Priests and Kings — Attached to Praise

In Genesis 29, we’re briefly introduced to a woman who plays a key role in Biblical history. Though she is largely overlooked, her legacy shaped the religion we now call Christianity in fascinating ways.

Now Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were delicate, but Rachel was beautiful of form and appearance. (Gen 29:16-17)

The matriarchs of Genesis see themselves as filling their godly role when they have children who grow up to play key roles in Biblical history. These women are heroes of motherhood as well as of faith. They have their own speaking lines, personalities, and relationships with God, but they’re typically remembered in terms of the children they raised.

Priests and Kings -- Attached to Praise | marissabaker.wordpress.com
photo credits: “Tallitot” by Robert Couse-Baker (CC BY); “Danish royal crown” by Dion Hinchcliffe (CC BY-SA); “Shofar and Candlesticks” by slgckgc (CC BY)

Leah mothered 6 of Jacob’s 12 sons, as well as the only daughter recorded for any patriarch. Her sons Levi and Judah were the ones God used to found lines of priests and kings. Though the story of Rachel and her son Joseph overshadow the other sons in Genesis, kingship and priesthood play a huge role in God’s plan and there’s much we can learn from Leah’s take on the birth of her sons. Read more

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Thoughts on A Book of Celtic Wisdom

I recently read a little book called Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohue. A blog reader mentioned the idea of an anam cara, or “soul friend,” in a message, and I simply had to look it up. You can usually tell how interesting I found a non-fiction book by the number of sticky notes poking out by the time I’m done reading. Case in point:

Soul Friends | marissabaker.wordpress.com

It’s not that I agreed with everything in the book, but rather that I found its musings on the nature of life and connection between people fascinating. The first quote I placed a note next to was also one that I’d read in the article that initially pointed me toward this book.

Anam is the Gaelic word for soul and cara is the word for friend. So anam cara in the Celtic world was the “soul friend.” In the early Celtic church, a person who acted as a teacher, companion, or spiritual guide was called an anam cara. It originally referred to someone to whom you confessed, revealing the hidden intimacies of your life. With the anam cara you could share your inner-most self, your mind and your heart. (p.13)

I love this idea, which comes from Chapter 1: The Mystery of Friendship. I’ve been toying with the idea of incorporating it into a new title for this blog. Perhaps “Soul Teacher”? I’m not sure yet.

A couple pages after this quote, the writer takes this discussion in a direction dear to my heart. He describes Jesus as “the secret anam cara of every individual” (p. 15). Isn’t that a beautiful picture? Jesus is our “soul friend,” our most intimate companion, teacher and spiritual guide, the One to whom you can reveal your most hidden self.

Consequently, love is anything but sentimental. In fact, it is the most real and creative form of human presence. Love is the threshold where divine and human presence ebb and flow into each other. (p.15)

Can We Heal Ourselves?

I loved the first chapter of this book. It was in later chapters that I became frustrated with aspects of O’Donahue’s ideology. In Chapter 3: Solitude Is Luminous, he talks about healing wounds in a way that really resonates with me, but I feel his solutions don’t go deep enough.

It’s true we often seem “destructively addicted to the negative” because confronting it seems to difficult. “If we maintain our misery at this surface level,”O’Donohue writes, “we hold off the initially threatening but ultimately redemptive and healing transfiguration that come through engaging with our inner contradiction.” I’d agree with this — we have to get to know ourselves before we can learn, grow and change ourselves. But O’Donohue isn’t advocating change so much as self-acceptance though befriending “the negative” and recognizing “that it is not destructive. It often seems that morality is the enemy of growth” (p. 115).

There are simply some things in our lives that shouldn’t be accepted. It’s not healthy or safe to befriend the dark side, and we can’t always turn negatives into something benign just by being nice to them. I have to believe it’s possible to grow and remain moral at the same time.

And yet, O’Donohue has a point that we must beware going to the other extreme of spending too much time analyzing and dragging up our pasts. Searching for your problems over and over again won’t help you overcome them, and self-knowledge is only useful if you can act on it in some way to heal and grow. He compares people who go through endless cycles of self-analysis to gardeners who dig up their potatoes every day and replant them a different way.

People in our hungry modern world are always scraping at the clay of their hearts. They have a new thought, a new plan, a new syndrome, that now explains why they are the way they are. …. Negative introspection damages the soul. It holds many people trapped for years and years, and ironically, it never allows them to change (p. 122).

The very next line is where he lost me: “It is wise to allow the soul to carry on its secret work in the night side of your life” (p. 122). Much like he suggests befriending our negativity is the best way of dealing with it, he believes our wounds can heal themselves if we give our souls space and approach our ” hurt indirectly and kindly” (123). But our souls aren’t designed to heal themselves. They’re healed by God.

