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2 Maccabees 1 and 2: The Ark Hidden During Captivity

Second Sunday of Easter, April 28, 2019

The Ark of the Covenant

Written on July 19, 2008 and posted today as a Favorite . . .

The HARPERCOLLINS COMMENTARY gives a wonderful exegesis of all four books of the Maccabees, but today we look at just these first 2 chapters of 2 Maccabees which the Douay Version refers to as the incident of the hidden temple fire or as “The Hidden Ark during the Captivity”.  All of this sets me to thinking about the wonder of our creation, about the mystery of our personal and collective evolution, and about how and when we go into captivity . . . how and when we return from exile.

We all experience captivity.  Some say that life here on earth is nothing more than that – an exile, a place of suffering and pain.  Optimists see life as a series of experiences, gifts, blessings and celebrations.  Still others see life as a combination of many opposites, dichotomies, bifurcations and amalgamations.  From any of these perspectives, when we look honestly and carefully, we see that each life has its own Captivity with its own Ark in which reposes the Fire of the Spirit.  This fire is the very breath of God at our creation, the mission for which we are destined, the karma for which we are to live, the potential gift God offers to the world as an act of love.  And when we are led away into captivity, all of this is held hidden for a time to be called forth at a precise moment.

Recently I have come to understand that Captivity is not all bad.  It can be a time of suffering and separateness, and it can also be a time of forced retreat, a time of letting go and giving over to God, a time of healing and restoration.  Taken this way, we understand that exile is a time to be hidden, to be held confined for a time away from something we have thought we desired, to be held safely just long enough that we reach the precise point in our pilgrimage where we see something clearly for the first time.  Captivity of the Spirit endures long enough for us to cease thrashing against the world and against ourselves.  It lasts to the precise tipping point at which we jettison all that has pained us . . . because there is nothing else to do.

And all the while that we have been apart and away, the spark of our creation has burned as brightly as ever even though it appears – as we read today in Maccabees – to be mud and water.  Nothing has diminished; rather, all has been clarified, magnified.  All that was captive and hidden now glorifies God more than before.  Imagine our surprise when we, like the Jews who rededicated their temple, lay the tinder to offer holocausts to our God and we realize that we have ignited the offering with the mud from the hidden place of our exile.  Suddenly we see our captivity as gift rather than punishment.

There is a need from time to time to go into exile, to find the place that is to remain unknown and to hide away in this secret place the tent and tabernacle, the altar of incense and fire, and the ark.  We are meant to block this place off and to seal it up so that the hidden spirit and temple fire might be rediscovered when God calls it forth.  And this tabernacle, with its sacred fire appearing as mud, is meant to be reopened and rededicated.

We have learned to fear captivity and the restriction it symbolizes.  How much better we will be when we come to see it as a quiet time in which the living fire of our soul learns to rekindle in God.  Like the people in today’s reading, once we begin to look for resurrection in loss, we will be amazed that the fire of our spirit comes forth from the mud and we will see as gift what we thought to be punishment.  We will marvel that God again resides in the Ark of our lives and we will finally come to understand . . . that he was never truly gone.


A re-post from Easter Week 2012.

Image from: http://www.mishkanministries.org/theark.php

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

Tomorrow we will reflect on Captivity Ended

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Luke 18:1-8The Persistent Widow

Thursday, September 20, 2018

This has for a long time been one of my favorite stories.  Perhaps this is because it has to do with the importance of stamina, something I look for daily.   It is so easy to give up.  And it is so important to continue.

Yesterday I spent pilgrim time with friends renewing the soul and remembering what is accurately the most significant work of each day . . . breathing, living, and remaining in God.  The world so quickly distracts us, and we so easily are drawn away from the only path that can lead us to the tranquility we seek.  In the end, there is only God.

The persistent widow and the unjust judge . . . it is likely that this story has universal appeal because the figures represent archetypal images we see and hear each day.  We relish this story because on any given day we are either the judge or the widow and so we know these roles well.  When we are overwhelmed, cranky, and feeling our “underdog” status we lash out at others, trying to snatch what we perceive to be rightfully ours.  We are the unjust judge.  When we are tired but hopeful and we allow God to smooth away fatigue, we come to understand that we must become the persistent widow.  When we are wounded but determined, we come to know for certain that in the end, there is only God.

Elizabeth Seton

Yesterday’s pilgrimage was to the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmittsburg, Maryland, a memorial to a woman with a remarkable story.  http://www.setonshrine.org/  Mother Seton was a familiar friend of both sorrow and joy and the details of her biography illustrate that she fully understood her role as a persistent widow.  Her life is a model for those who are determined to remain close to God knowing that although there will be sadness they will fail at nothing and they will never be alone.  Through the turmoil, strife, happiness, and joy of her journey, Elizabeth Seton recognized that in the end, there is only God.

