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This post is a continuation of the interview I had with Deb Elkink about the spiritual views and lifestyle adopted by Brother Lawrence, whose writings I’ve been studying on the first Tuesdays of each month this year. Deb kindly offered me her educated opinion on the truths overlooked by Monk Lawrence in his mystical, contemplative approach to the Christian life…

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DEB: Let’s get back to our discussion of Brother Lawrence, mysticism, and The Practice of the Presence of God. Remember that correct theology comes from what we read in the Bible, not on what we feel in our hearts (Psalm 19:7-9; Romans 10:17; Jeremiah 17:9). Our authority is Scripture; we trust the Bible’s propositions, not emotions—something Brother Lawrence, as a contemplative seeking a sense of peace, seems to have ignored in favour of looking within his “centre” to find “union with God by love” through direct experiences that bypassed the intellect. In his final letter, just days before his death, he wrote, “Let us seek Him often by faith; He is within us; seek Him not elsewhere.”

JAN: Reminds me of the song lyrics from Desiderata, played back in my high school days, “Therefore, be at peace with god, whatever you conceive him to be…” This language is vague and general, and definitely unbiblical.

DEB: Yes, we hear it used as well by Eastern religions desiring union with God by annihilation of the self. Call me a skeptic, but alarm bells ring when I read that “perfect resignation to God” gives “spiritual light” and a “sure way to heaven,” for God “reposes . . . and rests in the depths and centre of [my] soul.” Instead, we know that Scripture is the source of spiritual light giving assurance of salvation (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 1 John 5:11-13).

According to this book [The Practice of the Presence of God], we are to “enter into ourselves” and empty the heart of all things “so that God can possess it”; God cannot act and do in the heart what He pleases “unless it be left vacant to him.” But we know that it is God who works in us in our sinful state; He alone does the doing (Philippians 2:13). For all Brother Lawrence’s insistence that he’s focusing solely on God, he sounds to me as though he’s self-focused.

The Reformation was based on the return to the authority of Scripture over the traditions of religion. Brother Lawrence also seems to have disliked the traditions of religion—but in his overreaction against the authoritarianism of his ecclesial and legalistic milieu, it seems to me that he threw out the baby of Scripture with the bathwater of religiosity.

JAN: Thanks for explaining the theology behind that for me and for my readers. Are there any other discussions we can go to for further clarification on this issue?

DEB: Yes, I found a wonderful (if a rather long) article for the theologically minded about the effect of mysticism on Christianity, written by the Princeton theologian B. B. Warfield. I suggest your readers focus on the first dozen or so paragraphs, so as not to be overwhelmed by the volume: http://www.reformedliterature.com/warfield-mysticism-and-christianity.php

JAN: What are the basic points of this article we should keep in mind as we evaluate Brother Lawrence’s writings?

DEB: Concentrating on the first part of Warfield’s article, I’d say to keep in mind the following:

  • Religion is humanity’s reaction to the presence of God.
  • True religion that holds authority comes to a human from without and is not a creation from inside a person’s spirit.
  • Mysticism appeals to feelings as the source for divine knowledge, and emotions are pitted against conceptions (that is, articulate thoughts).
  • The form of religious expression resulting from these feelings depends upon personality and worldview so that, for example, mystics with a Christian background might substitute “the Christ within” for “the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.”
  • Orthodox evangelical Christianity interprets all religious experience by the Bible, which alone guides, directs, and corrects.
  • A quote from Warfield: “We lack all criteria, apart from the written Word, to distinguish between those motions of the heart which are created within us by the Spirit of God and those which arise out of the natural functioning of the religious consciousness . . . Mysticism is simply . . . pantheism expressed in the terms of religious aspiration.”

JAN: Thanks so much for your input today, Deb. I value your opinion and your heart for truth. Let us continue to “contend earnestly for the faith once delivered” (Jude 1:3).

