Tuesday, February 22, 2011


What do you believe about the Ten Commandments? What do they really mean?

I remember being a college student, and seeing (what I thought was) Commandments being broken all around me. I was concerned about temptation, and whether or not I was strong enough to resist it, and "keep" the Commandments as a good Christian girl should do. It was very confusing to me, all of the power of passion and youthful energy, and the pull to do the "wrong" things. How could one keep one's head in the midst of youthful freedom and temptation?

One day, I don't know exactly when, it occurred to me that the Commandments were not threats. If God is Love (a foundational truth stated in the Bible), what did Love have to do with the Commandments? How could I possibly obey them out of fear? How would fear inoculate me against wrongdoing? It didn't make sense.

Then the idea dawned that the Commandments were a loving provision - wise and loving counsel - from God, who saw the larger picture, the "wider canvas." God saw what harm came from doing these prohibited things, and He wanted us to live in Love, as loving creatures. To do His will meant to refrain from behavior that was unloving and which would result in harm, to others and to myself. That changed the Commandments for me. It made keeping them much less an act of fear, and much more an act of loyalty and love. I am not saying that I don't sin; I'm saying that I don't live in fear of God's wrath. I am in awe of His Love.

Ps 23:1-3a, 4, 5, 6. R. (1) The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
Beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.

Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side
With your rod and your staff
that give me courage.

You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
for years to come.

Here is an example of the truth of the Scriptures being tested and proved true in our lives. I could take this psalm, line by line, and tell you how it is true. It is not necessarily the way I saw it, when I prayed it before going to sleep at night as a young girl, but it still rings true.
  • I grew up by beautiful waters that did (and still do) refresh my soul.
  • I have walked through dark valleys with Him at my side. Though I did fear, He brought comfort to my heart. In many instances, that comfort arrived through the kindness of people around me. We were given courage to do what we had to do, all the way through.
  • A table was indeed spread before us, right in the sight of our foes (cancer and death). We ate, slept, worked and walked in the presence of that enemy. Yet we had a table, a place to sleep, food to eat, medications to use to attempt to foil the enemy. Love, prayer, support, grace, presence, helping hands, and the best medical skills in the world overflowed our cup.
  • Goodness and kindness have followed us on this path. We all do still dwell in the house of the Lord - is not everywhere His house, His building, His creation? Katie is still in Him, though I cannot see her or hold her, and I wish she was HERE. Is it true that "there is nothing I shall want?" That is a hard one; I want Katie.
This scripture passage is still true, as far as I can see...however, because my circumstances have changed, in all honesty, I must look at it anew. To borrow from my friend Robin's blog, called "Metanoia:"
Metanoia is a Greek word with a more expansive definition than its frequent translation as "repentance" ~ its meaning incorporates the idea of a turn in direction, a change of heart.
The definition also includes "to change one's mind, or purpose."

After such metanoia in our lives, things are going to look different. Pretty much everything looks different. Many things look more meaningful, and many, less important. Getting my way means very little; finding the larger (God's) purpose is paramount. When you have seen the life you loved swept away before your eyes - your so-called security, your plans, your hopes and assumptions, your children's childhood, their future, your youth, your child's life - things become simple. Maribeth used to say this often, after her first cancer experience: "It doesn't matter; it's just so simple." I didn't get it then, but I do now.

If you lost everything you counted on today, what would you have left? Who would you be without the life you had planned? Who are we, really, without all of our stuff and business?

This is what Father Rohr has to say about it:
I believe that God gives us our “soul,” our deepest identity, our true self, our unique blueprint. Our unique little bit of heaven is installed by the Manufacturer within the product, at the beginning! We are given a span of years to discover it, to choose it, and to live our own destiny to the full. If we do not, our true self will never be offered again, in our own unique form.
Our soul’s discovery is utterly crucial, momentous, and of pressing importance for each of us and for the world. We do not “make” or “create” our souls, we just “grow” them up. We are the clumsy stewards of our own souls.
We are charged to awaken, and much of the work of spirituality is learning how to stay out of the way of this rather natural growing and awakening. We need to unlearn a lot, it seems, to get back to that foundational life which is “hidden in God” (Colossians 3:3). Yes, transformation is often more about unlearning than learning, which is why the religious traditions call it “conversion” or “repentance.”
From Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life
Perhaps metanoia is not about building our life, not about creating our own reality, not about religion at all, but about choosing to cooperate with God when the events of life give us opportunities to see - and to live from that seeing - in a new way.


Elizabeth said...

Your profound writing makes it seem so easy (not the experience part as I know that was far from easy) -- I struggle with resistance and I don't know of any other way to state it.

Maggie May said...

I think if I lost everything I counted on today I would be lost. This is something I think on often. I was very traumatized and loveless after my childhood, and having Dakota at 19 'saved me'. I have lived a rich life since then but in the context of who I am in my family. Without them I don't know if I could go on. I worry that if something happened to one of my children I would fail the rest of them by coming unwound completely. I don't know what foundation I stand on other than my children and my husband.

Harsh. But true.

karen gerstenberger said...

I would never intend to make this seem easy; it's still hard, day by day. Today, a half hour after writing this, I was near tears of pain and grief. It comes in waves.

If I had no family or friends to love and care for, I would feel lost, too. These "musings" do not imply "answers;" I see through this glass darkly.

Karen said...

Karen, I figured out the same thing as you about the Ten Commandments, at about the same time in my life. I had seen so many people do "stupid", that I was open to whatever direction God could give to spare me the same mistakes. But growing the soul is a whole other matter. That is not just resisting temptation, it is caring for that little light inside of you and letting it shine, while not letting it go out when the fierce winds blow. That's a lifelong journey and we need so much help with that one. As you say, we see through a glass darkly. I so appreciate the discussion that you have begun here.

Busy Bee Suz said...

So much to take in; to contemplate.
I don't know where or WHO I would be if I lost everything {everyone?}...and that is not good.

Maggie May said...

Karen I appreciate so very much what you share here. Your struggle is so profound and touches, for me, on the very essence of the meaning of life, the value of life. I listen to you very closely to hear how you find your way through this journey. My grandmother Elizabeth's son David drowned at 14. My moms' brother. I always wished she was able to talk about it with me, but she wasn't able to talk about him. Even saying his name brought tears to her eyes and she would stop talking and shut down. I never judged her for that, perhaps I would be the exact same, I don't know. I just wished.

I remarked on my children and husband because you had talked in your post about building a soul, separate from the goings on of life. This to me is the essence of a spiritual foundation and I wish I had faith, like you do. I hope I continue pushing myself to explore faith, religion, so that maybe I will find a place in all the structure or belief where I fit.

AnnDeO said...

I have so enjoyed your writings on religion and spirituality. Our little family has gone through an existential crisis or maybe "awakening" the last few years and we are still wondering what our new path will look like. I am inspired to write through it and examine it as you have. Thank you.

Kay said...

I love your notes on the Psalm. That is so true. I can remember reading many verses and thought I knew what they meant...and maybe they did mean that for a time..and then experiencing a whole new level of the reality of what they were saying later on. A much deeper meaning after walking through trials.

Hugs to you today, friend!