On Hearing… His and Ours

Making my way through the “histories” of the OT again.  This morning – 1st Samuel.  Samuel’s name means something like “heard of God”, sounding suspiciously similar to the Hebrew word for “hear”, Shama.  His name is appropriate for so many reasons.  He was conceived when YHWH “heard” the voice of his barren mother, Hannah.  He first encounters YHWH while living in the temple as a servant to the priest Eli.  He “hears” YHWH speak, but thinks it’s Eli, and so (in rapid response) rushes to Eli’s side.  After several such episodes that night, Eli realizes that YHWH is talking to the lad, and so he says to the boy named “heard of God”, “The next time you hear the voice, say, ‘Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” (same word – Shama).  Samuel does, and a great restoration for Israel is underway.

Shama… quite a powerful word.  Pondering the text, it struck me that shama appears in two other pivotal episodes.  First, shama inaugurates the Exodus:

23 During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. 24 God heard (SHAMA) their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them. (Ex 2:23-25)

Israel cries out in pain, and Yahweh hears.  And a great deliverance begins.

Second, as Israel prepares to enter the Promised Land after 40 years of wandering:

4 Hear (SH’MA), O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deut 6:4-9)

“Hear”… “shema”… “listen”.  This prayer, the great “Sh’ma”, of course, would have been taken upon the lips of ancient Jews daily in morning prayer, and in many places still is.  That is to say, the “first word” of Israel’s life is … “listen.”

I am struck by this.  It would seem that SHAMA is the very essence of God’s relationship with his people.  He attunes his ear to them, hearing their cry, and responding with his swift love.  They, in their best moments, attune their ears to Him, hearing his voice, and responding with their swift obedience and devotion.  He listens.  We listen.  Sometimes in power.  Often in silence.  Always in love.  The listening holds the world together.

To hear Yahweh’s voice is the great call of the Scriptures.  Tragically, it is often the great failure of the people of God.  “You have ears but do not hear..” the prophet said.  So we pray, therefore, for ears that hear.  And we train ourselves to be attentive, often in listening silence, to the “qol Adonai”, the voice of the Lord that shatters, blesses, makes, and re-makes the world… and even our very lives.

It is said that during an interview the great Mother Teresa once was asked whether she prayed.  “Of course”, she responded.  “Well, what do you say?”  “Oh nothing,” she replied.  Confused, the interviewer asked, “Well then what do you do?”  Teresa answered simply, “I listen.”  “Well when you listen what do you hear?” said the interviewer, now even more confused and intrigued.  “Not much,” replied Teresa.  “He is simply listening too.”

What a marvelous image.  The Divine and human ear, attuned to one another in quiet attentiveness.  The world would be remade if human beings understood this.

With that in mind, I leave you for the day with a prayer by Walter Brueggemann:

The idols have ears but do not hear; so unlike you, for all your hearing; so like us, ears that do not hear.

You have endlessly summoned us: shema, listen, listen up, pay attention, heed, obey, turn…

We mostly do not… in our narcissism, in our recalcitrance, in our departure from you.

So we pray for ears, open, unwaxed, attentive, circumcised.

Call us by name… so that we know.

Call us to you… so that we live.

Call us into the world… so that we care,

Call us to risk… so that we trust beyond ourselves.

You speak / we listen / and comes life, abundant, beyond all that we ask or think.

Our ears to hear your word of life.

Amen.

May YHWH bless your ears to hear.

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St John of the Cross on the Trinity

“In the beginning was the Word,” the Gospel of John opens.  “The Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.”

John opens his Gospel by peering behind the curtain of reality and seeing that the foundation of the Universe is in fact the generous, self-giving, “communal” life of God.  The Father who ever-begets the Son; the Son who continually delights before the face of the Father.  And of course as his Gospel progresses, we learn that there’s more… there is the also the Spirit, the gracious gift of the Father, leading the people of God into Truth (Jesus Himself), and opening up new possibilities for community.

I get lost (in a good way) thinking about this stuff.  The language lights my soul on fire.  Language, of course, is God’s great gift to us as human beings.  We use it both to shape AND to experience reality.  Which is why the Church has always fought like made to preserve truthful speech about God and his world, for without it we simply lose our way.

Lately I’ve been getting lost in the language of St. John of the Cross.  St. John, if you don’t know, was a 16th century Spanish mystic who wrote some of the most remarkable poetry ever penned on the mystery of God.  His language ascends to heights rarely touched by human beings.  In fact, so excellent is his poetry that it is said that many of the Spanish regard him as their greatest poet. Much of this poetry is captured in this book: “The Poems of St. John of the Cross“, beautifully translated by John Frederick Nims.  I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT TO YOU.  You’ll find yourself wanting to weep, pray, laugh, smile, and ultimately worship as you read it.

Without further ado, I leave you with one short poem of St. John’s, in which he also peers into the mystery of the Trinity.  Enjoy!

In the beginning the Word

lived in the being of God.

Happy ? yes infinitely !

Therein its happiness had.


Seeing it was God, the Word

(as the beginning we call).

In the beginning it lived ;

Had no beginning at all.


For the beginning it was ;

hence what it was, had not.

‘Son’ is the word for the Word

of the beginning begot.


The father, time out of mind

begetting, begets him today :

all he possesses, confers ;

giving, gives nothing away.


And where does he glory, this Son ?

In the light of the Father alone.

And the Father delights–? In the Son!

