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Archive for February, 2009

Jesus’ emerges from his strange encounter with destitution, abandonment, and triumph over satanic manipulation to re-enter civilization as an extraordinarily empowered teacher. Clearly, something happened to him out there.

The heavenly voice of Jesus’ Father had expressed its satisfaction with his filial beloved, only to drive him into the desert for forty days. There he was to encounter, seemingly alone, the intelligent and articulate shrewdness of his worst enemy. Jesus, by Mark’s account, won that battle by persistent simplicity. He countered satanic sophistry with the simple declaration of the relevant truth. Only a man well acquainted with Scripture and its interpretation could have done so. Yet Jesus’ cut and thrust were not complex. He knew reality, articulated it in the face of other-worldly enmity, and let the chips fall where they may. (more…)

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Contrary to widespread suspicion, In Christian experience doubt comingles persistently with belief. Doubt is only seldom faced down as an adversary, in contrast to, say, hardness of heart. Though well-armored hearts produce doubt with regularity, the condition should not be mistaken for the result. Doubt occurs for many more reasons than simply that obstinacy which opposes itself to all evidence that God may be about. (more…)

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The narrative of Jesus’ judicial execution balloons with expressions of contempt. Even the sign placed above his head gets at its truth only by the prickly way of sarcasm:

Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.’

It seems every single protagonist of the tragic story manifests only derision for the crucified messiah. (more…)

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Wisdom is not so much elusive as hard-won. She cries out in the street far more than she hides in a closet. She is more often mistaken for an unappealing passerby than undiscovered by desperate pursuers. Her beauty is washed out in the neon glare of cheaper glories.

Discovering the life that is in her requires concentration and industry. To the degree that the attention span of her would-be lover is short, she is inaccessible.

Her life and love are costly, demanding that degree of self-sacrifice of which casual paramours are by definition incapable. (more…)

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A reader accustomed to the conventional distinction between the priestly and the political or the sacred and the secular struggles to find the proper calibration for a text like this:

The LORD spoke to Moses: ‘See, I have called by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: and I have filled him with divine spirit, with ability, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, in every kind of craft. Moreover, I have appointed with him Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and I have given skill to all the skillful, so that they may make all that I have commanded you.’

The vocabulary of ‘religious’ endowment both anchors and saturates the text. A craftsman named Bezalel is called by means of divine speech directed to Moses. A divine spirit fills him. One expects here a prophet, a priest, a denizen of temple, tabernacle, or festal tent. Instead one finds a craftsman, a hands-on shaper of the most earthy materials.

The liturgical climax of Exodus, as liberated Hebrew slaves are briefed on the doxological gravity of their vocation, would not occur without Bezalel’s talented hands in the mix.

Modern religious language traffics in the by now well-smoothed clauses of ‘filling with the spirit’, ‘calling’, and the like. Bezalel, bent over a stone that needs to be cut at a 16-degree gradation to perfect nature’s blunt work, merits every syllable of such expressions and much more.

The Divine Artist has found in the son of Uri a kindred spirit, a coworker, an agent. An instinct for beauty not unlike God’s own.

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Life thrusts upon us a moment when we are alone with God. In the best variants of this crisis of solitude, family and friends stand by with loving hands extended willingly but to no immediate effect. There is nothing they can do.

One is alone with God. It is a moment of necessary, unavoidable singularity. One discovers, in some ways, who one is on that sparsely populated stage. One finds out who one is not. One encounters God as he can only be known when no one else is in the hall. (more…)

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‘Can a miracle happen?’, we ask of this or that broken relationship. We linger over the corpse of what was once love and wonder whether there is resurrection or just a bucket of lime to take the edge off the stench.

A key link in the chain of trust and conduct that we call biblical spirituality is the cultivated ability to believe in miracles. To hope in the darkness is not, for the soul shaped by life with YHWH, a mere spitting into the wind. It is the substance of life, death, and the dynamics that link the two, as these things are experienced in that open system that, again, is life with YHWH. (more…)

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