In his feature length film ‘Hosea’, writer director Ryan Daniel Dobson adapts the ancient story of Hosea, an axial age Jewish prophet, for the twenty first century. The original story is one of destruction and redemption, and this new take follows a similar path, but with added complexities. Crucially, rather than foreground the ‘usual’ principal character, Dobson has placed at the centre of his story the complex and meaning-laden existence of Cate a woman whose story is intended to parallel that of Gomer in the original.
Where the book of Hosea is more interested in the prophet than his troubled wife, this film is really Cate’s story rather than that of her husband. Replete with stark and disturbing themes of abuse, exploitation, self harm, addiction, and intimate partner violence, Hosea as a film and Cate as a character hold up a cracked mirror to contemporary society. Pleasingly, Dobson deliberately pulls back from offering the usual easy answers that one might expect in this sort of story, without allowing spoilers into the review I can still say that even the ending defies the conventional narrative expectations.
Cate, played by Camille Rowe, is sensitively cast and played, with some strong supporting actors in Josh Pence (particularly good) and Avi Nash among others. Her strength and fragility are at the core of the story. There is always the danger in a film like this of ending up in cliche territory at least once or twice, but my feeling was that Dobson’s script steered clear of this. There’s perhaps only the vaguest hint of polemic in his writing, although some messages come through clearly – particularly around mental illness and exploitation. The intent though seems to be to spark discussion rather than offer predigested answers, and there’s a lot to draw upon in the film: issues of religion and culture, sex and intimacy, substance abuse and mental health all spring readily to mind. Beyond that though the story explores what it really means to reconstruct, and what it means to be damaged (and indeed to damage). It asks us why we are so desperate to save things in a particular way, what is it that gives us the right and the privilege to tell others how their lives should be lived.
Hosea – the film – is really a parable, a story which lends itself to considerable amounts of unpacking and discussion. It’s a religious story for a post secular world, which turns a gentle but unflinching eye back toward the viewer.
Due to the themes and content, it’s rated 18+, and it does contain triggers and scenes which some viewers may find disturbing. Recommended.
Steve Aisthorpe’s new book ’Rewilding the Church’ takes as it’s starting point the enduring fascination in contemporary society for rewilding, a process of returning large tracts of countryside to a more ‘natural’ state in an effort to bring back lost bio-diversity and species rich habitats. Aisthorpe lives in the Scottish Highlands, the Shangri-la of many rewilding devotees who see the mountains and glens as an ideal locus for their efforts. He also works for the Church of Scotland, a historic denomination which faces many of the problems that other denominations do – declining church attendance and challenging issues to do with ministerial recruitment and elderly buildings. An accomplished researcher, Aisthorpe has done fieldwork among those who, while professing Christianity, no longer attend church. This provided the material for his first book ‘The Invisible Church’ and further research has been added to contribute to this one. Aisthorpe has found favour within the Fresh Expressions movement, which in some cases seems to me to serve as a thinly veiled attempt to get people ‘back to church’ – that’s not his approach though: ‘I am certainly not suggesting that anyone should chase after people with the intention of corralling them into homogenised congregations!’ He declares. Aisthorpe as a thoughtful and creative missiologist seems to recognise the opportunities posed by the changes in society that are reflected in this shift away from ‘how things have always been done’ as well as facing the challenges they present.
His book is a good read for those who like me are keen for Christianity to move away from it’s religious trappings and to return to a more fundamental focus on the teachings of Jesus, Steve and I may disagree on points of Christian doctrine, but we’re in full agreement there. He is what some would call a ‘loyal radical’ speaking uncomfortable truths from within the fold of his historical church home. This is recalled throughout the book, not least when he remarks that the church has many unloving critics, and many uncritical lovers, what it can always use, he remarks ‘is some loving critique’. Among other things, Aisthorpe calls for an approach that values simplicity over complexity, he also calls for a place to be found for doubt, questioning and journey ‘Churches perceived as standing for certainty, dogma and fixed practises are no place for pilgrims’ he notes. A lifelong adventurer and outdoorsman, he calls for an ecclesial outlook which values adventure, innovation and exploration.
