Morning Breath Prayer

08-12-06 o
Canyon Trail, Yost Park, Edmonds WA,
August 2006, Ruth Jewell

 

Breath of . . .
God
Voice of . . .
God
Touch of . . .
God
Taste of . . .
God
Sight of . . .
God
Smell of . . .
God
Joy of . . .
God
Jealousy of . . .
God
Loyalty of . . .
God
Sadness of . . .
God
Anger of . . .
God
Tears of . . .
God
Love of . . .
God
Compassion of . . .
God
Forgiveness of . . .
God
Laughter of . . .
God
Beauty of . . .
God
Faith of . . .
God
Grace of . . .
God
Peace of . . .
God

Ruth Jewell, ©October 24, 2018

 

 

Song of Solomon

song of songs b

Song of Solomon 5:2-8 (CEB)

2 I was sleeping, but my heart was awake.
A sound! My love is knocking:
“Open for me, my sister, my dearest,
my dove, my perfect one!
My head is soaked with dew,
my hair, with the night mists.”
3 “I have taken off my tunic—
why should I put it on again?
I have bathed my feet—
why should I get them dirty?”
4 My love put his hand in through the latch hole,
and my body ached for him.
5 I rose; I went to open for my love,
and my hands dripped myrrh,
my fingers, liquid myrrh,
over the handles of the lock.
6 I went and opened for my love,
but my love had turned, gone away.
I nearly died when he turned away.
I looked for him but couldn’t find him.
I called out to him, but he didn’t answer me.
7 They found me—the guards
who make their rounds in the city.
They struck me, bruised me.
They took my shawl away from me,
those guards of the city walls!
8 I place you under oath, daughters of Jerusalem:
If you find my love, what should you tell him?
That I’m weak with love!

I have always loved poetry. In college I had a professor who called them paintings with words. And, like a good landscape some poems are just what you see, such as Fog by Carl Sandburg:

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

And then there are the Picasso like poems, you know, the ones you have to think about, they say one thing and mean another such as the opening lines of the Song of Solomon:

2 Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—
for your love is more delightful than wine.
3 Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes;
your name is like perfume poured out.
No wonder the young women love you!
4 Take me away with you—let us hurry!
Let the king bring me into his chambers. (1:2-4)

For all intents and purposes this is nothing more than a love poem about a young couple in love. But if we look closer there is more than one meaning hidden in these beautiful words. We can read this as love poetry or we can interpret the Song of Songs as an allegory of God’s love for the Hebrew People, or Christs love for the church. I am sure if we sat down we would find another allegory that would work just as well.

The Song of Songs, as it is titled in the Hebrew bible, is one of five books called the “Five Scrolls.” They are The Song of Songs (a collection of eight poems), Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations and Esther. Of those five, the Song and Esther are the only two books in either the Hebrew or Christian canon that never mentions God, which makes them unique.

Sometime between the third and fourth century CE the Hebrew Canon was pretty much finalized. The discussion of the inclusion of the five scrolls, especially the Song of Songs, into the Hebrew Canon was fraught with controversary. The Song is after all very erotic and sensual poetry. While the poems use inuendo and metaphor instead of openly sexual language it was still not considered quite proper. It was eventually included because the Song was understood to have a more important meaning than simply love poems used for wedding ceremonies. Rabbi’s, such as the second century Rabbi Akiva, defended its inclusion saying, “while all of the sacred writings are holy, the Song of Songs is the holy of holies!”

Christians have also had a hard time accepting the Song as part of holy scripture, many considered it scandalous and not appropriate for Holy Bible. Christianity’s nearly 2000-year-old toxic attitude about sex has kept this sacred writing, that shows women in a positive light, from being studied and enjoyed for what it is. In The Forgotten Books of the Bible (2018) Robert Williamson writes “the third-century Christian theologian Origen warned . . . “that all but the most spiritually advanced people should abstain from reading the Song.” There was a fear that women who read the Song would somehow be “corrupted” and develop strange sexual longings to the detriment of the male ego. The uptight fathers of our faith simply could not accept that biblical writers could compose something as sensual and erotic as the Song of Songs! Yet Jewish tradition attributes these 8 poems to Solomon the son of David, the same David who stole Bathsheba from her husband, and the same Solomon who had 700 wives. Sexuality was Okey Dokey for biblical men, but women weren’t allowed to have the same urges. The shaming of women and blaming women for imagined male problems has been part of our culture long before St Augustine felt guilty about having sex. It is only now that we are seeing women courageously stepping up and saying no to male oppression and openly affirming they too are sexual creature’s beloved by God.

