a spirituality of tenderness - part three...

Let me attempt now to build a biblical foundation for my emerging "spirituality of tenderness." I
need to do this not because I believe that the Judeo-Christian path is the only way to journey through life with integrity. But, rather, because I have affirmed Thomas Merton's invitation to "grow where you are planted." I have been firmly planted within the wisdom/mystical school of  contemporary Western Christianity. 

Some have called this tradition the contemplative side of the family of faith and that rings true, too. For like Huston Smith, the father of Western comparative religions, said: I believe that the collected scriptures of our great religions are the essence of what humans have discerned about the holy over countless generations. “If we take the world’s enduring religions at their best, we discover the distilled wisdom of the human race." They are not perfect and they are rarely prescriptive. At best, our holy texts simply describe how real people tend to behave in their ordinary lives, and, remind us of our sacred calling to become our best selves. The rabbis are clear: Remember that you were both created just a little lower than the angels and yet from dust you came and to dust you shall return.  For me, the Bible helps me listen for "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable" (Philippians 4:8) so that I might think about them as others have done before me. That is to say, the Scriptures give me a context to learn from tradition and be reminded that I am not the center of the universe.

To that end, let me suggest four key insights from the Hebrew and Greek scriptures of Judaism and Christianity that offer a measure of understanding about "applied tenderness." Because that is what a spirituality offers: a way to integrate our experiences of holiness and humanity into a life of integrity. "The process for searching for the truth," writes Jean Vanier, "demands an openness; it demands an evolution of thought, for individuals and entire societies...there are unchanging principles involved... and we need to integrate our experiences into these principles and let them enlighten our experience." ((Becoming Human

+ The key word is hesed (חֶ֔סֶד): it appears over 241 in the Hebrew Bible and is often translated into English as either "loving-kindness" or "covenant loyalty." The Septuagint, the Hebrew texts translated into Greek, almost always translate hesed as mercy Ἔλεος). The ethical core of hesed involves sharing a relationship built upon tenderness. To speak of covenant is to remember that God's people live in solidarity with one another and the Lord; it is an eternal relationship that is intimate and sacred. Consequently, hesed does not have universal or abstract connotations. It is all about living in relationship with the real people you know - and treating them as God treats you - as the Lord has made the way of holiness clear. 

Two texts are helpful to me: Micah 6: God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?

And Hosea 6:6: For I (the Lord your God) desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

+ The second word from the Hebrew Bible is rachm (רַחוּם:  this word, often translated as compassion in English, speaks of God's powerful love from above (or beyond) us in ways that resemble a mother's love (as the Hebrew root grows out of the word for womb.) It is important to note that this tenderness is not about what happens between people, but rather what takes place between God and God's people. That is, this aspect of tenderness does not evoke human solidarity, but intimacy with the holy. Here Psalm 86: 15 comes to mind: But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

Tomorrow I will share two words from the Greek Testament - mercy and compassion - that draw upon the insights, wisdom and experience of Jesus as he lived into his tender Hebrew spirituality.


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