One of the things that rewilding is famous for as an ideology for its call to re-introduce apex predators as a way of dealing with pests. Aisthorpe stops short of this, but does call for the culling of invasive species like busyness and fear – perhaps this is where he could have gone further, there are other invasive species I’d like to see culled that are much more human than this. My feeling is that he has pulled his punches here a little, however his call for a more contemplative, inclusive and welcoming spirituality is certainly deeply welcome. The book is peppered with quotes which demonstrate the breadth of what I think is his own inclusive and open small ‘e’ evangelical Christianity. As well as frequent Bible references he draws upon a range of popular authors, from Henri Nouwen to Rob Bell, as well as new pieces of field research to make his point. He wants to see a church that is more Jesus shaped and effectively says that unless we loosen our grip on it and allow ourselves to be guided (or lured?) in a spirited direction we will continue to see catastrophic collapse in the church as in our natural environment. “If you want to rewild the Church” he says, “don’t promote mission strategy and teach church-planting tactics. Instead foster a trust in Jesus and nurture a deeper love for those he brings across our path.” Ultimately Aisthorpe believes that God is rewilding the church, the question is whether we try to resist this, or fall in step.
Steve graciously agreed to answer a couple of questions I had about the book – or rather about the concept of rewilding as it applies to the church…
Q: One of the most enduring critiques of rewilding is that it fails to take account of lives and livelihoods in the current landscape. What do you say to those who like ‘church as it is’ and don’t want to see it change?
Authentic Church arises out of our responding to the call of Jesus, ‘follow me’. No blueprint or road map exists. Yes, we can discern certain trajectories and get fleeting glimpses of the destination, but his call is an invitation to join a holy adventure. So the Church is always ‘an interim Church, a Church in transition’ as Hans Kung put it. To go back to the rewilding metaphor, if something carries the label ‘church’ but is committed to remain unchanging I would suggest that it is time for a radical reintroduction programme! Just as the reintroduction of a keystone species impacts the whole ecosystem, individual disciples and any expression of the Church need to allow the one C.S. Lewis called ‘The Great Interferer’ to transform and regenerate the landscape.
Q: A significant barrier to rewilding is the question of ownership, which resolves to ‘money and power’. The church is home to the same issues, how do we tackle that? And how do you approach that personally from your position within a historic denomination?
I live in a valley where the owners on one side manage the land as traditional sporting estates. The land there is managed to ensure that optimum numbers of a very small number of species (deer and grouse) are available at key times of the year. In contrast, the landowners on the opposite side of the valley have entered into a shared commitment to a 200 year plan to rewild the landscape. Ownership makes a huge difference, but it can work in different ways. There are real choices and occasionally owners make courageous, personally sacrificial and radical choices. When it comes to the Church, this is the time for such courageous choices.
Having said that, whether in land or church, I am convinced that ‘small is beautiful’. See below! In my first book, The Invisible Church, there is a cartoon by Dave Walker which pictures a huge ship named ‘The Church Unchanging’. It is sinking and surrounded by a haphazard host of small vessels, life rafts etc. To me, this sums up the current situation. Where ‘ownership’, power and money are centralised in large institutions, this is the time for divesting, decentralising, refocusing resources on the emerging etc.. Personally, working in ‘a historic denomination’ I want to be part of God’s rewilding: subverting traditionalism (not to be confused with tradition, as explained in the book), fear of change and the veneration of things that have ‘always been this way’ wherever I find em – and encouraging and celebrating the faithful rhythm of listening and responding to the one we follow – whether that looks ‘traditional’, innovative or whatever.
Q: Rewilding really requires scale in order to take hold. Just making a hole in your garden fence may encourage biodiversity but it isn’t the same as ‘rewilding’ – how do you address the problem of scale when you’re encouraging people to think ‘small’?
