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Ezekiel 29Surprise

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The stela of Pharaoh Hophra: open air museum of Memphis, Egypt

A sea monster lives in the Nile, is subdued and caught by God, and is then thrown back into the river as food for scavengers.  Bible commentary will help us to sort out the prophet’s imagery that we see in chapters 29 through 32 but as we focus on this opening portion we may learn something useful.  In this chapter dated to January of 587 B.C.E. Ezekiel was likely responding to events which took place surrounding Pharaoh Hophra’s unsuccessful attempt to capture Jerusalem from the Babylonians. (Mays 616)  Tiny Israel finds herself between two warring giants . . . and an enemy leader becomes the vehicle of unexpected good fortune.  This dilemma is one that may sound familiar to us.

See!  I am coming at you . . .

In all ways and in all times we must be prepared for God’s voice to come to us from unexpected quarters.  Life has a way of springing the unanticipated upon us in both negative and positive ways.  Family members fuss with one another; trusted colleagues become adversaries.  Sworn enemies turn out to be partners in a common cause.  Betrayal comes from the place we least expect it . . . as does hope. God uses whatever means he must to reach us . . . and God seems to love surprises.

See!  I will bring the sword against you . . .

During a very sad time for our family recently, I heard myself repeating to loved ones: God does not want us to suffer.  God does not plan disaster. God loves us so dearly that he suffers with us.  We are not alone.  God is in charge.  When we are in deep anxiety or deep sorrow we cannot see what stands before us.  And sometimes the well-known faces and familiar phrases cannot penetrate our grief.  It is then that God will surprise us . . . when we least expect it.

The Niles are mine; it is I who made them, therefore see! I am coming at you . . .  

Apries/Hophra Obelisk: Rome

The prophet Isaiah reminds us . . . Those whom the Lord has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy.  (Isaiah 35:10God comes at us with all he has in his arsenal to reclaim and redeem us.  God uses surprise, inversion, and paradox to reach us.  God is persistent; God does not give up or give in.  We cannot out-wait or out-maneuver God.  In the end, God is all, does all, sees all and knows all.  God loves us intensely and well.  God wants us to experience joy.  And God loves us enough to use even our enemies to speak to us when we are determined to ignore the message we are meant to hear.

See!  I am coming at you . . . I will use anything or anyone to penetrate your sorrow in order to bring you joy . . . I will do whatever it takes to get your attention . . . I love you that well . . .


A re-post from November 16, 2011.

Images from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apries and http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/utp/the-glory-departs

Mays, James L., ed.  HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 616. Print.

For more information on the Pharaoh Hophra, follow the link on the images or see this link: http://www.formerthings.com/hophra.htm

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Ezekiel 24:15-27Destruction

Saturday, November 17, 2018

The first 40 books of this prophesy are written predicting the doom and fall  of Jerusalem; and Ezekiel was mocked for believing that the impregnable Jerusalem – jealously guarded by Yahweh – would fall to the pagans.  History reminds us that in 597 B.C.E. Nebuchadnezzar and his troops swarmed into the city and violated the temple, sacking it, killing the Jewish soldiers, taking Jewish captives and carting off all that had value to Babylon.  The Jewish nation had lived too long in false security, thinking for too long that they were unbeatable as a kingdom . . . invincible as a nation . . . indestructible as a people.  They had not understood that it was their own actions that threatened their safety rather than the foreign troops.  Their refusal to adhere to the spirit and the letter of the Mosaic Law had left them vulnerable.

It is too often that as humans we do not realize our lack of understanding until we lose what we hold most dear; that is why there is something recognizable in the eyes of a fellow mourner that tells us when our sadness is truly felt by another.  It is impossible to counterfeit soul-wrenching mourning . . . nothing deceives those who have lost . . . those who have grieved.  Like the witnesses to Ezekiel’s dumbness and numbness, we cannot empathize with grief or sorrow until we ourselves have experienced deep loss.  This is human nature, for it is not until we exit from mourning that we find ourselves immutably changed.  After exile, we forever recognize honest grieving when we see it.  We do not fully and totally take in the fugitive . . . until we are bereft of all we know.

