a year of beholding - theological roots - part three...

In this unfolding reflection on living into an intentional year of beholding let me offer a few theological nuances that I am fining helpful. As I have noted for the past decade, I tend to fret. Like St. Paul wrote in Romans 7: I do what I do not want, and that which I do not want to do - I do. Eugene Peterson reworks this conundrum insightfully in The Message:

I’m full of myself — after all, I've spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary. But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. It happens so regularly that it’s predictable.

I don't stay locked in the prison of fretting, mind you. I pray, practice centering prayer, and have a well-developed ability to compartmentalize when necessary. And yet fretting is clearly my default setting. Fr. Thomas Keating and The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Bourgeault are clear, however, that the practice of centering prayer over time tenderly rewires the brain. God's grace works within to help us rest when we want to be anxious, breathe when we are overwhelmed, stay when we want to run, and trust when every instinct tells us to fight. Enter a year of beholding: trusting, studying, practicing, staying, praying, resting, and experiencing the next year as my season to pay closer attention to God's gracious presence in reality. 

To strengthen the deepening, I have been exploring both the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible for clues. Here are some of my preliminary
realizations.

Hebrew scholars agree that there are four nuanced aspects to the Hebrew word hinneh that is "traditionally translated as either 'behold' or 'lo' in standard English Bibles: a central application as well as universal, diagnostic, and supplementary components." Simplicity, therefore, "may be deceptive for translators... since the meaning of the word can vary from one context to another... the variations really require using a wider range of terms in translation." (The Bible Translator, April 2001, Vol. 52, No. 2) More directly, this is the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" principle wherein a little knowledge can be dangerous.


These same scholars note that "behold" is an imperative verb in English, but
hinneh is a demonstrative particle in Hebrew.  More akin to "this" or "that - a marker of something important - a pointer telling the reader that "what follows is worthy of attention." (Bible Translator, ibid) Consider Isaiah 6:8: "I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I: Here am I; send me." Hineni - literally "behold me" but rendered "here I am" in English - is a response to God's call. The point, which is obscured in English, is that the prophet is asking God to notice/pay attention to him because the prophet's whole being has responded to the holy.

At other times hinneh serves "to introduce a solemn or important declaration" as in Genesis 1: 29-30. "God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so."

There are also instances when the English translation of hinneh is omitted. This diminishes the intensity of the Hebrew in favor of simplicity. Small wonder so many find the Scriptures boring! Clearly, such passages exist, but there is nothing droopy-eyed about saying: Note well - or Now hear this - or Please take notice - or simply Look! Pay attention! Hinneh as behold is used 17 times in the Hebrew text, and 178 times (but only 8 times in Torah) "as hineni - a first person singular suffix." A quick look at Genesis shows the potency of this small word: a) God announcing that creation has been formed to feed humanity with abundance (1:29); b) God announcing the flood as punishment for sin (6: 17); c)  God's assurance to Sarai that she will have a child (12: 11); d) God's declaration to Hagar that she will birth Ishmael (16: 11); e) God's promise to Abraham to protect Sodom during an argument (19:21); f) Joseph's  word to the brothers who had betrayed him (42:28); g) Joseph's grief at the death of his father (50:5).

Linda Hirschorn's blog re: hineni is even more dramatic: each time it is used a key Biblical figure experiences the "defining moment" of their life. (Read her wisdom @ http://www.lindahirschhorn.com/writings/hineni.html) For my journey by faith, I am struck by the love, awe, agony and trust expressed in hineni/behold in Torah. When God calls out to Adam and Eve, when Abram hears God's invitation to leave his home for a new vocation, when the prophet Isaiah senses his heart open to live as God's word in a broken world: the word used is hineni. The spirit and words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel give shape and form to the significance of hineni in an article from a Jewish ecological blog: 

"When Adam and Eve hid from His presence, the Lord called: Where art Thou (Genesis 3:9). It is a call that goes out again and again. It is a still small echo of a still small voice, not uttered in words, not conveyed in categories of the mind, but ineffable and mysterious, as ineffable and mysterious as the glory that fills whole world. It is wrapped in silence; concealed and subdued; yet it is as if all things were the frozen echo of the question: Where art thou?" (God in Search of Man p. 137)

In other words, the divine “Where are you?” calls out every moment of our lives and most of the time, we refuse to hear it, we offer an excuse for not responding, we refuse to answer, “Here I am!” The voice is there but we do not listen. Heschel said: 


"When living true to the wonder of the steadily unfolding wisdom, we feel at times as if the echo of an echo of a voice were piercing the silence, trying in vain to reach our attention. We feel at times called upon, not knowing by whom, against our will, terrified at the power invested in our words, in our deeds, in our thoughts. In our own lives, the voice of God speaks slowly, a syllable at a time. Reaching the peak of years, dispelling some of our intimate illusions and learning how to spell the meaning of life-experiences backwards, some of us discover how the scattered syllables form a single phrase. Those who know that this life of ours takes place in a world that is not all to be explained in human terms; that every moment is a carefully concealed act of His creation, cannot but ask: is there anything wherein His voice is not suppressed? Is there anything wherein His creation is not concealed?" (God in Search of Man, p. 174)

Heschel was clear: "in all of Creation God is calling out to us even if we can only hear a fragment, a syllable at a time. But if we really listen we hear over the course of time a few syllables that eventually we may realize form a single phrase: “Ayyekkah?” “Where are you?” (Lawrence Troester, http://jewcology. org/2011/11/here-i-am-responding-to-the-call-in-creation/) Troester also celebrates "one more interesting use of the word Hineni in the Hebrew Bible."

In the texts of the exilic prophet scholars call Second Isaiah, there are several passages where God says that there will come a time if we act ethically that we will call out and God will respond “Here I am!” (Isaiah 52:6; 58:6-9; 65:1). If we answer the call of God in Creation, then God will be with us as a partner in Tikkun ‘Olam.


In my spiritual lexicon, honoring and entering life in the spirit of beholding is sacramental wherein every moment is holy and filled with awe. Lord, may it be so.

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