Archive for July, 2012

The dialect of blessing accelerates quickly to its full cadence. Because the speaker has only good things in mind, no resistance belabors the tongue. None of life’s ordinary anguish burdens the mind as it spins out what it wishes for the ones upon whom its heart’s desire falls.

Blessing, one gathers, consists of two critical pieces: first, the desire of good only and everywhere for the one whom the blesser loves. And second, the willingness to do all that one can to coax those good wishes towards reality in the life of the blessed. (more…)


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In ancient Israel as in our day, it sometimes seemed that true religion required the infrastructure of holiness and piety’s ever-grasping bureaucracy. Absent temple, priesthood, and sacrifice, what is one really to do?

The voice of the psalmists brings in prayer—wherever life’s inconvenience locates the one who speaks to God in this naked, untrammeled way—as the good-enough engagement with YHWH when it is all one has at hand.

O LORD, I call upon you; hasten to me!
Give ear to my voice when I call to you!
Let my prayer be counted as incense before you,
and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice! (Psalm 141:1–2 ESV) (more…)

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The altitudes of the heart are of massive importance to the biblical witness.

Particularly in the book of Isaiah, the hubris that leads a human being to elevate himself is a certain prescription that he will be brought low. The Psalms also pick up this topic, with uncanny employment of the same vocabulary that Isaiah uses to make the point.

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. (Psalm 131:1–2 ESV) (more…)

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Ceaseless toil claims to justify itself. Our 24/7 agony shouts its own merit.

Hard, purposeful work is a noble thing, it is true. Only a questing, unworldly stab at false spirituality denies this.

Yet a different truth also intersects with our busy hands and our whirring minds: it is all useless if God is not in it.

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. (Psalm 127:1–2 ESV) (more…)

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Poetry and redundancy do not play nicely together.

The linguistic discipline of the poet leads him to use repetition sparingly. It is the mark of a clumsy wordsmith to heap the same syllables upon the word-pile over and over again.

Unless, that is, the poet’s purpose demands this. Then to repeat is to speak one’s art, one’s craft, even one’s truth.

Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep  The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 121:4–8 ESV) (more…)

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Jesus memorably elevates a status that is widely viewed to be lamentable.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3 ESV)

Nobody wants to be so impoverished. Broken down, crushed under an unbearable burden, bereft of emotional strength. It is a state to be avoided when possible, regretted when not, survived if one can.

Or so we thought, until Jesus taught us that holding title to his Father’s rule in this world and the next requires one to experience just such broken poverty. (more…)

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Light dawns often in the biblical text.

Whether because the dawn is in human experience such a reliable expectation or because the move from night’s darkness to morning’s shining is so dramatic, the image lends itself to the vocabulary of hope and of hopefulness.

One of life’s great enigmas—and therefore a subject matter for the probing poems we call the Psalms—is why the righteous suffer. Why, in a well-governed world, should good women and men know the darkness and the confusion of night at all? Why is theirs not a perpetual stroll from light to brilliance? (more…)

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Biblical wisdom insists that life is a classroom. Those who live it best engage life as its students.

The logic of this approach to living life as a learning experience assumes that the way of things is not immediately apparent. Short attention spans need not apply.

Things that are worthwhile require prolonged scrutiny. Circumstances and phenomena do not give up their truth quickly. The best of reality simmers slowly. The patient cook—and his or her loved ones—enjoy the richest meal.

Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them. (Psalm 111:2 ESV) (more…)

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When the writer of Psalm 71 pleads with YHWH to spare him from the murderous intent of his adversaries, he banks on the long relationship that has bound the two together. Crudely put, he reminds YHWH that you don’t abandon an old friend in his darkest hour.

At the core of this extraordinary interaction lies an almost hidden truth: the writer himself did not establish this friendship. It predates his own birth, to say nothing of his eventual capacity to engage the relationship as a rational, articulate person. (more…)

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The knotty old words of the priestly blessing in the book of Numbers, chapter 6, were to be pronounced for uncounted generations over ‘the sons of Israel’.

Yet there is in biblical Israel’s shalom a marked potential for good that flows far beyond that little people’s boundaries. The patriarchal narratives of Genesis tell us, a little enigmatically, that all the nations of the earth shall find their blessing in Father Abraham.

The sixty-seventh psalm discerns in these two resilient threads of biblical tradition—blessing for Israel, blessing for the nations—authorization to unite the venerable words of the priestly blessing to a fervent hope that the whole earth might go giddy before the righteous judgements of Israel’s God. Shalom, for this poet, is open-ended. No zero-sum game, it is capable of embracing all who will come. Love need not love its first object less in order to expand the circle to seconds, thirds, and more. (more…)

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