Identity Shaping – Letting the Words Fall In
A disciple asks the Rabbi, “What does Torah tell us to ‘place these words upon your hearts’? What does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts?” The Rabbi answers, “It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day the heart breaks and the words fall in.” (from “The Politics of the Brokenhearted,” by Parker Palmer)
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If this Exodus way provides a roadmap for our own spiritual journey, then Sinai would have a great big star located on top of it, much like a state capitol on a map. Sinai was no mere pit stop for the weary Exodus travelers. No, it represented the hopes and dreams of a people who had been savagely treated by a narcissistic Pharaoh. Sinai is where the Israelites would begin to get put back together again. Sinai is where a fractured identity begins to be mended. In our own journey, it represents a confrontation with a new ‘rule’ for life – not one that steal and kills dignity, not one that binds and burdens us, but one that invites us to live the whole life we were meant to live back in Eden. Sinai is our confrontation with life as it was meant to be.
In the last post, I said that Sinai is where God says, “I won’t abandon you. I’m committed to restoring you!” We all long for this. It’s significant because only in relationship, with God and each other, do we begin to begin to realize that we’re not so broken as to be forgotten. God’s smile, best seen in Jesus and His pursuit, is for the broken, the weary, the adulterer, the raped and the rapist. Only as we begin to see that we’ve not been left alone, but are engaged precisely in our moment of despair, do we begin to lift our heads again, see our identity being restored, and see our spirit being revived. I’ve seen this over and again as a counselor and pastor. My relationship with a person can instill hope again. Notice: not my words, not my theological correction, but my relationship can instill hope and dignity again.
At Sinai, God does something remarkable. Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner (2002) views God’s giving of the law at Sinai to be the defining moment in His great rescue plan. The law, he says, constitutes them as a people who have decided to “accept God’s rule and the Torah and all the commandments as the embodiments of that rule” (Neusner, p. 18). What does that mean? It means that they get their identity back. They get their dignity back. It sets apart God’s people as a “treasured possession,” a “holy nation,” and a “kingdom of priests” (Ex. 19:5-6). That should indicate to you that God is all about giving us our very self back. If Egypt represents the place where we were wounded and enslaved – the place where our dignity and identity were torn apart – then Sinai represents the place where God says, “You’re mine, all mine…and I love you.”
I’ve found that our identities are formed in all kinds of different “Egypt” experiences. Egypt can represent the identity-killing wound of abuse. But, that’s not all, as Egypt’s story is written into ours in any number of ways. Egypt represents an identity formed in isolation from God’s Edenic intention, and so it necessarily goes in the direction of power, manipulation, greed, gluttony, possession, pride, and more. Our growth requires us to identify our own “Egypt,” to see how its narrative has usurped God’s narrative for our lives. I know a man who has been a part of his church for a long time, but still lives by a different narrative, governed by power and control over people and things. He looks and dresses the part of a churchman, and he gives lots of money. But, he has not yet been confronted with the life-changing and identity-transforming new ‘rule’ of Sinai, which requires us to lay down our own agendas, our narcissism, our power, our self-assurance. Some people would say that this man is a saint, but I’m quite sure he hasn’t left Egypt yet.
We know ‘Sinai’ because it offends us, it confronts us, it jars us, it turns our self-centered worlds upside down. It’s the ‘rule’ of Jesus, which indicts power and threatens pride. And, as the quote at the beginning of this post indicates, if our hearts are closed, continuing to be enslaved to the ‘rule’ of Egypt, then we’ll have a hard time progressing on the spiritual journey. With open hearts, Sinai’s confrontation will be an invitation to rest and dependence, to a life emptied of self-striving, self-promotion, and self-rule. But, as Jesus said, in order to find ourselves, we must lose ourselves. Identity begins here.
I’ve found myself confronted by Sinai over and over again. It’s where Jesus hangs out, calling us out of Egypt into something so much more. How badly I want it, and yet how often I choose to go back to slavery. As a counselor and pastor, Sinai is where I, as a broken person, commit to engaging another human being in the journey back to human-ness, wholeness – life as it was meant to be. Sinai’s confrontation can be hard, especially for those of us who think our life of slavery is actually more like freedom. In reality, God’s rule is identity-shaping, the beginning of a new life (new creation!) for those who would open their hearts, and “let the words fall in.”
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– How is God’s invitation to this new ‘rule’ of life both very exciting and very scary for you?
– Where are you on the New Exodus roadmap? Have you left Egypt? Are you stuck between Sinai and Egypt? Are you struggling to believe something better lies down the road ahead?
– What makes this journey so difficult? What internal obstacles keep you from forging ahead? (Note: I’m not saying the journey should NOT be difficult! It is.)