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Genesis 43The Second Journey

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Bacchiacca: Joseph receives his brothers

Just when we think we have reached a plateau in our journey where we might walk along the flatland rather than clamber up and skitter down the mountain sides . . . we find that we have to go back to repeat a leg of our passage.  Just when we have begun to relax at the oasis where we have filled our water sacks and rested in the shade from the heat of the day . . . we are told that we must move on.  Just when we are beginning to become comfortable in the little fortress where we are hiding from our foes . . . we hear the voice that calls us to make a second journey.

Today we find ourselves in the Joseph story at the point where the brothers have returned home to Jacob to tell him that they must go back to Egypt . . . and this time they must take the favored son Benjamin with them.  Just when Jacob thought his problem of famine had been resolved . . . he is told that he must relinquish the last person who brings him comfort.  Despite his age and the litany of difficulties he has undergone, Jacob must trust God and allow himself to suffer again.  The brothers who had sold Joseph into slavery know that they must make a return trip to Egypt.  Little do they know that well-hidden secrets are about to be revealed, questions will be asked and answered, truths will be spoken.  They plan to go to Egypt to purchase food for their families.  They do not plan to encounter the brother they have delivered to slavery and death.  They do not know they are about to make a further journey.  We do not hear from Benjamin, the young boy whose full brother wields power second only to Pharaoh, but we can imagine that he feels both anxiety and excitement.  Everyone in this story will suffer.  Everyone in this story will be rewarded beyond their wildest imaginings.

I am reading a book by Richard Rohr which a friend gave to me.  In FALLING UPWARD, Rohr posits that in life each of us is given the gift of a second or further journey. “[I]n my opinion, this first-half of life task is no more than finding the starting gate.  It is merely the warm-up act, not the full journey.  It is the raft but not the shore . . . There is much evidence on several levels that there are at least two major tasks to human life.  The first task is to build a strong ‘container’ or identity; the second is to find the contents that the container was meant to hold.  The first task we take for granted as the very purpose of life, which does not mean that we do it well.  The second task, I am told, is more encountered than sought; few arrive at it with much preplanning, purpose, or passion”.   (Rohr viii and xiii)

Rohr cites W. H. Auden:  We would rather be ruined than changed.  We would rather die in our dread than climb the cross of the present and let our illusions die.  (Rohr 65)  And on page 73 we find this from Matthew 16:25-26: Anyone who wants to save his life must lose it.  Anyone who loses her life will find it.  What gain is there if you win the whole world and lose your very self?  What can you offer in exchange for your one life?”

Jacob believed that his sons were going to Egypt to purchase food that would save the family.  He did not know that his lost son Joseph would be their savior.  Joseph’s brothers thought they were purchasing food to save their lives . . . they did not know that they would also redeem their souls.

Just when we believe that we have convinced everyone of the reality of our illusions . . . we are given the opportunity to leave our comfort zone and enter the second half of our lives.  We are blessed with the gift of seeing clearly that we are created to love honestly and suffer well.  We are created to take the second journey of our lives . . . the journey that promises far more than suffering . . . the further journey that brings us more reward than we can ever imagine.


Rohr, Richard. FALLING UPWARD: A SPIRITUALITY FOR THE TWO HALVES OF LIFE. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011. Print.

The painting above is housed at the UK National Gallery.  To see more detail, click on the image and follow the link.  A spy glass on the museum site will allow you to see detail by zeroing in.   You will also find a link to other scenes from the life of Joseph which may interest you. 

A re-post from August 16, 2011.

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Judith 10God’s Favor

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Gentileschi: Judith Beheading Holofernes

We have visited the story of Judith frequently this year and there is much to be learned from the narrative as she enacts sublime fidelity and heroic love.  A favorite Noontime reflection on the Book of Judith may interest you.  It is linked to the Favorites page above, or through the Pagesnavigation panel in the right-hand column of this blog.

Just yesterday we reflected on the concept of fasting.  Today we see Judith set aside her sackcloth and ashes to break her mourning; she goes out to face the enemy, armed with her woman’s weapons of beauty and speech.  Judith will save a nation . . . and she will do this by first seeking and then living in God.  She will receive God’s favor . . . and she will become the vehicle of a people’s salvation.

We notice that God is central in every decision Judith makes and in every act she performs.  Judith is able to escape the enemy’s revenge by walking past the sentries with her maid – and with the head of Holofernes hidden in their food pouch – precisely because she and her companion have walked out each night to pray at the ravine of Bethulia.  The guards are accustomed to seeing this regular ritual and so do not intercept the two women; they do not even search the food pouch.  After bathing each evening, Judith seeks God’s help . . . and she receives it.

We watch Judith as she leaves the city of Bethulia – a city which has provided her people safety and is now threatened by the Assyrian enemy: Order the gate of the city opened for me, that I might go to carry out the business we discussed” . . . Judith and her maid went out . . .

