April 2, 2017 - And Jesus Wept

When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping,
he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said,
"Where have you laid him?"
They said to him, "Sir, come and see."
And Jesus wept.
So the Jews said, "See how he loved him."

John 11:33-36

The Jesus of the Gospels is, honestly, not a particularly warm figure.  If he expresses emotion, it is typically anger and frustration.  But for the most part, he is stoic, controlled, and demanding.  I suspect there was real warmth in his relationship with the apostles, disciples and those they encountered along the way – there must have been for him to attract such a devoted following – but it is rarely indicated in what is written about him.

We do well to reflect on the crying, sobbing Jesus of today’s Gospel.  The sight of his old friend, Mary (always the more sensitive of the two sisters) crying at the tomb of her brother Lazarus, together with Martha and all of Lazarus’s friends, moves him to tears.  John’s staccato rendering of the moment produces one of the shortest line in all of Scripture: “And Jesus wept.” (The shortest is 1 Thessalonians 5:16, which is, ironically, “Rejoice evermore.”) Obviously, he is utterly overcome, as those standing around him remark at the depth of his emotion.  

Why did John break the custom of depicting Jesus as stoic at this moment? It doesn’t even make a lot of sense given that he fully knew, according to John, that he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead.  I suspect the moment survived into the written Gospel because it was genuine, heartfelt and probably disturbing to those around him.  The memory of Jesus crushed and overwrought simply could not be glossed over.

I am fairly certain we have a God Who is not stoic, Who has no expectation that we can handle it, Who is not closing one door to open another, but Who suffers it all with us, in all its intensity, not assuaged by anything He may do for us in the future, so that we never suffer alone.     

Consolation Series - Part 69 - The Desert will Rejoice and Blossom like a Rose.

The wilderness and the dry land will be glad.
The desert will rejoice and blossom like a rose.
It will blossom abundantly,
and rejoice even with joy and singing.
Lebanon’s glory will be given to it,
the excellence of Carmel and Sharon.
They will see Yahweh’s glory,
the excellence of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands,
and make the feeble knees firm.
Tell those who have a fearful heart, “Be strong!
Don’t be afraid!
Behold, your God will come with vengeance, God’s retribution.
He will come and save you.

Then the eyes of the blind will be opened,
and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped.
Then the lame man will leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute will sing;
for waters will break out in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water.
Grass with reeds and rushes will be in the habitation of jackals, where they lay.
A highway will be there, a road,
and it will be called “The Holy Way”.
It will be for those who walk in the Way.
No lion will be there,
nor will any ravenous animal go up on it.
They will not be found there;
but the redeemed will walk there.
Then Yahweh’s ransomed ones will return,
and come with singing to Zion;
and everlasting joy will be on their heads.
They will obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”

Isaiah 35

Image: Tim Daniels, Gates Sunrise, www.lapseoftheshutter.com

Consolation Series - Part 68 - A Shoot From the Stock of Jesse

A shoot will come out of the stock of Jesse,
and a branch out of his roots will bear fruit.
Yahweh’s Spirit will rest on him:
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Yahweh.
His delight will be in the fear of Yahweh.
He will not judge by the sight of his eyes,
neither decide by the hearing of his ears;
but he will judge the poor with righteousness,
and decide with equity for the humble of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
and with the breath of his lips he will kill the wicked.
Righteousness will be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb,
and the leopard will lie down with the young goat,
the calf, the young lion, and the fattened calf together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow and the bear will graze.
Their young ones will lie down together.
The lion will eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child will play near a cobra’s hole,
and the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den.
They will not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of Yahweh,
as the waters cover the sea.

It will happen in that day that the nations will seek the root of Jesse, who stands as a banner of the peoples; and his resting place will be glorious.

It will happen in that day that the Lord will set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Cush, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea. He will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.

