"Sensual," "Soulful," and "Sacred," are three words rarely used in the same sentence. The fact that religious people seldom use those three words together shows how difficult it has been for us to reconcile three essential dimensions of our being—our wonderful sensuality, our transcendent soulfulness, and the sacred responsibility we have before God.
Prayer is a subject that religious people hear and read about almost constantly. How many times have we said or heard these statements?
I could go on, but you get the point. People of faith are never far from the subject of prayer. However, the fact that we hear and read about prayer so much does not mean we are understand the meaning of prayer, that we are disciplined in prayer, or that we are confident about prayer.
King David died. King Solomon ascended to power. Those words summarize the constant movement of humanity. Each generation is at some point new, ascendant, and eventually takes center stage full of vigor and optimism. Meanwhile, their elders become reference points for achievements to exceed, mistakes to avoid, and lessons to learn. This process of coming and going is instructive for people who are morally sensitive for several reasons.
Over the past two weeks, many people have commented about the "teachable moment" caused by the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. by Sergeant James Crowley of the Cambridge, Massachusetts police department for disorderly conduct. Crowley first encountered Gates on July 16 when he responded to a police dispatch about a suspected break-in at a residence. After Gates identified himself as the lawful occupant of the residence, but suggested that Crowley may have viewed him suspiciously because of his race—Gates is black while Crowley is white—Crowley arrested Gates for yelling charges of racism at him while Gates stood on his own property. Gates was handcuffed, taken to the Cambridge Police Department, photographed, fingerprinted, and forced to post a $40 bond before he was released hours later. The charge was dropped after much public outcry. President Obama, who was criticized after he initially said that Crowley "acted stupidly," eventually said that he should have "calibrated" his remarks more carefully, and invited Gates and Crowley to share a beer at the White House last Thursday to help facilitate what he called a "teachable moment."
The authors of my seminary textbook in Old Testament survey wrote this statement about the meaning of the psalms: "More than anything, the psalms were declarations of relationship between the people and their Lord." Whenever we study the psalms we should remember that they are testimonies from people of faith about their relationship with the God of faith. The psalms are "declarations of relationship," whether they deal with adoration, confession of sin, protests of innocence, complaints about suffering, pleas for deliverance, assurances of being heard, petitions before battle, or thanksgiving afterwards.
Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty." John 6:35 (NRSV)
Everyone understands how frustrating it is to talk about something with people who seem unable to comprehend what we mean. That frustration is vividly illustrated at John 6 where we read of the miraculous feeding of 5,000 people and the spiritual confusion that followed.
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