Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Chaos, Sabbath and other related matters

1.       Many Bible experts say that the first Creation account of Gen. 1 belongs to the “Priestly” (or P) tradition. It was written after the Exile and during the Persian period when the people of Judah were allowed, by King Cyrus, to return to their land. Jerusalem was restored and the Temple was reconstructed. A big chunk of the Torah was written. The “P” tradition is said to be peaceful in tone.
2.       The first creation story begins with chaos. God, in the account, does not delete chaos. Instead God works through it to allow the emergence of the created world. Creation is done by separation, such as the separation of the waters, the separation of waters from dry land, the separation of day from night, etc. On the sixth day God creates the human “in his image and likeness”. Then God acclaims that all he created is “very good” and then he goes to rest on the seventh day. He takes his Sabbath distance.
3.       Often the Sabbath is interpreted, for the Catholic, to mean “going to mass on Sunday”. Because the text is a “P” text then it is liturgical implying also the observance of one day in the week for “services”. There is more to Sabbath than just “going to mass on Sunday”.
4.       On the seventh day, God takes a distance not only from his created world but also from his own mastery of the created world. God “steps on the brake”, so to speak, to allow for the alterity of the created world. God masters his mastery over creation. The human is to do the same. This is why the human is “like God”. Like God the human is called to “step on the brake” from power and domination to allow for alterity—of the Other in society and of Nature. This is symbolized by the vegetarian dish offered to the human (and the beasts).
5.       Thus the other person, for example, is my Sabbath. I must check myself from being “too full of myself” and I might forget that the Other exists. Many Old Testament texts attest to this sense of the Sabbath distance. Abraham is made to realize that although Isaac is his son, he must take a distance from his possession of the son symbolized by the Mount Moriah incident. (A Rabbinical commentary even states that God never commanded Abraham to kill Isaac. He was just to go up the mountain with his son and do sacrifice there. So when the angel came to stop Abraham the angel told Abraham, “Stupid, who told you to kill the child”. It’s a commentary that brings a smile to one’s lips.)
6.       In the golden calf story the people just could not do a Sabbath distance from God himself. Moses went up the mountain and disappeared. There was no cellphone to text back with, so he was really felt to be absent. God too was high up the mountain and he too was felt to be absent. The absence was an occasion for a Sabbath distance, allowing for the alterity of Moses and God. The people could not live with that so they assigned Aaron to build the calf.
7.       The Sabbath distance tells me, at least, that there is a limit, a “suspense” in which one relinquishes command and control to adventure in life. The Garden of Eden story is precisely this. The command to eat from all trees except from one tree is God’s description of the human condition. “You may (eat all)…but (not from this one)”. Forgetting this, forgetting the Sabbath distance gives, the impression that one can go on and on, full speed, without stepping on the brake. Now, if following the intuition of the “P” tradition, the recognition of the Sabbath distance is, at the same time, a recognition that chaos is never deleted. To think that chaos can be mastered and subjugated is to drop Sabbath.
8.       The “P” tradition offers a more realistic picture of God. In the Noah’s ark story God gives up the strategy of starting with a clean slate with humanity (through a deluge) because God realizes that the human heart is always bent for violence. Instead of annihilating humanity he puts a rainbow up the sky to remind himself that violence is not his option, the rainbow being in the shape of the arm bow (and arrow). God gives himself a Sabbath distance. God even allows the human to eat meat.
9.       The flow of the Bible is quite interesting. At one point, in the book of Isaiah (II), we read about the Suffering Servant which later, in retrospect, will be applied to Christ. The Suffering Servant tells us that God is willing to be a victim of chaos and human violence. This culminates on the cross, the ultimate Sabbath distance, with Christ. The victory over chaos is not by deleting it. The victory is in the Resurrection, a statement God makes to say that life, creation still wins.

10.   So the Christian is invited to be “resurrectional”. Do my actions promote life in the midst of chaos? Am I able to step back, take a Sabbath distance, be “like God” even in front of chaos, knowing that the attempt to annihilate is not the solution?   

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