‘And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also, neither would he let the people go.’ The Israelites want to go to offer sacrifice to their God. The Pharaoh, time and again, does not let them go – despite the all the warning signs. His own people suffer as a consequence of breaking his word, yet, his heart is hardened.
Israel, metaphorically, ‘the people of Good will’ of the Creed, want to go and worship their God, and lead a way of life according to his requirements. This culture (‘Pharaoh’) does not let us go. Prayer to the true God is hindered. Our age tries to commit everything that these prayers remain unrealised. Our God is there, waiting for our arrival in order to worship him, to ‘pray with Him’. ‘Pharaoh’ does not want us to be transformed.
As a consequence, now it is not a metaphor, our Egypt is stricken by warning signs. ‘The cows of democracy’ die; the climate changes in an alarming way; newer and newer gods to be consumed are produced at the price of the loss of our souls.
And there is a personal reading of the same dynamic. There is the ‘Pharaoh’ part of us, which does not want our ‘divine part’ go freely to pray. Our ‘Pharaoh-heart’ is hardened time and again. Too often, our praying self remains only a desire, an unfulfilled option. And this internal Pharaoh part of ours grows into the above mentioned Pharaoh of our culture.
Let us be persistent with Moses, and go and make the plea for departure again and again. ‘And the Lord said unto Moses, rise up early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh… Let my people go, that they may serve me’. Let us start our days in this spirit!
(The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus adds something important to this. Jesus speaks of the same spiritual rebirth. To ‘go out and offer a sacrifice to God’, we are enabled by the Holy Spirit. Without accepting His support, we would be unable to leave Pharaoh’s kingdom. This Holy Spirit is our Moses: ‘Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’)
1 March 2018
Jacob said to Joseph: ‘Bury me not, I pray thee, in Egypt: but I will lie with my fathers, and thou shalt carry me out of Egypt, and bury in their burying place.’ Jacob dies. For Joseph, this was a journey to remember his father’s love and God’s mercy in their astonishing story. This is a sacred journey, it humbles us as this is the journey that all human beings have to remember. This journey - looking back in search of meaning and love - awaits for all of us.
This ‘sacred time’ in the Joseph-story is a kind of parallel with what we experience in the Eucharistic Presence. The prayer of the adult psyche contains this ‘josephian’ remembrance. In the Eucharist, our Lord’s presence is so intense, that, as part of our prayer, we are prompted to process our past. This is the specific time experience of the Eucharistic adoration’. In it, we undergo a purifying journey. We are swimming back in time. It is a purifying journey; it leads to conversion and determination to amend our ways.
This is not merely a personal journey. Praying in the presence of the Eucharist is far more than individual reflection. This ‘journey with Joseph’ is sacred in the collective sense, too. When carried away, backwords in time, by God’s love - we remember with the determination to amend history’s ways. This time-experience is akin to when we see the astronauts in free-fall. They levitate in space; we are levitating in time. Within history itself.
In the trial-scene of Jesus, we see the opposite of this sacred (healing) journey. The protagonists of this drama ignore God’s presence. Their heart is, as it were, evacuated from this Presence. Abandoning their co-journey with the Divine Shekinah (God’s glory), they violate the commandments of preserving Life. Their ‘humane’ memory is blot out… Judas, Jesus’ betrayer, commits suicide. The others (religious and political leaders) facilitate a national and religious tragedy. The ways of human history get totally lost if we are not journeying together, if we are not remembering the sacred Presence. How our life is embedded in God’s care and in conversion.
Joseph sends his brothers back to his father with lots of gifts; gifts beyond words. This is the expression of his love, love beyond words, towards his family and father. ‘…and when he saw the wagons which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob their father revived: and Israel said, It is enough; Joseph my son is yet alive: I will go and see him before I die.’ Their love, we recognise it from the perspective of Divine Providence, was a gift from God. After the conversion of the brothers (fully taking responsibility for their sin of selling Joseph) and Joseph (full forgiveness), love thrives and freely flows between the parties.