The question of scale is an interesting one. My observation is that God’s rewilding of the Church is reflected in a simplification, a flourishing of the small and simple and the rapid decline of the large and the complex. While the increasing interest in cathedral worship is one of many indicators that large institutions will continue to be part of the overall biodiversity that is the Church, there is no doubt that the overall balance is shifting towards the small and the simple. Rewilding the Church will involve a revolution of small things. The Church (and that includes us, because we are the church) needs to recapture a sense of its identity as the global body of Christ, but also foster the small and local, where Christian community can be sufficiently agile to respond to the Spirit’s life. If all you are able to do is the ecclesiastical equivalent of making a hole in your garden fence, do it! Who knows where it’ll lead!
Self isolation is not something we’ve just invented, for millennia people have taken themselves off to quiet places and spent time on their own, in some cases considerable periods of time on their own. One of the things that many self-isolators have come to find valuable, is the practise of meditation.
Whether you’re a voluntary or involuntary self isolator, you too could learn a simple meditation practise, which will help you remain calm, focused, and more ready to face the challenges of confinement.
I’ve been teaching various kinds of meditation for years, and practising meditation myself for even longer. There are many types of meditation, some more elaborate than others. Below is a very simple meditation practise which you can use wherever you are. Regular meditation practise will not only help you control your emotions, meditation has been shown to have significant physical benefits too – including lowering blood pressure. Can’t be bad.
So make the most of this opportunity, begin a meditation practise now, and build a habit which will help you through the rest of your life.
Just a note – meditation is simple, very very simple, but that doesnt make it easy. In fact it’s hard. But it’s worth continuing, because ultimately it’s not about getting ‘good’ at meditation, it’s just about doing it.
A simple meditation practise
The point of this meditation practise is not to fill your mind, but rather to still, quiet, or empty it, to not be actively thinking about things. To create a bit of quiet space in your very busy and noisy mind. To to do this, we’re going to use a simple repeated word form of meditation.
Step One: Find a reasonably comfortable and quiet place to sit. I encourage people to use a straight backed chair, most of us have one of them, a dining chair will do. Some prefer to sit on a cushion, or on a couch, or to use a kneeling stool. My advice is that you don’t want something too comfy – or you might just drop off. You also don’t want something which will grow uncomfortable after a few minutes. You need something that will help you keep a straight spine, as this will help you to breathe easily.
Step Two: Decide on the length of time you’re going to meditate for. I advise people starting out to go for something like ten or fifteen minutes, often the first five minutes is the hardest, so if you only give yourself five minutes, then you only do the hard bit. When you’ve decided a time, then set a timer of some sort to alert you, try not to use a harsh sounding alarm which will startle or jolt you, there are lots of timer apps you can download if that’s your thing. As you get used to it, you may find that your body will let you know when the time is up.
Step Three: For this meditation, you are going to need a word. For your first time, I suggest using ‘still’. What you’re going to do is silently repeat that word in your mind, ideally on your ‘out’ breath. So breath in, then as you breath out repeat your word: “Still….” In future sessions you may want to choose a different word, try not to choose a word with too much meaning, or else you will find it becomes a distraction. Simple words are best.
Step Four: Sitting on a straight-backed chair, with your feet flat on the floor, lay your hands gently in your lap. Don’t cross your legs. Then allow your eyes to close, but softly, don’t screw them shut. I sometimes meditate with my eyes open, but I think this is harder for the beginner, so I advise new meditators to start with their eyes shut.
Note: When you sit, you will find a number of things start to happen. You may for instance find you have an itch, the nose, the ear, the shoulder… the temptation is just to scratch it and return to the meditation. My advice is just to ignore it, it will go away. If you scratch it, another itch will appear, then another… As you sit, you will find a lot of thoughts start to float through your mind. There are three “don’ts” that I advise people here.
