Wolves among the Flock

Deborah Beach Giordano
© August 20, 2018

Ezekiel 34:1-4 ~ New International Translation

Then the word of the Lord came to me, “Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and tell them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel, who only take care of yourselves! Shepherds are to care for their flocks! You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool, and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not feed the flock. You have not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays, or searched for the lost. Instead, you have ruled them with violence and cruelty.

Christ betrayed, again

Yet again there is news of another clergy scandal: this one comes from a Grand Jury investigation of six Roman Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania. The details are shameful — in the extent of the abuse and in the evidence of cover-ups on a massive scale. Evil shepherds preyed upon their flocks “with violence and cruelty” repeatedly over decades; countless innocents suffered, countless others knew and said nothing; many were in positions to stop the perpetrators and prevent further abuse but did not. What was meant to be a sanctuary was turned into a charnel house.

There is no excuse for what occurred. I pray that Pope Francis will act swiftly and meaningfully. But the harm has been done. And it affects all who follow the Lord Jesus — not just Roman Catholics. For people outside of the faith, Rome represents all of Christendom; like it or not, we are lumped together as “believers.” 

Further, we don’t have to look far to see evidence of worthless and wicked shepherds within our own denominational flocks of whatever sort we may be. They are out there. Perhaps you have encountered one or more of them yourself; I have. 

What Shall We Do?

How do we rightly respond to these outrages? What can we do to prevent abuses from recurring? How can we speak of “the Good News” in the face of such wickedness?

We can begin by speaking out against abuses — all abuses: physical, emotional, spiritual, financial — and demanding that perpetrators are held accountable. This does not mean a transfer to a different parish, or to a teaching position, or a few weeks in a cosy private “sanitarium,” or the publication of a tell-all book and author’s royalties! We have the right and responsibility to insist on genuine consequences, not rewards, for misconduct.

From those who have been given much, much will be demanded; and from those who have been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. ~ Luke 12:48b 

Too often villainous clergy receive far more forgiveness than their victims receive justice. Those who withheld absolution from others call in Christ’s name for “mercy” the instant they are apprehended — and are immediately treated as repentant sinners — and so avoid anything remotely resembling contrition; while those they exploited rarely hear an admission of wrong-doing nor receive public apologies: instead, their years of silent suffering are compounded by the ongoing silence of the “corporation.” 

Is the Church’s rush to forgive a manifestation of the spirit of generous Christianity, or a desire to sweep the dirt under the rug? Is not the granting (or withholding) of forgiveness the right of the one who was harmed? 

Official Christians

We cannot pretend that crimes have not been committed, and to do so makes us complicit: we are causing further pain and suffering to those who have been hurt. Our admission is part of the work of healing: beginning with honestly admitting what has happened.

The next step is taking responsibility for the ways in which we have, as is said in the General Confession, “failed to be an obedient church.” Have we handed over the work of Christian witness and community to “the professionals”? 

Remember that we, the people, together form The Body of Christ at work in the world. Every member is called to play a part. Yet, too often, the clergy seem to serve as the community’s Official Christians: the ones who visit the sick and the shut ins, who sit by the side of the dying, who comfort the mourners, and counsel the troubled and the seekers; salaried workers who do what the rest of the people don’t want to do. 

It becomes a pattern, this handing-over of responsibilities, and we begin to trust that all is humming along just fine “because the pastor says so.” We ignore problems, discount warnings, refuse to listen to criticism. We surrender our call to follow the Lord to paid professionals, and grow lax in our faith and forgetful of our obligations; preferring what is easy to what is right.

Until something happens. And then we are suddenly, terribly awake.

The Search for Easy Answers

It is human nature to look for a pattern when things go wrong. Seeking to make our churches safe, we try to establish a prototype “wrong’un” and then remove all who fit that template from positions of authority. The problem is, the temptation to do evil rather than good crosses all boundaries of gender, race, color, and creed. The corrosive, corrupting influence of power can taint women as well as men, Protestants as well as Catholics, Asians as well as Anglos, black as well as white, gay as well as straight. 

In short, there is no quick and simple fix, no easily-identifiable villainous type/s that we can oust from our midst. 

A particular danger to this yearning for an easy solution has appeared in discussions regarding the clergy scandals in Pennsylvania. If the churches would just clear out all of the gay men, so one argument goes, everything would be fine. Equally it has been said that there would be no more problems if Rome would allow married clergy. Both of these simplistic solutions ignore the many infidelities and assaults perpetrated by (married) Protestant clergy, and that the vast majority of pedophiles are heterosexual. 

As with all crimes of sexual violence, the desire is to hurt and debase. The perpetrators exploit the weak and vulnerable, exerting a hold over their victims with shame and secrecy. The common denominator is the lust for power and control — it is never about attraction or affection.

Prevention comes from vigilance. 

Naiveté and negligence contribute directly to the types of criminal tragedies as those in Pennsylvania, as well as other wicked and wrongful conduct throughout our churches. When we hand over our work of being a Christian to anyone, we are complicit in whatever harm occurs.

Prevention

If you see something, say something.

Each time these terrible events make the news we are told that there had been long-standing reports and rumors about misconduct. Yet no one took action, no one insisted on interviews or audits or assessments — until there was a veritable avalanche of evidence, or a life was lost. It should never take that long. The whole Body of Christ must be committed to ensuring that all who come to us are safe.

This doesn’t mean we view everyone around us with suspicion, but it does mean we are alert and attentive to what goes on in our communities. It is the ministry of all believers to care for the weak and vulnerable, to work for justice, to comfort the sick and sorrowing; to seek the truth, and proclaim God’s grace. 

If we do these things, the Light of Christ will shine — and banish the darkness.

Restoration

“Repair My Church.”
~ the Divine message that inspired Saint Francis of Assisi 

But despite the most careful and wise counsel and attention, evil can often find a way, as it has done of late. We cannot undo what has happened, but we can insist on restitution and overt, obvious marks of repentance by those who committed these travesties. And the responsibility extends to all of us. 

It cannot be — it must not be — “back to business as usual” for any Christians, of whatever persuasion. We must look at our ways of doing “church;” and the ways in which each of us is called to be a member of the Body of Christ. Do we do our part, or hand the work of the Lord over to the paid professionals?

Lord Christ our Redeemer, we have been called to follow You; guide each of us to do so with wisdom, and power, and grace. Give us ears to hear unspoken cries, give us eyes to see unwept tears, make us mindful of needs and troubles close at hand, light a holy fire within us so that we will honor you not only in our words, but in the daily living of our lives. Amen.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Who can you bless and encourage today?

