Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Consecration - Isobel Kuhn

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To every man there openeth
A way and ways and a way.
And the high soul climbs the high way
And the low soul gropes the low
And in between on the misty flats
The rest drift to and fro.
But to every man there openeth
A high way and a low
And every man decideth the way his soul shall go.

- John Oxenham
Those words open Isobel Kuhn's autobiography, By Searching: My Journey through Doubt into Faith. I'd never read any of her work. OMF has a collection of it on sale. I thought I'd 'try before I buy' and so checked out the first volume from OMF's library on the first floor of our building. (In doing so I could enjoy it in a old hardback first edition that nobody had checked in out since the 1970s, which added to the pleasure!)

Written in the 1950s and describing events of the 1920s, it's not surprising that the story is a little dated. It was not hard to find things I could identify with, even so.

The fundamentalist-modernist debate was raging. Isobel was tossed on those waves. An English professor at her West Coast college (the University of British Columbia) planted the seeds of doubt, asserting that no intelligent person could believe in heaven, hell, and the the Bible 'in this enlightened age.' Isobel had never really questioned her faith. But unwilling to be thought a fool, she turned away from God and sought her meaning and satisfaction in 'worldly pleasures.' Then - as now - these had little power to really satisfy. She found herself in the misty flats - "The in-between place... where men walk in the mist telling each other that no one can see these things clearly... life has no end but amusement and no purpose. It was a popular thing to be on the misty flats, you had plenty of company."

After a broken engagement she thought about suicide; what was worth living for? She only hesitated because of the pain it would bring to her parents. That night, a line from Dante came to mind (there's a good English major!) "In His will is our peace."
"Dante believed in God. What if there was a God, after all? If so, I certainly had not been in His will. Maybe that was why I had no peace? An idea struck me. No one was watching to see if I were a fool or not. Sitting there on my bed's edge, I raised both hands heavenward. 'God, if there be a God,' I whispered, for I was not going to believe in what did not exist just to get a mental opiate, 'If You will prove to me that You are, and if You will give me peace, I will give You my whole life. I'll do anything You ask me to do, go where You send me, obey You all my days.' Then I climbed back into bed and pulled the blankets over me."
The rest of the book tells how God did answer her prayers and led her into a life consecrated to him. Consecrated: We don't use that word much, these days. Some of the things it led Isobel to give up are things we would tend to consider harmless, but they were getting in the way of her obeying God and loving others, so I think she did the right thing.

5 comments:

Mandy said...

Thanks, Marti, for writing this post. I am not where Isobel was, but I have been there. Now, I'm in a place where I am learning more and more about the covenant that God made with me and how, because of that covenant, it is my duty...my responsibility...my honor, to walk in obedience...to give up everything I hold onto...to go where he leads me (even those places like downtown Denver). This is hard and yet, peaceful.

Anonymous said...

What do you make of this?

Prominent Muslim scholars are warning that the "survival of the world" is at stake if Muslims and Christians do not make peace with each other.

In an unprecedented open letter signed by 138 leading Muslim scholars from every sect of Islam, the Muslims plead with Christian leaders "to come together with us on the common essentials of our two religions."

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and Pope Benedict are believed to have been sent copies of the document which calls for greater understanding between the two faiths.

The letter also spells out the similarities between passages of the Bible and the Koran.

The Muslim scholars state: "As Muslims, we say to Christians that we are not against them and that Islam is not against them - so long as they do not wage war against Muslims on account of their religion, oppress them and drive them out of their homes."

The phrasing has similarities to the New Testament passage: "He that is not with me is against me" - a passage used by President George Bush when addressing a joint session of Congress nine days after 9/11.

The Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, a non-governmental organisation based in Amman, Jordan, has organised the letter.

The Institute said: "This historic letter is intended by its 138 signatories as an open invitation to Christians to unite with Muslims over the most essential aspects of their respective faiths - the principles of love of one God and love of the neighbour.

"It is hoped that the recognition of this common ground will provide the followers of both faiths with a shared understanding that will serve to defuse tensions around the world."

It continues: "Finding common ground between Muslims and Christians is not simply a matter for polite ecumenical dialogue between selected religious leaders.

"Together they (Muslims and Christians) make up more than 55 per cent of the population, making the relationship between these two religious communities the most important factor in contributing to meaningful peace around the world. If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace."

Among those launching the letter in the UK will be David Ford, Regius Professor of Divinity, and Fellow of Selwyn College, University of Cambridge and founding director of the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme.

Aref Ali Nayed, a leading theologian and senior adviser to the Inter-Faith Programme, will also take part at the event in central London.

Marti Smith said...

Hello anonymous! I heard about this story... love to see prejudices and hostilities broken down, common ground identified, and bridges of understanding built. So: this is good.

On the other hand, I am not holding my breath waiting for world peace. Not because Muslims are bad or Christians are bad but because people are bad - well, selfish, anyway. The humanistic worldview popular in both Christian and Muslim circles and beyond says that people are basically good and we just all need to learn to work together. But there's a problem. Reality. Human nature is flawed. Every one of us tends toward sin, self-righteousness, and self-centeredness. Under such circumstances, glimpses of peace on earth are rare, indeed.

Anonymous said...

Does that mean that trying to achieve peace isn't worth the effort? Is it less 'worth the effort' now than it has been in the past or more 'worth the effort?"

Marti Smith said...

Hey, Anonymous - are you my reader in Eugene? No worries, you are welcome to stay anonymous! You raise a good question, and I'm thinking it through to see if my own beliefs about this matter are inconsistent. I'm quite sure that being a peace-maker is a noble and worthwhile thing, and that we have both the greatest responsibility to make peace and the opportunity to make a difference by doing so, at the interpersonal level - not, I think, by going to protests, and voting, and so on. But should we be so parochial as to leave it at that, just acting locally? How does all of this fit in with the question of world peace? And the plain-as-potatoes fact of human selfishness? I'm asking around and getting different opinions and hope to write a post about it soon.

One of the people I want to thrash this stuff out with is my friend and former co-worker Lisa Gibson, who I am sure has through this through. She founded the Peace and Prosperity Alliance and has an interesting story, personally. See http://www.peaceandprosperityalliance.org/