Song of Songs 6

This passage is easy on one level yet impossible on another. You have to squint I think and step back from the detail.

At the distant level three phrases went through my mind:

“Whose garden?”

“You’re the one”

“The grandeur”.

In the emotional flow of it, last chapter she feared she may have lost her beloved. Now he’s back, and they are closer than ever.

Whose garden? The vineyard was introduced as her inmost private self, and her sexuality. Now the garden is also his. There are a variety plants. It’s a place owned by both of them, their shared inmost being and sexuality.

She flips the love declaration from earlier in the book. First it was “my beloved is mine, and I am his”. Now it’s “I am my beloved’s and he is mine”.

They are deep in trust and closeness, losing track of where one stops and the other starts.

You’re the one. He describes his love for her. It overwhelms him, he has to look away she’s so beautiful. She is unique to him, forget even the King’s harem of the most gorgeous women in the kingdom, none can compare.

The grandeur. She’s not just gorgeous, she’s majestic. Reminded me of “…we could be royals” the song by Lorde (what is it about her music and this book?).

He compares his love to… the glitziest and the most spiritual cities, Tizrah and Jerusalem. To banners of troops. To the dawn, the moon, the sun and the stars.

He is transported from the garden, all a-bloom with spring to the noble chariots of the capital, her calls her a female version of Solomons name: “Shulmalite”.

It’s that wedding day feeling: you are inseparable, your partner is the best in the world, and your romance is one for the ages.

This is not a diary or a blog. It’s not documentary. It’s a poetic script, designed for some sort of performance, including parts for a chorus of friends to link the sections. It’s Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde (But not tragic).

It’s this idealised abstraction of relationships – a supercut I said earlier, a better picture of love than our actual relationships can sustain.

I do still cry at weddings, taken aback by riskyness of their promise of love before God, treasuring all the more my beautiful Kelly sitting beside me. It doesn’t have to work out as wonderful as it did for us. And still never perfect perhaps, but what richness in the discoveries together, such as I could never have imagined.

What am I saying? I don’t know… It’s a bit too much this book. So unrelenting in focus, like consuming a whole plate of Turkish delight in one sitting.

All of these wisdom books are: Ecclesiastes is too much existential angst, proverbs has too many proverbs, psalms has more than enough measures of praise and despair for a lifetime: you never finish psalms. And Job: God himself is just too much.

It’s like God said “ok lets do this, let talk life, death, love infinity, all the obsessions of your imaginations,” but because he is God, the brew is always verging on too strong too heady for us. “100 ways to blow our tiny minds”. There’s an album concept for these books!

Praise God I suppose. I bow to a stronger force. You really are the source, the richest take on all these things. You win!

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Psalm 102

The triumph of trust in God over your personal circumstances. It will all work out.

It’s personal story but also a metaphor.

The first half of the psalm details the suffering of the author, who is broken, reviled and will have a short life.

I found the metaphor where he compares himself to a single bird on a roof the most affecting. No help, exposed, vulnerable.

Half way through the Palm he starts factoring god into it, drawing comfort from knowing that time will extend, that God was before and will be after, that generations will flourish.

Also that god’s reign will extend. He will rise and show compassion to Zion.

It’s an exile Psalm, so the broken state of the author reflects their smashed nation. But he he has trust that God will restore Jerusalem, which he did. And further that all nations and rulers will revere God, which via Jesus and Christianity also happened.

He looks forward to his personal narrative of misery being transformed, becoming part of the story of god’s glorious salvation and rescue, which he is.

God laid the foundations of the earth, and is the solid thing that will remain. His compassion, hearing our groans, his releasing us from the condemnation of death, those are the lasting things.

From lonely bird on a rooftop to participant in the universe’s greatest victory.

I’ve woken up a bit stressed about life and work. There’s a few more loose ends than I can keep in my mind at one time, so that they dance from one to the other worrisome thing I mustn’t forget. This is an encouragement.

I know more of the bigger picture than this Psalmist did, what a great example of trust. God is glorious, my problems could even get a lot worse and still not really matter. It will all work out.

Psalm 99

I’ve now realised these are called the ‘enthronement Psalms’. From 93-100.

There is speculation that the collection was used at the feast of the tabernacles, a festival where Jewish people gather and eat and/or sleep for a week in booths; tents, to celebrate harvest by mimicking the traditional sleeping arrangements for farmers, and to recall the exodus journey.

It was a joyous feast and these are certainly joyous Psalms.

This one mentions Gods rule over all nations, but mainly remembers some greats of Jewish history: Jacob, Moses, Aaron & Samuel.

I’ve been thinking a bit about Christian music recently. I had a conversation with a Swiss piano player guy about it last week at church, and he was airing old grievances about the narrow focus of so many modern songs.

