Reading the Dead Sea Scrolls

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.         
         
Yesterday Beth and I visited the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Museum of Science in Boston. One fragment I kept coming back to was from a scroll of the Psalms, likely written in the First Century. It was written in Hebrew, except that the name of God was written in an older language that the ancients thought was the “original language” of scripture. God’s name was too holy to write in ordinary, everyday language. I can recognize it. So there’s one word in the scroll that I can actually read.

I’m reading a scrap of parchment that’s two thousand years old! Actually reading and understanding it. True, I’m only understanding one word of it— but that single word dances on the page every time it occurs. (It occurs a lot.) It draws me in, has me reading whole lines, the whole piece of parchment, knowing only the translation provided but not the individual words, except one. The rest is mystery. In fact even that one word is mystery. Isn’t that just like all my prayers? After all my words and thoughts, all I really know is… “God.” The rest I take on faith.

Reading this text, I am connected to an ancient soul, reading what he wrote. He reaches out to me across twenty centuries. Somehow, gazing at that word, in his handwriting, I feel the presence of the writer himself. And also the Mystery. In that little bit of ink I feel held in the same hands, the same Awe, as the writer. In all our various languages and religions, in all that we do not understand or share, there is this that we have in common: “the LORD.” The Holy One. We are one in God. The mystery is too great for us to be able to use it to divide us. It connects us.

Maybe all our prayers ultimately boil down to our most primitive language, whatever tongue is before and beneath the one we utter. Maybe every prayer is actually just: “Thou!” The rest is mystery; and even what we say is too holy to describe.
         
         
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

__________________
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

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Pray always and do not lose heart

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
         
         
                  Jesus told a parable about their need to pray always
         and not to lose heart.
                  In a certain city there was a judge
         who neither feared God nor had respect for people.
         In that city there was a widow
         who kept coming to him and saying,
         “Grant me justice against my opponent.”
                  For a while he refused; but later he said to himself,
         “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone,
         yet because this widow keeps bothering me,
         I will grant her justice,
         so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.”
         …
                  Will the Human One,
         when coming on earth, find faith?

                  —Luke 18.1-8

O you who judge,
when you have no awe of God
nor compassion for people,
who do not hear her voice,
her demand for justice—
you think you need not listen to her,
as if she is merely a poor annoying widow
and you have more important matters.
But she is eternal, and she will wear you down
with her continual coming.
Despite your deafness, your callous heart,
she will come to you faithfully.
She will not judge you or come in enmity,
but she will not abandon you.
For a while you will refuse,
but she will come to you at odd hours,
her voice rise in the inner chambers of your heart,
echo among your pronouncements,
until you come to do justice,
to hear her voice among the voiceless,
to listen always,
and not lose the heart of your heart.
Then God in human form
going through this life
will find receptive souls.

         
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

__________________
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

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Inspired scripture

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
         
         
         All scripture is inspired by God
         and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction,
         and for training in righteousness,
         so that everyone who belongs to God
         may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

                  —2 Timothy 3. 16-17

This doesn’t mean all scripture is dictated by God. It means that the Spirit is present in its writing, and in its reading. Listen to some authors of inspired scripture: “I decided… to write…” (Lk. 1.2-3). “I say to you—I, and not the Lord…” (1 Cor. 7.12). “I suppose…” (Jn. 21.25). Scripture, though inspired, comes from very human authors. That is, of course, the way grace always comes to us: in ordinary and even flawed means, in crummy situations and through regular, broken, imperfect people.

As we read scripture, and as we “read” life, we don’t merely take the words we hear at face value. Sometimes people—even biblical writers— are mistaken; yet in their struggles, in their voice, there is grace to receive, there is truth to discern. But we have to discern it. The serpent may lie to Eve; prophets may say “peace, peace,” when there is no peace; armies who slaughter whole villages may claim God told them to; faithful people may argue two different sides; the Psalmist may examine God’s absence to discern God’s presence. Even Jesus said some things that “ain’t necessarily so,” to get us to wonder, to invite us to discern. We do not blindly follow any of these voices or take their words literally: we discern God’s voice among and beneath and beyond them, even when they are wrong. Sometimes the truth is not in the answer but in the struggle. We can see God’s leading in the footprints of the Israelites in the wilderness, even when they were lost. We would not follow their 40-year route, but every step was inspired. God led them. All scripture is inspired: the Spirit was present in the original experiences, and in the writing, so we allow it to be present in our reading. Ultimately it’s not the authors we want to hear; it’s God.

