When we walk alone

Chapter 11

Good Monday Monday Morning to this week 12 of 2020

As we stick to the rules trying to “flatten the curve” of this pandemic we spend more time at home and are somewhat forced to change our habits. Through meeting fewer people for some,it’s really to “walk alone”. Shopping last Friday I saw many elderly going slower in the shop, they made best of the time to have a chat with a neighbor or a salesperson.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

It’s been a while since I took out the “Bible Blender”. Let’s do that again!
I put these following verses in the mixer and have a great blend of encouragement and verses talking about the fact that we do not walk alone, come out.

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. For we walk by faith, not by sight.

Abide in me and I in you. 

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

For we walk by faith, not by sight. 

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you.

Your rod and Your staff they comfort me. 

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in. For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

You lead me beside still waters. 

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

We will fear no evil. 

Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Transformed by the renewal of mind.

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.

For nothing will be impossible with God. And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.
For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

For the Lord did not forsake his people. 

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

Do not lean on your own understanding

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. And I shall walk in a wide place, for I have sought your precepts. Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord!

Wishing you a blessed and healthy week.

Philemon

 

 

 

They that be wise!

Chapter 10

Good Monday Morning to this week 11 of 2020

We start here with Daniel: 
And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever. Daniel 12.3

Daniel still in exile: 
The fundamental theme of the Book of Daniel is God’s control over history. Chapters 10, 11 and 12 in the Book of Daniel make up Daniel’s final vision, describing a series of conflicts between the unnamed “King of the North” and “King of the South” leading to the “time of the end”, when Israel will be vindicated and the dead raised to shame or glory.

Trouble and triumph:
Daniel received the words in the form of a vision. Daniel was about 85 years old at the time and had recently spent a night in the lions’ den for refusing to stop praying to the one true God. Even though many of his fellows Jews had returned to Israel to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple, Daniel was still in Babylon. Daniel knew from the vision
there’s trouble, but also triumph ahead.

The Meta-narrative; a story about a story: 
There is so much going on in this last chapter. Trouble and triumph are in the midst of these are prophetic visions. A rather simple emotional tool installed in our soul, before we can let the big things gain momentum in our lives they are feed by a little four letter word called HOPE. Is hope fed by prophetic vision, the meta-narrative of that which is to come? Some of Daniel does sound like this … a story about a story, encompassing and explaining other “little stories”  that assemble the “little stories” into a whole! Do these litte stories of hope lead to other little stories of hope forming the bigger stories, leading to a form of perpetual hope?

Hope the refusal to accept reality: 
Hope, on one hand, is an absurdity too embarrassing to speak about, for it flies in the face of all those claims we have been told are facts. Hope is the refusal to accept the reading of reality which is the majority opinion; and one does that only at great political and existential risk. On the other hand, hope is subversive, for it limits the grandiose pretension of the present, daring to announce that the present to which we have all made commitments is now called into question.
Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination

Again, they that be wise: 
And they that be wise – Those who are instructed in the works of Christ and live out of that grace, sharing that mystery of grace, are wise and shall shine – shall be distinguished by the purity of their creed.

The climax of the narrative of Daniel: 
The climax comes with the prophecy of the resurrection followed by  the coming “kingdom of heaven”. Daniel 10-12 does not say that history will end with the coming of the Jewish kingdom; rather, the “wise” will be brought back to life to lead Israel in the new kingdom of God.

And now to grace: 
And they that turn many to righteousness – They who, living out of the grace become bright luminaries of the Kingdom of Jesus. 

And now to the wise: 
So to be wise is to live out of grace!

Again to Grace:
For grace is given not because we have done good works, but in order that we may be able to do them.  Saint Augustine Of Hippo

That is the mystery of grace: it never comes too late.
Franois Mauriac

Be wise, live out grace, so the many little stories of the narrative of your life 
lead you to the Kingdom of Heaven! 

May the Grace of our Lord be with you!

Have a great start to this new week!
Philemon

 

Standing firm

Chapter 9

Good Monday Morning to this week 10 of 2020

Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all schemes of the devil. Ephesians 6.11

In a time that everyone is speaking of prevention and precaution in the context of the Coronavirus, let’s look at the relevance of spiritual prevention and precaution.

