Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Road to Meribah

[Joe's left brain: "Meribah" (at least maybe) refers to the place in the desert near Kadesh where the Israelites complain of being led to die of thirst and Moses, showing the same impatience - and in violation of the Lord's command - strikes the rock twice to obtain from it the miraculous water. My use of it here is simply because that's what I wrote in my journal, where I had no regard for the scholarly debate over the conflation of Meribas and Massas.]

It is a practice of mine to review the past year's entries in my spiritual journal at the beginning of a new liturgical year. As I was engaged in this activity today, I came across a passage where I was frustrated about daftness. The title (yes, I entitle journal entries...) which I gave the section was "All Roads Lead to Meribah."

I was complaining that we take too much for granted that every moment of every day, and every human interaction which graces each day, are instances in which the Lord communicates to us. If we truly "walk in the ways of the Lord," our path will be seen to be strewn everywhere with landmarks reminding us of our destination and our destiny. Christ, the true Way, shines in those whom we meet and those whose words we hear. Inasmuch as we fail to appreciate this, though, we are on the path to Meribah. We are on our way to hard-heartedness, and stubborn refusal to hear and respond to God’s word.

"Would you but listen to his voice to-day!" Other versions translate Psalm 95:8 in various other ways. This is from Knox’s rendering. All the other versions I remember are some semblance to this, showing preference either to the subjunctive or to the imperative sense. I like the way Knox’s translation combines both; and, insofar as I have no knowledge of Hebrew, I’m content to trust the Servant of God’s rendering as authentic.

As we begin the season of Advent, this text from the primary form of the Liturgy's "invitiatory," with which countless faithful begin each day, is a good theme I think. To stay awake, to watch for the Lord’s coming: this is to remain authentic, to remain attentive to the voice of the Lord speaking through the other people whom we encounter in our daily lives. To take the road to Bethlehem means to turn our backs on Meribah (though, strictly, I know this is only geographically true about 25% of the time – bear with me here). To watch for the coming of the Lord into our daily lives implies humility and a surrender of our preferences for how we would like to meet him. The lowliness of the manger at Bethlehem may be a scandal to our expectations of the glory of the One who is to come – so may His using as a mouthpiece our inadequate and imperfect fellow-travelers along the road. Yet, He does not disdain to speak thus: he has exalted the lowly and raised the humble from their ignominy.

As we go through Advent, we must remember that we are not merely looking forward to an encounter with Emmanuel – God with us. He has come. He is in our midst. Part of the spirit of Advent is the recognition of this immanence. Part of the virtue of hope, which we develop through our reflection on this season, is to appreciate the real presence among us of that to which we look forward for fulfillment.

This is also the theme of Pope Benedict’s new encyclical letter on Hope. "Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a 'not yet'. The fact that this future exists changes the present; the present is touched by the future reality, and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present and those of the present into those of the future" (Spe salvi, 7). Today, we will hear the voice of the Lord. It is a manifestation of faith in hope to encounter that voice with an unhardened heart. If we truly look forward to the fulfillment of Christ’s promise at Christmas, then we cannot fail to discern each day His Divine Word in the multifarious words which fall upon our (too often deaf) ears. To have a destination is to be firmly set upon a way and attentive to each step of the journey; otherwise, we may grow lax and wander and wake to find ourselves walking blindly and deafly into Meribah.



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