I’ve had some faithful companions wonder how to pronounce the Aramaic translation of “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” that is in this week’s blog, The Language Of Love. A very good question and I should have stated how I pronounce the words, as a helpful hint for those who want to join in speaking the words of Jesus in his own language as part of their daily prayer. Here goes:
“wSalxani imassayu latbirai libba tubaihon labile dhinnon itbayun.”
I pronounce it:
Saulshahnee emmasawyou lahtbearee leebah tubahone lahbeel deeknown itbahyune
A handful of years ago, I bought an English/Aramaic dictionary because I wanted to learn something of the language of Jesus.
Feel how some of the words that he spoke felt on my lips and tongue.
How they sounded in my voice, but imagining I was able to hear him, instead.
If we were able to journey back in time to the hillsides, shore and mountains along the Sea of Galilee, of course, we wouldn’t understand a word that Jesus was saying.
We’d have to decipher the meaning by listening carefully to the timbre of his voice.
By the look in his eyes toward us as he spoke them.
And from the reaction by those around us who understood the language but were, in many cases, stunned by the meaning of what Jesus was saying.
All of his words were turning the world upside down and inside out in ways that were as unexpectedly hopeful as a second sunrise on a day that had promised only total eclipse.
So, I decided to translate one of The Beatitudes from English into Aramaic. I don’t know how successful I was but I do know the words are genuinely Aramaic. They are the language Jesus spoke every day.
I don’t have a pronunciation guide for the vowels and combinations of consonants, so I guess at the exact sound of the words, just as you may do now:
“wSalxani imassayu latbirai libba tubaihon labile dhinnon itbayun.”
Or: Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.
I have written that sentence at the end of Compline in the Book of Common Prayer by my bedside. I read Compline every night and the last words I speak, quietly but aloud, are those that Jesus spoke.
It is a humble exercise. I only want to ensure that at least once, somewhere in this world, the language of Jesus is heard speaking one of Christ’s sentences of love.
It would be beautiful if you’d join me so that we can become a chorus, speaking the language of love. Jot them down. Put them in your prayer book or Bible. Speak them some time.
Whatever the words say—even if I’ve botched the translation—what they mean to us as we speak them in remembrance of him is all that matters.
And maybe speaking with Jesus’ voice will help us walk those words out into the world with greater strength and purpose in the morning.
I do know that hearing them every night brings Jesus a little closer to me as I turn out the light and let the stars above shine wherever they can to all who are praying in the darkness to hear the voice of Jesus speaking to them.
Jesus answering our own quiet prayer in the suddenly bright night.
“He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’”
—The Gospel of Mark
At some point in our lives, we’ve all wanted to shake someone’s dust off our feet. Perhaps we are trying to do so at this very moment.
Nobody goes through life without encountering somebody who, in one way or another, doesn’t welcome us and refuses to hear us. Such hurtful encounters can leave us covered in the metaphorical “dust” of that moment.
We come home from work and we bring that dust with us.
We bring the rudeness home.
We bring the refusal to listen.
And we tell our family all about it.
“You would not believe how rude this so-and-so was today!” we report, feeling our tension and anger rise all over again.
That so-and-so isn’t literally at the dinner table with us, but that so-and-so’s dust is all over our feet, so to speak.
In fact, we can sometimes feel like Pig-Pen from the Peanuts comicstrip. Pig-Pen was a mess. A walking cloud of dust and dirt. And we can be just like him.
That so-and-so’s dust isn’t just on the soles of our feet. That so-and-so’s dust covers us from head to foot. It gets on the furniture, embedded in rug fibers, covers the dog, collects on lampshades, dimming the light.
Sometimes, it can even feel like some of it is dusting our soul.
And that’s not good. It’s not what Jesus wanted for his disciples as he sent them out to preach about the kingdom of heaven. And it’s not what Jesus wants for us.
That’s why Jesus gave them—and us—really good advice.
What better way for the disciples to leave an unfriendly place completely behind than by ensuring they don’t carry any part of the unfriendliness with them as they journey forward.
Not even the dust.
But Jesus was talking about more than literal dust. He was talking about that metaphorical dust, too.
