Days 134-141 editorial comment

The books of I & II Chronicles seems to start the whole story we have read through Samuel and Kings all over again. But we will note how different Chronicles is. It’s a more one-sided version of the story of Israel told only from the perspective of the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Clearly written during or after the Exile it’s the story of those that were left.


With Paul’s letter to the Romans, we now enter into a very new world, a world fashioned not by Jesus but by Paul. Paul wrote a good chunk of the N.T. although scholars dispute his authorship of all the books attributed to him by tradition. However, Romans is Paul, through and through. His central message is the Jewish Messiah is for everyone and not simply the Jews. Following his dramatic conversion, Paul came to understand that Jesus was God’s surprising ending to the story of Israel. This was an ending that the traditional reading of Israel’s story was not set up to handle.

Jesus himself played fast and loose with Scripture, using it as the scene setting device for taking the story in new and shocking directions from a Jewish point of view. Paul does likewise. He takes the long history of Israel and gives it its most universalist twist. Actually, the universal inclusion of all the nations on Mount Zion was already part of the prophetic tradition evinced by the Third Isaiah. So Paul simply picks up where Third Isaiah left off and moves to his central thesis.

In Romans, Paul spends a lot of time debating the merits and demerits of the Law. Put simply Paul notes that according to Israel’s reading of its own story, failure to keep the Torah was the core problem that led to national catastrophe and exile see the last chapter of II Kings for a heart-wrenching description of this. If Torah keeping was the core of Israel’s struggle, then it seemed logical to the Jewish Christian lobby that Torah keeping should be the gentiles’ problem as well.

In Romans and elsewhere Paul lays out his case, that Torah keeping is no longer the problem for either Jew or Gentile. Sin is a universal human problem, not exclusively a Jewish or Gentile problem. Jesus’ death and resurrection gives a new twist revealing God’s plan is the defeat of sin through death. Henceforth the promise given to Moses becomes the promise to all peoples.

Day 127-133 Editorial

Now the rest of the acts of Ahab and all that he did, ….are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the kings of Israel?

So ends the First Book of the Kings. The period covered by First and Second Kings is a period of fragmentation with a series of very unsatisfactory kings sitting on the thrones of the now divided kingdoms of Isreal and Judah. As the state of kingship continues to decline there arises a new breed of prophet in the land. As typified by the great Elijah and his successor Elisha we encounter the rise of the political prophet as the antidote to the corruption of the monarchy. The office of the political prophet is to speak truth to power. The prophets function like the Supreme Court, guardians of the constitution. At the heart of the Hebrew constitution lie two key concepts:

The political prophets function like the Supreme Court, as guardians of the constitution. At the heart of the Hebrew constitution lie two key concepts:

As typified by the great Elijah and his successor Elisha we encounter the rise of the political prophet as the antidote to the corruption of the monarchy. The prophets function like the Supreme Court, guardians of the constitution. At the heart of the Hebrew constitution lie two key concepts:

  1. The definition of Israel as those who God brought out of the land of bondage. The Exodus is the defining moment in the birth of the Israelites as a distinct people, a people born in slavery and liberated by God to be his chosen race.
  2. There is to be no other God but Yahweh who is the only true King in Isreal.

In all ages and in each political system there needs to be a mechanism for judging unconstitutional actions by those in authority, a voice that speaks truth to power. Thus all the kings are assessed by how faithful they are to God.  In Canaan the king was sovereign. He was God’s appointed surrogate. Like God, the king stood above the law. In Israel, the king was not sovereign, he was a servant of God with the responsibility to ensure faithfulness to the laws of God, sitting under God, not above him. This was easy for Isreal’s kings to forget when they become mesmerized by the example of real divine Canaanite models of kingship all around them.

First and Second Kings is a chronicle of the failure of each king to remember and to obey the founding principles of the covenant. So each comes to a sticky end – hastened by the work of the political prophet who declares what is valid and what is not according to the laws God has established in the Covenant with Moses.