Paul wrote this letter while imprisoned in Rome,  to the churches in Ephesus and the surrounding region. He addressed three main themes:

1. Christ, reconciling all creation to himself and to God.
2. Christ uniting people from all nations to himself,  to one another and to His church.
3. Christians living as new people with a new culture.

The text is structured so that we hear:

1. First, a rationale for the task, to stand against the schemes of the devil.
2. Secondly, the needed armor as, truth, righteousness, peace and faith.
3. Thirdly,  spiritual orientation with prayer and faith in the Spirit.

This metaphor of the armory was written for a minority group of people, remembering that the armory is designed to help stand fast not just for aggressive action. Standing fast being armed does not require another person to get hurt in any way. Withstanding another description also has significance in this text, empowering believers to withstand the evils that surround and threaten them. The nature of the armor itself is profoundly defensive. The only equipment for an attack is the sword,  specifically a weapon, a spiritual sword. Followers of Jesus are girded in truth, faith, peace, with the sword of the Spirit through which in prayer and faith they stand firm for their defense.

Melinda Quivik writes in her commentary:

The churches and people of the renewed culture are called to maintain strength, wearing the “armor of God,” in order to pray that “the mystery of the gospel” will be proclaimed. The proclamation is not about something knowable in the way we know a fact or encounter, the proclamation is about something irrevocable, unbelievable, and imperative. (crucifixion, resurrection and true life)  The “whole armor of God” is needed for the war against the principalities and powers, also the forces of own sin, our own separation from God, our own desires for that what does not feed and nourish God’s creation. The enemy threatens from within and outside ourselves. To be set and stand firm in all daily challenges, knowing that much opposes God’s desire that “the mystery of the gospel” brings joy and transformation to this Earth,  is a key and central message here.

In the armory, we may immediately apply it to an individual context, yet it’s far more than that, we see it being used in reference more than for an individual, more for a family, a community a church and a for a whole people. We can wear these gifts together as we stand shoulder to shoulder as an impenetrable wall of strength.

A quick look at the tools with some of their many meanings:

The belt holds, fixes what is necessary in such a way that it enables us to work freely and flexibly,  to walk or run loosed from constrains trying to hold us down.

The breastplate covers the core, righteousness protects the heart and the vital organs so that the flow of life can always reach every part of the body.

Shoes stand for readiness to stand and speak peace.

The shield is a defense against flaming arrows aimed at people armed with faith, facing assaults from those who do not know about the gospel of peace.

The “helmet of salvation” reminds us of our transformation, our new rights with the new identity of grace, strength and confidence.

The sword of the Spirit, the word of God proclaims the mystery of the gospel, it both cuts and salves (soothes). It is law and gospel, trouble and grace, an offensive weapon, one for healing and peace, because, in Christian terms, the Spirit kills and brings to life.

Chained to a Roman soldier, Paul uses this allegory or imagery as his mind goes forth naturally to the subject of amour and warfare, yet it’s all about spiritual strength and courage greatly needed for his and our daily walk of faith. The aim is keeping on the whole armor with the principle of true grace, aiming at standing firm as we run our race, not against human enemies, but principalities and their forces, not letting them assault the things newly belonging to us, demonstrating and showing the heavenly image in our hearts.

With these impressive tools we can feel the armored impact and protection with the power of God’s word enabling us to move emboldened into the week ahead, called to standing firm in prayer and faith.

Be strong- because He goes before us.

Be strong- because He is with us.

Be strong- where you put your feet, I’ll give it to you.
A promise made to Joshua by Jehovah Shammah (The Lord Is There)

Blessings
Philemon 

 

 

 

 

 

On our own, we conclude ….

Chapter 8

Good Monday Morning to this week 9 of 2020

Thinking and speaking about compassion and mercy I came across this passage from Walter Brueggemann speaking on generosity. I’ll leave you with this, as this week emerges out of the shadows:

Walter Brueggemann, 11.03.1933  an American Protestant Old Testament scholar and theologian.  He is known in modern progressive Christianity and argues that the Church must provide a counter-narrative to the dominant culture or forces of our time.