Reference for Reporting: https://ovc.ncjrs.gov – United States Office of Justice Programs: Office for Victims of Crimes

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A Witness to God’s Goodness

Deborah Beach Giordano
© August 13, 2018

Psalm 34 ~ interpreted by Deborah

In all ways, at all times, I delight in the Lord our God; I will never cease singing God’s praises for as long as I live, sharing His glorious love and mercy with all the world.

All God’s people say: Amen!

Unsuspecting, unaware, I was found by my sweet Savior, never knowing that I had been lost. My whole world was suddenly illuminated; divine radiance filled my heart and my soul. Like Moses on the mountaintop, God’s glory shone in my face — and everyone could see. 

Rejoice in the Lord!

God heard my plea, as deep and dark and silent as the grave; and saved me from all of my troubled thoughts and fears. When those who suffer and despair hear what I have to say, they will rejoice, and we will give thanks to the Beloved together.

Their weeping will be turned into laughter!

The holy angels encircle those who love the Lord; they are lifted up, as if on eagle’s wings, their hearts light and joyful.

Fear is unknown to them.

O taste and see that the Lord is good! His Word is sweet as honey, even much fine honey; nourishing to His people, sustaining and strengthening them. 

They shall have all that they need.

Come, little ones, listen to me; I will tell you of the Lord’s abundant love and compassion that extends to the ends of the earth, to the end of all time, to all people, without exception.

Come, all who are weary and heavily burdened, and you will find rest.

Delight in the Lord and honor Him with your lips and with your lives. Shun evil and do good; speak kindly and pursue peace.

His yoke is easy, His burden is light.

God watches over the vulnerable and the despairing, the grieving and the brokenhearted, sensitive to their cries; rescuing those presumed to be lost, a good Shepherd leading the flocks safely home.

None shall be lost!

The faithful may have many troubles, but their spirits shall not be broken, their hope will not be crushed; the Lord will hold them close.

They shall be delivered.

Goodness and mercy shall be my life and my legacy, for I walk in the Way of the Lord my God.

And I shall live in the House of the Lord forever! 

In the Beginning

“What is the cause of their hope?” 

In the early days of our faith, the Christians carried on, regardless. In the face of punishment and persecutions; despite losses of family, friends, property, and livelihood, the small communities were known for their courageous optimism. 

Others found these Christ-followers a mystery: there they were, in the midst of the worst of times: shunned and shamed and mocked, and yet, somehow, their numbers only increased. Why would this be so? 

Little documentation survives from the Christians of that era, and the material that does exist has been heavily redacted and revised, so we cannot say with certainty what the peoples’ daily lives were like. What we do know is that they continued in their faith, and that others slowly, steadily joined with them. Something happened. Something powerful.

I believe — and have experience to prove it — that it was our forebears’ joy that contributed to the growth of the early Christian communities. It is an aspect of our faith we are long-overdue to reclaim. 

I’ve seen it in person, in living persons: a calm, confidence devoid of anxiety or fear. It is a manifestation of a sort of Cosmic Giggle: barely-suppressed, bubbling delight that flows from purest love and absolute trust in God’s goodness. These “true believers” (if you will) live in the certainty that, as Julian of Norwich famously said, “All is well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.” They are radiant with joy, their hearts are at peace; when we are with them we relax, we smile, we laugh. They spread a kind of holy, healthy contagion to all they meet.

A Time of Great Need

Now, more than ever, we need to listen to the testimony of the faithful: we need to hear The Good News and believe the Good News and live in the Light of the Good News. We need to regain our calm, confident joy — lest we perish from soul-sickness.

We are surrounded by predictions of death and despair, incessant enticements to hopelessness, to hubris — tempted to scorn and hate those with whom we disagree, to consider others our inferiors and ourselves “noble warriors,” rebuffing attacks, responding to alarms, constantly on edge, anxious, irritable, stressed, and always sick at heart. Something is wrong, deeply wrong, and we know it; we feel it in the depths of our souls. And it is making us and our world sick.

For the battles to cease, we must stop fighting. Our anger and outrage fuel the fires of hell on earth. There can be no healing amidst hatred, there can be peace if the only acceptable option is “winner take all” and the loser must be ground into dust. 

If there is no compassion, no concern for one another, then Nietzsche was right: God is dead, and we killed Him. In our hearts it is as if He is not there at all.

Finding Joy, Being Joy

We know the Good News — in having heard it, known it, and, for a blessed few, experienced it, face-to-face. It is up to us to live as if the Truth is True. 

We can be agents of Christ’s peace in our world, bringing comfort and encouragement to the sick and the sad; not insisting on our own way, but committed to the Way of the Lord, trusting in God’s goodness, revealers of God’s love and compassion. Utterly unafraid, calm and confident, we will find ourselves occasionally overcome with a case of the Cosmic Giggles.

As we live, so shall we become: light-bearers of gentle joy and abundant delight. We shall become what we have been called to be: “true children of our Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:45).

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Reflect and rejoice in those who have shown you — in the myriad ways we can know — that God is good and gracious and so delightful that you just want to giggle. And go forth and do likewise to all the world.

Dedicated to the memory of Michelle Aaron Amirault, witness to God’s great love.
June 18, 1949 – July 31, 2018 ~ Love wins

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Bread and Circuses

Deborah Beach Giordano
© July 30, 2018

John 6:2-15 ~ told by Deborah

Crowds followed Jesus everywhere he went because of the wondrous healings he performed.

After crossing the lake from Capernaum, Jesus went up on the mountain to spend a little quiet time with his disciples. But very soon the crowd caught up with them.

Seeing the mass of people heading their way, Jesus asked Philip, “Where will we buy bread to feed all these people?” (He wanted to see what Philip would say, but he already knew what he was going to do.)

Philip replied, “Six months’ wages wouldn’t buy enough bread for each of them to get a single bite!”

Andrew, another of his disciples, said, “There’s a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what difference can such a small amount make?”

Jesus said, “Have everyone sit down.” In the spring the fields are filled with soft, green grass, so the people made themselves comfortable; there were about five thousand of them.

Then Jesus took the loaves, and, after giving thanks, distributed them among the people, along with the fish, too; letting them take as much as they wanted.

When everyone had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up all that remains, so that nothing may be lost.” So they collected what was left of the five barley loaves, and the scraps filled twelve baskets.

When Jesus realized that the people were preparing to seize him and declare him king, he quietly made his way back up the mountain, alone.

Performance Art?

The author of the Gospel of John tells us that the crowds followed Jesus not because they were impressed by his teachings, but in order to witness the amazing healings he performed. Some of the people must have believed in him, but others undoubtedly came to be amused and entertained, certain that it was mere performance art, like a rope trick or sawing a lady in half.

