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Category Archives: Old Testament

Musings on Old Testament books and topics.

on a good day be in the good

A recent contemplation on Exodus 15…

In the day of prosperity be joyful,
but in the day of adversity consider:
God also hath set the one over against the other,
to the end that man should find nothing after him. Ecclesiastes 7.14 | KJV

Life is a door with two distinct yet connected sides that swings on the hinge of God’s design – and we never know which side of the door we will be facing on a given day or in a given season. That’s the essential take away from this gem from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. Literally the Hebrew reads, “In the day of good be in [the] good; in the day of hardship, hearken (there’s a wonderful play on words here in the Hebrew – “on a day of ra`ah, re’eh” which is more literally “on a day of evil/trouble, look/see”; I use “hardship, hearken” to imitate the rhyme and rhythm of it); the one is firmly hinged to the other by God – so mere humans never know what they’re going to get.”

I suppose we could call it a classic Forrest Gump text – if only we could pick our days and seasons as easily as we can pick out the chocolate we want in a box with a labeled lid.

But the reality is, we can’t. “Thou knowest not what a day may bring forth,” counsels ancient muse. So all we can do is be prepared for one or the other (and sometimes both – at the same time) and then respond appropriately by knowing how to be in the good on a good day, or pausing and pondering on the not-so-good day. Or, as James puts it in his New Testament rendition: “Is any among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone among you cheerful? Let him sing songs.”

Exodus 15 is a good day, and Moses and Miriam led the people in the art of being in the good as they broke into poetic verse and song – with tambourines, no less! We so need to learn how to really be in the good of good times. Our culture tends to respond to both celebration and heartache in the same way: we dull our senses and get plastered with alcohol – which means, if the occasion is celebration, we quickly find the other side of the door with the hangover hard on its heels the next day. And if we’re not getting plastered with alcohol we’re absorbed with anxiety over how long it will last – or even with critiquing greed that there’s no more. Healthy, creative, moment-maximizing ways of being in the good are what we seek. Song, poetry, dance, painting, or simply enjoying the breath of life outdoors – these are solid paths of being in the good. It’s significant that “tambourine” or “timbrel” in Hebrew is “toph” – essentially an instrument you beat with your hand. On a good day, we beat the timbrel; on a bad day, our chest. Both motions are intended to jar and engage our senses, to wake us up to the moment so we can fully be in it.

So here’s today’s challenge: if it’s a good day, be in the good of it.
Give yourself permission to celebrate.
Sing and dance your guts out as you thank the One who made the day and the good in it, and who made you.

And if it’s a day of hardship, hearken,
and then wait for the door of life to swing on that hinge.

Again.

Add-New-Door-Hinges

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Posted by on November 30, 2015 in Exodus, haverings, Old Testament, Uncategorized

 

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shoulder

And Joshua rose up early in the morning, and they removed from Shittim, and came to the Jordan, he and all the children of Israel, and they lodged there before they passed over.

Joshua 3:1

I try to read at least one verse of the Old Testament in Hebrew each morning. At least one. Sometimes I can’t stop. But at least I’m not racing to complete a chapter. Or two. Or three. It’s the discipline of chewing slowly. Ent-ish eating. I read hoping for something to pop, some word to stand out. This usually requires not looking deep but simply seeing what is right there before my face.

Today’s verse – and I stopped at one, temptation successfully resisted – presented a bit of challenge at first chew.

And Joshua rose up early in the morning.

Okay.

Guilt trip about not getting up earlier? Reminder of that age-old spiritual discipline of rising early to seek the Face?

Just look at the word. The Hebrew verb “rose up early” is the trilateral root SŸKŸM. It’s the root of Shechem. Shechem means “shoulder.” Quick dictionary check.

Yes. Shoulder. Because loads are placed on the shoulder, and that’s where they’re placed on beasts of burden first thing in the morning as one gets the day started. At least in that culture.

some days...

some days…

To arise early (or late, for that matter) is to shoulder the burden of the day. And how we wish at times there were a beast of burden to carry it for us!

Shouldering a burden is not something to rush into – depending on the nature of the burden, I suppose. If we wish to avoid strained backs we need to take the time to size up the load, square our shoulders, squat down carefully and then let our legs do the lifting. And sometimes as we size up the burden we’ll have to shoulder, we realize we’ll need someone else’s shoulder to help. It all depends on the burden.

