This is a blog that I post to several times a week although not necessarily daily. These reflections are triggered by the scripture found in the lectionary used by many Christian denominations. While I am part of the Catholic tradition, these posts are not --or rarely--sectarian. I try to put myself in the space of a of Jesus Christ and listen to words that come to me as I read and pray the scriptures. Each post also includes a photograph. These rarely have any connection to the content of the post but are simply pleasing images that I capture as I make my pilgrimage through life.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Fear of the Lord and the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon Sunrise

You who fear the LORD, wait for his mercy, turn not away lest you fall.  You who fear the LORD, trust him, and your reward will not be lost.  You who fear the LORD, hope for good things, for lasting joy and mercy.  You who fear the LORD, love him, and your hearts will be enlightened.  Sirach 2:7-9
"Fear of the Lord" is often a difficult phrase to comprehend.  Clearly it does not mean that I am to fear the Divine One as one who would do me harm.  Rather it has more the meaning of awe.  I am to stand in awe of the Divine One as a person who is so different from me that I cannot possibly comprehend him/her.  By definition I cannot comprehend.  Mark writes about "God's way of thinking" and a human way of thinking.  They are totally different.  So different that "God's way" turns everything upside down:  the first become last; the weak become strong; those who desire life lose it and those who lose their life for the sake of the gospel find everlasting life.  These are two different orders of being and the human cannot, by definition, comprehend the divine.

Yet we are touched by the Divine One is ways that are often subtle and require discernment.  Christians believe that the Divine One was incarnated as Jesus the Messiah to open a path for us into this divine level of being.  But even his communications are typically oblique, poetic and ambiguous.  He told stories rather than presented organized theology.  We do our best to grasp the meaning and to make sense of all this but we are only able to use our feeble human understanding.  Even scripture, which is so important to Christianity, is a human creation reflecting the cultural realities of its settings over thousands of years.

Thomas Aquinas constructed perhaps the most comprehensive system of theology in an attempt to fit faith into our human epistemology and sensibilities.  On his death bed he experienced a mystical, direct revelation of the Divine One.  All he could say about this was, "Everything I have written seems like straw by comparison with what I have seen and what has been revealed to me."  It was truly ineffable.  All he could do and all we can do is to stand in awe of the Divine One.  If I begin to think that I understand or that I can make sense of the Divine One, I am dealing with so much straw.  I need to step back and realize that any comprehension of the Divine One could only lead to silence.  I would stand in awe of the ineffable.  I would be awe struck.

The first time I saw the Grand Canyon in person and close up, I had a taste of what that might mean.  I had of course seen photos of the canyon.  And I had seen it from the air when an airline pilot was given permission to fly some slow turns directly over the canyon.  But I had never come face to face with it.  I had driven from Phoenix up to Flagstaff and thence to the national park.  As we proceeded toward the canyon along the high desert plateau, everything seemed so flat and dull.  We entered the park and drove into a parking lot.  I got out of the car and began walking toward what I figured was the canyon although I couldn't see it.

As I exited the tress and bushes, the reality of the canyon exploded in front of me.  I was able to walk to the edge and just stood there, awe struck.  It literally took my breath away.  I was transfixed and captured by this reality.  I think this is what it means to live in the fear of the Lord, to live in awe of the Divine One.  There is no attempt to understand, figure out, analyze but just to be there and be captured.

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