Spirituality

Words Fail Me

I talk… a lot. So much, in fact, that I get tired of hearing my own voice; even in my head. In that rare quiet moment – when I’m not praising, scolding, cajoling, singing to or explaining something to my three-year-old, she is downright confused. “Mommy,” she’ll say, “Why are you not talking?” So when Crystal suggested that we blog on the nature of words, I was game. It’s a subject I think about frequently, but never with very much direction.

I have a difficult time separating my thoughts and feelings from the words I use to express them; but I know they are separate because I often find that the words don’t accurately represent my thoughts and feelings.

I love words. I love to write and read and speak. Sometimes, though, I wonder if there isn’t a better way. They can make us so lazy! Babies can’t speak, but parents know to hold them tightly when they cry, to soothe, feed, change. We become attuned to those needs. But I miss (or ignore) those cues in my adult interactions. I might know something is bothering my husband, but if he says nothing is wrong, I leave it alone. I don’t attend to him as I should.

And of course, while words can build people up, show our hearts and be wonderful tools, they can also get us into loads of trouble. We don’t have great impulse control, we humans. The Bible is full of admonitions against idle or evil talk. James 3:1-12 is quite a passionate disparagement of such talk. And Romans 8:26: “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings to deep for words…” (Forgive me if I overuse this verse. It always speaks to me. So to speak. :))

But another story also came to mind. Genesis 11 gives us the confusing account of the Tower of Babel, wherein God recognizes that the people have united and are creating incredible things.

Genesis 11:6-8: And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”

Huh. Seems awfully anti-progress. I don’t believe that God fears any threat from us, or even that we can pose a threat (other than perhaps grieving or angering him), so was He in fact protecting people from the detrimental actions they might take? Was it to keep us from hurting ourselves? How many scifi movies are there about very, very smart people making decisions that are ethically questionable or just downright scary? God’s unwillingness for Adam and Eve to know and understand certain things seems like it might stem from a similar concern. I know this isn’t exactly the same thing, but I wonder if our inability to communicate effectively with language could make us a lesser threat to ourselves. It seems counterintuitive that good communication could be a bad thing, but it is an interesting idea to explore. I know that I want the Spirit to continue to “intercede” for me. I never want be so cocky about my skill and sufficiency and mental clarity that I no longer seek His help.

Even if our confused brains and words are somehow a good thing, I don’t think incorporating a little more silence would cancel out any of that positivity :). In fact, I think it could augment it, giving us greater opportunity to notice His presence and seek His will.

Sigh. I’ve just reread this, and I’m arguing my own points. Ah, well. What do you think?

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Spirituality · Uncategorized

Faith and Religion – Subjectivity and Validity

I love to think about and study my religion. I don’t do it in a terribly deep way, but I also love the idea of making that study an academic pursuit; approaching it in a way that is objective, even scientific. Growing my knowledge and improving my critical thinking skills are ever-present goals (not that I’m always working very hard at them). But I keep coming face to face with the inherent subjectivity of the thing, and it frustrates me. Our personal experiences shape our faith. They affect our mental pictures and interpretations of scripture. I think there is both beauty and relevance… and a certain danger in that. Our culture expounds upon the truths we find in scripture until we can’t seem to separate biblical teaching from societal wisdom. But really, what philosophy, what science isn’t subject to these challenges? Doctors, scientists, even mechanics practice their professions according to different schools of thought. Just because people hold different opinions about religion doesn't invalidate it. If anything, it makes it all the more important, because some things are true. Some things are right and real. I’d venture to say it’s much easier to learn answers to questions if we actually ask them. Seems to me, putting our minds to the task of discerning those true and right and real things should be a priority for all of us.

Prophets Project · Spirituality

Prophets Project – Isaiah 37-48

On this New Years Day, as I consider plans for the year ahead and make decisions for myself and my family, I find myself reflecting on and in awe of God’s… bigness. And littleness. This post, then, is an attempt to put those reflections into words. It wanders a bit. I’d apologize, but that’s just the way I roll. 🙂

I wonder at the long-range plan of God. It seems incredible to me that while he understands and manipulates the long-term, he also reveals himself to individuals in very immediate ways.  Hezekiah’s deliverance from Assyria and his miraculous healing (Isaiah 37:6-7  and 38: 1-6) remind me of God’s personal interest, his willingness to show himself to us. Maybe these particular acts had more impact later, as a part of the prophet’s story, but they certainly were meaningful for Hezekiah, too.

And then I read Isaiah 40:22, which paints a picture of humanity as insects beneath an all-powerful God. Our individuality is almost… demeaned in this verse. Sort of the same way I feel when we read about God dealing with “nations” as though all the people in them are the same. It feels like God has a corporate mentality now instead of small and family-owned. Now, that might not be quite fair; I think the Bible is clear that we are God’s beloved creation and the drivel I read into things sometimes would probably be better left unsaid. It does seem, though, like we walk a bit of a tightrope in the ego department. Take Isaiah 45:9-10. We’re reminded of our place. Who are we to assume we understand what God is doing? Creation does not equal Creator.

