Friday, August 20, 2010

Enter Job

Friday, August 20, 2010 -- Week of Proper 15, Year Two
Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux, 1153
More about today's commemoration at our Holy Women, Holy Men blog:
http://liturgyandmusic.wordpress.com/category/holy-women-holy-men/

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 981)
Psalms 140, 142 (morning)       141, 143:1-11(12) (evening)
Job 2:1-13
Acts 9:1-9
John 6:27-40

People can be broken.  We have our limits. 

People can also be wonderfully resilient.  Some display heroic heart.

One theme of the story of Job is to consider the depths of human suffering.  We see Job's wife broken today.  She is fed up.  She is ready for Job to curse God and die. 

But Job is not broken.  He will maintain his humanity and integrity throughout his ordeal.  He will also give voice to his pain, his anger and frustration, and his isolating condition.  He will challenge God, and he will challenge the traditional, orthodox teachings about God.  Ultimately, he will experience God and a mystical vision that will transcend all that he has known or suffered.  Job will be transformed.

We meet Job's friends today.  They are wise men from the east.  In the face of such tragedy, they sit in silence with Job for seven days and seven nights.  There is something to be said for such respectful presence.  When we are faced with things beyond our power and control, silence is appropriate.  There is a supportive power in presence. 

One of my favorite spiritual writers is the psychiatrist Gerald May.  Through his lifetime he has suffered occasional bouts of depression.  During one of those dark periods, he mentions with gratitude a friend who did nothing but come to sit in silence with Gerald for a while each day.  The friend didn't say anything -- didn't try to fix Gerald or cheer him up or give him advice.  The friend just came in, greeted Gerald, and sat with him in his depression.  Gerald experienced him as a great grace.

It is hard to refrain from trying to fix.  It's hard to face the darkness completely.  It's hard to refrain from giving our advice and interpretations.  Sometimes the best gift is presence.  Mere acceptance is a powerful gift. 

As we continue reading Job, it will turn into a theological wrestling match.  In some ways it is an argument between scriptures.

The friends will articulate one of the predominate schools of theology present in the scriptures, in Judaism and in Middle Eastern philosophy.  They will speak with the voice of the book of Proverbs.  Their theology is consistent with the teaching that motivates the writing of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, and 1 & 2 Kings.  They believe in a just creation.  They believe that God rewards the good and punishes the wicked.  They teach that right action and right belief will bring God's blessing and that wrong action and foolishness brings punishment and suffering.

Job says they are wrong.  (The book of Ecclesiastes weighs in on Job's side of this argument as well.)

I don't know how people who treat the Bible as though it were some completely consistent book speaking as the literal voice of God handle this.  But we inherit a rich debate among the Biblical authors.  And I will say that I believe that Job and Ecclesiastes are much closer to the truth than Proverbs is.  Proverbs is Polonius.  Job is Hamlet. 

There is one more debate underlying this great work.  It is the debate between a religion that we learn from others -- a set of teachings and practices that we are told to believe and follow -- and the religion that we experience as the presence of the sacred.  It is the difference between secondhand religion and firsthand religion, the difference between conventional wisdom and the experience of the divine. 

The experience of the sacred embraces mystery and changes us.  This is the religion that Job gives witness to.  So much religion is secondhand religion, a set of orderly teachings about how things are and how we should be.  Secondhand religion gives us good gifts, and it often leads us to encounter and to know the sacred.  But secondhand religion can take us only so far, and it often degenerates into oppressive forms of certainties and control.

Job invites us into the encounter with Ultimate Mystery that leaves us transformed.  Job invites us beyond just hearing about God, into knowing God.

P.S.  The story of Saul's conversion is a similar story.  Saul goes toward Damascus to defend conventional wisdom and to enforce the orthodox teaching and practices that he has been taught by the authorities of his religion.  A firsthand encounter with Ultimate Mystery transforms him into the Paul of Christian history.

And, for me, one of the weaknesses of the language of John's gospel is his focus on belief as the ultimate response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  If we think of that word "belief" as an form of intellectual consent to some content, it is a very shallow and unsatisfactory response to God, I believe.  But if we think of that word "belief" as related to the word "belove" (they have similar roots), then we get closer to the transforming experience of being in love with the sacred, the ultimate, the all -- the firsthand religion of Job, Paul and Jesus.

Lowell

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Audio podcast: Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week. Click the following link: Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.


Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at www.missionstclare.com
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas

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