Isaiah 11: 1-12

Consolation Series - Part 67 - Isaiah

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace,
who brings good news,
who proclaims salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
Your watchmen lift up their voice.
Together they sing;
for they shall see eye to eye when Yahweh returns to Zion.
Break out into joy!
Sing together, you waste places of Jerusalem;
for Yahweh has comforted his people.
He has redeemed Jerusalem.
Yahweh has made his holy arm bare in the eyes of all the nations.
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

Isaiah 52:7-10

Consolation Series - Part 66 - Isaiah

This is what Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
It shall happen in the latter days, that the mountain of Yahweh’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
and all nations shall flow to it.
Many peoples shall go and say,
“Come, let’s go up to the mountain of Yahweh,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
and he will teach us of his ways,
and we will walk in his paths.”
For the law shall go out of Zion,
and Yahweh’s word from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations,
and will decide concerning many peoples.
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

Isaiah 2:1-4

Consolation Series - Part 64 - The Wisdom of Solomon - Sparks Through the Stubble

But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment will touch them.
In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died.
Their departure was considered affliction,
and their travel away from us ruin;
But they are in peace.
For even if in the sight of men they are punished,
their hope is full of immortality.
Having borne a little chastening, they will receive great good;
because God tested them, and found them worthy of himself.
He tested them like gold in the furnace,
and he accepted them as a whole burnt offering.
In the time of their visitation they will shine.
They will run back and forth like sparks among stubble.
They will judge nations and have dominion over peoples.
The Lord will reign over them forever.
Those who trust him will understand truth.
The faithful will live with him in love,
because grace and mercy are with his chosen ones.

Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9

This beautiful passage describes heaven.  I particularly like the reference to the souls that, “will run back and forth like sparks among stubble.”  I have never found any interpretation of this, but I assume it refers to St. Elmo’s Fire – static discharges in the winter-dry harvested wheat fields that probably mysteriously illuminated the night in ancient times.

(This passage may not be familiar to Jewish and Protestant readers.  The Wisdom of Solomon is considered Apocrypha in those traditions.)

Image: Tim Daniels, Morning. www.lapseoftheshutter.com


The Weston Forum - March 23, 2017

Stephan Grozinger of Weston is challenging the fundamental religious principle of free will in his new book, Faith on a Stone Foundation: Free Will, Morality and the God of Abraham.

“Many believe that we have free will — the ability to make choices from something other than our nature and our nurture. We believe that our free will distinguishes us from animals and from computers and gives us dignity,” Grozinger said.

But after years of religious and theological study, Grozinger said, he came to a startlingly different conclusion.  

“Free will seems like the focus of faith. But science and philosophy are increasingly asserting that we don’t have free will and that our decision-making process is exclusively the result of nature and nurture,” Grozinger said.

An attorney by trade, Grozinger provides well-researched arguments on both sides of the subject of free will in his book.

“I strive to answer whether human dignity is possible if we don’t have free will, and does belief in the Judeo-Christian God make sense if we don’t have free will,” he said.

Those aren’t easy questions to tackle. Grozinger takes on the challenge by citing examples in theology, Greek and moral philosophy, existentialism, evolutionary psychology, and pop culture.

He also reviews familiar biblical stories, such as the Garden of Eden, Noah, Job, and Jonah and concludes that scripture is entirely consistent with the idea that human beings do not have free will.

Labor of love

Grozinger said the book was a labor of love that took him eight years to write.

A graduate of Ridgefield High School and a member of St. Mary’s Church, Grozinger practices law in Weston, where he lives with his wife, Claire Ingram, and their daughter Zoë.

 “I first came up with the free will argument while standing on the sidewalk of Catoonah Street in Ridgefield. I then started taking notes while walking in the Trout Brook Valley nature preserve in Weston. At first I thought what I had would become a blog post, then perhaps a long article. Eight years later it has evolved into a book,” he said.

Grozinger has many interests. He is a member of the board of directors of the Aspetuck Land Trust, a volunteer firefighter in Weston, where he was twice named Firefighter of the Year, and a former member and chairman of Weston’s Planning and Zoning Commission.

He also has a deep interest in theology, and for the past six years has delivered a lecture on the subject of theistic existentialism to the senior class and faculty of the Convent of the Sacred Heart school in Greenwich.

