Thursday, February 15, 2018

REND YOUR HEARTS - A Homily


Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing.  Joel 2:12
What a dramatic rollercoaster ride the Church Year can provide! 

Three days ago we were having a mountaintop experience with Peter, James and John as Jesus was transfigured, and today we find ourselves torn between a feast, St. Valentine’s Day, and the beginning of a fast, Ash Wednesday. Do we feast today or do we begin a fast today?  Do we feel torn?  It’s all very dramatic.   How can it not be? The drama of romance and “weeping with mourning” are matters of the heart.
Yet, if one thinks about it, there is sense of serendipity about these two seemingly opposite holy days falling on the same day.  The highly commercialized Feast of St. Valentine has become a very human affair embraced by the religious and non-religious alike.  Whether one identifies as religious or not, we’re all on the same page when it comes to human romance, the attraction of love, symbolized by hearts and expressions of appreciation for being who one is.

That is not bad and not something we should piously reject.  Commercialized or not, St. Valentine’s Day has value – a brief moment that encourages everyone to  send their love to others – a reminder to us who follow Jesus, that true love, the essence of God is all around.
Then there’s Ash Wednesday – not everyone’s cup of tea, traditionally speaking.  Some Christians honor it, others ignore it.

When I was younger, and a Lutheran, I use to find Lent annoying because it seemed depressing to me, all this talk about sin and repentance, weeping, mourning, suffering and dying. As far as that all went, I thought we Lutherans had Lent down really well.  We Lutherans weren’t really into fasting, but we weren’t into feeling good about much of anything during Lent.
When I attended a Lutheran pre-seminary in pursuit of becoming a Lutheran pastor there was a hymn we sang during Lent called “Stricken, smitten, and afflicted” [1]a real downer as hymns go. While the hymn talked about the suffering of Jesus, I remember one of my classmates joke that stricken, smitten, and afflicted was exactly how he felt after going through forty days of Lent as a Lutheran.

I agreed, but looking back, I have to ask myself, “But wasn’t that the point?” Isn’t the point of Lent about having an experience that results in transfiguring who we are?
There is a phrase that seems to have fallen from common use, “Learning by heart.”  It seems to me, that learning things by heart is mostly applied to what children do or did.  At least it was a phrase used when I had to memorize something for a Christmas pageant or for confirmation.  I had to learn it by heart, by saying it over and over until I could say it verbatim as if it was a part of me; something I came up with.

Most of childhood learning is, experiential, is a matter of taking things to heart.  The things we remember most; that stick with us, that taught us something on a deeper, feeling level come from the things we experienced. Memories of the mind can fade.  Mine do occasionally, but the memory of the heart does not. Things, “learned by heart,” can be recited decades later by someone who no longer remembers the name of a spouse or a loved child.
Lent is the most dramatic season of the Church Year for a reason and by drama I mean the art of drama, creating and enacting experiences through ritual that touch the heart and help us understand that we are, all of us, creations of Love. The earliest form of drama was ritual. Ritual remains important because it is experiential; involving ours senses and our emotions.

Ritual remains one of the oldest learning devices we humans continue to utilize.  Before our ancient ancestors could write down their experiences, it was the experience of ritual that taught their hearts lessons that would not fade; lessons that could be passed from one generation to the next. Rituals became systemized into traditions; the recognizable seasons of shared experiences through the ages.
Our traditions, our rituals are not intended to save us.  They’re intended to teach us lessons of the heart.

Whether we are fasting or feasting will not affect God’s love for us, as we heard Paul tell the Corinthians three Sundays ago when asked about eating meat offered to idols. God is constant in love, but we are less so. We need constant reminders of God’s love and who we are so that we become a reflection of that love.  We need experiences that reach the core of our being in order to do so.
So the prophet Joel dramatically depicts God telling us, “Return to me with all your heart.”  God says do it through fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.  In other words, make a dramatic turn around, an experiential one; one that involves action and emotion; one that brings us back to who we truly are, children of God.

Fasting with weeping and mourning becomes our response to the experience of acting in ways that have lessened who we are. Sincere fasting is a natural response to a feeling that removes one’s desire for the things of this world; as in the “I’m just not hungry “response we hear from someone experiencing a sense of deep personal loss.
That’s where God is going with this:    God wants us to lose our appetite for what isn’t real. God want us to lose our appetite for what lessens who we truly are.

If I were to reduce the experience of sin to one word, that one word would be selfish. Any term that can be suffixed with “ish” is an indication that it’s not the real thing, but rather an approximation that is less than real or presented as being more than what it really is.
Sin is anything that approximates who we truly are. To be selfish means to present an ambiguous portrayal of one’s true self; to act in a way that misses the point of our existence which is to be a reflection of God’s glory.

The Apostle Paul wrote in his Letter to the Romans, “All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God.” [2] We are all selfish in that respect because whatever occludes the reflection of God’s creative glory in our lives is the essence of sin whether it is the selfish things we do or the selfish things we fail to do.
Selfishness is a problem as old as Adam and Eve. It has affected our relationships with one another and with God ever since they bit into the idea that they could something they weren’t.

We’ve been running away from who we are, hiding behind facades to be something other than what  we are ever since, and ever since, we have been chased, called back, wiped cleaned and made whole by a Love that will not let us go.  This Godly pursuit to bring us back to who we are is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching to love our neighbors as ourselves and to love our enemies, for if we cannot love that which God loves, we cannot love God.
Both selfishness and love are contagions affecting the heart; one a disease, the other its cure.

In our reading from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus approaches this spiritual disease from another perspective by addressing it with the religious of his day and to anyone who sits in a pew today. Jesus uses the word hypocrite three times to condemn the selfish practices of the religious who put on a display of piety to make themselves appear better, more holy than they are. Jesus is telling us that true piety is not meant to be a spectacle, but a secretive affair of the heart between the Creator and the created.

“Rend your hearts and not your garments.”
So on this day, February 14th 2018, a day in which there is confluence of two holy days focused on the heart, we are reminded that true love can only proceed from a true heart, a broke open and sincere heart; one that is true to self and true to God, one that has lost its appetite for all things selfish.  On this day, we take to heart the traditional ritual of penance; of being marked by the carbon of our origin in a shape of Christ’s redeeming cross and hearing the words God said to Adam after Adam’s participation in humankind’s first selfish moment, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” – God’s poignant yet loving reminder of what we are and whose we are.

