A Holy Land Journal: “Twice to the Wall on Shabat”

“Twice to the Wall on Shabat”

Prayer
Wailing Wall
Mortared with Intercessions
“Next Year in Jerusalem”
Shalom

I came to the Holy Land to find myself instead, I found a Wall …
the Wall that has seen 3000 years of civilization …
King Solomon
& lowly slaves pulling giant limestone blocks into place,

Orthodox Jews & Byzantine Christians,
Ottoman Moslems & Armenians
Hasidim & Presbyterians.

Over the years the Wall has been …
shown off as a great feat, scorned,
knocked down & built back up
again & again & again.

The Wall has been prayed on, prayed over, and prayed through.
Even more, the Wall has prayed.

It has absorbed the prayers…
blood, sweat, & tears…
joys…
silences…
and so much more
from generation to generation.

When God’s people were kept from the Wall,

the Wall heard their silence and their absence …
and kept them present

I came to the Wall as a Pilgrim
curious, moved, anxious,

but mostly in that confused state we call
AWE.

I tried to pray;

I said some prayers …
but my tongue turned to ashes
and the words would not come.
I sat in silence and gave my heart to God …
but my heart turned to stone.
I wanted something to happen
but no thing happened.

And still,

in my silence,
in my aloneness,

in the chill of the evening air,
the coldness of the Stone touched me
and the Wall prayed me.

I looked up …

in the cracks and clefts of the wall all around me
were the prayers of thousands of pray-ers…
small pieces of paper, rolled tightly, placed lovingly,
intercessions…

but, above me all over the face of the Wall…
another kind of life
growing in the cracks and clefts… green
the color of God’s creation bursting forth all around me
and over me a canopy of protection…
a bush growing out of the wall.

The Wall breathes life!

The Wall breathes life into me!
The Wall breathes me!

And in that sense that is true throughout all creation
The Wall is me.
Having embraced me and adopted me as its own,
The Wall breathes life.

And, as the Wall breathes I, too, breathe life.
L’ Chaim, Old Friend, L’ Chaim!

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A Holy Land Journal: “Walking” (Thoreau)

Pilgrimage means setting aside the hustle and bustle of everyday living and develop the disposition of a  saunterer. Thoreau describes it best:

“Walking”

I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking … who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering: which word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going à la Sainte Terre,” to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer,” a Saunterer, a Holy Lander. … [Those] who do go there [i.e., metaphorically to the Holy Land] are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean..

—Henry David Thoreau

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Pilgrimage

Co-author, Wayne Purnitun, are celebrating the completion of the preliminary draft of our book (Stirring Waters:Wrestling with Faith in a Wrestless Worldand are departing for our next adventure—a pilgrimage to Nova Scotia.

I have done a lot of traveling since I retired at the end of 1997—mostly by car, with a plane trip or two sprinkled in. I’ve been to Nebraska, Missouri, Colorado, California, North and South Dakota, Florida, Minnesota, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, and North Carolina. In every case I was going to some specific destination in order that I might see some particular people or do some specific things. Travel is about destination and what’s there. Pilgrimage is different—no destination but, instead, a journey.

So, if pilgrimage is about not focusing on a destination, why Nova Scotia?

As Wayne and I, as intended fellow pilgrims, began our discussions and planning we Googled “pilgrimage travel.” We discovered a lot of tour agencies that were willing to plan a trip to traditional destinations such as Mecca, Lourdes, El camino de Santiago, or many, many more. This is not what interested us. Before we could narrow down exactly what we were looking for, Nova Scotia seemed to offer itself as a possibility. As we investigated those possibilities, we began to sense a nudge, that became an insistence, that became a call.

Nova Scotia calling—a Canadian maritime province with a strong Scottish & Gaelic history and culture. Moreover, prior to the arrival of any European explorers or settlers, a thriving culture of the Mi’kmaq, a First Nations people. Add to that the history of French settlement and Nova Scotia is a living history of the interaction of various cultures.

Many of the Scots who settled in Nova Scotia were victims of the Highland Clearances. Divested of their land and their livelihood, they sought a new start in a new land—a New Scotland (Nova Scotia). The British removed the French (Acadian Expulsion) from much of the land they had occupied.  Part of that story is told in Longfellow’s Evangeline.

As a beginning, our pilgrimage is about engaging these people and hearing their stories—attempting to understand, to some degree, why they are where they are and how they inhabit their world. Of course, if this is all we do, it will be more a research project rather than  pilgrimage.