Grozinger said his life in Connecticut has given him much to think about on the topic of free will.
“A central idea in Christianity is that you have to believe in God or in Jesus in order to be well regarded by God,” he said. “But it’s obvious some of us are born and raised with every advantage in this regard. I myself grew up so close to St. Mary’s Church in Ridgefield that it literally filled my bedroom window. Meanwhile, many others are born and raised in situations where they might never hear a compelling faith story or that are outright hostile to faith. If God is fair, how can He reward believers and leave non-believers out?” he asked.
He applied the same analysis to morality. “Even people who have left religion entirely say they are doing what God requires because they are a ‘good person.’ But every parent would acknowledge that how good you are has a lot to do with how you are raised. We don’t raise our children hoping their free will is good — we form them and reform them. And whether you commit a terrible crime can be traced back to whether you were born with a violent temper or were raised in an abusive household,” he argued.  

This led Grozinger to conclude that lack of free will was compatible with faith and human dignity.

“If we take an individual’s nature and nurture into account when we think about their bad behavior, we’re led away from anger and hate and into understanding and forgiveness. That this is a central idea in Judeo-Christianity is no accident,” he said.

He said when he looked at the Bible with this new perspective, he discovered it was completely consistent with the idea that human beings don’t have free will. “I realized that I had been misunderstanding some of the most important narratives in the Bible for decades, especially Jonah, Job and the Garden. Once I looked at them with new eyes, the message was unmistakable,” he said.

Grozinger said he hopes his book will spark interest in the subject of free will and he encourages readers to share their thoughts with him by email at stephan@stephangrozinger.com.

Faith on a Stone Foundation is available locally at Books on the Common in Ridgefield and the Ridgefield Public Library and online at Amazon.com. Grozinger blogs on the subject of faith at faithonastonefoundation.com.

By Patricia Gay

March 26, 2017 - The Man Blind from Birth

As Jesus passed by he saw a man blind from birth.
His disciples asked him,
"Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?"
Jesus answered,
"Neither he nor his parents sinned;
it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.
We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day.
Night is coming when no one can work.
While I am in the world, I am the light of the world."
When he had said this, he spat on the ground
and made clay with the saliva,
and smeared the clay on his eyes,
and said to him,
"Go wash in the Pool of Siloam" —which means Sent—.
So he went and washed, and came back able to see.

His neighbors and those who had seen him earlier as a beggar said,
"Isn't this the one who used to sit and beg?"
Some said, "It is, "
but others said, "No, he just looks like him."
He said, "I am."
So they said to him, "How were your eyes opened?"
He replied,
"The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes
and told me, 'Go to Siloam and wash.'
So I went there and washed and was able to see."
And they said to him, "Where is he?"
He said, "I don't know."

They brought the one who was once blind to the Pharisees.
Now Jesus had made clay and opened his eyes on a Sabbath.
So then the Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see.
He said to them,
"He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and now I can see."
So some of the Pharisees said,
"This man is not from God,
because he does not keep the Sabbath."
But others said,
"How can a sinful man do such signs?"
And there was a division among them.
So they said to the blind man again,
"What do you have to say about him,
since he opened your eyes?"
He said, "He is a prophet."

Now the Jews did not believe
that he had been blind and gained his sight
until they summoned the parents of the one who had gained his sight.
They asked them,
"Is this your son, who you say was born blind?
How does he now see?"
His parents answered and said,
"We know that this is our son and that he was born blind.
We do not know how he sees now,
nor do we know who opened his eyes.
Ask him, he is of age;
he can speak for himself."
His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews,
for the Jews had already agreed
that if anyone acknowledged him as the Christ,
he would be expelled from the synagogue.
For this reason his parents said,
"He is of age; question him."

So a second time they called the man who had been blind
and said to him, "Give God the praise!
We know that this man is a sinner."
He replied,
"If he is a sinner, I do not know.
One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see."
So they said to him,
"What did he do to you?
How did he open your eyes?"
He answered them,
"I told you already and you did not listen.
Why do you want to hear it again?
Do you want to become his disciples, too?"
They ridiculed him and said,
"You are that man's disciple;
we are disciples of Moses!
We know that God spoke to Moses,
but we do not know where this one is from."
The man answered and said to them,
"This is what is so amazing,
that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes.
We know that God does not listen to sinners,
but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him.
It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind.
If this man were not from God,
he would not be able to do anything."
They answered and said to him,
"You were born totally in sin,
and are you trying to teach us?"
Then they threw him out.

