O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.
O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.
The way the last Antiphon connected with the 12 Steps drew me back again today as I mediated on O Adonai. I see an overlap in Step Three, and then Steps Four and Five tie in nicely.
- 3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
- 4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- 5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
“Adonai” is the word used in place of the Divine name. The implication here is an invocation of YHVH, the One who Is, “I AM, That I AM”. God as we understand him – do any of us understand God? Personally, I find great comfort in the phrase “The one who is”, or “the Existing One” as it is sometimes translated. It’s a curious phrase when heard out of context – ie, without the understanding of its source. I heard it a lot in Eastern liturgy before I understood what it means. May “The one who is” or “the existing one” or “the Great I AM” bless us. And, in the liturgical context, as in this Antiphon, that title was applied to Jesus. This Jesus, the Great I AM, is he whose incarnation appeared in type to Moses in the Burning Bush: the Fire of Divinity moving in concert with the flesh of humanity.
Ultimately, the only way to understand God – as with any person – is to enter into conversation with that person. As God called Moses into fellowship at the Burning Bush, so God calls us (all humanity) into Fellowship in the incarnation of Jesus. Some images of Mary holding Jesus in her arms are called icons of The Burning Bush.
The traditional (Eastern and Western) understanding of the actions of God in the Jewish Scriptures are that they are actions of the Son through whom the Father acts: the Son is the Creator. The Son is the one who walked with Adam in the cool of the evening; and the Son is the one whom Jacob saw above the ladder, etc. This method of Reading Jesus back into the Hebrew Scriptures is confusing to some but entirely based on the faith that Jesus is the Promised One. This is God as we understand him in the only way we have – ie in God’s revelation to us.
And this Jesus is the one revealed the Law on Mt Sinai.
“Making a searching and fearless moral inventory” is not about legalism: it is about realising that I am weak. One of the cool tools available for us in the Christian tradition (East and West) is the practice of fasting and abstaining from certain foods at certain times. It’s not because these foods are evil, per se, or even “unclean”. The whole point is to train the body to do what is wanted, rather than to constantly give into cravings or promptings to indulge. The revelation of the law on Mt Sinai, even though it can give rise to microscopic legalisms (see following) is, essentially, a training programme as Paul says.
But as we’re “making a search and fearless moral inventory” we need to hear the voice of Grace. The first rule of fasting and abstinence is not to (eg) avoid meat on Fridays, but rather to eat all things sat before you with thanksgiving to God.
I remember once sitting in Fr Victor’s dining room during a fasting period. Matushka Barbara made us coffee and sat it down with heavy cream. I asked for creamer… and got a loving lesson in hospitality from the two of them.
Once, during Lent, a woman brought lox to a church supper and I couldn’t tell if I was supposed to eat it or not. What I did do was judge her for bringing the fish.
The law revealed on Sinai is a temptation to get hung up on pork and shrimp, sex, and clothing styles. The law is a temptation to judge others for their lack of keeping or their imperfections in keeping.
But the law – the “searching and moral inventory” – is only applicable in the first person. I am the only sinner I know.
Once during Advent someone brought me a plate of deviled eggs over which I worried rather a lot. I thought about giving the eggs away, but I ended up serving them at dinner and I ate one. I mentioned this to my confessor (Fr. David) who told me, “I never want to hear anything about food in confession again.”
To make a sin out of something that is no sin at all is to trip up on legalism. We can not admit “to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs” if we are straining at legal gnats or swallow planks of mumbo jumbo. We cannot admit “our wrongs” if we’re hung up on judging others. This is actually one place where I depart from many modern sorts of Rehab that are willing to blame parents (for “spoiling” the child or for abusing her), friends or family (for enabling) – and to judge them for it. I can’t confess the wrongs of my friends or family – nor can I judge them for such.
When I hold myself (and only myself) up to the code of Law revealed to Moses on Sinai, I’m without excuse: for I have failed on every point – especially the two important codes to Love God and Love Neighbour. I have no excuse or prayer in this matter but to beg for redemption.