What a contrast with this is the scene of Jesus’ trial and Peter’s betrayal. In the Joseph story, love, as the greatest gift among humans (and the most intense exchange), flows. Here, the very opposite of love prevails: refusal till death. It is worth seeing, that it is in this paralysing climate that Peter fails.
Yet, his weeping leaves the way open to conversion and love’s full return. ‘Do people still have a soul today’ − asks Julia Kristeva pondering our modern world of psychological inertia. The Bible puts the question in this way: ‘Do people have yet the ability to weep for their sins and failures in love, and the hurt it caused?’ It seems, we live in a dry eyed cyber world.
When the brothers of Joseph came to Egypt to buy food, Joseph said to them: ‘Ye are spies; to see the nakedness of the land ye are come’. This is a psychological direct hit. He accuses them with something in which they are not guilty, but they have a real guilt to hide. They wanted to kill Joseph and sold them to be a slave, and they lied to their father about his disappearance. This sentence triggers out a remembrance in them, and the process of admitting their guilt.
What is the sentence that God pronounces over us, in this Lent, to bring about a similar purification of our hearts? The function of the apocalypse in Matthew’s Gospel is a similarly healing message. ‘And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? Verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down… And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in diverse places. All these things are the beginning of sorrows.’
Going through the images of the end-times, we are shaken to the very ground of our souls. This inner earthquake brings to surface what is hidden in us, what is unfinished, what is un-mourned and un-corrected.
‘But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men…Woe unto you… for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgement, mercy, and faith: these ought ye have done, and not to leave other undone.’
This is in important passage in two senses. First, it shows how the superego of our culture (religious and secular alike) needs to be scrutinised, revised, and if necessary, even ‘pulverised’. The great lesson of human history is that it is only a matter of time that we get entangled in its thickness. This ‘shadow authority’ not only can distort Revelation and the freshness of God’s knowledge.
The second aspect of keeping this superego under control is about our individual freedom. The authority represented by the Pharisees, which is becoming more and more rigid if left unchecked - actually if ‘not prayed through’ -can suppress individual creativity, the freedom of the soul, the joy of having fresh insights into God’s love, and the acting out of this newly experienced Love.
Perhaps, living with an unchecked superego of our culture explains a lot of how ‘fake news’ start controlling our life and we are left deprived of the real conditions of the human heart.
God being grieved at his heart and Peter’s words as our sense of the ‘real’ (Genesis 6,5;Matthew 16,13-end) /BCP Tuesday after Septuagesima Sunday, Matins/
The state of the human family before the flood ‘grieved God at his heart’. We are part of this flood of sin. We should be deeply moved by God’s words and take responsibility for our actions. God’s redemptive presence is among us: we should feel that God – just as the defects and potentials of our life – is real. In this sense, the story of the flood is an important reflection on our task of ‘recovering the sense of the Real’. Taking responsibility for our history, and within it our personal story, awakens us from empty cyber-dreams (wasting the time of the human heart) into Reality.
Peter’s words can also be read in view of this task. Then, his words are a crucial resource in recovering reality, as the very ground of our faith. We need the sense of living in a real world, in a real time, in the matrix of real responsibilities, with the sense of being real and our neighbours are also being real (fully present) for us.
‘Jesus saith unto them: But whom say ye that I am? And Simeon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Actually, Peter’s words were the birth of ‘the real’. Through this confession the fragments of life are pieced together. Reality does not evaporate, but becomes one and undivided by these words. This is the sure foundation, always knowing that God’s redemption is real in Jesus, upon which our life is based. The life of individual Christians and that of the community is rooted in and nourished by this Root. ‘Thou art the Christ! The Son of the living God!’ We need to live from this Presence, the Reality of God.
Jesus’ words which follow upon this passage, speaks of his coming suffering. He reveals further what is at the heart of ‘the real’: God’s grace and compassionate life among us.
One of the major tasks for Christian spirituality is to regain ‘what is real’. Virtual reality is penetrating us. The artificial, the ‘digitalised’ and the ‘mediatized’ is evacuating the reality sensors of our hearts. For Biblical religions retaining the sense of time (history), communal links, and undivided attention when praying to God are vital grounds. Without them, religion breaks down. Without remaining faithful to the real, prayer, the breath-taking of spiritual life, becomes unreal. In Biblical terms, we shall be exiled into the fake or secondary realities of the cyber space.