So each has come into his own,


as in the lover the loved–

one in the other is so.

This love interfusing the two

may in equality go


both with the one as the one–

level in pitch and degree.

Three are the persons, their love

wonderful one-among-three.


Only one love among three !

One love fathering three !

There where the loved is the lover,

life-giving life to the three !


Ponder the range of their power–

each has it all, and alone.

Each is in love with his loving

peers of the luminous zone.


Each is almighty and all,

each and alone is the tie

of the inscrutable union

staggering ‘wherefore’ and ‘why.’


Infinite love is the link

tying the trio above :

love, sole and yet triple

(such is the mystery thereof) ;

love, the more single and only

generates all the more love !

May you find yourself caught up in the glorious dance of Love that is the Trinity today.

Random thoughts on Monday morning

Monday mornings are such a funny time for me… after church on Sunday night, I feel like a bomb has exploded in my head, and I spend the next 24 hours picking up the pieces… “Okay, this goes here, and this goes there; and what the heck is this?”  Perhaps some of my preacher-friends know what I’m talking about.

In any event, here are some of the things that are rattling around in my skull this Monday morning:

Church last night was ridiculous(ly good).  “Good” is a funny quality to apply to a gathering, and can potentially be lethal, unless you understand what your criteria are.  For me, the criteria are, “Did it feel like family?  Was it honest?  Was it human?  Was our attention directed to the beautiful divine Presence within, among, above, and beyond us, or was it directed somewhere else?”  Last night, by those standards, was “good”, and then some.  We’ve been setting our gathering space up “in the round” of late, and last night the “center” of the room was exactly what it needed to be… the Eucharist.  We sang, confessed, expressed our joy and pain, prayed for each other, embraced holy silence, took the Sacred Meal together, and then talked honestly about the Scriptures.  I left with a full heart.  I love my church.  With ALL my heart.

This quote by the Catholic philosopher/theologian Hans urs von Balthasar in his book “Love Alone is Credible” is just flooring me:

After a mother has smiled at her child for many days and weeks, she finally receives her child’s smile in response.  She has awakened love in the heart of her child, and as the child awakens to love, it also awakens to knowledge: the initially empty-sense impression gather meaningfully around the core of the Thou… God interprets himself to man as love in the same way: he radiates love, which kindles the light of love in the heart of man, and it is precisely this light that allows man to perceive this, the absolute Love… In [his] face, the primal foundation of being smiles at us as a mother and as a father… But just as no child can be awakened to love without being loved, so too no human heart can come to an understanding of God without the free gift of his grace – in the image of his Son.” (p. 76)

Balthasar’s claim is that it is impossible to see and recognize the love of God without that love first being planted in us.  From there, human love is merely a response.  God’s love shines into the human soul in the face of Jesus, reflecting and refracting in a myriad of ways.  And it is the Divine Intention to flood the world with that love, which heals and makes whole.  I am thinking this morning that, therefore, the Westminster shorter catechism’s claim that “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever” is perhaps the most eminently practical advice ever put forth by the church.  Let us love him and enjoy him, who is the source of all life and love and beauty.  Perhaps then we’ll stand a shot at lively sanely in an insane world.

This prayer by the Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann from his prayer book “Prayers for a Privileged People” summarizes so much of what I long for out of this year.  The prayer is called “On Leaving Bondage… Yet Again.”  I’ll leave you with a segment:

We pray for good departures, in the way our ancestors left Egypt, that we may leave the grind of productivity and the hunger of craven ambition, that we may leave for a place of wondrous promise, visited en route by bread from heaven and water from rocks.

We pray for big departures, like those of our ancient parents, that we may leave where we have been and how we have been and who we have been, to follow your better lead for us, you who gives new place, new mode, and new self.

We pray each of us, to travel in mercy, that we may be on our way rejoicing… and arriving in wonder, love, and praise.

I want to depart from every “Egypt” this year and leave, overshadowed by mercy, towards better “places”… places filled with Yahweh’s love and goodness and shalom… places where I’ll experience my truest “humanness” and the truest humanness of my family and community… promised places of rest and hope and peace… remember, however, that “Exodus”, wherever and however it happens, is always primarily not the work of a disgruntled people, but the work of a gracious God who blows his people with his Spirit towards newness, causing them to leave behind Pharaoh’s brick-laying machinery.  God grant new exoduses…

I’m thinking that this year I want to read more broadly than I ever have before.  I want to read theologians from a wide variety of traditions and experiences and historical periods… I think this will save me from limited thinking and liberate me for creative engagement and recognition of what the Spirit is doing in my life, and in our midst.  Catholic, Orthodox, Reformation, Pentecostal, Mystical, Liberation, etc… I want to drink deeply of the wide variety of streams of God’s Spirit.

I’m thinking that this year I want to be more generous than I ever have been before.  I think I want the world to live and be blessed because resources came into our possession.  I think I want to avoid being calculating about all of this (“can we afford it?!!?”) and instead simply give without hesitation and reservation, to the point where it hurts, believing Jesus’ words when he said, “Do not be afraid little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom… so sell your possessions and give to the poor, provide purses for yourself that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  I think God will be pleased with this, and our lives will be more interesting, full, and free.

Lastly, I’m simply glowing after the Packers’ victory yesterday to advance to the playoffs, and am fairly confident that Green Bay could be this year’s dark horse team that takes everyone by surprise.  I love football.

Yes.  These are good things 🙂

Happy Monday to you.