Thursday, September 18, 2008

More Journal Stuff

They love the journals up at the PSR. It's their answer to everything. So, in addition to a journal about what I read in the Bible for Bible class, I also need to do a journal about the Spiritual Practices we encounter and try in Spiritual Disciplines class.

Amos and Hosea. No, it's not a new show on TBS about a southern sheriff and his mexican deputy, it's actually two of the "Latter Prophets" in the Bible. Their preserved works can be found toward the back of the Old Testament.

I don't mean to be flippant. I actually love this stuff. It's the journalling that causes me to revolt into sarcasm, not the texts themselves or the commentary that we're learning in class.

During the time of Amos and Hosea (Amos being the older of the two, though Hosea appears first in the Bible), Israel had long-since split into two kingdoms called, confusingly, Israel (up north) and Judah (down south). Adding to the confusion, the Northern Kingdom (Israel) does NOT contain Jerusalem. Judah does. The Northern Kingdom, cut off as it was from the temple in Jerusalem, had to build its own. They built one in Bethel. But, since there was a long tradition that worship could ONLY take place in the Jerusalem temple, Bethel was always sort of a bastard stepchild.

Anyway, during this time, the whole system of kinghood and courts and priests had been well-established in both the North and the South, so that you could basically get a job as a Prophet. There were guilds supported by the King, and he would come to these Prophets for advice. Think Jedi Temple.

But Amos was an independent, and didn't work for the guild. He was likely a relatively well-to-do farmer from the South, but near the border to the North, because he seemed to do all of his prophecy in the North.

Amos didn't play. He was not about reconciliation between Israel and God, or between Israel and Judah. Amos was convinced that Assyria, a growing power in mesopotamia, was going to sweep down and destroy Israel. Amos said that God's (YHWH's) Judgement was coming upon Israel because of their treatment of the poor, and their general corruption.

Amos was radically different from most other prophets of his time (that we know about) in these ways:

1. He was the first to consider YHWH as the mover of ALL nations. In Amos's view, YHWH wasn't just the protector and defender of Israel, but the God of all the nations. As such. YHWH could move the empire of Assyria against Israel as punishment for Israel's corruption.

2. He was the first to point out that Israel's special relationship with YHWH was not a "get out of jail free" card. It was, in fact, a responsibility to be even MORE just and righteous. The idea is that Israel will be watched more closely and judged more harshly as "god's chosen people", not let off the hook.

3. He didn't give a fig about where or how the cultic practices of sacrifice and worship took place. Most prophets (including Hosea) are obsessed with the who, what, where, when and how of actual temple worship. Amos didn't seem to care at all about that, and was much more interested in social justice. He called Israel out for their mistreatment of the poor and said that YHWH's judgement was at hand, in the form of Assyrian armies.

Given that ol' Amos was a country prophet based out of Judah but preaching in Israel, and given that his preaching was so unusual for the time, his work probably wouldn't have been preserved if it weren't for one nagging detail: he got it right.

When he was preaching, Assyria was not yet considered to be a threat. It wasn't until the rise of Tiglath-Pilesar III in Assyria nearly a generation later that Assyria was looked upon as a problem in Israel. (I just really wanted to type Tiglath-Pilesar III. In fact, I want to name my child Tiglath-Pilesar III).

This is not to say that Amos was magic. It is to say that (barring the possibility of later fiddling with the text) he called it before anyone else did ala Al Gore. It's likely his work was preserved because, unlike the no-doubt pollyannaish visions of the Court Prophets ("You're doing great, boss! God loves ya!"), Amos's prediction proved to be correct.

Ignoring your poor and considering yourself special in the eyes of God can lead to your nation's destruction? Nah.

Okay, Hosea...

I don't have much to say about Hosea.

He was more traditional than Amos in that his main problem with Israel--and his diagnosis for the fate that was, by Hosea's time, more imminent--was their worship of "false" Gods. He likened Israel to a promiscuous wife. In fact, it looks like he may have actually married a prostitute in order to prove his point.

So there's a lot of language about how Israel is going to be punished the way a promiscuous wife is punished, juxtaposed with language about how YHWH is going to woo Israel back into the sack and make her forget all about those other me---er, gods. Even though Baal is hung like a bull.

Hosea does give us a glimpse into the insane political intrigue of the time, as different factions in Israel panicked at the coming threat.

Tiglath-Pilesar III grew Assyria's strength and extracted tribute from all the nearby kings, including Israel. Israel was extremely weakened, having gone through several rounds of assassination and usurpation of the throne by various factions. The current King set up an alliance of kings against Assyria and tried to force the Southern Kingdom to join. The Southern Kingdom allied with Assyria against the alliance of kings (!!!!!) and Assyria came down on Israel like a ton of bricks. Israel panicked and even sent messengers to beg Egypt for help.

The Bible is generally written and edited from a Southern Kingdom perspective, since the temple was there, the priestly tradition was there, and it was the Southern Kingdom that survived until the Exile period in Babylon. So a lot of what we read about the Northern Kingdom has to be taken in that context. Even what has been preserved and what hasn't likely reflects a Southern Kingdom bias.

Still, taken together, Amos and Hosea provide two diagnoses for what happened to Israel and a perspective on the historical events that caused its demise.

So in this class, we divide up into smaller groups. Each session, a different member of the group leads the rest of the group in a Spiritual Practice, i.e. Prayer, Meditation, Singing, etc.

This week, we sat and did "centering prayer". For 15 minutes we breathed in, saying, in our minds, "I am surrounded" (breathe in) "by the love of God" (breathe out).

Okay. Well. Fine. I did the exercise. For me, it was 15 minutes of doing homework, thinking about music, composing songs, making lists, and reflecting on a recent SNL skit, punctuated occasionally by thoughts of "oh yeah...I am surrounded....by the love of God".

It wasn't entirely as disjointed or useless as I make it sound. It was relaxing, and very helpful, to sit for awhile and let my thoughts come and go without reacting to them. It's a creatively fruitful place to be, to sort of stand outside your thoughts and watch them come and go. It was centering, indeed.

But the goal of the exercise, I was told, was to "find silence", to "silence my inner voice", and to "empty myself of myself, so that I could be filled with God".

And, at the end, when I expressed my experience as really one of relaxation, but not one of silence or self-emptying, I was granted, in some part, with pitying smiles, condescending remarks, and the comfort that "it's difficult, and you won't get there your first time".

Well good! I hope I don't ever get there! Since when is "silencing your inner voice" supposed to be a good thing? I've just now started to learn to LISTEN to it!

And what in Western spiritual tradition suggests that I'm supposed to "empty myself"? To me, it's about dialogue with God, about experience with God, about reconciliation of the self with God, not about the Self running off so God can take over. Screw that.

I reject "emptiness" as a goal, even temporarily. While I welcome relaxation as a means of inducing creativity, I will not be silenced.

 

 

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