O Adonai

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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.

O Sapientia


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O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem fortiter, suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
O Wisdom, who proceeds from the mouth of the Most High, reaching out mightily from end to end, and sweetly arranging all things: come to teach us the way of prudence.
The first step is admitting you don’t know.
In all Twelve-step Programmes, the first three Steps are:
  1. We admitted we were powerless over This Thing and that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
The first Great O Antiphon condenses the first three steps into a prayer for wisdom. From the beginning we admit that we don’t know what to expect. We need wisdom.
This antiphon echoes this Eastern Rite Prayer, used at the beginning of all services in that tradition:
O heavenly king, consoler, spirit of truth, everywhere present and filling all things: Treasury of blessings and giver of life: Come, dwell within us and cleanse us of every stain, and save our souls, O good one!
Notice that the antiphon says God’s Wisdom “orders all things”, the Heavenly King is “everywhere present and filling all things”. Why is it then that the Omnipresent King must be invited to dwell in us, the Omnipotent Wisdom must be invited to come to us? Why are we the only part of Creation where God is Not? In the traditional story, it’s called “original sin” but that phrase comes with a lot of baggage: a good answer to think about is an addiction. Humans are addicted to the idea we can do it on our own. And over and over again we try and fail. The only self-made man (or woman) is either willingly or unwillingly blind to the presence of others and the action of God (these are the same thing, here). The only self-made man is delusional.
But, my! How we do love this delusion. America is founded on it – and we call it “the American Dream”.
Like drugs, it makes us feel strong and able to control the world around us. Like drugs, the delusion of self-sufficiency creates in me a masturbatory fantasy that all I am is all a product of me, myself and I – even covering up the presence of the drug! Like drugs, the delusion of self-sufficiency leads each who partakes down the path to Solipsism, the point that only I exist, all else is a product of my imagination. Eventually (quickly) it leads to the idea that I am God.
And then it goes downhill from there: Chaos ensues in and around the life of the self-sufficient man or woman who will admit no one as her equal. She becomes the center of her own universe, forgetting that there are, actually, other people here who are not extensions of oneself. Pain. Violence and abuse follow.
And in the end, insanity – both clinical and experienced.
And we see the product of this insanity around us: greed, abuse of power, selfishness, lack of love, lack of concern (and, more insidiously, self-interest disguised as love and concern). The world is now – and has nearly always been – falling into unmanageable chaos because of our illness.
Before I can utter the prayer of Wisdom’s Antiphon, I have to decide that there is, in fact, something greater than me. I have to admit not only that I am not all powerful – but that something else is. The first step is admitting there’s a problem: it’s not a diagnosis, but rather a confession. I may not know what the problem is, exactly. But I can easily see the effects. And having tried everything else, I’ve decided to give up and ask for help.
O, Heavenly King….
O, Wisdom from on High…
This is the first step.
We can not get to the virtue of Prudence – knowing when and how to act in the right manner – until we admit that we do no know, and need instruction. In another context, the scriptures urge us not to worry about what to say – for in the right moment, the Holy Spirit will tell us. Such is prudent speech, and such would be prudent action as well: not planned out, black and white thinking but in-the-moment choices for charity and grace. Not rigidity but openness. This flexibility and dance is the opposite of the uptight control of of the addict for whom any possibility of chance is a threat. It’s a mutual dance, however: as in rehab, one addict in denial throws the entire community off-balance.
Theologically it is also important: the NT stories are filled with people unable to recognise Jesus as the Messiah because they were expecting someone else. This is especially an issue today. Most people are sure they know who Jesus is…
Larry Norman’s “The Outlaw” takes us on this road:
some say He was an outlaw that He roamed across the land
with a band of unschooled ruffians and a few old fishermen
no one knew just where He came from or exactly what He’d done
but they said it must be something bad that kept Him on the run
some say He was a poet that He’d stand upon the hill
and His voice could calm an angry crowd or make the waves stand still
that He spoke in many parables that few could understand
but the people sat for hours just to listen to this man
some say He was a sorcerer a man of mystery
He could walk upon the water He could make a blind man see
that He conjured wine at weddings and did tricks with fish and bread
that He talked of being born again and raised people from the dead
some say a politician who spoke of being free
He was followed by the masses on the shores of galilee
He spoke out against corruption and He bowed to no decree
and they feared His strength and power so they nailed Him to a tree
The last verse is the most important to his song, but I’ll leave it off with this comment: when confronted with a bunch of people who claim to know who Jesus is, it might be better to ask him yourself. We are all addicted to our ideas of who Jesus MUST be – but I’m comfortable saying what I’ve always said on this matter: if only it is true that God loves us and *wants* to love us more, then ask… and you’ll know.
The prayer for wisdom is admitting we don’t know.
It’s the right place – the only place, to start.