Tabernacle and Ark
There is a striking parallel between the building of the Tabernacle and Noah’s ark. The same delicate details and caring instructions. ‘Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark…And this is the fashion which thou shalt make it of…’
The ark’s function is to save Noah, and through him humankind. The ark, just as the Tabernacle, is life giving. Noah’s entering the vessel and letting the pair of animals in is a shared experience with God. Overviewing the animals boarding is sharing the sentiments of the life-giving-God. Even more, it is learning, an internalising of the very nature of God, whose nature is to merge life with hope. ‘And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee.’
‘Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he.’ The above ‘co-learning’ with God explains a lot. Noah’s being different from his generation did not happen by chance, neither does it to us. He does not belong to those who ‘filled the earth with corruption and violence’. He was ‘a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.’ This ‘walking with God’ is the key. Noah remained just, because he undertook the toiling work of imitating God ‒ his life-giving nature.
The Tabernacle in our churches is a great reminder of this learning. Life, democracy, the common good does not happen to us by chance. All this comes through cultivating our soul, our divine nature. If this not internalised, the destruction of all what we cherish is inevitable. The spirit of loving care, that prompted the building the tabernacle and the ark, is the only life.
Heart and Temple; Heart in the Temple
The anger of Jesus who expels the money-changers from the Temple should captivate us. The ‘commercial activity’ in the house of prayer is a symbolic contrast. It denotes all that turns the soul away from its revitalising source. ‘Money’ is indeed a profound metaphor… What are those things today which the Lord of our soul can be angry with? This question is crucial to be raised in ‘the age of distractions’ where we life amidst centrifugal fores.
What makes us dumb to our truer self? What makes us captives of the desires of our ego? What causes it that our innate narcissism always has the upper hand?
Perhaps, a good way to define the object of Jesus’ anger is to scrutinize all those things in our lives what are ‘not genuine listeners to our soul’. The problem seems to be that we are not listened to by these diverse activities. They become, like the money in the Biblical scene, just dumb mirrors hold before us. ‘Money’ is not a genuine listener to the self. It only mirrors and magnifies our innate narcissism. As an outcome, we can be lost in ourselves for good.
Is it cheap to say, that Jesus – his church - is our true mirror? Of course not. He challenges us, he rebukes us, he encourages us, he tells honestly where we are. Unlike ‘money’ (cyberspace, news, commerce), he talks to us. To our heart, which is part of his Temple.
On Radio 4, in the morning, prime time, familiar faces. Like the all too familiar voice of modern angels (occupying a city, a radio stations, a culture), Brian Cox. With his infinite smile, physics seems to have stolen the show. On the programme they are chatting as to whether not quantum physics is the ground of life. I am struck by their infinite confidence in their ‘infinite monkey cage.’ (By the way, the phrase, ‘infinite monkey cage’ as a reference to the universe betrays utmost hubris. The Russian film director, Tarkovsky was right in his (seemingly)sci-fi, Solaris when saying that our objective is not to know the cosmos but to colonise it. So here we are with our new colonisers.)
I am taken aback by the fact how easy it is for these spokesmen of the new ‘infinite good news’ to fill up the vacuum which was created when religion was evacuated from our brave (infinitely) new world.
Why do they think that ‘what physics can describe’ is the ultimate reality? As the reality? While soaring as high as the illusions of explaining the origins of human life with their new (infinite) theory of everything, we should just pause for a while. Not so much about our being puzzled as to how an earth is it that Christians, with their theology, remain silent and dazzled by this new ‘angelic’ quantum show. Rather, instead, we should stop and be challenged by prophet Jeremiah: what is really real?
It turns out, that history, human history as a continuum of past, present and future, is that very reality which should humble us. In contrast to our responsibility and accountability for what happens in it, the omni-science of Brian Cox and his new role-model friends seems to be infinitely small.
Quite possibly, it may quietly turn out that the voice of the twenty fist century was not their newly canonised discourse (by BCC). Instead, it is the brave stance of Jeremiah who wants us to spend quality time in understanding how God is the Lord of History. ‘Then the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth.’ We can find it far more challenging to see God’s words, complexly interwoven with the living tissue of history as the ‘condition of life’. There is little hope, but nothing is impossible, our quantum physicists will have the imagination to see their laws are part of that flow of matter and life which itself comes from these Words.
Just as a last word of our being puzzled by the Coxian infinite confidence. Why do these chatty new high priests of the totalised (monkey) self think that religion and faith is as light as their morning chat-show? Why does not it occur to them that engaging God requires time? Yes, and that is the great lesson of Jeremiah, Christian faith requires time just as research does. Nay, perhaps it requires infinitely more than science spends with the ‘real’?
Suddenly a chapter from Jeremiah (1:1-19) starts speaking in a startling clarity. It offers a fresh definition of what 'religion' is. Faith is not simply about individual salvation. There is a deeper, even richer motivation for believing in God. What is this?
God reproaches the prophet and does not accept his excuse that 'Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child.' Instead, God tells Jeremiah: 'Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord.'
This sending and accepting the sending is the key. Religion is about taking responsibility for our history. The prophet, our example of faith, is motivated by being accountable for the course of history... How it is (it was) shaped by us, and how it can be altered... purified, transformed, as it were, 'milligram by milligram', healed.
What the prophet teaches us that mature faith is not the narcissistic extension of the ego. 'I want to be saved' or 'I fear hell', etc. Faith, according to Jeremiah, is a healing dialogue: a commitment to heal history. Without this type of faith history remains mono-dimensional. It is like a growing, gigantic iron-ball, a closed past.
The fantastic news is that this cast-iron-rigidity, history, can be shaped. Though it is a painful clash when melting our complicity in this rigidity, history, when touched by God's word filtered through the human heart, is impressionable. Impressionable by grace!
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..