We don’t know what a day will bring, what burdens we’ll have to shoulder. Perhaps here is the wisdom of rising a bit more intentionally – it’s just giving ourselves some space to square our shoulders for the load.

Because we may like Joshua have to remove from Shittim. Or we might be moving into it. We might be headed into the Jordan rift. Jordan. Literally the “plunge.” Yes, today may be taking a plunge God knows where – and then lodging there for God knows how long.

So I will stand before a cloudy horizon, take in this cool air breath.

And square these shoulders.

Boise morning

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2014 in haverings, Old Testament

 

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exit stage right, left, front, back, i don’t care just let me out of here

One more bit of my writing this week from Genesis. More time with Noah and the Mrs. in that ark of his. Like the previous post, this will appear on my devotions blog in a few weeks and like the previous post I just can’t wait…
exit (1)

“Go out.”

Now there’s something we seldom wait for.

We like coming and going on our time table,
thank you very much.

How many times have we scene it play out in the movies? Someone is told to wait – wait for the signal, wait for the order, stay put until…but no, the forlorn character can’t wait, but steps out, often fatally, putting everyone and everything in jeopardy. We squirm and shout our brains out at the screen, the passion intensified, no doubt, because deep down we know that’s what we do.

Who wants to wait for it for 40 + 150 + 150 + 40 + 7 + (please, enough already! not another digit! you hear me!) + 7 (dang! you had to, didn’t you!). Seriously, who wants to wait for that? Especially during the final two sets of seven while Noah plays with his birds? I mean, think of it.

Think of Noah’s unnamed wife.

she who's name must not be spoken...

she who’s name must not be spoken

Look up “stir crazy” and you’ll see a picture of Noah’s wife with “unnamed” in the caption.

Can you hear her voice?

“Why don’t you just crawl out the port hole? For once in your life be a man! Stop your whirling and twirling and show some initiative. Do something constructive. Do something!

Maybe Noah didn’t need his wife to say this because he was busy thinking it himself. Perhaps she bore all of this delay and suspense sitting stoically in her recliner right beside his. Maybe not. And maybe this explains what (spoiler!) happened with Noah’s son Ham. Ham was just exposed too long in the box and he spoiled (told you).

But the fact is God shut them in. And God told them when it was time to leave.

God shuts us in.

exitGod opens the door and says, “Go out.”

We don’t like that. Well, we like the “Go out” part. We just don’t like waiting for it.

We don’t like that maddeningly frustrating counsel of James – it’s so un-American, so in-human:

“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way” (James 1:3 in the Message; thanks Eugene Peterson for making this annoying counsel even more annoying).

We don’t like our faith-life forced into the open. And one challenge at a time from one direction. Please. And we reserve the right to do all we see fit to get out of things prematurely and then pat our own backs at our remarkable initiative and “faith.” How many of our prayers for healing and recovering for ourselves or others are driven by our own myopic desires to escape the box we’ve been shut up in, as we lower our tresses (or tell others to lower theirs), Rapunzel-like, through the port hole to make good the escape? And we shout “Just believe!” as we urge them or ourselves to rappel down the side of the box.

Oh, what faith (aka insanity) it takes to wait for his “Go out” even though we risk our box becoming our tomb. Because that healing, liberating, life-giving word comes – even though we fear we’ll be a-molderin’ in the grave before we hear it. In his time. At the right time.

It comes.

Wait for it.

And once you’ve heard it. Get. Out.

What are you waiting for?

Avram

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2013 in Faith, Genesis, haverings

 

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i wait

Spent the past four days in Noah’s ark. At least that’s how it felt. Hadn’t gotten much writing done the past four weeks, so I was making up time, pretty much sequestered. With Noah. In his claustrophobic box. Genesis 5-11.

Want to share a sample that will appear on my devotions blog in mid-August. Don’t want to wait…

Waiting.waiting (1)

Let us attempt a definition.

To wait is to suffer through interminable, frustrating, immobilizing inactivity in the midst of a pressing desire to move that is practically bursting out of your chest.

And we hate it.

Every.

Aggravating.

Minute.

Of.

It.