In this moment of ritual and tradition, we begin the journey into this turn-around season of Lent toward the reset point of new life in the risen Christ, by reciting the words of a psalmist whose contrite heart spoke millennial ago for the hearts of every contrite penitent and by confessing our selfish ways in order to push away from them to let the glory of God shine in and through our true selves.
May this turn-around season of Lent be for us a journey into that Love which will not us go.

Amen.   
* * * * * * * * * *
Until next time, stay faithful.




[1] Thomas Kelly 1769-1855 set to the tune “O Mein Jesu, Ich Muss Sterben,” Geistliche Volkslieder 1850
[2] Romans 3:23

Saturday, January 6, 2018

TALES OF THE MYSTIC JOURNEY - JESUS


I began this series of posts with a post on The Transfiguration of Jesus, a one- time event found in the Synoptic Gospels in which Jesus was seen in a state of glory with Moses and Elijah.  The Transfiguration of Jesus is about seeing Jesus in a new light. Since I have been defining transfiguration as an evolutionary process in which a person becomes a whole being, his or her true self, the question becomes whether Jesus underwent such a transfiguration as has been described in these posts on the mystic journey.

Ironically, it is difficult to know the human Jesus as a Christian.  There is so much belief invested in beliefs about Jesus that his humanity is all but lost.  For example, what is a perfect person, if not a perfectly flawed person? What could a sinless person know of sin's effects on other humans?

Yes, there is much theological speculation as to the who, the what, the how, and the why of Jesus, and much of that is expressed in mythic terms throughout the canonical gospels. Understanding that, however, can lend itself to understanding Jesus's mystic journey as expressed by early Christians.

EMMANUEL

Jesus is given a transfigurative name change before he was even conceived, Emmanuel - God with us.   The mythic encounter between Jesus's mother, Mary, and the archangel, Gabriel, is to ensure that the reader of Luke's gospel understands Jesus's divine and human nature. In Matthew's mythic account, we are given the same message from Joseph's perspective with the added dimension of Jesus being from the royal lineage of David as underscored by the tale of the three wise men.

The Gospel of Mark begins Jesus's transfiguration at his baptism by John the Baptist with God naming Jesus his Son.  The Gospel of John casts all of these events as the divine Christ, the Word by which everything came into being - The Word made flesh and dwelling among us - Emmanuel.

The Synoptic Gospels hint of Jesus transfiguring into his divine persona by virtue of his baptism which led Jesus into the familiar turf of  what I have been terming as Pause; his forty days in the wilderness.  While Jesus meets John the Baptist in the Gospel of John, he is not baptized by him nor is he sent into the wilderness.  There is no need, since in John Jesus's transfiguration is about taking on our humanity, our flesh.  Subsequently, there is no Transfiguration of Jesus story told in John.  In John, Jesus becomes one of us for the sole purpose of being what John the Baptist described as "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." As such, it is easier to trace Jesus's mystic journey in the synoptic gospels than in John.

PAUSING IN THE WILDERNESS


Most scholars believe that Jesus was in his early thirties when he started his ministry.  Apart from very sparse information about Jesus's early childhood found in Matthew and Luke, we virtually know nothing of Jesus before his ministry.  I would suggest that Jesus's sojourn in the wilderness is similar to Israelites' and Elijah's sojourn there. It covers his initial formation into his transfigurative identity, Emmanuel.

The wilderness is treated in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures as a metaphor for what I have been describing as Pause in the mystic journey; a period of formation consisting of an event or events which precede and prepare a person for transfiguration.  Jesus's temptation in the wilderness impresses me as symbolic event in which he confronts the demons of his life; the temptations, lusts and desires that we all encounter and have to deal with through much of our lives.  It's a daily struggle that the Gospel writers compact into one event.

In daily life, I suspect that Jesus grew up as normal human, dealing with everything that growing up entails - failures, successes, testing the limits, learning to respect authority, etc.  I don't doubt that Jesus was an exceptionally bright and extremely intuitive person, but no human is just that.  Even the brightest and the most intuitive, if honest, will admit to failure and failings.

The good and the bad in our lives make us who we are, and Jesus, being human, could not have been an exception to that rule, no matter how his followers and the early church fathers wanted him to be. Gaining control of personal temptation meant he was vulnerable to temptation and was indeed tempted. One cannot recognize the trap of temptation without having fallen into it on more than one occasion.

His moment in the "wilderness," however, was only one part of Pause in Jesus's life.  The other part involved kenosis, the emptying self of selfishness.  Kenosis can only occur when one's personal faith and integrity is sufficient enough to be open to the other, and Jesus’s baptism by John was his first recorded step into the waters of kenosis, his first step into recognizing and realizing who we humans truly are; children of God.

In this sense, Jesus's entire ministry reflects a state of Pause.  He encounters many people in diverse situations that shaped his perspective of the world.  His encounters with the sick, the marginalized, the resident alien, and the ultra-religious tested and strengthened his integrity and his faith in the God he claimed not only as his Father but also as our Father.  All life is formative. Where there is breath, there is, at the very least, the potential for formation and growth.

MOMENTS THAT GAVE JESUS PAUSE

The mystical journey is an evolutionary experience.  We evolve as we transfigure.

In observing the story of Jesus's journey, we encounter not just one transfiguration but several moments that can be described as transfigurative; moments which give Jesus pause and broadened his perspective. 

Three stories about Jesus being given pause by foreigners come to mind:  the story of the centurion,[1] the story of the Syrophoenician woman,[2] and the story of the ten lepers.[3] There are others, but these three openly display moments that gave Jesus pause; that transfigured his perspective of the world; that led him to see the bigger picture of God's love expressed in the diversity of humanity.

In all three of these stories, we see the link between faith and integrity.  Faith allows our true, our whole selves; our integrity to emerge as seen in the story of the Roman centurion's love for his slave that allowed him to approach Jesus at the risk of rejection - his humble integrity in expressing faith that if Jesus said his slave would be healed, it would be done,  in the story of the Syrophoenician woman standing up to Jesus's expected rebuke to say that dogs eat the crumbs off their masters' table – expressing a faith that not only withstood being insulted but also demonstrated an integrity that sliced through it in order to see her daughter healed, and the Samaritan leper who had the integrity of his faith to express heartfelt gratitude for being healed.  These were eye opening moments for Jesus that gave him pause; that amazed him and transfigured his view of humanity.

