Archive for June, 2011

A friend looked up at the diseased leaves of the crab apple tree in my back garden this afternoon, one of its limbs hanging down after last week’s storm like an untreated broken arm.

‘Not good’, she intoned with a solemnity so grave that we laughed at ourselves as soon as we had stepped back from the terminal diagnosis it conveyed.

Not good. (more…)


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The architecture of ontology in the Hebrew Bible both distances YHWH from his human creatures and brings him very near to them.

YHWH’s altitude—he is portrayed as lofty, exalted, lifted up—is paired in compassionate paradox with his proximity to the most lowly. In one stirring passage in the book of Isaiah, he is exalted and yet lives with the lowly and crushed. In the hundred thirty-eighth psalm, he sees the lowly with exquisite precision.

Though the LORD is on high, he looks upon the lowly,
but the proud he knows from afar. (Psalm 138:6 NIV)

Ordinary conceptions of exalted power are subverted yet again in the second line of the quoted verse, for there he perceives from afar the person who exalts himself to apparent proximity with YHWH. To attempt to move nearer to YHWH by self-exaltation is in fact to distance oneself in a tragic feat of self-deception. (more…)

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Elijah’s exhausted flight into the desert after his confrontation with Jezebel and her legion of Baal-prophets should earn from us a bit of sympathy.

The extravagance of his victory over Baal’s servants in a high-stakes mountain-top contest has not erased the singularity of Elijah’s experience. He has won the day, but he has been alone in it. Triumph has not managed to trump solitude. When YHWH engages his prophet in his mountain redoubt—this strange YHWH who suddenly will not be found in earthquake or fire but only as a gentle breeze coaxes Elijah from his funk—he can only speak of what he has done for his divine patron.

I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away. (1 Kings 19:10 NRSV)

Solitude has become neurosis. Neurosis has clouded Elijah’s vision and become a self-fulfilling obsession. (more…)

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The visual profile of a piece of Hebrew poetry laid out on a page is occasionally striking. It is no wonder that the aniconic tradition of Hebrew letters develops an artistic whimsy that sets it to playing with the shapes and potentialities of Hebrew script.

Like a teacher’s strong arm on the wrist of a young pupil as he sits before a drawing, Psalm 136 directs the reader’s eye from one corner of its modest shape to the other. She teaches him to see this and then that, to glimpse the magical order in the jumble. (more…)

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The Hebrew word אז (‘then’) is a hinge that occasionally turns more than the expected weight.

In Isaiah 35, for example, אז is the pivot at the beginning of the memorable phrase ‘Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the mouth of the dumb unstopped.’ The text contrasts the hearers’ present despondent state with the euphoria that shall accompany liberation and restoration.

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Biblical wisdom is impatient with the notion of absolute knowledge.

Unless the knower is YHWH, the tradition suggests, all knowledge is provisional. The secret to becoming wise does not lie in finding the key to secret knowledge that is unavailable to others. Nor does it consist of the capacity to crunch more data than others can manage. (more…)

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When the disorderly succession that enthroned Solomon as the first monarch in ancient Israel to have received his crown by heredity had been sorted, the king’s power consolidated, and old offenses avenged, the first ‘son of David’ turned to a matter his father had left pending. He built a house for YHWH.

Solomon does not underestimate his achievement:

Then Solomon said, ‘The LORD has said that he would dwell in thick darkness. I have built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever.’ (1 Kings 8:12–13 NRSV)


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A part of the beauty and utility of biblical faith lies in its correctibility.

The tradition’s best protection against appealing fantasies lies in its deep commitment to reality.

The Fourth Gospel narrates Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to his disciples with ample doses of conversation. Jesus engages Peter, for example, in a poignant, painful, and empowering three-part exchange that centers around question, defensive answer, and prescribed conduct:

* Jesus: Peter, do you love me?
* Peter: Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.
* Jesus: Then feed my sheep. (more…)

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