Lamenting or Yearning?

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“Creative Commons a story called regret” by Kira Westland is licensed under CC BY 2.0

1 Samuel 7:1-11 (full text of this passage is at end of the post)

Three points of this 1 Samuel 7:1-11 touched me, raising questions:

(v. 2) the whole house of Israel yearned for the Lord. (CEB)

Footnotes indicate that the meaning of this phrase is uncertain. The NRSV has “lamenting” where the CEB has “yearning.” Was Israel lamenting, confused, obnoxious, going down a wrong path, …? Or was Israel seeking, questing, desirous of a better relationship…?

And what about me? In my seeking, I have been deconstructing God… trying to make sense of the history of theological reflection in light of contemporary thinking about the nature of the universe and the nature of humankind. One rational conclusion might be that God is a necessary projection of our hopes, extrapolating what the world might look like if we humans were functioning at our most positive capacity.

So I back off of God and put my attention on Yeshua, focusing on the Way he lived and taught. Recently I read Rohr’s integration of the thoughts of James Finley and Thomas Merton — “This ancient tradition is not simply about believing in Jesus, nor is it simply to live as Jesus lived … we are called to realize the mind of Christ.”

To realize the mind of Christ” can only mean that we are called to live into the fulness of the messianic impulse within us all. I must fully attend to the God-process within — or, as Rohr / Finley / Merton clearly identify it, the infinite and eternal love of God.

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(v. 3)  “If you are turning to the Lord with all your heart, then get rid of all the foreign gods and the Astartes you have. Set your heart on the Lord! Worship him only! Then he will deliver you from the Philistines’ power.”  (CEB)

My search for understanding God — to clarify the concept of God — had felt akin to Francis Thompson’s experience in “The Hound of Heaven.”

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

Nigh and nigh draws the chase,
With unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy;
And past those noised Feet
A voice comes yet more fleet –
‘Lo! naught contents thee, who content’st not Me.’

Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
‘Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.’

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(v. 8) “Please don’t stop praying to the Lord our God for us, so God will save us from the Philistines’ power!” (CEB)

Throughout my life, since college, “The Hound of Heaven” reminds me that, however much I flee God by escaping into my mind, the experience of God hounds me (haunts) me until I slow down enough to be caught.

Rohr quotes Finley: “If we could really experience all that we really are sitting here right now, just the way we are, we’d all experience God loving us into our chair, loving us into the present moment, breath by breath, heartbeat by heartbeat.”

The rocking chair is not only my metaphor for God, it is also a reminder that I live ‘in the meantime.’ The rocking chair suggests that both God and my current situation (the ‘meantime’) are fluid, always in motion, ebb and flow.

I need to cut myself some slack and ease up a bit. In my best moments I am aware that my experience is wiser than my thinking. To say this does not dis-credit or de-value my thinking. It does, however, frame my thinking within my experience, not the other way around. My reflections don’t replace my experience. They only serve the purpose of helping me understand my experience of the love / affirmation / acceptance / ‘friendship’ that is both beyond me and within me.

“The Hound of Heaven” identifies the crux of the problem in dealing with experiences of and thinking about God:

For ah! we know what each other says,
These things and I; In sound I speak—
Their sound is but their stir, they speak by silences.

Sometimes God speaks in the silence of an inner voice that insists, invites, nudges, calls. (Sometimes I sound off in response to that inner voice.) At other times, after a manifestation of thoughts, God (while remaining anonymous) speaks a word through another person. (Sometimes, I utter a word from God in response to another’s manifestation of thoughts.) At all times, God speaks through love. (Sometimes, I even murmur a word of love.)

Seeking, I am found.

Speaking, I am immersed in silence.

Running away, I am returned home.

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1 Samuel 7:1-11

So the people of Kiriath-jearim came and took the Lord’s chest. They brought it to Abinadab’s house, which was on the hill. Then they dedicated Eleazar, Abinadab’s son, to care for the Lord’s chest. Now a long time passed—a total of twenty years—after the chest came to stay in Kiriath-jearim, and the whole house of Israel yearned for the Lord. Then Samuel said to the whole house of Israel, “If you are turning to the Lord with all your heart, then get rid of all the foreign gods and the Astartes you have. Set your heart on the Lord! Worship him only! Then he will deliver you from the Philistines’ power.” So the Israelites got rid of the Baals and the Astartes and worshipped the Lord only. Next Samuel said, “Assemble all Israel at Mizpah. I will pray to the Lord for you.” So they assembled at Mizpah, and they drew water and poured it out in the Lord’s presence. They fasted that same day and confessed, “We have sinned against the Lord.” Samuel served as judge of the Israelites at Mizpah. When the Philistines heard that the Israelites had assembled at Mizpah, the Philistine rulers went up to attack Israel. When the Israelites learned of this, they were afraid of the Philistines. The Israelites said to Samuel, “Please don’t stop praying to the Lord our God for us, so God will save us from the Philistines’ power!” So Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it as an entirely burned offering to the Lord. Samuel cried out in prayer to the Lord for Israel, and the Lordanswered him. 10 While Samuel was offering the entirely burned offering, the Philistines advanced to attack Israel. But the Lord thundered against the Philistines with a great blast on that very day, throwing the Philistines into such a panic that they were defeated by Israel. 11 The Israelite soldiers came out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines. They struck them down until they reached a place just below Beth-car. (CEB)

[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.] 

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