To check that it wasn’t just prejudice talking, I analysed the top ten fave BBC hymns of praise, to represent traditional taste and stats of the top ten currently being sung in churches, to represent modern.

9 out of 10 of the modern group had god’s goodness/majesty as the subject matter, 5 of 10 the traditional songs were about living godly lives (eg: make me a channel of your peace) and generally a much wider range of subject matter and theme.

The Hillsong type songs are almost exclusively enthronement songs like these. And the limitations I’ve been pondering in both connect.

Gods reign is actually not that evident. The devil may have been dealt a decisive blow at Calvary but he’s still at large, evil is still in our world and in our hearts.

Jesus made it clear how to respond to this: ask for forgiveness, seek god’s kingdom.

In every one of these Psalms, god’s reign is exciting because it is one of rightness, justice and equity. Which is a clue about seeking Gods kingdom.

Also in most if not all – haven’t specifically checked – the world trembles or shakes.

The majesty is there in those modern songs, and the humbling thrill of personally experiencing god’s love.

Our role in living as citizens of God’s Kingdom by seeking justice and equity throughout the world? Not so much.

Proverbs 9

Ok I’ve had a break for a week and I’ve been a little down. Also focusing on music, though it’s too much of an escape, I need to keep it in check.

Down because of good news, really about work. It seems I will have a full time job, exactly the job I am doing now. Which will make permanent a stop gap job I went to a year ago.

The down side is that it doesn’t pay quite enough, so to carry on will require some careful belt tightening for the whole family. We only survived last year by dipping into savings.

So it’s a little sad not getting the more highly paid job that I had no expectation of getting …until they dangled it as an exciting possibility for over a month….

It will seem good soon. I’ve been praying about it, and there are many up sides.

Also it was really only yesterday that I heard it was real, is just been a quite likely outcome, so I’ve been very uncertain for some time now. The uncertainty has eaten me up a bit.

On Saturday I went to the Aboriginal service at church. The visiting pastor was quite Pentecostal. We wrote our hearts prayer requests on a sheet of paper and put them in a bowl that he and other ministers present prayed over and claimed the answer to.

I put in concern about the job and my kids, unsurprisingly. Sunday morning he was there and I thanked him, and he and his wife wound up praying over my job a second time.

Then Monday I heard about the job! And I’m ungrateful enough to feel prevarication about it. Perhaps the Lord is speaking to me, an uptight old Anglican, through this prayer bowl.

Another reason I’ve been down just this last day because I made an uncharacteristically harsh Facebook post, criticising the Anglican church and I feel a bit exposed.

They sold the archbishop’s palace an old Gothic pile that looks like Hogwarts, for $17 million and I read in the paper that they have commissioned one of Sydney’s smartest architecture firms to build a new ‘palace’ in glebe, where my church is, for $7.3 million.

I linked to the article and said ‘strikes me as obscene, and I’m in the club!’

I just thought, why not take the opportunity to make a very normal house for the archbishop? The second most extensive fancy house in glebe sold recently was $5 million, the average is $1.5m, to put it in perspective.

The comments shot back saying the new compound included a 200 seat hall that would be used for University work (it’s across the road from Sydney Uni), and extra accommodation that would be used for visiting missionaries or church dignitaries and that the article hasn’t taken all that into consideration.

The discussion was pretty civilised actually, at least.

But that was how it struck me in the moment of reading it, and I wanted to preserve that reaction. I knew if I spoke to people I would move back inside the churchy bubble where it made sense, But most of the world is outside the bubble.

I did doubt my wisdom in doing that though. I wonder if there wasn’t an element of feeling frustrated at being so long at the mercy of indecision over my job, feeling powerless. I don’t know.

Proverbs chapter 9 refers to two houses.

Wisdom’s house calls people in to food and wine, it appeals to the simple to leave their foolish ways and gain insight.

Folly also has a house, offering stolen food and drink, which promises to be more delicious, but which leads to death.

It’s easy to see it as the choice to avoid immorality, sexual as per the last few chapters, or dodgy ways to get money.

It’s also talking about whether your heart is seeking truth, moving towards God, or fighting truth, hardening your heart to God. That’s why it can talk about the way of the simple, those who go into folly’s house, as leading to death. The ultimate foolishness is rejecting God.

In the middle was a section that seemed to speak to my fears over Facebook. About not arguing with scoffers or rebuking mockers.

Basically not having pointless arguments where you dispute the views of people who hate God. It’s a dead end if it just hardens your opposition to each other.

Also describes a fair whack of Facebook. It’s just people stating their prejudices at each other and getting angry at others who don’t agree and never will. It’s not constructive.

And I wondered if I was foolish for attacking my own church in front of non Christian friends. I also got to stand up for my faith very publically. So it’s not a clear situation.

Out maybe it is, maybe I’m in folly’s house.

