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Great Themes of Scripture: Hebrew Bible

Great Themes of Scripture: Hebrew Bible

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Week Twenty-Six Summary and Practice

Sunday, June 27—Friday, July 2, 2021

Sunday
When we have an understanding of the great themes of Scripture, the whole book from Genesis to Revelation, we see it as communicating a pattern to humanity. The message is this: You are loved. You are unique. You are free. You are on the way. You are going somewhere. Your life has meaning.

Monday
Perhaps the most important thing to bear in mind when reading the first chapters of Genesis is that it is written not about the past but about the perennial present, the present that is always with us.

Tuesday
Israel is, as it were, humanity personified, and so what happened to Israel is what happens to everyone who sets out on the journey of faith.

Wednesday
God has communicated in a million ways that “I am your power,” but we do not believe and trust what we cannot see or prove. Instead, we bow down to lesser kings (like institutions, nations, wars, ideologies, etc.) that we can see, even when they serve us quite poorly.

Thursday
Job has experienced life’s meaninglessness. Yet in the experience of God he has found meaning, he has touched on something Real, something that seems capable of going on forever.

Friday
God’s chosenness is for the sake of communicating chosenness to everybody else!

 

Praying the Psalms

Christians tend to read much of the Hebrew Scriptures as a history book, but I hope this week’s meditations provided a glimpse into how much more they have to offer us. They are not merely descriptions of events that happened long ago, but an ongoing revelation of what God is doing today—not only in other people but in us! Perhaps no book is more accessible in this way than the Psalms, which reflect the fullness of the human experience—celebration and sorrow, praise and lament—on a personal and collective scale. Author Nan Merrill created a modern text based on the Hebrew Psalms, not a direct translation but as a way for us to access the depth of their beauty and emotion. She hopes that praying them can serve as a “loving movement toward engendering peace, harmony, and healing in our wounded world.” [1] She writes:

Who among us has not yearned TO KNOW the Unknowable? . . .

The Psalms have ever been a response to these deep yearnings: cries of the soul . . . songs of surrender . . . paeans of praise. . . . Affirming the life-giving fruits of love and acknowledging the isolation and loneliness of those separated from Love, may serve to awaken the heart to move toward wholeness and holiness. [2]

I invite you to pray with Merrill’s interpretation of Psalm 60 today:

Psalm 60

O Beloved, why do I believe that
I can separate myself
from You, feeling like
an alien in a foreign land?
O, that I might return to
the Light.
You know how I tremble with fear;
help me to break down the walls,
to let go of illusions, for
I want to stand tall.
You have allowed me to suffer
hard things;
You have not prevented my
downfall.
You, who are Love, gave me leeway
to choose,
to wander far from home.

O my Beloved, be gracious unto me,
welcome me back into new life,
hear my prayer!

The Comforter came to me:
“With joy are you ever at home
in my Heart,
as I have always lived in yours.
You are mine; I belong to you;
the broken are blessed with
humility,
the wayward who turn back
walk with me as love,
walk with me knowing Love.
Let your mind be guided by truth,
your heart informed by wisdom;
then will you know peace and joy.”

Who will enter the Heart of Love?
Who will open their hearts and
know the Beloved?
Who dares to face their fears, to
break down the prison walls,
to walk with Love?
O grant us help to answer the call,
strengthen us with pure resolve!
With the Beloved we shall triumph;
with Love we shall be free! [3]

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

References:
[1] Nan C. Merrill, Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness, 10th anniv. ed.  (Continuum: 2007), x. Used with permission.

[2] Merrill, Psalms for Praying, ix.

[3] Merrill, Psalms for Praying, 111–112.

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Reflections II (detail), 2020, photograph, Albuquerque.
Image inspiration: These intertwined branches speak of the braided nature of biblical themes: mystery, hope, possibility, resilience, vulnerability and strength. Although these leaves have seen better days, clouds carry hope for rain.
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Great Themes of Scripture: Hebrew Bible

God Is Always Choosing People
Friday, July 2, 2021

Much of the Bible is largely character development and transformation of persons and institutions. It usually begins with an experience of “election” or chosenness. There’s no getting started, it seems, without somehow knowing oneself as special and empowered. Then the character—of people and groups—will indeed and always develop. We cannot begin the journey on a negative or problem-solving note like “sin management.” It all begins with an experience of chosenness, just as in marriage and friendship.

Think of the many, many stories of God choosing people. There are Moses and Miriam, Abraham and Sarah; there is Deborah, David, Jeremiah, and Esther. There is Israel itself. Much later there’s Peter, Paul, and most especially, Mary. God is always choosing concrete people. First impressions aside, God is not primarily choosing them for a role or a task, although it might appear that way. God is really choosing them to be and to image God in this world.

