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Archive for July 2nd, 2017


Judges 1: Cycles of Love

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema: The Women of Amphissa

We know that Judges is the book in the Old Testament that takes us from the time following the death of Joshua through several hundred years of leaders, or judges, who include Gideon, Deborah and Samson, to the time of Jesse, father of David.  It delineates the story of a people struggling to understand themselves and one another, a people who constantly cycle through a loop of straying, repenting, returning, and forgetting.  The last verse of the book speaks about the attitude of the people regarding not only their civic relationship with one another, but also their spiritual relationship with God.  In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what he thought best.  We reflected on this idea several days ago, saying that this is a sentiment we might apply to our contemporary times as we watch events unfold over which we have little and no control. It seems that in all ages we humans . . . do what we think best.  We also see God’s reaction to human waywardness: God allows the weeds to grow up with the wheat.

A number of years ago I came across a painting in the National Gallery’s Pompeii exhibit. It showed maenads, those who stir themselves to frenzy with wine and orgy, and who sink so low that they tear apart their own children.  They are the famous Bacchae of Dionysus, the distraught female followers of this god of wine who exacts revenge on any woman who will not submit to his will.  This Dionysus is the antithesis of the God of Israel.  This pagan god takes what he wants for his own satisfaction, and his followers are too exhausted to see the truth of his and their existence.

We are constantly faced with a choice in our lives because God grants us the freedom to follow or to strike out on our own, to enact love or to deaden our senses with the wine of self-pleasure and self-gratification.

The painting by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadea entitled The Women of Amphissa shows the exhausted maenads as they awaken the morning after a night of mad running through the hillsides in rapacious, orgiastic delight.  We can see their numbness to the light and to life.  The local townswomen protect them and arrange for them to be returned home unharmed; but the damage has already been done, and they remain powerless, forever in the grip of Dionysus.  They cannot escape from his cruel delight in watching them destroy others.  They have no God who loves them enough to sacrifice himself in redemption of their souls.  There is no Christ who refuses to leave his faithful to do what they think best.

Our God . . . the God of Israel . . . the one God of all of us here is not a God who holds us bound by the secrets or the dark debauchery that surround us.  Our God does not destroy with threats, but rather calls us to grow amid the weeds through faith in God’s own hope and love.  Ours is the God who forgives many times and constantly.  Our God welcomes those who witness and turn to goodness.  Our God does not chain us, does not bind us, does not force us into relationships, and does not take revenge.  Our God brings light, and truth and redemption.  And this God asks us to behave in like manner.  God sets us free to search for God’s goodness with our whole heart and our whole soul, to love or to turn away.  Our God is always hoping that when we do what we think best, we will respond in joyful hope to the call of light and truth and authentic, unencumbered love.

Adapted from a reflection written at the close of 2008. 

For more on the Bacchae, Dionysus and the playwirght Euripides, visit : http://www.mythography.com/myth/glimpse-of-a-greek-god-dionysus-in-the-bacchae-of-euripides/

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