Your life is inspired. The Spirit is present, even when you understand or believe wrongly, even when you do not understand or believe at all. Read scripture with the Spirit’s help, and live each moment as if you are reading scripture. Listen beneath the literal words for the Living Word. Even in the most ungodly carryings-on, listen for God’s grace. Listen for what will equip you for every good work.
         
         
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

__________________
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

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So that you may write

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
         
         
         I will put my law within them,
                  and I will write it on their hearts;
         and I will be their God,
                  and they shall be my people.

                           —Jeremiah 31.33

Beloved,
hide your Word in me,
so deep in my heart
that I can’t turn away
even when I try,

a great weight in me off center,
leaning
toward your good.

By your handwriting in me,
your signature on everything,
I know who I am:
I am yours.

I will not travel toward you
or attain you,
but turn inside out
and become you.

This silence is the pen I give you.
Here is the paper of my heart,
so that you may write.

         
         
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

__________________
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

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Fall

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
         
         
         
A flaming orange tree opens its heart to me.
It is not ashamed of its gift or its ardor,
not embarrassed at its naked passion.

The pond gives light as if it has saved it up,
the light from underneath the pond,
light of trees reflected, the open eye of sky,
mists evaporating, with jewels of geese,
chosen and held, wrapped until today.

The tall grasses nod and wave and bow,
as if toward saints they bow,
in silly exuberance they wave, in reverence they bow.

Something in me lets go like a leaf:

from a flower among spent flowers
a bee on its faithful little errand lifts clumsily
and swings through the tinged air—
and I fall in love.

         
         
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

__________________
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

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Psalm 66. 8-12

O Beloved, we bless you.
         A song of praise rises,
         unbeckoned, within us.
You have kept the life in us alive.
         You haven’t let our feet slip.

You have been with us in all our trials.
         You have been the silver in us
         when we went through the refiner’s fire.
When we were trapped
         you held us firm.
In all our burdens it was you
         who were the weight on our backs.
People rode over our heads
         but you were within us.

We went through fire.
         We went through water.
And you brought us out
         to a spacious place.
How can we not thank you,
         even in our troubles?
Even in our troubles,
         how can we not thank you?

         
         

______________________
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

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Practice gratitude

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
         
         
         “Were not ten made clean?
         But the other nine, where are they?
         Was none of them found to return and give praise to God
         except this foreigner?”

                  —Luke 17.17-18

Jesus’ parables can be about different people; they are also about different parts of ourselves. I am only grateful for about ten percent of the wonderful things I receive. And so often the grateful part is the foreigner: the part of me that I relegate to the shadows, the vulnerable, ashamed part that I ignore. And yet it speaks forth my gratitude for me when my ego-mind is too busy protecting its worthiness to be thankful.

Gratitude is not an emotion that comes upon us without our control. It is not dependent on what happens to us, but on our intention. Like good posture, it is a practice, an attitude that is entirely our choice in every moment. Gratitude is the ground of all wisdom, the root of all joy. When we practice gratitude it opens our hearts to the deep gifts in all of life, and God’s grace, the Holy One’s presence with us, even in the things we are not pleased with. The intention of gratitude opens us to God’s intention of generosity. There is a gift hidden in everything. To find it, be grateful. Let the one leper teach the rest of you how to give thanks.

A friend of mine told me once after a particularly lovely day she came home, sat in her easy chair and said out loud, “Thank You.” And she swears she heard a voice say out loud, “You’re welcome.”

Practice gratitude. For everything. For what you see out the window, for what you hear from your co-workers, say “Thank You.” When your kids walk in the room, when you take a breath, when your spouse tells you how to drive, when to stub your toe, say “Thank You.”

