This morning, shortly after he got up, President Bush considered how to get away from "pettiness and paltriness of mind". What did his spiritual guide advise? "Ask God to keep the eyes of your spirit open to the Risen Christ, and it will be impossible for drudgery to damp you." Thus fortified, Bush resumed hostilities against Iraq.
That the president is a devout, born-'again leader of a crusading administration is well known. An article in Newsweek goes into much more detail about his religious practices, evoking the scene "ahead of the dawn", when "even before he brings his wife, Laura, a morning cup of coffee, he goes off to a quiet place to read alone". Bush's chosen text, Newsweek discloses, is My Utmost for his Highest, a book of devotional readings by Oswald Chambers, an evangelical bible teacher who died in 1917. It provides a biblical text, along with Chambers' commentary, for every day of the year.
Assuming Newsweek is correct, we can all of us, each day, accompany Bush on his spiritual journey. Tomorrow, for example, he is due to contemplate a passage headed Undaunted Radiance, in which Chambers reminds the sinner that "the experiences of life, terrible or monotonous, are impotent to touch the love of God..."
The calendar format allows us to look back at key moments in this conflict and identify the spiritual text which might have informed the president's day. On January 20, when he announced that he was "sick and tired of games and deception", Bush would have begun with a pre-dawn reflection on Isaiah's response to God's call, "Here am I; send me". On February 20, the day Bush agreed, with Blair, on a "final ultimatum" he would have considered Cha[mbers]' exhortation to action, "always beware of giving over to mere dreaming once God has spoken". And if, as was reported then, concerted military attack is still fixed for March 14, then that morning Bush will have his mind on higher things: "There is no release in human power at all, but only in the Redemption".
Transcribed by Chambers' wife, Gertrude, after his death from appendicitis, My Utmost for His Highest is less concerned with tips on appropriate conduct, than with the forging of an intimate relationship with God: "If the crisis has come to you on any line, surrender your will to Him absolutely and irrevocably."
Purely by coincidence, I happen to have read the online version of My Utmost for His Highest most days last year. It can be fairly tough sledding sometimes if you've not had a personal experience of Christ, which I've not, but I found it very worthwhile and it would be especially appropriate for a president to get a daily dose of the theme that unifies the entries: humility. Consider today's for example:
To become one with Jesus Christ, a person must be willing not only to give up sin, but also to surrender his whole way of looking at things. Being born again by the Spirit of God means that we must first be willing to let go before we can grasp something else. The first thing we must surrender is all of our pretense or deceit. What our Lord wants us to present to Him is not our goodness, honesty, or our efforts to do better, but real solid sin. Actually, that is all He can take from us. And what He gives us in exchange for our sin is real solid righteousness. But we must surrender all pretense that we are anything, and give up all our claims of even being worthy of God's consideration.
Once we have done that, the Spirit of God will show us what we need to surrender next. Along each step of this process, we will have to give up our claims to our rights to ourselves. Are we willing to surrender our grasp on all that we possess, our desires, and everything else in our lives? Are we ready to be identified with the death of Jesus Christ?
We will suffer a sharp painful disillusionment before we fully surrender. When people really see themselves as the Lord sees them, it is not the terribly offensive sins of the flesh that shock them, but the awful nature of the pride of their own hearts opposing Jesus Christ. When they see themselves in the light of the Lord, the shame, horror, and desperate conviction hit home for them.
If you are faced with the question of whether or not to surrender, make a determination to go on through the crisis, surrendering all that you have and all that you are to Him. And God will then equip you to do all that He requires of you.
Look at what Mr. Chambers requires of us here: that we acknowledge our sinfulness; surrender pretense; surrender our inflated sense of self-worth; surrender our attachment to material things; surrender pridefulness; and identify with the sacrifice for others that is exemplified in the Crucifixion, a measure against which we can't help but find ourselves unworthy. Thereupon, he suggests, we may find ourselves made suitable instruments for a Higher purpose than our own.
In a sense this reminds us of the tradition of having a retainer whisper in the ear of Philip of Macedon: "Philip, thou art mortal." What better message for the most powerful man on Earth to hear each day than that he, as all of us, has much to humble about?
The Greek philosopher Protagorus famously referred to Man as the measure of all things. Those who agree will find little here to like. But those who would measure themselves against a higher ideal, without fear of being found wanting, will find it an invaluable daily reminder of just short of the mark we fall and of just how much is required of us.