When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out,
he found him and said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"
He answered and said,
"Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?"
Jesus said to him,
"You have seen him,
the one speaking with you is he."
He said,
"I do believe, Lord," and he worshiped him.

John 9:1-41

I have generally led an extremely lucky and privileged life, but in at least a couple of instances, I have been decidedly unlucky.  On one occasion, someone stood at the foot of my hospital bed and told me with a raised voice and a wagging finger that I brought my misfortune upon myself.  On another, it came later. They meant to be helpful, but they laid responsibility for my bad luck squarely at my feet.  People don't like to think bad things can happen randomly. They'll make any adjustment to the narrative they need to in order to assess blame for every misfortune.  

The Beatitudes (“Blessed are the poor, blessed are the sick…”) are often thought of as a statement about how Christians should live – a description of what our morality should be.  We should bless the poor or strive to be poor ourselves.  But this is clearly wrong.  The Beatitudes are a description of how God chooses to live – a description of God’s morality.  He does not dole our blessings for good behavior and curses for the bad, as we so reflexively assume to this day.  It is when we are at our lowest, in terms of wealth, health, social station, and even morality, that God cleaves to us the closest.  Among academics, a close cousin of this way of reading Scripture is often called "post-liberal theology", but I think we need to go a step further to something I'll call, "post-moral theology" - the acknowledgment that not everything in Scripture is a moral directive and, in fact, most of it simply describes God's morality. And God's morality is characterized by absolute mercy. 

This passage is perhaps the most beautiful and most illuminating in all of Scripture.  The story is about a man blind from birth.  Jesus’s disciples (his disciples!) assume either the man is responsible for his bad luck or his parents.  They ask him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  There is no other option in their world view. Bad luck doesn’t exist – just bad karma.  The man's parents hedge under pressure. The Pharisees insist that his responsibility is obvious.  They say, "‘You were altogether born in sin, and do you teach us?’ Then they threw him out.”   

Who is his only defender?  Who alone affirms that God loves him just as much as anyone else? Who alone contradicts every cultural expectation in his time and ours to defend him?  Who insists that blessed are the sick, blessed are the poor?

Jesus Christ.

Reason enough to be Christian.  

Lord, I believe.

Consolation Series - Part 63 - The Song of Solomon

I am a rose of Sharon,
a lily of the valleys.

As a lily among thorns,
so is my love among the daughters.

As the apple tree among the trees of the wood,
so is my beloved among the sons.
I sat down under his shadow with great delight,
his fruit was sweet to my taste.
He brought me to the banquet hall.
His banner over me is love.
Strengthen me with raisins,
refresh me with apples;
for I am faint with love.
His left hand is under my head.
His right hand embraces me.
I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem,
by the roes, or by the hinds of the field,
that you not stir up, nor awaken love,
until it so desires.

The voice of my beloved!
Behold, he comes,
leaping on the mountains,
skipping on the hills.
My beloved is like a roe or a young deer.
Behold, he stands behind our wall!
He looks in at the windows.
He glances through the lattice.

My beloved spoke, and said to me,
“Rise up, my love, my beautiful one, and come away.
For behold, the winter is past.
The rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth.
The time of the singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
The fig tree ripens her green figs.
The vines are in blossom.
They give out their fragrance.
Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away.”

My dove in the clefts of the rock,
in the hiding places of the mountainside,
let me see your face.
let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet and your face is lovely.
Catch for us the foxes,
the little foxes that plunder the vineyards;
for our vineyards are in blossom.

My beloved is mine, and I am his.
He browses among the lilies.
Until the day is cool, and the shadows flee away,
turn, my beloved,
and be like a roe or a young deer on the mountains of Bether.

Song of Solomon 2

Consolation Series - Part 62 - Ezekiel

For the Lord Yahweh says: “Behold, I myself, even I, will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered abroad, so I will seek out my sheep. I will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. I will bring them out from the peoples, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited places of the country.  I will feed them with good pasture; and their fold will be on the mountains of the height of Israel. There they will lie down in a good fold. They will feed on fat pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will cause them to lie down,” says the Lord Yahweh. “I will seek that which was lost, and will bring back that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick.

“I will set up one shepherd over them, and he will feed them, even my servant David. He will feed them, and he will be their shepherd. I, Yahweh, will be their God, and my servant David prince among them. I, Yahweh, have spoken it.”