Jesus knew from personal experience that someone’s “dust” on our feet can soon feel like “baggage” in our heart, our mind and our soul. A burden we carry around, weighing us down with a whole menagerie of negative emotions.
Who needs that?
It is important to share key moments of our lives with our loved ones. The happy moments of fulfillment and the “dusty” encounters of frustration and disappointment. Doing so can be part of the process of shaking that so-and-so’s dust off our feet.
But it doesn’t work if, in our minds, we turn right back around and walk through that so-and-so’s dust all over again. Which, being human, is so easy to do. Been there. Done that.
But I’d rather be Linus than Pig-Pen.
So, let’s you and I stop lugging that so-and-so’s “baggage” around on a backwards journey.
Let’s shake that dust right off of our feet and keep on moving forward.
Day by day.
Soon enough, our soles will feel the warm, soft touch of green pastures.
An angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream, bringing a warning.“Get up now,” the angel told Joseph. “Take your son and your wife. Escape this very moment.”
Death was sure to come if they returned home, the angel told them. “Flee now to the safety and sanctuary of Egypt. Herod is manically searching for your son,” the angel said, “and if he finds Jesus he will kill him.”
So Joseph and Mary and Jesus journeyed to Egypt.
But they found no sanctuary there.
They found walls and barbed wire, instead.
They were confronted by armed guards and detention centers.
They heard the heart-rending lamentations of mothers as their children—even breast-feeding infants—were torn from their arms and taken away.
They had found the gospel of Zero Tolerance.
Mary clutched Jesus tightly as Joseph made the only decision possible. “We will travel along the border until we find a safe entry into Egypt. We will find a way to do what the angel said,” he told her. “We will protect our son and we will remain a family.”
But they never did find a way.
They were found by Herod, instead.
The infant Jesus was put to death, the anonymous victim of a madman.
And that is where the New Testament ends. There is nothing more to the Bible.
It’s as if Jesus was never even born.
Simon was never called Peter. He and his brother, Andrew, remained fishermen.
There was no Sermon on the Mount.
Nobody ever said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Nobody learned to turn the other cheek. It remained an eye for an eye.
Who knew they were the light of the world?
The blind never saw. The lame never walked.
Nobody ever said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
The Holy Spirit never came.
The meek had nothing.
The poor in spirit were left in desolation.
Those who mourned were lost in depression.
Those hungering for righteousness starved.
The merciful were beaten.
The pure in heart were ridiculed.
The peacemakers were locked away.
No light came to those living in the shadow of death.
Crucifixions remained in the world but there was no resurrection.
And all of us are surrounded by eternal and impenetrable darkness.
In fact, you’re not even reading this because it was never written.
Jesus is just the name of someone living south of our border.
“A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was dead calm.”
—The Gospel of Mark
I would have been freaking out, too. No question.
The Sea of Galilee is notorious for the ferocity and sudden onslaught of its storms. I’ve read that the surrounding mountains focus the force of the wind in a particularly demonstrative way.
Peace one moment, then all heck breaks loose.
My voice would have broken loose, too, joining the panicky chorus of the other disciples in the boat with Jesus.
“Hey!” I would have shouted, shaking Jesus by the shoulders with both hands, “don’t you care that this storm threatens my very existence?!?!”
We’ve all been there, experiencing a sudden difficulty that rises up over the top of our lives and threatens to swamp and sink us.
What I wouldn’t give to be able to sleep through the sudden storms in my life and simply wake up when the passing trouble—whatever it might be—had gone.
How comforting to possess the ability to rebuke the wind and say to the sea—and have the sea listen and obey—“Peace! Be still!”
If only I could be like Jesus, I think to myself, before realizing that I do have the ability shush the wind and end the storm.
In a way. But not in a way that would co-star me with cartoon superheroes who save the world.
I am incapable of being Thor and thundering back at my storms. But I don’t have to be like Jesus, either.
I simply need to recall one vital fact.
I just need to remember that in every circumstance I am with Jesus.
That Jesus is in my boat. Wherever my boat is and no matter the weather.
And if Jesus is in my boat then I cannot sink. But even if I do sink then Jesus will raise me up.