It’s why we have multiple self-checkout lines in our superstores. Who wants to wait for the checker to tediously, slowly drag each item across that scanner as they make small talk with that person ahead of you (you know, the one with the 30 items in the 15 items or less lane and a stack of coupons and at least four items that have to be researched in depth for a price)? Who has the time? The lack of late night self-checkout lanes is one of the key reasons I stopped shopping at a certain local superstore. Fair trade and social justice issues? Would that I were so deep (who has time for that?). I just got tired of waiting all the live long night (it’s amazing how long five minutes can be when it’s after midnight in a superstore). Now they have a half dozen new ones open all the time, right by the door that’s open all night. Brilliant. And virtually wait free.

Bliss.

waitingBut here’s the interesting thing. Noah waited. For forty days and forty nights it deluged. He waited. For 150 days the waters rose. Noah waited. Six months. God remembers – though the only way Noah probably could have known that was by the sound of a new wind blowing outside his claustrophobic box. For another 150 days the water recedes. He waits. The ark makes landfall on Ararat and peeking out the one porthole he spies new peaks. He waits as another forty days pass. Then he sends the raven. He waits. Another seven days. He sends the dove and she returns. Another seven days. He waits…

Here’s the cool thing in all of this Noahic waiting.

The Hebrew word translated “wait” here doesn’t mean listless, frustrating, immobilized and immobilizing inactivity. It actually means to whirl, to twirl, to dance. Yes, it can also mean to writhe in terror. Perhaps it was an earthy mixture of both, just as it is for us as we too wait in our stinking box peering out through our single porthole in the midst of our mess.

Seeing this gave me a completely fresh picture of Noah in that box of his.

No stoic reclining, this. He writhed. He twirled. He danced a dance brimming with the mixed melodies of fright, tired-of-waitingfear, anger, joy and anticipation. He writhed with all of creation as it was smothered in watery darkness; he twirled with delight at the sound of that mother of all blow-drying winds; he did hand springs when at last he felt the boat connect with solid ground below and when the top of those mountains could be seen.

Waiting is a dreadful, writhing dance of anticipation and suspense.

The challenge is to let ourselves feel it, to enter it, to express it, as we, with Viktor Navorski passionately chant,

“I wait!

navorski

 
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Posted by on July 27, 2013 in Genesis, haverings

 

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if religion is a box it really should be more like the TARDIS

I’ve been bombarded with “box” imagery of late.box

A friend sent me a poem about personally becoming “unboxed.”

I just listened to a commencement speech urging the graduates to think outside the box.poke-the-box

I recently stumbled across Seth Godin’s Poke the Box. Again.

And I keep seeing boxes of various sorts when I’m talking with people or just listening.

During that commencement speech, one of the examples of “out of the box” thinking and living was Noah in his willingness to buck the culture and endure the ridicule of his contemporaries. I couldn’t help but savor the irony of Noah thinking outside by box by building one very large seaworthy box. It was evidently a box that took him a century to build, a box he lived in for a year. noahs_arkBut then, significantly, after the box had served its purpose by conveying him to a new world, Noah stepped out, walked away, and evidently never looked back. And we’re still looking for that box. Interesting that he didn’t turn that box into his home or into a hotel, a museum, or a temple. He walked away and now we must simply imagine the box.

In another conversation, the image of the Old Testament tabernacle and temple was evoked – and what was tabernacle and temple but a box within a box within a box like the ultimate set of holy Russian nesting dolls? Holy Place, Holy of Holies, and Holy Box of the Covenant. Interestingly enough, God nor heaven was contained in that Holy Box. God said he dwelt above the box. And when God’s presence showed up there in the form of a disorienting, foggy cloud, everyone had to step out of the box. Hmmmm…

And now, it’s the TARDIS.Time And Relative Dimension in Space

It took a bit of time, but my daughter has succeeded in sucking me into the world (or worlds) of Doctor Who, though I don’t know if I have yet attained to full official Whovian status.

But if religion is a box, it should be like the TARDIS.

Period.

Bigger on the inside. And that’s an understatement.Tardis_inside

Not just a thing, a holy relic or museum display, but alive and sentient and mysterious.

And it takes you places – and the real question: is it where you want to go, or is it really where the TARDIS wants to go? Who really is driving the TARDIS?

When you get to where it takes you, you are supposed to step out of the box.

Though archaic in its outer dimensions and clearly out of this world, it blends in anywhere.

And it provides a universal translator.

Now there’s a box I can get into.

And out of.