Don’t resist any thought. If you try and fight a thought, you are actively thinking about it. So don’t try and resist a thought that comes into your head, just accept it’s there, and return to your repeated word.
Don’t retain any thought. Some thoughts will seem like brilliant ideas, or important things to remember, and you will want to hang on to them, don’t do it. Let the thought go, return to your word.
Don’t resent any thought. Sometimes you will find yourself so bombarded with thoughts and ideas, that you’ll start feeling dis-spirited and fed up, you will start to resent all those thoughts that are mucking up your meditation practise. That too is a mistake, because it in itself is a whole thought process. Accept that all these thoughts are there in your mind, and then just return to your word.
Step five: So you’re sitting in your chair, you have a word to repeat, you have an amount of time, now just begin. Press start on your timer, and then gently close your eyes, let your breath become regular and settled, and once it is, start repeating your word, try to do so on every out breath. When your meditation session finishes, don’t rush off, allow yourself to pause, feel grateful for the time, maybe take a sip of water to help ground yourself again, and then move on to the practical tasks of your day. Ideally aim to do this in a regular slot, according to what you think you can manage. Any meditation is better than none, an unmanageable schedule is not a good idea, be realistic and develop a practise that is helpful and sustaining for you.
Repeated word meditation is not a practise that suits everyone, if I have time I will either write some more instructionals with other meditation techniques, or record some podcast style tutorials which will help people who find they just can’t get on with this. However, I believe that given time, this is a technique that can be used by more or less anyone in a wide variety of settings.
A short break from the usual light hearted blog posts to let you know about my lent series on ‘deconstruction’ which starts on the 26th of Feb. I will be using my regular ‘weekday meditations’ email series to explore the idea of deconstruction, what it is, why people go through it, what to do if you find yourself in the middle of it, all that good stuff.
Touching on issues of social control, power, loss, love, failure and other good stuff. You can sign up here, (it’s free and I won’t misuse your data) I’m also aiming to produce some supporting material to go with it as we go along…
In the dying days of 2019, as my ‘Alternative Advent’ series drew to a close, I asked subscribers to my weekday meditations emails for some feedback on the things I’d been writing through the year.
A goodly proportion of subscribers filled the survey in, it’s all anonymous so I don’t know who said what, but it was a super useful exercise.
One of the most interesting things was to see that (of the people who responded) a very large proportion of them read the emails I send out every day, without going through the analytics on the mailing software – which I’m not sufficiently motivated to do – there’s no easy way for me to tell this. I’m encouraged that so many people make it part of their daily routine. I asked people to tell me why they remain a subscriber, here’s a few of the answers:
“I like the alternative, slightly heterodox views you present…” “I enjoy the mails. I like their brevity. But they are honest and grounded and give me something to think about.” ” To read your unusual and interesting take on issues.” “They’re a great, pithy and reflective way to start the day.”
Of the various series I have written through the year, the Alternative Advent series was most popular with the people filing in the survey, however, that may be because it was the series ongoing at the time of the survey. More telling was the proportion of people who chose the word ‘challenge’ as being important to them. The two smallest scores landed with ‘Religion’ and ‘Secular’ – which was also really telling, that ‘progressive’ score though… fascinating.
My feeling is that this underscores the kind of written feedback I got through the survey, and which I often get via email too: responses like this: “I read other reflections also. Yours give the more edgy, controversial option which I like…”
In my surveys I always ask people to give a quote that I can use to ‘promote’ my weekday meditations, given the fact that many of my daily emails offer some wry humour, I should have expected what I got in response to that request:
“It’s better than not thinking.” “Off his trolley, or on to something?” “Simon Cross: He’s not cross (but his name is Simon).” “Is he too clever for his own good, off his head or does he have a good point?”