FAITH, INTEGRITY, AND THE CROSS


We are not born with faith and integrity.  We are born with its potential.  Faith and integrity evolve as we encounter and meet the challenges life brings.  This is true for every human, and it was true for Jesus also.  By the time of Jesus's short ministry the readers of the gospels can assume that Jesus had great faith and integrity.  One could say that Jesus displayed a purity that bordered on profanity; that his disciples saw in his ready acceptance of the marginalized the divinity they claimed proved him to be God's Son, while his detractors saw a blasphemer, who consistently violated the Sabbath, and an agent of the devil, by his willful association with who they considered the impure elements of humanity.

For me the most poignant moment of Jesus's tale is when he is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.  It is the most significant moment of Pause in Jesus's journey.  Like Jacob, Jesus finds himself alone at a defining crossroad that is a struggle with his self.  The gospels only hint at this by their portraying him in a state of anguished sweat.

The question for Jesus was no longer "Who do people say that I am," but rather it became a personal question, "Who am I?" The reason for his anguish is that Jesus was faced with a choice. Jesus could have avoided capture.  He could have fled Jerusalem under the cover of darkness or he could have stayed and face his enemies, let go of the question and let God provide the answer, "Not my will but yours."

"Not my will but yours" had been Jesus's mantra all along as exhibited in his ministry.  I imagine him saying this every time he went off by himself to pray.  Common Christian theology has interpreted this mantra as signifying that God wanted Jesus to sacrifice himself on the cross in order to forgive the sins of the world because Jesus ends up being crucified.  It stands; therefore, that his death must have been God's will.  

I see another way to interpret these events; one that does not involve God willing Jesus to die.  Death is a fact of life including Jesus's life.  The statement, "Not my will, but yours" is an expression of Jesus's faith and integrity; a faith and integrity that allows for kenosis, an emptying of self to allow the other access.  What it does for Jesus is to stay put, be who he is, and, like Jacob, meet what comes.  To do otherwise would have undermined his integrity and faith:  How could he love his enemies, if he ran from them? How could he risk losing his life in order to save it?

The choice was made when he turned to face his enemies and asked them, "Who do you seek?" John 18.

Faith and integrity would lead Jesus to a cross.

TRANSFIGURING THE WORLD

"Who do you seek?"

When left by themselves these words, within the context they were said, take on a deeper meaning.  Indeed, the sub textual question could be worded as, "What are you seeking?"  Paradoxically, what Jesus's detractors were ultimately looking for  - an end to the chaos of trying to maintain their traditions - could be found in who they were looking for. The synoptic gospels present this paradox differently; they have Jesus asking, "Have you come with clubs and swords as if I were a bandit?"  [Mark 14] In other words, what were they seeking?

For the most part, Jesus does not offer a defense for the offenses he was accused of.   When they accuse him of blasphemy; of intimately identifying himself with God as God's Son (The Messiah), Jesus does not deny it. 

How could he deny it?  He saw God as his Father, indeed, saw God as the Father of us all.  If that made him the Messiah, then he was Messiah.

Perception and perspective are rarely changed by words alone.  Experience is the greatest catalyst for how we see and understand our world. The experience of witnessing the horrible suffering and execution of Jesus as a means of maintaining religious and civil order ironically became the epitome of a civil religion in a state of chaos; a religion so wrapped in fear and self-preservation that it could not perceive, much less fathom, the pure humanity of Jesus's teachings that were rooted in its own scriptures. The paradox of Jesus's death is that his words, his teachings take on life - come alive.

Jesus's excruciating death is magnified by the spiritual silence he experienced.  Life was not only leaving him, but he felt abandoned by God. "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani," Jesus cried out.

Where was God?  Why was his life ending this way? This shouldn't be happening, but it was.

Those standing near the cross asked if he is calling to Elijah.[4]  Jesus was not calling for Elijah, but rather, whether consciously or not, Jesus was recalling Elijah's wilderness experience after being drained of his will to go on.

Like Elijah, Jesus experiences in the silence God's most profound presence. In the silence that was embracing him, Jesus looked on this world, and saw it through the eyes of silence, the eyes of God.

 "Father, forgive them for they don't know what they're doing."

With those words, Jesus transfigured our world.  We are offered a totally different perspective of it and the depth of God's love for it because of this act of forgiveness.  In the end, Jesus enters that silence as we all must for it is the destination of our journey on earth.

TRANSFIGURING JESUS

Mystically speaking, this life is not an end in itself but rather a Pause in the mystic journey that must come to an end. Transfiguration is at the end of every Pause.  In Jesus's tale, we witness this transfiguration as the resurrection. 

Words fall short in describing this awareness - this awakening that Jesus's disciples experienced at the time. The empty tomb and the mysterious appearances of Jesus are so real that they are claimed to be physical proof of Jesus being alive as the writers of the Gospel of John try to depict, but Jesus moved on, as he must, as we must.  This fact is expressed in story of Jesus's ascension.

What remains of Jesus in our pause on our mystical journey, this life, is the essence of Jesus expressed in his teachings - the teachings that underscored we are all on the same journey as the children of God.  As mentioned above, in his death, Jesus's teachings took on life.

The apostle Paul, who experienced Jesus in a vision, transfigured the meaning of Jesus's death and resurrection as a cosmic event we're all involved in.  For Paul, Jesus is the Christ, a term he redefines as having cosmic implications that transfigures the Church as the physical Body of Christ on earth.

Paul provides what is perhaps the best explanation of the resurrection in his first letter to the Corinthians.[5]  There he clearly associates faith and integrity as hinging on Christ's resurrection:  "If Christ is not raised, our preaching is nothing, and your faith is vain."  He later differentiates that Christ was sowed a physical body and raised a spiritual body.  This is a far cry from the claim that Jesus was physically raised from the dead.  Paul didn't see it that way because Paul didn’t experience the risen Christ that way. 

For Paul, the spiritual is far more real than the physical - a truth that underscores the mystical journey we are on.