The towns of first century Palestine were frequent hosts to “miracle workers.” Arriving to great fanfare, these travelers dazzled the naive and gullible with their showmanship, and then disappeared with the takings before their “cures” were revealed to have been faked; their potions, worthless.

Who can blame those who came to see this Galilean “healer,” anticipating comic relief or obvious chicanery, and who subsequently went away unimpressed or scornful? How could they be expected to separate Jesus from the charlatans and cheats who roamed the Roman roads?

For that matter, who can blame current-day doubters? Penn & Teller and other professional entertainers have demonstrated how “magic” is accomplished by trickery; advances in medicine and psychiatry have revealed the workings of psychosomatic illnesses, hysterical blindness and paralysis, mass hypnosis, and more. Everything — all of the healing wonders that Jesus is said to have performed — can be explained away. What makes Him so special?

Loaves and Fish

Ah, but then there’s the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Surely that is an action of an entirely different magnitude; a “work of power” that must have had divine origin. It couldn’t be faked. Here was a genuine, solid, physical miracle.

Reported in all four of the canonical Gospels, it is clear that something happened on that hillside; something remarkable; an event permanently inscribed in the memories of Jesus’ followers. And it definitely made an impression on those who were there. Thousands of people were fed in a single afternoon, despite the fact that no one had prepared meals for the crowd — nor, apparently, had the attendees thought to bring food for themselves.

What’s particularly interesting, as it is reported by John’s Gospel, is that this feeding frenzy convinced those who were there that Jesus ought to be acclaimed king. Apparently the idea of an endless supply of free food was enough to buy the crowd’s loyalty. 

Bread and Circuses

Roman politicians had passed laws to retain the votes of poorer citizens by giving out cheap food and entertainment; ”bread and circuses” became the most effective way to rise to power.
~ as reported by Juvenal (who was there)

But Jesus wasn’t interested in being the Lord of bread and circuses — and so he left that place and went off by himself, away from the crowd. Perhaps this sudden popularity was a kind of awakening for him, a realization of the dangers of this fickle, readily-purchased loyalty that can change in an instant; following first one leader and then another and back again, as abruptly and unpredictably as the winds that blow across the sea of Galilee.

I’m reminded of a story. 

An old, white-haired man entered the bar leading a massive black bear on a leash. Inserting a coin into the jukebox, the man turned to the bear and said, “Dance!” and the bear, very obligingly, danced. When the music ended, the man threw a large meatball to the bear who immediately swallowed it, and, as the next song started to play, again began to dance.

“How do you do that?” an astonished patron asked, “How can you make that huge animal dance like that, and not attack you?”

“It’s easy,” the bear’s owner replied, “Just don’t run out of meatballs.”

Purchased loyalty is no loyalty at all.

And it is bad for the soul.

The Rate of Exchange

Purchased loyalty entangles us in unhealthy, even destructive, relationships, regardless of which part we play. Sellers become entrenched in servitude; doing what they’re told, lest the goody-train be halted: “Do as I say, or no more meatballs for you.” Buyers may find themselves caught up in a dangerous brand of extortion; forced to pay and pay and pay, far beyond the initial agreement: “Keep feeding me, or I will attack you.” 

It’s never (well, rarely) quite as obvious as the man and the bear. These disordered exchanges can take the form of relationships that require exacting behavior, unceasing solicitude, abject apologies, and instant attention, in exchange for an always-conditional “friendship” —  utterly devoid of reciprocity. It all depends on what we are willing to accept “in trade.”

In the larger arena, purchased loyalty becomes a commodity: an item that is marketed, advertised, and sold to/bought by the highest bidder. There is no honor in it, no nobility of purpose, no trust or sincerity. Today it is bread and circuses, tomorrow it will be cakes and ale, and the day after that whatever new desire or imagined need strikes our fancy. And we sell our souls so readily, for such paltry returns — most often, for nothing more than empty promises.

Something for Nothing

There was no “exchange” in Jesus’ actions there on the hillside that day. He wasn’t buying the crowd’s loyalty or selling his status in order to rule over them. He gave without expectation of return. The abundant food was a sign and symbol of the abundant, unconditional generosity of God.

“Your heavenly Father makes the sun shine upon the evil and upon the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
~ Matthew 5:45

But the people didn’t understand — it seemed incomprehensible then, as it still does to us, today — this divine notion of “something for nothing.” 

No money changed hands when wondrous healings occurred, no admission fees were charged for Jesus’ lectures, no allegiance was demanded in exchange for a fish sandwich. Throughout his ministry the Lord Christ gave freely, abundantly, compassionately; requiring nothing in return. Imagine that!

He certainly could have used “bread and circuses” to rise to a position of authority; Jesus’ resume offers plenty of examples that could meet those qualifications. But he would not. When faced with a crowd of people willing to sell him their loyalty — to give away their sovereign power over their bodies and souls in exchange for free meals — the Lord ran away and hid himself.

Jesus was opposed to all attempts to “turn My Father’s house into a marketplace” (John 2:16), including our willingness to sell ourselves and our sacred souls — handing over our loyalty and our obedience in exchange for trifles; giving others the power to manipulate us, to command us, to tell us what to think, what to believe, what to do… And when to dance.

Ultimate Matters

While some of his disciples continued to follow Jesus faithfully, many others abandoned him, turned off by his teachings, finding them simply too hard to understand. Heavenly bread that is more important, more nourishing, than the bread on our tables (and in our stomachs)? An all-powerful Lord who doesn’t demand titles or tithes or tributes, but gives of Himself, generously, wildly, abundantly — even laying down his own life for ours? What madness! What’s in it for Him???

What was in it for Him? Nothing. The pattern of Jesus’ life was not transactional: it was not about buying and selling, there were no in-kind trades; the debts He redeemed and the gifts He gave were free and clear; they carried no obligations.

The Lord Christ was the sign and symbol and incarnation of Perfect Love. Eternally outflowing, abundant, unstinting; a showing-forth of the Divine nature, asking nothing in return, He came to teach us how to live — nothing more, nothing less.

And in those days there were doubters, cynics, and scoffers — just as there are, today; for who can imagine One who loves without conditions, One who gives without expectation of return? 

Imagine that.

Imagine being loved and sustained by God’s freely-given, boundless, limitless love and compassion. Now go forth, believing and behaving as if that Truth were true.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

In what ways have you sold your loyalty, and to whom, in exchange for what? Who commands that you dance, and how? What must you do, lest the bear/s in your life cease dancing?

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Like God?