On Generosity

On our own, we conclude:
there is not enough to go around

we are going to run short
of money
of love
of grades
of publications
of members
of years
of life

we should seize the day
seize our goods
seize our neighbor’s goods
because there is not enough to go around

and in the midst of our perceived deficit
you come
you come giving bread in the wilderness
you come giving children at the 11th hour
you come giving homes to exiles
you come giving futures to the shut down
you come giving easter joy to the dead
you come – fleshed in Jesus.

and we watch while
the blind receive their sight
the lame walk
the lepers are cleansed
the deaf hear
the dead are raised
the poor dance and sing

we watch
and we take food we did not grow and
life we did not invent and
future that is gift and gift and gift and
families and neighbours who sustain us
when we did not deserve it.

It dawns on us – late rather than soon-
that you “give food in due season
you open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”

By your giving, break our cycles of imagined scarcity
override our presumed deficits
quiet our anxieties of lack
transform our perceptual field to see
the abundance………mercy upon mercy
blessing upon blessing.

Sink your generosity deep into our lives
that your muchness may expose our false lack
that endlessly receiving we may endlessly give
so that the world may be made “Easter” new,
without greedy lack, but only wonder,
without coercive need but only love,
without destructive greed but only praise
without aggression and invasiveness….
all things “Easter” new…..
all around us, toward us and
by us, all things Easter new.

Finish your creation, in wonder, love and praise. Amen.”
Walter Brueggemann

Wishing you a week of abundance.

Philemon

 

The excited commotion and scramble

Chapter 7

Good Monday Morning to this week 8 of 2020

Zacchaeus, scrambled out of the tree, hardly believing his luck, delighted to take Jesus home. Luke 19.6 MSG

Scramble and commotion are related words, both very often used within the context of Israel and the teachings and parables of Jesus.

Scramble; to move somewhere quickly and in a way that is not graceful, to move something upwards, make one’s way quickly or awkwardly up a steep gradient or over rough ground by using one’s hands as well as one’s feet.

Commotion; a sudden, short period of noise, confusion, or excited movement

Other terms of seen: To be in haste, see the commotion, a growing disarray, the cluttered, there was a bustle or scuffle, commotion and hurry, scramble and stir.

Zacchaeus scrambled up and down from the sycamore tree.

The Sycomorus,  the fig-mulberry, having fig-like fruit and leaves like the mulberry. A strong tree with great branches, and are easily climbed. That a man of this chief publican’s dignity would have resorted to such a manoeuvrer suggests his foresight, energy, determination, and ingenuity.

Curiosity carried Zacchaeus to scramble up the tree , in haste he scrambled down the tree, being called by name was great reason to do so quickly, past the commotion, the love and invitation of Jesus brought him down and to his house. There he received his guest Jesus joyfully! This joy is significant and showing a previous yearning for this encounter.  The internal revolution of Zacchaeus was as perfect as instantaneous,  receiving the free and full forgiveness of his sins, a justifying righteousness, an abundance of grace.

I’m getting a few words and ideas here for us, for myself, this morning:
Curiosity, scrambling, excited commotion, invitation, being called by name, receiving in joy, forgiveness, abundance.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Beatitudes

This beatitude gets the heart of the matter, echoes and rings in my ears as I sit here contemplating this wonderful short story out of the life of Jesus.

As we scramble to the busy schedules of this week, let’s remember the joyful commotion of being met my Jesus in our homes and being called by His name!

Wishing you a wonderful start to this week.

Philemon

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reframing

Chapter 6

Good Monday Morning to this week 7 of 2020

Philippians 4:12 “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

Reframing is a technique used in therapy to help create a different way of looking at a situation, person, or relationship by changing its meaning. Also referred to as cognitive reframing, it’s a strategy therapists often used to help clients look at situations from a slightly different perspective.

Reframing is seeing the current situation from a different perspective, which can be tremendously helpful in problem-solving, decision making and learning.

Reframing is helping you or another person to more constructively move on from a situation in which you or the other person feels stuck or confused.

The aim of reframing is to shift one’s perspective to be more empowered to act – and hopefully to learn at the same time.

Many times, merely reframing one’s perspective on a situation can also help people change how they feel about the situation, as well.

