Monday, September 18, 2006

Job 28

I still remember when I first clued in to the fact that most artists (writers, visual artists, musicians, what have you) who have ever produced really great art have also suffered in some way, in some depth. This (the light dawning, and not every artist's particular suffering) didn't actually happen until I was halfway through college, which might give you an idea of how quick on the draw I am.

It was kind of a disappointing realisation, because I wanted to become a great writer, but I sure didn't want to have to pay for it. I still don't, really. (Although, speaking of paying, I could, if I had an extra four grand, get a children's novel of mine published. Only I don't, and if I did, I'd probably use it to take a sabbatical in Asia or something instead.)

Some fifteen years after college, I now think you probably have to suffer just for being human, and while natural, God-given talent may sometimes be enhanced by the process, goodness or greatness or genius is not a necessary by-product. It could be, though. Maybe even should be. I'm probably going to explore some of the coulds and shoulds of the universe some other time, but for now I'm just thinking about the book of Job again, chapter 28.

Every so often one year around Advent, I'll decide to read through the readings of the daily lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer. I don't really understand how the Book of Common Prayer is set up, nor how it works, my experience of Episcopalianism being happy but late and brief. But I like the lectionary because you get to read three Bible passages in a day from totally different parts (and literary genres) of the Bible and sometimes they're so related it's uncanny. (It would probably be even more uncanny if I didn't believe in the Holy Spirit--but then I might not see the coincidences either.)

It's the lectionary's fault that I've been reading through Job, Acts, and John all at the same time. So far not too many noteworthy resonances between the three, though all three have served to get the brain ticking a little faster than usual. It's also the lectionary's fault for my having read through the whole book of Job, up to and through God's "comment on the blog" with Job's putting his hand over his mouth and repenting in dust and ashes, only to return to chapter 28 at the end of all of it. I never noticed chapter 28 before, but it's beautiful. Don't ask me how Job would know that much about mining gems and precious metals; maybe he owned a mine or something. It might explain how he got so rich in the first place.

Anyway, in chapter 28 he describes the lengths to which people will go in order to dredge up precious stones and a little about how the ores get there in the first place:

Miners conquer the darkness and dig as far in as they can,
to the ore in gloom and deep darkness.
There where no one lives, they break open a shaft;
the feet passing over are oblivious to them;
far from people, suspended in space, they swing to and fro.
While the earth is [peacefully] yielding bread,
underneath it is being convulsed as if by fire;
its rocks have veins of saffire, and there are flecks of gold . . .
(Job 28.3-6, CJB)

Just a few verses later, Job launches into a monologue about wisdom and where it comes from. Even in the middle of his pain and mental/emotional/psychological anguish, not to mention a bunch of pseudo-friends who are being less than helpful, he just sort of starts wondering aloud about it. And even though he's so (not unreasonably) mad at God, he confesses that if wisdom can be found anywhere, it is only done in some sort of relation to Him.

So where does wisdom come from?
Where is the source of understanding,
inasmuch as it is hidden from the eyes of all living
and kept secret from the birds flying around in the sky?
Destruction and Death say,
"We have heard a rumour about it with our ears"

(Job 28.20-22, CJB).

It's probably safe to say that Job knew a fair amount about death and destruction at this point, in spite of not having completely kicked the bucket himself yet. It kind of makes me feel like he (and whoever put together the lectionary and decided to have all us lectionary-followers read this chapter last) was intimating that wisdom, like saffires, is rare and hard to find, hard and costly to obtain, and caused by fiery convulsions. Kind of like, in spite of the fact he was still mad at God, he was starting to get an idea that wisdom, which can only come from God, can also only really come from suffering. At least--maybe that's not exactly it; I'm still trying to put my finger on it, but there's some kind of correlation.

Even before Luis' email, I have often thought about the fact that giving Job a whole bunch more kids at the end of the story can't really have made up for the ones he lost. (Not to mention I would think it would have taken a lot of forgiveness on his part to restore that much intimacy with his wife who had told him to curse God and die.) I have often felt dissatisfied with God's response. But maybe that's just because I don't have the wisdom Job had. Maybe I can't have it, with the life I have experienced up to this point. Whether or not Job missed his first children, he seems to have been convinced and convicted by, as well as satisfied with, God's answer to him. Maybe, after being "convulsed by fire," he understood things I can't.


Annelise said...

Jenn, thanks so much for these beautiful and poetic quotes from Job--and for your commentary. I think that the only way we can regard God as good and not "mean", as Luis described him, is to steep ourselves in knowing Him. Thankfully, Job, in spite of all the pain, still strove to know God. He is so much above us that we cannot possibly understand Him; but I still think we can love Him if we hang on tightly through the storms. BTW, the Book of Common Prayer (first edition) was largely the work of Archbishop Cranmer, who was bringing the English Church from Catholicism to Protestantism. The lectionary goes back to early Christian times, but I haven't really found any explanation for why it was organized the way it was.

sarah said...

I'm so excited you're blogging on the lectionary! I attend the (mostly Anglican) rite of morning prayer at Duke Divinity School every day, and have been struck at various times lately by what's happening in both Job and Acts (we were left hanging with Paul & Silas yesterday, and it drove me nuts!). My favorite moment recently was the ending of Job, where God makes Job's friends repent by having Job pray for them. Of all my times reading that book, I'd never noticed how odd that is. I mean, when our friends are suffering, we're supposed to pray for THEM, not the other way around, right? When was the last time an inner city food pantry asked the homeless guests to pray for the ministry? When was the last time a pastor asked a hospital patient to pray for him or for the church? When was the last time we repented by asking the poor to pray for US, for once? I was simply blown away by the whole concept. I think it goes back to what you're saying, Jenn, about suffering in general. We think we're supposed to be exempt from it somehow, because we follow God; that we can take certain shortcuts in order to attain the kind of wisdom that only comes from walking in the way of the Cross. But the ones who need to repent aren't the ones who are suffering: they're already walking the path of wisdom. It's we who need to repent by going to them and saying, "Please pray for me, because you alone are wise enough to intecede on my behalf." We should be making pilgrimages to cancer wards in order to receive a blessing from the saints in Christ. (Clearly I could vamp on this theme for awhile, which means I should probably start writing about it in earnest...)

Anyway, keep up the lectionary notes! If you do, I just may be tempted to send your blog-link to all my morning prayer buddies whose faces look just as baffled as mine after the readings, even as we say "Thanks be to God."


Jenn said...

Really great insights, you both. Sarah, I was particularly struck by yours, both because I think subconsciously I've always had this idea that it was those people who SHOULD pray for us (maybe working with refugees for a while had something to do with that) and also because I'd never really thought of it in words at all. I certainly never thought about it in connection with Job, although it now seems blindingly obvious. Yes--definitely write about it!

I'm not sure how many notes on the lectionary I shall continue to write--it'll probably be more "coincidental" (if there is such a thing) than anything. But feel free to pass along my URL if the mood strikes.

Annelise said...

Sarah's comments, along with yours, were challenging and encouraging. Thanks! I've heard stories about bedridden saints carrying on phenomenal ministries of prayer. I think pride keeps us from asking the "needy" people to pray for us, because it might imply that maybe we're more needy than they are...or something like that.