Deborah Beach Giordano
© July 16, 2018

Genesis 3:1-15 ~ told by Deborah

Now the snake was more cunning than any of the other wild creatures that God had made. He asked the woman, “Did God say, ‘You mustn’t eat from any tree in the garden’?”

“We can eat the fruit of any of the trees in the garden,” she told him, “but God said, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden — don’t even touch it — or you will die.’”

“Oh, piffle!” the snake said, “You won’t die! It’s just that God knows that when you eat from it you’ll see how things really are — and you will be like God: knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was delicious as well as decorative, she picked some and ate it, and gave some to her husband (who was there with her), and he ate it, too.

Then they had knowledge, and cunning, and they covered their bodies, concealing themselves from God and from each other. 

They heard the sound of God walking in the garden in the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves among the trees.

And God called to the man, “Yoo-hoo! Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard You in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid.”

“Who told you that you were naked?” God demanded, “Have you eaten fruit from the tree that I told you to leave alone?”

The man said, “It was that woman; the one You gave to be with me — she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.”

Then God said to the woman, “What have you done?” 

The woman said, “It was the snake. The snake beguiled me, and I ate.”

God said to the snake, “That was a low-down dirty thing you did! From now on all creatures will despise you; you’ll slither on the ground with your face in the dirt all the days of your life, and your tongue will never utter another word. You and the woman will fear and hate each other forever; and your descendants and hers will perpetually try to destroy one another.”

The Snake in the Garden

Oh dear, the snake. I’m never quite sure how I feel about that critter. Sometimes I suspect he’s the hero of the story, other times I’m certain he’s the villain. The tale itself slides between an amusing Just-So story (“How the snake lost his legs”) and a terrible tragedy, as humanity is cast from the garden of perfect delight forever — our re-entry blocked by a sword-wielding angel.

How, exactly, does it all come about?

Apparently Snake and the human couple are already acquainted; the conversation between them begins with no introductions, just a seemingly casual inquiry: “What’s up with you and that tree?” Is Snake a friend who stopped by for a cup of tea and a bagel, just making small talk, or thinking about trying the fruit himself and curious to see what might happen? Was he bored with nothing else to do that day, an innocent bystander, or an Enemy who sought to bring them harm?

We are not told of anyone’s intentions; the events simply unfold before our eyes.

The End of the Beginning?

It’s possible that the outcome for us was inevitable. After all, Snake tells the woman that humans will be like God “when you eat from the tree,” as if it is a done deal; as if there is something in our nature — something designed in — that pushes us to test the boundaries, to challenge limits, and even to try to supplant our Creator: to “become like God.”

Did Snake hand us the key to our freedom? Was that first “disobedience” actually a revelation: demonstrating that we could choose how to act, whether to act, what to say, and who to trust? Was he a Tempter or a Teacher — or both? In discovering our abilities, we also learned of the accompanying responsibilities; in the New World of free will, there are consequences to the choices we make.

Sometimes downright unpleasant ones.

No wonder that every culture has a myth of a Perfect long ago, and that all people share a dream of an Ideal future (though the specifics vary). We yearn for a time of bliss and leisure, peace and plenty — when all the ugly end-results of our choosings and our doings are utterly cast out.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the former things will have passed away.”  ~ Revelation 21:4

The Blame Game

The Genesis story also reminds us of the comforting lie that persists: our human proclivity to blame God for the choices that we make, and for failing to intervene when things go amiss. In it do we not hear the oft-repeated insistence that the divine Presence ought to protect us from ourselves? “It’s Your fault: You gave the woman to me.” Why did You plant that tree there in the first place? Why didn’t You stop me? Why did You make ice cream taste so good? Why did You put that where I could reach it? 

Perhaps we’d already learned a little something at our wily teacher’s knee: what other explanation for the man’s instant, glib reply when challenged by God? How cunning he was to redirect the blame, assigning guilt to the woman — and thus degrading and denouncing the holy gift that he had been given. Not “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh,” but “Nothing to do with me;” willing to partake, but not to accept responsibility.

In our very denials we implicate ourselves: we know that our choices influence and affect events and situations throughout creation. We want to take charge, to claim authority, to arrange the world according to our taste; we want to decide and determine: to “be as God.” But, when things go wrong, how readily we pass on the blame to someone else! Anyone else.

True Friends?

The curious part is the apparent friendship with Snake. Does it signify that we humans have always been entranced by the ability to beguile and deceive, never dreaming that those same wiles can be turned against us? Perhaps it speaks to the death of innocence, our discovery that so-called friends can lie, mislead, and use us for their own ends. 

But the story doesn’t stop there. It shows that all of us are capable of behaving less than honorably, stooping so low as to turn against our friends in order to save our own skins. The man did so at once, attempting to use his wife as a human shield against Divine wrath, and the woman was the same, passing the blame on to their former friend and colleague. As a matter of fact, Snake is the only party who didn’t deny responsibility for what had been done. 

We see, too, how lies destroy relationships. The woman and Snake are no longer friends, but lasting enemies, each sworn to destroy the other — a vendetta which will be carried on by their descendants, down through the ages. And I wonder if the situation was not the same between the man and the woman, for, in the aftermath, God commands that she “desire” her husband — was it not spontaneous, before? It would seem that, when our relationships are out of true, laws and rules become the cause of “right conduct” rather than the desires of our hearts.

Knowing Good and Evil

Was Snake telling the truth: in our knowledge of good and evil, has humanity become “like God”? Or are we simply “beguiled” — that marvelously descriptive term! — by the notion?

There can be no question that we have accumulated vast amounts of information; we have gained the ability to do wondrous deeds — near-miracles by any valuation: curing diseases, prolonging life, repairing genomes, splitting the atom…. but we have not attained the wisdom to use them well. We possess the power to destroy our planet a thousand-times over, yet we continue to build weapons of death. We have intelligence in abundance, but very little understanding. We successfully transplant organs, giving recipients “a new heart,” while others live in heartbreak and sorrow (and others are mean-spirited and hard hearted).

Like God, humanity knows what is good and what is evil, but we aren’t grace-full enough to decide as we ought; often choosing what appeals to our ego, rather than what is healing and kind. We easily, unwittingly, succumb to the temptation to consider ourselves as gods; important, essential, authoritative; our word is the law, our judgments are swift, our decisions are final, irreversible, exact, and true. That’s how it is to be “like God,” right?

Except.

Like God?

As the ancient prophets insisted and the Lord Christ showed forth in His ministry, God is less concerned with vengeance than with mercy; anxious to save, to help, and sustain; patient and hopeful, the Eternal is a Being of infinite love and compassion who desires our greatest good. Therefore, to be “like God” would mean to be graciously self-giving, abundantly generous, and immensely caring.

