Sabbath: An Art Form

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailOur church recently worked through a series of teachings on Sabbath. Far beyond a weekly holiday, this biblical concept is loaded with meaning, with each additional layer creating a rich tapestry of teaching that displays the love and goodness of God in fresh ways.

This series of blog posts will aim to capture some of the highlights of discovery along the way.

sabbath holyDigging into the Old Testament concept of Sabbath provides a unexpected shock. The Fourth Commandment seems clear enough: “Observe the Sabbath by keeping it holy.” But Scripture is surprisingly silent about the specifics: How does one keep a day holy? The biblical text spells out harsh penalties for Sabbath-breakers. Additionally, stories of conflict between Jesus and religious leaders of his day indicate a strict evolution of Sabbath views between Sinai and New Testament times. Without doubt, this command was taken seriously. Yet when one considers the extensive detail which the Torah provides regarding issues like priestly garments, dietary rules, sexual conduct, dealing with mold, or managing skin conditions, the law is shockingly vague in regard to Sabbath.

Let me highlight a bizarre example to make the point. When is the last time you read Deuteronomy 25:11-12? If this passage has arisen in a recent sermon or small group discussion, then you are part of one fascinating church!

For the rest of us, let’s refresh:

11 “If two Israelite men get into a fight and the wife of one tries to rescue her husband by grabbing the testicles of the other man, 12 you must cut off her hand. Show her no pity.

Okay then.

On the heels of that attention-grabbing legislation, let’s pose an honest question: How often would a nation need detailed direction on how to deal with this particular situation?

Let’s estimate. Envision a nation of 1,000,000 people (many scholars picture ancient Israel with a population around that). How many such squeal-inducing quarrels might unfold among such a group over the course of one calendar year? I don’t know the answer, but lucky for any judges, there was crystal-clear instruction on how to handle this awkward situation.

Now consider Sabbath. Sabbath was expected to be observed by every person in the nation 52 times per year. That totals 52,000,000 instances when “Observe the Sabbath, and keep it holy” is highly relevant. And yet we are not told explicitly how to do it.

What is going on here?

One clue might be found in the word “holy”. The term speaks of something set apart, different from the common. Somehow, this holy day is to be uniquely marked, distinctly distinguished from the other six days of the week.

Mark Buchanan tells a story of visiting a sick man. This successful gentleman had his rhythm disrupted by an extended illness. In conversing with his visiting pastor, the afflicted fellow processed aloud:

“I know God is trying to get my attention. I just haven’t figured out yet what He wants my attention for. He must want me to do something.”

Mark tenderly replied:

“Maybe that’s the problem: You think He wants your attention in order for you to do something. Maybe He just wants your attention.”

Stop. Relax dawnzy58Psalm 46:10 urges: “Be still and know that I am God.” Between those words is a suggestion that some forms of knowing cannot be had without being still. It is highly possible – perhaps a given – that there are times when all God wants is your attention.

It would seem that Sabbath is one of those times. Perhaps the unique marks of a “holy day” involve levels of stillness and attentiveness neither sought nor entered on other days.

If any of this is close to what it means to keep a day holy, then Sabbath is more of an art than a science. It’s not paint-by-numbers, it’s a clear canvas with a specific assignment. Sabbath-keeping demands creative consideration: What practical moves might a man or woman make toward crafting a day characterized by unusual levels of stillness and attentiveness?

Some possibilities:

SHUT IT OFF: Technology time-outs might be a most tangible mark of Sabbath in this day – what would more blatantly mark the day as different than backing away from buttons and screens? It seems no stretch to imagine that the monitoring of steps or limiting of tasks so common in Jesus’ day might revolve around texts or emails or episodes if Sabbath interpretation was unfolding in the 21st century.

