I’ve spent the remainder of my day after church on this Sunday reading the bible. Ezra and Nehemiah with a little Haggai for desert. Yum!
“Yeah, right,” you must wonder…
With a colleague I’ll be teaching on these texts Tuesday and Wednesday. Each of these books address the restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile, an event made possible by a decree of Cyrus the Great, King of Persia. From my perspective Ezra and Nehemiah, especially, are packed with irony… suitcases of it. My mentor in biblical interpretation once told me (and a whole bunch of others) that having an authentic biblical hermeneutic (the art of seeing & interpreting the bible) is realizing that the truth of the bible has as much to do with what the text does not say as much as with what it does.
My guess is that most of you reading this post have not spent this beautiful day (at least that’s what today was in DC) reading some of the latter testimonies in the Hebrew Bible. As such I won’t elaborate on the irony that I see in Ezra and Nehemiah... Maybe you will read them for yourselves or join study groups that are.
I will say that somehow all of this made me think of one of my favorite poems. The author is Naomi Shihab Nye, who was born on March 12, 1952, in St. Louis, Missouri, to a Palestinian father and an American mother. Growing up Nye lived in Ramallah (Palestine), the Old City in Jerusalem, and then San Antonio, Texas, where she received a BA in English and World Religions.
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.