“I will make with them a covenant of peace, and will cause evil animals to cease out of the land. They will dwell securely in the wilderness, and sleep in the woods. I will make them and the places around my hill a blessing. I will cause the shower to come down in its season. There will be showers of blessing. The tree of the field will yield its fruit, and the earth will yield its increase, and they will be secure in their land. Then they will know that I am Yahweh, when I have broken the bars of their yoke, and have delivered them out of the hand of those who made slaves of them. They will no more be a prey to the nations, neither will the animals of the earth devour them; but they will dwell securely, and no one will make them afraid. I will raise up to them a plantation for renown, and they will no more be consumed with famine in the land, and not bear the shame of the nations any more. They will know that I, Yahweh, their God am with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, says the Lord Yahweh. You my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, are men, and I am your God,’ says the Lord Yahweh.”

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 23-31

The balance of this passage indicates that Ezekiel is fairly angry with the priests of the time, who clearly engaged in a lot of self-dealing and neglected the needs of their flock.  However, today our interest in this passage is God’s promise that He will take over the shepherding of the flock Himself.   Nothing will stand in the way of God’s Covenant with us.

The theme of God, or God’s chosen, as shepherd reverberates throughout Scripture. David is tending the sheep when he is chosen to be the next king.  Shepherds are called to witness Jesus’s birth.  Jesus refers to himself as a shepherd looking after the lost sheep (perhaps an oblique reference to this passage), and as having a voice the sheep of his flock will hear and recognize.   Shepherding today is often given a moral connotation: the shepherd moves a group of insensate or resistant creatures along a path of good behavior and appropriate belief.  But Scripture generally does not mean it that way. Shepherding in the Scriptural sense is purely protection.  It is the shepherd’s duty to ensure the flock has abundant pasture in which to browse, and clean water from which to drink.  The Shepherd protects the flock from predators, and tends to their wounds.  In this case, God will release them from slavery and protect them from fear. 

Image: Tim Daniels, www.lapseoftheshutter.com


Consolation Series - Part 61 - A Time For Every Purpose Under Heaven

For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven:

a time to be born,
and a time to die;
a time to plant,
and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
a time to kill,
and a time to heal;
a time to break down,
and a time to build up;
a time to weep,
and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn,
and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones,
and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace,
and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek,
and a time to lose;
a time to keep,
and a time to cast away;
a time to tear,
and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence,
and a time to speak;
a time to love,
and a time to hate;
a time for war,
and a time for peace.

What profit has he who works in that in which he labors? I have seen the burden which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in their hearts, yet so that man can’t find out the work that God has done from the beginning even to the end.  I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice, and to do good as long as they live. Also, that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy good in all his labor, is the gift of God. I know that whatever God does, it shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; and God has done it, that men should revere him.  That which is has been long ago, and that which is to be has been long ago. God seeks again that which is passed away.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-15

Carrying on from yesterday’s existentialist theme, today the Preacher again affirms that there is little we can do that will persevere.  Additionally, everything has its time, nothing is out of place.  I am reminded of the fact that our Creation narrative is not a creation out of nothing, but rather an ordering of Chaos.  God starts with darkness over the Deep, and separates water from earth, earth from sky, and night from day.   When Chaos returns in the form of the Flood, God puts Noah on a life raft and locks the door behind him so that he can float safely over the Chaos until it subsides.  God is with us when Chaos returns.  It, too, has its place and finally has no power over us.

Existentialism has a reputation for gloominess, but for Ecclesiastes, it is all good.  God has made everything beautiful and eternal, regardless of what we may do or not do, so that all of it can be the subject of reverence and rejoicing.

Consolation Series - Part 60 - In Vain! In Vain!

In vain!” says the Preacher. In vain! All is that is done is done in vain.  What does man gain from all his labor in which he labors under the sun?  One generation goes, and another generation comes; but the earth remains forever.  The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, and hurries to its place where it rises.  The wind goes toward the south, and turns around to the north. It turns around continually as it goes, and the wind returns again to its courses.  All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full. To the place where the rivers flow, there they flow again. All things are full of weariness beyond uttering. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. That which has been is that which shall be; and that which has been done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there a thing of which it may be said, “Behold, this is new?” It has been long ago, in the ages which were before us. There is no memory of the former; neither shall there be any memory of the latter that are to come, among those that shall come after.