Those characteristics are very different from what we ordinarily imagine “godlike” to be. 

So was Snake an enemy who beguiled us with promises of omniscience and infallibility, resulting in confusion, suffering, and pain? Or are we the authors of our own delusions? Perhaps we become so entranced by grandiose fantasies and cultural imperatives that we fail to recognize that it is the plain and simple things that truly matter.

It was not for nothing that our Lord came to us as a humble servant. 

Jesus Christ, in His infinite love, has become what we are, in order that He may make us entirely what He is.
~ St. Irenaeus of Lyons

It would seem that we are most “like God” when we are fully human. May we choose to act accordingly.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Consider:

“The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”
~ St. Irenaeus of Lyons

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Using the “Mute” Button

Deborah Beach Giordano
© July 9, 2018

Mark 6:1-6 ~ told by Deborah

After healing the woman who had been ill for twelve years and restoring the little girl to life, Jesus returned to his hometown, along with his disciples.

On the Sabbath he started teaching in the synagogue, which disturbed a lot of the people. 

“What right does this guy have to teach us?” they asked one another. “I haven’t seen any miracles, have you?” “He’s only a carpenter; his family lives right here in town.” “I know his mother, Mary, and his brothers.” “And his sisters are sitting here with us!” “Who does he think he is, anyway?” And they were scandalized.

As Jesus explained to his disciples, prophets get no respect from those who know them, or within their own families.

He wasn’t able to do anything there in Nazareth, except cure a few sick people by laying his hands on them.

And he was amazed at their lack of faith.

So he left that place and went out into the countryside and taught among the villages there.

Late Night Television

The other night I was watching an old movie on television, it was called Experiment in Terror. I’d never seen it before and found it fascinating; the plot kept me engaged, the acting was excellent, and the scenes of San Francisco, circa 1960, were great fun to see.

And then [minor spoiler alert] ….

As the fiendish Ross Martin had outwitted the cops once again, the film was interrupted, and I found myself subjected to one of those extra-long commercials that are a feature of late-night television. You know the ones; those five- to seven-minute mini-epics featuring various speakers, diagrams, testimonials, and before-and-after shots, dedicated to convincing us that we desperately need whatever it is that they are offering to us — at greatly discounted prices!

This one began by informing me that my “growth hormone” is in abysmal condition; basically it gave up the ghost many years ago. But there is no cause for despair, for A Cure is At Hand! 

I pushed the Mute button and went off to make a cup of tea, pondering the product they were advertising. I’m not a medical professional, but how can a renewed surge of “growth hormone” be a good thing? If mine suddenly kicked in, I’d have to let down the hems on all of my skirts. And what if my feet started to grow? None of my shoes would fit! The mind boggles.

By the time I returned, that commercial was over and a new one had begun. This one was directed at gentlemen of a certain age who yearn to, once again, <ahem> dance the night away. Apparently that had something to do with growth hormone, too. I left the television on Mute and picked up the book I’m reading.

I have no business complaining; it’s what we expect from late-night commercials. There’s no point in listening; you know before it starts that the products are …. suspect, to say the least. Their promises are too grandiose, their prices too low — and who are those people, anyway; how can we believe them?

Closed Ears

Something like that was at work in the minds of his hearers when Jesus began to teach in the synagogue. Convinced that there was nothing worthwhile that he could tell them, they simply didn’t listen.

The people of Nazareth were shocked that Jesus would stand up and talk like that — with authority, as though what he said could be trusted and relied upon, which seemed impossible. After all, he was just a carpenter, born of a woman; they’d known him since he was a child, his family lived in the neighborhood: how could he get so smart all of a sudden?

The idea that this fellow would presume to teach in the synagogue was a scandal; he had no qualifications, and no credibility. The people believed there was no reason to listen to him, and so they didn’t. Most simply ignored what Jesus said, considering his message to be of no account; as insignificant as a late-night television commercial.

Imagine that! Those poor, foolish people missed out on hearing the Gospel — from the mouth of the Lord himself! They closed their ears and shut their minds to what he had to say because, for one reason or another, they had decided that Jesus’ words weren’t worth listening to.

That really was a scandal.

Unthinking

Maybe it would have been different if the people had heard that the Lord had raised a little girl from the dead — but then again, they might have refused to believe it happened. After all, they hadn’t seen any miracles; to them Jesus was just another guy, unimpressive in manner and appearance. They had already made up their minds, and so the Lord was rejected by those who ought to have welcomed him.

It’s sad, but not surprising. We are creatures of habit in our sitting down and our arising — and in our thinking. That’s especially true, I think, these days, when we are awash in an endless stream of data from all directions. It feels overwhelming, and so we sort and shift and categorize the information we receive, making our decisions based on what we already know. Or what we think we know.

Generally, we seek the broad and easy path, relying on the ideas and opinions that make us comfortable; the ones that don’t disrupt our patterns of behavior and belief. Just as I was annoyed by the commercial that interrupted the story line of the movie, it’s equally annoying to have our personal story lines interrupted. Even more so, in fact. 

Life is stressful enough; we don’t need complications. And so we try to avoid them. That often translates into avoiding or ignoring those who think differently, who worship differently, whose lives and primary concerns are unlike ours. We discount their ideas out of hand, without a hearing or due consideration; and before we know it, we also discount the people themselves; denying their dignity and very humanity; “She’s a stupid cow.” “That guy is scum.” “They’re despicable,” “She’s nobody!” “He should be dead.” ….. “He’s just a carpenter.” 

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did to Me” ~ Matthew 25:34-45.

Getting Away from Ourselves

While our charitable visions are often directed far afield, we would do well to look closer to home, as well; to take note of those in our own neighborhoods whose voices and concerns we ignore, and perhaps deride and demean. Of late it has become the fashion to choose those with whom we will — and will not — communicate; many people deciding that they are able to judge and condemn others, having determined that what those particular children of God say is not worth listening to. 

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did to Me” ~ Matthew 25:34-45.

Hatred is not a virtue; scorning and denigrating others doesn’t make us noble (and certainly not Christian!). Being compassionate long-distance doesn’t absolve us from our responsibility to be charitable to our nearer neighbors.

Think about it: would you “offer a cup of cold water, in Jesus’ name” to those you consider “enemies”? And why do you consider them your enemies? Have you listened to what they have to say — with empathy and concern, rather than suspicion and scorn?

“But to those of you who will listen, I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” ~ Luke 6:27-28 (Mt 5:44-45).

for you may entertain angels, thereby.