JAN AGAIN: I’ve done some more reading, had some in-depth discussions and prayed about this polarity between “Christian mysticism” and “Bible only” mentality. While I believe we must run everything through the filter of God’s Word, and that Jesus Christ and His sacrifice is the only way we can know God, I am sensing more and more of a hostility toward anything that reflects personal differences and preferences, and it frightens me. My friends, let us strive for God’s truth, for unity of spirit, for love and for balance. Sometimes we must even agree to disagree and still be brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us present a unified front, a welcoming picture of what belonging to God’s family looks like. We are, after all, to be a reflection of Christ, the only one some people will ever see.

P.S. I am by nature a peacemaker and not a pot-stirrer, so this discussion has been a challenging and stretching one for me. I pray you will accept it in the manner in which it was intended. Discussion is always welcome, but I request that it remain a discussion of ideas, not a venue for personal offense.

 

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praying_on_bible_red

[Today’s post, as well as the one coming up on the first Tuesday of December, will be more discussion-by-interview than devotional, but check out the linked biblical references for your own edification.]

Since January, I have been studying the little book titled The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, using individual sections for the monthly devotional blog on my website. Responses are always welcome, and have been positive.

However, among these encouraging comments have been two from my dear friend and fellow author, Deb Elkink, that deserve further discussion ( these comments are from July 7, 2015 and October 6, 2015. Please hit Read Full Post to see Comments).

Today I’d like to introduce you to Deb and summarize her reactions, not so much to my posts as to the writings and beliefs of Brother Lawrence, on which my blogs have been based.

Deb is a multi-talented woman, with experience in writing, cooking (large scale), ranching, sewing (designer Vogue dresses and costumes) and homeschooling, to mention a few. She has a pilot’s license, a B.A. in Communications, an M.A. in Theology, as well as two published books: The Third Grace (a literary novel), and Roots and Branches: The Symbol of the Tree in the Imagination of G.K. Chesterton. Deb is committed to “contending earnestly for the faith [doctrine] once delivered” (Jude 1:3), and she has agreed to share her thoughts with us.

JAN: Deb, would you give us a brief summary of who Brother Lawrence was and what he believed?

DEB: He was a 17th-century German religious mystic who believed he’d found the secret to higher spiritual life. Today’s evangelical church is “rediscovering” the writings of Brother Lawrence, which stand in contrast to the Reformation’s five key beliefs known as the solae (Latin for “alones”): Based on Scripture alone, we are saved by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to God’s glory alone.

JAN: What are the particular errors you detect in his belief system?

DEB: First of all, The Practice of the Presence of God is easy to read and to devotionally apply through our filter or bias of biblical evangelical Christianity. One can only applaud this man’s thirst for God (Ps. 63:1), and his literary expression is as almost as enjoyable to read as the metaphysical poets Blake and Donne and Herbert.

However, Brother Lawrence was a monastic who sought a “higher” spirituality and emotional tranquility through the discipline of contemplation; prayer for him was sensing God’s presence. Like other mystics with whom he is associated (Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Madame Guyon), Brother Lawrence eschewed intellectual knowledge of the written Word of God as source and authority of truth, instead focusing on subjective experiences (of self-emptying and detachment) to define sanctification.

JAN: Please allow me to interrupt your train of thought. This (what I’ve italicized above) is an aspect of the book I had not recognized. I did note that although “God” is mentioned often, the name of Christ is very rare. That should be a flag for us as we seek truth.

Please join us December 1 for the rest of this interview.

 

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Title:  The Third Grace

Author:  Deb Elkink

Format:  print and digital

Publisher:  Greenbrier Fiction (Nov. 18 2011)

2012 WINNER OF THE GRACE IRWIN AWARD

ENDORSEMENT for The Third Grace —

She has even changed her name, yet Aglaia, formerly Mary Grace, cannot escape the past she despises or the memories that haunt and beckon her. Instead of finding comfort and solace in the faith of her youth, Aglaia seeks fulfillment in her work as a successful fashion designer, and fascination in the sensual Greek mythology Francois introduced her to before the dark days came.