* * * * * * * * * *
                                    In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the sea,
                                   With a glory in His bossom that transfigures you and me;
                                   As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
                                   While God is marching on.   Glory, glory, hallelujah!
                                   His truth is marching on.
                                                                    Julia W. Howe   

Until next time, stay faithful




[1] Matthew 8:5-13
[2] Mark 7:24-30
[3] Luke 17:11-19
[4] See Mark 15
[5] See 1 Corinthians 15

Sunday, December 31, 2017

TALES OF THE MYSTIC JOURNEY - PETER AND PAUL

We turn to the Christian scriptures in our examination of the mystic journey.  Paul and Peter are identifiable historical figures in Christian scriptures. We know Paul as a historical figure because he wrote letters to the early churches he helped establish.  We know Peter is a historical figure because Paul wrote about having conversed with Peter.

Both Peter and Paul have transfigurative name changes. Peter starts out as Simon and Paul starts out as Saul.  Transfigurative moments and transfigurative name changes are common in all religions in which an individual is the beneficiary of some event or events that changes the perspective of the person, how the person is seen, or both.

My interest in writing about Peter and Paul in the same post is to compare and contrast two individuals who, in my opinion, represent two separate mind types but end up sharing the same perspective about Christ and the Church.

PETER

Peter is a principal character in the formation of Christianity.  Peter is a depicted as a person who "gets" things before he understands what he has gotten.  Peter whose original name was Simon was given the name Peter by Jesus after he responds to Jesus's question, "Who am I?" When Peter replies, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God," Jesus gives him the name Peter, the rock.[1]

Peter proves to be anything but rock solid, apart from having an apparent concrete mind.  Within two verses of calling Simon, Peter, Jesus is calling him Satan.  Peter can strike one as a bumbling idiot at times, but I would suggest otherwise.  Peter is intuitive and more right brained than left.  He gets the bigger picture, but doesn't grasp its full implication until later.

Peter grows or transforms into his transfiguration.  In fact, I would say Peter has several transfigurative moments that change his perspective of things.  I find it interesting that the two later gospels Matthew and John refer to Peter as Simon Peter; whereas, Mark and Luke call him Peter.

While the reason for calling Peter, Simon Peter can be explained as there being two disciples named Simon, one who is also called Simon the Zealot, the reference to Simon Peter may have to do with there being something very "Simon" about Peter.  In other words, outwardly speaking, Peter's personality did not change.  On the surface, he remained recognizably Simon.  What changed or (perhaps more accurately put) what was exposed in his transfigurative name change was the depth of his faith-vision.

Peter intuitively knew that he was engaged with something larger than himself. What that meant for him would emerge over time.  The Simon part of his persona (as is basically true of all surface personas) wanted to control or give the impression of being in control of the events in his life, but the reality is that his Peter persona was attuned to the flow of events that were shaping who he became.

Being named Peter by Jesus aided Peter in recognizing and accepting the transfigurative moments he encountered; such as, the Transfiguration of Jesus, his denial of Jesus at Jesus’s trial as foretold by Jesus, his witnessing Jesus's empty tomb, the Pentecost event, his trance on the roof top at Joppa.[2] All such events led Simon to probe and find the solid foundation of his integrity that made him Peter. Peter's story is very similar to Jacob's story. Both were works in progress that took time to be transfigured.  Both retained their surface personas but were given a different perspective of the world around them which allowed them to embrace the journey they embodied.

PAUL

Unlike Peter, Paul impresses me as being left brained; analytical and pragmatic.  Paul's transfiguration is best described as a conversion rather than a transformation.  Both Peter and Paul experienced pause prior to transfiguration.  In Peter's case one might be able to cite several moments of pause; such as, Jesus's rebuke of him, calling him Satan after naming him Peter, his bizarre reaction to the Transfiguration of Jesus, and his denying Jesus at Jesus's trial before the Sanhedrin.

Paul's moment of pause was much shorter and was the result of his blinding vision of Christ.  Paul is both converted and transfigured in one event.  His moment of pause is the literal blindness he endured after seeing the blinding light of Christ.  While much of Simon remains with Peter, most of Saul is lost in Paul. What Paul retains is his sense of pragmatic integrity.  Paul not only gets the bigger picture in Christianity, he understands how to make it work.

Since I have discussed much of Paul's theology in other posts, I won't go into it here. [Click here, here, and here to view them.] What Paul shares with Peter is an expansive vision of the mystic journey that all of creation is on.  While Peter witnessed the metamorphosis of Jesus into the risen Christ, Paul envisioned the risen Christ as the Body of Christ in the world; the metamorphosis of us all, symbolized as the Church.[3]  Peter understood Paul's vision, but lacked the ability to convince others of its relevance in the Church at Jerusalem. In some ways, Peter and those who knew the person, Jesus, could not see the full implication of Jesus's resurrection as Paul did. Having never known and having never met Jesus as another person but only experiencing him as the risen Christ freed Paul to see the much larger implication of Jesus's resurrection.  Peter came to share that vision and, like Paul, became an apostle to gentiles and the legendary founder of the Church at Rome.

INTEGRITY AND FAITH

The mystic journey is in many ways a story of transfiguration into one's true or whole self; a person of faith and integrity.  It appears rare to find a person who has both in equal measure.  As the mystic journey is about one's transfiguration into a whole being as part of Paradise Regained, we see in these tales of well-known biblical characters that their personal faith and integrity emerge as their life stories unfold.  Peter and Paul represent such emergence.

Looking from a distance of some two millennia, it would appear that Simon had a foundation of faith upon which to build, but lacked the integrity that would be found in becoming Peter.  Likewise, Saul had plenty of religious integrity but lacked faith which he would discover in becoming Paul.  Peter and Paul became whole beings as they transfigured into their true selves; capable of seeing the bigger picture and doing their part to broaden the perspective of us all.

Until next time, stay faithful.




[1] Matthew 16:18
[2] Acts 10:10
[3] See Galatians 3:28

Friday, December 15, 2017

TALES OF THE MYSTIC JOURNEY - JOB



The Book of Job is perhaps one of the most baffling pieces of ancient literature.  It is certainly one of the most baffling pieces of Hebrew and Christian scriptures.   The only effective way, at least for me, to understand Job is to read it as a myth, but not only a myth but rather as a mythic play - perhaps one of the earliest examples of a play in Canaanite and Hebrew culture and literature.

In fact, Job is so much like a play that Archibald MacLeish wrote a modern version of it called, "JB" in 1958.  Job also fits well into the realm of mystical literature as saying something about the mystic journey on this side of life; particularly, about the pauses (transitional moments that give us pause to consider who we are and what's happening) that occur.