My pastor invited me to the pub for a drink on Thursday. I thought ‘how great’ but then I worried – is this about the Facebook post? His wife personal messaged me a contribution to the argument, so it’s in his radar. Time will tell.

So there’s my start-of-year joys and blues, wisdom and foolishness, certainty and mystery, all woven with proverbs in a long ramble.

At least now I can also start on concrete, optimistic planning elements of a new year.

Job 32

New commentator, Elihu.

He – like me – is impatient with the dead end the arguments have come to, the three friends saying Job must have sinned, job saying he didn’t.

They have nothing more to say, but he is like bottled up wine, bursting at the skins.

He refers to the spirit of God inspiring him, and criticises job for justifying himself, not God.

His beef with all of them comes back to the fear of the Lord being wisdom, they need to go deeper into God rather than continuing to rely on their own understanding.

Its good advice, I’ve been very earth bound this week. Classic busy December stuff. I’ve been out every night socialising, and I complain of tiredness, but when things get calm and normal, I’m actually restless and can’t settle.

Still no news on any jobs, January looms … Tomorrow will be one month exactly of my contract left. I have 5 job applications in, still only the one interviewed. No one seems in any hurry!

I feel some comfort from a kind of catch 22 which is is they don’t fill all the roles, they’ll need to extend my contract until they do.

I think the worst case scenario I’m looking at is the only job I can get not paying enough, and needing to live frugally until I can get a better outside job. But I’m pretty sure I’ll at least get something.

The weekend away was interesting, but I think it gave me pause to think about what I am really getting into. Is it really me? Where do I draw the line at my commitment?

But I’m definitely needing to do a David and slow down before the presence of God.

Gotta go now!

Job 26

Job will now speak for 6 chapters or so. First order of business is responding to Bildad, and in a way wrapping up everything the friends have had to say.

They’ve really moved not at all from the first response. All their talk has added up to nothing. Job sarcasticaly points that out.

They’ve said Job have to understand that mankind are worms and maggots compared to God. He knows, but what use is that?

He emphasises how much more aware he is of man’s inequality to the awesome power of God.

The reference to the power of the sea and God crushing the snake invites comparisons to God’s promise of retribution on the serpent in Genesis. But also, commentry says, it could be talking about Canaanite mythical sea creatures.

There is a theme running though Job not obvious to modern readers of asserting monotheism over folk gods. For instance, here the sea has the definite article, but the word for sea without it is the name of the sea God. Ie: calling it ‘the sea’ rather than ‘Sea’ makes it part of the created order, not a God itself.

My fave verse is the last, that as much as we understand of God’s power, it is but a whisper on the edges of his actual power.

I’m waking up at the large salvation army tribal event. Last night I attended a session on partnering to affect social change and fight injustice.

So they had a local panel only one of whom was a salvo. An indigenous law professor, the manager of a football club (Collingwood) a rough diamond sort of a guy who wound up on local council in the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria spoke of how they worked with the Salvos.

The international leader, the General spoke with an intensity that belied his age, of how much justice means, comparing it to new shoots from the stumps of ruined lives, taking the metaphor of God’s salvation from Isaiah. Fiery.

And then a big band played some classics from Gershwin and others, what a night!

Ooops, gotta go to brekkie, may get back to this…

Job 14

The end of 3 chapters, a long poem of Job’s response to his the friend’s first round of advice. Spectacularly bleak.

At this stage Job definitely subscribes to the ‘life sucks then you die’ school of thought.

Blue tack that to your youth group wall!

He has learned that he has sinned, that much is clear. He understands that God removes sin, seals it up in a bag, he says.

And he is questioning about life after death. Literally he asks ‘if someone dies will they live again?” He likes the idea of the grave claiming him, and then some sort of ‘renewal’.

But then he descends into self pity, including the verse above.

I’m writing in the evening of Sunday having had a lovely productive day. At church I showed some friends my Job meme to some amusement.

I’m glad the Bible has these things. It’s ok to go there. I feel known and understood.

Interested to see if the second go round of the three friends and responses advances things further.

I’m really living it, in that, not all the arguments are straw men.

I really engage with some of them, and then I see another point of view when that is argued. It’s more psychologically subtle than I expected.

Job 7

Job questions what his existence might mean. His refusal to say there must be no God, and his rejection of his friend’s conclusion that he somehow deserved his suffering means he’s motivated to explain his situation. He struggles.

He compares it to his ‘work’. There are lots of hard jobs: slave, labourer. They have temporal cycles of effort and reward. Slaves get to rest. Labourers get paid.

Unfortunately he does not get rest in the evenings. They are uncomfortable because of the scabs and sores. Maybe he is just on a long cycle – months not days?

And there is always death, the spans of life are no more than a breath compared to eternity. He draws comfort from the idea that even if, as he expects, his season of suffering lasts until his death, it will at least end there.