As we listen to their stories, we can’t help but explore our own stories. How do I inhabit my world? How do I engage those who are Other (different from me)? How do I interact with the unfamiliar and the uncomfortable?

Nova Scotia also mean going away from urban living—away from the conveniences, away from the distraction, away from the threats. Instead, this pilgrimage will be about engaging people—the hosts at our bed & breakfast accomodations, the local people at various Ceilidhs (Gaelic music celebrations), the Mi’kMaq people, and, of course, the docents at a couple of national historical sites.

Pilgrimage means more than just taking in the world around me. Pilgrimage means reflecting, recalling—rehearsing who I am, who is around me, and what I am encountering at the present. And it means doing that in community—in the community I bring with me (my fellow pilgrim) and in the communities I encounter along the way.

Pilgrimage is not about driving lickety-split or running at top speed to get from one place to the next. Instead, pilgrimage is about sauntering. Thoreau speaks of sauntering as listening to an internal Peter the Hermit urging us to engage the Holy Land. Such sauntering is walking like a camel, which ruminates as it walks. Pilgrimage is about journeying while musing about the Holy Land upon which you are traversing and the people who inhabit that land. Nova Scotia beckons as a place for Holy Land sauntering.

I am not taking my laptop to Nova Scotia, only my journal. We have agreed that part of each day will be spent, by each of us, writing in our journals—reflecting on our experiences and their implications for our respective spiritual journeys.

For the month of July (which includes our Nova Scotia pilgrimage) I will be sharing observations from a previous pilgrimage—a 1993 trip to the Holy Land. I wasn’t aware, at the time, that it was a pilgrimage; but it was. I didn’t have a laptop at that time. I didn’t take a camera. I did take my journal and I wrote about my experiences—inner and outer. Those I will share with you about every third day. By the end of July, I hope to have transcribed my journals and prepared those observations for sharing on this blog. Stay tuned!

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Time to Celebrate (Provisionally)!

It all began as a conversation while sharing a long automobile trip. At first it was a series of eleven questions that my friend, Wayne Purintun, and I framed for possible blog topics. Not many miles passed before we knew that we had, in a preliminary way, identified approximately eleven topics which could be chapters in a book. There and then we agreed to co-write the book we had just outlined.

The first draft of our book has been completed—eleven chapters, a preface, an afterword, and an appendix—175 pages, about 80,000 words. The title is Stirring Waters: Wrestling with Faith in a Restless world. There is still work to be done prior to submitting a manuscript to Westbow Press, who will be publishing the book.

It has been a learning experience—one that affirms a collaborative style of approaching a project. In addition to writing as co-authors, we have had about 15 people who read and critiqued the various chapters as they were being written. Their input made our writing better than it would have been.

While we have submitted all fourteen documents to our copy editor, we are still tweaking the drafts to conform with the Chicago Manual of Style and the guidelines of Westbow Press. Hopefully the book will be available before the end of the year—but no promises.

In the meantime, Wayne and I are shifting our immediate focus as we are readying ourselves for a pilgrimage to Nova Scotia. You may ask “Why a pilgrimage?” and “Why Nova Scotia?” I will address that in a post on Monday July 3rd, the day we begin our pilgrimage.

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When Storms Rage!

All three synoptic gospels give an account of Jesus being asleep in the boat while a storm overtakes the group outing on the Sea of Galilee. (Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25; Matthew 8:23-27) Mark reports one key detail left out my Matthew and Luke – namely, that Yeshua (Jesus) was asleep in on a pillow in the rear of the boat (Mark 4:38). None of the gospel accounts remind us that a number of the disciples were experienced sailors who were quite familiar with navigating in Galilean storms. All three accounts suggest that the story was recorded to highlight Yeshua’s miraculous abilities to control nature and calm the wind and the waves – that is, to act as the master of creation.

Some commentators have suggested that the storm which was calmed was the storm raging inside the disciples, not the wind and waves of nature. If that is a more valid interpretation (and I think it is), then I think the story line might be something like the following:

It had been a hard day for Yeshua, every minute filled with teaching and preaching. Large numbers of the spiritually hungry continued to press in on him, as if they wanted to wring the last bit of wisdom and spiritual energy from him. After sending the crowds home for the evening, Yeshua had to give additional lessons to his disciples. They seemed to pay attention when Yeshua was teaching, taking mental notes, as if preparing to spit back the correct answers on a mid-term exam, without ever sensing the radical transformation into which they were each being invited. “When will they ever learn?” Yeshua whispered under his breath, heaving a deep sigh.  Yeshua was exhausted – physically, emotionally, spiritually.