SHOPPING STOPPED: I have heard people say that nothing disrupts a holiday mindset like entering a mall or mega-store. Brainwaves change the moment one enters the parking lot, and most of those waves wouldn’t be labeled “holy”! In a more general sense, shopping is an act of consumption, and consumption is common, and common isn’t holy. On a day when even ancient Israel planned to grab some extra at Manna-Mart ahead of the Sabbath, perhaps the goal of one day to revel in God’s provision without needing more is an inspired move in the Sabbath dance.

SHHHH: How about some quiet? It is amazing what happens to our insides when we feed on beautiful words or listen to moving music, when we record hidden thoughts or rest weary bodies. In my home of small children, I recognize that life cannot be entirely shut off. Some of this stillness needs modifying in different seasons. But it can still be pursued. It’s an art – be creative!

SUNSHINE: It is no accident that humanity’s origins were in a garden. Creation connects with our depths as no desk or couch or counter can. You might be an avid green-thumb, planting and nurturing and harvesting. You may just like walking. Lie in a hammock, pedal a bike, stroll in the rain, retreat to the woods. If your skin feels a breeze, odds are high your spirit will breathe. Get out there!

SHAKE-UP: Some are guided by a simple Sabbath idea – whatever you normally do, don’t do that! Change the routine. Physical workers, take it easy. Desk-folks, move that body. Word-people, lay down the book. Lone labourers, make plans with friends. If “holy” is opposite to “common”, then a measured move to “different” might lead you into a wonderful way of Sabbath.

SLACK OFF: Everyone has a list of oughts, shoulds, and need-to-do’s. But they aren’t for Sabbath. Tuck them away. Forget about them – not forever, but certainly for now.

In considering Sabbath as an art, a wonderful surprise awaits. This staunch and stuffy command turns out to actually be a life-giving word. And limits and legalism get quickly traded in for the fun and freedom generated by “keeping it holy”.

 

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • What Sabbath practices have you adopted or flirted with?
  • What would mark a day as “holy” within your usual flow of life?

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Sabbath: A Second Set of Eyes

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailOur church recently worked through a series of teachings on Sabbath. Far beyond a weekly holiday, this biblical concept is loaded with meaning, with each additional layer creating a rich tapestry of teaching that displays the love and goodness of God in fresh ways.

This series of blog posts will aim to capture some of the highlights of discovery along the way.

tiger woods sean foleyEven a casual sports fan knows Tiger Woods. Far fewer folks would recognize the name of Sean Foley, despite the intricate links between the two. You see, Sean is Tiger’s swing coach. It may strike some as bizarre that a world-class golfer, who has likely forgotten more about swinging a golf club than any of us will ever know, would hire as his coach somebody whose skills are apparently insufficient to make the PGA tour himself. However, everyone who has ever benefited from a counselor, a life coach, or a perceptive friend will tell you that there is great worth in having access to a second set of eyes. Inevitably, things from “out there” look a lot different than they do from “in here”. Every one of us has blind spots, none of which can be seen with our own two eyes. We need others.

When you consider the concept of time, there’s certainly no more “out there” perspective than that of God, the One who lives beyond time, in the incomprehensible realms of infinity and eternity. While we feel the pinch of living in a temporal environment and struggling to manage the ticks on our clocks, God’s perspective may prove uniquely insightful.

In seeking such insights, some have noted that the Greeks had multiple terms to speak of time. There are two that are frequently highlighted:

1) KAIROS
This term speaks of the opportunities and possibilities that exist within a moment. Any point on the timeline holds a significance that reaches far beyond itself. There is a ripeness, from which unforeseen wonders may spring. Every second is that loaded. This term (KAIROS) is the term used in Ephesians 5:16, when we are urged to “make the most of the time.”