Many Christians today experience a frustrating and confusing disconnect between the story of Scripture and the story of their lives.

If  Jesus is the redeemer of all things, how does faith in him reframe every aspect of our lives? How does Christianity connect to the whole of who we are? Is Jesus relevant in an increasingly complex world? These are the types of questions many of us wrestle with today.

Think about the past week. Recall some of the different places, activities, and situations you were involved in. Where did you see your faith making a difference? Where did you feel his presence? Where did you not feel connected to him? If he feels uninvolved, it could be that the multifaceted dimensions of your life and the demands placed upon you are stealing your connection with Him?  And if that happens, is faith relegated to just another thing in we have to juggle.

How do we reframe?

Who am I, why am I here, what do I do? Where do I go, what’s important in life, what’s real and what’s an illusion; what’s true and what’s false,” and on and on. Jesus with the disciples on the road to Emmaus a good example of two followers that had lost sight of the true or the whole story. They were confused; blinded to seeing Jesus—in fact, they didn’t ever expect to see Jesus again. Did they forgot the part where Jesus said He would rise again on the third day or were they just deeply dissapointed? And so they desperately needed Jesus to once again open their minds to the true and whole story of what he accomplished. Luke 24.32 Passion Version:  Stunned, they looked at each other and said, “Why didn’t we recognize it was him? Didn’t our hearts burn with the flames of holy passion while we walked beside him? He unveiled for us such profound revelation from the Scriptures!”

The setting for many to find faith is in and through worship, which includes Scripture, proclamation, and sacrament as the breaking of the bread as the story then continues: Stay and have supper with us …  That is also where the faith of all is sustained. It is the place where Jesus continues to reveal himself. The Christian faith is born and nurtured where people share in worship through word, gesture, water, bread, wine, and mutual care, the smile, the clasp of another’s hand, perhaps even an embrace. It’s the Emmaus story for today,  one of movement, containing nine verbs describing movement. The two men “are going”, Jesus “came near and went with them”, they “came near”, Jesus “walked ahead of them”, “he went in to stay with them”, “he vanished from their sight”, and “they got up and returned”. Some of the verbs tell of movements made by Jesus; others tell of the two men. Either way, both Jesus and his followers are on the move. But it is not movement for its own sake. The moves being made have a purpose, one of fellowship (communion) with Jesus and others.

Where is your Emmaus Road this morning? What types of complexity and fragmentation characterize your life? Where is your personal reframing taking place?

Wishing you a blessed week!

Philemon

Unsheltered?

Chapter 5

Good Monday Morning to this week 6 of 2020

Six days later, three of them did see it. Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain. His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. His clothes shimmered, glistening white, whiter then any bleach could make them. Elijah, along with Moses came into view in deep conversation with Jesus. Peter interrupted, “Rabbi, this is a great moment!. Le’ts build three shelters …
Mark 9: 2-5 MSG

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. Ps 91

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble .. Ps 45

In you oh Lord I have taken refuge .. Ps 31

There will be a shelter to give shade from the heat by day,
and refuge and protection from the storm and the rain. Is. 4.6

Let me dwell in Your tent forever;
Let me take refuge in the shelter of Your wings. Ps 61

shelter, a hut, a tent, a dwelling…  a basic architectural structure or building that provides protection from the local environment. Having a place of shelter, of safety and of retreat, i.e. a home, is commonly considered a fundamental physiological human need, the foundation from which to develop life. Equally significant is also the metaphorical shelter, beliefs, convictions, values and traditions.

Dallas Willard also refers to an “interior castle” of the human soul, a shelter with many rooms, and they are slowly occupied by God, allowing us time and room to grow.

Jesus born at a stable, temporary yet sufficient shelter for his birth, therefore He knows much of earthly shelters in his life, even more about the spiritual: In deep conversation with Elija and Moses he’s called out by Peter; “Rabbi, this is a great moment!. Le’ts build three shelters …

Just then a light-radiant cloud enveloped them and from deep within the cloud, a voice: “This is my Son, marked by my love, Listen to him!”

Did Jesus really have an unsheltered life? The cloud enveloped him, deep in conversation with Elija and Moses, he is engulfed, surrounded, covered, overshadowed by the presence of God, as the deeply affirming words are spoken: My Son, marked by my love!