While I was struggling to reconcile what seem like two separate sides of God’s character (the intimate and the CEO), I realized that they aren’t separate at all. I mean, to be able to act in the best interest of both future generations and the current population all at once speaks simply to his love and crazy awesome power. Chapter 48:3-5 brought this home for me. Reading this book, I frequently wonder what the people of Isaiah’s time made of his prophecies; maybe I even harbor the occasional suspicion that they had more to do with future events and people than with Isaiah’s own; and then I get this awesome reminder that those people, too, had seen old prophecies come to fruition. God does things for us here and now, but those same things might be carefully planned to impact the future, as well. The scope and magnitude of God’s action… breathtaking. Trying to imagine the ripple effect of the actions of earth’s millions of people over thousands of years never fails to astound me and, quite frankly, make me sweat. When I consider the potential outcomes of even a small personal decision, I might feel quite paralyzed.

How must the view be from the top?

Happy New Year, all! And one parting holiday/food/theology thought: How can one deny the existence of God when faced with the miracle of whipped cream? 🙂

 

Prophets Project · Uncategorized

Prophets Project

Thoughts from Isaiah 25-36

So many things jumped out as me as I read these chapters! It surprised me, since they are mostly more warnings of destruction and promises of deliverance. I’ll use bullet points, since they’re a bit… non-themed. 🙂

  • Isaiah 26:3: The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, Because he trusts in You.
    I’m not sure why I clicked on it, but I checked the translation on the word “steadfast.” It translated “to lean, lay, rest, support.”  Huh. I always think of steadfast as strong – able to withstand. But to be that way because we’re trusting in, leaning on, the one who truly is strong… what a great thing.
  • Isaiah 26:14 and Isaiah 26:19 both address the resurrection (or lack thereof) of the dead. It made me wonder what concept the people of the time would have had of the rising of departed spirits. What would this have meant to them? Would it have seemed bizarre? I guess I need to find another source for some deeper context.
  • Chapter 28 is almost entirely mysterious to me. I just don’t understand most of it. And what do you suppose people made of the “cornerstone” (Isaiah 28:16-18)? That being said, I did find some really wonderful stuff here, too. The first five verses are an awesome reminder that worldly beauty is temporary, fleeting, corrupting, not substantive. We all know the longing for worldly things; but waiting, remaining steadfast and rooted will ultimately result in the fulfillment that we seek. God will be our “crown of glory” (Isaiah 28:5). Finally, I love the farming analogy in verses 24-28. This image of God refining and disciplining us so that we can fulfill our purpose, to fully develop our beauty is reassuring, challenging, lovely.
  • Isaiah 34:14. “Night monster” (translation “a female night-demon”)??? What the dickens is that? I did a little commentary reading and it sounds like this was a reference to a superstition about a scary woman/creature/thing that stole children. Or a screech owl. Weird. 🙂

I could rehash topics I’ve addressed in other posts that are still relevant to this reading, but I think I’ll spare you that today.

Merry, merry Christmas, everyone!

 

Uncategorized

On Anger, Interpretation and Studying Scripture Together

In my last post, I wrote about anger a little bit. Discussing it later with a friend was illuminating. We come at the issue from different viewpoints because we’re different people (although, in this particular case, it’s also because she is better at objectivity than I am :)). It is so interesting to me how much personal experience can influence our reading of the Bible. That is natural and can be appropriate, but I think it’s important to try to read for what was intended, too.

So… anger first. My general feeling is that we should avoid acting in anger. She argues that while we should be “…slow to anger…” (James 1:19), the emotion can be righteous and motivating. It’s hard for me to think of a time when my anger served a righteous purpose, so I suppose that is why I feel the way I do. I understand that injustice can make people angry and that can be a good thing. When you hear about starving children, for example, you might feel angry and choose to act. For me, anger has always been… counterproductive. It is an overwhelming emotion for me, not a focusing one, if that makes any sense at all.

When I was a kid I threw terrible tantrums. They followed me to elementary school and, I’m embarrassed and ashamed to say, even to middle school. They weren’t a result of lack of attention or discipline. My parents were incredibly loving and consistently disciplined and worked with me. I wish I could put into words my awe and gratitude for the way they kept their cool and supported me unfailingly through all those years when I should have left such things behind me. I don’t know who I would be if less patient people had raised me. My fits were never about wanting to hurt anyone or anything. They were a yell-and-stamp-my-foot-and-stalk-out kind of thing if I remember correctly. I hated the attention they earned me. It was humiliating. I just couldn’t seem to control my reaction to frustration. I remember acting like I didn’t care around my peers. I was proud and self-conscious. When I was at school, I think my fits were usually triggered when I didn’t understand something that was being taught. I remember all too clearly the feeling of desperation and mounting anger when I just couldn’t get it. I did get over it, thank God, and my memories of those tantrums are (also thankfully) pretty hazy now.

