Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Radiance of Torah II [Psalm 19]

The psalm continues with a beautiful image of "... the sun, that comes forth as a bridegroom out of his chamber and rejoices as a champion to run his course... and nothing is hidden from its heat." The sun image is potent, not only because sun brings light, but also because of its penetrating beauty and radiance, its bridal intimacy, which generates life. "In the beauty of holiness have I begotten you, like dew from the womb of the morning." When we are focused beyond words and what we think we know, this radiance becomes reciprocal, as psalm 34 reminds us: "Look upon God and be radiant." God's loving relationship like the sun permeates everything; our lives are determined by it, no matter how we think we fail. It is where we focus our gaze that is important.

For the Psalmist, God's love is manifest in the radiance of Torah, the law that is spoken of in the next verse. Torah is not merely a set of writings. Torah, written and unwritten, spoken and silent, manifest and implicit, revives the soul and gives wisdom to the simple. It rejoices the heart, and gives light to the eye. Our awe before the Lord of Torah purifies us from self-reflection, and gives a taste of eternity. The judgements, or insights from such contemplation are more desirable than gold, sweeter than the sweetest honey.

So ineffable is this relationship that the Psalmist cannot imagine ever interpreting or living Torah in its perfection. "Your knowledge is too wonderful for me, I cannot attain unto it." Knowing he will fall short, the Psalmist pleads to be protected from his own errors and from the arrogance of presuming that his interpretation and application of Torah is ever more than provisional. It is not falling short the Psalmist worries about; it is presuming to think he understands more than is possible for mere mortals to bear.

The psalm ends as it began, with its focus on the imageless God, an overt summary of what was implicit in the opening metaphor of the sun. Our gaze in this psalm is always directed "upward" towards the light that blinds us in an indirect and gentle mimesis of the fire and darkness that enveloped Moses on the mountain.

"Nations will come to your light and kings to the brightness of your rising," proclaims Isaiah, in the liturgy of Epiphanytide, but it is not to an interpretation written in stone that nations or individual hearts are drawn, but rather to the living Torah whose interpretation can never be complete. There is another paradox here: that God who is only outpouring love yet draws to himself all of the love of our "heart, mind and strength". It is the wisdom that comes from this continual encounter through all times and seasons that is passed from one generation to another, and communicates without language the discretion for right living of Torah.

This is the Sunday when we pray for Christian unity; and unity, like charity, begins at home. It commences with the receptivity of each human heart that tries to gather the scattered nations of its thoughts; that seeks the still and radiant point where healing and wisdom are given in the overshadowing of the Spirit. This movement, however it is expressed in words, is universal to human beings, and its wellspring is silence.

"How long shall I be in the world of the voice and not in the world of the word?" cries John the Solitary in the Fourth century, "For everything that is seen is voice and is spoken with the voice, but in the invisible world there is no voice, for not even voice can utter its mystery. How long shall I be voice and not silence, when shall I depart from the voice, no longer remaining in things which the voice proclaims? When shall I become word in an awareness of hidden things, when shall I be raised up to silence, to something which neither voice nor word can bring?"

Our search for unity within our selves and among ourselves can be confusing. There is a welter of language and interpretation, some of it conflicting. But perhaps unity may not seem so impossible if we think in terms of an ancient Byzantine icon, in which the archangel Raphael is holding a transparent sphere. The sphere may represent the whole of creation transparent to God; or it might be the circle whose centre is everywhere; or perhaps even one of God's tears.
It is as if all the words, metaphors and images we use are the surface tension of this sphere, but their meanings, what they signify, mingle within the sphere, and fuse to become a single lens through which we see God.


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