 
 

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wrestle

I need to be in community of some kind, and this is the community I know and am familiar with. But I am keeping my true self hidden for fear of being on the “outs” with nowhere else to go. What kind of community is that? I want the heritage, the security, the belonging – yet I’m secretly resentful that I need to keep so much of myself hidden in exchange for it. If I think about it too much, I realize that I’m trading a life lived out loud for approval and acceptance. That is the issue that won’t go away.

This is one of many responses to a recent post – “Why Do I Keep Believing?” The Biggest Obstacles to Staying Christian – on Peter Enns’ blog.

I like Enns’ blog for the simple reason he wrestles and he makes me wrestle.

In my former churched life I would have stayed away from his blog like the plague (okay, so when I left my former church life it was 1997 and I didn’t even know what a blog was, but that’s beside the point). And I certainly would have stayed away from a post like this that invites people to pour out their doubts, objections and obstacles. Or if I did read the post, I certainly wouldn’t have waded into that pool of swirling, toxic doubt. Surely it would consume or at the very least taint me.

where_am_iBut since it was posted, I’ve carefully read through each posted response, noting the common elements and themes, taking in the stories and emotions, and generally comparing notes.

Funny how we post anonymously before humanity’s critiquing eyes what is laid out on the table of our heart before the Divine that knows and loves.

Little is expressed in these responses that in thirty years of following Christ and pursuing vocational ministry I haven’t seen and felt in myself.
It was actually quite refreshing.

Before, I think I would have screamed, “Stop it or I’ll bury you alive in a box!” At myself as much as at anyone else.

Funny thing is that’s how all of these people posting feel or have felt: buried alive in a box.

I’ve felt that too. Still do at times.

Funny how we like our preachers, our mentors, our holy guides to have struggles…as long as they were all back then. Who doesn’t relish a juicy back story, the powerful testimony of past sins, moral flailings, doubts, searchings – all, now, of course, gloriously overcome and behind us. But present doubts? Present fears? Present suffocations? Not so much. For the most part acknowledging present suffocations leads to early terminations.

And so we stuff the angst and doubts and struggles and try not to make too much noise as we scratch at theboxes lid of the box we find ourselves in. This boxed God. This boxed religion. This boxed book. This boxed life.

Do you suppose the very fact that we can’t and don’t openly acknowledge the struggle and allow others to do the same is what makes it all a box in the first place?

Why is it that we ignore the namesake of the entire Old Testament narrative? Israel. The holy narcissistic scoundrel who spent all night literally wrestling with God until he got a blessing (and a new name…and a new limp). Israel. He who wrestles with God and prevails and lives to tell the tale.

Why is it that instead of wrestling we are more interested in telling each other to lie down or line up?

Why is it our Bible studies create blanks we’re supposed to fill when all study, all thought, all pursuit of God and truth and life and spirit must of necessity create more blanks (and more blanks and more blanks and more blanks) that by definition are unfillable except by wonder?

As Enns states at the end of his post, “For those on the Christian path, looking into the dark places, honestly and courageously, is part of the deal (see Psalms or Ecclesiastes).”

Imagine that.

Jacob wrestlingWhat if instead of being religious societies of anonymous posters/posers quietly writhing and wrestling in our boxes we became open, blank-making communities of fearlessly self-confessed wrestlers with God?

Imagine that…

Dare I say it?

I wrestle.

Dare any of us say with Sister Aloysius in the final line of Doubt:

“I have doubts. I have such doubts.”doubts_3

What remarkable faith might we find in choosing the wrestling of faith that embraces its (and others’) doubt?

What deepening wonder me might discover in resisting all supposed or suggested easy religious or irreligious three count pins? (After all, it’s not like the religious have cornered the market on pat answers to fill in life’s blanks or in demanding that we lie down or line up!)

What might we discover if we embraced the tension in the prayer, “I believe, help my unbelief,” rather than whitewashing over it with strident religious or irreligious assertions, suppressing the doubts that arise because we are living, growing human beings?

What might happen if we accepted that we are all Jacobs wrestling with God and life and truth, and that that’s what we are supposed to be doing? And what joy could it unleash if we actually caught a glimpse of a Jacob-wrestling God who isn’t scandalized by our questions and wrestling, but who loves it?

I wonder.

doubts

 
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Posted by on June 1, 2013 in Faith, musings, Old Testament, Prayer, Religion

 

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bugged

I’m bugged.