Practice gratitude and eventually you will be able to hear the universe say, “You’re welcome.”
         
         
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

__________________
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

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Morning pond

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
         
         

Mist, a mass of light, curtain of the temple,
shrouds the lake in unknowing.

The far shore has withdrawn into its chambers.
The holy water closes its eyes.

The water is smooth as the mind of God.
All above is perfectly reflected below.

Tiny prayer rugs, yellow and red, rest on the surface,
stilled in deep meditation.

The little island stands alone in the mist, prayer shawl
about its shoulders, down to its knees.

Five swans process slowly, disturbing nothing,
do not need wings, do not need robes.

Once in a while the veils lifts and you see
the world never stops praying for you.

         

         
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

__________________
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

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Spare me

        
Lord, spare me from the comfort
        that would sedate me,
from the certainty
        that would dull me,
from the beauty
        that would blind me to injustice,
from the peace
        that would hide the world’s grief from me,
from the security
        that would frighten me from the edge of you.

Grant me the blessing
        to be unfinished, discomforted, unknowing,
to be homesick in this world
        for the one within it,
to ache for your little ones,
        to grieve with the Beloved,
to be powerless for your grace,
        to empty myself into your heart.

Lord, spare me from my wishes,
        that I may be free for you.
Spare me from my little self,
        that I may be my divine self.
Spare me from my life, that, dying,
        I may become yours.

Amen.

______________________
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

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About that Psalm

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
         
         
         By the rivers of Babylon—
                  there we sat down and there we wept
                  when we remembered Zion….         
         For there our captors asked us for songs,
                  and our tormentors asked for mirth,
                  saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” …
         How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land
         If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! …
         O daughter Babylon, you devastator!
                  Happy shall they be who pay you back
                  what you have done to us!
         Happy shall they be who take your little ones
                  and dash them against the rock!

                           —from Psalm 137

This Psalm, a lament by exiles from Jerusalem after its destruction, can be one of the most wrenching to live with. It takes us deep into the grief and rage of the abused and exploited, the refugee, the prisoner. It won’t let us off the hook. It forbids us ever to say to the suffering, “There, there.” It invites us to sit with them by the river of their sorrow— to sit for a long time with them, and bear their anguish.

And then it turns dark, into that murderous vengefulness that makes us so uncomfortable—it does me, anyway. How do we keep up with it, this mood swing from poignant sorrow to child-killing rage? When we are taught to love our enemies, how do we deal with all those enemies in the Psalms that we despise and want to destroy? Four things come to mind.

1. My real enemies are not other people; they are my self-centeredness, my fear, all those desires and attachments that separate me from the “Jerusalem” of true life. Those enemies and their offspring I really do want to destroy. I read this Psalm as an expression of my deep sadness, longing for the depth of life I have abandoned, and a prayer for the transformation of my consciousness, a change in my heart.

2. I read this prayer as a confession: sometimes I am that angry. And in my religious heritage we have been that murderous. I pray this psalm as a confession of the violence in my heart and in my community.

3. This is not a comfortable, white, middle class person’s prayer. It is the cry of the oppressed. I have no business dialing down their rage, “demanding of them mirth.” I read this Psalm as a way to be in solidarity with those who are in this deep anguish, who feel exactly this anger, without sugar-coating it.

4. This Psalm is also a cry for justice, which is not revenge but it is change. There is such a thing as the wrath of God. God cries out that oppressors be stopped, that violence end. The cry here is not literally to kill babies, but to utterly destroy the offspring of greed and exploitation, to end the line of succession of violence and abuse, to chop off the family tree of hate and fear and selfishness. The change is built on love of the oppressors— but God’s merciful justice requires that some things get destroyed. As Revelation 11.18 says, “Your wrath has come, and the time… for destroying those who destroy the earth.”

Look up Psalm 137 and read the whole thing. Confront your sorrow and your inner enemies. Confess your violence. Sit with those who are in anguish. And cry out with them for the end to oppression, the destruction of unjust systems, and the coming of God’s reign of mercy and justice that will not merely make this world better, but replace it.
                  
         
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

__________________
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

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