My granddaughter likes a particular saying and recently I gave her a mug with its words printed in blues and purples: Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.  This granddaughter is wise beyond her years for one so young; she already knows how to be the persistent widow.  She understands the importance of doggedness, the need for perseverance, the sensibleness of diligence.   She – and her mother – believe that in the end, there is only God.  They believe, and try to act in the belief that, restoration and resurrection are God’s healing gift.  I thought of them a great deal on our pilgrimage yesterday.

I am convinced that fatigue is the devil’s companion and that our little demon doubts and anxieties weigh us down to exhaust us.  A cloud of anxiety descends and suddenly we find ourselves believing that there is nothing for us but sadness.  Our eyes become clouded and we act as if we are doomed to a life of sorrow when in reality we are creatures of joy.  Spiritual weariness will tell us that we are worth little and that we are alone.  It will take its toll and lead to inertia . . . and so we must keep moving forward in the journey, always seeking God, always asking for healing and rebirth.   We must ask for manna and feed ourselves, always thanking God.  We must “go away for a little while” as Jesus did, and find pilgrim companions who thirst as we thirst and who understand the importance of nourishing one another, always loving God.

I believe that in today’s parable the unjust judge recognizes God in the widow . . . and so he finds in her favor, hoping that no one will notice or remember what she has said.  I also believe that the persistent widow has nourished herself and bolstered her soul for the journey.  She has slacked her thirst and hunger with the manna of God’s goodness, she has rested awhile in the company of those who know and understand her plight.  In this way she has come to fully understand and to act in the belief . . .  that there is nothing but God.  She fully strengthens herself to once more go up against the enormous obstacle that blocks her path, not worrying about what others think of her, only knowing that . . . in the end, there is only God.


A re-post from August 20, 2011.

Images from: http://www.church-on-the-net.com/show-weekly.aspx?ID=105 and http://www.church-on-the-net.com/show-weekly.aspx?ID=105

Other links of interest about Elizabeth Seton: http://www.msa.md.gov/msa/educ/exhibits/womenshall/html/seton.html

http://www.setonshrine.com/ 

 http://www.srcharitycinti.org/about/who_is_elizabeth.htm

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Saturday, February 7, 2015roots and branches

Malachi 4 (Malachi 3:19-24)

Roots and Branches

Destruction is a familiar theme in the Old Testament; restoration is a theme in the New.  We seem always to be looking for the phoenix life – one in which our past is obliterated when we rise from the ashes of our former selves.  In today’s Noontime the wicked will be like ashes under the feet of the righteous.  This place which Malachi describes does not appear to offer resurrection; evidently there are actions from which there is no turning back.  The New Testament Jesus calls all of us – even those who seem to be lost in total perdition.  In today’s reading we hear that neither root nor branch will survive the coming fire.  There will be no source of renewal and no bearing of fruit for some.  We might wonder who these wicked are . . . and why they deserve this end.

This prophecy was written after the restoration and re-dedication of the Temple by Ezra and Nehemiah.  Evidently the people had not learned much from their suffering in exile.  These people sound a good deal like us.   “Unlike such early prophecies as Amos and Hosea, the late prophetic book of Malachi is not simply the voice of the observant masses against a corrupt priesthood, though it readily indicts the priesthood for its failures.  It identifies itself with Levitical priestly circles and believes deeply in the temple, true worship, and the payment of tithes as means for obtaining the blessing of the land”.  (Mays 1428-1429)  Malachi saw the corruption and witnessed truth to the power structure.  Clearly, he was ignored.  The Temple fell to final ruin in the Roman-Jewish conflict around the year 70 C.E.  We might wonder how history would have resulted differently if the temple hierarchy had acted positively in response to this prophecy.  We might wonder if we are like the temple priests whom Malachi describes to us today.

tree_vision1Psalm 119, sometimes entitled The Glories of God’s Law, is a long one but we cannot let it discourage us from exploring its verses.  One weekend several years ago I used it for a self-imposed three-day retreat on my porch at home.  Every few hours I went to the corner settee to sit awhile and look at the beauty of nature before me, and then I read and reflected on a portion of this Psalm.  I interspersed this with yoga, reflective music, and reading Thomas Merton, Teresa of Ávila, Catherine of Siena, and Henri Nouwen.  By the end of the weekend, after immersing myself in God’s Law, I had come to better understand an obstacle in my path.  By the end of that weekend I had learned how to rise from ashes so that I might not be trampled underfoot.  By the end of the weekend I had learned again how to put down roots . . . and how to lift up branches in order to bear fruit out of suffering.

Mays, James L., ed.  HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 1428-1429. Print.

Adapted from a Favorite written on May 9, 2011.  

For more reflections on this prophecy, enter the word Malachi in the blog search bar and explore. 

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Sunday, June 30, 2103

EphraimHighlited[1]John 11

The Raising of Lazarus and the Retreat to Ephraim

We hear and read this story so many times.  It holds the brief verse, “Jesus wept”.  It tells a story which holds so much hope.  It is followed by the simple fact that “Many . . . believed in him.  But some of them went away to tell the Pharisees, and told them the things that Jesus had done . . . So from that day forth their plan was to put him to death”.