I love my readers. They are the best bunch of people. And some of them wrote other things too, things like these:
“Takes me places other reflections don’t.” “Simon’s daily meditations are a progressive and well presented source of encouragement, inspiration, challenge and provocation and the best thing that lands in my email inbox each day!” “Want to find deeper meanings behind traditional narratives? It’s worth exploring the mind of Simon.” “Simon’s emails are pithy and to the point. They encourage us to question our views and preconceptions. They challenge us to see Jesus in the current, messy world in which we live.” “They make me think and feel which is s rare combination.” “Simon has a unique way of saying something very profound with depth in a concise and simple way.“
The Christmas stories in the Bible have a message – and it is neither the commodified story of contemporary culture, nor is is the cutesy baby in a stable nativity scene. It’s a story of political subversion and social reversal, set in a particular time and place.
Humans are excellent pattern recognisers. Generally speaking.
It helps though, when we have a cue letting us know what sort of pattern to expect. Many patterns are cultural, they use recognisable signs and signifiers which make sense to those immersed in the culture they are developed in. Looking at unfamiliar signs is difficult when we aren’t immersed in a culture.
When we are overfamiliar with dumbed down versions of stories we have a double problem: we feel as though we know the story, but our knowledge is entirely out of context.
One of the key and most obvious patterns in the gospels, is that of reversals. And this is firmly established in the Christmas narratives: the virgin is pregnant, the night sky invades the day time, the king is a pauper, God is a human baby, the outcasts are welcome. The writers of these stories made these reversals deliberately, pointedly, to overturn expectations and set off a narrative of an upside down way of seeing the world.
To understand the meaning (or one of the meanings) of this pattern, we have to consider the culture of the time in which they were written. What would it mean for things to be upside down?
These stories are set at a particular time, a really important time. It was in 6 CE that Judea, Samaria and Edom became the Roman province of Judea. Roman Judea was substantially larger than it’s predecessor state had been, with an eastern border which stretched as far as contemporary Jordan and even encompassed Damascus (hence Saul/Paul and his dual citizenship). It was an important part of the Roman Empire, and its good governance was key to Roman security.
One of the key groups in maintaining this order, were a cadre of Jewish leaders known as the Pharisees. When people talk of the Pharisees in churches, they will often make much of a particular type of ancient Jewish theology, and set Jesus up in opposition to that. This way of thinking misses the obvious: the Pharisees were effectively working for the Romans. They were crushing dissent and trouble because of a political need. The theology of the Pharisees is relevant, but its particular relevance is that it was far more in line with Roman theology than their rivals the Sadducees, not that they were stuck up or full of their own self importance.
Behind all of this was a corrupt priesthood – run by a figure called Annas, who was high priest in Jerusalem between 6 and 15 CE until he was deposed, but whose family continued in the role. Think: mafia. Think: contemporary despotic regime of your choice.
So this is the context – the time that was being written about, and the time in which it was being written. A puppet state, run by a corrupted priesthood, enforced by violence. And what are the writers talking about? Reversal. Reversal of everything. And if I were to ascribe a ‘meaning’ to Christmas, perhaps that would be it. It is a scene setter for the ‘ministry of reversal’ that the Jesus movement comes to embody. Tables are literally turned. The dead are brought back to life (we must talk about Lazarus some other time).
And in the midst of this – a whole host of reversed rituals, baptism, the reversal of the Roman military Sacramentum, and the core Christian rite, the shared meal: a subversion of the Roman banquet. Everything is overturned, everything is lampooned. Its incredibly subversive – social and political dynamite.
Perhaps the point is that the only way this all makes sense, is if you stand it on it’s head. Which is why I’m so keen, on an #alternativeadvent.
Some people think that reading the Bible is all about learning ‘spiritual’ lessons. When we use words like spiritual, it’s difficult, because we don’t always share clear definitions. So what you and I are meaning when we say a word like that, may be two rather different concepts.
In any case, some people do look at the Bible in that way, that it is a ‘spiritual’ text, and this often means that it has little or no ‘earthly’ application.