First and Second Samuel and First and Second Kings comprise that phase of Hebrew history we refer to as the Monarchy. The struggles recorded reveal a universal tendency that without checks and balances power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts, absolutely. This is a powerful message for us to remember in our own current period. We see the resurgence of the figure of the nationalist dictator aided and abetted by the resurgence of an uncritical and paranoid nationalism. We see how this resurgence has not left America untouched. We witness the tensions when a dictatorial interpretation of presidential leadership, aided and abetted by a resurgent nationalism with all the xenophobic elements of fear of foreigners, those who are not of the tribe, of racism, and sexism expressions of the patriarchal systems of oppression, arises within a system founded on checks and balances designed to place limits on executive power.

To read the Bible is to read and learn that there is nothing new under the sun.Vigilance emerges from a knowledge of history and a long, long memory.

Day 114 Editorial Comment

The story of the rape of Tamar (2 Samuel 13) is one of the most horrifying episodes in the Hebrew Scriptures, arguably second only to the story of the rape, murder and dismemberment of the Levite’s concubine in Judges 19. These “texts of terror,” a term coined by theologian Phyllis Trible, leave the reader stunned at the least, and potentially triggered at the worst. How can we possibly read such horrific passages spiritually? How can such despicable behavior be part of our sacred Story?

The first thing to remember is that our sacred Story is a checkered one. It reflects the stark and often cruel reality of the human condition. The key is to read each episode as being in the context of the broad arc of God’s relationship with Creation—a relationship that progresses toward reconciliation in fits and starts from the very beginning; one step forward, sometimes five steps back. And in this passage we are currently in a dizzying backward swing.

So how to read this story? One possible option is to avert our eyes and pretend it isn’t there. That isn’t too difficult to do, since this is not part of the regular lectionary; there is little chance that you will hear it read or preached on in a Sunday service. But averting our eyes doesn’t make it go away any more than closing our eyes to human suffering makes it cease to exist. No; we need to look more closely, not away, and interrogate the text. What is the writer trying to tell us? And where is God in this story?

Up to this point in the account of David’s life and kingship, if we look closely, we can see that David’s biographers aren’t exactly enamored of their subject. David is light and shadow—a lot of shadow. There are times when David shows humility and love for the God who called him to lead God’s people. But by this point in the reading of Samuel you may have also noticed that a lot of people around David have died violently, and somehow David has avoided responsibility almost every time. Nothing sticks. And in the case of his daughter Tamar, the writer makes quite clear that David is indifferent to what is going on, effectively under his nose. This entire episode precipitates a family tragedy of epic scale, ultimately alienating David’s son Absalom from his father and dividing Israel.

Remember how the Deuteronomist writers made clear that God wanted one thing and one thing only of God’s people—to put God first? Remember how Samuel warned the people that if they got a king they would forget God and regret their decision? This rather sideways portrait of King David and his sons invites us to hear the writer say, “I told you so.”

But what of Tamar? She speaks 82 words as she begs her half-brother to see sense and not do this horrible irrevocable thing. And once it is done, and he recoils from her, she begs him again not to cast her out in disgrace. Just 82 words. But it is her actions that are most eloquent. This young woman, whose life has been effectively ruined by the combined actions of Amnon (rapist), Jonadab (conspirator), Absalom (who tells her to remain silent and waits two years for revenge) and David (willfully ignorant) refuses to accept her fate silently. She tears her garments, puts ashes on her head and wails with grief as she makes her way home from Amon’s chamber. In effect, she demands that the entire community witness to what has happened to her.

Where was God? God was in the ashes Tamar put on her head. God was in her tears. God remains in her testimony read through millennia, and in the testimony of abused and abandoned women everywhere and in every time. This text of terror invites us to hear Tamar’s call for justice and comfort for people like her, and to respond on their behalf.

The inspiration of Scripture isn’t just in the writer. It is also in the reader, if we have ears to hear.

[by Linda, reallocated during site cleanup]

Day 110 editorial comment

Luke, in Acts chapter 7 reports the death of Stephen. Stephen was one of those who in chapter 6 we learned were entrusted with the social and pastoral support of the members of the community, especially among the poorer Hebrew Christians. These men were called servants or diakonoi and are the first in the ministry of those today we call deacons.

Stephen is brought before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious council where he retells the history of Israel. Stephen’s speech is reminiscent of the long speeches that occur in Exodus and Judges in which Israelite history is rehearsed for the benefit of the people, lets they forget their origins as those whom God brought out of slavery in Egypt.