 I, the Preacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem.  I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under the sky. It is a heavy burden that God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with.  I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and behold, all is done in vain and a chasing after wind.  That which is crooked can’t be made straight; and that which is lacking can’t be counted.  I said to myself, “Behold, I have obtained for myself great wisdom above all who were before me in Jerusalem. Yes, my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.”  I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also was a chasing after wind.  For in much wisdom is much grief; and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.

Ecclesiastes 1:2-18

The typical interpretation of this passage uses the term, “vanity,” which distracts from the true meaning and suggests this is a passage about humility. 

In fact, this passage and all of Ecclesiastes is an extraordinary study in existentialism.  The Preacher notes that everything we can accomplish in our lifetimes will inescapably be erased.  Even the pursuit of wisdom is, ultimately, not worth anything.  Nature itself reflects this – the sun goes up, but its progress in the sky is reversed as it goes down; the winds blow one way and then another; the rivers labor to fill the ocean to capacity but it never happens.

Most of us define ourselves by our accomplishments – whether it is building a business, building a family, promoting good, filling our eyes with memorable sights, or filling our minds with memorable experiences (e.g.: the recently minted term, ‘bucket list’).  If we are asked to say a little about ourselves, we inevitably start with career, vocation, family or something else that identifies us with a group or an interest.   At life’s crossroads, especially at the end of earthly life, this can all seem like an exercise in futility.  And it is.

Fortunately, our relationships to each other are not about what purpose we serve for each other. Our relationships transcend what we can accomplish for one another.  This is especially, transcendentally true of our relationship to God.  We are not what we can accomplish for God, and God is not what He can accomplish for us. We stand is an existential relationship – He loves us regardless of our accomplishments on our résumés and regardless of our wisdom, experiences or goodness.   

It is said that faith provides us with meaning and purpose. I don’t think that’s entirely true.  Faith confirms we need not serve any purpose and still be the beloved of God.  And that infuses our lives with extraordinary meaning.

Image: Tim Daniels, Autumn Leaves. www.lapseoftheshutter.com

Consolation Series - Part 59 - Psalm 146 (The Last Psalm in the Consolation Series)

Praise Yah!
Praise Yahweh, my soul.
While I live, I will praise Yahweh.
I will sing praises to my God as long as I exist.
Don’t put your trust in princes,
in a son of man in whom there is no help.
His spirit departs, and he returns to the earth.
In that very day, his thoughts perish.
Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help,
whose hope is in Yahweh, his God:
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps truth forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
Yahweh frees the prisoners.
Yahweh opens the eyes of the blind.
Yahweh raises up those who are bowed down.
Yahweh loves the righteous.
Yahweh preserves the foreigners.
He upholds the fatherless and widow,
but he turns the way of the wicked upside down.
Yahweh will reign forever;
your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise Yah!

Psalm 146

Borrowdale Valley in the Lake District National Park, England – Public Domain

Consolation Series - Part 57 - Psalm 143

Hear my prayer, Yahweh.
Listen to my petitions.
In your faithfulness and righteousness, relieve me.
Don’t enter into judgment with your servant,
for in your sight no man living is righteous.
For the enemy pursues my soul.
He has struck my life down to the ground.
He has made me live in dark places, as those who have been long dead.
Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed within me.
My heart within me is desolate.
I remember the days of old.
I meditate on all your doings.
I contemplate the work of your hands.
I spread out my hands to you.
My soul thirsts for you, like a parched land.

Hurry to answer me, Yahweh.
My spirit fails.
Don’t hide your face from me,
so that I don’t become like those who are forgotten.
 Cause me to hear your loving kindness in the morning,
for I trust in you.
Cause me to know the way in which I should walk,
for I lift up my soul to you.
Deliver me, Yahweh, from my enemies.
I flee to you to hide me.
 Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God.
Your Spirit is good.
Lead me in the land of uprightness.
Revive me, Yahweh, for your name’s sake.
In your righteousness, bring my soul out of trouble.
In your loving kindness, spare me from my enemies,
and those who afflict my soul.
For I am your servant.

Psalm 143