The Almighty God, He Himself is the shelter, and in His shelter, He keeps us safe from danger and harm engulfing us with His presence.

The psalmist in Psalm 31 begins with the words,  in you, O Lord, I have sought refuge, this,  his portrayal of the role of Yahweh. The idea of taking refuge may well derive from the common experience of finding protection in the hills.  The verb denotes the confident seeking of security, rather than a flight of desperation. This communicates dependence on Yahweh as opposed to the trust in their own ability. The object of deep desire and refuge is emblematic of the person who places complete trust in God with taking cover in his shelter.

Safeguarded by the shelter of the Yahwe I wish you a blessed week!

Philemon

 

The enduring conundrum of faith

Chapter 4

Good Monday Morning to this week 5 of 2020

Watching the film “The two Popes” directed by Fernando Meirelles the quote with the conundrum of having two popes caught my attention.

Frustrated with the direction of the church, Cardinal Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) requests permission to retire in 2012 from Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins). Instead, facing scandal and self-doubt, the introspective Pope Benedict summons his harshest critic and future successor to Rome to reveal a secret that would shake the foundations of the Catholic Church. Behind Vatican walls, a struggle commences between both tradition and progress, guilt and forgiveness, as these two very different men confront their pasts in order to find common ground and forge a future for a billion followers around the world.

Wondering why Benedict resigned, a cataclysmic event that caused an ecclesiastical conundrum: What do you do with two popes at the same time?

One of many wonderful scenes was on of a state of curious ignorance. Here were two men who have exhausted each other, as they sit in silence as brothers and just say nothing. Silence, allows for tolerance, for understanding.

In the film, Benedict the philosopher is balanced by Francis the pastor. The entire narrative is characterized by the juxtaposition of the two men in their diversity as much as it is a story of unity that unfolds in the images and sounds of 2,000 years of history. It presents a dynamic cycle of perspectives as one man grows to understand the other’s experience, spirituality and theology. They have to stretch their northern and southern hemispheric and ecclesial world-views as they spar in front of the altar in a stunningly beautiful 500-year-old chapel. Dialogue and hope for humanity and the church are showcased for a 21st century audience in unexpected ways. Benedict has the upper hand as the pope but Bergoglio’s confidence in responding to the older man is rooted in humility.

Some quotes:

Pope Francis: We have spent these last years disciplining anyone who disagrees with our line on divorce, on birth control, on being gay. While our planet was being destroyed, while inequality grew like a cancer. We worried whether it was all right to speak the Mass in Latin, whether girls should be allowed to be altar servers. We built walls around us, and all the time, all the time, the real danger was inside. Inside with us.

Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio: It’s not easy to entrust oneself to God’s mercy. I know He has a very special capacity for forgetting our mistakes. God forgets, but I don’t.

Pope Benedict: Perhaps we’ll find God over there, on the journey, I’ll introduce you to Him.

Let us be quiet together. Pope Benedict

Here some quotes out of real life of both Popes:

Pope Benedict XVI

To me, its seems necessary to rediscover and the energy to do so exists – that even the political and economic spheres need moral responsibility, a responsibility that is born in man’s heart and, in the end, has to do with the presence or absence of God.

True friends challenge us and help us to be faithful on our journey.

The Christian faith can never be separated from the soil of sacred events, from the choice made by God, who wanted to speak to us, to become man, to die and rise again, in a particular place and at a particular time.

The Gospel purifies and renews: it bears fruit wherever the community of believers hears and welcomes the grace of God in truth and lives in charity. This is my faith; this is my joy.

Pope Francis

I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity.
Money has to serve, not to rule.

I dream of a church that is a mother and shepherdess.

Grace is not part of consciousness; it is the amount of light in our souls, not knowledge nor reason.
Although the life of a person is in a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.

We must restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future, spread love. Be poor among the poor. We need to include the excluded and preach peace.

Indifference is dangerous, whether innocent or not.

The Lord never tires of forgiving. It is we who tire of asking for forgiveness.