Remembering that, of course, is not always so very easy for me. Anxieties come calling and I too often invite them in and make them really comfortable. So very comfortable that they don’t want to leave, preferring to stay right where they are and take up residency in my life. I start getting their mail and answering their phone calls.
But—finally—I remember that Jesus is in my boat. And I repeat that to myself: “Jesus is in my boat.” Over and over.
And, when I do, I feel a sudden peace. Every single time.
I feel the wind dropping and the waves growing smaller and smaller.
Soon enough there is dead calm all around.
Even if the waves remain, however, I just don’t feel them as strongly.
Or fear them.
The skies lighten. Birds begin to sing. I feel a rainbow inside me.
The rainbow of Jesus in my boat.
Together we reach the shore that I’d been searching for and sailing towards.
Even when, physically, I haven’t moved an inch.
Because the deepest journeys are way inside me and the storms can’t go that far.
“He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’”
—The Gospel of Mark
We are all mustard seeds.
A mustard seed in the womb.
And then a mustard seed in this world.
One small piece of God’s dream for love and peace on Earth.
A punctuation mark in the great unending novel of humanity and its journey through darkness into light.
But, we are not just mustard seeds. This isn’t a case of having to settle for only being a mustard seed.
There is nothing “only” or “just” about being a mustard seed and a mark of punctuation.
Because punctuation makes all the difference.
And so can we.
Which is what Jesus wants us to understand.
What could be smaller than a period, comma or semicolon?
But, what has more potential?
A period, and something ends.
A comma, and something continues.
A semicolon, and two things are joined together.
We are all sown into this world as completely helpless babies. Totally vulnerable mustard seeds. Not even aware of our own two hands and unable to hold up our head.
But, oh, how that changes. How that mustard seed grows through the years until we truly do have the power to make things end or continue, and the ability to join things together.
For better or for worse.
How fortunate—given our ability to build up with love or break down with hate—that each of us human mustard seeds has the ultimate mustard seed inside us:
And, man, how that mustard seed can grow.
Our souls can become gigantic Redwood Trees of compassion and towering Sequoias of peace and reconciliation.
And when that happens we are able to provide “shade” for so much more than nesting birds.
Human beings can find shelter in our acts of determined kindness toward one another. Especially when we put our mustard seeds together.
When two or more of us gather together to address the world’s great need for love, that is how we become an entire forest of “shade” for those abandoned in the tree-less wilderness of indifference.
Wonderfully, however long we live we never grow up and out of our “mustard seed-ness.”
When we keep our hearts tuned to the Holy Spirit, we can remain mustard seeds until the day we die, able to put our comma, our period or our semicolon in just the right place to completely change the story.
Because the mustard seed inside us is the kingdom of God.
“A crowd was sitting around him and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mothers and my brothers?’ And looking at those who were around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers.’”
—The Gospel of Mark
The most wonderful thing might just be that we are never alone in this world.
Even when we’re all by ourselves.
Perhaps most especially when the solitude seems to be all that’s left.
In fact, our loneliness might just bring us closer to the one who never leaves our side.
No, we don’t see our brother.
And the world is so crazy and filled with so much noise and flashing distractions that we don’t often feel his presence unless we do find a quiet corner of our soul to pull a chair up beside him.
Or a tree to lean against together.
A moment looking out the window at the sunrise.
Or the utter darkness of midnight when the moon feels gone.
But our brother is there.
When we open our hearts, we find he’s never, ever left us.
It’s only us that lose track of him amid the roiling boil of emotions that can mask the sublime peace of his presence.
And, in our humanity, sometimes we seem to want to embrace an emotion that has nothing to do with that peace that passes all understanding.
We’d much rather be angry.
We’d rather be hurt.
Pinned down by a grudge.
Filled with a joy that can’t possibly last.
Tuned into the latest insane news story in a world that too often feels like an asylum.
But our brother is there beside us.
Even in the madhouse.
Especially in the despair of compassion falling apart in this corner of the world and being blown apart in that corner over there.
Our brother is waiting for us to realize that he is there.
Always has been.
Ever shall be.
Moonlight that never wanes.
A midnight sun.
The aurora borealis in our soul.
Vesper whispers at dawn.
Sunrise sanctuary in the gloaming.
