Tag Archives: Nehemiah 8

Connect, Disconnect, Reconnect

The whole company that had returned from exile built temporary shelters and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great.
Nehemiah 8:17 (NIV)

As a child growing up, I attended a protestant church that practiced what I would call a very “high church” worship. I was part of a children’s choir. We wore robes with embellishments that corresponded to the season of the church calendar, as did the minister. There was a lot of pomp and grand tradition complete with a pipe organ and stained-glass windows. The service contained many prescribed liturgical practices, responsive readings, and the like. As a child, it was at first all I knew and I found meaning in it all. As I got older, however, it all seemed a bit boring and empty. There grew within me a huge disconnect between my spirit and all the rote repetition of those high-church liturgical practices.

I became a follower of Jesus in my teens and quickly left the church of my childhood. I connected with a different church that had what I would characterize as a freer and more laid-back worship style. It felt more personal to me.

The ironic thing is, as I have continued on in my spiritual journey I have found myself reconnecting with some of the types of liturgical tradition I abandoned in my childhood. When I was a child they were empty of meaning for me, but as I have returned to them I have found them to have all sorts of rich meaning for me at this particular waypoint of life.

In today’s chapter, Ezra reads the law of Moses (the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Number, and Deuteronomy) out loud to all of the assembled exiles who had returned to Jerusalem and repaired the walls of the city. This is some 400-500 years before Jesus. The vast majority of the people were illiterate and had lived all or most of their lives in Babylon. Many had likely never heard the law of Moses read before.

In the Hebrew tradition, the law of Moses prescribed various feasts and festivals throughout the seasons of the year. The “Feast of Tabernacles” (a Tabernacle is like a tent or temporary shelter) happened in the fall and commemorated the Hebrew people camping out as they left slavery in Egypt and returned to the land of Canaan. When the Ezra and the people read about this festival, they realized that they should be celebrating it right then. So, they did.

Ezra and the people of Jerusalem reconnected to a tradition that had been lost and forgotten for centuries, and it was filled with all sorts of meaning for them.

Along my life journey, I have observed that this happens to us a lot as human beings. Traditions and rituals get abandoned and fade away as they lose meaning and connection for those of us repeating them. At some point down life’s road, we rediscover them at a point in our spiritual journey when they meaningfully connect and become spiritually filling. What was old becomes new, what was lost to us as meaningless and boring we find to have all sorts of meaning.

In the quiet this morning I am revisiting the many spiritual traditions that I have experienced in my journey. I’ve experienced a plethora of traditions from the liturgical high-church of my childhood to the Evangelical show. I have sat in the silence of a Quaker meeting house, been in the frenzy of a Charismatic revival meeting, and the energetic worship of a black Baptist church. I long ago abandoned any notion of any tradition being “right” or “wrong.” They are all simply different traditions that have something to teach me. Some connect with my spirit in ways others do not, but each tradition and ritual has something to teach me at different waypoints of my spiritual journey if I’m open and willing to learn them.

A note to readers: You are always welcome to share all or part of my chapter-a-day posts if you believe it may be beneficial for others. I only ask that you link to the original post and/or provide attribution for whatever you might use. Thanks for reading!

Inflection Points

Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.” Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them. Nehemiah 8:9-12

Along life’s journey I’ve grown increasingly fascinated with words. Words, in and of themselves, are creative expression. At the root level they are metaphors. A series of squiggles on a page that correspond to a series of vowels and consonants which mean something to any who can read or understand the language. Words come in and out of fashion. Words you never heard before suddenly become “buzzwords.”

Over the past couple of years, I’ve heard the words “inflection point” used a lot in business. It’s become a bit of a buzzword in some circles. It’s a great little term from the world of calculus. It describes the point at which a curve moves from being concave (downward) to convex (upward), or vice versa. Businesses have adopted the term to describe the point at which a trend (in sales, for example) stops rising and starts declining, or vice versa. The inflection point is the point of change. It’s a change of direction.

I think the term “inflection point” has strong spiritual connotations, as well. God’s Message repeatedly calls people to make a sudden change of direction. Turn from darkness towards the Light. Turn from evil ways and embrace that which is good. Turn away from hatred and pursue Love. Turn from sin and pursue God. Spiritual journeys are all about inflection points.

In today’s chapter, the walls of Jerusalem have been rebuilt. The gates are back in place. As a way of celebrating, Ezra brings out the scrolls with the law of Moses. It’s likely that the words of the law of Moses had not been widely read or heard publicly since Jerusalem and Solomon’s temple had been destroyed some 150 years earlier. Many who lived in Jerusalem may never have heard it. Perhaps no one in their families had heard it since the days of their great-great grandparents.

The reading of God’s story and the law of Moses becomes a spiritual inflection point. The people realize how far they have spiritually wandered away from God’s path. They weep. They grieve. Their hearts turn towards God.

I love the response of the Levites to the people. “Don’t grieve. Feast. This is a moment of joy!” I can’t help but think of the prodigal son returning to his father in humility and shame, and the father’s contrasting expression of joy. That’s the way spiritual inflection points work. They are a moment when grief and turn to joy.

This morning I’m thinking about all of the different metaphorical ways the term “inflection point” applies to life. I’m thinking about the inflection points I’ve experienced, both positively and negatively. Fiscal inflection points, relational inflection points, vocational inflection points, and spiritual inflection points. I’m meditating on the inflection points that still need to occur in my spiritual journey. Followers of Jesus often talk about their conversion as the inflection point of their life. While I certainly look back on that moment as monumental, I’ve found that following Jesus is a never ending series of inflection points. I don’t mature or progress unless I experience them.

Inflection point. Good words.