Professor Lou Chapman compounds Aglaia’s confusion and discomfort by playing on her weaknesses while childhood friend Naomi Enns tries to protect her from herself. Behind it all, Francois beckons from her memories as she explores the streets of Paris.

The characters in this book are unique and well defined. Each of them has issues to deal with, as we discover along the way. Some change and grow, others recede into themselves, still others seem to be pushing toward a precipice, so the tension keeps us reading. Dialogue is smooth and natural, suited to the individual characters.

Author Deb Elkink skillfully weaves mythology and faith through plot and theme, emphasizing the stark contrast between Aglaia’s old-fashioned farm upbringing and her new life in the city.

The settings, from familiar to foreign, are vivid with sound, sight, taste and texture. Although I’ve never been to Paris, I feel as if I’ve had a taste of it. The essence of the culture is clear in the fabric of the story.

The Third Grace uses the symbolism of fabric and pattern, warp and weave, as a seamless backdrop to Aglaia’s journey. Suspense tightens the weave until several unexpected revelations snap the thread of lies Aglaia has so long believed.

The Third Grace is a finely textured story of troubled faith and self-discovery, an incredible debut novel.

See Deb’s website here: www.debelkink.com

Deb Elkink

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My guest today is author Deb Elkink.

Deb Elkink

Deb grew up in Winnipeg, attended university south of the border in the Twin Cities, then married a cowboy and moved from her bright lights to his isolated cattle ranch in Saskatchewan, where she learned to fly an airplane, round up the herd on horseback, and cook for branding crews of a hundred. She published a few early stories, then focused on her role as ranch wife and mom until returning to academic studies rather than succumbing to an empty nest. Today Deb and her husband live in a cozy cottage on the banks of a creek that runs through their acreage in southern Alberta, where she writes at her kitchen table to the music of the wind in the grasses.

Janice: Hi Deb. I’m excited to do this interview with you. After reading your book, The Third Grace, I have a new appreciation for your knowledge of Greek mythology, of various cultures, and of your writing skills. What is your background in writing? What areas of writing you are involved in besides fiction?

DEB: Thanks for the opportunity to chat with you, Janice, and for reading my novel—always a great compliment! I was raised in a very creative home and decided I wanted to be a writer when, at age nine, my poem was printed in the elementary yearbook. My first degree (BA Communications) trained me in freelance writing and, many years later, my second degree (MA Theology, 2001) spring-boarded me back into active writing. I applied my new skills toward academic editing, acted as staff writer for several years with a cross-Canada professional quarterly, and most recently added reviewing for a fiction site that welcomes my theological critique. In my blog I follow cultural and literary images found in the Bible—a sort of word study. These nonfiction forms of research and writing have sharpened my skills and prepped me for fiction.

Janice:  Can you tell us what brought you to fiction?

DEB: My earliest influences include my mom’s imagination as a visual artist, my dad’s yarn-spinning around the fireplace, and my insatiable lust for Nancy Drew. Formal learning has always been a major stimulus for me: I received top marks for story analysis and composition in high school, and this pushed me on to postsecondary studies where one prof, a writer herself and wife of a well-known theologian, mentored and encouraged me. Next, I found that the best part about home-teaching our kids for fifteen years on the ranch was our genre-based approach to all our projects, which enriched my own exposure to the literary classics. My subsequent seminary studies were so rewarding that I sometimes today contemplate returning to scholarly pursuits in order to learn more about—especially—British literature (my graduate thesis focused on how the Victorian writer G.K. Chesterton used the image of the tree in his fiction to symbolize Christian beliefs). All of these influences combine with my high view of Scripture to convince me that reader interest in the truths and principles of the Word can be effectively stimulated through a great fiction story.

Janice: Do you have a specific audience in mind as you write?

