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Stand in silence up on the hill, living with my questions

by davesandel on August 13th, 2021

Friday, August 13, 2021                                 (today’s lectionary)

Stand in silence up on the hill, living with my questions

Receive the word of god, not as the word of men, but as it truly is: the word of God.

I read the Bible and perhaps other holy books differently than anything else. The written stories and commandments, the assurances, blessings and curses that come out of the mouth of God sometimes turn my stomach, and sometimes give me rest beyond any pain.

These words have been studied beyond my capacity to study, and understood every which way by men and women from many cultures. As I sit and read, or walk and read, or share the words with my friend … I want to consider them and soak in them, like in a cold stream or a warm bath.

Jesus told the Pharisees, “What God has joined together, man must not separate. Do not be hard hearted toward your wife. Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.”

The Pharisees were repelled by this idea, the disciples dumfounded. None of them could imagine such a world. Jesus looked into their eyes and said simply, “Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.” He focused only on the rightness of what he said, not on tradition or on the confusion, anger and difficulty which changing that tradition would cause. Just think about it, Jesus said. Accept it if you can. Move forward into the Kingdom of heaven.

I gave you a land that you had not tilled and cities that you had not built to dwell in. You have eaten of vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant.

Yahweh did not say this to shame his people, but to humble them. These days I appreciate reminders like this of God’s presence behind the curtain. So many things in my life rise up and confront me, like giants, like ogres. I feel small, about to be eaten. In these frequent moments I practice remembering that if I AM eaten, I should not be surprised to find God inside the fish with me. In that moment I can catch my breath, breathe again, and relax. Nothing is impossible with God. My timetable will never be his.

In times past I brought your father Abraham from the region beyond the River and led him through the entire land of Canaan. I gave him Isaac. To Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and after you dwelt a long time in the desert I brought you into the land of the Amorites, who fought against you. Balak summoned Balaam to curse you, but I would not listen to Balaam. Once you crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho, the men fought against you, but I delivered them also into your power. Then the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites were driven out of your way.

Driven … meaning killed. So many dead men and women at the hand of the Israelites as they claimed their promised land. I’ve been reading Texas history, and it bleeds with battles between Comanches and German settlers, between the post-Civil War US Army and Indian tribes who had lived in the plains for centuries. Doesn’t this sound like the stories in the Bible? Joshua stepped into Moses’ role and brought his people into a new country full of milk and honey, but also full of people he had to kill to claim their land.

We call the original people of the plains Native Americans. Were the Hebrews fighting Native Canaanites? What can I say that settles any issue about who was right and who was wrong? As I said, sometimes the stories of the Bible turn my stomach. What then?

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His mercy endures forever. He has made our land a heritage, and freed us from his foes, and his mercy endures forever.

A German poet named Rilke once wrote to a young friend about his confusion, urging him not to despair of at last finding truth. He said,

I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

“My thoughts are not your thoughts,” the Lord told Isaiah. “And my ways are higher than your ways.” On the other hand, when I begin to see God as less loving than the most loving person I know, I must be reading God wrong.

I want to choose sides. Holding contradictory ideas in my mind at the same time is difficult. But as a human created one, it is the right thing to do, and I can at least continue living in the questions. Be here now, be with God.

(Joshua 24, Psalm 136, 1 Thessalonians 2, Matthew 19)

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