God needs images. God needs people to be willing instruments. It’s essential, though, for God’s instruments to know that they are not alone, that they are not just doing their own thing, but rather are doing God’s thing. When God chooses someone in the Bible, the standard opening line is “Do not be afraid” (Genesis 15:1), and the final line usually includes the promise “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12).

Being chosen doesn’t mean that God likes one over another or finds some better than others. Almost always, in fact, those chosen are quite flawed or at least ordinary people. It is clear that their power is not their own. As Paul will put it, “If anyone wants to boast, they can only boast about the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31).

The paradox is that God’s chosenness is for the sake of communicating chosenness to everybody else! As in the Jonah story, this often takes people a long time to learn. Here is the principle: We can only transform people to the degree that we have been transformed. We can only lead others as far as we ourselves have gone. We have no ability to affirm or to communicate to another person that they are good or special until we know it strongly ourselves. Once we get our own “narcissistic fix,” as I call it, then we can stop worrying about being center stage. We then have plenty of time and energy to promote other people’s empowerment and specialness. Only beloved people can pass on belovedness.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 2008), 42–44.

Story from Our Community:
The Daily Meditations answer questions asked and not asked. Often, after asking the Holy Spirit the message in Scripture, I get the answer from my reading the daily meditation. God has finally become more like that vision I had as a little boy. These writings have lifted the burden of the need to be quiet and conform. I am free to say I know what is true to me about who and what God is. Thank you for pulling me into a place of contentment in the discovery. I have never been this happy about my relationship with God. —Daniel D.

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Reflections II (detail), 2020, photograph, Albuquerque.
Image inspiration: These intertwined branches speak of the braided nature of biblical themes: mystery, hope, possibility, resilience, vulnerability and strength. Although these leaves have seen better days, clouds carry hope for rain.
Read Full Entry

Great Themes of Scripture: Hebrew Bible

Job: Hoping Against Hope
Thursday, July 1, 2021

The author of the biblical book of Job wrestled with the mystery of evil. If we look at this book as a drama or play, we can easily see Job as the protagonist, God as the hero, and Satan as the villain. Job’s three friends keep the drama going as they look at all the traditional solutions to the problem of evil and find them wanting. In the end, God interrupts the conversation and gives the answer which leaves theologians and intellectuals at a loss for words to this day.

With Israel’s exile still fresh in mind, the biblical author confronts the mystery of suffering, pushes hard against it, and refuses to be satisfied with pious platitudes. He begins to suspect that there is something more. He has seen the old logic of quid pro quo breaking down, and wonders whether the answer can even come in this life. There is a longing for immortality in his soul. Job expresses this in chapter 14:

There is hope for a tree, that if it is cut down, it will start its life again. Though its roots are old and its stump decays, it can sprout new branches from the ground. But mortals die and are laid low; humans expire, and where are they? As water disappears into the air and into the earth, so mortals lie down and do not rise again (Job 14:7–12).

Job is hoping against hope, believing against everything he has been taught to believe. The author senses something more to life than what appears. As a nation, the Israelites have seen themselves defeated in exile, yet a remnant still survives and carries with it the hope of rebirth.

As an Israelite himself, the author considers whether what they have experienced in their corporate life might also be possible in individual life. Could there really be a way to survive after death, a place where God’s justice and love will be truly realized? In one passage at least, Job voices confident hope that there is:

I know that my redeemer lives, and in the end God will take his stand upon the earth. After this body has decayed, these eyes will look upon the Lord, and I will see God close to me—not someone else, but God! My heart trembles at the thought! (Job 19:25–27)

In this passage Job makes the gigantic leap of faith. He has walked with God this far. He knows he is still suffering. He has experienced life’s meaninglessness. Yet in the experience of God he has found meaning, he has touched on something Real, something that seems capable of going on forever. And so he believes in it, in that space where faith and hope are mixed together, resting in the wordless confidence of a felt promise. He trusts that this journey with God will continue even after death. Love of God and eternal life are beginning to become the same thing.

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos, The Great Themes of Scripture: Old Testament (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 1987), 97, 100–101; and

“Genesis and Job: God, Man, Good, and Evil,” The Great Themes of Scripture, tape 4 (St. Anthony Messenger Tapes: 1973).