It is possible that we may learn and grow — in wisdom as well as grace — by listening to what is said by those we consider to be of no account. Who knows: perhaps we may even hear the Gospel from the lips of people whom we believe have nothing worthwhile to say. Otherwise it may be for us as it was for those in the synagogue who closed their ears .…

And the Lord went away from that place, 

taking His gifts of healing and hope with Him.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Listen.

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Twelve Years of Suffering Ended: the story of the Woman with an Issue of Blood

Deborah Beach Giordano
© July 2, 2018

Mark 5:21-43 ~ told by Deborah

When Jesus returned from the other side of the lake, a huge crowd gathered around him as soon as his feet touched the shore.

Jarius, one of the leaders of the synagogue, came to him and fell at his feet and begged him, over and over, “My little daughter is dying! She is dying! Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” So he went with him — and the crowd followed, pushing and shoving.

Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; but nothing helped, she only got worse.

She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, thinking, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Instantly the bleeding stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.

Instantly Jesus felt that power had gone forth from him, and he turned and scanned the crowd, “Who touched my clothes?” “Who touched you?” his disciples repeated, “In the crush of this crowd? How can you ask who touched you?”

He looked all around to see who had done it. And the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, knelt before him, and told him the whole truth.

He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

As he said this, people arrived from the leader’s house, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” Hearing what they said, Jesus told the leader of the synagogue, “Do not be afraid, just have faith.” He didn’t let anyone come with him except Peter, James, and John. 

When they reached Jarius’ house, people were in hysterics: weeping and wailing. “Why are you carrying on like this?” Jesus asked, “The child isn’t dead, only sleeping.”

And they ridiculed him. Then he thew them all out, and went in to where the child was with only her father and mother and those who came with him. He took her hand in his and said, “Talitha, kumi!” (which means “Little girl, get up!”) And instantly she arose from the couch and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). 

Everyone was bowled over; astonished and amazed and speechless. He ordered them not to tell anyone about what had happened, and told them to give her something to eat.

The Woman’s story ~ as told to Deborah

Twelve years. Twelve long years of pain — in my body and in my spirit. It would have been more bearable, perhaps, if not for the terrible loneliness: the averted eyes and hurried departures when I came near — as if a leper’s bell were sounding! I had no hope for a child to claim as my own; no husband to share my hearth — for who would marry a woman he could never approach? 

Avoided by the fastidious, shunned by superstitious, unable to worship, or wash, or go to the well when others did, the ceaseless flow marked me as surely and clearly as if my very robe were stained scarlet. And all the while my life was being sapped from me, slowly, steadily, relentlessly; I could feel it in my body: my steps growing feebler, my heart beat weaker, my eyesight dimmer.

I had sought countless treatments with doctors and rabbis and soothsayers and midwives — yes, even those! I’ve been prodded and poked and prayed-over, taken purgatives and potions, but in the end all were agreed: it was hopeless. Despite it all, I believed in God’s goodness and mercy. As the psalmist said: God’s anger is for only a moment, but His love is forever; weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning. I believe in that shout of joy … And O, how I prayed for it.

So that morning I made my way, slowly, painfully, to the lakeshore, to await this man Jesus. It was said that he was a true miracle-worker sent by the Holy One to cure and heal every sort of suffering, and that he could even cast out demons. Rumor had it that only the day before he had cleared a whole legion of them out of one man, who was now perfectly well and fine.

Perhaps this holy teacher could heal me. Perhaps this Jesus could banish my demons. Perhaps.

A crowd was forming; a boat had landed and a dozen or so men and woman were stepping onto the shore. Several voices began shouting at once, “He is here! Here he is! The Lord has come!” That provoked a full-on crush: people were rushing past me; others had been waiting for Jesus, too, and now it seemed that he was lost to me. I had no strength to push my way through the crowd, and he was surrounded on every side. 

Still, I crept forward, unnoticed, ignored: one cannot be an outcast if one is unseen. Then I saw one of my neighbors — and he saw me — with a look of alarm he nudged the man next to him and they both hurriedly stepped aside. My illness had cleared a path for me.

And all at once there he was, right in front of me: this Jesus of whom I had heard so much. There was a sort of radiance about him, a kind of shimmering as in the desert sands at midday, and I found myself drawn in. I wanted to reach out, to feel that glorious intensity for myself. How I longed to be within the circle of that light! 

Then, suddenly, it was as if the sun had ceased moving, as if we were all turned to stone. 

A man had come running up to Jesus — pushing his way through the crowd — a man whose face I knew full-well: Jarius, one of the elders of the synagogue; ancient and venerable, utterly respectable and infinitely observant of the Torah. My face was known to him, too — as was my condition — and I was certain that he would tell Jesus to avoid contact with me.

I stood still, immobilized with fear and dread. All chance for healing would soon be lost!

But then, astonishingly, unbelievably, this pillar of the community, this upstanding character so conscious of his great dignity, threw himself in the dust at the Lord’s feet. As he looked up at Jesus I could see that he had been crying! “My little girl!” he sobbed, “My little girl is dying! She is dying! If you will only come — please, just touch her, that’s all I ask! — and I know that she will be healed and live! Please! Please…” Over and over he repeated, “Please save my little girl! Please save my little girl!” 

My heart nearly stopped beating at such terrible news. An unimaginable loss; a disaster: this child had been a gift from heaven, so everyone had said at the time. Jarius and his wife were no longer young when the little girl was born, they had nearly given up hope when, as in the stories of our ancestors Abraham and Sarah, a child was given to them in their old age. The whole community had celebrated with them … and now that sweet small life was ebbing away. I began to cry.  

Jesus bent down and spoke to the man, his words too soft for me to hear, but soon Jarius was on his feet and leading Jesus away, down the road toward his home. The crowd followed — and so did I.

It was crucial that I reach Him, nothing else mattered — and it had to be now. I would risk his censure, his condemnation, but I would not be pushed aside; I would not be ignored. The mass of people was growing thicker and none of them knew me; I had lost the unholy power that fear of contagion brings! Taking a deep breath, I rushed forward, jostling and shoving and then — O God, no! — stumbling and falling to the ground. At the last moment I reached out, desperately, with all of my strength … and the tips of my fingers touched the hem of His robe.

It was only for an instant. But it was an instant in which Eternity was revealed. 

In that instant I saw with new eyes All That Is and knew an unearthly peace and joy. In that instant all suffering and pain vanished; my whole body felt alive, invigorated — as if I had been reborn. 

Stunned and surprised, I knelt where I fell, as the crowd surged past.