In today’s reading, we see Ezekiel’s stalwart attempt to obey Yahweh.  We watch his effort to hide his grief.  We cannot take our eyes from the drama of his transformation because somehow we understand that from this day forward the Diaspora will believe his predictions, will begin to heed his words, will try to put away their pride and anger . . . will learn to leave themselves open to the healing redemption of their God.

Ezekiel is eventually vindicated, but not until the nation has begun their northward journey into the unknown.  Ezekiel suffers great loss, but in so doing he opens himself to his mourning people . . . and accompanies them into exile.

When we find ourselves on our knees with no where lower to sink . . . we must listen for the voice that says to us . . . All sanctuaries are desecrated . . . yet you are my favored one . . . the one I send to my people . . . to accompany them in their exile. 

God turns all harm to good.  God heals, saves, and redeems.  God asks us to enter into the miracle of transforming the destruction with him, to join in the healing.  When God calls us, we must respond.  When we are sent as ministers to his flock, we must go.  When the walls of the city are impregnated and the temple gold is taken, rather than wrapping ourselves in deep mourning, let us keep our sandals on our feet, leave our turbans on our heads . . . and leave behind the pride of our hearts.  We are called to enter into a fugitive life to live for a time in which we find our sole sustenance in God.  For by this sign, the lost sheep will know that God is with them.


A re-post from October 15, 2011.

Image from: http://www.biblesearchers.com/yahshua/passovertrial/cosmicdrama.shtml

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Psalm 86: Prayer in Suffering and Distress

Friday, January 19, 2018

A Favorite from January 14, 2008.

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.

And you are the only one who understands my depths.

You are my God; have pity on me, O Lord, for to you I cry all the day long.

Yet I know that you always answer.

Hear my prayer, O Lord, and listen to my voice in supplication,

I ask your help because I have nowhere else to turn.

In the time of trouble I call to you, for you will answer me.

I am confident in this.

For you are great and you do marvelous deeds; you alone are God.

There is no other God before you.

Teach me your ways, O Lord, so that I may walk in your truth;

Because there is no other Way to walk.

Let me worship your name with an undivided heart.

So keep me from seeking revenge or from wishing my enemies harm in any way.

Your kindness toward me is great; you have rescued me from the depths of the netherworld.

I remember all of these times with a grateful heart.

Arrogant men are rising against me, O God;

They come with their friends to take delight in my faltering.

Turn to me and grant me your gracious favor;

Because there is no other place of refuge.

Endow your servant with strength,

So that I might do your will according to your plan.

Grant me a sign of your favor, so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame,

For I know they will listen to no one else.

Because you, O Lord, have helped and comforted me.

And my grateful heart rejoices in this.

Amen.

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Sirach 8: 1-14: Perplexity


Sirach 8: 1-14: Perplexity

Thursday, August 25, 2016perplexity-20301609

Last year we took a look at Sirach 18 and 19 to focus on the idea of living within our spiritual means much like we strive to stay with our financial means or our physical limitations. We reflected on the idea of having high expectations of ourselves without stressing ourselves beyond our capacity.  As the ancient Eastern proverb says, All things in moderation.  As my Dad used to say, All things, even if they are good things, become bad things when we take them too far.  And that brings us to today, when we ponder this: When human beings have finished they are just beginning, and when they stop, they are still perplexed. The writer Jesus ben Sirach also gives us this to think about: What are human beings, and of what use are they?  What is good in them, and what is evil?  We are also told: The Lord has patience with us because he sees that we are miserable. 

We may or may not agree with these ideas.  We may or may not like the idea that we spend much of our human existence being perplexed.  In communion with our God, we may wish to have more answers, to be more prepared, to receive more information . . . but this is not what our maker expects.  God expects that we go to him when we are in difficult places in our lives – as small children go to their parents – to place their trust in God’s providence.

I have spent my prayer time this weekend with Sirach and today I open scripture to arrive again at a seminal idea in this book: That we are created to love and to be loved, and that God asks us to walk with him, trusting that he knows how and where we are in every moment of our existence.

Being perplexed is not a bad thing when we take our confusion to God before anyone else.  We can remind ourselves of this each time we feel at sea, each moment we experience negative feelings, each hour we spend in grief.

Being perplexed is not a bad thing when we remember that we are children of God . . . and that this God wishes us every good.

A Favorite from August 31, 2009.

