Images of imprisonment appear throughout the Psalter, where the psalmist turns to God as refuge in order to exit the pit of despair. Similar to the life of Omar Ibn Said, and the opera which tells his story, images of shelter and succor help the psalmist escape the abyss of embattlement, imprisonment, or depression, and nurture the attitudes of care, trust, and hope that crest in Psalm 146 and the Hallelujah psalms.
Retelling of a story/text in the Word of God demonstrates the dynamic nature of the event of the God of the word. The God of the Bible is a God who reappears, reveals, re-presents, reimagines and repeats Godself to the creation in God’s own ways to each time and context.
An occasional characterization of the Book of Haggai is that it is self-interestedly supportive of the ascendant Persian Empire. I elaborate on this description and then problematize it by demonstrating that this pericope reveals the prophet to be subversively mimicking the Achaemenid imperial metanarrative.
How do we maintain hope in the face of a seemingly unending time of strife, violence, and conflict? Seek out beauty, depend upon hope…and dance, even in the face of unending war. Hope does not ignore the struggle, nor does it free us from the scars resulting from our struggles. The people of Israel will always carry the scars of their trauma with them; yet, scars also signify survival.
In the book of Genesis, after the changing of Jacob’s name to Israel, no one calls him by his new name. Instead, the name “Israel” seems to exist as his “true name” and Jacob as his “use name.” “Jacob” is the name that everyone calls him, but he knows that “Israel” is who he really is inside. God has named him “Israel,” and consequently, this will become his legacy.
What makes this moment prophetic is that Elisha forces Naaman to experience what it is to be restricted of free access to every place. Through that restriction, Naaman learns what it means to be vulnerable and realizes how powerless people are pushed into much suffering because of restrictive laws. In the experience of powerlessness, the healing of Naaman begins.
While the Judahites were the recipients of physical violence, they only had the power to return rhetorical, fantasized violence. They were forced to entrust actual retribution to other powers: to God, and perhaps to the Persians (envisioned as God’s agents).
A truly progressive society is one that is able to feel the wounds and pain of the most marginalized and excluded. Such a society’s task, consequently, is to heal and anoint the wounded. Perhaps, that task is better undertaken by embracing the work of mourning.
The God of Israel does not get so caught up in the national agenda that God neglects the prayers of individuals in pain. The best antidote to politics-as-usual is proper worship. Praising YHWH can keep our feet flat on the floor. As we worship the God who sees and the God who acts on behalf of the downtrodden, we seek to become like God. YHWH, rather than the human powers that be, becomes our model. In worship we become attentive to the things that God attends to, such as the grieving woman whose empty cradle signals an uncertain future.