Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Category: The isolated isolate (Page 2 of 2)

November 4, 2020 — Saul dies alone

Saul and his servant meeting Samuel for the first time: ( 1 Samuel 9:6-27) | King david, Song of solomon, Festival captain hat

Today’s Bible reading

Now the spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him. And Saul’s servants said to him, “See now, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord now command the servants who attend you to look for someone who is skillful in playing the lyre; and when the evil spirit from God is upon you, he will play it, and you will feel better.” So Saul said to his servants, “Provide for me someone who can play well, and bring him to me.” One of the young men answered, “I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a warrior, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence; and the Lord is with him.” So Saul sent messengers to Jesse, and said, “Send me your son David who is with the sheep.” Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine, and a kid, and sent them by his son David to Saul. And David came to Saul, and entered his service. Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor-bearer. Saul sent to Jesse, saying, “Let David remain in my service, for he has found favor in my sight.” And whenever the evil spirit from God came upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand, and Saul would be relieved and feel better, and the evil spirit would depart from him. 1 Samuel 16:14-23 (The Message)

More thoughts for meditation

I thought, “Surely this story must be a movie! Why have I never seen this tragedy on screen?” So I went to YouTube and, sure enough, there was the story of King David with Jonathan Pryce playing King Saul. It was a miniseries with Leonard Nimoy as Samuel! There are whole sets of Bible stories on Amazon – who knew?

It is a story worth watching/reading/hearing. The tragedy of Saul gives us loads of opportunity to meditate on how our own mental and relational struggles end up isolating us. As we watch Saul get isolated by his struggles and behavior we can then watch his fear and envy create a wall of defensiveness that makes him even more isolated until he ends up dying alone among his dead sons on Mt. Gilboa.

It is a long story in the Bible. But the turning point comes early in the tale of Israel’s first two kings: “At that very moment the Spirit of God left Saul and in its place a evil spirits sent by God settled on him. He was terrified.” As the tale moves on, note your own evil spirits and what fear might cause you to become.

The Spirit of God anoints David and a dark spirit inhabits Saul. Saying something like “All things come from God, so get over it” may seem like it is appropriate to this chapter, but we just saw Moses pulled out of his resistant darkness. So it is safe to say that Saul has major issues, but it is not a foregone conclusion that his dark mood will do him in. I quoted the Message paraphrase, since most versions more accurately call what came upon Saul as a “spirit.” I think ancient people called depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and all sorts of chemical and systemic glitches “spirits.”  Everything about us is spiritual and material, so we always have to sort out how that relationship is going.

Saul is up and down about it, as are most of us these days. If you came into Covid season with some loose ends, they may have unraveled already, or you may have spent all your energy keeping things together (the most troubled are probably not reading this entry, to be honest). If your resilience was chugging along, then you have probably noticed your fuel getting low at times. It is a hard season.

Saul experienced the onset of something he could not handle.  Ironically, his helpers located the next, secretly-anointed, king of Israel to be his court musician. David soothed his weary brain. He was kind of a stand-in for the presence of God who seemed impossible to reach. If he would have stuck with that humility, let himself be soothed by God through David, things might have worked out better.

But Saul feared criticism and loved popular approval. Even more, he used his great courage to fight God’s desertion. In his attempt to force God to reverse the divine decision against him, Saul changed from one who was humble and pure, chosen of the Lord to receive great promised blessings, to one who stood angry, alone, and impenitent.

King Saul made a lot of mistakes, but the straw that broke the camel’s back was when he did not destroy all the Amalekites and every animal belonging to them and then lied to the prophet Samuel about it. He tells the holy man  the people had spared the best sheep and oxen “to sacrifice unto the Lord” (1 Sam. 15:14–15). Samuel says, “To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam. 15:17–22). That was the last time he ever saw Samuel, who left him with the promise that God had chosen someone else to be king.

Realizing that his blessings and kingdom had indeed been given to another, he looked around to see who that other might be. He discovered it was his foster son, David, who became a great warrior and came back from battle to the royal compound as women sang, “Saul has slain his thousands, but David has slain his tens of thousands.” He had the popularity Saul had so much wanted but had never fully received. From then on, Saul sought to take David’s life.

In his struggle against God, Saul’s efforts reached great intensity. His heart was torn; he saw not only his people leave him, but even members of his own family turn against him, especially Michal and Jonathan, who thwarted his plots against David. Saul, heartsick and angry, struggling to maintain the kingdom and give it to Jonathan, spoke to his son: “As long as the son of Jesse lives upon the ground, you shall not be established, nor your kingdom. Fetch him to me, for he shall surely die” (1 Sam. 20:31). But Jonathan defended David, and Saul, angered beyond control, cast his spear at his own son. Then he vainly chased David around the wilderness for years.

The final days of Saul’s tragic life are heightened by his growing paranoia and his terrible need for help outside himself. Formerly, he had been able to appeal to God, to the prophet Samuel, and to the priests. Now, however, “when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets” (1 Sam. 28:6). He was completely alone. Samuel was dead, and Saul himself had murdered the priests. Saul’s own family no longer respected him. The people whom he had sought to serve refused to support him.