2) CHRONOS
English speakers will see immediate links between this root and multiple terms in our vocabulary (chronology, chronicle, chronic). This term would have been particularly vivid within the Greek mind, as it was also the name of one of their gods, a particularly nasty non-headliner on the pantheon of divinities. Artwork through the ages depicts Chronos as a glutton. But he didn’t just stuff himself at the buffet; he gorged himself on his own children! Always consuming but never satisfied, Chronos is a vividly disturbing portrayal of what can happen when concepts like time, labor, and rest are viewed apart from God. Things get out of whack in a hurry: Bodies break down, minds grow weary, hearts feel heavy, and juggled balls become dropped balls. Relationships start reeling, pleasure goes missing, and joy becomes a struggle. Life feels dead, and we begin caring less about those things about which we care most.

Not so long ago, I found myself in a season of deep weariness. A cocktail of outer circumstances and inner struggle mixed perfectly to land me in a bad place. In a moment of self-conversation, I asked myself:

burnt-out-match“Jason, are you burnt out?”

I’m not so naïve as to have imagined that this question would never arise, but I always envisioned such a thought taking place 10 or 20 years from today. Even still, the inner dialogue was calm. I wasn’t in a state of panic so much as in a search for truth. I replied to myself:

“No, I don’t think so. But I have all the right ingredients in the bowl. None of them are in concentrations that would lead to burnout. But if I stir this recipe long enough, it’s not going anywhere good.”

And that’s what happens when we faithfully (or mindlessly) bring our offerings to Chronos. When we handle time recklessly, without rhythm or rest, we find our quest for efficiency or achievement to have turned on us. No longer are we stewarding time as the God-given resource that it is; we are now being nibbled at, even devoured, by a relentless and ruthless countdown. This sensation of being eaten reveals how far we’ve strayed from the order of Creation. In Eden, God ended each day proclaiming the goodness of all that had been done; it was satisfying, it was sufficient. Yet all too often, God’s image-bearers end days sighing in frustration over lists of what didn’t happen. It is not good; it is not enough. And Chronos continues to feast.

This is not as the Father designed it. And minus a second set of eyes, minus a pure perspective from way outside the rat race that buzzes daily past Chronos’ altar, we will remain trapped in days that lack the “good” substance of those first six days.

But with attention upon the Creator, Kairos is rediscovered and the life-giving potential and opportunity within each moment is once again enabled.

Sabbath can do all that!

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • Have you ever experienced anything that you’d call “burn out”? How did you heal or recover?
  • What types of ways have you learned to live well within time?

[You can subscribe to this blog via RSS or email, in the upper right corner of this page.]

My Spirit Rejoices in God My Saviour

[NOTE: I shared this post earlier this week as part of our church‘s annual Advent Blog. For more of the Glen Elm Advent Blog, head over HERE.]

Tom Hanks and Martin Short chat with TSN panel in Regina before Grey Cup game at Mosaic Stadium. Twitter photoOne week ago, our city was rocking with the rhythms of Grey Cup 101. Among the “regular residents” with tickets to the event, a handful of bigger names joined the mix. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall was hardly a surprising guest, diehard football fan that he is. Prime Minister Harper might be expected to make an appearance at our nation’s foremost sporting event. Martin Short and Tom Hanks upped the star power with their effort to bolster the Tiger Cats’ spirits as well.

jeremy and premierThe presence of such people at last week’s championship was noteworthy but not entirely shocking. What was surprising, however, was these guests’ level of involvement in the festivities. My friend Jeremy snapped a picture with the Premier among the reveling masses on the Green Mile following the victory. Our Prime Minister donned a toque and sat in the stands beside the CFL Commissioner. What are the odds that US President Obama will be free to mingle in the stands at Super Bowl next month?  Minimal to zero, I suspect. And Martin Short and Tom Hanks worked the circuit, appearing on the pregame show beforehand, entertaining in the stands during the game, and joining the party on the field afterward. Two of Hollywood’s A-listers added some flare and fun to an already-lively mix, and Regina loved them for it!

Presence is one thing.

Full-blown participation is quite another.

FBO CFL Grey Cup 20131124In Luke 1, Mary receives word that she will carry God’s Anointed One in her womb. The message is more than a touch distressing to the promised and pure maiden, yet she responds in obedience: “Let it be as God has said.”