All at once the marching footfalls stopped. Jesus was standing absolutely still, frowning, “Who touched me?” he asked. He raised his head and scanned the faces around him.

“Who touched you?” one of the men closest to him repeated, “Are you kidding? In the middle of this mob it could have been anybody.” 

“No,” Jesus shook his head, “I was touched by the person’s prayer.” He began to retrace his steps, drawing closer to me. 

Trembling, I clasped my hands and bowed my head, “Lord, it is I who touched you.”

I waited for the recriminations, the scolding and the shame, but instead Jesus smiled at me. He smiled! And, bending low, he spoke to me, kindly, gently … and I told him everything.

“Talitha,” he said — using the pet name my mother had called me in my childhood, “Your faith has brought healing. You are cured of your disease.” The Lord touched my head in the sign of blessing, “Shalom.”

“Shalom, rabbouni.” I answered.

But in that moment of bliss — the unthinkable. Three men approached Jarius, their gait and their expressions conveying the news before the words left their lips, “Your daughter is dead.” One of them put his arm around Jarius’ shoulder, “There’s no point in bothering the teacher, now; come back to the house.”

But Jesus interrupted him. Looking directly at Jarius, he said, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.”

Turning to the crowd, he held up his hand, “This doesn’t concern you. You cannot come with us.” Then he called three of his followers, Peter, James, and John, and we set out with Jarius and the other men.

We could hear the wailing before we reached the house; the whole community had assembled to mourn the death of the child. Tear-drenched faces and pitying gazes met us as we entered the gate; Jarius raised his hand as if to shield himself from the sight. But Jesus stood in the center of the garden, “Why are you carrying on like this?” he asked, “The child isn’t dead, simply sleeping.”

His words provoked sneers and outrage. One man, Jarius’ brother-in-law, came toward Jesus with his fists clenched, but Jarius stepped between them, “Get away! You know nothing!” 

“That goes for the rest of you, too!” he shouted, waving his arms at the women with their disheveled hair and torn clothing, “Leave this house at once, and take your shrouds with you!”

We then went into the house and down a short hallway to the child’s darkened room, where her mother sat silently, grasping a small, lifeless hand, her grief too great for tears. Jarius uttered a soft cry and then turned to Jesus. 

The Lord knelt by the child’s bedside, his robe brushing against her mother’s shoulders. He took her other hand in his and, with a glance at me, spoke to her softly, “Talitha, little girl, arise!” And instantly she open her eyes and sat up. 

Looking at her mother, the little girl said, “I’m hungry!” Then, to Jesus, “How long have I been asleep?” She hopped out of bed and took Jesus by the hand, “Let’s go to the kitchen, my mother always has something yummy in the cupboard.” With a shy smile at me, she left the room.

No one had yet opened the veiled windows, and yet that room, I swear to you, was streaming with light. We stood there, all of us together, in silent awe and gratitude. 

A moment later a voice from the hallway broke the stillness, “Mom! I want to make lunch for Jesus and his friends. Can I use the plum jam?” 

Her mother’s laugh was colored with tears, “Well, it seems that life is back to normal!” Then, looking deep into my eyes, she said, “We will always be grateful to the one who gave life to our little girl.”

Jarius nodded, “That fellow in there,” he pointed toward the kitchen, “says that, with God all things are possible. So maybe it’s possible for an old man to make a fresh start; to learn to love and leave the rest to the Almighty. Like our mother Eve, you and the Creator brought new life into our world, that’s what counts; no one else matters. God is the one true father of us all; the rest of us are adoptive parents.” He cleared his throat, “You are always welcome in our home.”

Her mother took me by the arm, “Let’s go into the kitchen and see what our little girl is up to.”

And that is the story of how my new life began. 

May the light of Christ shine as brightly in your life as it has in mine.

In His Name,

Berenike

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

How much suffering do we cause by our fear and suspicion of one another?

About “Berenike”

The woman is not named in any of the Gospel reports of her story, although various traditions suggest she was Mary of Bethany or, more commonly, “Veronica” — which is a Latinized pronunciation (but not translation) of the Greek Berenike, meaning bearer of victory. After hearing her story, it seemed to me that Berenike was a more fitting name.

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Trials and Tribulations – Job confronts God

Deborah Beach Giordano
© June 25, 2018

The Book of Job 38:1-11told by Deborah

Then God answered Job from out of the storm: “Who is sowing confusion with a lot of ignorant chatter?

“Stand up straight, pull up your socks, and confront Me face-to-face; now I will ask the questions, and you will give the answers.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, Mr. Know-it-all. Who decided its size — come on, tell Me! 

“Or who shaped the mountains, formed the valleys, or determined the lengths of the rivers? Who was there at that first dawning when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?

“Or who captured the sea when it burst forth from the womb? — when I wove clouds for its garment, and wrapped its depths in a dark swaddling band, and established boundaries for it, setting bars and gates, and saying, ‘This is as far as you will come, and no farther; this is the limit to what you will claim.’?”

The Protest

After enduring the destruction of his property, the loss of his wealth and his social standing, the deaths of all of his children and, finally, inflicted with a painful, disfiguring disease, Job left the ruins of his life and parked himself in the local ash heap — the remains of the city’s trash. It was a perfect embodiment of his situation; discarded, burned out, shunned, scorned, and smelly, and avoided by everyone. It was his protest against wrongful treatment, a sit-in directed at the Divine Judge. 

Job’s wife told him that he should give up; his case was hopeless, there was no way that he would receive justice; God was inscrutable, heartless, unmovable. But Job refused to surrender.

With Friends Like These…

Job was not entirely abandoned and alone, however; in addition to his wife, three friends came to see him. Unfortunately, they brought with them no compassion (or casseroles!); they did not come to listen, but to condemn, behaving like judges rather than advocates. Job’s visitors were more concerned with justifying God’s actions than with comforting their friend, and thus they added to his pain.

These “friends” offered Job well-intentioned but highly-critical “consolations”; accusing him of insolence or ignorance, convinced that he was guilty of some great wrongdoing for which God was rightly punishing him, and which he refused to confess. Just own up to your sin and ask forgiveness, they counseled, because this disaster has to be of your own making: God is the Author of all harm that befalls us — and He is never wrong or unfair. 

But Job knew differently; he knew he didn’t deserve to be in that situation; he wasn’t to blame for the agony he was suffering, and he insisted and insisted and insisted on his innocence. Further, he was going to stay right where he was; camped out at the city dump, demanding justice, proclaiming the utterly unfair nature of what had been done to him, until God answered his complaint, or he died.