When we are called to go out of our comfort zone we are frightened.  We tell God that he has chosen the wrong emissary.  We say that we are too consumed with all the many other tasks he has assigned to us.  We find reasoning and excuses for not doing God’s will and yet . . . when we pray as Judith does, when we develop steadfastness as Judith has, when we trust God and take each step as it comes to us rather than worry about the distant future, we are able to rejoice – as Judith does – in the favor God bestows on her.

And so we pray . . .

Good and holy God, we are both fear-filled and awestruck at your power.  We watch as Judith goes into the very heart of the enemy camp – for this is where you need her – and we worry that we will not be able to slay the enemy in your name as Judith does.  We watch Holofernes and his soldiers set Judith in a place of honor – knowing that these acts come from lust – and we worry that we may not be as clever as Judith is.  Give us the courage to remain faithful to you.  Give us the endurance to wait on your plan.  Give us the prudence and patience to allow you to unfold before us, through us, and in us . . . so that we, like Judith, may rejoice in you.  Amen. 


A re-post from August 13, 2011.

Image from: http://www.lilithgallery.com/arthistory/baroque/Artemisia-Gentileschi.html

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Psalm 89: A Hymn in Time of National Struggle – Part V

Saturday, January 27, 2018

John Singleton Copley: Eli and Samuel

Finding the Servant

We have taken a quick journey through the Books of Samuel to see that life in our century has much in common with life in ancient days. Some might say that as a species, we have not made much progress. Others may disagree, pointing to improved living conditions for some, though not for all. The Old Testament perspective we see in 1 and 2 Samuel gives way to the New Testament good news that God has come to live among us as a clear sign of God’s love for us. The message that Jesus brings is clear, although not always altogether comfortable. Christ calls us today to tend to those on the margins of our societies who do not benefit from the advances some of us have made, and this clearly will cause times of national struggle.

If we look at the Books of Samuel more closely, and the vivid characters who tell their stories so well, we see clear lessons for living.

How do we handle the corruption we experience? We might take a lesson from God’s message to us when we remember that the young prophet Samuel – who leads a young nation to unity – is raised by a corrupt Temple priest. If God protects and guides a faithful servant to blossom and grow in an environment that lacks authenticity, then we must trust God to protect and guide us today. (1 Samuel 3)

What do we do with our feelings of jealousy or envy?  It is possible to hear a message when we recount the story of Saul’s greed and disappointment when the women sing, Saul has killed thousands, but David tens of thousands. If God inspires David to show courage and love to his enemies, then we must trust God to inspire us today. (1 Samuel 18-19)

Matteo Roselli: The Triumph of David

How might we step out of our comfort zone? Perhaps we learn something about the story of David showing mercy to Saul during the time when Saul persecuted David. If God provides strength and hope to a faithful servant during a time of national turmoil, then we must trust God to bring us strength and hope today. (1 Samuel 24)

How might we better understand God’s plan? We might learn a lesson when we take in the story of David among the Philistines. If we find ourselves working well with our enemies – much to our surprise – then we must trust God’s wisdom and grace more than we trust our own instincts. (1 Samuel 27)

We hear this story . . . we take it in . . . and then we reply with the psalmist and King David . . . O Lord, I will always sing of your constant love; I will proclaim your faithfulness forever.

When we compare other translations of these chapters in 1 Samuel, we open ourselves to God’s fidelity, hope, love, grace and wisdom.

We can learn more about the priest Eli who raised the prophet Samuel in the Temple when we visit: https://bible.org/seriespage/4-rise-samuel-and-fall-eli-and-sons-1-samuel-31-422

Tomorrow, more lessons from Samuel.  

 

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Nehemiah 12 and 13: Strength

Monday, May 16, 2016struggle-strength-picture-quote1

This might well be the cry of any of the faithful who seek to do God’s will in the midst of a crazy and alluring world.  When we read the closing chapters of Nehemiah, the reformer, rebuilder and administrator, we hear the plea which might come from any of us who struggle to right a foundering ship.

Nehemiah remembers that the Empire fell when Solomon began to marry with foreign queens who were worshippers of Baal rather than followers of the Jewish faith.  He worries that after all the sorrow, pain, sweat and tears of the post-exile return and rebuilding . . . these people may be wandering back into the very life styles which brought about the downfall of the kingdom and sent them into exile in the first place.  We hear Nehemiah’s plea that the Lord remember his efforts in chapter 13 verses 14 and 31.  “Remember this to my credit!”

This plea to do God’s will in the face of easy temptations to slip into life patterns which do not witness to God’s presence among us is heard in today’s MAGNIFICAT Morning Intercessions:

When silence is more attractive than fidelity to the truth: My strength, make haste to help me!

When approval is more desirable than perseverance in good: My strength, make haste to help me!

When safety is more appealing than suffering for righteous’ sake: My strength, make haste to help me!

Nehemiah-inside-event-620x250When we feel ourselves or others slipping into old, comfortable but dangerous patterns, we might want to quickly utter this petition of . . . My strength, make haste to help me! And we may want to echo Nehemiah as he says: Remember this in my favor, O my God!

Cameron, Peter John. “Prayer for the Morning.” MAGNIFICAT. 10.5 (2008). Print.  

A Favorite from May 10, 2008.

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