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Matthew 1: Doing What is Right

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Georde de la Tour: St. Joseph the Carpenter

George de la Tour: St. Joseph the Carpenter

Joseph was a man who always did what was right, but he did not want to disgrace Mary publicly; so he made plans to break the engagement privately. While he was thinking about this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. (Matthew 1:19-20)

There are many times in our own lives when we do not understand our circumstances. We might use Joseph as an example of how to move forward in the face of deep grief or fear. Rather than allow fear and doubt to paralyze us, we must turn to what we know, and we must turn to God.

When we live in the Creator, wisdom always arrives. When we live in Christ, courage always finds us. And when we live in the Spirit, peace takes over our lives . . . even on those days when they are filled with strife.

To learn more about this painting, click on the image. 

Over the next few weeks we will be away from easy internet access but we will be pausing to read scripture and to pray and reflect at noon, keeping those in The Noontime Circle in mid-day prayer. You may want to click on the Connecting at Noon page on this blog at: https://thenoontimes.com/connecting-at-noon/ Or you may want to follow a series of brief posts that begins today, inspired by paintings of the life of Jesus Christ  that can be found at: 

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Matthew 5:4 and Luke 6:21: Mourningmourning angel

Holy Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount)

Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh. (Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Plain)

God says: When you sink into deepest grief, remember me – for I am with you. When you believe you will never smile again, remain in me – for I live in you. When the darkness is so dense that the light of hope struggles to pierce it, call on me – for I am that light that no darkness can hold back. The prophets foretold and my son retells you that your mourning will become dancing. The psalmist reminds you that those who go out weeping as they carry seed to sow will also return with triumphant sheaves of joy.

As part of our Beatitudes thanksgiving, let us consider how we might bring the gift of presence to someone who mourns the loss of a person, employment, or a lifestyle.

nilmdts_logo1Find out more about the NILMDTS (Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep) organization, a group of photographers whose mission is to introduce remembrance photography to parents suffering the loss of a baby with a free gift of professional portraiture. Visit: https://www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org/

Tomorrow, hunger and thirst.

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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Gerard Seghers: The Patient Job

Gerard Seghers: The Patient Job

Daniel 12:6

How Long?

How long shall it be to the end of these appalling things?

Exodus 10:3: Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, that they may serve me’.”

Exodus 10:7: Pharaoh’s servants said to him, “How long will this man be a snare to us? Let the men go, that they may serve the Lord their God. Do you not realize that Egypt is destroyed?”

Exodus 16:28: Then the Lord said to Moses, “How long do you refuse to keep my commandments and my instructions?”

Numbers 14:11: The Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people spurn me? And how long will they not believe in me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst?”

Joshua asks the men of Israel how long they will delay in moving into the Promised Land. (Joshua 18:3)

The priest Eli asks the barren Hannah how long she continue with her drunken babbling (1 Samuel 1:14) and the Lord asks Samuel how long he will grieve over the loss of Saul as king of Israel (1 Samuel 16:1).

In 1 Kings 18:21 Elijah asks the people how long their will vacillate between the Living God Yahweh and the false gods of the Baals.

Job’s companion, Bildad, asks Job how long he will refuse to acknowledge his sin – which he, in fact, did not commit (Job 8:2). He asks how long Job will put off speaking truth (Job 18:2). To this, Job replies: How long will you torment me and crush me with lies? (Job 19:1)

In these Old Testament verses we read the words we ourselves use when we are overwhelmed. We hear the human and divine plea for understanding; and we feel the urgent desire for resolution in all that seems precarious and unjust. Let us gather our moments of plight and petition, and bring them to the one who holds the answer to our prayers of supplication.

Tomorrow . . . a response.

For an insightful reflection on the Book of Job, click on the image above or visit: http://soulation.org/breakfastreading/2011/03/a-different-look-at-the-man-from-uz.html

For more reflections on the words of this prophet, enter the words Daniel or Apocalypse into the blog search bar and explore.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Lamentations  – Poignant Grief and Unquenchable Hope

Stomer: Adoration of the Shepherds

Stomer: Adoration of the Shepherds

The seeming conflict between human weakness and divine power is one we humans constantly explore; we can never quite understand the inversion of logic that Jesus brings to the world much less put this inversion of thought into action ourselves.  When we experience dreadful times we must turn to the truth that we are made whole in our emptiness, that sorrow always carries with it joy, and that God resides with those who are broken and forgotten.  In our deepest grief transformation lies in the outrageous hope God offers us . . . in this hope beyond hope that the incredible promise of Christmas is indeed true. The Book of Lamentations may seem like as unusual point of reflection as we enter fully enter the Christmastide but we find something here today that speaks to our human circumstance.   We discover that grief is always a subtle presence at any celebration . . . and that restoration accompanies all loss when we remain in the Spirit.