I feel this idea of self-healing is connected to the writer’s idea of the divine residing inside our souls. Though he references Christianity heavily, that’s not the only theology O’Donohue draws on — the theology of this book is a mishmash of Irish Catholicism, Celtic paganism, and mysticism. He’s not comfortable with the idea of a “faraway divinity,” and so adopts the idea that the divine is within us. He’s missing a third option, though.

Biblicaly, the divine is outside us, but He’s not far away. “The word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart,” and the living Word wants to dwell inside us (Deut. 30:14; Rom. 10:8). I suppose you could say the divine resides inside us after we submit ourselves to Christ, but we have to ask Him in — not start out looking inside our own souls for the answers.

You Have A Purpose

I want to share with you a passage in this book that I found hugely encouraging. It’s also from Chapter Three.

To be born is to be chosen. No one is here by accident. … Your identity was not offered for your choosing. In other words, a special destiny was prepared for you. But you were also given freedom and creativity to go beyond the given, to make a new set of relationships and to forge an ever new identity, inclusive of the old but not limited to it. … Destiny sets the outer frame of experience and life; freedom finds and fills its inner form. …

You were sent to a shape of destiny in which you would be able to express the special gift you bring to the world. Sometimes this gift may involve suffering and pain that can neither be accounted for nor explained. There is a unique destiny for each person. Each one of us has something to do here that can be done by no one else. If someone else could fulfill your destiny, then they would be in your place and you would not be here. … When you begin to decipher this, your gift and giftedness come alive. Your heart quickens and the urgency of living rekindles your creativity. (83-84)

This past Shabbat, the speaker at my Messianic congregation talked about Leah. She was not as pretty as her younger sister Rachel and she was unloved by her husband. She probably thought she didn’t make much of an impact on the world. And yet, her example of faith is recorded in the Bible for everyone to read, and her children founded the priestly lineage of Levi and the royal lineage of Judah, among other nations. She’s a direct ancestor of notable personages like Moses, David and Jesus Christ Himself. Her life matters more than she ever knew.

You also have a purpose in this world, even if you can’t see it. This isn’t to perpetuate an idea that you’re a “special unicorn” who is better than other people. Rather, it’s to say that of us has a unique gift that’s of real value, and you have a hand in shaping how it impacts the world.

Slightly Bad Leah

As I mentioned last week, I recently finished reading Liz Curtis Higgs’ Bad Girls of the Bible series. Slightly Bad Girls, the last book, is a slightly different format than the first two. Higgs only covered five women’s stories — Sarah, Hagar, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah — which allowed her to spend more time with their stories.  The fictional accounts span at least two chapters for each character, which allows a longer story-arch for each woman than in the two previous books.

Leah

Leah’s  story was the one I found most interesting. There is so much we don’t know about her. For example, we know Jacob was livid when he woke to find Leah in his bed instead of Rachel (Gen. 29:21-24), but we have no idea how Leah reacted to her father switching brides (or what Rachel’s opinion was for that matter).

I wonder what Leah was thinking. Was she so scared of her father that she didn’t dare disobey when he “brought her to Jacob” (Gen 29:23)? Did she want to get out of her father’s house so much she would have married anyone? Was she trying to steal Rachel’s husband? Perhaps she was in love with Jacob and hoped he would return that love once they were married (I don’t have much experience with relationships, but I’m pretty sure impersonating your unrequited-crush’s bride on their wedding night is not the best way to make him fall in love with you).

God’s Love

One of the most interesting verses in Leah’s story is this:

When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved … (Gen. 29:31)

Setting aside for the moment how terrible it was for Leah to be unloved, let’s think about how incredible God’s compassion was for her. He saw her and He  “listened to” her prayers (Gen.30:17). Isn’t it comforting to know that even when people who should love you don’t, God sees everything and cares deeply for our pain? It makes me think of my favorite Psalm.

O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. (Ps. 139:1-3)

We serve a God who is powerful enough to do anything, and He chooses to let His attention and His compassion rest on us. For Leah, God’s care took the form of blessing her with children.

Leah’s Children

I hadn’t thought about it before, but Higgs points out that what Leah says when each of her sons was born reveal that she had a deeper faith in the God than we often give her credit for.

So Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben; for she said, “The Lord has surely looked on my affliction. Now therefore, my husband will love me.” Then she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am unloved, He has therefore given me this son also.” And she called his name Simeon. She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore his name was called Levi. And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Now I will praise the Lord.” Therefore she called his name Judah. Then she stopped bearing. (Gen. 29:32-35)

Leah recognized that her sons were a gift from God, given to comfort her when He saw Jacob did not love her. She realized that she was heard and loved by God, and by the time she named her fourth child, Judah, she was able to offer praise to the Lord without even mentioning her hope that Jacob would learn to love her. (As an interesting side note, this is the first time the word “praise” appears in the King James translation.) I doubt Leah moved past her desire for her husband’s love, but perhaps she reached a point where her relationship with God gave her the peace needed to accept her life.

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:11-13)