If our hearts are closed, if our hearts are made of stone, the stones find their way into our hands and we are ready to throw them.
Our faith in Christ, who became poor, and was always close to the poor and the outcast, is the basis of our concern for the integral development of society’s most neglected members.
The Church does not exist to condemn people but to bring about an encounter with the visceral love of God’s mercy.
Let us not be afraid to cross the threshold of faith in Jesus, to let him enter our life more and more, to step out of our selfishness, our closure, our indifference to others so that Jesus may illuminate our life with a light that never goes out. It is not a firework, a flash of light. No, it is a peaceful light that lasts for ever and gives us peace.Wishing you a blessed week with these quotes of faith.  Many may seem clear, but when put in application, aspects of faith seem as conundrums:
“And without faith it is impossible to please him God”. James says: “You ought to be happy when you suffer through tough times because it is strengthening and maturing faith”.  Then he takes it a step further by admonishing us that there cannot be any doubt involved.  Now, if you already know all this,  then here is the conundrum:  Why do we ask God to remove each and every difficulty that He wants to use to perfect our faith? Amazingly, things like suffering and apprehension are the things that actually perfect it.  So, why are we always praying for God to take away the very things that are actually going to insure that we are pleasing to Him?

Are we born with faith?  Isn’t it  a gift from God somewhere along life’s journey, not ready-to-serve kind of gift, far more –  it is a gift of potential.

Philemon

When God is silent

Chapter 3

Good Monday Morning to this week 4 of 2020

“Our God comes, he does not keep silence” (Psalm 50,3). That is a core sentence of the Bible. God can only be God for us because God is not silent? Is a speechless God not a God in the sense of the Bible? Many frustrated Christians confirm this in their own way; Since they no longer hear God, God does not exist anymore for them.

Mother Teresa spent 40 years in spiritual darkness. Abraham, the father of our faith, spent 13 years without any communication from God, yet his faith only grew stronger.
St. Ignatius of Loyola experienced so much of this spiritual emptiness that he wrote the famous “Spiritual Exercises,” with guidelines on what to do in these two states. Jurell Sison writes on the Ignatian prayer:

When in silent prayer, I get an overwhelming feeling that I am not in charge. While that sounds cliché, it seems to me that this simple mindset is the remedy to my stress, heartache, and anxiety. Day to day I get tricked into believing that my daily tasks, obstacles, and struggles are bigger than they are. Some days I even feel cheated that people don’t recognize them or validate them, but my prayer puts things into the proper perspective. I get a profound sense that God is in charge and that life is mysterious. And no matter what struggles come my way, God has a way to redeem them. I like to think that I trust God, but silence helps me to live that trust.

Marc Batko translated an essay by a German theologian, Wolf Krötke, a prominent Protestant theologian from Eastern Germany, whose work is known far too little in the English-speaking world. Krötke demonstrates how, taking seriously a world that has grown forgetful of God, recommends not retreat into vague religiosity or spirituality, but rather attention to the concrete possibilities for human freedom and faithfulness that the Christian gospel itself sets forth.

God’s silence is not entirely harmless. Whoever does not hear God is not simply free of God!  Even atheists become irritated when they are called “godless.” No one likes to hear this. That “godless” has this sound for real blasphemers is strange. Our language presumably transports something owed to a biblical experience.

The God who by nature is not silent is silent! When this happens, people are spit out, left without any goodness, hopelessly alone and miserable. “O God, do not keep silence; do not hold thy peace or be still,” implores another biblical praying person (Psalm 83,2). When God is silent, the power supply of his spirit and life is missing from our life. Other voices and other powers then fill the empty spaces of God’s silence.

All people do not regard this as terrible. The godless type is repeatedly encountered in the psalms as a careless person who likes God’s silence. “Nothing is lacking to me,” exclaims the confessionless person of today who shuts the door on visitors from the community. Since he never hears God speak, he does not notice when God is silent. Isn’t he better off than those tormented by God’s silence since they have good experiences of God speaking?

We must take this question seriously in a time when God means nothing for so many people. Whoever would open ears and hearts for God’s speaking,  tells them the reason for deaf ears and closed hearts is that God is silent? All who believe have had this experience. In faith in Jesus, it is engraved with the cry of the dying Jesus. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” – this is the desperate complaint of the person through whom God’s love spoke like no other!  With the words of Psalm 22, he joined with all the complaints of people about God’s silence. He anticipated something that could not be ignored. Too many after him, that was  also their ultimate question in their life.

