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Posts Tagged ‘holiness’

holinessBecause I find new understanding when I use a variety of translations, this day I see a glimmer in the Lord’s Prayer that has eluded me all these years.

Jesus told them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom.  Give us the bread we need for today. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who has wronged us. And don’t lead us into temptation.’” [Luke 11:2-4, CEB]

In this translation (Common English Bible), the verb “uphold” is used along with all the other requests: do something, do this.

Usually this section is translated as “hallowed be thy name” or “may your name be kept holy,” but this is a rare version in which we can ask God to act in such a way that the name of God would remain pure and holy and full of power. We are saying, “Lord, do whatever it takes to remain holy,” and in mind, I am letting God know that this relationship of God’s holiness and my lack of it are critical to the order of things. Without the holiness of God, I am lost.

“Oh God, hear me. No matter what I say or do, no matter how the world distracts itself from your Truth, uphold your holiness, because in this way, the kingdom of God will come and reign and goodness will triumph. In the meantime, keep my body whole and when I personally choose badly, forgive me. I promise, I will do my best to do the same for others. And above all, don’t let me mistake your way but strengthen my resolve to be steadfast.”

This is my prayer.

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NaziriteI ever realized that women could become Nazirites until this reading of Numbers. All this time, I had assumed that this vow was made only by men. And clearly, the rules for the Nazirite have the feel of being for men what with the growing of hair and abstinence from drink. Nonetheless, women could do take such a vow as well.

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of dedication to the Lord as a Nazirite, they must abstain from . . .'” [Numbers 6:1-3a, NIV]

In a nutshell, the Nazirite abstained abstained from alcohol, fermented drinks of any kind, grapes, or raisins; refrain from cutting one’s hair; and finally, avoid defilement by a dead body (or place that a dead body has been).

When I looked up additional information about the Nazirite vow, I was surprised to find that it evolved over time into three types of vows, depending on their length. In general, such a vow was made for a minimum of 30 days and for the common person, my guess is that this was the norm. However, there was a permanent vow (in which the Nazirite would cut his/her hair once a year for convenience) and there was a “Samson” Nazirite who was permanent, but did not have to abide by the dead body rule.

I believe, over time, these permanent Nazirites became known as monks. But isn’t it interesting that the Christian monks (and nuns) in later centuries were known for shorn hair and not long hair at all. Another reason why the Nazirite tradition ended was the loss of the Temple where the many sacrifices had to be made at the end of the vow. No temple : no end.

It’s a fascinating topic really and even includes some references to Jesus entering into a type of Nazirite vow at the Last Supper. But, of course, that is speculation as are many ideas about this tradition.

In any event, this ritual had to do with setting apart and holiness (see Holy Objects & Holiness post). The person perceived a need to separate himself or herself from the norm, even to the point of stepping away from family obligations (as might be the case in the event of a relative passing away). These vows were quite serious and if one was broken, the person had to “start over” again.

Jesus made some references to vows or promises in Matthew 5:37 in which he told the people to allow their “yes” to be yes and their “no” to be no. I believe he was alluding to people who made promises they did not mean or were unwilling to keep.

wedding ringsBut I would add, if we do make a vow, then we should treat them with more respect. Marriage vows have become the most abused of all. It is not enough to say, “well, I meant it at the time,” for that changes nothing except to imply that one did not know one’s own mind at the time or the implication of the promise. I would recommend people stop using the marriage vow at all if the intent is not binding. Or, perhaps like the Nazirites, the couple, if the vow is broken, starts over again.

Of all the many things that women were excluded from in Old Testament times, this is not one of them. Both men and women can experience holiness and set themselves apart for God. And secondly, their vows are still binding.

 

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holy objects TabernacleBack in the day, they had some seriously sacred and holy objects. Everything in the Tabernacle (tent of meeting) was holy and could only be handled, touched, or carried by certain people and in a certain way. Any deviation could mean death. Does anything in our contemporary world compare?

They [Kohathites clan] are the ones who shall deal with the most sacred objects associated with the congregation tent. . . . When Aaron and his sons are done covering all the holy objects and furnishings, then and only then (so that they don’t touch the sacred things and die), the Kohathites can approach. They are the ones who shall transport these items of the congregation tent. [Numbers 4:4, 15]

There are religions around the world that do have sacred objects and although none have the death penalty, they do carry severe holy eucharistpenalties. In Western culture, mostly it’s the high church denominations such as Catholicism and Orthodox who revere things, be it the Eucharist (sacramental bread), icons, relics, or specific objects that have been blessed or designated for holy use. In Muslim culture, it’s my understanding that the Quran (book itself) should never touch the floor or have anything laid on top of it and believers should not touch its pages without formal ablutions.