“All of you have conspired against me,” Saul cried at Gibeah. “There is none of you that is sorry for me.” (1 Sam. 22:8.) Yet Saul did not repent; neither did he change. At the last, faced by a vast horde of Philistines gathered at Mount Gilboa to do battle against him, Saul was filled with fear. Crazed and abandoned, he turned at last to those he had formerly condemned. In disguise, he went to the witch of En-dor, a spiritualist, and asked her to call up Samuel from the dead. A deceiving spirit, appearing as Samuel, rebuked Saul and pronounced the final curse: “The Lord will also deliver Israel with thee into the hand of the Philistines … Tomorrow shall you and your sons be with me” (1 Sam. 28:19; see also 1 Sam. 28:15).

It is a wild ending both in the Bible and on film. But Saul did not weep or don sackcloth in ashes. Beyond repentance, he turned deliberately toward the impending battle, perhaps in the dreaded hope that he might yet disprove this last prophecy. But in the great battle that followed, as he looked around and saw his three sons lying dead beside him, Saul himself, already wounded by archers, fell upon his sword and died.

Suggestions for action

That’s quite a parable, isn’t it? — a cautionary tale. It has more angles to explore than a tidy moral could contain. You might want to meditate on it and consider how your own story is going. As the Covid season wears on it has the possibility at closing around some of us like Saul’s madness on Mt. Gilboa. Isolation breeds despair which breeds desperation and more isolation.

Isolation is making a big impact on people. Scientists keep telling us why. We are social creatures, of course. The CDC guidelines are a pretty good summary of what we are up against and what we need to do in the face of the isolation we are experiencing. Maybe you should call up someone who knows you and let them help you with a mental health assessment. There are mental health resources at your disposal, not the least of which is Circle Counseling. Our church helps people afford professional help, too.

Pray: Keep my safe in your care Lord. Strengthen me to connect beyond my fears.

Today is Sundar Singh Day! Admire an evangelist who offered living water in an Indian cup long before people talked about being missional or incarnational at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body. 

Add to the laments on the page some people are using to pray! We’ll have a book of Covid-19 Lamentations!

November 3, 2020 — Moses develops a stutter

Did Moses Have a Speech Impediment? – The Forward

Today’s Bible reading

When the child grew older she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “Because I drew him from the water.”

In those days, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and observed their hard labor, and he saw an Egyptian man attacking a Hebrew man, one of his own people. He looked this way and that and saw that no one was there, and then he attacked the Egyptian and concealed the body in the sand. When he went out the next day, there were two Hebrew men fighting. So he said to the one who was in the wrong, “Why are you attacking your fellow Hebrew?”

The man replied, “Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? Are you planning to kill me like you killed that Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid, thinking, “Surely what I did has become known.” When Pharaoh heard about this event, he sought to kill Moses. So Moses fled from Pharaoh and settled in the land of Midian. – Exodus 2: 10-14

More thoughts for meditation

Moses had a traumatic youth and maybe you are having one right now. Yes, he lived in Pharoah’s household which made him feel powerful enough to break up fights and kill people. But he was still the baby found in a basket, without his true parents, with a secret identity as a member of the slave class. Then he murdered someone, which never leaves the perpetrator untouched. At the end of the few lines above, which tell a big story, he is running for his life across the eastern desert and ending up living in a nomadic tribe somewhere in Arabia.

Marc Shell claims that his trauma and fear made him a stutterer, hiding out among the illiterate. When God comes to find Moses, isolated in his desert “garden,” he feels very resistant to being a hero based on an infirmity and he is not above arguing with God about it: “Then Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I am not an eloquent man, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant, for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” The Lord said to him, “Who gave a mouth to man, or who makes a person mute or deaf or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? So now go, and I will be with your mouth” (Exodus 4:10-11).

The experience of stuttering is similar to PTSD: hyperarousal, organizing one’s life around the disorder, and dissociation. By the time God gets to Moses, he has spent a long time alone with the sheep becoming quite used to his condition, like we have spent a long time outside of our normal society this year adapting to our debilitating condition. People keep saying we can’t expect to go back to normal, since none of us will remember it and will have created a new normal based on isolation and avoidance.

Trauma does not upend everyone. Traumatic experiences can be transformative. What distinguishes people who develop PTSD from people who are merely temporarily stressed is the former start organizing their lives around the trauma. You can see why this week of Daily Prayer needs to be all about the isolated resisting isolating, since we might help the trouble shape us. For people who have experienced trauma, it is the persistence of intrusive and distressing recollections and reactions, some embedded into their core brain, which drive the biological and psychological dimensions of PTSD. Instead of looking for healing and restorative experiences, the person might just defend against the memories and feelings until the defensive avoidance becomes habitual. When Moses started stuttering, he was embarrassed and tried not to stutter, which made the stuttering worse until he did not want to talk at all lest he stutter. When we have taken our early els into CHOP for their second Covid test, it makes it hard to want to get up every day and face whatever else is coming, like joblessness or political nightmares after the vote today.