Upon visiting her also-miraculously-pregnant relative Elizabeth, Mary declares, “My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour! For He took notice of His lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed.” (Lk 1:47-48)

Joy has become somewhat synonymous with Christmas, but it is worth pausing to consider the source of Mary’s particular pleasure. She delights in God because He took notice of her and acted in her life. Mere presence would have been sufficient. By His omnipresent nature, of course, God was with Mary. He’s with everybody!  To live with even a hint of His nearness is a blessing. Yet Mary celebrates that, like celebrities at Grey Cup 101, Yahweh is not merely present; He is profoundly participating. His knowledge of her is not distant. Rather His involvement with her is deeply intimate. She celebrates that His mighty power has touched down upon her life. He has moved her from a place of lowliness to one of exaltation. He has transported her from the humbled one to the honored one. He has called her from being common to being chosen.

It is astounding to observe Mary’s ability to focus on two depths simultaneously. The human eye cannot do this. Yet she succeeds in noting (Lk 1:55) that the Creator has a plan reaching all the way back to Abraham (I would say even further back to Creation) and extending into the forever ahead of us. Yet hand-in-hand with this immense perspective, Mary is able to see her “here and now” in relation to God’s universe-filling scheme. This unwed, about-to-be-pregnant teenager declares to all of us that the works of God in our lives today – hard-to-interpret or easy-to-miss – somehow tie intricately into the Grand Plan.

A reality deeper than the Grand Canyon is being carved. Something more sure than the oceans tides is being scripted. A monument more immense than Everest is being constructed.

The plan of God is being carried out.

And this moment in your life is somehow woven into that masterpiece.

If you can muster your mustard seed of faith to believe that outlandish statement, then perhaps your mouth will be prepared to repeat after Mary: “My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for He took notice of His lowly servant.”

FAITH RE-VISITED (4): Living and Active

faithAt church, our current series is a discussion of how faith grows.

In the process of Sunday sermons and weekly Small Groups, a handful of observations are rising to the surface.

Here is one of them.

WORDS THAT BURN

I once heard a remark from a highly-esteemed Christian leader, who had observed a trend. Every Christian whose life had deeply moved or inspired him was a lover of Scripture. The pattern was so observable that it easily highlighted for him the vital role that Scripture plays in the shaping of our faith.

Along those lines, nearly every “faith story” that I have heard involves some description of a point along the way when Scripture came alive. Something ignited. Something was birthed. And by the help of a human teacher or the direct impact of Scripture itself, God’s written Word came alive.

Perhaps the best such “a-ha moment” in Scripture is described in Luke 24. The resurrected (and apparently tough-to-recognize) Christ pulled alongside two of his disciples as they walked from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Perceiving him as an out-of-touch traveler, clueless about recent and monumental events, the two travelers begin to educate Jesus on all that he had “missed”.

Beginning in Luke 24:25, Jesus responds. In an effort to frame what they know firsthand, he begins to weave strands of clarity through their blurred canvas. Moving fluidly through long-known Old Testament texts, Jesus connects the dots. What’s more, he connects not only the dots of ancient texts, but he connects Scripture’s dots to the dots of his listeners’ “today”. So impacting was this powerful time of teaching that the two listeners noted later that they could feel it: to a realize Asian: “Did not our hearts burn within us while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Lk 24:32)

LIFELESS AND STILL

In Mark 5, Jesus is approached by a man named Jairus; the desperate daddy’s little girl is dying. Jairus was the local synagogue ruler, perhaps something like an executive pastor — first-century Jewish style. Finding myself employed by a church with a house full of little girls, I find this story today far more personal than I used to.