Every time Hebrew history is rehearsed it’s always to make a particular point. The present always dictates how you think about the past. With Stephen we get a good view of how the first generation of Christians related to the Hebrew Scriptures. They were incredibly inventive. Unlike us to day, they did not feel constrained to paint only within the lines of conventional interpretation.  For the early Christians, Jesus had changed the course of Jewish history and vastly expanded the destiny of Abraham’s children.

Luke employs the literary convention of rehearsing Israel’s history throughout the early chapters of Acts. When Peter addresses the authorities he, like Stephen begins with historical rehearsal as the basis of introducing a new twist to account for the effect of Jesus. It’s this new twist that gets them into trouble. The purpose of Stephen’s rehearsal of history is to land in a new and different place in order to explain how Jesus has changed everything. So we see Stephen landing on the theme of the Jews rejection of their prophets, and so their rejection of Jesus was nothing new. Now, stung by his words, his hearers become consumed with murderous intent.

The purpose of Stephen’s rehearsal of history is to land in a new and different place in order to explain how Jesus has changed everything. The purpose of Stephen’s rehearsal of the story all his hearers already knew by heart was to land on the theme of the Jews rejection of their prophets. This is the point he wants to bring out about Jesus. He is saying you killed him like you killed or rejected all the prophets before him. So their rejection of Jesus was nothing new. This is too much for his religious hearers. Stung by his words, they become consumed with murderous intent.

When we rehearse the history of God’s relationship with Israel, how does our 21st-century twist shape the way we read the Biblical story? What do we hear in the story and what conclusion does it lead us to that informs us of God’s presence among us?

The Bible read as a kind of rule book or owners manual on how to live life in the present is likely to miss the point that Luke, Stephen, and the other early Christian writers show us. The words on the page are not the story. When we lift our eyes from the literal fixation on the words we come to see the words are part of a bigger story shaped by Jesus, who is bigger than the Bible.

Luke concludes chapter 7 with one seemingly insignificant detail. He tells us that the man entrusted with holding the cloaks of the men who stone Stephen is one called Saul. Luke’s introduction of this seemingly insignificant bystander prepares us for a dramatic shift taking his narrative of the early days of the church in a new direction.

Commencing Day 106 editorial comment

In 1 Samuel we continue with the saga of Israel’s transition from a confederation of tribes into a kingdom. Israel is in continual warfare with the Philistines. Samuel the last of the Judges, against his will, anoints Saul as the first king. But things don’t go well with Saul and so a substitute needs to be found. Read on to find out more.

Up to this point in the New Testament we have been reading through the four Gospels. We now transition from John into the Acts of the Apostles. Acts is a New Testament equivalent to the history tradition of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles in the Old Testament. Luke writes his Gospel of the life of Jesus and then writes a history of the early days of the Church following the Day of Pentecost. So in a way, Acts might more properly follow on from the end of Luke’s Gospel, and should be read as such. The missionary work of Paul is the focus of much of Luke’s writing in Acts. Lukes account is often rather glowing and the events he records provide a counterpoint to Paul’s own accounts in his epistles or letters to the new churches springing up around the Mediterranean World.

The Bible can be found at the heart of much American political discourse. It’s important for mainline Christians, like Episcopalians, to reclaim our relationship with the Bible in order to be in a better position to identify and challenge the frequency with which the Bible is appropriated and misused by factions within the larger body politic. The daily reading program presented by the Bible Challenge is challenging. We find ourselves continually confronting our received misunderstandings of how to interpret the texts. Visit sermons to see how we are handling the Bible experience in greater depth.

Days 94-100 Editorial Comment

Reading the last three chapters of the book of judges is a sobering experience. Here, we are presented with the graphic details of violence against women, reading like an editorial from ISIS held territory. We also learn of inter-Israelite civil conflict every bit a brutal as the Israelite treatment of the Canaanites depicted in Joshua.

It’s a huge relief to move onto the book of Ruth. Ruth is only four chapters long. Ruth is a tender and intimate story notable for the way it portrays the intimacy of loyalty between Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi – a beautiful portrayal of female solidarity in a patriarchal world. The book is also notable for the way it presents the acceptance of a foreigner and refugee into Hebrew familial structures. The style of writing presents the participants in the story in a way that is completely familiar to our modern sensibilities.