Sharing Habakkuk’s experience of inner suffering and spiritual distress is an important part of regaining the reality of God. Listening to the pains of the soul which is deprived of God’s Presence, to he reality of our pain, is our awakening. ‘O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years…’ Crying to God in the years of our captivity, from behind the impenetrable walls of ‘the unreal’, is that bridge, through which what is evacuated from our life can return to us.
‘Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold… yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places.’
This bridge (even though a painful cry) is a miraculous one. Through this thin golden thread, we can be lifted above our age: elevated to the realm of grace where we can regain our strength and orientation. A lot, perhaps everything, depends on if Christian communities (the local churches) undertake this slow and challenging journey - as the process of their being healed into the Real God.
‘Art thou not from everlasting, O Lord my God, mine Holy One? We shall not die. O Lord, thou hat ordained them for judgement; and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correction. Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity.’
We must cry (pray) to God in times of historical distress. It is His mothering nature that instinctively responds with liberating goodness. Crying to God when in need is the most fundamental language of the universe. The inanimate world, the vegetable world have been constantly crying to God for existence; and they are constantly kept in being. Why we humans don’t ask for God’s help and sustenance…even the whole world is collapsing around us?
‘This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.’ Promises have a healing effect on us. A promise opens us a possibility, a new beginning. Faith in the promise of God is the greatest offer for us humans. This leap into ‘the Promise’ heals and purifies human history. The belief in Jesus’ Father that the gospel requests of us disentangles us from our past lost ways and failures. Through the act of faith – we can transcend the impasses of history and individual life. Faith and genuine freedom, our liberation, are intimately connected.
The only real Arrival (Isaiah 65,17-end; Matthew 3,1-14,11)
‘For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.’
Isaiah’s speaks to us Christians with great relevance. We tend to read the story of God’s Covenant with the people of Israel somewhat from the ‘outside’. For whatever reason, we regard it as ‘a kind of past’… ‘which is kind of not ours’. The Covenant is somewhere ‘there’, outside us.
This is here where prophet Isaiah speaks to our heart. He is our prophet! He wants us to understand that God’s forming the historical Covenant is taking place right now. We should feel being part of this Covenant, this first gift! We are part of its creation: from Sinai to Jesus, it is one overarching, all embracing Love. We are part, right now of what happened to Israel, to their emergence as God’s people! This co-temporality, also from God’s perspective, is beautifully expressed in the words: ‘And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying… And they shall build houses and inhabit them.’
Reading the Covenant as our present birth, we Christians, are no longer dispersed in an undefinable, ungraspable drift, our present exile, the world of religious indifference. Instead, we see ourselves at the heart of the Covenant. We are no longer dispersed local communities ebbing away from each other… marked by an unstoppable religious decline. The Covenant is not a remote lifeless story. God’s voice is no longer distant, but is the Lord’s historical coming - through, and from within our story.
Listening to classical music (perhaps true to all music), for me, illustrates this (re)emergence of the Covenant. Listening to the unfolding movements of a piece is about the emergence of order out of the chaos of millions of disordered sounds. Music is always ‘a Covenant of order’. Out of chaos and despair, God summons ‘his people to be’, united in a chorus of singers who rejoice over being part of a genuine unity. Bela Bartok’s Three Hungarian Folk Songs from Csík, and his Fourteen Bagatelles played by Zoltán Kocsis are a musical confirmation of the above vision of the Covenant. We become one with God’s offer in history, right now. Both Jews and Christians: there are no late comers. Again, Isaiah is our prophet.
The scene of the temptation in Matthew’s Gospel helps us focus on saying yes to God’s offer, a Covenant with Him. Satan’s temptation, his offers to Jesus, exemplify the ‘waste’ of those energies which are needed for forging this covenant with God.
Even more, we can read this waste of concentration as a powerful parable of the ‘cyber space’. Sadly, this has become a space of permanent distraction, the space of missed opportunities. Unstable, flickering images take up place of the only real Arrival.
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..