Among the purest pleasures of fathering little girls are the affectionate cuddles and the cozy snuggles that are shared. Cheeks are brushed, hands are held – these life-touches are treasures that represent the tender warmth of life shared. Conversely, death deals in cold hardness. Everyone who has viewed an open casket ahead of a funeral service knows this thought: “Well, that is him. But it is so not him at the same time.” The body may resembles the person, but the body is not the person. The essence of the loved one, to which every memory is tied, is elsewhere. And that is why we feel loss.

It is a tragedy when something meant to be living and active is lifeless and still.

Jairus knows this. Jairus fears this. And before the story is done, Jairus feels this.  But Jesus, in a stunning display of power, whispers life back into the deceased daughter’s ear, and Jairus learns another truth that day.

Yes, it is a tragedy when something meant to be living and active is lifeless and still.

But it is a wonder when something lifeless and still becomes living and active.

So back to Scripture.

LIVING AND ACTIVE

Hebrews 4:12-13 describes the Word of God with those two adjectives: living and active. Like a supernatural sword, God’s Word is sharp and piercing, capable even of discerning our deepest thoughts and intentions. Scripture is intended to impact us in profound and personal ways. But as we said earlier:

It is a tragedy when something meant to be living and active is lifeless and still.

Most of us have experiences where Scripture seemed far less than living and active; lifeless and still would be closer to the truth. Blame it on poor teachers, dry preachers, or slack devotional habits — whatever the path, there are many ways to reach this unfortunate destination where swords are dull and souls stay hidden under layers.

But it is a wonder when something lifeless and still becomes living and active.

Most of us have known experiences where Scripture spoke so clearly, we wondered if someone were spying on us — even spying into us.  That’s just sword-penetration, par for the course for the force of Scripture.  Credit it to passionate pastors, sharp writers, or creative teachers as you wish, but be sure to affirm God’s part in the process. He is the One who packs power into His Word, and He is the One who rescues what humanity might render lifeless and still, to ensure that everyone seeking Him might taste the wonder found in engaging with the living and active Word of God.

leaveacommentYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • When did Scripture first come alive for you?
  • What do you suppose keeps people from encountering more of the “living and active” nature of God’s Word?
  • Do you have any suggestions for those wishing to experience more of Scripture’s power in their own lives and churches?

 

FAITH RE-VISITED (3): It Makes Him Marvel

faithAt church, our current series is about discussing how faith grows.

In the process of Sunday sermons and weekly Small Groups, a handful of observations are rising to the surface.

Here is one of them.

HOW TO IMPRESS

Have you ever wanted to impress someone?

  • Sometimes the desire is driven by earlier rejection. The dumped date, the traded athlete, the unhired applicant – all want to prove their worth and disprove others’ earlier estimates of them.
  • Sometimes the desire is driven by earlier praise. The scholarship student, the awarded artist, the promoted employee – such people can feel pressure to live up to expectations.
  • Sometimes the desire is simply driven by admiration. We desire praise from the one whose assessment matters most. We seek to place a smile on the face most dear to us.

Have you ever wanted to impress Jesus? How might one go about this?

checklistMost of us begin to generate a list of DO’s and DON’Ts. Some are likely Scriptural, some are likely additional. But our minds’ hamster wheels spin to determine what would be most likely to grab the attention of Jesus.

  • Go to church.
  • Don’t go to the wrong church.
  • Read your Bible and pray.
  • Be a hard worker.
  • Be a good share-r.
  • Don’t laze.
  • Don’t lust.
  • Don’t lie.
  • Don’t lose your temper.
  • Love your enemies.
  • Don’t love money.
  • Honor your parents.
  • Don’t kill your siblings.
  • Love your neighbors.
  • Don’t covet their stuff, not even their donkey.
  • Tell the truth, and keep your words kind.
  • Don’t use your mouth for swearing.
  • Don’t use your mouth for gossip.
  • Don’t use your mouse for eating food off the floor, unless a 5-second rule applies.
  • Be friendly.
  • Don’t forget to floss.

And so the list goes on.

Faithful Jews believed the Torah to contain 613 rules. If there was a way to impress God’s Prophet, you can bet it was tied into exhaustive obedience.

