Advent 2011 - Day 4...

Today the early sun is bright in the Berkshires.  The browns and greys of the trees behind my house are broken only by the deep reds of wandering vines. The wind is soft and life feels gentle as the day opens. But the news of the day shatters any illusion that all is well:

+ The police in Los Angeles and Philadelphia swept away the Occupy camps in those cities under the protection of midnight.

+ England is riddled with a public employees strike as their diplomatic staff retreats from Iran after the siege of the British Embassy.

+ Reports of increasing hunger are noted in the US as more and more children need free lunches.

The ugly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq wind down, the starvation throughout the Horn of Africa continues and the stock markets continue their volatility in this age of hyper-connectivity.  Small children in my congregation are taken to the Emergency Room, older people sit in their haunting loneliness and even members of my own family suffer the ravages of disease and addiction.  And once again, Psalm 79 stands as the reading for the day:

O God, the nations have come into your inheritance;
they have defiled your holy temple;
they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.
They have given the bodies of your servants
to the birds of the air for food,
the flesh of your faithful to the wild animals of the earth.
They have poured out their blood like water
all around Jerusalem,
and there was no one to bury them.
We have become a taunt to our neighbours,
mocked and derided by those around us.

So what I think today is:  Yes, this is an ancient song of lament over the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.  AND it is also a cry of the human condition whenever and wherever greed trumps compassion, fear wins out over trust and bottom line considerations are the extent of our moral imagination. No wonder Psalm 79 is also coupled with Luke 21 for today:

Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.

Scholars say these words of Jesus actually come from the faith community after the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 of the Common Era. Josephus reports that over one million people were killed during this war, another 97,000 were taken into captivity and countless others fled throughout the Levant as yet another chapter in the Diaspora unfolded. It was a time as bloody and horrible as anything in this generation.

Small wonder that these facts, however tragic, bring to mind the insights of the Buddhist-Jewish poet, Stephen Mitchell, in his commentary on Job (Into the Whirlwind.)  Mitchell reminds us that war and devastation, starvation and cruelty are not the exception to the human story, but rather the rule.  What's more, he writes that relying only on the optimistic poetry of the Hebrew Prophets is cruel: suffering is a fact of life.  So to construct a sense of hope based solely upon God's final destruction of suffering someday is delusional and mean-spirited.

Mitchell, in my reading, suggest another course. We may never be able to understand suffering; and we will surely never be able to banish it from history. The challenge, therefore, becomes what to do with this truth?  Some choose to become cynical while others retreat into blaming God or finding scapegoats. Faith as portrayed in Job, however, asks that we live into our hurt, anger and fear so deeply that the truth creates room in our hearts for trusting God, too.  Like the mystic Meister Eckhart said:  Reality is the will of God - it can always be better - but we must start with what is real.  (Sounds like the wisdom of AA, too.)

A few days ago I wrote that fear is the oppositie of faith.  Well, that is true, but don't confuse faith with a moral quality, ok?  That happens too often so that our fears make us feel like a moral failure.  If Job tells us anything, it is that fear and suffer are real - not Buddhist illusions - but facts of life that tear apart real flesh and blood.

I have come to believe that because faith is not a moral quality, sometimes it is purely a gift from God - but a lot of the time it  is more like a muscle than a gift - it has to be strengthened and practiced if it will mature.  Fear, as the old pracitioners of spiritual discpline would say, gives us a chance to do our homework and strenghten the muscle of faith.  That's what hits me this morning...


Philomena Ewing said…
Just to brighten things up a little today I have some good news for you. I know how much you like Richard Rohr and that you worked with him - well he has started to BLOG !!
This is the link below
Exciting yes ?!!
RJ said…
Wonderful... thanks.

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