Story from Our Community:
The Daily Meditations answer questions asked and not asked. Often, after asking the Holy Spirit the message in Scripture, I get the answer from my reading the daily meditation. God has finally become more like that vision I had as a little boy. These writings have lifted the burden of the need to be quiet and conform. I am free to say I know what is true to me about who and what God is. Thank you for pulling me into a place of contentment in the discovery. I have never been this happy about my relationship with God. —Daniel D.

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Reflections II (detail), 2020, photograph, Albuquerque.
Image inspiration: These intertwined branches speak of the braided nature of biblical themes: mystery, hope, possibility, resilience, vulnerability and strength. Although these leaves have seen better days, clouds carry hope for rain.
Read Full Entry

Great Themes of Scripture: Hebrew Bible

Samuel: Bowing to a King
Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Beginning with the books of Samuel, we can see a tension starting to develop between charism and institution, between the freedom of the Spirit and the inertia of society. Israel started out as a people on the move, following God’s lead. During the period of the judges they followed charismatic leaders in times of crisis. By about the tenth century B.C.E, however, they were starting to become a large and settled nation in the land of Palestine. They found themselves needing more structure, more organization, even more bureaucracy to keep themselves together as a people.

Many prayer groups have experienced this sort of tension as they start to develop into a community. In the early days of the New Jerusalem community, it was so nice when we were just a few people who prayed in a room together! We could go merrily on our way, trusting in the Lord, and everything would work out fine. But then the group got larger. We had to have more meetings; we had to take care of this and that; we needed more organization. At that point it gets very easy to stop trusting in God and to start doing it all ourselves.

The French lawyer and theologian Jacques Ellul (1912–1994) wrote about Israel and our human tendency to place our trust in kings instead of God:

They wanted a king so as to be like other nations. They also thought that a king would be a better military leader. Samuel protested and went to God in prayer [see 1 Samuel 8]. The God of Israel replied: “Do not be upset. The people have not rejected you, Samuel, but me, God. They have constantly rejected me since I liberated them. Accept their demand but warn them of what will happen
[1 Samuel 8:7–9]. [1]

From the outset, it is clear that this new institution is a concession to the weakness of the people: They need to have a visible ruler. YHWH chooses Saul to be their king, but Samuel admonishes them, saying, in effect, “It is all right to have a king, but don’t take him too seriously!”

We often take ourselves too seriously, believing in ourselves rather than in God. Often, our actions do not come from a place of prayer and listening to God, but from what we want to do. Look at the pitiably little fruit of 2,000 years of Christianity, with the systems of injustice in which we have been totally complicit! So much of it has been our thing, our power. God has communicated in a million ways that “I am your power,” but we do not believe and trust what we cannot see or prove. Instead, we bow down to lesser kings (like institutions, nations, wars, ideologies, etc.) that we can see, even when they serve us quite poorly. Thus the entire history of the necessary tension between charism (“authenticity”) and institution (“concretization”) is set in motion. It will become the framework for most religious and spiritual journeys.

References:
[1] Jacques Ellul, Anarchy and Christianity, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (William B. Eerdmans Publishing: 1991), 48.

Adapted from Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos, The Great Themes of Scripture: Old Testament (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 1987), 46, 47, 49; and

“Joshua to Kings: The Ordinary Becomes Extraordinary,” The Great Themes of Scripture, tape 5 (St. Anthony Messenger Tapes: 1973).

Story from Our Community:
These Daily Meditations are the first thing I read every day. I not only read the meditation but look at the picture, find any scripture passages referred to, research the guest authors, listen to the prayer, and practice the breathing exercises. Sadie, my golden retriever, seems more interested in being petted, constantly intercepting my hands from the computer. After my Daily Meditation, I devote time to her. The need for a church community has been more than satisfied by this experience. Thank you for all you do. —Wendy B.

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Reflections II (detail), 2020, photograph, Albuquerque.
Image inspiration: These intertwined branches speak of the braided nature of biblical themes: mystery, hope, possibility, resilience, vulnerability and strength. Although these leaves have seen better days, clouds carry hope for rain.
Read Full Entry

Great Themes of Scripture: Hebrew Bible

Exodus: The Journey of Faith
Tuesday, June 29, 2021

The journey of Exodus, the journey that Israel walked, is an image of the journey made by every person who sets out to seek the Divine Presence. Israel is, as it were, humanity personified, and so what happened to Israel is what happens to everyone who sets out on the journey of faith. Christianity must recognize itself as an inclusive religion from the very beginning, and honor its roots in Judaism.

In the book of Exodus, Egypt is the place of slavery and the Promised Land is the place of freedom. The journey from Egypt to the Promised Land—through the Red Sea to Sinai and across the desert—is a saga which symbolizes our own struggle towards ever greater inner freedom, empowered by “grace.” The story of Israel symbolically describes the experience of our own liberation by God—and toward a universal love.

