Friday, August 29, 2008
I was visiting a young man fresh out of college, an engineer, good job, high salary, even a car provided by the company that had hired him. He asked me, "When does life get hard? Jesus says, 'Take up your cross and follow me.' I have had wonderful parents, an excellent education, and now a well-paying job. I don't feel like I have any cross to carry. I am so happy." His happiness made me happy. It was heartening to hear someone so young and so well-off thinking such spiritual thoughts.
Most of us don't have to look very hard for our cross. For some it very obvious: chronic illness, loneliness, or the loss of a job. For others the cross is more subtle: who we are or what we are. We may have pesonality traits that we don't like. Sooner or later some suffering or difficulty drops into our lives and Jesus asks us to carry our cross along with him. He lives within us and helps us accept the problems we cannot change. There is no new life without death to the old, no resurrection without the cross.
I encouraged my young friend simply to enjoy this fortunate time in his life and to stay close to Jesus in prayer so that when the cross comes he will have the help he needs.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
"You have seduced me and I have let myself be seduced;
you have overpowered me: you were the stronger."
These strong words capture the conflicted relationship that the prophet Jeremiah feels with God. This translation from the Jeresalem Bible has always appealed to me, but I thought it might be making the sexual symbolism too strong. So I checked the Jewish Study Bible and found, "The prophet employs strong language to characterize God's deceptive character." The Hebrew verb is used in several places in the Jewish Scriptures to describe a man's seduction of a woman and a woman's seduction of a man. The note goes on to say, "The following verbs, 'You overpowered me and you prevailed' suggest rape"
Jeremiah is complaining to God that God's love has enticed him to be a prophet, but then God has given him only woeful warnings to speak to the people. In English we even have the term "jeremiad." These warnings make Jeremiah extremely unpopular. So he says he would decide not to speak for God. But he couldn't resist. "There seemed to be a fire," he cries, "burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones." He surrenders to God's overpowering love.
Most of us at some time in our lives, and maybe many times, have felt this kind of conflicted relationship with God. God loves us beyond imagining, beyond deserving. We want to give in and surrender to such overwhelming love, yet we know that difficult demands may follow. We feel the same fire burning in our hearts and cannot resist.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
I think this is the first spot where I camped in this wilderness area about 25 years ago. Since then I have gone here two or three times a summer. Early on it was with two or three other guys to camp overnight. For about the last ten years it was just to hike in for six or seven hours with somebody else, and more recently alone. This hike was my first time this summer. I am not as sure-footed as I used to be and, of course, not as young. I found myself wondering with regret whether this might be my last time going in there alone.
Driving there as I went higher up into the mountains I saw an occasional tree with leaves already turning red and yellow. I found myself feeling a little sad that the full life of summer was coming to an end.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
In my favorite wilderness this is a part of the stream where I often stop to cool off after about 40 minutes of hiking. I sat in the rapids just above here and let the water rush over me. I scooted down to the smooth swimming hole just below this rock. The swimming hole is only long enough to make four or five strokes. As I came back up stream and reached for the branch that is lying in the water, I saw the snake curled up along the branch about a yard from where I was about to grab. It must have been asleep because it didn't seem to notice me. I quickly threw myself back into the water and hurried farther downstream and exited the stream at some distance. I hope this snake hasn't claimed this swimming hole as its home.
Tuesday I went to my favorite wilderness area and hiked in about two hours from my car to spend some time alone near this waterfall. In the parking lot I spoke to a guy who had just spent the night camping, and about ten minutes in I passed a young couple who were on their way out. I didn't see another human being for six hours. I know by faith that God is within me all the time and in the people and things around me all the time, but total solitude like this makes me sharply aware of God's presence. I love the way the sunlight comes down through the leaves of the trees and gives everything a green hue. I stay as close to the stream as I can and the constant murmur of the water is comforting as I hike. Often there are places of wild beauty like this waterfall and very cold swimming holes just to cool off and large flat rocks warmed by the sun to lie on. Stillness and peace. All reminding me of God's abiding presence.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
I have always been attracted to the passage in First Kings where the prophet Elijah experiences God (19:11-13). Because he has offended Queen Jezebel she is after him. He escapes to Mount Horeb (Sinai), the same mountain where Moses experienced God in the burning bush. I am intrigued by the many different translations of what Elijah experienced:
"a tiny whispering sound" (Revised New American)
"a gentle whisper" (New International)
"the soft whisper of a voice" (Good News)
"a still small voice" (King James; Revised Standard)
"a light murmuring sound" (New Jerusalem)
"a soft murmuring sound" (Tanakh)
"a gentle breeze" (Contemporary English)
"the sound of a gentle breeze" (Jerusalem)
"a whistling of a gentle air" (Confraternity)
"a sound of sheer silence" (New Revised Standard)
I like the last one best with its "s" sounds and its "silence." I don't know what the original Hebrew is but it must include the words "sound" and "silence" because the New Jerome Biblical Commentary says that it is important to preserve the paradox in translation. They call this "an enigmatic theophany in which traditional manifestations of divine presence (wind, earthquake, fire) are reduced to mere precursors of a mysterious 'sound of fine silence.'"
I am reminded of Simon and Garfunkle's "Sound of Silence."
I find the passage an invitation to search for God, not in the spectacular and extraordinary, but in "the sound of sheer silence."