Hoping to get some rest, Yeshua suggested that they hop into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake where, in the morning, the teaching and preaching mission would continue. Once out away from shore, Peter (who had been at the helm) saw Yeshua nodding off. He brought the boat to a rest and traded places with Yeshua. (The helmsman’s seat was the only padded surface in the boat.) “Come back here, Yeshua. It’s more comfortable and you need your rest. Sleep for a while. The guys and I can occupy ourselves discussing what you taught us tonight. When you are a little more rested, then we will continue across to the other side.”

The gentle rippling of the waves provided a rhythmic cadence as Yeshua fell fast asleep.

But the gentleness of the waves lapping against the side of the boat was replaced by strong waves as the wind grew in it force and fury. As the wind and waves increased in intensity, so did the concern of the boats inhabitants. Matthew, was a pure landlubber. It was not concern that filled Matthew; instead it was utter, unadulterated panic. The storm was raging. The boat was adrift. Yeshua was asleep at the helm. Matthew scrambled to the back of the boat and, with a high-pitched scream, shook Yeshua awake. “Teacher, wake up! We’re sinking! We’re going to drown! Do something!”

Yeshua, wiping sleep from his eyes, got up. He calmly sat Matthew down, gently holding his hand in front of Matthew, palm toward his face as if to say “Easy, now.” Then he turned toward Peter, Andrew, James, and John. “Do we have any experienced sailors on board?” “That’s us,” they replied in one voice.

Turning to the others, Yeshua asked, “In a situation like this, who would you prefer to have at the helm – a construction worker turned preacher or an experienced sailor?” There was some mumbling, but no one spoke up and said the obvious.

“Is there reason to be concerned about the storm?” Yeshua continued with the four sailors. “Some concern,” they admitted. “And do you know what needs to be done?” Yeshua pressed. “Well, of course we do!” Peter said proudly.

“Then, seeing that the storm has upset our brother (who, by the way, does not have your experience on the water), why have you not already done what needs to be done?” Quietly, and a little ashamed after being chastened by Yeshua’s words, they took charge. Once they trimmed the sail and adjusted the rudder, the boat stopped thrashing around. Even Matthew realized that the boat was no longer an unwitting victim of the wind and waves, but was sailing toward shore.

This parable about Yeshua is intriguing and inviting. It approaches the basic question of how we deal with anxiety – namely, it seems so easy for us to turn to someone else to resolve our anxiety. Yeshua seems to be suggesting that, when life seems spinning out of control, pay attention. Look at what’s going on and what resources you have at your disposal. Then spin yourself into the situation. Ask yourself, “What is my responsibility here?” That is where you will find life, and find it abundantly. Don’t step back and wait for someone else to solve it for you. Don’t expect a hero to come to your rescue. You have what you need to cope with life. You have what you need to move beyond just coping – to live your life to the full! Panic won’t accomplish anything.

 

 

 

 

 

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Stumbling Over God

Why do the three historic Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – continue to treat each other like pariahs? Jews and Muslims fight over possession of the promised land. Christians want to convert Jews and Muslims. While each tradition has ethical precepts that enjoin its followers to be open to and care for strangers – the Others – Zionist Jews, fundamentalist Christians, and Jihadist Muslim terrorists seem more concerned with protecting the tribe against the Others. Humility is called for in each of the faith traditions, but arrogance seems to hold sway instead.

This morning I have been reading both Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ book on religion and violence and Father Richard Rohr’s daily email meditation. Both appeal to the part of me that wants to find a third way between the tribalism of our separate faith traditions and the universalism of no tradition at all. Both Sacks and Rohr strike me as committed tribalists (a Jew and a Christian) who are yearning for a more universal embodiment of their tribal faith traditions. And, yet, the subtle arrogance of each of their tribal musings seems to come through.

In response to reading them, I realized that I have been a universalist (masquerading for many, many years as a tribalist Presbyterian Christian) who is searching and yearning for a more integral and whole tribe. One way or another, we all seem to stumble over God.

I wonder if a part of the movement toward a third way between the universal yearning and the particular (tribal) embodiment of the Abrahamic faiths may be caught up in the title of a book that I am awaiting – namely, Putting God Second by Rabbi Doniel Hartman. When we put Jews, Christians, and Muslims put God first, we seem to get caught up in our tribal boundaries – my God is greater than your god; my Faith is better than your faith; my Faith Community has more integrity than your faith community.