DEB: I dedicated my first novel to the younger woman, who—though perhaps raised in faith—has turned away from God: “To all my lost sisters wandering alone out of earshot—His voice still calls.” My current novel again focuses on relationships (and a hidden theology); I hope it will appeal to a wider audience—again, not necessarily Christian. I believe fiction can “slip past the sleeping dragons” (C.S. Lewis) of my readers’ resistance to truth. Everyone is starving for God’s Word, but often readers don’t recognize their hunger pangs unless their emotions are first engaged through their senses.

Janice: How do you write, Deb? Are you a very disciplined writer or do you have to force yourself to stay in the chair? Do you work on more than one project at a time, and do you edit as you go? Do you outline or are you a seat-of-the-pants writer?

DEB: I tend to be a binge writer focused on one story to the exclusion of all else in life—just ask my husband! I wake up in the mornings to sit at my computer all day, not even dressing until I put on sweats for afternoon exercise on my elliptical in front of Dr. Phil. As for process, I first plot my complete novel outline using pen and paper, then continually research and edit as I draft on my laptop—though this means I often don’t get many words written in a day. Immersing myself in each line and paragraph of each scene is a pleasure for me, and at this stage I allow myself as much time as I need until I’m fairly satisfied with the page.

Janice:  Your debut novelThe Third Gracewas released in 2011. Can you give us a brief summary of the storyline and what inspired the original idea?

DEB: An urban costume designer can’t escape the flood of memories from the summer she was seventeen and fell in love with the French exchange student visiting the family farm, who whispered enthralling Greek myths into her ear and set her longing for something more than her family’s simplistic faith. Now thirty-two and still single, she’s leaving for Paris on work assignment when she discovers a Bible he left behind, its margins full of his handwritten, sensual references to their long-ago romance. She searches for him through the text and the streets of Paris—and finds herself in the process.  

I came to the story on my first trip to France in 1989, when I discovered a marble statue grouping in the Louvre of The Three Graces of Greek mythology. These goddesses came to symbolize to me relationships among women as well as the twisted spirituality implicit in mythology. I was at this time still living on our remote ranch, and the contrast between city and country, aesthetics and common sense, sophistication and practical living really hit home. I’d succumbed to the enchantment of the French (cuisine, couture, and culture) and wanted to explore the gap between it and my own heritage rooted in the Mennonite faith.

Janice:  I must mention here that you were the winner of the 2012 Grace Irwin Award. This is Canada’s largest literary prize for writers who are Christian, so it’s quite an accomplishment for a debut novelist. Congratulations!

DEB: Thanks, Janice! It was a real surprise for me, I must say, and gives me deep encouragement today to keep on writing.

Janice:  How did you create / develop the characters? Are they based on real people or totally figments of your imagination?

DEB: I would be nervous about writing scenes with friends or acquaintances in mind! My characters are almost completely fictional, although most of the personality traits belong to someone I know; for example, the wise boss in The Third Grace is an abstract remix of Chesterton and my mother-in-law combined with some philosopher I’ve never met. I try to keep my characters in line as I draft; they often want to break out on their own but, when I allow this, the storyline inevitably suffers, so I’m quite stern with them.

Janice:  Where is the book set and why did you choose those particular settings?

DEB: I grew up in the city and “suffered” the trauma of moving to the countryside, and my character makes this same transition the other way around (from Nebraska farmyard to uptown Denver)—both of us experiencing the juxtaposition between rural and urban settings. I love Paris (I’ve been there half a dozen times, as recently as this past summer) and my character has the same romantic emotions I feel whenever I dream of stepping foot on Gallic soil. I originally set the book in Calgary and the Saskatchewan Sandhills, with the visit to Paris a focal point, but my agent requested I change the North American locales to places in the States. My next novel retains more Canadian content. 

Janice:  What was the most difficult part of this project for you?

DEB: Overwhelmingly it was my slow writing style; I took many years building up a head of steam and finally getting the ideas down in readable format, floundering when an early draft ended up in the drawer for more than a decade. I battled insecurity about getting this book written in between the real-life activities of marriage, childrearing, education, and social and spiritual growth.