By the fifth century CE the Christian Biblical cannon was closed, which included our New Testament books and the Hebrew bible as the Old Testament. By accepting a majority of the books in the Hebrew Cannon the Christians of the 5th century was accepting the Song of Songs’ Jewish interpretation, with a minor variation. Jews interpreted the poems as God’s love for Israel and Christians as Christ’s love for the church, so not really all that different. But there is one more way to interpret the Song of Songs, and for us today, that is the interpretation I find so interesting and important. Let me describe the three ways to interpret the Song of Songs.

Of the three ways to interpret the Song of Songs, the first and foremost way is love poetry. The 8 poems celebrate young love, specifically the love between a young girl who cares for a vineyard and a young shepherd boy. The family wants to shelter their daughter, believing she isn’t ready to have a serious relationship, and, they would be wrong. Here she sings;

1 All night long on my bed
I looked for the one my heart loves;
I looked for him but did not find him.
2 I will get up now and go about the city,
through its streets and squares;
I will search for the one my heart loves.
So I looked for him but did not find him.
3 The watchmen found me
as they made their rounds in the city.
“Have you seen the one my heart loves?”
4 Scarcely had I passed them
when I found the one my heart loves.
I held him and would not let him go
till I had brought him to my mother’s house,
to the room of the one who conceived me.

Certainly not the words of an immature child. This poetry unabashedly celebrates the love between two people. There is no embarrassment or shame attached to their joy in their bodies and their total enjoyment of the pleasures of sex. The poems describe flirting, and playful language highlighting the excitement and joy the two lovers have in the presence of each other. To read the Song of Songs as paean to the sacredness of love is to remember and relish our own experience as lovers. That is what love poetry is for.
Unfortunately, the Songs of Songs has been ignored and push aside for so long that most people have never read it, and some don’t even know it is part of Holy Scripture. That is a real shame. Here is a biblical book that shows women in a favorable light, as a human who thinks, loves, celebrates, experiences grief, and loneliness just as men are depicted in scripture.

Our culture has always had a problem with sex and the church has had a role in creating that problem. Since the beginnings of the church we have had an unhealthy relationship with our bodies. This has resulted in half of humanity being told to be ashamed of who they are and the other half doing the shaming. Saint Augustin of Hippo (354-430 CE) played a huge role in how women were viewed and treated by the church. He was man consumed by guilt and one of those guilts was his guilt for having sex. His beliefs that women were the cause of mans downfall, i.e. Eve, were instrumental in the churches views on women. Having a Holy Book in the Bible celebrating the passion of young lovers’ and the enjoyment of each other signals the importance of loving and being loved.

The image of the strong female character, even though still a teenager, is an important image that empower women and girls, something our church fathers were very much against. The male church leaders were not in favor of giving up the power they had in the church to women. In this time of the “METOO” movements it is vital that positive images of biblical women be highlighted. It is time for women to claim their rightful place in God’s Kingdom, not as a second class, appendage to the male’s ego’s, but as equal partners in Gods creative universe.

The second, and third, way of looking at the Songs is with allegory. The interpretation of God/Christ, as the male character, and the people of Israel/the church as the female character is the traditional Jewish/Christian interpretation. Jewish tradition reads the Song during Passover as a reminder of God’s love by rescuing the Israelites from Egypt and the care God gave them during the Exodus. One beautiful passage describes God’s embrace of Israel, “His left arm is under my head, and his right arm embraces me.” (Song of Songs, 2:6) An intimate picture of God holding and loving humanity. Christians rarely read the Song, which is a sad commentary on our inhibitions.

At the beginning of this article I quote a passage from the song that paints another picture of God as the male lover. The lover comes late at night to the woman’s door and when she is slow to respond to his summons he walks away. When our young woman opens the door and finds him gone she runs into the street to look for him but instead is found by the guards and is abused and assaulted.

