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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Week of August 16, 2015

Earlier this week, a congregant asked if I would do some unpacking of the Charge & Blessing from Sunday.  Okay, but I warn you: my head is like an ever-running cartoon, spiraling into oblivion, coherent by miracle only.  Better tuck in your T-shirt, slide on your loafers, pull up the old navy blue socks, and switch on the spiritual metal detector.  We're going hunting!


If you were in worship Sunday (or if you've clicked on the "sermon" button on the web page), you encountered Solomon in a way you may or may not have before.  My charge to the congregation was a reiteration of sorts: a reiteration of the message of the storytellers who some scholars believe compiled the stories we encounter in Genesis-2 Kings.  You'll have to read the passage and listen to the sermon (from 16 AUG 2015) to get the background info; but, for our purposes here, I'll toss you a mere Go_d-nugget (Were I to muse on the missing "El," you might be reminded that this whole encounter with "Yahweh" takes place amid Solomon's 1000 offerings to a myriad of deities).

לֵב שָׁמַע 

There it is--the Gold Nugget here--but we must get to it slowly.  


7And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.8And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 9Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?’
10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. (1 Kings 3.7-10)

The Gold-nugget, Hebrew phrase is bold and in English.  I underlined some verbs that seem directly related to the phrase.  

I'll admit upfront that, while I passed my Hebrew classes in seminary with my sanity intact, I'm in no way a Hebrew scholar.  Yet, to me, it seems that one could easily do with this passage exactly what some English translations seem to do (maybe because those scholars took a completely different approach to this passage?): throw the above phrase and surrounding verbs into a pot, almost as though they were interchangeable.  The passage continues, as does the indiscriminate conglomeration of English terms:

11God said to him, ‘Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right12I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.  

Verse 9 - "Understanding" translation of שָׁמַע
Verse 9 - "Govern" translation of שָׁפַט (verb)
Verse 9 - "Discern" translation of בִּינָה
Verse 11 - "Understanding" translation of בִּינָה
Verse 11 - "Discern" translation of שָׁמַע
Verse 11 - "what is right" translation of מִשְׁפָּט (noun)
Verse 12 - "Wise" translation of חָכַם
Verse 12 - "Discerning" translation בִּינָה

I use colors to show how the English tends to pool together concepts, like "understanding" and "discernment," which are used interchangeably here but actually involve a variety of Hebrew words.

Told you this was slow.  Let me stop boring you to death and just get to the point:

The charge on Sunday was something to the effect of challenging the congregation with what I perceive to be the question of the storytellers...

"Will we, like Solomon, choose to walk between the worlds as we face upcoming transitions in our lives?"

These storytellers write at a time in Israel when the powers-that-be underwent major transitions (like being conquered themselves by more powerful powers-that-be), which created new opportunities for Israel to rediscover what it meant to be a people/culture again.  The storytellers tell of life before and during the exiles (722 BC-539 BC), more than likely writing at a period of being on the cusp of life anew with the reconstruction of their own temple.  The charge begins to make sense then.

לֵב שָׁמַע 

which the NRSV translates as "an understanding mind," might translate into something like... 

"that which is within a person (לֵב)--the inner man, the unconscious, the world of dream, the soul's dwelling--able to hear from the world within (שָׁמַע)."  

On Sunday, I used the example of HEARING MUSIC.  For me, it's Claude Debussy's "Clair de Lune."  

Am I "Lune"-y to in some way hear such "Clair"-ity, so much so that it's as though my heart becomes as Debussy's heart for however short a duration this masterpiece plays--his love, his pain, his hope, his gain, his loss?  It's that very emotional aspect that the ancestors of our ancestor's ancestors knew somehow shows up with the moon's conjunctions and short stays in each of the twelve houses.  All of this, and Debussy used not one single word.


"Yahweh" meets Solomon in a dream. There's no time and space for dream talk here, but suffice it for Carl Jung to say, "Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens."

Solomon did NOT ask "Yahweh" for the ability to "govern"(שָׁפַט) his mind/heart. He did NOT ask "Yahweh" for the ability to "understand"(בִּינָה) or "discern" (בִּינָה).  I'm not even sure Solomon's request was for "wisdom"(חָכַם).  Why not go as far as to say that he probably wasn't interested in "hearing" (שָׁמַע) for hearing's sake alone?

Rather, Solomon wanted to "hear" something in particular from tuning into a specific realm. The Go[l]d Nugget is in the bond between the two words in the phrase: לֵב שָׁמַע. These two words, I argue, are the key to Solomon's request. He wished to walk between the worlds. Solomon wished to encounter an outer world of "justice" (מִשְׁפָּט), but he knew "what is right" comes only from being intimately plugged into "the inner realm" (לֵב).  From that world comes all true "hearing" (שָׁמַע).

There's no time and space for this one either; but, you may have already noticed an ironic connection between this most sought-after ability of Solomon to "hear" the inner realm (sought out amid testing a variety of gods) and the Deuteronomic-flavored, first-and-foremost for any true worshiper of "Yahweh": 

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. (Deut.6.4-5)

We can feel the hand of these storytellers, even in this final book of the Torah--the foundation of Jewish holy writing.  

Think a moment, though.  Where else have you heard this mandate before?  Jesus, maybe?  From his childhood, he knew--as did all Jews--that this was the maxim of identity and belonging within the  community.  

What was the name of that most important prayer...oh yeah, that's right...

the Shema Yisrael (שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל), known simply as

 the Shema (שָׁמַע).

Solomon asks "Yahweh" for the ability to "walk between worlds" in the sense that he would always "hear" the inner world as one hears and is transformed by music.  One foot would walk the outer world, creating "justice"; the other would walk the inner world, "hearing" from that realm where, as Carl Jung discovered in his countless cases of psychotherapy and dream analysis, the God-archetype and the Self-archetype are inseparable by all practical, observable purposes.

I'll leave off with my favorite part of the story:

"It pleased the LORD that Solomon had asked this."

To me, there's a literary, dramatic, climatic pause here on the part of the storytellers:

"...so...what about you?  Will your first move amid transition, like Solomon's, be to seek to 'hear' from the inner realm?  Will you forego all power, glory, and honor for the sake of possessing this ability?"

Our 1 Kings passage above ends with the storytellers' "Yahweh" saying, "no one like you has been before you, and no one like you shall arise after you."

Well, I can think of some other storytellers who might disagree.  Their guy not only lived it but taught it as well.

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