor will I ever be, perfect on my own. One of the poems I was reading (“The Holdfast” by George Herbert) illustrated this key part of the Christian faith that explains humanity’s tendency toward perfectionism (and therefore frustration). We are capable of nothing without God’s grace. Nothing. But since He has offered us grace, then we praise. Now we sing and give glory to our Creator and live without fear and rejoice in all things. We have been invited to rest in Jesus Christ.