I’ve been working up to this all week, and I doubt I can cover it off in a single entry, but let’s see what we come up with, shall we? Just piecing together some themes following the Seabeck Gathering sponsored by Allelon, I have begun to consider The Role of The Rule (and other disciplines) as part of The Subversive Nature of the Ordinary in helping to keep us on the path during a mapless quest or an aimful wandering — a Peregrinatio. Len picked up a theme from me of covenant renewal, which I commented further upon, saying I didn’t plan to hit the theme until today, that I was just foreshadowing. Well, the pressure’s on.
Sonja recommended Athol Dickinson’s The Gospel according to Moses: What My Jewish Friends Taught Me about Jesus which looks very interesting. I don’t have a book budget though (a near-permanent condition), so I’ve added it to my wish list. As I said on Len’s riff, on the way to Seabeck I listened to Rabbi Larry Pinkster exposit “love your neighbour as yourself,” which was very insightful — it’s a podcast from an event we informally called “A Priest and a Rabbi Walk Into a Used Bookstore.” (The podcast is online or free on iTunes; search for St. Benedict’s Table; I’ve got an envelope-back full of notes to inspire a later post). An accompanying note was how Brueggemann says Deuteronomy is a manifesto for neighbourliness, and that Torah is a call to neighbourliness (which all comes out again in Luke 10, of course). I reached up above my desktop monitor to the bookshelf there and pulled down two by Walter Brueggemann, The Land: Place As Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith and Living Toward a Vision: Biblical Reflections on Shalom plus Delbert Hillers’ Covenant: The History of a Biblical Idea, being glad that I had a budget for used books at one time. I reject the pressure. Now, on to a few introductory musings…
I asked myself a question: “What would be the most important thing for a people living in exile?” It doesn’t sound too difficult, really. You may have any number of items or thoughts if you think on the question, but I came up with a short list:
- They must remember who they are, and who their people are.
- They must remember what they have been promised.
- They must remember where their home is.
Imagine you’ve been traveling, living abroad, say. It’s been a difficult go, but during your time away from home, you’ve started a family. You and your spouse remember home, and can’t wait to return as you know one day you will… but your kids have never seen it. As they grow up, what do you tell them? You want to instill in them a longing for home like you have, but all they know is the place they were born. What would you tell them? Again, I came up with a short list — I would tell them:
- who they are, and who their people are.
- what they have been promised.
- where their home is.
I thought perhaps to add things like, “what God has done for them” or “where they have come from” and things of that sort… but in a sense, these are bound up with who they are and where their home is. It’s a part of their history, with the only connector between the two being what they have been promised — that one day when the promise becomes real, they will be who they are in the place they belong, home among their people.
Now, imagine you’re not the parents, but the children, living in a foreign land that represents everything you know of the world, and your parents tell you stories — they tell you your story, that begins when your parents were children, by telling where they came from. Imagine now that your parents don’t actually recall home, but are passing along the story as they heard it from your grandparents. And their grandparents. And their grandparents, for countless generations. What aspects of the story are important for you now?
- Who you are, and who your people are.
- What you have been promised.
- Where your home is.
One day, the promise will be fulfilled, and all there will be is you and your people, at home. That’s what is important to remember when you’re in exile. We fill these out with stories of the things God has done for us on our journey, we remember who he is as the chief of our people. We consider all he has done so that we have assurance that the promise will come to pass, that we will, one day, come home. Along the way, we find other weary foreigners, strangers in strange lands… and we know that we are not alone, that our people are scattered to the ends of the earth. But one day, we’ll be gathered, we’ll be home. As Jenny Moore sings, “But we’ll be bound up; We’ll be strengthened; We’ll all be fed and we’ll be found; Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, We’ll be found…” I wrote not long ago on this wandering and being found, which is a cry of the heart, the same cry that sends us on peregrinatio to begin with.
Some of the themes I’ve hit this past week (links above) are the idea of getting home by entering a voluntary exile. And I’m thinking of the stories and songs of the exile, the pilgrimage psalms, Psalm 120-134, sung by pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem, and to the temple. The first of these Psalms ends, “I am tired of living among people who hate peace. I search for peace but when I speak of peace, they want war!” The second promises, “He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber. Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps.” Five Psalms further up, they’re looking to the end of exile: “When the Lord brought back his exiles to Jerusalem, it was like a dream! We were filled with laughter, and we sang for joy.” It can happen again, and they pray that it will. They near the destination together, they sing in the penultimate Psalm, “How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony! For harmony is as precious as the anointing oil that was poured over Aaron’s head, that ran down his beard and onto the border of his robe.” The final Psalm ends the set with a simple call to praise, and the words, “May the Lord, who made heaven and earth, bless you from Jerusalem.”
It seems to me that this is a good set of Psalms for us to meditate upon as a pilgrim people, a people who have voluntarily entered into exile. I’ve not read Walter Brueggemann’s Cadences of Home: Preaching Among Exiles, but it’s long held a spot on my wish list. I imagine it must explore the ways in which we encourage one another as an exiled people (though I think his other works that I have also contain his theme there; the book may be in part a popular reworking of some of the material in The Land). I love the title: Cadences of Home. A cadence is a rhythm. A rhyme, a story, a song that speaks of home. A rhythm of life that reminds us of home… I know you see the connection if you’ve been following along this week. Home has a cadence of its own, and in the stories, songs, and prayers, we begin to learn the rhythm, the cadence. We order our life around this cadence, knowing that as we near home, we will find more and more people in the same rhythm… the cadence of home.
A common theme in the Bible — the Old Testament particularly, but not exclusively — is the theme of land. In our longing for a home and a heavenly city or Kingdom of God, we need to consider the metaphors of land and of Shalom. Walter Brueggemann:
The sense of being lost, displaced, and homeless is pervasive in contemporary culture. The yearning to belong somewhere, to have a home, to be in a safe place, is a deep and moving pursuit. Loss of place an yearning for place are dominant images. They may be understood in terms of sociological displacement, as Americans have become a “nation of strangers,” highly mobile and rootless, as our entire social fabric becomes an artifact designed for obsolescence…
Brueggemann refers to Vance Packard’s A Nation of Strangers, and later to Paul Tournier’s A Place for You in his description. An important aspect of this observation is not that we are exiles as we have described, even voluntary exiles who hope to reach home by becoming exiles. In this hope, we know something that others do not… but we often fail to appreciate that the only distinction between our peregrinatio and that of our neighbour is that we understand the purpose for ours. Our neighbour does not; his is an aimless wandering, a wandering without story, for he has forgotten three things which we have started to remember, three things which have been passed down to us. You know them already — who we are, what we have been promised, and where our home is.
We may ask ourselves, why be kind to the stranger and offer hospitality? Because he too is an exile as we are, and more often than not, the stranger is an exile who has lost his story. The loss is not merely a loss of history, it’s a loss in history… its loss means disconnection from a place in a much larger, grander story, one which reaches far into the past and equally far into the future, which are connected to the one thing we can least afford to lose: promise.
I’m not nearly finished on this, but it seems a logical spot to insert a pause, and we’ll pick it up next week. In the meantime, the virtual phone lines are open: what do you think are the most important things — or what is the chief thing to remember while living in exile? What of this idea that we’re all exiles, strangers to one another? Thoughts on the Psalms of Ascent? Ideas on cadence and rhythm of life? Questions? Things that make you say “Huh.”? Have at it in the comments below.