Janice:  And your favorite part?

DEB: Interesting to me, it was again my slow writing style; I believe in savoring each moment of my day and my life, which consists of much more living than only my imaginative writing.

Janice:  How would you categorize The Third Grace? What take-away value is presented?

DEB: The Third Grace is a story of return: God calls us back to Himself through the Bible.

Janice:  For those of us who are also trying to promote our writing, what media have you used to promote The Third Grace, and how would you evaluate the effectiveness of those avenues?

DEB: Sadly but honestly, I admit to disappointing book sales despite the shiny “award” sticker on my novel. In the year following publication, I signed up with an online agency that put me on virtual book tour at substantial cost in time and money for very little discernible gain. I’ve had fairly good local newspaper coverage, but I’ve been invited to interview on only a couple of the many TV and radio shows I’ve contacted. I continue to appear now and again as guest on various author blogs, I keep up a Facebook presence (not yet Twitter), and I continue to build an email list of supporters. I enter contests, give away copies of the novel when speaking, distribute the book locally (and of course on Amazon and the like), and shamelessly hand out informational postcards to strangers on the street. At the end of the day, I see my greatest marketing opportunity to be publication of my next book.

Janice:  Tell us a little about yourself: home, family, work, hobbies, interests, talents…

DEB: My husband, Gerrit, and I will celebrate our fortieth wedding anniversary this fall (fingers crossed that he’ll surprise me with some exotic vacation)! After my first two decades as Manitoba city girl and my next two as Saskatchewan ranch woman, I continued my homemaker status in Alberta for this third two-decade portion of life when my husband took on work in the oil-and-gas sector back in the mid-nineties. We have a close relationship with our three grown children (data administrator, family physician, and power engineer), and I try to entice them home to the acreage for a meal every week or two. 

As for hobbies, I love to sew and am currently awaiting an order of silk and cotton from a great online source! I’ve inherited my mother’s soup-making abilities, as well, and am working this into my next novel. I like languages and have studied a few—though my tongue ties when facing a native French, Spanish, or Japanese speaker. I get out on the ski hill every couple of years (yeah, I’m not really athletic). I’m crazy about travel and have so far visited about thirty countries on five of the seven continents of the world.

Janice:  What are you working on now in your writing career?

DEB: I’m currently in drafting mode, consumed by my second novel with its message that everyone is looking for inner peace, a place of rest for the soul. A salesclerk, pushing fifty and being hounded by a homeless baglady, is on the verge of her first house purchase while her zany new-age friend is begging her to instead spend her money accompanying her to “sacred sites” around the world. Rather, she tours a historical mansion museum to discover her own heritage and the true meaning of home.

Janice:  Do you have a thought or encouragement for other writers?

DEB: I suspect some of your readers become frustrated like I do when production is slow, impatient to be used by God. Rather than viewing my writing as some special “calling” that I must fulfill, I see it more as a privilege granted me when I called out to God from the desires of my heart in asking to serve in this way. I believe that, first and foremost, He wants my joyful response to Him in everything I do, writing related or not, to His glory (Col. 3:17). This understanding releases me to live each day peaceful under His sovereignty. I relax, as well, after making a reasonable effort as far as marketing, knowing that He cares more than I ever can about how His message is presented to the readership. So my encouragement for other writers is to rest in God rather than frantically writing or promoting, and trust that He will shed His glory in His way through our words, work, and—most of all—daily attitude.

Janice:  Thanks so much for your time and for giving us a glimpse of you and your work. I wish you all the best in your future writing.

DEB: Thanks again for having me!

Please check into Deb’s social media sites below:

Website: www.debelkink.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/deb.elkink

Email: deb@rolledscroll.com

Favorite daily Bible study: www.versebyversecommentary.com

Blog: http://www.rolledscroll.com/?blog

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