Unless it was tied into something else.

WHAT COULD IT BE?

Matthew 8 records an unsettling encounter for many intent upon impressing Jesus.

When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.”

Scripture’s only mention of Jesus being positively stunned revolves around a Roman centurion. From the get-go, we note that this cannot be a “rule thing”. No mention is made of the man’s honesty or purity or generosity. No praise is passed for avoiding alcohol or prostitutes or cursing.

The disciples would certainly have despised the centurion for he was a multi-level enemy. As a Roman, he was one of the “bad guys”, an invader and idolater. These uncircumcised heathen were the godless oppressors of Israel, and most held deep conviction that God’s greatest priority must certainly be to devastatingly dethrone this empire and eject them from the Land of Promise.

So how does one summarize the disciples’ shock when Jesus expresses unhesitating willingness to compassionately visit the centurion’s home?

Even further, how does one summarize the shock of hearing the centurion’s reply?

But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

One imagines a dialogue:

CENTURION: I’m not worthy to have you in my home.

DISCIPLES: Dang right! At least you have one thing figured out.

C: No, that’s not what I mean.

D: Then say what you mean, scumbag… um… with a sword… [Gulp]

C: You don’t need to come. You can do it from here.

D: Say what?!

C: There is a pile I don’t understand, but I grasp one thing fairly well: Authority. One hundred men do whatever I tell them. “Go”, and they go. “Come”, and they come. “Do”, and they do. I am not naïve. They don’t obey me from love. It is power, and it is not even my own. In the chain of command, I embody the power of Rome. You obviously carry authority, but I confess that it is a mystery to me. Forces of sickness and spirits of evil obey your words. Your teachings impart life, and your influence obviously ripples into invisible-yet-real realms. In light of this, it strikes me as obvious that you have no need to walk to my home in order to heal my servant. You can do it from here.

D: [Strangely silent]

And Jesus marveled (Mt 8:10). He marveled at the man’s faith, at his confident trust. Nothing mushy here, this belief was matter-of-fact. And Jesus was compelled to declare for all within earshot, “I have not found anyone in Israel with faith like this.”

One can imagine the outcry – spoken or silent – of the disciples: “Hold on! You are talking about a pagan power that governs Yahweh’s covenant people. He certainly doesn’t know the Torah; he likely cannot list the Ten Commandments. He would never be allowed in the Temple, and he may sacrifice to Zeus. And you are holding him up as a model of faith?!”

Jesus: “Yep. That about sums it up. If you want a free, on-the-spot faith clinic, this man is leading it right this moment. Note everything you have observed.”

And at that point, Jesus wasn’t the only one marveling.

leaveacommentYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • Why is it so easy to imagine that Jesus values meticulous obedience more than complete trust?
  • Why do you imagine that trust receives so much emphasis in this story?

 

FAITH RE-VISITED (1): Can One Be Faithful Without Faith?

faithAt church, our current series is about discussing how faith grows.

In the process of Sunday sermons and weekly Small Groups, a handful of observations are rising to the surface.

Here is one of them.

FAITH AND FAITHFULNESS

A question in our last Small Group asked us who we considered a great example of faith. Who exhibited an unusual level of confidence and trust in God?  I confessed that I found that hard to answer. If it was looking for FAITHFULNESS, I had an easy list of names. Somehow FAITH changed the discussion for me. It seems riskier and more adventurous than the plodding and dutiful flavour of faithfulness.

Of course, the two concepts are linked (linguistically at the least), but I confess to experiencing more disconnect than I likely should. As said, faith appears more outrageous — it’s the believing of things unseen, the aggressively confident holding to God’s outlandish promises.  Certainly, faithfulness (in its full sense) is the act of exercising faith. However, it rolls off my tongue far more frequently as a term of steady responsibility, the long-term execution of what you know you should do.