The book of Ruth marks a transition point. Genesis to Judges presents a prehistory out of which the Hebrew people emerge as a tribal nation. Ruth marks the beginning of a new story about the Kingdom of Israel. From I Samuel to II Kings is the story of the creation of Israel as a nation with a King. These books also relate the sorry tale of monarchy leading to the ultimate division of David’s kingdom into two the kingdoms of Isreal, and Judah after the death of Solomon.

Ruth sets the scene for David and establishes his genealogy. In this sense Ruth is important for us also, for as David’s great grandmother, she features at the beginning of a line of descent the ends with Jesus. With Samuel begins the age of the great prophets of Israel. More about that in due course.

Commentary approaching Day 101

Musings on the experience of reading the Bible

I find the Bible a tough read, even the good bits. So there I’ve said it. To say this makes me feel bad, especially when I am insisting that my community engages with The Bible Challenge, a 360-day reading program encompassing the entire Bible. But I will get back to why this is also important, later.


I feel guilty about finding the Bible a tough read because at the edge of my conscious awareness I fear my attitude damages my relationship with the God I deeply love. I’ve been taught that this makes me bad, and punishment is what awaits bad boys and girls.

I want a nice God, a God who is forgiving but gentle with it. So when I turn to the pages of the Bible I am confronted with a not nice God. I find there a God who does not easily fit with my expectations and this leaves me feeling guilty – after all, it’s not meant to be this way, surely I must have misunderstood. Maybe this explains my attraction to traditions that sit lightly to Bible reading outside of the weekly liturgy. The fact is that reading the Bible is the fastest way to really challenge one’s own self-projection onto God. Throughout the pages of the Bible God simply refuses to act according to my expectations and play nice.

Maybe this explains my attraction to traditions that sit lightly to Bible reading outside of the weekly liturgy. The fact is that reading the Bible is the fastest way to really challenge one’s own self-projection onto God. Throughout the pages of the Bible God simply refuses to act according to our expectations and play nice.

Those of us at St Martin’s, who have been persevering with The Bible Challenge, will on Monday arrive at day 93. Along the way, we have waded through some pretty tedious and gruesome stuff. Recently in the Bible, the book of Joshua’s depiction of Israel’s genocide of the Canaanites as God’s chosen instrument gives way to the same storylines, now retold through the lens of the book of Judges. If we detect Judges retelling the Joshua story let’s not be too hasty and skip over. If we do we will miss noting that the two books tell two different versions of the same story of the settlement of the Promised Land. Joshua presents it as a blitzkrieg campaign during which no quarter is given to the poor old Canaanites. However, Judges presents it as a long process of gradual infiltration with the Israelites winning some and losing some. The end result is a picture of assimilation, with Canaanites living cheek by jowl with Israelites.

The book of Joshua’s unremitting chronicle of slaughter, worthy of a Viking Saga or from the Game of Thrones gives way to a more complex picture in which the tensions of fidelity to the old ways and assimilation into newfangled ones – an age-old story, forms the central narrative. It’s interesting to note that modern archaeology tends to confirm the Judges version.

Here is an interesting thing about the Bible. When we read through the lens of modern expectations of reading either descriptive truth or even reliable history, we get bogged down at the level of the words on the page. Read as descriptive truth or somewhat vague yet reliable history the words describe events that outrage our modern expectations of a loving God, gentle in all his ways. Yet, if we raise our eyes from the words on the page and pay attention to the directional flow of the narrative, e.g. take-in the story flow from Joshua to Judges, we begin to catch a glimpse of the shape of the forest above the tree line, a forest stretching towards the horizon.

It’s something of an overstatement, but not much of one to say that the consistent directional narrative of the Bible concerns the keeping of promises. The repeating plot line is one of the covenant -the reciprocity of promise keeping. The ups and downs in the relationship between God and the Chosen People chronicle the repetitive cycles of remembering and forgetting promises. Things go well when the people remember their promise to worship the Lord. Things go badly when they forget God and stray into worshiping other gods. All the while the long epic of the relationship is moving towards greater inclusion under laws of justice and mercy, thus bending the arc of the universe towards justice.


The text is always written by the authors for those of the generation who first read what is written.