Sacks reminds us that the Abrahamic cycle of stories is preceded by Noah story – the covenant with humankind is prior to the covenant with Abraham; humanity is prior to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Perhaps the only way ahead is to think first about humankind – not my tribe or your tribe, but all of us together. I don’t want to write God out of the picture; but I am aware that whenever I put God first, I tend to elevate my godliness (or lack thereof) above that of others whose God is inferior to mine. Once again tribalism rears its ugly head.

I am heartened when I see stories of a Jewish synagogue welcoming a Christian fundamentalist who came to repent for his shooting the synagogue… or when Muslims show up to help clean up a vandalized Jewish cemetery… or Christians surrounding a mosque to protect the worshippers during daily prayers. Those stories represent the best of the Abrahamic faiths, envisioning the Other as sister and brother in the broader Abrahamic family.

I wonder, however, when members of the three faith traditions are going to come together in righteous indignation to confront the xenophobic spirit of contemporary American society that sees the Other (read that as non-white, non-Christian, non-male, poor) as being a threat.

Since the current cultural narrative, enhanced by the election of President Donald Trump, is catered to by a right-wing Christian evangelicalism, I would hope that one or more national Christian leaders might demonstrate a genuine openness (an invitation) to leaders from Jewish and Islamic community to come together in dialogue, to mine the resources of all three traditions, and to witness to a common humanity that is diverse and inclusive, built on respect and tender justice, that stands with and for the poor and marginalized.

Perhaps such a dialogue might inspire leaders of synagogues, churches, and mosques to engage in similar interactions on the local level as a means of retraining the members and participants in their respective faith communities in the common humanity of our separate spiritualities. A pipe dream? Perhaps, but if we do not dream the dreams the current realities will remain stuck where they are.

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Radical Trust

Brueggemann suggests that the biblical witness clearly depicts David, not as trust-worthy but nonetheless trusted by God. This radical trust in humans is the foundation of the wisdom tradition. I first encountered radical trust in Herman Waetjen’s translation of Romans 1:17 – “trusting into trust.” But what does such radical trust mean?

Radical trust means that:
The poor are to be trusted, just as the rich are
Blacks are to be trusted, just as whites are
LGBTQs are to be trusted, just as straights are
Muslims and Jews are to be trusted, just as Christians are
Immigrants are to be trusted, just as residents are
Children and youth are to be trusted, just as adults are
Politicians are to be trusted, just as neighbors are

That last one was hard to write, until I realized that radical trust does come with filters – namely, responsibility and transcendence. When any individual or group acts irresponsibly – that is, uses their status, condition, or opportunity to aggrandize their own power – they are not to be trusted. When any individual or group is so focused on things that they lose a transcendent perspective – that is, they act in such a manner that denies “the mystery of life’s underlying order and direction for the sake of those entrusted to us” – they are not to be trusted. Radical trust is radical because of its filters.

The current state of affairs in American society is that radical fear has replaced trust. Radical fear is transposed into radical ideologies which have no filters other than “us” versus “them.” Decisions are brokered on the basis of those ideologies, resulting in increasing chronic anxiety which feeds the radical fear and produces more extreme and rigid ideological schemes. Our politicians are the tip of the iceberg; we are the iceberg!

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Responsibility and Transcendence

Brueggemann suggests (In Man We Trust) that the wisdom tradition in Israel was developed partly by those theologians who worked to make sense of the new phenomenon – a king. What was required was a shift in focus for cultural meaning away from cultic practices and toward society and government – away from the leadership of priests and judges and toward the king (and eventually) the prophets.

He goes further by suggesting that “Our task in the church today is to fashion a theology fit for kings – kings of affluence, power, technology, and urbanization.” Is this simply an attempt to legitimize power? By no means! Two threads provide a balance (or perhaps hold some contradictory ideas in tension):

1. Responsibility. Power is never to be absolutized. Government does not exist for the sake of the governors, but for the sake of the governed. Even the ideal king, David, could not get away with his shameful use of power to acquire Bathsheba. 2 Samuel 12 relates how the prophet Nathan confronted David face-to-face.

Wisdom understands that human destiny is determined by human choice informed by responsibility. Such responsibility means going beyond personal comfort and gain. It means seeking the good for all in society and caring for nature.

People charged with leadership (in government, business, education, church, family, etc.) are responsible to and for those whom they lead. Republican and Democratic politicians need training in this area; as do pastors and elders in the church. And responsibility is not only the charge of leaders, it is the calling of participants, as well.