This elevates his voice to the purpose of his existence. He will speak out about his situation. He gets no rest, because he gets bad visions and dreams in the night. He understands that he has been singled out for suffering.

He ends addressing God, not his friends. He asks a bunch of questions that are like a parody of psalm 8.

Psalm 8 asks God why he chose to think of mankind in all the vast stars and universe. Job asks the same question, but tells God to stop. Stop picking on him and leave him alone.

So having been emotional back in chapter 2, Job is calmer here.

He’s rejected his friend’s argument that he deserved to suffer in the last chapter.

Here he more coolly says: yes, I appear to have been given the most miserable life possible to live. I just want to die, and my only purpose for living seems to be as a voice asking God “why?”.

Which is circular, his purpose is to wonder if he has a purpose.

His prayer is that God will ignore him and focus on someone else. And allow him a good night’s sleep.

It is what it seems, God has chosen him to suffer. It’s unsatisfying, and it has bad implications for all of us.

It seems disrespectful of the honesty of this page to try and tie it up into a positive little life lesson to take into the day, so I’ll just sit with that, and see how the next call and response plays out.

Psalm 70

A quick cry for help, notable for how moderate is the punishment David calls down on his enemies. They want to kill him, he wants God to bring them shame, confusion and disgrace.

He takes time out to pray that those who seek God will reloice and those in need of salvation will know his greatness.

But his pressing need is urgent rescue – its only a 7 verse Psalm and it starts and ends with that.

Salvation in these psalms does that double duty beloved of my employer, the salvation army. Salvation of body and soul. In the present physical circumstances and in the forever.

The clarity I got yesterday reading Psalm 69 worked out brilliantly. I negotiated my deadlines, satisfyingly progressed my paving (just got to do the little cut off bits on the end), and now I’m off on a sweet long weekend with friends with the mental decks cleared.

I can’t fully explain but I really need it, even the few hours of work I did yesterday before I went home, setting everything up, was almost like pain, I really couldn’t stand it.

Though at weekly prayers yesterday they read… You guessed it, Psalm 69. A reformed drug addict, ex rock musician, now a salvation army soldier spoke and played U2s ’40’. Extra resonance to ‘sing a new song’. What a gift, I was elated. Maybe I’m turning into an emotional yoyo like David!

I’ll be leaving Psalms to read Job shortly, but these things bob in and out of your lives.

They are a bit like the pop songs you grow up with, old friends, a bit of a sound track of moments in your life. They are difficult to read sequentially the way I have been, but they are great to have as a sort of playlist to revisit.

Reading boring books of the bible

Here’s a good article about reading the boring parts of the bible.

https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/bible-study/6-tricks-to-make-it-through-the-bible-s-boring-books.html

To which I’d add these points of emphasis:

1. Pay attention to God – its all about God revealing himself, Not everything that happens is holy because its in the bible. People sometimes claim to be good, but they are acting on their own? So always ask ‘Has God spoken? What is God’s role? What is being revealed of his character?’

Because boredom can arise  from reading long complex bits of writing that seem irrelevant.  Focusing on God, who is unchanging, can anchor you in a sea of confronting cultural and historical distance, and start to bring it back to something relevant and shared with the writer of the passage.

2. Also use commentaries for the really weird bits, and don’t be impatient.  Slow down when sometimes you get the urge to speed up. There is often more gold in there than you first think.  I’m looking at you, Ezekiel and Daniel. Often I’ve thought something was irredeemably stupid, and a little bit of commentary makes it pretty mind boggling.

3. Say to God your feelings, no matter how ‘wrong’.  Say the thing you think God doesn’t want to hear. If you find a passage boring, repetitive, needlessly violent or bizarre, say that to God and pursue the line of thought.

Because God is real, loving, slow to anger and wants the best for me, I’ve found this braveness in talking to him has generally opened up insight and blessing.  It means you wrestle honestly with the boring bits, and they actually can come to life in surprising ways.

4. The bible is reflecting you in unpleasant ways, because much about us is unpleasant to God. Its changing you in ways that you will fight and want to hold onto.  Its aligning your mind with God’s, and the ‘boredom’ may be your sinful nature rejecting God’s grace and teaching. Sometimes I stop for a bit, or carry on in pure stubbornness, passionless. I got that way last time I read Psalms actually, which I’m going back to finish next.

5. But also, boredom is just part of life, so sometimes its just part of the deal. The bible has bona fide boring bits, it just does. Accept it, and as the article says, skim the genealogies.

I say this having just finished 1 & 2 Chronicles, which were surprisingly less boring than I expected.  I was going to read Ezekiel next, but as I say I’ve decided to divert to Psalms. Time for some pithy poetry and ambiguity! Songs for all occasions.