Harken O Israel:
YHWH our God, YHWH (is) One!
Now you are to love YHWH your God
with all your heart, with all your being, with all your substance!
These words, which I command to you today, are to be upon your heart.
You are to repeat them to your children
and are to speak of them
in your sitting in your house and in your walking in the way,
in your lying down and in your rising up.
You are to tie them as a sign upon your hand …
– Deuteronomy 6:4-8a (Everett Fox translation)
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I love the intensity here. There’s nothing second-hand. When early Quakers insisted the Scriptures must be read in the same Light in which they were written, they were saying we must bring our own experiences and our entire selves – intellect, emotions, body, and soul – to the encounter. This is the immediacy of this commandment from Deuteronomy as well. This is what creates a living faith.
For me, this also points to the true language of poetry, this fusion of experience and inspiration. It’s what empowers faithful vocal ministry arising from the silence of our worship. The language of the Bible, as we move ever closer to the original manuscripts, is intensely accurate and lean – nothing is wasted. The situations are rooted in direct experience, told in a symbolic language, symbolic not in the sense that X stands in direct relation to something else, but rather in the richly evocative imagery of dreams and of myths, arising in the senses and spirit. This language is open-ended in the sense that it can never be nailed down, and is often elliptical. It is poetry in the same sense that Gertrude Stein declared, “A rose is a rose is a rose”! If we are to truly appreciate a rose, we must observe with all of our resources: smell, touch, taste, hearing, and sight, living with the bud as well as the petals as they brown and break away; then we know it as something more than a mere word, concept, or shape: “Oh, yes, there’s a rose.” Yes, but how do we know it’s a rose? And just what does a rose DO? The last thing Gertrude had on her mind was reducing a rose to prosaic awareness!
There is nothing theoretical in this presentation. It’s all action, in the present. Once again, in the heart.
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And my Soul praises the Lord, that he hath preserved the Records of so many Prophecies and Testimonies of his primitive Servants, through so many Contingencies, unto this present Age. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)