2. Transcendence. Traditionally, transcendence is the term used to gather together the various attributes of the “otherness” of God, especially as that otherness invades and interrupts the normalcy of human life. Brueggemann, reflecting on the development of the wisdom tradition in Israel, offers a different perspective:

Transcendence is the recognition that there is a mystery in life that is not confined to our ignorance, incompetence, or abdication. There is mystery in our best knowledge, in our greatest skill, and in our most passionate concern. The wisdom teachers and their followers did not care form a ‘God who acts,’ but they did know and affirm that life has an order and direction which is larger than human effort and which is not knowable to us. Faith means coming to terms with that direction and order for the sake of those entrusted to us.

I wish Brueggemann had said more about transcendence, but maybe that is the key to understanding the wisdom tradition – there is always enough information to make a decision, even when the data is conflicting. The data most often overlooked or neglected is “the sake of those entrusted to us.”

Responsibility and transcendence are not opposites; instead they complement each other. Together they provide a definition of radical trust, which is the essence of wisdom.

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In Man We Trust

I have begun re-reading Walter Brueggemann’s delightful little book on the wisdom tradition in Israel, In Man We Trust: the Neglected Side of Biblical Faith (John Knox Press, 1972). Brueggemann’s usual prescient insight into scripture is present as he describes the cultural shift that takes place during the United Monarchy under Kings David and Solomon.

The shift was from cultic religion to secularized society. The wisdom tradition that resulted relocated accountability and responsibility away from God and toward human beings in community.

The old traditions no longer made sense or fit as explanations for behaviors in the contemporary world. What to do in order to “get through to those who had ‘escaped the gods,’ and so avert the suicidal course of avarice and pride” on which course the nation seemed to have locked its auto-pilot? Abandon the old? Stick to and reinforce the old? No, those options were not chosen. Instead a “radical transformation of the old” was called for. “But Israel under Solomon was so busy that she could not listen in time.”

Brueggemann’s insights could be applied to our culture today. Our society, at large, has been telling us for years that the old traditions of Christianity in America are no longer working. Some of us have doggedly stuck with the old, reinforced their passion for the old, and told the rest of us that we are going to Hell because of our non-Christian beliefs. Others have simply abandoned the old traditions. They are the “NONEs” and the “DONEs.”

I happen to belong to a small group of Christians who are seeking within ourselves a radical transformation of the old. I am not ready to jettison Christianity or the church (although my lover’s quarrel with the church leads me to criticize it vociferously).

“Out of wisdom quite another approach to the gospel is possible. Jesus Christ may ne presented not simply as savior form sin, but also as fulfillment of the summons to Adam in Genesis.” Christianity faith understands that Yeshua opens the possibility of an intimate connection with God we serve, whose summons is experienced within, not from the outside. Furthermore, Yeshua defines what we mean when we talk about genuine human life — connection with God in and through service to others and nature. Why? Simply because human life floats on gratuity — theologically this simply means the the cosmos trusts human beings to be fully human. 

Is American society so busy with our own brand of arrogance and pride that we, much like Israelite society under Solomon, will not listen in time?

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Write Your Own Post

For a change of pace, why not write your own blog post instead of reading someone else’s. Not sure where to begin? Following are some beginning questions to ponder.  I’d love to hear some of your stories.

  • What is before you now, stirring within you, nudging you, wanting to come to life in and through you? Are you embracing or resisting it? Where do you find support for your journey in faith as you wrestle with these stirrings?
  • What brings you hope and joy? How do you incorporate that hope/joy into your life? 
  • What angst brings you to tears? Can you explore those tears without fear? While fear often produces anger, does your anger get transformed into a passion leading to redemptive action?
  • As you examine your continuing faith formation (including your involvement – or lack thereof – in church) what hesitations present themselves? what possibilities? Where do you find hope and the permission to make those scary decisions that are hope-filled and leading to a more abundant life?
  • Over and over Yeshua is recorded as saying, “Fear not!” How does “fear not” get into our bones, into the gristle of our lives? What has been (or might have been) helpful in your formation as you discover / access / attain the vulnerability of falling into (God’s) grace? of living out of a bedrock of trust and hope?
  • How have you experienced the challenge to embrace living into a “new” way that understands your life as an integral part of the connection and interactivity of all creation – from Higgs boson to the most distant galaxy? How does that connectedness of all invite you to both responsibility and enjoyment?
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