God is silent – that is the experience of believers open for God in the discipleship of Jesus. We may not misunderstand this as insensitiveness for God to which people become accustomed to, voluntarily chosen, distance from God. In such a distance from God, people can be as sealed with concrete walls from God. The Christian community with its testimony of God’s speaking can and should shake these walls.

God’s silence hurts. It sets in like a mysterious wall before us and in us when God’s speaking is necessary. Hope and vigor are taken, gratitude that they are alive is driven out of persons plagued by sickness. Here there isn’t an atheist or Christian, religious or not religious. Everyone knows the experience “when we are in extreme distress” and God is silent. How do we still speak of God in such situations?

When God is silent, it seems as if God is uncommunicative or closed for us. This can only result in also our growing silence. Whoever is struck with suffering or tries to help other sufferers experiences this directly. The word “God” becomes like heavy in our mouths and hearts.

Yet, there are other times when we can only be silent with God. Communities that rediscover the old practice of Easter night have this experience.

On this night, something else comes into play than the mysterious abyss of God’s silence. In the experience of the Easter night, we notice something like God’s own deep affliction from the pain of Jesus Christ and from the suffering of his creatures. Far away from Golgotha, it is nearly impossible to understand God’s silence as enduring pains that make us speechless.

Good Friday teaches us that God is with us even in his silence. As he touches us with his silence, he bears with us the heavy experiences we make when he is silent. In all their gravity, such experiences stop being the ultimate experiences that imprison us in a distance from God and silence.  No, on the contrary,  they open the communication to hearing the words of God’s love in his silence.

Wishing you a blessed week.

Philemon

 

Capacity for greater Compassion

Chapter 2

Good Monday Morning to this week 3 of 2020

Exodus 3.3. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. This is amazing, Moses said to himself.
Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it!

One of the ancient Jewish texts that helps us conceive God in relation to compassion. God reveals his compassion in the calling of Moses. He chooses a man in Moses with a capacity for greater compassion.

One Midrash, an ancient commentary on part of the Hebrew scriptures, attached to the biblical text (found in Shemot Rabbah) offers an answer that I find particularly helpful:

The blessed Holy One only tested Moses by the flock. Our rabbis have said that when Moses our rabbi, peace be upon him, was shepherding the flock of Jethro in the wilderness, a kid (goat) escaped. He ran after it until he reached a shady place. When he reached the shady place, he happened upon a pool of water where the kid was standing, drinking. When Moses reached, he said: “I had not known that you had run away because of thirst. You must be tired.” He placed it on his shoulder and walked back. The blessed Holy One said: “You have shown compassion in guiding a flock belonging to a mortal; so, by your life, you should shepherd My flock, Israel.”

Geoffrey D. Claussen writes in his text “I will be with them”

In this Midrash, God characterizes Moses as acting with exemplary compassion. Moses, to his credit, does not rebuke the kid for escaping from the flock. Instead, he admits that he had not understood what it needed and shows the empathy required to understand what it must be feeling; he responds with an action that offers relief to the kid. God appears to Moses and charges him with his mission precisely because of this display of compassion to the kid.

One interpretation that in this moment Moses reveals not only his compassion for the particular kid but also his compassion for all beings. Moses’ concern for the kid revealed his capacity to understand what all creatures need: “Our rabbi Moses, who followed the kid so that he could figure out why it ran away after he found that it was tired and thirsty had compassion for it and placed it on his shoulder and so it was revealed that he was understanding and discerning of the needs of every creature. God found him fit to be the shepherd of Israel, Moses’ compassion thus came to resemble the divine ideal of compassion for all creatures, as suggested by a verse from Psalm 145: “The eyes of all look to You, and You give them their nourishment promptly” (Psalm 145:15).