Job is a tragic character, whose tragedy has nothing to do with anything he's done but rather what is done to him as a result of divine challenge initiated by God to Heaven's court adversary, Satan.  As a play, we, the audience, take a seat next to God as observers of a human tragedy in need of an explanation for which no logical one exists.  

Job's suffering serves no purpose. It does not make Job a better man.  It does not make God a better god. If anything, this play validates the colloquial sentiment, "shit happens."  With this tale, we enter into deep psychological terrain as Job and his three oldest friends engage in a dialogue trying to fill in the blanks as to why Job, a righteous man, finds himself in such a miserable state; setting the mood and conditions for us to be the jury.  So, if you haven't read the Book of Job or haven't read it this way; as a play, do so now and then come back to this post.

* * * * * * * * * *

WHY?  WHY NOT?

There are many ways to interpret Job.  Many see it as an examination of suffering or as meditation on Theodicy, as to how an all-powerful, all-loving God can allow suffering.  Suffering is very much an important factor in this tale, but if one treats Job as a play, suffering serves as a catalyst or a contextual prop for a broader discussion of the ontological question, "Why" to which the play gives an answer that many might consider unsatisfactory:  "Why not?"

In fact, the play begins with the answer in the form of the challenge God gives to Satan.  It is God who brings up Job and asks if Satan has given consideration to God's blameless and upright servant, Job.  Satan implies he has but then complains that God is protecting Job and in turn challenges God to remove God's protection and watch to see Job curse God to which God basically says, "OK, you're on. I won't protect Job on the condition you spare his life."   This divine challenge deepens as it results in increased suffering for Job; from losing his children and wealth to personal physical, mental, and spiritual pain. 

Now before one thinks this a glib or trite interpretation, wait, there's more.  The answer, "Why not," serves as a contextual setting in which the dialogue between Job and his three closest friends; Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar occurs.  Of course, Job and his friends have no knowledge of the divine wager involving Job's response to his suffering.

As an audience it helps, if possible, for us to suspend any knowledge about the conversation between God and Satan as Job and friends converse in order to see the play within the play.  The writer or writers of Job do an excellent job of helping us out.  They vividly depict the loathsome state Job finds himself in and introduce us to his wife whose name we are not given.  I think this is done with purpose. It somehow casts her brief appearance as a distraction of no consequence, but try to forget her.  One can't.

What she says shakes one into a realization that Job's situation is so painful that those around him are affected by it.  Job's wife sees the problem of his pain for what it is; Job holding on to his one reason for staying alive; his sense of integrity.  Job's wife knows of no reason for his suffering other than he is cursed; abandoned by God, and she advises Job to curse God in return and die.   Job agrees that God is the cause of his suffering; accepting, in general, the answer, "Why not," but in accepting this premise, Job finds he is unable to curse God for his suffering lot.

While Job accepts "Why not," as a premise for his suffering,  his sense of integrity, which is tied to his sense of justice demands an answer as to why him.  His reasoning mind cannot wrap around the abandonment he feels with God or the void of having no explanation.   "Having " makes "not having" a matter of justice, which invokes humans to reason.

Since Job's suffering does not reveal a reason, he pleads his cause to the void of his abandoned-by-God experience. Job's deeper pain is in being cut off from God.  Job goes so far as to say he could accept God killing him because God's doing so would make God present.  The worst torment for Job is the fact that he isn't dead but living as if he were dead; living without God's presence.

It is important for the reader to grasp Job's plight as Job understands it; otherwise, one is tempted to see Job as an arrogant, stubborn, bitter man who probably deserves what he is getting, which, in essence, is the conclusion his three oldest friends have come to.  There is a sense of arrogance in his standing up for his personal integrity.  He is stubborn in his resolve to get an answer, either dead or alive, and he is bitter about his life, but unlike his suffering, there is reason for his being so.

The dialogue between these four men is an examination of the human perspective on suffering, righteousness, and God's justice.  In the end, their speculative conversation proves irrelevant.  So I won't go into it, as interesting as it is.  The meanings of their names give one an idea of the perspective they are coming from.  Eliphaz means pure gold, as in God's righteousness and implies that suffering is for the unrighteous.  Bildad means old friend and his approach, while stating Job must have done something wrong his judgment is temperate in tone.  Zophar means rising early or chirping.  He is quick to pass judgment on Job as being arrogant.

If one would hear what they say outside the context of Job's story, one might think one was hearing a reading from one of the prophets or a Psalm.  By themselves they sound very scriptural, and they are, but they're contextually wrong in application and send the message: No one should use scripture in a speculative manner for determining the cause of another human's personal suffering or the cause of tragedy, in general.

There is one other character in this play that requires attention, Elihu.  Elihu means my God is He.  Elihu stands apart from Job's oldest friends.  He is young or younger and offers a defense of God after Job and his three friends are through speaking.  If I were to stage this as a play, Elihu would have been placed up stage in dim lighting serving, for the most part, as an observer throughout the play until he speaks.

While Job states he knows his redeemer (his defender) exists and will plead his righteousness in the courts of heaven[1], it is Elihu who shows up as God's defense lawyer and makes the case for God's righteousness in the court of Job and his friends; in the court of human reason.

In the end, it is God who declares his integrity and faith in what he has created, which Job's integrity validates. Human reason cannot fathom an answer to why or why not.  They are an ontological paradox - a Yin/Yang set. 

As a play within a play, I would stage it as if it were a dream from which Job awakens in a final scene that begins in total darkness with God voice addressing Job's friends; explaining that Job's children, property, and wealth are restored. Suddenly, a spotlight focuses on Job as he sits up eyes wide open in a bed.  Job awakens from what was a nightmare to the unexplainable reality that life happens and the richness of being.

PAUSE

Treating the tale of Job as play allows one to understand what I have been referring to as Pause.  In a Jobian sense, this life is nothing more than Pause, a period of transfiguration or a period of prepping us for transfiguration.  The theme song for Job could be the nursery rhyme:  "Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream.  Merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream" - An apt description of and good advice for the mystical journey we find ourselves on.

In Job the ontological question "Why" is answered with "Why not."  It is an unsettling answer that forces us to grapple with the temporal reality that this life is.  Life is meant to be lived.  Being is meant to be.  Questioning why one lives or why one is becomes a moot point in light of the fact that one lives and one is. The only answer to why is why not.

