Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Rule of St Benedict Reading for May 27,2009

January 26, May 27, September 26

Chapter 7: On Humility

The first degree of humility, then,
is that a person keep the fear of God before his eyes (Ps. 35[36]:2)
and beware of ever forgetting it.
Let him be ever mindful of all that God has commanded;
let his thoughts constantly recur
to the hell-fire which will burn for their sins
those who despise God,
and to the life everlasting which is prepared
for those who fear Him.
Let him keep himself at every moment from sins and vices,
whether of the mind, the tongue, the hands, the feet,
or the self-will,
and check also the desires of the flesh.

Some thoughts:

"Fear of God" is one of those expressions I just don't like. If perfect love casts out all fear and God is perfect love, well, you see where that syllogism goes. While I don't know Hebrew, assuming Ps 35 was original Hebrew, I do know a few things about Hebrew. One is that every word in Hebrew is fraught with meaning. For example "The Holy Spirit brooded over the waters of the deep." The Hebrew word translated as "brooded" can also mean "hover" and "dance". Incidentally that "dance" is the inspiration for the prayer in my sig. But I digress.

So the issue for me, then, is how else could the Hebrew word translated as "fear" be translated? So I did some digging as best I could. The Hebrew word is YIR'AH and is used in the Hebrew Scriptures in a number of ways: fear, trembling, awesome, terrifying, respect, reverence and piety. The Greek word that was selected to translate the Hebrew is phobos and since that is the root of "phobia" we can all see where that would lead us. The Latin word Benedict uses is timorem which is the root for "timid" and we can see how very complicated has become this business of fearing God. As for me, I prefer where the Hebrew takes me.

What is evident to me, is that this the fear of God is a term rich in meaning. And would possibly be better translated in some other way. But that's just me. Rudolf Otto in The Idea of the Holy coined the term "numinous" to describe the sort of fear we ought to have for the Lord. But it is C S Lewis who is most helpful to me because he seems to me to have gotten much closer to the many levels of meaning of YIR'AH. In The Problem of Pain he states that fear of the Numinous is not a fear that one feels for a tiger, or even a ghost. Rather, the fear of the Numinous, as C.S. Lewis describes it, is one filled with awe, in which you "feel wonder and a certain shrinking" or "a sense of inadequacy to cope with such a visitant of or prostration before it". It is a fear that comes forth out of love for the Lord.

In the beginning of Ch 5 on Obedience which we just read, Benedict wrote that the 1st degree of humility was obedience and here in ch 7, he said that the 1st degree of humility was fear of the Lord. Over the years I've noted the perceived discrepancy but it is only recently that I was led to look at it more closely. I see the operative word is "perceived".

Something I am deeply convinced of is that the meaning of "fear of the Lord" begins with love of Him. And how many ways are there to love Him? Sometimes my love for Him closely resembles the stuffed panda bear I've had since before I was born and is rather the worse for the wear of the decades but which i still clutch when in distress. Sometimes my love for Him is a cherished companion to whom I can turn to for everything. Sometimes my love for Him is exalted as He is the Creator, the One without whom living would have no purpose or meaning. But mostly my love of Him is a response to the mind blowing unconditional love He has offered me every single blessed nanosecond of the life He gave me.

How could one not want to please a God like that? How could one want to to do anything but that which increases the love between us? There are even carrots dangling before the horses: the promise of life everlasting. How could one want to do anything but love all other people as God has Loved us?

So fear of the Lord become for me a source of hope, joy, love, life, promise. It is also very humbling to honestly face up to the fact that I let so much of myself get in the way: ego; the dysfunctional stuff that is so very familiar, for examples.

The first step of humility then, is love of God. A love that we give permission to root around in our very depths as much as necessary to recreate within us that unique reflection of the image and likeness of God in which each of us is created.

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