Sunday, February 14, 2021

I Am My Beloved's

 Happy Valentine's Day!

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed that I made a batch of Valentine's challah on Friday.  If you missed it, here's a pic, pre-second rise and baking!

So, today, in honor of Valentine's Day, I thought I'd post a little ode to my Grandma Arliene. She’s actually a perfect person to think of on Valentine’s Day, because her wedding ring was a beautiful gold band carved into a Hebrew verse about love.

The verse from the Song of Songs – or Song of Solomon – was: “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” Verse 6:3*

That's why talking about Grandma and her ring is perfect for Valentine’s Day!

I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.

At first look, this verse is just a poetic glimpse of mutual love and of oneness: I belong to you, and you belong to me.  A lot of people actually know and recite this verse even if they don’t know much about the rest of the book. Or about the Bible at all.

Now, interestingly, back in Chapter Two, the bride had said the very same thing, but in reverse order: My beloved is mine, and I am his. She was stressed and insecure and therefore possessive. 

But in the chapters that follow, as she put things in the right order, she recognized that, first and foremost, she is his. And then, it follows that he is hers as well. Once her identity came first, she grew in assurance and peace. She knew she belonged, and so then, the fact that he was also hers was a sweet gift she could savor. 

The same should be true of us in our relationships. I love how David Guzik puts it: 

“Perhaps she found it was a more wonderful thing for her to belong to him, than for her to ‘have’ him.” 

If both people in a relationship have that attitude, then we are in a position to first seek the good of the other, and to protect our oneness, instead of being possessive and concerned more with ourselves and what we're getting - or not getting - from the relationship.

But this verse is about a lot more than just a love story between two people. It's also an allegory of the love story between us and God. 

In fact, as I was looking into this verse this week, I discovered something new, that seemed a little surprising. Going back to ancient times, on the first evening of Passover, it was customary to read the Song of Solomon. Publicly. Which seems a little racy for such a holy day!  But here’s the context.

In Jewish tradition, the Song of Songs reflects the words that God spoke to Israel at the Red Sea, and then at Sinai and then at the Tent of Meeting. So really, it makes perfect sense that it would be read at Passover - the commemoration of the Exodus - because the Song of Songs recounts and reflects the love and intimacy between God and Israel, and of God’s history of continually redeeming His people.

Redeeming them over and over and over. In fact, one rabbi wrote that the Song of Songs, as it relates to these two lovers, is marked by cycles of absence and presence. Which, once again, is a powerful picture of the relationship between God and His people. Of God and us. You and me. This back and forth of walking together and then space growing in between. And God’s continual pursuit and redemption of us.

And this brings us to a powerful intersection of the Old and the New. 

Remember, on Passover, people read this Song of Songs as they were celebrating God’s Exodus redemption through the blood of a lamb. They read this song that served as a reminder that the whole reason God redeemed them from Egypt - and from every oppressor since then - was because of His deep love of them.

And on the last Passover that Jesus celebrated on earth, He didn't just tell them, He showed them – and us – His redeeming and pursuing love, through His journey from that Last Supper Passover table to the Cross.

The Bread of Life redeeming us Himself, with His own blood, as the ultimate expression of love. The ultimate way to unite us to God, to be one with Him.

“this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day, says the LORD…I will be their God, and they will be my people.…” Hebrews 8:10

I will be their God and they will be my people.

    I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.

        I in you, and you in me.

            We are God’s beloved. And He is ours. Mine. Yours.

But what does that look like, practically, for you and me today?

Let me go back to the changing dynamic in those verses from the Song of Songs. How the woman moved from “My beloved is mine,” to “I am my beloved's.”

If my first thought is that “my beloved is mine” – that God is mine – then I become focused on what God does for me and what He gives me - or what He's not doing or giving. My relationship with God becomes all about me and what I get out of it.

But if my first thought is “I am my beloved's” – that I am God's - then I am focused on my identity, first and foremost. I can rest, knowing that I am secure simply because I, am, His. And therefore, I don’t need to by worried or concerned or consumed with what He can do for me, or give to me.

Because He's already done everything. He's given me Himself. His living, dying, resurrected, eternal self. Ever present. Ever pursuing. Ever loving. 

And so I rest in knowing that the Creator and Sustainer of the entire universe holds me in His hands and in His heart. I can be content simply in my identity as God’s beloved.

“I am my Beloved’s. I am God’s. And He, is mine.

And so, on this Valentine's Day, this day of love, I pray that you, too, will be able to rest in simply knowing that you are His.

You are God's beloved, and He wants to be yours...

*To hear me say this verse in Hebrew, or here this fleshed out a little differently, check out the vid cast on YouTube or audio "Challah Day" podcast on Spotify/Apple Podcasts)

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Ordinary {Sacred} Things

I've been reading the Exodus account for longer than I can remember. 

I've been reciting the ten plagues since before I could actually read. Dipping my little pinky finger in wine ten times, touching my Passover plate after each dip. Making little blood-red drops as we recounted each plague together. 

And one of the first songs I ever learned to sing was written by Moses, retelling God's miracles at the Red Sea, chanting with my family Moses' rhetorical lyric, "Who is like you, O Lord?" (Exodus 15:11)

But I saw something this morning that I'd never noticed before. I had to get out my Hebrew bible commentary to make sure the English translation wasn't leading me astray. And it wasn't.

As Moses spoke with God by the glow of the burning bush, he protested that he wasn't equipped to lead a rescue of more than two million slaves from Pharoah's grip. {One of his many, repeated protestations.}

So God asked Moses what he was holding in his hand. This old thing? It's a staff.  That's when God told Moses to throw the staff on the ground, and it became a snake. This was just the first of many signs God graciously shared with this stubborn doubter. {Thomas was in good company, no?}

After several more protests from Moses and signs from God, Moses finally packed up his family and headed for his old Egyptian stomping grounds. 

"And Moses took the rod of God with him." Exodus 4:20

And this is where my daily, bible-in-a-year reading came to a full stop this morning. 

Somewhere between the burning bush and Moses' march toward the pyramids, his ordinary staff became the "rod of God."

And it struck me (no pun intended) that when we offer our ordinary things to God, He turns them into divine instruments in our hands, in our lives. Sacred things to do His work. To rescue the oppressed. To encourage the weary. To reveal truth to doubters. To part waters for the frightened. To bring forth water for the parched. 

And so today, I'm sitting here at my kitchen table, literally holding out my hands to God, and asking Him to take my ordinary things, my ordinary life, and do His work in the lives of others. I'm literally  naming all the things around me - our kitchen chairs, the snoring dogs, coffee in the cabinet, books on the shelves - everything.

And that I would let Him take them. That I would really, finally get it that what's mine is really His, and that I would offer it all - even the ordinary "staffs" that I lean on - back to Him. That I would let God use me, through these ordinary things, to do sacred things.

I don't know what that will look like each day. But neither did Moses. And that's good enough for me.