Why read the Bible, especially the early books of the Torah? In them, we read page after page of the violent practices of tribal exclusion. We read about an image of God that we vehemently protest is not our image of God. But me think we protesteth too much. As current events swirl around us, the surfacing of tribal memories assail us. Animosities we thought long since transcended raise their ugly heads again. White tribalism, racism, and anti-Semitism dare to speak their names once again upon the civic stage.

The text is always written by the authors and those of the generation who first read what is written. There are three contextual aspects to keep in mind as we read Scripture. The first is the context described in the text itself. The second is the context within which the text is actually written. The third is our contemporary context readers. Scripture is written for the writers and their context. The original context described is a fiction constructed to confront the generation who author and first read the text. Whatever mythological events described, and whatever the authors of the text intended to convey, we read from within our own context. How does the text inform us about ourselves and our unacknowledged projections into God?

Context 1. The books of Joshua and Judges describe the conquest of the Promised Land, now shrouded in the mists of time. Primitive tribal nomads, as a rule, do not write down their experience. At best, they record their experience in oral stories, repeated by word of mouth. All generations project themselves onto the blank canvas presented by God. So we should not be surprised that Moses and Joshua’s God is remarkably like them.

Context 2. Scholarship now indicates that the books of Joshua and Judges were written down during the period after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 during the prolonged experience of captivity in Babylon and Persia. Joshua and Judges make their appeal to a captive people who are struggling to hold onto their identity after the destruction of nation and Temple. The message is, don’t lose faith, do to not forget their glorious past. God’s faithfulness and Israel’s unfaithfulness are incisions that cut to the heart of the experience of captivity. The books encourage a people at the darkest point to remember how in the past God has blessed them. This is a call to turn away from disobedience and return to God as their ancestors did.

Context 3. As we read the history of the Israelites and their struggles with God, let’s not be too hasty to rush to judgment. Do we not see more of ourselves in these pages than we might care to admit? Are we not a people with genocide in our history? Does not our history of the institution of slavery continue to disturb and disrupt the security of our identity as a people? As the greatest military superpower, is there not a deep contradiction between how we see ourselves and the perception other nations have of us?

The text is often an uncomfortable mirror.

Reading Joshua and Judges provides us with a larger context that aids our introspection so that better prepared and forewarned, our own primitive Israelite likeness, lurking just beyond sight, will not so easily ambush the unwary.

Days 29-35 Editorial comment

Exodus Chapters 25 -29 have concerned the correct ordering of the Tent of Meeting and its furnishings, including the correct attire for Aaron and the priests, and the way the Israelites were to conduct their religious rituals. Yet following on from the 10 commandments in Chapter 20 we have extended sections that can loosely be categorized as the laws of justice and mercy. These laws amount to a high ethical code regulating the rights of slaves, women, the stranger. The code covers the Sabbath year – the seventh year- when the land is to be left fallow so that the landless and poor can take from what is left after the last harvest. We are often quick to judge the primitive tribal view of God and yet in the midst of a great deal of war and bloodletting the laws of justice and mercy extending from Chapter 20 – through 24 are among the highest and most exacting recipes for social justice of any society since.

Some key points to note in the story of the Golden Calf:

  • God summons the Israelites to the foot of Mt Sinai where he issues strict instructions that no one must approach the foot of the mountain on fear of death. Only Moses and Joshua are allowed to go up onto the mountain.
  • Moses and Joshua are gone 40 days and the people begin to fear they are lost. They feel abandoned by God.
  • So they ask Aaron to make them a God they can worship and who will be present with them. Aaron fashions them a Golden Calf and the people begin to exuberantly worship the idol.
  • God who has been inscribing the Ten Commandments with M and J hears the noise of the people’s celebration of this and is mightily pissed-off. He sends Moses back to put things right.
  • Moses is so angry he smashes the ten tablets and confronts Aaron who refuses responsibility saying – all I did was throw some gold into the fire as they asked me to do, and low a calf came out. It’s nothing to do with me, Moses.
  • Moses summons all who have not participated in the idol worship and the sons of Levy seem to have kept themselves aloof. Moses posts the Levites with swords at the gates of the camp and they slaughter brothers and neighbors – some 3000 men. Think about this story being written down at a later time as a justification for the origins of the Levitical priesthood.
  • The uncomfortable aspect here is that like a brutal dictator Moses binds the sons of Levy to him through their participation in acts of violence.
  • Moses then returns to the mountain for a further encounter with God in which he offers himself as an atonement for the sin of the people. God refuses and blesses Moses with a very intimate encounter with God’s presence in the only form that will not kill Moses; he hides Moses in the cleft of a rock with his hand as he passes by – a very intimate and touching gesture.
  • After further punishment of the people, but not their obliteration as God had intended before Moses’ intercession, God and the people move on to the next place.
  • But God remembers the people’s complaint and gives them his abiding presence going forward in the form of a cloud that takes up a position at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. God seems to learn from experience!

