Finding Perspective

There's a special sort of grounding that happens in me when I get out in nature. When I am hiking up a trail, admiring a flower, soaking in wondrous sunshine, dipping my feet in the ocean, or gazing at the stars, I feel like one small part of a story much bigger than me. I sense the connection of the pieces of the ecosystem, and it brings a calming force to my hurried soul. 

In short, I find perspective.

perspective comes when we see our significance and insignificance at the same time.

In nature, both the significance at each tiny piece of a system and the insignificance of our small selves in the midst of grandeur become simultaneously clear. 

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"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" - Psalm 111:10

We often think of the word fear as synonymous with the word terror. Which makes verses like this feel prickly when we come across them in the Scriptures. Sure, God is powerful, but are we really supposed to be terrified of the Lord? Doesn't that contradict the passages about God's love and mercy and grace?

In Hebrew, the mowra' means fear and terror, but that is not the word used in Psalm 111:10. The word used here is yirah, which besides fear, can be translated as awe. 

Some scholars have made an interesting connection between yirah and ra'ah. Though they don't look very similar in their english characters, in Hebrew characters they are almost identical, with the first having the apostrophe like symbol for the y sound at the beginning of it. The largest and most obvious of the characters are the same. 

Ra'ah means to see or perceive. 

Before asking what it means to fear the Lord, perhaps we should ask what we see. When we look at this world, what do we see? When we look at the Scriptures, what do we see? 

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"Great are the works of the Lord;
    they are pondered by all who delight in them.
Glorious and majestic are his deeds,
    and his righteousness endures forever." - Psalm 111:2-3

"Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels shouted for joy?" - Job 38:4-7

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well. - Psalm 139:13-14

"Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?" - Matthew 6:26-27

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Perhaps fear of the Lord is what happens when we look around and see things as they actually are: the wonder of an amazing creation and the Creator who crafted it, the smallness of my own problems in perspective, and yet the promise that the great God of this world cares about even me.


This post is part of my Psalms Journey series. 

#PsalmsJourney is a series reflecting on the Psalms one at a time, in order. Learn more about it on my Psalms Journey page. If you'd like to join me, put a link to your own post in the comments.


The words of the reckless, the tongue of the wise

Words are used as weapons everyday. Sometimes this hurt is inflicted on purpose. Often times, the damage is accidental.  

Regardless of intention, words have tremendous power to wound us.

 

"The words of the reckless pierce like a sword." - Proverbs 12:18a

 

According to this verse, the blogging world and Twittersphere could be described as a war zone.

 

I had the opportunity to preach about this Proverb this past Sunday. And the key to understanding that lies in the second half of the verse. (You'll have to listen if you want to find out what that is.)

 

If the reckless pierce with words, what do the wise do?

 

Take a listen if you are interested!

 

It's called "Words."

(Heads Up: my microphone went out a few minutes into the message. There is a period of silence as they got me a new one. Ironically, we were recruiting for tech volunteers...)

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Wonder: Mama Mary

Preston Yancey somehow writes with a rare combination: higher academic thoughts, poetic flowing content, and authentic down-to-earth questions. I think all of that is on display in his piece here today.

… and He dwells within us …

I

When God commands the building of the wilderness tabernacle in Exodus, He does not assign the task to Moses. Moses is to find a man named Bezalel, whose name means in the shadow of God, and who is said, along with those craftspeople in his service, to have ḥăḵam-lêḇ, that is, wiseheartedness. (Exodus 36:1) It is this condition of wiseheartedness that God sees as necessary to faithfully construct the place where His glory shall dwell among His people as they roam in search of their promised home. Moses, for all his calling and qualification, is not entrusted with this purpose. The purpose to make a space for God’s dwelling is a unique quality, a specialized calling, and it is entrusted to those who are said to have some unique wisdom, some particular communion with the Divine.

Interestingly, the use of ḥăḵam-lêḇ is sparse in the Hebrew Scripture. It appears a handful of times in the Proverbs, but only once elsewhere: the exceptional case of King Solomon.

We often reduce the story of Solomon to very simple terms: Solomon asked for wisdom and God gave it to him. But the Hebrew is more nuanced. Solomon asks for šōmêa‘-lêḇ—an understanding heart. (1 Kings 3:9) Because of the integrity and humility of this request, God grants him something much better, ḥăḵam-lêḇ. (1 Kings 3:12) Interestingly, it is Solomon who later builds the temple in Jerusalem, the place where the glory of God shall dwell among His people in their land.

It is the season of Advent and I am thinking of Mama Mary.

In both instances, in the construction of the wilderness tabernacle and the temple in Jerusalem, the quality of the ones responsible for creating a space for God to inhabit is the possession of wiseheartedness, this ḥăḵam-lêḇ.

What does it mean to have a wise heart, to have the wisdom from God dwell within?

II

It is the season of Advent and I am thinking of Mama Mary.

In the Eastern Orthodox tradition of icons, she is perhaps most famously known in the form of the Theotokos, the Mother of God. Often, icons of the Theotokos show Mary, robed in splendor, her stomach made transparent to reveal the child Christ, clothed in heavenly glory. She presents to the world its Redeemer, bares God within so that He may be made known without.

Within her, He dwelt. He made His home.

St. John says the word became flesh and ἐσκήνωσεν, tabernacled, among us. Within Mary, He made a tabernacle. Within Mary, He made the place where His glory dwelt. As the tabernacle of the wilderness and the temple in Jerusalem before, so now within a young girl, perhaps no more than fourteen, Mystery takes on flesh and makes body the place of His glory.

O Mary, bearer of Fire, prays St. Catherine of Siena.

III

In his first epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul calls Jesus θεοῦ σοφίαν, the wisdom of God.

It is the season of Advent and I am thinking of Mama Mary.

I am thinking of the girl in whom Wisdom dwelt. I am thinking of the coming of Wisdom into her body, to tabernacle, to dwell.

Be it unto me according to Thy word.

This is from her, spoken to the angel, spoken unto God.

If she had said no?

I am thinking this has something to do with us.

I am thinking the condition of wiseheartedness is one that thanks to Mama Mary we may share. For Christ came through her so that we might come unto Him.

He is making us His tabernacles.

He is filling us with His wisdom, into our hearts, making us a wisehearted people.

And so we look around us in this Advent time, so we look around and wonder: where shalt we build the beautiful things unto God?

Are we looking for those places to say, Be it unto me?

Are we looking for those places into which He shalt dwell?

 


About Today's Guest Blogger: Preston Yancey

Preston Yancey is earning his Master of Letters in Theology, Imagination, and the Arts from the St. Mary’s School of Divinity at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He runs on a diet of caffeine and God’s grace. His first book, concerning a reverential approach to Scripture, Tables in the Wilderness: Scripture and the Enchanted Creation, is under representation now. He blogs herefood blogs here, and tweets here.

 

Wonder: Rediscover the Christmas Story is an Advent series designed to help us pause and reflect on how amazing the stories of Jesus’ birth really are. To break through the cluttered busyness of the season and touch our hearts with the awe of what God has done. Let’s make this a season of wonder and worship, marveling together at our great God.