One interpretation alludes this passage to the Babylonian Exile, when God abandoned the Hebrew people. However, most Jewish, Christian, commentaries I read seemed to pass over this with a statement that acknowledges Gods inconsistency in dealing with the Hebrew people, or the Church, throughout history. But I find this passage disturbing. The idea of God simply abandoning humanity in times of suffering, pain, and crisis is abhorrent. How can a loving God do that? This leads into the Third and final, allegorical interpretation.

What if we identify God as the female lover and the male lover as the people of God? How does that change our view of the Song of Songs, of God, and of our role in our relationship with God? Reading the allegory as the female character transforms the Song of Songs. No longer is God the lover who goes gallivanting around the countryside, while the lady waits patiently for his return. God now is the one who says,

“I looked for the one my heart loves;
I looked for him but did not find him.
I will get up now and go about the city,
through its streets and squares;
I will search for the one my heart loves.” (3:1b-2a)

Now it is God who is the constant one, who waits for, and longs for the one she loves to return from wanderings and come into her arms. Humanity is the one who leaves, abandoning God. It is Humanity that turns away from the door when we believe God doesn’t answer quickly enough. It is God who risks being assaulted and beaten because she goes into the dark to find us. God’s claim on each of us is not of our doing, we are Gods because of God’s love for us. God’s love has nothing to do with faith, no, rather it is the matter of divine certainty. In a bad parody of Captain Picard, God made it so. When we read these words:

Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame. (8:6)

. . . we no longer hear humanity asking God to remember us but rather we hear God’s voice giving us the assurance that God will never forget, can never forget us, even unto death.

In the end there is no right or wrong way to read the Song of Songs. Read it as love poetry and revel in the celebration of young bodies, young people in love. Read it allegorically with God as the young man who passionately loves humanity, calling us beloved. Or read with God as the female lover who claims us before we claim her. Who waits for us to finish our wandering and return to her. Who goes into the dark and risk the divine life for us.

The Song of Songs is not shameful, rather it is the celebratory expression of human sexuality, and God’s passionate love for us. There is no other book in scripture that can express in a better way the passion and intimacy of God’s love for us, our love for God, and our love for each other.

Ruth Jewell, ©October 2, 2018

Meditation on Psalm 81

You heard me when I called, . . . and
You caught me as I fell
I rested in your arms as
You carried me from darkness into light

You dried my tears, and
You lifted my fears from my shoulders
I leaned upon your breast, . . . and
I heard you call me beloved

Even when I ignore you
You do not abandon me
Even when I walk away
You wait for me to return

I do not deserve your love, . . . yet
I choose to accept or refuse,
then . . .
I hear you call me beloved

Ruth Jewell, ©July 28, 2017

BEGINNINGS

Photo by Anders Jildén, Stockholm, Sweden, an Unsplash photo
Photo by Anders Jildén, Stockholm, Sweden, an Unsplash photo

Matins, night

darkest night when fear slides in
lost, lost I have lost the way
fear fills me, all hope has flown
death’s grim voice speaks,
“better to die than face your fear alone.”
has it come so far? Is my life worth anything?
how often have I screamed into the night, “WHY,
why, help me, have mercy, DAMN IT
do you hear me,
hear me before I surrender to the dark, surrender
to the dark

can I take my own life? Yes,
yes I can for in this darkest night it is only death
who welcomes me with open arms,
“come I will take you to where there is no fear,
no darkness, come, let’s end those fears, end your terror filled life” . . .
. . . DAWN BREAKS
out of the light of dawn God speaks,
“I will walk with you out of the darkness,
take my hand.”

Lauds, dawn

I was falling, falling, now caught, held,
lifted up, restored, re-membered, reborn into life
I am awakened to new light a new day, fresh,
never before seen or tasted
ah . . . to be held
in the arms of God,
to feel safe after terror
there is no description of the sweetness,
delight, astonishment at the dawn of re-birth,
to be resurrected by sacred love
for as sure as the crocus pokes its head through
the cold earth each spring, I have been embraced by the light
of dawn, warm golden light, green
growing light, giving new hope, new life, once dead
now tasting the first sweet breath of air