For enslaved African Americans who knew the book of Exodus, this journey of faith became more than a symbol. It became a journey of liberation from the exploitative system of slavery. As the Black theologian James Cone described, “The record shows clearly that black slaves believed that just as God had delivered Moses and the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, he also will deliver black people from American slavery. And they expressed that theological truth in song:

Oh Mary, don’t you weep, don’t you moan,
Oh Mary, don’t you weep, don’t you moan,
Pharaoh’s army got drownded,
Oh Mary, don’t you weep.” [1]

The stories of Exodus make religious sense to people only to the degree that they are themselves walking a journey of faith. If we are walking in the Spirit and listening to the Spirit, we can rather easily relate these stories to our own life and identify with the experience of Israel.

We all have to turn to God and let ourselves be led on this faith journey. We have to be willing to experience the Exodus in our own lives, to let God take us from captivity to freedom, from Egypt to Canaan, not fully knowing how to cross the huge desert between the two.

Moses takes the risk of faith. All that God has given him is a promise, and yet he acts on that promise. People of faith are the ones who expect the promises of their deepest soul to be fulfilled; life for them becomes a time between promise and fulfillment. It is never a straight line, but always three steps forward and two backward—and the backward creates much of the knowledge and impetus for the forward. (Little did I know this would become my much later book, Falling Upward.)

Like the Israelites, we will find that the desert is not all desert. The way to the Promised Land leads to life even in the midst of the desert. When we least expect it, there is an oasis. As the Scriptures promise, God will make the desert bloom (Isaiah 35:1).

References:
[1] James Cone, God of the Oppressed (Seabury Press: 1975), 11.

Adapted from Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos, The Great Themes of Scripture: Old Testament (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 1987), 19; and

“Exodus: The Journey of Faith,” The Great Themes of Scripture, tape 3 (St. Anthony Messenger Tapes: 1973).

Story from Our Community:
These Daily Meditations are the first thing I read every day. I not only read the meditation but look at the picture, find any scripture passages referred to, research the guest authors, listen to the prayer, and practice the breathing exercises. Sadie, my golden retriever, seems more interested in being petted, constantly intercepting my hands from the computer. After my Daily Meditation, I devote time to her. The need for a church community has been more than satisfied by this experience. Thank you for all you do. —Wendy B.

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Reflections II (detail), 2020, photograph, Albuquerque.
Image inspiration: These intertwined branches speak of the braided nature of biblical themes: mystery, hope, possibility, resilience, vulnerability and strength. Although these leaves have seen better days, clouds carry hope for rain.
Read Full Entry

Great Themes of Scripture: Hebrew Bible

Genesis: Everything Is Gift
Monday, June 28, 2021

The first recordings of “The Great Themes of Scripture” began in October, 1973. There were about 1,200 young people attending Friday night services through the newly formed New Jerusalem Community in Cincinnati. Richard would often preach for an hour, mostly on the Bible. Soon, Sister Pat Brockman, an Ursuline nun, suggested recording Richard’s series of lectures on Scripture and selling the cassettes. Richard didn’t think anyone would buy them. Audiocassette tapes were just becoming popular and widespread—and they were for music, he thought.

Richard recalls: Sister Pat asked me to pray about it for a day and then we’d ask God what to do. So we met the next day and I very hopefully opened the Bible as a good Pentecostal would do. And I put my finger on this verse: “The sower went out to sow the seed” (Mark 4:3). Really! That sounded sort of like making tapes. So we did. For years I was introduced as the “tape priest.” Now my friends say I don’t have a single untaped thought! It is sort of embarrassing. I guess Sister Pat was right; people really wanted to learn the Scriptures. Those first twelve tapes were called “The Great Themes of Scripture.” Here is a brief segment of how I introduced the book of Genesis:

Perhaps the most important thing to bear in mind when reading the first chapters of Genesis is that it is written not about the past but about the present. It is about the perennial present, the present that is always with us. It is not a book of history or a scientific account of creation. It is not an eyewitness report of how the world and the human race began. Rather, it is a mythological portrayal of the relationship between the Creator and the creation.

The first chapters of Genesis contain not one but two creation stories. The ancient writers were not worried by the obvious differences between the two accounts. For them, both revealed the same inspired truth: that God alone is the Creator, that everything else is God’s creation, and that everything which God creates is good.

We see this most clearly in the first creation story: On each day of creation, God looks at what has been done and calls it good. On the sixth day, God looks back over everything completed and says, “Yes, it’s all very good indeed!” And on the seventh day, God rests.