My view of the Bible is not one that directly contradicts this, because I think ‘spiritual’ is an important word, particularly when it comes to books like the Bible. But I also think that ‘political’ is a key idea in Bible reading too. And it rather depends on what you’re looking for, as to what you find. You won’t find raw gem stones in a field, if you’re using a metal detector to look for them.
So depending on how you look, you find different things. And I do have a habit of looking through a political lens: it’s one of my biases. When you look at certain passages in that way, you can make some extraordinary discoveries. And that’s the case with the parable of the talents. The conventional take (Sunday School) is that it’s about not burying your talents, making the most of what God gave you, etc etc. But that’s based on a bit of a weird view of God, actually. And if you are willing to flip the script, and look at the parable through a political lens, all of a sudden it becomes a story about economic oppression and injustice. Surely the poor will always be with you…
Read this comic book version my pal Steve and I wrote years ago for A Pinch Of Salt Magazine, to see what I mean. Click the links to download or open the PDFs Talents Page OneTalents Page Two
(For a deeper analysis of this stuff, and generally more of this kind of thing, seek out William Herzog’s “Parables as Subversive Speech.”)
My #alternativeadvent project starts on the 2nd of December, and will run all the way through to Christmas. I’ve been trailing this on social media for a little while now, and I recognise that some people are not entirely sure what the general idea is.
So I put together a short video this morning, just to give a little bit of explanation.
Sorry about my dodgy filming skills, but hopefully it gives you the general idea. It’s an email every day through advent, with four themes running through: the first set of emails will be on the subject of an ‘ahistorical advent’, then I will write about an ‘absurd advent’, then about an ‘anarchic advent’ and finally about an ‘atheist advent’. Essentially it’s a reflection on advent through a historical/literary lens, then through a more philosophical lens, then a political lens, and finally through a more theological lens.
I hope you’re able to join me for this, and that as we go you feel able to share your own thoughts, using the hashtag #alternativeadvent, because anything like this needs to be a conversation. And if you know me, you’ll realise I’m pretty much always up for a conversation, until about 10pm. After that, I might still be up for a conversation, or I might just be asleep. Sometimes its hard to tell.
It’s always sad to hear of a death. The knowledge of a life passing means the loss of a connection, and our bodies react instinctively to that. Too many people seem to go too soon, but having reached the age of 95, that at least can’t be said of Fr Thomas Keating.
Fr Thomas, a Trappist Monk, died this week, and with his death comes the end of the life of a man who profoundly influenced me and many others in our approach to the Christian life.
I don’t remember exactly where or when I first heard of Centering prayer – although I know what era of my life it was, I was living in South Wales, and was at that time developing my interest in all things contemplation and meditation. Reading Fr Thomas’ book ‘Open Mind Open Heart’ was a release and a revelation to me at that time. I’ve also greatly enjoyed and appreciated the youtube videos in which he appeared, which have been immensely helpful to me in the development of my own meditation practise.
When I started practising Centering prayer I found it life giving and freeing – and ever since then I have encouraged others to follow the same path.
Centering prayer is the nearest tradition to a Zazen practise that I have fully engaged with, and that was something else that Fr Thomas taught me. A respectful and humble approach to wisdom and spiritual traditions which are different to my own has now been part of my life for so many years its hard to imagine being any other way, but of course it wasn’t always like this.
For me it was crucial to find pioneers like Fr Thomas leading the way in to genuine interreligious dialogue, he acted as a kind of permission giver in my own journey in to deep friendships with those of other religions. I can honestly reflect on those relationships and recognise immense treasures that have come from them, they have challenged, stimulated and encouraged me in ways I could never have expected otherwise.
So while I feel a sense of sadness at the passing of this wonderful man, who I never had the chance to meet, I have a much greater sense of gratitude, both for his life, and for his many gifts.