A couple thoughts sum this up:

1) Faithfulness is likely under-valued. This “long obedience in the same direction” (Peterson’s priceless phrase) is not for the faint of heart. Fleeting affections and flighty commitments will never sustain the steadiness demanded to live by faith.

2) That said, any form of faithfulness truly worth something must be rooted in a deeply trust-filled relationship with God. Responsible task-ticking was the way of the older brother (Luke 15), yet he was revealed to be disturbingly distanced from the Father he “faithfully” stood beside.  Trust is linked to intimacy, and because of that fact: Anything less than faith-filled faithfulness comes off as mere duty, akin to a marriage that “celebrates” landmark anniversaries while being undesirably dead.

YOUR TURN: What about you? How do you observe the link between FAITH and FAITHFULNESS? Who has inspired you toward greater faith?

 

It Works!

poetry_imageI’ve always wanted to love poetry.

Many people I admire are poetry-lovers; I feel certain there is something to this. Already, I appreciate well-honed language and acknowledge the superior-to-the-sword sharpness that text can wield. However, apart from limericks, Silverstein, and Seuss, I confess to being a poetry failure. I struggle to enter and enjoy it as I wish I could.

But Daniel Ladinsky may be changing that.

An acclaimed expert on mystical poetry of the ages, Ladinsky spends many of his words translating these provocative pieces or creating his own, based upon the classic works he discovers. His book “Love Poems from God” is one of the only poetry books I own, once I get past Green Eggs and Ham and Mother Goose.

Over a year ago, he blogged a typical-for-him piece titled, “Maybe the Best Lay in Town is a Poem”, a title that strikes me as a hard-to-ignore invitation into poetry-land! Below is one of his offerings.

It Works

Would you come if someone called you

by the wrong name?

 

I wept, because for years He did not enter my arms;

then one night I was told a secret:

 

Perhaps the name you call God is not really His,

maybe it is just an alias.

 

I thought about this, and came up with a pet name

for my Beloved I never mention to others.

 

All I can say is–it works.

 

Before dismissing Ladinsky’s poem as a non-sensical invitation to creating names for the Creator, consider a few portions of Scripture:

Remember that when Moses asked for ID, God’s choice of revelation revolved around the name of Yahweh. The strictest Jews still utilize the vowel-less and un-pronounceable YHWH to speak of the Divine One. In Moses’ burning-bush encounter, the emphasis hangs on the name’s meaning: “I am who I am” or “I will be who I will be” or “I am all that I am, and you can’t conduct it or control it”. (That last one is my loose translation.)

Beyond Moses, you have Jesus adding the consistent call to address the God of the vowel-less name as Abba — Daddy, the One your trust more than any other because His perfect love is evident in every dealing.  Most of us (even those of us with great fathers) need to bring our imaginations into that equation, to redeem “Daddy” as a name void of disappointment or worse.

Then toss in Paul and his urging to trust the Spirit’s translation skills when we pray.  Paul would argue that every one of possesses desires, urges, and longings that reside beyond language. Carry inexpressible cargo might stress some; Paul says, “Sweat not! Just groan.”

When I swirl together these experiences and teachings of Moses, Jesus, and Paul, I find myself arriving somewhere near to Daniel Ladinsky, with an awareness that my names for God often limit, more than free, my interactions with Him.emmanuelle

[As as example: We were recently discussing God with our kids, pointing out that “Daddy” is a name He loves for us to use because He is like the father of everyone. Our five-year-old accepted that easily enough but asked, “Why isn’t there a special Mom too?” So we described the body-less God whose qualities are beyond “boy or girl”. At age five, she’s already noting the linguistic limitations of even a small word like “Him”, in speaking of the Holy One.]

So for today, get on-board with Ladinsky. Recognize some of the names you use as nicknames at best, and draw close to God as the One who will be exactly Who He will be. Groan if you need to, and whisper confidently, even affectionately, to the One who is nearer to you than your breath.

With Ladinsky, you just might agree: It works!