The five laments found in this book of the Bible “combine confession of sin, grief over the suffering and humiliation of Zion, submission to merited chastisement, and strong faith in the constancy of Yahweh’s love and power to restore.  The union of poignant grief and unquenchable hope reflects the constant prophetic vision of the weakness of man and the strength of God’s love; it also shows how Israel’s faith in Yahweh could survive the shattering experience of national ruin”.  (Senior 1017)  The inversion the Christ Child brings to the world is the same conversion of the Old Testament Yahweh.

A few weeks ago we studied Psalm 90 and reflected on its truth.  In this sacred poem we find our human limitations compared with God’s infinite goodness; we are told that God transforms even our most crushing suffering when we hand over our pain.  It remains for us to act on this knowledge.  It is for us to see the connection between the deep heartache of human distress and the nativity of inestimable hope in the person of Jesus.  Why reflect on a centuries-old lament when we celebrate happiness?  Because Christ represents the only true passage from the inconsolable grief we experience to the indescribable joy we say we seek.

Picture1And so we might spend a bit of time today reflecting.

Do we really want to be happy or do we sabotage our chance to know true delight?  Each of us must make this journey to uncover our hidden plots against ourselves and others. 

Do we honestly want to experience true gladness or do we dwell in the lamentation of our lives refusing to step into the joy fearing that the promise of Christ is yet another disappointment?  Each of us must be willing to hand ourselves over to God and to give a full and candid accounting of our days. 

Do we truly believe in the conversion of poignant grief through the transforming power of unquenchable hope?  If so, and if we honestly wish to live in true Christmas joy promised by the Christ Child, we must plumb our own depths of lamentation and ask: What do we prefer, a life of frustration and illusion or a life filled with promise, trust, and joy?  

It is for each of us to pause today.  What is the true message of the Christ Child?

It is for each of us to decide today.  Do we believe in the message of Jesus’ Nativity?

It is for each of us to act today.   Are we prepared to carry God’s unquenchable Christmas hope into the world for the conversion of our most poignant grief?

Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.1017. Print.   

For a reflection on Psalm 90, go to: https://thenoontimes.com/2012/12/10/gods-eternity-our-fraility/

For more on the Book of Lamentations – Surviving Ruin go to: https://thenoontimes.com/the-book-of-our-life/the-old-testament/the-prophets/lamentations-surviving-ruin/

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Joys and Miseries of Life


Friday, October 19, 2012 – Sirach 40 – Joys and Miseries of Life

Southern Oregon, USA: Ten Years After the Biscuit Fire

As he reaches safety, he wakes up astonished that there was nothing to fear.  (Verse 7)

If only we might remember this constantly when deep grief or great sorrow overtakes us.

Each time we find that we have come through the fire . . .

We can look back to see where we were when we first felt the warning frisson that something was arriving at our door that would call to our best self that aches when stretched. 

We can think back to feel the pain as I squeeze through the narrow gate of the life of Christ to which we are called.

We can look back to see ourselves exhausted and collapsed . . . searching for familiar landmarks with foggy eyes.

We can remember the sense of drifting that accompanies the re-awakening.

We can sense that our suffering self has connected with our healing self.

And we can look forward to the next encounter with one of life’s miseries . . . out of which will grow one of life’s joys . . . into which we go to meet our God.  What do we fear . . . ?

As she reaches safety, she wakes up astonished that there was nothing to fear.  

If only we might remember this constantly. 

Written on October 9, 2008, re-written and posted today as a Favorite.

To learn more about nature’s recovery of the Biscuit Fire in Southern Oregon, click on the image above or go to: http://oregonstate.edu/terra/2012/10/the-biscuit-fire-10-years-later/

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