Terce, mid-morning

mornings . . . clean slate, fresh, calm, empty
of the past and filled with
promise of the future
mornings . . . opportunities not yet seen, waiting
to unfold, challenges to grow on
knowledge to gain, to be rolled in,
gathered in and absorbed,
time to learn the tools of life
so begins the journey
I put on my cloak of courage, and
grab my staff of knowledge
learn to walk with new legs, see
with new eyes, hear with new ears, touch
and be touched, revel
in the new sensations that run up my spine
discover new ways of being holy, of being with the holy.
learn to share newly given grace,
grace given you over and over
received over and over, a gift
given again and again
see the world as I have never seen it
bright with vibrant colors, sparkling
waters, perfumed air . . . learn to spread
my wings and fly on the breath of God

Sext, noon

to walk full of energy, riding
the ups and downs of life’s rollercoaster,
work that leaves arms tired, eyes drooping
taking what life has given me and
give back, sharing the graces of
knowledge, faith, love, and justice
using the joys of success as
nourishment and the tears of failure
as water to grow new grace
life upon life, all mixed
up with trials and joys that strengthen
and grow more life

None, mid-afternoon

Joy in a life being well lived
yet learning to let go of those
dreams limited by age, health, and time
no sadness (well maybe a little, transitions are hard after all),
joy at guiding the other beginning life’s journeys
learning it’s ok to let others
run the show, to lead
Oh I’m not done yet, I still
have work to do, things to accomplish
now is my time to be the encourager, the
mentor, the teacher of life’s lessons, to
teach others to lead
Now is my time to find
my peace with who I was, who
I have become and who I will yet be

again the Spirit takes my hand and
leads me on my journey

Vespers, evening

ah, to kick back, to
let go, to relax, day’s
work is done, time to sort
those old memories that
have piled up in my head
to find there a stillness
a being and . . . letting
stillness come in and fill my being
time to pass the torch to those more
able than I, those with more energy,
more time, more life
my place is cheerleader, advisor
and kisser of bumped knees
I am the repository
of life’s joys and sorrows
the keeper of the tales of
adventure and miss-adventure, all to
be passed on so the old ones
will not be forgotten

Compline, night

night, the time of endings, conclusions, laying down to rest
the memories of past loves, fears, angers, joys, and conflicts fade into the darkness
only one light now shines with a blinding brightness
I reach with one hand back in, to
the fading darkness of this life, and
with the other hand I reach out into . . .
the unknown light.
I am torn between leaving and staying,
I am between two worlds, my . . .
fingers slip through the hands of those I love

but, the time has come to be whole again
My time in this place is done, time
to let go, time to lead the way
one . . . last . . . time.
I have no regrets as this life fades,
the past made me who I am
and I am satisfied
the chrysalis of this life is breaking apart,
the butterfly is ready to emerge,
to spread her wings and fly

Ruth Jewell, ©July 2016

GOD SAID

Sunrise, Edmonds WA September 2, 2013 Ruth Jewell
Sunrise, Edmonds WA
September 2, 2013
Ruth Jewell

I have been trying to make sense of the events of the last week. The deaths of two black men at the hands of the police, the Dallas Police targeted and killed, and the bombings in Iraq and Turkey. And, just today a new shooting in Michigan. My heart is filled with sadness and tears and I could only cry out to God “Where Are YOU.”

“God where were you . . .
when suicide bombers chose to end their lives and take the innocent with them?
Where were you when 29 men and woman
enjoying a night out were used as target practice?
Where are you when cops shoot people,
when people shoot people,
when cops are targeted,
When people die, the good and the bad?”

God where are you . . .
when we are filled with emptiness by shooting after shooting,
when bombings and assaults become common place?
Where are you when we turn the news on and
another child has died, another cop is killed,
another person of color, differing abilities, or characteristics is assaulted or killed?”

“Why Oh God do you not answer?”

God said “I am there . . .
Holding the bodies as they bleed,
I am there leading the survivors’ out of danger.
I am there, holding the victim’s family’s in my arms
I am there in the broken hearts of witnesses, law enforcement.”

“When the darkness is greatest
I will sit with you, and listen to your sorrows,
I will hold you in my arms when you are weary.”
All I can do is lead the dying home to my arms,
to comfort those left behind, if they let me.”