FAITH AND INTEGRITY

The depiction of God as being capricious serves as a clever device to force us to consider the meaning of life and the frailty of human reason to fully comprehend it. What Job, the character, demonstrates is that when reason is lacking we must rely on our personal integrity to muster the will to carry on and live.  As mentioned in past posts, integrity is linked with faith.

The story of Job never mentions faith, as the Hebrew word for integrity implies a state of being blameless which is the  basis for his debate with his friends, but in the course of this debate we see something more coming from Job than a mere arrogant, stubborn bitterness about being wronged.  His acceptance of “why not” exhibits a deep seated faith beyond mere belief.

What we encounter in the person of Job is an active longing for God that infers hope. The fact that Job defends his integrity reveals an act of faith.  His addressing the void of his abandoned-by-God state belies an unconscious validation of the deep faith he possesses in God who is listening and present in absence.  This is the true righteousness of Job.

It's not what Job did, but rather who he is.  His complaint to the void is an act of faith and demonstrates who he is. It is what links him to God whose faith in creation demonstrates God's integrity.  Faith and integrity (being out true selves) is what links us all to God. 

With this post, we leave the Hebrew scriptures and take a leap into Christian scripture as we continue to explore the Tales of the Mystic Journey.

Until next time, stay faithful.




[1] Job 19:25-27 “I know that my redeemer lives…” is largely interpreted by Christians as prefacing or presaging Jesus as the Christ.  I think this is a wrong interpretation, given the context of Job.  Such an interpretation serves to distract from what is really going on in this story.  What Job’s statement reveals is what these verses state – a deep yearning for God that is rooted in the deep stream of faith that Job makes this statement from.  The bold claim of Job (spoken from excruciating pain) that he will see God with or without his flesh has been again concretized as referencing the resurrection by Christians.  Again, this is spoken from a state of hopefulness rooted in faith rather than from certainty.  The translation of “yet in my flesh” can equally be interpreted as “yet without my flesh.” 



Monday, December 4, 2017

KEEP AWAKE - A Homily


KEEP AWAKE

“And what I say to you, I say to all:  Keep Awake.”

Mark13: 37

For the past several Sundays now, the Gospel lessons from Matthew 24 and 25 have been focused on the Eschaton, the end times; what is commonly referred to as the last judgement and the Second Coming of Christ.
It seems appropriate to end the Church Year by talking about the end of time, but today is the beginning of a new Church year and we’re still talking about the end of time. The fact is every First Sunday of Advent starts with one of three versions of the same account found in Matthew 25, Mark 13, or Luke 21, depending where we’re at in the lectionary’s three-year cycle.

We hear in today’s reading from Mark 13about the Son of Man, Jesus the Christ, descending in clouds with great power and glory and the angels gathering the elect from the ends of the earth and to the ends of the heavens at the end of the age.  In fact, Mark 13 is a shorter, albeit an earlier version of Matthew 24, 25 and Luke 21in which this discussion about the Son of Man coming in power and glory is set in Holy Week, the day before or the day of Maundy Thursday with Jesus and his disciples in the Temple precincts disciples commenting on the beauty and impressive structure of the Temple to which Jesus replies that not one stone will be left standing on the other. Jesus’s disciples ask, “When will this happen?  What will be the signs?”
This was an important question for Matthew’s, Mark’s, and Luke’s audience and congregations which primarily consisted of Jewish Christians, because by the time these Gospels are written, the Temple is destroyed, Jerusalem is in ruins and the Church of Jerusalem – the geographic center of early Christianity no longer exists because in 70 CE, the Romans destroyed it all.

And the question that is burning in their minds is “Where was Christ?

Why didn’t he come?  Isn’t this the end of the age?
Because if there ever was a time for Christ to appear – NOW is that time.” 

To answer these concerns these Gospel writers comb through Jesus’s teachings and reframe their congregations’ questions as the disciples’ question and presents “Jesus’s answer” in a context that encourages faith and hope for the long haul.
If one reads these accounts thoughtfully, it becomes clear that Jesus is not offering a prophecy about the future, which unfortunately has become the way most Christians think about these particular scripture readings.

Prophecy is nothing more and nothing less than pointing out the ignored obvious that’s happening under our noses, right now, along with a pinch of hope to get us through whatever it is being addressed at the time.  As is true of all prophets, Jesus was and is a prophet of the present.  He is the one who taught us, “… do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”[1] And this approach can be illustrated by reading Jesus’ response to the disciple’s question of when that was left out of today’s reading.
This is Jesus talking:

"When you hear of hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come.  For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there ill be famines.  ...Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you be hated by all because of my name[2].”

Does any of that sound familiar?  
It should.   It’s almost daily headlines today. Jesus took their concerns and takes our concerns for the future and places them squarely in the present.

And here’s the clue that Mark is referencing the destruction of the Temple to his audience in Jesus’s voice:
“But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand)  then those in Judea must flee to the mountains;  someone on the housetop must not go down or enter the house to take anything away;  someone in the field must not turn back to get a coat.”[3]

Mark’s original audience understood exactly what Mark meant by “let the reader understand.” The desolating sacrilege was the Roman banners flying where the Holy of Holies once was and the thousands of corpses of those trying to protect the Temple from desecration lay rotting in the open air.  This was the experience these early Christian congregations had gone through.  This is what they witnessed.
Jesus continues:  

… And if anyone says to you at that time, “Look! Here is the Messiah!” or “Look! There he is!”—do not believe it.  False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.”[4]
Let’s be clear about what Jesus is talking about when he talks about false Messiahs: He’s talking about individuals who at the time these gospels were being written and who in every age since that time have claimed: “I alone, can save you.”

In essence, Jesus’s answer to the question when will this occur has been through the ages, “NOW!”

What emerges from that moment on is an awareness the Apostle Paul wrote about some ten to twenty years before the destruction of the Temple; that we are called into a relationship that presents Christ to the world as the Body of Christ, the Church.
As Paul states in today’s second reading from 1 Corinthians: “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.  … God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship (into a relationship) of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” [5]

It can be speculated that in the two-hundred thousand years that identifiable Homo sapiens (us) have walked the earth, human behavior hasn’t changed much; which explains why the headlines haven’t changed much throughout history, but throughout the course of human history, we have been given a different perspective of who we are and who God is. 
Beginning with the Hebrew Scriptures, in Genesis, we learn that we are made in the image of God and throughout the Hebrew and Christian scriptures that understanding is deepened until we find ourselves, in Paul’s language, incorporated into the Body of Christ and find our being in the very Being of God.[6]

Advent always begins in Holy Week with Jesus telling us that “the son of Man will come again in power and glory,” but if the story of God’ incarnation in the form of Jesus should tell us anything, it is that God comes among us like a thief in the night[7] or like the midnight arrival of bridegroom[8]. 