The Trial

Job’s story is one of outraged innocence — and a ferocious commitment to the principle of justice. In his fierce desire to prove that his suffering was not merited, that God’s will is not the same as what we glibly refer to as “karma” (“You get what you deserve,” “Chickens always come home to roost,”) Job began to conduct a trial of God in absentia — judging Him as distant, aloof, uncaring, unconcerned, and unwilling to admit of His own wrongdoing. God in the witness stand: Job demanded nothing less. It was a gutsy move — perhaps a half-mad one, born of desperation. 

Sadly, as he builds his case against the Divine Presence, Job appears to convince himself that there is no point to it all; that God truly does not care, that perhaps God isn’t even there. Carried away by his grief and grievances, Job’s plea for justice turns into a call for destruction, darkness, and death; his despair becomes a death-wish — never specifically, yet every phrase Job speaks, every image evoked is of endings, of shadows and silence and emptiness. 

Out of the Whirlwind

Then, from the midst of a whirlwind — a wild, shimmering, earthshaking storm like the chaos from which creation was brought forth — God, the Eternal, the Almighty, the Profoundness We Cannot Comprehend, speaks. And Job gets more than he bargained for: he suddenly finds himself in the position of defendant as the Voice demands: “Who are you to say these things? How dare you talk such trash?”

God appears, and Job’s case against Him crumbles: God is not absent or uncaring. God does hear, and does respond — and sometimes shows up. But God offers no excuses or explanations nor offer an apology for Job’s tragedies. The Divine response is not an answer, but a revelation, a proclamation: a song of the earth, a hymn to creation, a passionate celebration of life (as  told by Deborah):

You grieve and despair,
disdaining life,
desiring death,
praising
the silent abyss;
preferring
eternal darkness,
craving
erasure,
absence,
endless nothingness.

Claiming to be unheard,
a voice crying in the wilderness,
you have judged and condemned Me —
now I will take My turn,
I will speak as the Prosecutor:
now I shall accuse you.

I challenge you,
O Mortal,
to behold
what lies beyond
your sight,
your understanding,
your imagination;
open your eyes,
your thinking —
see what I have done:

the ocean and its tides,
the whales and their journeys,
the dolphins and their dancing,
the seals and their frolics,
the sand dabs and the mollusks,
the crabs and the starfish;
the citizens of the seas
in their uncounted abundance
beneath the glistening surface,
treasures unseen,
as pearls within oysters;

the sky and its endless permutations,
the azure-coated fog banks,
the many splendored dawnings,
the radiant sunsets
fading softly into darkwinged nights
revealing a thousand thousand stars
who sing each new day into being,
calling forth a new creation
as all of heaven shouts with joy;

sunshine and shadows,
elephants and ostriches,
salamanders and sea turtles,
crows and cattle and calla lilies,
roses and robins and rainbows,
love and loss and longing:
the whole garden of earthly delights,
the Author of all this I AM.

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The everlasting God,
Creator of the whole earth
never grows faint or weary;
My compassion is limitless,
My understanding beyond
the breadth and depth
your soul can reach.

As it was from the beginning,
is now,
and ever shall be:
here I AM.

The Answer

God’s answer to Job is a two-fold revelation: in the immediate encounter and — more important — as a reminder of what has already and always been: God revealed in creation. In responding to Job’s complaint, the Eternal says: You want to see Me? You want to know of My intentions, My concerns, My Ultimate Desire? Then look around you.

Divine grace is everywhere present.

God does not dismiss Job’s pain or loss, but — as we might say — “reframes” it. Here and now, in the midst of everything, there is grandeur and glory; throughout delights and distress, trials and troubles, suffering and celebration, I AM with you. 

Job’s accusation that God is malicious or negligent is refuted by a thousand sources of amazement and delight. The whole earth is absolutely covered with divine fingerprints, from the massive to the minuscule — all creation, great and small! — hummingbirds and humpback whales, goldfish and gorillas, dragonflies and dogs, ants and antelopes, and… well, you get the idea.

There’s a lot going on in our world and, in addition to inspiring and delighting us, it should give us a bit of perspective:

When I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars which You set in place — what is humanity that You pay us any mind? Why do You care for us as You do?  ~ Psalm 8:3-4

But What About Me?

When we are suffering, we become the center of the universe (our universe), and all of the fragrant flowers and buzzing bees in the world may not be enough to pull us through:

What is man that You should exalt him, that You should set Your heart upon him, that You attend to him every morning, and test him every moment? Can’t You leave me alone, not even for a minute? ~ Job 17:17-19

Sometimes it can feel as if everything is going wrong, as if we are encircled by enemies, as if even God is against us. That’s how it was for Job: the experience of darkest despair. And so he shouted at God, demanding to be heard, insisting that his suffering be acknowledged, refusing to go down without a fight. Then something happened: a breakthrough, an epiphany, an insight; something brought him to a place of understanding, perhaps acceptance; somehow Job was changed by the experience.

The story of Job is an affirmation that we are not alone in the universe, nor are we insignificant — yet neither can we order God about like a servant. The Holy One is far more than we can conceive of or apprehend, and is powerfully present. Our voices are heard, but not obeyed. 

Life doesn’t always work out as we desire, but God abides. All else rises and falls, comes into being, changes and reshapes; is born, lives and loves and dies — and God abides; God, the Everlasting, the One into which all that is or ever was, is enfolded.

The End

The author of Job’s story gives it a “happily ever after” conclusion. We are told that Job’s disease is cured, his fortunes are restored, his herds are doubled; he returns to a position of authority in his community, and formerly absent relations appear and eagerly flock to his table, partaking of the rich foods and fine wines he can now provide. His wife bears him seven children, including three exceptionally beautiful daughters, and Job enjoys a long life, living to see his great-great grandchildren.

That’s nice. We like happy endings. But I wonder….

In my end is my beginning.
~ T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets; East Coker

Does Job literally regain all that was lost or does he, with new-found understanding and wisdom, realize that he is already far richer than the wealthiest prince? Has his changed circumstance made him more compassionate; is he now a genuinely wise man, a sage who can sit at the city gates and dispense advice that is meaningful and truly just? 

Has his experience freed Job from the need to amass and accumulate to impress his “friends”? Does he go through the town like a character in a story I once read, looking in shop windows and saying, “I don’t need that, or that, or that, or that!”? Does Job’s family increase not by new births, but through his affection and concern for others? Are his daughters especially beautiful because of the love-light in their father’s eyes? Is one of the “newborns” Job’s own soul?

And, as for us, can we hope to be as wise as Job?

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Clare of Assisi is said to have proclaimed on her deathbed, “Thank You, Lord, for allowing me to be a human being.”

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