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From crude beginnings 9 March 2017

Posted by Dr Moose in Faith, Lent, Life.
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Some things I learned at school have stayed with me. They vary by subject, and by my age, in seriousness, and in value. Despite having a BSc. in Geographical Sciences and an MSc. in Geographic Information Systems, I tend to be cagey about calling myself a scientist. I might employ logic and scientific method on occasion but ‘me, a scientist?’ – no. I used to enjoy Biology, once we moved on from plants (yawn!) to people. I could never really remember all sorts of important things in Chemistry (valencies, anyone?), and achieved the rare accolade of dropping an ‘O’ Level grade between ‘O’ Level and ‘A’ Level Physics!

Generally I’m don’t think I’m a particularly visual learner, but I do clearly remember some pictures, one experience being drawing what I think was called a ‘fractionating column’, an illustration depicting the various oil products obtained by fractional distillation, and in the same way the words ‘Leibig condenser’ are deeply buried in the vault of my brain (as well as the accounts of POWs in Colditz Castle during WWII engaging in distillation to transfer their home-brew wines into more serious ‘firewater’!)

refineryThe word set for today by the Bible Society for their #LentChallenge is ‘refine‘. To refine is to engage in the process of driving off, or driving out, the impurities of a substance by the application of heat or pressure, applying equally to transforming crude oil to aviation fuel or fruit wine to fiery spirit.

There’s a Christian worship song of a certain vintage that sticks in my mind on the subject too:

Purify my heart,
Let me be as gold
And precious silver.
Purify my heart,
Let me be as gold.
Pure gold.

Refiner’s fire.
My heart’s one desire
Is to be holy.
Set apart for You, Lord.
I choose to be holy.
Set apart for You, my Master.
Ready to do Your will.

Purify my heart,
Cleanse me from within
And make me holy.
Purify my heart,
Cleanse me from my sin,
Deep within.

© Brian Doerksen 1990 Mercy/Vineyard Publishing

It makes it all sound so clean and simple, especially when set to a good folky ballad (and don’t get me wrong, I like it)! Even setting aside the theological minefield with the language of choosing to be holy versus the ongoing process of sanctifcation, what is actually being asked?

Squeeze me, heat me, form me, shape me! Drive off all that is unclean and impure! I remember reading in Kester Brewin’s excellent book The Complex Christ some years ago (or maybe in his blog), about how the church seeks ‘revival’, while all the time forgetting that ‘revival’ is no less than the shock administered after the heart has stopped. To get revival in reality, rather than in a big tent with loud music and passionate testimony, you have to pass through death. In the same way there can be no refinement without the application of external heat, pressure or other similar force. There has to be a reaction, and a change.

Perhaps this is illustrated by the way that Mark’s gospel records of Jesus that after his baptism at the hands of John ” …the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” (Mark 1: 12). The Greek word is actually exballo – and any connection to the verb expel is not coincidental! There’s a force at work, a violence.

I can recognise my impurity, my need for forgiveness and being made more like God, but am I really ready for what that process of refinement might actually look like? It might make Lent, even Ramadan, look like a piece of cake…

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