The imagery of Jesus born in a barn and Angels announcing his birth to lowly shepherds on an isolated country hillside rather than in the palaces of kings or with trumpets blaring in the Temple precincts – should tell us something of how Christ’s coming again is revealed.
It is not likely to be seen with eyes that look for power and glory in the form of military might, swelled treasuries, gilded palaces, and lavish displays to underscore it all, but rather through the eyes of faith, because God is faithful, and God, in the form of the Son of Man, comes as one of us because he is one with us – Emmanuel.

So we start this new Church Year, as we start every new Church Year, with a reality check – that the world can indeed be a dark place in need of light, in need of a new perspective that is embedded in our faith of the Christ who came, in our love of the Christ who is, and in our hope of Christ who comes again.

Advent urges us to heed the call of John the Baptist to repent – to turn around and face the marvelous truth that God is with us. For in listening with the ears of our hearts and absorbing the stories of God’s love for us in Christ throughout the ages, we are given a new perspective of who we are in God. 
So let us keep awake, be present in the moment; be present to the moment, maintaining the perspective of who we are by God’s grace amidst any darkness we encounter by keeping lit the light of hope, faith, and love so that the Christ in us can greet the Christ who comes our way.

Nameste and Amen!



[1] See  Matthew 6:34
[2] See Mark 13: 1 through 26 for the full context of selected scriptures.  All quotations from scripture are in keeping
   with the Revised Common Lectionary as found in The New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, the
   Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America
   © 1989, 1995
[3]  Mark 13: 14 - 17
[4]  Mark 13: 21- 22
[5] 1 Corinthians 1: 7 & 9
[6]  See Acts 17:28
[7]  See Matthew 24:43 and 1 Thessalonians 5:2
[8]  See Matthew 25:6

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

TALES OF THE MYSTIC JOURNEY - ELIJAH


ELIJAH

Elijah is a mythic figure that is a mystery in his own right.  The designation of being a Tishbite is enigmatic and possibly indicates an unknown origin as the term is used to denote a resident alien in some contexts.  The location of Tishbe is controversial as it is reported to be in the area if Gilead, but other locations are contenders. No one knows an exact location. We know nothing of Elijah's origins or his life story prior to his appearance in the first book of Kings. He enters the Hebrew Scriptures as a full-blown prophet of Yahweh (YHWH). His name means, "My God is Yahweh."  He is also the head of a school of prophets, which we know little to nothing about.   

With Elijah we return to the mythic within the historical context of the reign of Israel's King Ahab and his notorious wife, Jezebel.  As I have mentioned in another post, the mythic has applicability. This is certainly true with the tale of Elijah who rises to the level of a personage.

For example, the personage of Elijah is attached to the personage of the Messiah, as a forerunner to the Messiah. Elijah is read back into the tradition of celebrating the Passover and other Jewish holy days.  This is remarkable in that the tale of Elijah is relatively short; comprising seven chapters from 1Kings 17 through 2 Kings 2.[1]

 While the tale of Elijah is presented in the context of the ninth century BCE kingdoms of Israel and Judah, its mythical aspects represent a mystical pause in that historical narrative that is relevant to any discussion of mysticism found in Abrahamic monotheism.

FAITH AND INTEGRITY

The particularity that Elijah's tale presents in a discussion of the mystic journey revolves around the issue of maintaining faithfulness and integrity of a people chosen by the God of being, YHWH and whose ancestors swore devotion to the same.

In this tale we pick up where we left off in the tale of Moses and the Exodus.  Centuries have passed since that time.  The Israelites are settled in the Promised Land.

What started out as a confederation of tribes became a united kingdom under Saul, David, and Solomon.  Then it became two separate kingdoms, the Kingdoms of Israel with its capital of Samaria and the kingdom of Judah with its capital in Jerusalem. The only identity they had in common was a shared theism, a shared devotion to an unnamable god of their common ancestry, the God Abraham, Isaac, Jacob; YHWH, the Lord, who led them out of the land of Egypt.

In the final chapter of the Book of Joshua, we find as the Israelites finally have established themselves in the Promised Land.  Joshua their leader asks them to make a final decision as to whether they will serve the Lord or serve other God's. They choose to serve the Lord, but Joshua tells them they cannot for God is holy, but they insist and Joshua instructs them to put away their idols.

Joshua's prophecy turns out to be correct.  In the long run, they find it hard to be faithful to a god they cannot speak of or idolize.  It is hard to appeal to a power that cannot be seen, much less use to generate power, that is increasingly seen as residing in a monarchical system that derives its authority from the divine other.

The question that the monarchies of Israel and Judah beg is what happens to faithfulness and integrity when the governing powers on this earth define its appeal, use, and generation; when they ignore their original covenant with YHWH and resort to political pragmatism rather than ensuring that justice is done?   Where does that leave the average Joe and Mary?  What becomes of God?

Political pragmatism of the time dictated alliance being made through marriage.  Marrying the daughter of a powerful king allied one with that king.  This is what King Ahab did to protect his borders and ensure he had the resources to fend off his enemies.  To that end, he marries Jezebel the daughter of the King of Sidon.

Jezebel also happens to be a priestess to Asherah and Baal or the Baals.  She attempts to establish this religion as the only religion in Israel and, with Ahab's consent, goes about killing prophets of YHWH who undoubtedly are outspoken critics of a regime that has abandoned its covenantal relationship with God. Elijah is sent to inform Ahab of a devastating drought's arrival, and the whole region is affected by it which is implicitly sent by God in response to the idolatry that has become rampant in Israel. During the draught Elijah is sent to live with a widow and her son in Zarepath, which ironically is located in Jezebel's home turf of Sidon. 

This detour has a purpose.  The tale of Elijah establishes that God is not limited by geographical boundaries; that God is God and there are no others.  It also demonstrates that God is merciful to those who act from faith, as the widow did by feeding Elijah when she and her son faced certain starvation.  It is important to recognize that she did this even though she did not acknowledge the God of Elijah as her god.