Suggestions for action

One thing Moses did do, however, in his isolation, out there on the hillside alone with the sheep, was pay attention to something else but himself and the sheep — at least once. He turned his attention to the burning bush and listened to the voice of God calling to him. He took off his shoes in honor of the holy ground, even though it was the same old rocky environment he had been in for years — something like the old rug in your living room, perhaps. He entertained a different future even though he seemed an unlikely participant in it.

This is one reason we love Moses so much. He is another one of the messy Bible characters out on the margins who God loves to find and motivate. We are all in a pickle and we need God to find us, and we all need to listen to our ever-finding God. We might not even be halfway through this season of Covid. So starting something new, something good or something over would not be too late. Try it. Listen for it.

Moses had a lot of avoidant arguments for God about why His big idea was stupid and, regardless, why he was going to avoid it because he is a worthless orphan who stutters and is wanted for murder. You and I have been going in and out of despair and avoidance like that for months. God apparently says, “So what? I’ve got something bigger than you and Covid going on.” Is there any way you can connect with God and others and not sink further into habitual avoidance in this traumatizing time? You might need to write it out, so your good thinking is not bowled over by your spiritual stuttering.

Today is Martin de Porres Day! Appreciate a tireless servant of the poor from Peru at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body.

Add to the laments on the page some people are using to pray! We’ll have a book of Covid-19 Lamentations!

November 2, 2020 — Adam and Eve alone in the garden

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden - Life, Hope & Truth

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Genesis 3:1-12

The serpent said to the woman, “Surely you will not die, for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will open and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the tree produced fruit that was good for food, was attractive to the eye, and was desirable for making one wise, she took some of its fruit and ate it. She also gave some of it to her husband who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God moving about in the orchard at the breezy time of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the orchard. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” The man replied, “I heard you moving about in the orchard, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.” And the Lord God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

More thoughts for meditation

During “Covid,” the terrible new season we will never forget, we have spent a long time alone in our respective “gardens.” Most of them have been way east of Eden. A lot of us have been stuffing ourselves on the horrible fruit of isolation. We are blinded by the delusive tricks of the time until we think isolating will save us from feeling isolated. The isolated isolate. A couple of weeks ago, one of my friends confessed about the same thing while we were worshiping in an actual garden, “When Covid first started I called all my friends and commiserated. Now I don’t call anyone.” By the time it is over, will we have any relationships left?

We’re like Adam and Eve, aren’t we? God comes looking for them in the garden and can’t even find them. Can’t leave them alone for a minute; they are like toddlers with a glass of chocolate milk headed for the berber carpet, not the kitchen table. “Where are you?” he calls. Spiritual blindness is curled around their awareness like a snake. They are cut off from the real garden by their limited vision – vision confined to their sin-soaked desires and their fear of the naked reality of their condition. Right when they need to trust, they stop calling – and they barely answer God, he has to look under a bush for them.

In our present awful circumstance which is going to last ALL WINTER and then some, no one intends to let isolation make them isolate. We don’t do virtual meetings because “I just can’t take any more zoom.” We don’t reach out because, “I just don’t feel up to it.” We stop doing all the self-care that seemed so relevant a few months ago because, “It is not really working and I may as well hunker down.” We rationalize, we justify, we make excuses because we all have built in to us the basic sense that we should do good and avoid evil. No one chooses any wrong action because it is wrong, for the wrongness itself, but rather because they’ve convinced themselves it is good in some way. As C.S. Lewis put it in Mere Christianity:

“You can be good for the mere sake of goodness: you cannot be bad for the mere sake of badness. You can do a kind action when you are not feeling kind and when it gives you no pleasure, simply because kindness is right; but no one ever did a cruel action simply because cruelty is wrong—only because cruelty was pleasant or useful to him.”

Suggestions for action

In the moments leading up to our sinful choice—”I’m not going to connect, I’m going to keep drinking” or “I’m going to hang on to the wicked thing my Covid-crazed friend said as a reason to be alone and sulk” —we cloud our thinking with sentiments like “I deserve some me time” or “They don’t need to see me this stressed.” We tell ourselves that what we’re choosing is really good. We create a new mental world where we’ve declared a new right and wrong—basically, in which we’re God. Not that we think we’re God — but that’s the reality of it, in effect.

The great blessing is, after we fall, we often have that sensation that Adam and Eve had: our eyes are opened. We realize what sad and pathetic excuses we’ve made to ourselves; we see the things to which we blinded ourselves. The fog lifts and we see what we’ve really chosen, and what we’ve really rejected: “Yes, I could have called my poor sister instead of binging on TV and ice cream again.”

Thank God this chance for repentance always rolls around! This eye-opening, fog-lifting, coming-back-to-reality experience is nothing other than the grace of God penetrating the cloud we’ve put ourselves like a clear voice calling us out of our isolation, calling us back to relating to our Creator. We can turn away from the little world we’ve made for ourselves and turn toward God.

Pray: Open my eyes lest I become isolated from you, Lord.

Today is All Souls Day. This might be the most-abused part of the triduum. So if you have not checked out the meaning of All Saints Day, check it out at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body.

Add to the laments on the page some people are using to pray! We’ll have a book of Covid-19 Lamentations!

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