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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

so thirsty

The first reading for Morning Prayer today was Exodus 17:1-7. The first thing that jumps out is the irony that the Hebrew desert (sin) ends up being an English word (sin). The word sinai has the same root.
One issue with reading the Bible is the importance of deeper, symbolic, spiritual and/or metaphorical meanings. The process of such interpretation is like walking a tight rope. On the one hand, you can tumble into wooden literalism and be at risk of mistaking the text for a mathematical formula with tight, singularity of meaning. On the other, one can dive into a hyper-subjectivism where the text means whatever one thinks it means (the technical term for this is eisegesis). One way of handling this is differentiating between studying the Bible to determine what ‘the text says’ and praying/meditating on the Sacred Writ and listening to what ‘the text says to me.’ This latter process has a dialogical component in that what is already in me interacts with the written text and the Holy Spirit at work within me stirs up the thoughts and emotions which God desires to illicit. It is obviously very personal.
The former, more objective in intent, more disciplined and analytical, more attuned to history, theology, context, philology, etc. seeks information. It accepts the text on its terms (as ancient, middle eastern writing) and is much harder to do (because one needs to learn so much).
So, the desert of Sin is a place, a real place. But when I read it, it becomes a transparent image of life. The world is a desert of Sin. Literal sin (in English) where self-determination, doing what we think is best and acting on our own desires frequently produces disasters for the world and other people. We disobey God and cause grave harm. And others do the same and we suffer harm. (In Jewish Biblical theology the desert is multivalent: a place of testing and sin, but also a place of divine care and provision)
The people thirst and complain (there are three “legal complaints” against God in the Exodus narrative: for water, for food, and again for water) and this can be read in multiple ways. In the text it is a sign of Israel’s unbelief. God delivered them from Egypt but still they do not trust. The church is a type of Israel, so the Christian story is also seen here, we, too, complain against God because He does not act as we expect of desire.
But the psalmist says, as the deer thirsts for water so my soul thirst for you, O God and so, buried mystically in this text, we see the human longing for God. Such a reading can be both theological and also personal/spiritual. As I wander in Sin I long for God. This is my frustration. This is why nothing satisfies…. My anger and depression, my sadness and loneliness, the turmoil within is, in part, due to the longing (thirsting) for God which no one and no thing on earth can fulfill.
The section ends with the question, “Is the Lord among us or not?” Herein lies the perennial question. Atheist or theist, that question is the same. We live in a world where our eyes cannot see God, unless with faith we look (and listen). No arguments, pro or con, are sufficient. Where one sees a proof, another sees a coincidence.
At Christmas Matthew said the virgin with child named Emmanuel is fulfilled in Jesus. Emmanuel, God is with us, is the point (more so than the virgin) because it is the central point of the whole Book. Is God with us?????
Thomas Aquinas says that the longing for God is the best proof. I tend to agree. My own struggles with faith and believing always come down, finally, to that question. If there is no God then why do I recognize Sin as Sin? If there is no God why do I toss and turn and hunger so for God? Why can I not find peace outside of God?
In our Gospel reading today (John 7:37-52) Jesus gives the answer which has captured my heart. On the last day of the Feast of Booths, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, He cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to Me!”
So we come, as Israel long ago in that literal and metaphorical Desert of Sin. Dry and thirsty with no other hope for the true water. Come, YHWH God and in Your mercy fill us with living water. Come Lord Jesus!
addendum after morning prayer I saw that tonight's Evening Prayer includes Psalm 42, which I quoted above--another meaningless coincidence? or a little wink from God saying, "I am with you"? See also Psalm 63 for another example of the imagery of thirst.

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