But the idea of holiness in our midst, whether in objects or places, has been lost, in large degree, by the vast numbers of believers who have embraced a friendlier God whose grace extends to jeans, casual environments, electronic texts, and handy communion elements. I am not condemning the practice per se; after all, I attend such a church myself. It’s modern and relevant and loud; it appeals to a broad range of people and is designed to be accessible to both believers and non-believers alike.

cross and rosaryIn Christianity, the cross, the instrument of torture used by the Romans to execute criminals has become so ubiquitous that both believers and non-believers can be seen wearing t-shirts, earrings, and tattoos with the cross prominently displayed. Go figure.

What is holy in my own life? I find myself hungering sometimes for the holy or sacred experience. In new cities, I love finding older church buildings and sitting in the quiet spaciousness of the place. I love to listen to sacred music alone or practice the praying of the hours. There is a respect for the time and the place that feels different, that engages me spiritually in a way that other things do not. Don’t get me wrong, I love contemporary worship with its upbeat sound, waving hands, and corporate experience. But it does not speak of holiness. It’s praise and adoration of a type, but I would never assign the word holiness to it.

There are times in nature when I have felt a holy presence, but it cannot be re-created at home. And I have had remarkable revelations while reading my Bible and yet, I know I treat the book itself somewhat cavalierly (besides, I must have about twenty different versions all over my house). If I can’t find one, there’s always a back up. It’s not holy or sacred in that other way at all.

Of course, one cbasilicaan ask if holiness or sacred objects are needful in today’s culture? Perhaps not. But I wonder, are we missing something?

My husband’s conversion story includes a moment when he heard the voice of God ask what he would do if Christ appeared to him in the flesh? And Mike’s internal response would be that he would bow down and worship him. For him, a holy moment, no doubt. But we have so few of those moments today. Bowing down as a symbolic gesture of surrender or subservience is foreign to most of us. In the face of foreign “royalty,” Americans tend to bristle a little at the idea of bowing to them. Even the idea of a “king of kings” is honestly unfamiliar. These are merely words, not actual feelings of reverence or awe.

As I think about Lent, I want to search out the holy in my heart as well as my environment. It will be the focal point, I think, to my 40 day journey.

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listeningWhat does it mean to listen to God?

I will listen to what God the Lord says;
    he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants [saints]—
    but let them not [re]turn to folly. [Psalm 85:8, NIV, 2010 with words inserted from 1984 version]

When I was in acting school, we used to have a teacher who tried to teach us how to center down into ourselves, to experience “constructive rest,” to align our bodies, to know “neutral” in ourselves. Much of that time was spent on the floor and breathing. At the time, I was simply too immature to appreciate what she was trying to accomplish. One of her exercises required us to listen: to listen to the sounds outside the room, then inside the room, and then inside our bodies. In a way, this is technique that can also be used to settle the mind down in preparation to listen to God. It’s pretty hard to listen to God while being busy doing other things. [Unless anyone has cultivated the habits of Brother Lawrence, and his Practice of the Presence of God.]

But I believe, more than anything else, that the heart must be prepared to hear before listening will occur. It is up to me to establish that environment, like preparing garden soil to be sown. I can help this preparation of the heart along by reading or singing or breathing.

In this process, I should also know the subject matter. In other words, I believe the most productive listening is done when focused on a situation or topic or question. (And I don’t mean a yes or no question, but a more open-ended one, that allows room for God to expand the answer.) But here is the vital key: I must be at my wit’s end, so to speak. If I really want my heart to be open to the voice of God, then I must know that my resources have been expended, my “way” has not worked, my solutions have been exhausted.

surrenderOtherwise, I think my very human tendency, once I “hear” God’s response, is to compare it to all the other answers out there. It’s not the way God works. If I am truly coming to the God of the Universe for help and illumination, then I can’t treat the answer as though God is simply weighing in on the possibilities like another girlfriend at a kaffeeklatsch.

Do not, then, go to God lightly. For in the breadth of this one verse, Psalm 85:8, there is a warning about returning to our folly (our own way). To ask God, the Holy Spirit, to help and then to choose another way, is, indeed foolishness.

In the older 1984 NIV version, the translation reads that God promises peace to his saints. In later years, this term has been replaced with culture friendly phrases like “faithful servants” or “the holy people He loves.” We are adverse to calling ourselves saints and yet I know it’s not a word to be taken lightly, it is the one that speaks of total surrender to the Christ. A saint is totally sold out to God. A saint hears God and listens and then acts upon the information.

Clearly, the opposite of a saint is a fool.