As she tends to Elijah's need for food, God supplies her with what she needs to do so and she and her son are fed also.  When her son becomes ill and dies, she sees it as a result of her own sinfulness (unknown) and believes that his death is her punishment.  Elijah proves otherwise and brings her son back to life.  It isn't until that moment that she acknowledges Elijah as a true prophet of God.  She demonstrates that where faith and integrity is exercised, the imprinted image of God on humans is revealed regardless of who they are or where they live.

When the draught is about to end, Elijah returns to Israel and informs Ahab of its ending and tells Ahab to summon the prophets of Baal to Mount Carmel for what amounts to a prophet's duel.  The result is YHWH demonstrating immense power and the elimination of both the prophets of Asherah and Baal.  In response to that event, Jezebel threatens to kill Elijah who escapes to the wilderness and asks God to take his life.

God doesn't.

Instead, an angel directs Elijah to eat and retrace the steps of the earlier Israelites back into the wilderness of Sinai, to the mountain of God; the mountain Moses received the Ten Commandments, Mount Horeb.


A DEEPER SENSE OF GOD



It is on Mount Horeb that the tale of Elijah grabs my attention. Up to this point, Elijah's tale follows a fairly mythical pattern of miracles and heroic deeds, but suddenly there is a shift in gears.  The mythic hero becomes a mere mortal like the rest of us[2].  One would have thought that after the Mount Carmel experience, Elijah would have been unstoppable.

"Jezebel's threats?  Ha! Who's she trying to fool? She's nothing; a nobody!"

But that is not what we encounter.

What we encounter is a withered prophet - emptied out - a shell of a human.  We see Elijah as Elijah sees himself, and it's an interesting view.

After being instructed to go to Mount Horeb, Elijah wanders forty days and nights in the wilderness, a nod to the Israelites of the Exodus tale wandering there.  Once he arrives he spends the night in a cave. It is there in the dark night of his indwelling soul that the voice of God comes to him and asks, "What are you doing here?"  The writers if First Kings are turning up the volume on the conversation Elijah is having with himself. The voice of God speaks in Elijah's voice as if Elijah is asking the same question.

God often speaks to us in our inner conversations. The place where we can ask the questions we don't want anyone else to ask. So the voice is familiar, even if the question makes us inwardly squirm. We have no choice but to listen. Elijah bears his human soul to God, how his zeal for God seemingly led nowhere other than putting his own life at risk.  God's response is for Elijah to stand on the mountain for the Lord is about to pass by.

In this story, it is important to keep in mind the details, the setting in which this conversation with takes place. Elijah is still in the cave when he hears a great wind.  He is still in the cave when an earthquake tends the mountain. He is still on the cave when a great fire appears.  He is still in the cave when there is the "sheer sound of silence."[3] At hearing/experiencing a profound silence, Elijah , like Moses at the Burning Bush, is intuitively prompted to cover his head.  It is after this "sheer sound of silence" that Elijah exits the cave.

Then the voice of God comes to Elijah again and asks the same question as it did in the cave, "What are you doing here?"  Elijah gives the same response as he did before as if nothing happened, because "nothing" did just happen and it was God. Then the inner voice of God gives Elijah instructions to carry out his ministry and he goes back to finish his ministry.

What was that all about?

Most Christians go no further in this tale than Elijah hearing the still small voice version of this story.  There is so much more going on in this tale, if one moves to the enigmatic next verse.

For a wrinkle in time, Elijah has a totally mind blowing encounter with God that cannot be explained verbally.  It can only be felt which the writers of 1Kings give us a sense of when we are back to the question God originally asked and the same reply Elijah gave at that time. It represents a lapse in time and space – a mystical moment in which Elijah finds himself caught up in an experience that defies explanation.  It's not a transfiguring moment, in the sense that it changes who Elijah is.   Rather it affirms who Elijah is and it affirms God's being in all moments as God's peace, God’s silent but active presence. 

What it says about the mystic journey we’re all on is that God's silence is a sign of God's most intimate presence in our lives.  When our complaints remain unanswered, the answer is to continue whatever it is we're doing in the peace of God.

This tale provides one of the most profound revelations of God, and it will play itself out in story of Jesus's crucifixion in the Christian scriptures. The sense of abandonment and being spent that Elijah experienced after defeating the prophets of Asherah and Baal is the same sense of abandonment the Jesus expresses on the cross and is reflected in the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus says, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?"[4] (Matthew 27: 46 &47)

In my opinion, the author of Matthew was employing a double entendre when he has the bystanders at Jesus’s crucifixion question whether he is calling for Elijah.  What I believe Matthew does is to connect Elijah's experience on Mount Horeb to Jesus's crucifixion on Golgotha; demonstrating that where and when God is silent, God is near.

I believe this is the primary reason mystic's seek silence. God is often found in the silence.  This should not be construed as God standing still.  God may be silent, but God is never still.  There is always something to God's doing nothing.

We are because God is

When Elijah experiences that exquisite moment of revelatory silence, he recognizes he is still here; that he, Elijah, still is; just as God always is and in this sense we see him being carried up in whirlwind of God's being at the end of his ministry.

Until next time, stay faithful.




[1] Elijah is briefly mentioned in 2Chronicles 21: 11-15 as sending a letter to Jehoram, King of Judah.
[2] If you're reading my posts for the first time, don't freak out about my choosing to call stories in the Bible myths.  I have a deep respect for both the Holy Bible and myths. Myths are not lies and they're not false. On the contrary, the intent of any myth is to convey truths that cannot be conveyed by fact.  Truths, in the sense I use the term, are akin to governing principles that hold their sense of truth but no one can adequately explain exactly why they hold true.  This is where myths become helpful; in that, they allow us to engage with them through story - sometimes fanciful and creative stories that exaggerate reality in order to highlight the truths embedded in them.  They are similar to the parables of Jesus.  There is, in my opinion, a parabolic, a mythic, feel to all Hebrew and Christian stories of people found in their scriptures.
[3] 1 Kings 19:12. I like the translation of this verse as found in the New Revised Standard Version – Anglicised, 1989, 1995, The division of Christian education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States, which is  used here, as it capture the essence of the what Elijah is reported to have experience better than the usual translation of what he hear as a “still small voice”, which is probably true to the actual Hebrew expression, but which doesn’t capture the actual meaning of the experience.
[4] Matthew 27:46 & 47