Tuesday, May 28

Midrash and Mist

The Jewish word meaning "to search out" is midrash.

Midrash is my summer practice.  During early mornings on the deck I dive right in -- scouring a bit of James, a little Nehemiah, finding the tough places, asking questions of the text and putting my imagination to work.  I cannot just walk away from the hazy and uncertain or throw up my hands.  I have to formulate some reply.  The fact that others give different answers tells me we, none of us, haven't quite got our finger on it.

In word and in life, this is my summer of midrash.

I'll espouse midrash of the Scripture and midrash of the heart.
I'll take sabbatical and reconnect with the call.
I'll take a journey -- going where I need to go for my soul.
I'll read and write.
I'll meet with a mentor and a model.

We have not drawn out a plan, a list of goals, a despotic checklist of objectives.  But, just like Lent, we have practices that we have given-up and are taking-up.  I cannot say that we'll actually reach anything or anywhere, only that we'll reach out as if to grasp it.  I can say that God-willing we will live and we will do and we will search.

I grew comfortable with this as I read through James -- the book that seems to push us harder into work.  (Often enough, we turn around and turn that work into tasks and in the course of time we then cease to do the deeper work at all.)  Yet, James is not a taskmaster and he challenges everyone who has a definite procedure:
Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit - " yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.
What is your life?  For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 
Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills we will live and we will do this or that." 
As it is, you boast in your arrogance.  All such boasting is evil.   
So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
It actually sounded nice, this business of being mist.  I first wanted it to be a complement.  A recall of my memories: walking under refreshing misters on covered sidewalks in hot desert towns, growing-up waterskiing, running the sprinklers, practicing art techniques, and traveling the Lake District.  All of my experiences with mist have involved rejuvenation and refreshment.  Years living in the Pacific Northwest, the enduring gray mist was our connecting conversation and comfort.  It was the thing that joined and settled us.

And then midrash kicked in

I accepted the idea that I could be that connector, that settler, rejuvenater and restorer in my short life.  But James isn't offering that complement, because while mist appears it limits our visibility and blurs our perception.  It's present, but not completely.  Its influence is temporary.

How often do we think we're offering life and help and leadership, when we're actually clouding the way forward?  Our arrogance-filled wisdom -- maybe we send it as prophecy -- is really fogging the vision for others.  How often do we blur perceptions of God with our judgments and conclusions?  "This is what God wants..." "This is the way we must go forward..."

The mist is the half-presence of an immature sight.
The mist is the obstacle to clarity.
The mist is the claim that we know God's purpose, or that man's heart.

In our arrogant endeavors, we are the mist.

Mist is water broken up into a million little pieces.  Over the course of our days this is certainly what happens to us, taking hit after hit, learning more of what we don't know.  Or maybe broken is how we begin our life and we spend our days trying to congeal into one small redeeming drop that might join a pool, a river.  Which is our beginning and which is our end?

Now the midrash is in motion. 

{Summer of Midrash}