We realize that because of this, “Jesus no longer went about openly among the Jews, but withdrew to the district near the desert, to a town called Ephraim; and there he stayed with his disciples. . .”

We see that the chapter closes with these words, “the Pharisees had given orders that, if anyone knew where he was, he should report it, so that they might seize him”.

I am not thinking about the story in this chapter that we know so well, how Jesus calls Lazarus to stand erect and to come forth, which he does.  No, I am thinking about the aftermath of the story, about how the structure plotted against this man who came to release people from bondage and to heal.  When we peek into the next chapter we will see that the Sanhedrin also plans to kill Lazarus as well as Jesus.  They must project their own need to plot and conspire upon these two friends.  I want to focus on the hope-filled story of Lazarus . . . but I am thinking about how from time to time in my own life, I retreat with Jesus to Ephraim.

I finally came upon a reference to this small town in the HARPER COLLINS NRSV STUDY BIBLE.  In the footnote we are told that its location is uncertain, and we are referred to 2 Samuel 13:23 and 1 Maccabees 11:34.  It may be located near Bethel; it may be the town also known as Aphairema.  Perhaps it is appropriate that we have no clear name and no clear latitude and longitude for this place; because within each of us there is an Ephraim.  Each of us has a quiet place to which we retreat when we have tried to do something good . . . for which we know we will suffer. (Meeks)

Perhaps it is the instinct for survival in human beings that causes so much anger and jealousy.  Perhaps it is an inborn desire to lay out territory or to strive for fame and wealth.  The temple leaders did not like the fact that Jesus was drawing off revenue as believing Jews turned to him for what the priests could not provide.  We will never truly know what was in the hearts of the men who connived against Jesus rather than offer themselves to him as open, honest and sincere men of God.  We will never know if it was pride . . . fear . . . envy . . . sloth . . . but what we do know is that Jesus went with his disciples to Ephraim to recover, to re-group, to regain . . . before he began his pilgrimage into Jerusalem for the last Passover.

So let us come together when we mourn, let us gather to pray when we celebrate, let us set off to Ephraim to find respite with Jesus and the other disciples.  Let us retreat for a while to gather resources before stepping again on the path of the pilgrims who journey to Jerusalem to atone, to repair and to give thanks and celebrate.  Let us find refuge in Ephraim where we know there is safety in the Lord.

Meeks, Wayne A., Gen. Ed. HARPERCOLLINS STUDY BIBLE (NRSV). New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1989. Print.

Adapted from a reflection written on October 13, 2007.

To read about The Tribe of Ephraim, click on the image above or go to: http://www.israel-a-history-of.com/tribe-of-ephraim.html

To read about Ephraim in scripture, go to: http://topicalbible.org/e/ephraim’s.htm

 

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Sunday, November 4, 2012 – Jeremiah 16 – Candor and Hope

We seek better things to come . . .

What are we to think of the words recorded here by the prophet Jeremiah?  A paraphrasing from the HARPERCOLLINS COMMENTARY, page 559, tells us:  This section contains reports of three symbolic actions, followed by an interpretation that puts them in the context of the Exile.  The prophet is to remain unmarried and childless since the upcoming warfare will be utterly destructive of families.  He is told not to participate in mourning rites because Yahweh intends to remove peace from the land that will undermine the normal mourning customs.  A third requirement of the prophet is that he not participate in festivities of any kind as all celebration will cease.  Following these admonitions is a justification for the punishment they are to receive, the cause is their apostasy.  So we see the domination of two concerns of the community in exile: to identify the cause of its present situation and to contemplate a more favorable future.

Suffering, as we know, is not necessarily castigation; sometimes the innocent suffer through no fault of their own because of circumstances beyond anyone’s control.  What we can take away from today’s reading is the underlined thought above.  When we feel ourselves suffering in exile, two exercises are useful: first, reflecting on our behavior prior to exile to investigate the need to change as appropriate and second, anticipating a better future in active hope.  These are hallmark characteristics of the Christian.  Candid self assessments, the search for improvement, and petitioning God for better things to come.  Even . . . and especially . . . when things seem darkest . . . and without hope of any kind.

When we find ourselves in pain or in exile, suffering either innocently or as a consequence of our own actions, we may choose to become bitter, angry, resentful, and intent on making others suffer.  This does not align with the Law of Love as described by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 when he writes that love does not brood over injury or rejoice over wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 

When we find ourselves in exile, it is best to regard the time as a period of retreat and reflection . . . going inward to hear the voice of truth . . . looking outward in expectation of the good news which will arrive.  As children of God, we benefit from knowing this good news even before it reaches us.  It is the news of our release.  The news of our freedom.  The news that we are created and held by one who loves us more than we can imagine. 

 Written on November 26, 2008, re-written and posted today.   To see how one community contemplates and moves toward a more favorable future, click on the image above or go to: http://www.hopeinspiredministries.org/

Mays, James L., ed.  HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 559. Print.

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