We see the human struggle with God who is distant and comes to them only through the mediation of Moses. In a way, I AM is Moses’ God, not theirs, and so they fashion one of their own.



Over these days we have also journeyed with Jesus into the events of his Passion and his resurrection bringing Matthew to a close with the Great Commission.  Matthew’s overview is this:

  • God keeps his promises to Israel through the life, death, and resurrection of a new Moses who brings the new Law.
  • Matthew communicates Jesus ministry through five long speeches equivalent to the five books of Moses in the Torah.
  • Jesus inaugurates a new Exodus, beginning with a twist to the Passover meal before giving his life for the world.
  • At the beginning of Matthew Jesus is given the name Immanuel – God is with us. He closes the Gospel with Jesus promising to be with them to the end of the age.
  • Note how Matthew’s resurrection is a majestic event communicated by an angel. The resurrected Jesus appears briefly to the women before the disciples gather on a mountain in Galilee. Note there is only the hint but not an account of the ascension and coming of the Holy Spirit. It’s as if Matthew sets the scene for Luke to fill in the details.



Mark opens with a fully grown Jesus coming for baptism at the hand of John and by the end of the first Chapter Jesus has been tempted, called his disciples and is well on his way. In Mark there is no time to waste. Note:

  • Jesus becomes God’s son through adoption, not birth.
  • Mark’s fast moving plot – he uses the continuous present form of verbs in Greek giving the impression that we are watching him in the moment of action.
  • Mark’s midpoint is when Peter confesses him as the Messiah – all of the first part has been leading up to this point.
  • The second half of Mark is about the journey to Jerusalem, his teaching on the way, the open conflict with the religious authorities, the seeming victory of the forces of the status quo before the reversal and upturning of expectations in the events of the resurrection – which Mark does not describe at all. His narrative ends with the empty tomb although a later writer has added a resurrection. Resurrection in Mark is an experience of triumph over suffering for Jesus’ followers.
  • We must pay special attention to the events and Jesus teaching along the road to Jerusalem for Mark most of all clearly identifies the nature of discipleship along this way.
  • Mark’s message is about courage and endurance in the face of suffering because God continues to upturn the existing orders and establish a new way of life in Jesus.


Note how the Psalms echoes the beauty of the souls longing for God in the midst of the struggles of life. Note 27 and 28 in particular.



