Monday, March 9, 2009

Yahweh, Our Father

"I sought the one I love" --Tanakh, Shir Ha-Shirim

Reflecting on the often forgotten or overlooked patrimony of the Christian, the father of whom is Yaweh, el, adonai, G-d, among other names, we in the modern world sometimes feel a disconnect from this vital source of our being. As Catholic and Orthodox Christians, to a varying and lesser degree, Protestant Christians, our heritage of joy, creativity and love owes itself to this very Jewish of fathers: Yaweh, G-d of the Tanakh, or "Old Testament."

Remembering our father ancestor is vital in understanding the whole of the Christian mind. Jesus was a Rabbi, a teacher of the Jewish people. He lived a Jewish life in a Jewish world. The earliest Christians who came to follow him, thought of themselves as very Jewish; they had seen and found the way to G-d's salvation in the Christ. Yet others, Jew and Gentile alike, in their Greek and Roman world, were unconvinced.

Over a period of time, Christian-Jews found themselves persecuted and misunderstood by many; excluded from many Temples, and engaging in new religious devotions, these Christians moved away from their Jewish center. By the first centuries in the Common Era (also referred to as A.D., after death) Christianity emerged from the home of her father, and went forth into the Gentile world. For its part, Judaism very nearly succombed to a process of "Hellenization," that is, Jews were nearly completely subjugated to Greek rule and life; all but losing themselves in the process.

The early Christian church was largely of a Greek or Roman (Latin) character. As time progressed, the more unified Christian church split into what today is referred to as the Orthodox Church, Greek, and the Roman Catholic Church, Roman. However, long before all this happened, there were the Jews and their books, the Tanakh, guiding all their lives in a joyful and loving presence of Yaweh, G-d, our father.

The Jews, as "the people of the book," have been faithful to that book for more than 5,000 years now. What Christians refer to as the Bible, or the "Old Testament," Jews call the Tenakh (תנ״ך). It is divided into Torah (תּוֹרָה), Nev'im (נביאים), and Kethuvim (כְּתוּבִים). The Torah contains the five books of Moses; the Nev'im contains the writings of the Prophets, and the Kethuvim contains other writngs also included within the Jewish Canon.

When we speak of this Jewish father, we read in the Tenakh stories that point to a bold, justice loving, creative, powerful, demanding, covenant making, passionate, tender presence. His love is a free love, a father regarding his creation, a shepherd tending his sheep, a devoted one sacrificing his only son. However, over time, for Christians, among the many, many stories of Yaweh that are contained within the book, writings in Kethuvim are the possibly the most challenging and engaging. To the early Christians, stories such as Lamentations, Job, Ruth, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon, or Shir Ha Shr'im stand out as examples of
G-d's character and inspiration.

Some Christians, and some Christian communities, have lost touch with this ancestor. Their mind has turned to other sources beyond the Tenakh for inspiration, and the Church has split, time and time again. These communities have moved far from this very Jewish father.

In this approaching season of Easter and Pesach, or Passover, the reading of Shir Ha Shir'im (שיר השירים), the Song of Solomon, is traditional. Curiously it is one of two books in which the name of G-d is not mentioned. Song of Songs, Song of Solomon, two of its several names, is often seen quite simply as an intensely erotic love song or story, hence its name.
"The book reveals the warm and innocent satisfaction the ancient Hebrews drew from the physical and emotional relationship of a man and a woman. For the Jews, this relationship has been seen as Yaweh or G-d, the lover and his people, Israel, the Beloved. Christians have often likened the Song to G-d's love for the Church, his Beloved. The Judeo-Christian mystical tradition has viewed the Song a groom, and his passionate love for a bride," notes the Catholic Encylopedia by Peter Stravinskas.

"Upon my couch at night
I sought the one I love--
I sought, but found him not.

I must seek the one I love.
I sought but found him not.
I met the watchmen
who patrol the town.
Have you seen the one I love?
Scarcely had I passed them
when I found the one I love.
I held him fast,
I would not let him go.

Do not wake or rouse
Love until it please!
Who is she that comes up from the desert
like columns of smoke

There is Solomon's couch
Encirlcled by 60 warriors
of the warriors of Israel
All of them trained in warfare.

King Solomon made him a planquin
of wood from Lebanon

Within it was decked with love
By the maidens of Jerusalem
Wearing the crown that his mother
gave him on his wedding day
On his day of bliss

Ah, you are fair, my darling,
Ah, you are fair.
Your eyes are like doves
Behind your veil.
Your lips are like crimson thread
Your mouth is lovely
your breasts are like two fawns
There is no blemish in you
From Lebanon come with me!

You have captured my heart,
my own, my bride.
You have captured my heart.
with one glance of your eyes,
with one coil of your necklace.
How sweet is your love,
My own, my bride!

My beloved took his hand off the latch
and my heart was stirred for him.
I rose to let in my beloved;
my hands dripped Myrrh
I opened the door for my Beloved,
but my beloved had turned and gone.
I was faint because of what he said.
I sought him, but found him not.
I called, but he did not answer.

If you meet my beloved, tell him
that I am faint with love.

I am my beloved's
And his desire is for me.
Come, my beloved,
Let us go into the open;
Let us see if the vine has flowered,
If the pomegranates are in bloom.
There I will give my love to you.

If only it could be as with a brother,
Then I could kiss you
when I met you in the street,
and no one would despise me.
I would let you drink of the spiced wine.

Let me be a seal upon your heart,
like the seal upon your hand.
for love is as fierce as death,
Passion as mighty as Shoel;
its darts are darts of fire,
a blazing flame.

Vast floods cannot quench love,
Nor rivers drown it.
If a man offered all his wealth for love,
He would be laughed to scorn.

O, you who linger in the garden,
A lover is listening;
Let me hear your voice.
Hurry, my beloved,
Swift as a gazelle or a young stag,
To the hills of spices!"

--Translation from Tanakh, the Holy Scriptures
The Jewish Translation Society,1985

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