Poet Wendell Berry captures God’s delight in creation:

Time when the Maker’s radiant sight
Made radiant every thing He saw,
And every thing He saw was filled
With perfect joy and life and light. [1]

Put in theological terms, the story is saying that everything is grace, everything is gift, everything comes from God. God is the One who makes something out of nothing and gives it to us, not way back when, but here and now. God makes us what we are, and gives us to ourselves as a free gift.

References:
[1] Wendell Berry, “To sit and look at light-filled leaves,” in A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems, 1979–1997 (Counterpoint: 1998), 8.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Essential Teachings on Love, ed. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 98–99;

Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos, The Great Themes of Scripture: Old Testament (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 1987), 83–85; and

“The Call: Introduction to the Word,” The Great Themes of Scripture, tape 1 (St. Anthony Messenger Tapes: 1973).

Story from Our Community:
God is good…all the time! All the time…God is good! Fr. Richard’s meditations draw me into this gift of God’s goodness. In sacred Scripture, the Mass, in the beauty of nature, and the love of friends and family, I experience Presence. I see God in the faces of those suffering from illness, racial injustice, and poverty. Fr. Richard helps me to embrace all of it and to trust in God’s divine mercy, wisdom, and great love. —Rita L.

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Reflections II (detail), 2020, photograph, Albuquerque.
Image inspiration: These intertwined branches speak of the braided nature of biblical themes: mystery, hope, possibility, resilience, vulnerability and strength. Although these leaves have seen better days, clouds carry hope for rain.
Read Full Entry

Great Themes of Scripture: Hebrew Bible

You Are Loved
Sunday, June 27, 2021

When I first gave the “Great Themes of Scripture” talks as a young priest in 1973, I couldn’t begin to imagine how they would change my life, and apparently the lives of many others. They changed mine because they were put on audiocassette and therefore spread my message far beyond my original audience. But they also changed my life in another way: having my remarks made so public, I was even more compelled to believe what I had now said about faith and the Word of God.

These talks led me to my own journey of faith—and around much of the world—talking till I grew tired of my own voice, meeting countless Christians and communities, seeing sights and knowing sorrows that further changed me. My faith journey eventually led me to leave my beloved New Jerusalem lay community in Cincinnati for a new venture in New Mexico that later became the Center for Action and Contemplation.

To be honest, I would say a lot of things differently now. Back then, I was a young, enthusiastic believer, surrounded by hope and easy joy. These are the beginning words of an evangelist, and I am happy I said them. Now I am older, chastened by failures, rejections, human suffering, study, and the sophistications and nuances of experience. Do I now know more or less? Were these words adequate, or am I saying it better now? I am really not sure and needn’t be. Over the next two weeks, my Daily Meditations editorial team and I will share some of these early words with you. Some of them we’ve updated, and some we’ve left the same. Here is how I began those talks, all those years ago:

We begin a great adventure. We begin something new. The promise is upon us. God will give us something new. All we have to come with is hunger. We have to come expecting and wanting something more than we already have now. We get what we expect from God. When we have new ears to hear with, God can speak a new word to us. When we no longer expect anything new or anything more from God, for all practical purposes, we do not really believe in God. God now wants to speak something new to us.

When we have an understanding of the great themes of Scripture, the whole book from Genesis to Revelation, we see it as communicating a divine pattern to humanity. One basic message is finally communicated to all Spirit-filled people who enter this faith dialogue with the Scriptures. The message of “Good News” is this: You are loved. You are unique. You are free. You are on the way. You are going somewhere. Your life has meaning. That is all grounded in the experience and the knowledge and the reality of the unconditional love of God. This is what we mean by being “saved.”

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos, The Great Themes of Scripture: Old Testament (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 1987), v, vi; and

“The Call: Introduction to the Word,” The Great Themes of Scripture, tape 1 (St. Anthony Messenger Tapes: 1973).

Story from Our Community:
God is good…all the time! All the time…God is good! Fr. Richard’s meditations draw me into this gift of God’s goodness. In sacred Scripture, the Mass, in the beauty of nature, and the love of friends and family, I experience Presence. I see God in the faces of those suffering from illness, racial injustice, and poverty. Fr. Richard helps me to embrace all of it and to trust in God’s divine mercy, wisdom, and great love. —Rita L.

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Reflections II (detail), 2020, photograph, Albuquerque.
Image inspiration: These intertwined branches speak of the braided nature of biblical themes: mystery, hope, possibility, resilience, vulnerability and strength. Although these leaves have seen better days, clouds carry hope for rain.
Read Full Entry
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