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And God pricked my spirit saying, you can’t just write about prayer. You must actually “do it.” This is where wisdom is born of knowledge and understanding.

So I turned to the most well known prayer of all. My first stumble was on the first word: Our. And then, it came to me that every prayer, really, is an “our” prayer because I am asked to pray on behalf of all humans. This is a prayer for humanity:

And so I prayed this way:

prayer2Our Creator, God who made us: You are heaven (we are still earth).
A mere name cannot hold all that You are. Holy. Father. Mother. Creator. God.
We need heaven here and we need Your authority.
We accept and surrender to You here.
To transform ourselves and our world into You, into heaven.
Allow us the nourishment we need to sustain our bodies, our minds, and our souls for one more day.
Forgive our abuses of your grace.
We will forgive others too. We must. Because we are no better than they are.
Keep drawing us away from the selfish choices, the rebellious preferences, the well-traveled roads;
And instead, shepherd us into Your Presence.
When we willfully continue the wrong way and entangle ourselves in the web of evil: save us.
We acknowledge You, Heaven, Holy Other and Hope.
You have the power and love to do and will what is best for humanity, for us, and really, for me.

This is my prayer.

Psalm 8:1

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surrenderIt’s an unpleasant word: bondage. It brings up all kinds of lascivious images of chains and whips and leather. It’s the new interpretation of the word; it’s the culture in which we live. But in this case, it’s about slavery and compulsion and captivity. It is the antithesis to freedom.

During the time before you knew God, you were slaves to powers that are not gods at all. But now, when you are just beginning to know the one True God—actually, He is showing how completely He knows you—how can you turn back to weak and worthless idols made by men, icons of these spiritual powers? Haven’t you endured enough bondage to these breathless idols? [Galatians 4:8-9; The Voice translation]

And the phrase that I keep hearing is “haven’t you endured enough bondage . . . ” How much more do I need to experience before I finally set free from my old self, my old habits, my old way?

I have read that a body, once overweight, believes that higher weight is the norm. As a result, despite conscientious diet and exercise, the body will continue to betray and crave. It wants the old me back again: indulgent and insatiable.

Haven’t you endured enough? Haven’t I endured enough? I have.

I want everything that God has for me.

When I was just a baby believer, trying to figure out what it even meant to follow Christ and how it would change me . . . or, did I even want to change? No, not back then. Truthfully? I wanted everything to stay the same, just add in the Jesus bit. I thought I could treat Jesus like a spice, just sprinkle it on top. That is not how it works. Not really. And especially not if I say the words and surrender.

And I did. I waved the white flag back then and again and again and again. Each time, each year, a new surrender, a new discovery.

That’s been the journey; two steps forward, one step back. But I feel as though I am coming to a new place, a fork in my road, a new terrain. It’s like the last push before reaching the top of the mountain.

Ready.

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Art by Brad Moody

Art by Brad Moody

Honestly, it never occurred to me that walking on water might be normal behavior. Think about it. The way the story goes, Jesus finished praying and then headed out by the most direct route (across the water) to meet up with his friends. It’s not like he stood at the shore and said to himself, “wait til they see this!” It was simply a means to an end. It could have been a true turning point for the disciples. Instead, it was one more picture lesson in faith.

O you of little faith. Why did you doubt and dance back and forth between following Me and heeding fear? [Matthew 14:31b, The Voice translation]

Most Christians, when they get a hold of the possibility that miracles are still possible today, focus on healing. After all, Jesus did a lot of healing and when faced with the pain and suffering of those around us, we want to help, we want to save them, we want to keep our loved ones with us. Heal them Father, we cry out. Have mercy.

When danger is before us, we cry out. When death is near, we shout. When fear feeds on our hearts, we beg for relief.

But no one, at least no one in my circle of friends, asks to walk on water. What’s the point? Walking on water won’t change the world around me, it won’t heal or alleviate suffering, it won’t bring the dead back to life, it won’t change anything. Except for myself.

That’s right. Walking on water is a personal transformation. It’s an assurance of faith within. It’s a breakthrough in surrender, full and complete. All in.

If I walk on water, then all is possible. It’s not the cliche of being perfect at all. It’s something totally different: it’s trust and fearlessness in the face of the natural laws of nature. It is outside 3-D experience. It is Spirit leading flesh, in charge. What it really means is to live in mutuality with the Holy Spirit. “At that time, you will know that I am in the Father, you are in Me, and I am in you.” [John 14:20

Walking on water is the antithesis of fear. Perfect love casts out fear [I John 4:18] and sets the stage for that journey.

Miracles and water walking are a natural outgrowth of a focused faith: love God, love others. This is our part of the bargain–the covenant. Simple. Impossible? Possible.

 

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