A how-to guide to meditating

Think of the process as three stages each taking us deeper. Begin with a sound of a bell or alarm, and set an alarm to signal the end of the practice. 
Bring your attention to the experience of sitting in your chair. Notice how those parts of your body feel when they engage the back of the chair – the seat of the chair. Think of the force of gravity acting on your body so that you are no longer trying to hold your body up but letting the weight of the body be supported through your sitting bones, the base of your spine, and the soles of your feet – a kind of sitting down rather than sitting up. 
Hold your hands on your lap, keep your head evenly positioned, and notice when your head falls forward or the chin lifts too high. Let your shoulders relax but try to keep the chest open so that the breath is not constricted.
Let a few moments elapse before moving to the next level.
Bring your attention to your breath – we breathe every moment of our lives but except when we are out of breath we hardly notice our breath. So notice it now, the slow movement of breath -in and out, in and out, in and out, in and out. 
Take the breath down into the belly or the area around your diaphragm. You will notice that the movement of the breath here is more in and out rather than up and down, it’s deep rather than shallow, it’s slow rather than quick. Let your diaphragm expand with the in-breath and contract with the out-breath. Take a few moments to simply watch yourself breathe.
Pause for a longer time before going to the third level of awareness.
Being aware of our body you are now also aware of your breath in relation to our body. Body and spirit are now aware of each other.  Body and spirit sitting in a harmony of awareness. You will notice that your thoughts are less easy to manage, that despite sitting and breathing your thoughts continue to distract you. You need to offer the mind a way of focussing attention rather than thinking. As you breathe in and out you might want to count your breaths from one to 10 and then from 10 back to 1. Hearing yourself silently count gives the mind a focus of awareness with the body and spirit. When we become distracted and loose count, on realizing this has happened we start the count again. Counting is a form of mantra, a silent word that sounds within us, connecting mind to body awareness through the movement of spirit. 
A mantra is a word that does not stimulate imagination or thinking. In meditation, we want to calm imagination not stimulate it. A common word recommended is maranatha – a word that divides evenly into four sounds with the first two ma – ra on the in-breath, the second two na –  tha on the out-breath – a word that does not distract us with its meaning. Try connecting this mantra with the rhythm of your breath.
When you find our mind has taken you to some other place, other than the place you are in – sitting, breathing, living in this moment of time – when you notice how the mind has done this, you simply bring it back to attending to watching the rising and falling of our breath. Again and again,  just come back to watching the breath. The breath is like an anchor, focusing – holding awareness deep in the body. The mantra is the chain that holds you to the anchor of the breath – preventing you from floating away on the currents of your thoughts.
We sit, we breathe, we count or say our word. We let a gentle awareness of watching ourselves sit, breathe, and say our word settle and calm us.  
Breathe in – breath out – breathe in – breathe out – in – out – in – out.
Wait for the sound of the gong or your alarm to signal the end of your sitting practice.

Days 22-28 editorial comment

The passages about the Exodus from Egypt raise some puzzling questions. Why did God harden Pharaoh’s, heart?  Why should we celebrate the slaughter of the Egyptian army? Viewed from our post-Jesus perspective these are the acts of a barbarous tribal God. So this is perhaps the point.

These are the actions of God filtered through early and early  Hebrew tribal and a later nationalist vision. When reading from this perspective the needless suffering God seems to inflict on the Egyptians is the device for the main point of the text. This is a text to remind the Israelites that God has heard us, God has freed us. Ours is a God who has taken the events of our captivity and freedom as occasions to show us his glory. We are now in no doubt that it is this God we must now love and worship.

It’s important to note our need to judge the text when it horrifies us. Yet, we need to move beyond this reaction and look behind the presentation to ask the question: what might this text mean to those for whom it was initially recorded? The subtext running at the heart of the Hebrew epic is that God has heard us, God has free us, God continues to preserve with us despite our trying of his patience in every conceivable way.

This subtext carries over into the Gospels. Throughout his ministry, and more so in the days leading to his death, Jesus is guided to act or not act by his mission that God will be fully revealed through him.

Matthew is my least favorite gospel because I experience Jesus at his most didactic and somehow detached. This, of course, is in keeping with Matthew’s view of Jesus filtered through the prototype of the greatest teacher of all, Moses. Am I able to get behind my personal reaction to Matthew to experience the words of Jesus as invitations for metanoia,i.e. the turning inside out or upside down of my heart. Jesus teaches through parables. Parables are stories drawn from everyday life in which everyday events are presented in order to challenge our default worldview. The parable of the workers in the vineyard in Chapter 20 is a case in point. Jesus conclusion is counter-intuitive to the way we normally understand just deserts. God’s sense of fairness confronts our notion of who is deserving and undeserving. Those who are important must behave as if they are the least in importance. This is a principle, whether we observe it or not in our living, that is deeply ingrained in us and so we can’t easily appreciate the radical challenge of this idea in a hierarchical world where power always went unchallenged and powerlessness was always exploited and despised. There is the simple story of the two sons, one who says yes but does not follow through and the other who says no, but then acts out his yes. How easily I see myself in this challenging story. This story then becomes the lens through which Jesus identifies through hypocrisy- appearing one way but in reality being its opposite, and all kinds of transactional thinking- acting in self-interest, or splitting hairs so as to absolve oneself of responsibility which in Chapter 23’s seven woes, so named because each begins with ‘Woe to you -‘. Here Jesus identifies the scribes and Pharisees as prototypes for these temptations in all of us.

Psalm 16 is perhaps my favorite psalm because of the lines because during what I look back on as a difficult time of life I was able to affirm the lines: The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage. In the psalms, we find the myriad echoes of our own thought and feelings.