Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Till by turning, turning, we come round right

So goes the old Shaker song, 'tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be .... But maybe you didn't think that turning in this song meant repentance.

What do I mean by turning, my first petal. To turn is to change, to turn from something, to turn to something else. The turn may be very slight, as for instance, seeing faith as faithfulness, an action and an attitude rather than a belief, a concrete conversation rather than an abstract belief.  Maybe turning is impossible - maybe one needs a dance partner to help.

But repent?  That word is loaded. Yet its simplest meaning is to turn towards God - to face God, to know presence. Turn, face, presence are all themes Psalm 90. In verse 3, the poet writes of God:
you turn a mortal to contrition
and you say, Turn children of humanity
In verses 8 and 9, iniquity - ours - the corporate failure, is spoken of - and we face away from the face of God:
you put our iniquities before you
our dissembling in the light of your face
for all our days face away from your fury
we consume our years as a mutter
In verse 13, the poet appeals
Turn יהוה, until when?
And be comforted over your servants.

Of course that psalm should be read in its context, as the beginning of Book 4 and the focus on Moses after the failures recorded in Books 2 and 3.

Turn - repent - is the first command of Jesus in his ministry according to Mark 1:15. This call always bothered me. As if one could be called to good news by the word 'repent'. Repent always meant bad news. It concentrates on the things we have done wrong. It has nothing to do with good news so why should I pay attention.

O poison! How loaded words get twisted and distorted. Repent turned these gospel words for me into something worth running away from. Why! Who would not want to be face to face with the One who created us, the One who loves us, the One who suffers with us and longs for us to be present, facing, fully alive, in the created and redeemed world which is so beloved? Yes - there is work to turn away from destructive behaviour, but there is joy first to turn toward love.  If love is what you are expecting, of course.

But maybe we are expecting condemnation, judgment, criticism, (and maybe we deserve it). But who knows what one deserves or not. Can we believe there is good news? (Without making it up). If one stops the things that are destroying one's life, it is possible that healing and growth might be the result. Who knows? And who has the power to stop destructive things?

Anyway - turn is my first word. As the soil is turned to prepare for a planting, so we are turned to prepare for the impregnating word that will enter into our own humus.

Simple? Yet maybe not so simple.