I’ve been studying for my final exam in my Introduction to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament class this weekend. One of the topics that I have been reviewing in preparation for the exam is the category of wisdom literature found in the Bible.
All wisdom literature is made up of human reflections on the meaning of life and how it works, but we find two kinds of wisdom literature in the Bible. One is proverbial wisdom, which comprises collections of short, pithy statements (and sometimes short stories) that is general good advice about how to live well. These proverbs often take a concrete example and generalize it to all of life. The problem is that life is rarely that simple, and there are many exceptions to these “rules” for living.
The second kind of wisdom literature is known as philosophical wisdom, and we find this type of wisdom literature in the books of Job and Ecclesiastes. Both of these books are asking and exploring a question about life. Ecclesiastes is asking about profit we get from life. What is the point of life beyond working to get our basic needs met? Job is asking whether there is ever such a thing as disinterested righteousness. Do we ever do good when there is no reward (or no perceived reward) for doing so?
“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement … get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.” ~Abraham Joshua Heschel
One of my Facebook friends recently posted a link to a YouTube video of a flash mob that grew over the course of the performance into a full orchestra (including timpanis!) and choir. I love watching videos of flash mobs like this one as much to watch the reactions of the surprised audience as to hear the quality of the performance.
As with many of these that I watch, I am struck by the number of adults who exhibit little expression even though they may stay to watch and listen to the performers. I do see a few people smiling, and there is one gentleman at about the 4 minute mark whose whole face lights up with delight and clearly mouths an amazed “Wow!” as he arrives on the scene, but there is much less reaction than I would expect from suddenly finding a full orchestra and choir doing an impromptu performance in the middle of a public space.
“Find ecstasy in life; the mere sense of living is joy enough.” ~Emily Dickinson
For most of my life, I’ve believed that at some point I would arrive someday at some magical set of circumstances that would allow me to be happy. I had moments of attaining this kind of happiness, but they never lasted because the conditions that caused the happiness always changed.
“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.” ~Mary Oliver
I’ve always loved this quote because it’s taken me years to understand that the darkness in my own life is a gift. It often does not feel that way at the time, but it is a gift nevertheless. And recognizing it as such in the moment, even when I can’t see it, makes the darkness easier to bear.
I love nature. I love to be out in the woods, walking among the trees. I delight (mostly) in the changing seasons. (Although I wouldn’t mind if winter was a bit shorter.) I learn so many lessons from the plants, trees, animals, and bugs that I find in the natural world.
Spending time in nature is one of the places that I find greatest peace. Except when I am forced to deal with the reminders that nature itself is ultimately not peaceful. It’s all about survival out there.
I am not a big fan of spiders, and I am even less a fan of their webs—especially if those webs touch my skin. The feel of them with their stickiness creeps me out. And yet, I do marvel at the beauty of the those webs, particularly when covered in early morning dew that makes them glisten in the sunlight.
The dogged persistence of these creatures in creating such beautifully fragile structures is something that I can appreciate. It amazes how quickly they are able to rebuild their webs after one is destroyed using only these small threads that come from their own body—threads that are strong enough to catch their prey and yet remain so vulnerable to larger creatures and objects that pass right through them.
It reminds me of how easily the circumstances of my own life can be shredded by things much larger than I. When those times come, I have acted as the spider and rebuilt using the resources that I find within my self when I am forced to dig deep within. I am very fortunate to face such destruction and rebuilding much less often than the spider and to have much more outside support in the rebuilding process when it is necessary, but I am still inspired by the powerful image of her patiently rebuilding her life/web over and over again every time she needs to using the resources she finds within herself.
I attended a worship sharing gathering at a Friend’s house this evening. Worship sharing are Quaker meetings where we sit in silence until someone is led to speak, and then members of the group respond to that sharing and others that may have been voiced. This is a unique form of discourse in that each person simply shares their thoughts on the topic at hand without the usual requisite agreeing or disagreeing with those that have spoken before. Although previous comments obvious spark thoughts in the people who later share, it is not a conversation or debate as many discussions are in today’s world; it is just a sharing of your own thoughts on the topic as you feel led to share.
Tonight’s topic wound up being simplicity, and the thoughts that people shared on the subject ranged far and wide, from the story of the rich young ruler in the Gospels to end of life issues to dealing with downsizing to how our pride is wrapped up in our possessions to the challenges of knowing how to apply Jesus’ words to our lives today. As always, this conversation gave me much to ponder.
Someone asked me this question today in the context of a getting-to-know-you conversation, skipping right past all of the usual what-do-you-do, where-are-you-from, what-are-your-hobbies kind of questions right to this one. It made me stop and think.
What does define me? I don’t think anyone has ever asked me that before.
I’ve written before about my belief that our willingness to deeply feel our pain and sadness is what gives us the ability to experience the heights of joy. I believe that the two are interconnected and the refusal of one leads to the refusal of the other.
I recently came across a passage by Kahlil Gibran that speaks to the same topic of their inseparability. It is a marvelous reminder to me to always be open to whatever life brings in all of its fullness, the heights and the depths together. Continue reading →
“Belief is a preconception about the way reality should be; faith is the willingness to experience reality as it really is, including the acceptance of the unknown.” ~Judith Lasater
Having grown up in a very religious household, I remember hearing a lot about belief from a young age. While I know faith was mentioned, the emphasis was always on belief—believing the right things to right degree with the right fervency to save one’s soul from hell. Faith was always just another way of talking about belief. The need to believe what I was told was paramount.
This definition from Judith Lasater points to a completely different understanding of belief and faith. It agrees with my childhood experience of belief being about the way reality should be; in my experience, that really meant belief in the definition of God that my religious tradition offered as the ultimate truth about reality. It seems like an awful lot of effort and rationalization were put into trying to make reality fit this preconception of what it should be. Any experience of reality was valid only to the degree that it fit within the preconceived notion of what reality should be.