Human Development in Scripture

Growing in Love’s Likeness

Human Development in Scripture
Monday, March 26, 2018

It is helpful for us to know about the whole arc of life and where it is leading. Walter Brueggemann, one of my favorite scripture scholars, brilliantly connects the development of the Hebrew Scriptures with the development of human consciousness. [1] Brueggemann identifies different stages in the three major parts of the Hebrew Scriptures: the Torah, the Prophets, and the Wisdom literature.

The Torah, or the first five books, correspond, Brueggemann says, to the good and necessary “first half of life.” This is the period in which the people of Israel were given their identity through law, tradition, structure, certitude, group ritual, clarity, and chosenness. It’s helpful and easiest for children if they can begin in this way. Ideally, you first learn you are beloved by being mirrored in the loving gaze of your parents and those around you. You realize you are special and life is good—and thus you feel “safe.” Loving people help you form a healthy ego structure and boundaries.

The Prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures then introduce the necessary suffering, “stumbling stones,” and failures that initiate you into the second half of life. Prophetic thinking is the capacity for healthy self-criticism, the ability to recognize your own dark side, as the prophets did for Israel. Without facing their own failures, suffering, and shadow, most people never move beyond narcissism and group thinking. Healthy self-criticism helps you realize you are not that good, and your group is not the only chosen people. It begins to break down either/or, dualistic thinking as you realize all things are both good and bad. This makes idolatry of anything and war against anybody much less likely. The prophets do not have much good to say about Israel, and thus seem to have all been killed (Matthew 23:31-32). Thus the “charism” of prophecy in its deepest sense has never been much sought after by most Christian groups.

The leaven of self-criticism, added to the certainty of your own specialness, will allow you to move to the third section of the Hebrew Scriptures: the Wisdom Literature (many of the Psalms, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, Wisdom, and the Book of Job). Here you discover the language of mystery and paradox. This is what the second half of life is supposed to feel like. You are strong enough now to hold together contradictions in yourself, others, and the universe. And you can do so with compassion, forgiveness, and patience. You realize that your chosenness is for the sake of letting others know they are chosen too!

I call this classic pattern of spiritual transformation “order-disorder-reorder.” Paul calls it “the foolishness of the cross” (see 1 Corinthians 1:18-25). There is no nonstop flight from order to reorder. We have to go through a period of disruption and disordering. What we first call “order” is almost always too small and too self-serving. The nexus point, the crossover moment, is one that neither conservatives nor liberals like or even understand. It will always feel like folly.

References:
[1] See Walter Brueggemann and Tod Linafelt, An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination, 2nd ed. (Westminster John Knox Press: 2012, ©2003).

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass: 2011), vii;
The Two Major Tasks of the Spiritual Life (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2004), CDMP3 download; and
A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, disc 2 (Franciscan Media: 2004), CD.

Inspiration for this week’s banner image: We just die into silence. Die to the past. Die to the future. Die to the breath. Completely let go. The silence reveals itself as refuge, as awareness that can be trusted, tenderly loving and resounding with the majesty and the mystery of the sacred. —Kathleen Dowling Singh

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