My point with all that background (which was surprisingly painful to share) is that anger has really negative associations for me; not that it doesn’t for most people, but I try extra hard to avoid frustration. I hate it when I feel it bubble up. I think my personal experience also affects the way I read scripture about the issue. I don’t know what my takeaway about the anger question is exactly, but these reflections have certainly served to remind me of the value in reading the Bible with other people. It can expose our biases and illumine things we didn’t see before. It can help us understand where other people are coming from. It can deepen our relationships.

Hebrews 10:24 – 25:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Prophets Project · Uncategorized

Prophets Project – Divine Opportunity (Isaiah 1-12)

This post is part of a Bible study project a friend and I are trying. We’re studying the major prophets and posting new blog entries about our insights every two weeks. For the specific model we’re following (if you can call it that) and some background, feel free to check out our first posts here (hers) and here (mine).

This week Crystal and I focused on the first 12 chapters in Isaiah. My notes are long. I felt like every other verse provoked a question. What I really came away with, though, were some heart reflections.

The theme that emerged for me was one of divine opportunity. Over and over we’re invited to listen, repent, act. I usually falter at that “act” part. Isaiah’s own call in chapter 5 involves his confession of unworthiness, his sanctification and, subsequently, his decision to offer himself for God’s work. He could have gone away after being forgiven with nothing more than good intentions, but he stepped up. He invested.

In chapter 7, when Syria and Israel threaten Judah, God does an incredible thing. He speaks to Ahaz (v. 10). After Isaiah prophesies and tells Ahaz not to be afraid – that their enemies will be defeated – that what Ahaz must have is faith – then God tells Ahaz to test him. Not ” Hey, God, if you’re real, could you let this attack just kinda not happen?” God tells Ahaz to make his request “…deep as Sheol or high as heaven.”. Think about that for a minute. This is an offer to wipe out Ahaz’s doubt – in God’s existence, power and personal concern for His people. And the man PASSES! Can you fathom a more awesome gift? And yet… don’t we pass these opportunities up all the time? Why are we afraid to lose our doubt? Based on the passage, I infer that God spoke through Isaiah, but we aren’t specifically told how Ahaz receives this message. Is is possible that God just whispered it to Ahaz’s heart? Does it matter how he got the message? I think God speaks to us in subtle ways all the time. And I know I justify my way out of doing the things to which I’m called… more often than I care to admit.

The corruption of God’s people is established and lamented again and again in these chapters. God is angry. He offers them ultimate peace and happiness but the incentive doesn’t seem to be enough. Doing what is good and right is, apparently, too great a sacrifice. These people, too, could have chosen to love and honor, but failed. God reassures them that despite the coming hardship and destruction resulting from the choices of the people, a remnant IS good and will prevail (Chapter 10:20-34). This is reassuring in part because it reinforces the fact that we can choose what is right. Our desire to sin is strong, but we still have free will. We can resist that pull.

Listen. Repent. Act.

…hey, Crystal… I beat you this week! 😉

Spirituality

Touchy-Feely

One of my prayers for this blog is that it will reflect spiritual growth. Gradually (and I confess sometimes grudgingly), I am accepting that such growth depends on my willingness to do more than just think and read and write. I need to get over my stand-offish tendencies and act.

I am an introvert. Sometimes I think life would be much easier not having to worry about human relationships. When my phone rings, my inclination is usually not to answer it… be the call from someone I love or a stranger. I also tend to want to turn down invitations, even when they sound like fun. I don’t know why I lean this way. I’ve been blessed with passable social skills and I really do like people. But for whatever reason, I do. As a result, I often avoid getting involved or making commitments. In the past, even when a commitment is entirely voluntary, I resent the subsequent feelings of obligation.

I’m happy to say that I seem to be changing and growing. These feelings are still there, but they are being overpowered by a tug and desire to be more involved. I no longer view my deep feelings of obligation and loyalty as burdens. They keep me honest and help me overcome laziness. These changes have come over a long stretch. I can trace them back about five years. Having a baby has made them even more noticeable.

Okay – thanks for bearing with me. That was kind of a long intro, but it seems relevant to my point. In my spiritual life, I’ve behaved the same way. I’ve avoided commitments. Sermons that are less intellectual and more touchy-feely kind of irritate me. As I listened to last week’s message at church, I started to feel that way and then felt immediate contrition. The touchy-feely stuff is at the heart of the matter. It IS what matters. God loves us. How much more important is that than who authored the gospels or which word is a more accurate translation in a specific verse? I still find those things interesting and even important to a certain point, but I have to remind myself periodically that while they are great tools for understanding and sustained searching, they are not the point.

And while study can deepen our feeling of connection to God, how much greater intimacy can we achieve if we involve not just our minds, but our hearts and hands in His work? I think we’ve all been given different capacities for service; and knowing ourselves and how we can make the most impact is wonderful. However, I also think many of us underestimate our capacities – or if you’re like me – stubbornly refuse to see them.

So this morning I lift my coffee cup to all of you who put yourselves out there for God. I’m hoping to join your ranks. 🙂 Have a great day, everyone!