Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

Things Change Slowly Because They’re Bigger Than We Think

It takes a long time to turn a big ship.

This maritime lesson keeps popping up in my life these days. It has profound echoes for much of my work: for dialogue, for spiritual direction, for our lifelong transformation from people of self-interest to people of God.

It also sheds light on world affairs, as today’s readings for Morning Prayer indicated.

The lectionary—the fixed schedule of psalms and Bible passages to be read during the daily cycle of prayer in churches and monasteries—brought me to Psalm 83, a difficult psalm for us 21st-century folks. The psalmist asks God to wreak havoc on Israel’s foes, and a picture emerges: that of Israel, a beleaguered nation, all alone in the world, surrounded by enemies that wish to obliterate it.

Sound familiar? Listen to the commentary from Israel and its friends in 2017, and you get the same picture.

The point of this post is not to assess the accuracy of this picture, or tout one side or the other, or analyze the endless complexities of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Other people are far more qualified to do that. What strikes me today, instead, is simply this: the way that Israel perceives itself in 2017 is old.  Very old. More than two millennia old.

Maybe that’s one huge reason why Israel and the Arab world can’t “just settle their differences”—why they just can’t sit around a table and dialogue through the issues and come to a tidy resolution. This has been going on for century after century. It’s a big ship. Maybe 50 years is nowhere near enough to turn it.

Our individual lives reflect this same dynamic. In my first meeting with a new client, I’ll ask what brings them to spiritual direction, and they’ll provide some sort of “presenting issue.” At this point, I assume we’ll work through the issue for a few months, maybe even a year, get it squared away, and then go deeper into this person’s spiritual life.

Wrong. As it turns out, the presenting issue is not some tidy, compartmentalized quandary. Rather, it’s rooted deeply in the entire infrastructure of that person’s soul. We might spend the rest of our professional relationship coming back to it. It’s a big ship.

What do we do with the big ships, in our lives and in our world? The obvious response is patience: as a monk in my monastery puts it, we must learn to “make haste slowly.” That’s especially relevant in our go-go culture, where intense speed and 24/7 availability and overcrammed schedules are touted as virtues.

But there’s a hitch. Whenever things move slowly—particularly when I have some responsibility for helping them move—it’s easy to wonder whether they’re moving at all. Am I really helping, or are my actions making no difference? Is there a way to speed things up that I’ve missed? Should I devote myself to some more productive pursuit, with more tangible results?

Have you grappled with this too: times when life’s difficulties don’t resolve as fast as you’d like? Times when nothing you do seems to move the needle? How do you manage in that reality?

 

P.S. Just in case you’re in the market for arcane knowledge, here’s a fun read about big ships and, especially, how to avoid getting killed by one.

 

God’s Dialogue Command

If you pray the Daily Office, you may have run across this passage earlier in the week: 

You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason with your neighbor, lest you bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge…but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:17-18, RSV) 

This comes from part of the Torah known to many scholars as the Holiness Code. According to the text, God has called the people of Israel to “be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (v. 2), and now he’s telling them how to do it. The list of commandments is an inspiration to anyone with high ethical standards: do not oppress your neighbor, do not be partial to the rich (or the poor) in judgment, leave produce in your field for the poor. 

And reason with your neighbor. 

It’s hard to reason without dialogue. Can we say, then, that God called the people of Israel—and, by extension, is calling us—into dialogue? 

Maybe. Speaking for God with certainty is risky business, of course. But it is interesting to find this command ensconced amid so many others that lay out the basics of just, fair, merciful behavior. 

Even more interesting is how close this passage ties “reasoning with your neighbor” to matters of love and hate. You shall not hate, so you must reason. You shall not hate, so you must love your neighbor as yourself. 

That says two things to me. First, dialogue is an alternative to hate—even a way through hate. It’s difficult to hate someone when she’s talking with you. 

The second thing keeps us talking: a commitment to love. When, in our hearts, we can commit ourselves to seek the other person’s good, for better or worse, we don’t give up. We might take a break from dialogue to clear our heads or let the emotion dissipate. But love keeps us coming back to the table—if not to agree, then to learn how to respect each other within our differences. 

Imagine what would happen if, say, the warring factions within the Christian Church acted this out. Might they actually find a way to live together, conflicts and all?