Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Covenant Dialogue

Iyov has a terrific post citing William James on living religion defined solely through the reality of prayer. "The genuineness of religion is thus indissolubly bound up with the question whether the prayerful consciousness be or be not deceitful."

In my work on the Psalms, I rediscover the reality that these poets so clearly exhibit and that I have known in part, and recently labelled as 'engagement' or 'covenant dialogue'. I would not know or attempt to write about such reality if I had not been entered into it and had not accepted the implied and demonstrated invitation.

It was for me the Epistle to the Hebrews which encourages approach and entry into the Holy of Holies that I have attempted to catch in that word 'engagement'. Hebrews so clearly points to the Psalter as a further entry into the mind of the Maker - not for abstract knowledge but for the experience of the good. And I would not have known good but for my own error for which even after engagement I have suffered with joy the rebuke of steadfast covenant love. It is for this reason that I rendered Psalm 23 as I did in my earlier days of learning Hebrew. BDB suggests the rare translation of loving kindness as rebuke. Think about what it means to have a table before you arrayed with everything that distresses you. Or if you prefer the traditional translation, just what is on the table 'in the presence of your enemies'? (See also this recent blog entry on HSD as kindness).

It is the full scope of relationship that I see in the phrase 'covenant dialogue'. It is not five times a day but continuous and in all situations. When you are doing 'theology', or talking 'about God', is it like speaking of a friend in the room but not addressing her? The Scriptures do not seem to work as if with intellectual truths. Out of deference to the otherwise engaged - for we never see inside another, we do not, though we may at times, address God as if present. We grow, as it were, 'accustomed to his face' - even as we may take for granted our own flesh and blood. And our 'at times' becomes what we call religion. But this is not the only aspect of religion's reality.

The Apostle's confidence that commands 'prayer without ceasing' is not foreign to the Psalms which reflect the reality of lives so engaged - in good times or bad, as friend of God or enemy.


Beyond Words said...

Your writing speaks in the rhythms and harmonies of my heart, mind and spirit. I just read your working of Psalm 23 and will let it challenge me.

You said, "It is the full scope of relationship that I see in the phrase 'covenant dialogue'. It is not five times a day but continuous and in all situations."

This is the engagement I am called to, and sometimes I desire it more than food and air. Is there any danger that I will be subsumed? Is this what LeRon Shults calls the "delightful terror?"

Bob MacDonald said...

Dear beyond words - I have been instructed to 'find words' - so don't go too far beyond! Thanks for the pointer to LeRon Shults - I read his note under the rubric 'nothing more'

In the same epistle he is writing on - John says - perfect love casts out fear. So whatever it is that the LORD has arrayed before us on a table in the presence of all troublers and trouble, it is not insurmountable nor is it to be fearful in a debilitative sense. But ... there are unresolved things and they are not under the poet's control. We see that the poet knows that they are under God's control and here is where both trust and completion lie.