“When pain and grief grip you
I will be there to tell you everything will be alright.
When you scream into the night,
I will come and comfort you,
I will dry your tears, and wrap you in my embrace.”

“I will be there when you are weary and in pain,
I will be there to lift you up, and comfort you,
All you have to do is call”.

God said, “I cry when you do not hear my voice, and
I cannot stop you from harming each other,
that choice is yours alone.

“All I can do is encourage each of you to stand up for justice and mercy.
All I can do is hope your hearts will soften
and let the love I have for each of you awaken your love for each other.
All I can do is wait for you to choose the path of justice, mercy, love and peace
between your selves and all that is created.”

God says “I gave you the choice of right or wrong,
It is up to you to choose. I will not make that choice for you
nor will I force you to choose one path over another!”

“You asked for freedom, it is your responsibility to choose.
Choose to use that freedom wisely.”

Ruth Jewell ©, July 11, 2016

 

Tomorrow You’ll Be Brave – Prayerful Tuesday

Tomorrow you’ll be brave, you say? Fool! Dive today
From the cliff of what you know into what you can’t know.
You fear the rocks? Better men than you have died on them;
Dying on Love’s rocks is nobler than a life of death. 

– Jalal-ud-Din Rumi
(Translated by Andrew Harvey from A Year of Rumi,
Daily OM, May 7, 2016 )

By Alexey Topolyanskiy, Unsplash, February 22, 2016
By Alexey Topolyanskiy, Unsplash, February 22, 2016

It is always “tomorrow” for me, I always want to put off taking that risk until tomorrow.  Maybe that is why this saying of Rumi’s means so much to me that I want to share it with you.  This week I am offering Rumi’s saying for meditation with Lectio Divina.

  • Place yourself in a comfortable position and allow yourself to become silent. Focus for a few moments on your breathing; or use a “prayer word” or “prayer phrase” as you gently and gradually center your thoughts. Use whatever method is best for you and allow yourself to enjoy silence for a few moments.
  • Turn to the text and read it slowly, gently. Savor each portion of the reading, constantly listening for the “still, small voice” of a word or phrase that somehow says, “I am for you today.” Do not expect lightning or ecstasies. In Lectio Divina, The One Spirit is teaching us to listen to the Divine voice, to seek the Spirit in silence. The One Spirit does not reach out and grab us; rather, we are gently invited to go ever more deeply into the presence of the One.
  • Take the word or phrase into you center. Hold it in your thoughts and slowly repeat it to yourself, allowing it to interact with your inner world of concerns, memories, and ideas. Do not be afraid of distractions. Memories or thoughts are simply parts of yourself that, Allow this inner pondering, this rumination, to invite you into dialogue with the One.
  • Speak to the One Spirit who has reached out to you. Whether you use words, ideas, or images–or all three–is not important. Interact with the One as you would with someone who you know loves and accepts you. And give to the One Spirit what you have discovered during your experience of meditation. Experience the One by using the word or phrase you have been given as a means of blessing and of transforming the ideas and memories that your reflection on the One’s word has awakened. Give to the One Spirit what you have found within your heart.
  • Rest in the embrace Spirit. And when you are invited to return to your contemplation of Spirits word or to your inner dialogue with the One Spirit, do so. Learn to use words when words are helpful, and to let go of words when they no longer are necessary. Rejoice in the knowledge that the One Spirit is with you in both words and silence, in spiritual activity and inner receptivity.

Ruth Jewell, ©May 10, 2016

Fourteen Stars

Challenger, Space Shuttle Crew,  NASA 1985
Challenger, Space Shuttle Crew,
NASA 1985
NASA, 2003
NASA, 2003

Thirty years ago I was just coming home from a class when I heard of the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle on takeoff.  Like so many others I was devastated by the loss of life and never knew how to respond to it.  When the Columbia Shuttle exploded in 2003 I finally had a way to express my grief for all of the women and men in both shuttle disasters.  So I offer this poem in memory of 14 brave astronauts.

Fourteen Stars

There are fourteen new stars in the sky tonight
Fourteen new stars whose hopes shown so bright
Fourteen new stars to give us great light
Fourteen new stars to guide us this night
Fourteen new stars in Gods heart … held tight

Ruth Jewell, ©January 28, 2016