I would like to call Jennifer Stuart a friend, but I’ve never met her, so perhaps I should just say she’s a  “fellow enjoy life for onceblogger and metaphorist.” Jennifer just bugged me in her recent post about observing bugs in her garden, particularly a spitting bug she ended up flicking out of it.

Got me to thinking of Jonah and his worm and awakening me from a writing stupor (my mind has been so full, so bubbling and boiling with and over so much that anything I would have written would have either been dishonest or would have holy obscenities).

The story of Jonah is one huge succulent metaphor – or perhaps better – a series of succulent metaphors.

There sits Jonah, sulking, skulking on that hill, waiting, hoping, demanding that God wipe out an entire city because of their unredeeming and irredeemable violence and cruelty – a city that God was determined to spare. It’s a story that reminds us that there aren’t two gods, one an Old Testament god of anger and brimstone and another New Testament god of love and benevolence, but rather only one God who is mostly misperceived, misapprehended, misrepresented, or just simply missed, period, by people naturally inclined towards anger and alienating judgment no matter what testament we’re talking about. It’s a story that has “love wins” written all over it.

Except for Jonah. He is determined for hell to make an appearance in this story – having experienced a watery version of hell himself.

jonah_and_the_wormAnd so he sits and  he begins to wilt under the hot Middle Eastern sun, but he’s too stubborn to move.

Jonah tantrum.

Prophetic, pathetic rant.

I’m sure none of us can relate.

And so the Lord prepares a plant, a gourd, that springs up as if aided by the ultimate batch of Miracle Gro, and Jonah basks in the personal comfort of its shade as he continues to wait for searing fire to fall on infidels below.

But God isn’t done with the ranting prophet, any more than he’s done with the city below.

He prepares a worm.

The Hebrew word is תֹּולַעַת (tow-lah-at) which is the feminine form of “worm” in Hebrew. For some reason, that it is a female worm seems especially fitting. Henry Morris has this to say about the worm:

“When the female of the scarlet worm species was ready to give birth to her young, she would attach her body to the trunk of a tree, fixing herself so firmly and permanently that she would never leave again. The eggs deposited beneath her body were thus protected until the larvae were hatched and able to enter their own life cycle. As the mother died, the crimson fluid stained her body and the surrounding wood. From the dead bodies of such female scarlet worms, the commercial scarlet dyes of antiquity were extracted.” (Biblical Basis of Modern Science, 1985)

Morris goes on to point out how the worm serves as a metaphor of Christ (but then we followers of Christ tend to see him everywhere). The worm is fixed to a tree, lays eggs beneath her body, dies, then turns scarlet red. Not a bad picture. If Jonah had seen her, he surely would have tried to flick her off, even as we collectively tried (try) to flick and flip Jesus off by fixing him to his own tree.

But here’s the point (you knew I might get to one).

God prepared a worm.

A worm that we would see as a pest, as bad for the plant whose shade we are enjoying, but who, in removing that shade, would expose us to the heat of a key teaching moment in life – a crucial, intersection of metaphor and morals where we might truly learn something down deep.

In losing his plant because of a worm he wished he had flicked away, Jonah is confronted with his own jonahshallowness as God exposes his completely selfish attachment and subsequent anger over the loss of a plant that he had nothing to do with – while expecting God to callously turn his back on an entire city of human beings that he birthed, among whom he lived and moved and had his being; a city including 120,000 innocents who didn’t even have any crimes to confess – and look at all those cows!

It’s amazing the lesson that can be conveyed by a pest that we without hesitation would flick away.

How many truly annoying people have I encountered that I would simply flick away if I could – but who have provided me (usually contrary to their intentions) some significant life lessons.

If I could have seen the cancer cells forming inside me through the fall of 2011, how readily I would have flicked them. Hard. Who wouldn’t?  But spit away they did, their spittle forming a cancerous tumor that, while literally sucking the life out of me, ended up being a portal for life at deeper levels heretofore (I have always wanted to use that word in a sentence!) unexperienced by me.

No, I would not ask for such a worm to attach itself to the tree of my life. Who would?

And though it messes with the theology of some, including myself, I without hesitation can say, at least in my case, it was a worm that God prepared for me. A worm he had attach itself to me. Now, a major intestinal surgery and twelve chemo sessions later, the “worm” is excised (and I am very happy it’s gone), but it has left behind life.

Oh the life that can come through pesky bugs we’re so quick to flick away…

flick

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2013 in Faith, musings, Old Testament, Suffering

 

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