I imagine the story of Moses and his calling in this way. The suffering kid is a revelation that demands Moses’ response, and as Moses acts with newfound compassion, he grows even more in compassion. As he realizes his capacity for greater compassion, he realizes how much further he could grow as he recognizes the broader ideal of compassion.  He understands that he is called toward that ideal—that this ideal obligates him, commands him, and demands his further action. This ideal of compassion burns within him and burns before his eyes, like a burning bush from which one cannot turn aside. The obligation to care for each and every creature rings in his ears and calls to him, as with a voice that cannot be silenced. Moses turns toward the ideal of compassion and the obligation that addresses him as if by his own name. He answers: “Here I am”.

The idea that the burning bush is a manifestation of divine compassion.
God says to Moses, ‘If you do not sense that I am suffering just as Israel is suffering, then you should know that I am speaking to you from within the thorns as if I am a partner in their suffering.” The burning bush is a thorn bush that shows how God compassionately joins the people of Israel while they suffer in Egypt.

Those included within the circle of divine compassion include the entire people, and Moses cannot separate himself from the people’s suffering or from God’s suffering alongside them.

Rather, he is called upon to emulate God’s compassion and to also experience the people’s suffering himself—and precisely so as to be able to respond that “he will be with them” in their suffering, just as God is with them in their suffering.

The revelation of the burning bush calls Moses to feel the suffering of Israel, to be a partner in their suffering, and to take responsibility to alleviate their suffering, to free “My people”, the Israelites, from Egypt as God instructs him.

Moses famously resists God’s call: “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt?” But something has drawn him to the bush, and if we follow the Midrashic traditions discussed here, it is not merely the miraculous sight.

We might imagine that Moses sees not only thorns and fire that represent suffering, but that he, in fact, sees the images of what that suffering looks like, and that he hears not only the voice of God but also the cries of those for whom God is present. It might well be tempting to turn away from such scenes and even from the thorns and fire that represent suffering, but the text emphasizes that Moses feels that he “must turn aside” toward the bush (Exodus 3:3)

Compassion involves being a partner in the suffering of others, even feeling the painful thorns that others feel, and committing to being with those who suffer. We can imagine Moses, as he takes on this awareness of and responsiveness to even the most difficult suffering.

We can imagine Moses realizing just how much the ideal of compassion obligates him and committing to greater and greater responsibility.

The biblical narrative implies that Mount Horeb and Mount Sinai are the same location.
From the burning bush, God promises that “when you have freed the people from Egypt, you as Nation shall worship God at this mountain. And this promise is later fulfilled: after leading the people of Israel out of Egypt, Moses will bring the people back to this mountain. Moses will thus bring the people back to the spot where he had found his escaped kid and understood its suffering, where he had realized the need for compassion for all creatures, where he had encountered the ideal of compassion for the people.

When Moses returns to the mountain after the exodus from Egypt, it will no longer be only a single bush that will be in flames; rather, the whole mountain will now be aflame. The mountain was ablaze with fire and the divine voice comes “from out of the fire”.

As we understand the fire of the bush to be a sign of the ideal of compassion in response to suffering, we may understand the fire that envelops the mountain as an even more powerful symbol of compassion, a renewed manifestation of the ideal that Moses first encountered in the bush.

Like that first fire, this fire also clearly demands, obligates, and commands; the divine voice that comes from it is the source of legislation, the “fiery law” ”placed upon all Israelites. God, the ideal of compassion, commands the people of Israel to strive toward that ideal, to obey the laws that will teach them and help them to grow deeper in compassion.

The divine voice addresses each one of them and cannot be silenced; the divine ideal burns before the eyes of the entire people, threatening their complacency, setting forth a covenant of compassion that demands responsiveness to the suffering of others.

As I conceive of God, traces of the divine presence may be glimpsed through acts of compassion for those who suffer.

All of us, I think, can apprehend the obligations that God imposes upon us when we, like Moses, act with compassion. And all of us can easily turn away from these obligations, especially when they threaten our complacency, our self-centered desires.

It is difficult to be with others who are suffering and even harder to feel their pain, and it is all the more difficult to be compassionate when the number of those who suffer is so staggering.

We will inevitably fall short of the ideal of compassion, and yet have great hope that the ideal is one toward which we can take steps, as best we are able.

May God conceive in us an ideal of “being with them,” inspiration for our own growth toward ever-deepening compassion

Philemon