Sociologists and theologians have much to say about the idea of gift, because gifts are transactions, we give in the expectation of receiving something in return. So we approach life in this way, we expect to have to earn good things, we struggle with the idea of accepting something entirely un-earned. Fr Thomas recognised this challenge in terms of our approach to spirituality: “The gift of God is absolutely gratuitous. It’s not something you earn. It’s something that’s there. It’s something you just have to accept. This is the gift that has been given. There’s no place to go to get it. There’s no place you can go to avoid it. It just is. It’s part of our very existence. And so the purpose of all the great religions is to bring us into this relationship with reality that is so intimate that no words can possibly describe it.”
I am running a meditation retreat in a fortnight, Centering prayer will be the key approach and technique for that time, and on that weekend of remembrance, we will find a way of remembering Fr Thomas.
There’s a story in the Hebrew scriptures, about the people of Israel after they had escaped from Egypt. In the story, which is absurdly rich in symbolism and image, the people are making their way through the desert when their leader Moses climbs a mountain to commune with God.
To cut a complicated narrative unreasonably short, the impatient Israelites get fed up waiting for Moses to return, and decide to melt their golden jewellery to create an idol – a golden calf, which they then proceed to worship.
Moses, who has spent 40 days on the mountain eventually returns to find all this going on, loses it a bit, and a load of the Israelites pop their clogs. When you read serious Jewish interpretations of the story, it grows more complex around the edges, considering the motivations of those who built the calf, and so on.
So here’s the thing: as with many Bible stories, there are two predictable dangers when we read the story: 1) The story is written off as complete nonsense: “It didn’t happen, and it has nothing to say to us.” 2) The story is taken totally literally, as though it is a modern historical account: “This is exactly what happened to a ‘real’ people, in a ‘real’ place, at a ‘real’ time.”
Neither of these two approaches manage to capture the complex subtleties of the story, which was almost certainly written down or collated from oral tradition as part of the process of nation building while the Israelites were in captivity a few centuries BCE. While this whole question – the historicity of the text – makes for fascinating reading and discussion, I’m not about to run through all that here.
I’m more interested in the question of the Golden Calf: what does it represent?
I think there’s a strong case to be made for the Golden Calf as representative of certainty.
Moses’ disappearance up the mountain was for ’40 days’ a term used to represent a long time. Faced with the disappearance of their spiritual leader, the people grew upset, and eventually chose what they felt to be a logical course of action.
“Give us a god to go before us,” they said, “for we don’t know what has come of this man Moses.” (Exodus 32:1)
What the people wanted was some sense of security, a kind of certainty that they could cling to. Moses, a man who had difficulty communicating at the best of times, had left them to wait for him while he communed with an invisible, unknown God. Would he ever return?
To put this in to a framework with which people who read this blog are familiar: Moses led the Israelites into a period of major league deconstruction. He took them out of the brutal certainties of Egypt, where they had suffered, but at least they knew what was what, and into the wilderness.
And then he had left them…
Extended uncertainty, lets be honest, really gets to you. It grates.
And after a while – a long time – they began to crave some sense of certainty. ‘It’s time to reconstruct, to rebuild: give us a god to go before us…’
When they eventually came to act upon this craving, they constructed something which would have been culturally very familiar – and they gave a lot to it – this was no petty endeavour. A lot of gold went into making that statue.
This is precisely what happens to many who try to find some solid ground on which to stand after deconstruction, they go for something familiar, they invest in it, they give it their all, and in the end they create another idol.
I feel huge sympathy for the Israelites, mainly because I think I may have felt just as they did. And yet from the benefit of some elevation, looking down from Mount Sinai, Moses who was a somewhat absolutist sort, could see the futility of this search for comfort. And lost his rag. Understandable yes, but harsh, Moses, harsh: dwelling in uncertainty is difficult.
Are you struggling with deconstruction? Taking apart beliefs and ideas with which you’ve lived for years?
Are you considering reconstruction, and wondering if that is right for you, now? I’m running a retreat for people like you in November, you can book here. Or alternatively, contact me to find out about other ways I can help.