The slightest touch on our shoulder that might have been a gentle breeze.
Was it really him?
Yes, it was.
“Again he entered the synagogue and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come forward … Stretch out your hand.’”
—The Gospel of Mark
I was hopeful.
So very optimistic.
Perhaps, just maybe, I would get there before the store closed. Green light. Green light. Wonderful. I was making good time.
Now, I wasn’t so sure.
The store closed at 6 p.m. and the clock in my car showed 5:59 as I pulled into a parking space right out front and hurriedly got out.
Whew! The store’s lights were still on and I could see people inside. Employees were still there. I gave the door a push.
Drat! (Or worse). Locked.
I knocked, nearly pressing my face against the glass like a kid at Christmas. Good, someone saw me. Here he comes.
But instead of opening the door, the young man points to the store’s hours, clearly shown on the door. “We’re closed,” I hear him say through the glass. And then he turns around and walks away.
“But,” I begin to say, and then realize I have about as much chance of getting in that store as an armadillo looking for a reserved front-row seat at the Oscar awards.
They could have let me in so easily, but the hours of this store’s operation were set in stone. They would not be bent for me, even for just one minute.
That is precisely the attitude Jesus confronts when challenged by the Pharisees for preparing to heal a man on the Sabbath. As far as those letter-of-the-law religious authorities are concerned the healing shop was and should be closed. The hours of compassion were clearly displayed and there must be no deviation.
But Jesus isn’t about rules, unless it’s about breaking those that seek to assert human control over God’s love and healing grace.
Jesus knew that the doors of love are always open, 24-7, every day of the week, each hour of the month, with no second of the year displaying a “closed” sign.
God’s love isn’t measured out in teaspoons and tablespoons. There is no minimum or maximum daily dose. What we truly need is what God truly gives.
God’s Holy Spirit is always telling us to “Come forward” with whatever feels withered in our lives.
If we seek, we shall find, and if we knock the door shall be opened, just as Jesus said.
The answer will come. It may not always be in the exact way, shape or form that we expect. (It’s best not to try to answer our own prayers by put ting words in God’s mouth, which I freely admit to having done more than once in my life.) But we can trust that an answer will come and that God will be with us as that answer unfolds in our lives.
So, let us confidently follow Jesus’ advice and “stretch out” to God, confident that God is already stretching out to us.
“You must be born from above. The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
—The Gospel of John
I heard the wind blowing in the tops of the trees at the dawning of this new day.
A vast sea of breeze skimming along the bottom of the sky.
The leaves reaching for the passing skirt of the wind as it skipped along the uppermost limbs and branches.
I stood in the greening shadows of a night that lingered but could grip its darkness no longer.
Alone and lost without you in this empty lane beneath the trees.
Just through the narrow gate.
Wondering what I might find if I followed your Galilean words that had led me here.
If only the wind—and you—could reach me, I said, though I knew no one could hear me.
If only it would touch me, let me taste its spirit.
If only I could feel its soft caress of love.
I took a few steps and heard a shepherd’s bell ring.
A note of soft beauty.
But I saw no lambs at all.
There was only me walking along this empty lane.
And then it happened.
The wind was all around me.
Whispered something in my ear.
The wind wanted me.
Desired all of me.
No matter what.
“I give myself to you entirely,” I heard the wind declare.
And I knew that it was true because I felt it filling every pore.
As if the sky were wrapping me up with the ribbons and bows of heaven.
Oh, wondrous gift.
But the wind was not alone.
“Raise your eyes, my beloved,” the wind told me.
So I did.
The light of a new day dawning was brush-stroking the tops of the trees.
“Touch the light. I brought it here with me for you,” the wind urged.
“But I cannot possibly reach such heights,” I protested, raising both arms above my head in sheer futility.
I felt the wind smiling. “Lift your spirit up to the Lord. Lift your heart and raise your soul,” I heard it say. “That is where the light will find you, as if you were the tallest tree that ever grew from the earth.”
And the light did find me.
The light now joined as one with the wind.
The windy light rustling my leaves.
The sun shining right down to my deepest roots.
Newly born in this shimmering forest.
A symphony of shepherd’s bells caroling in my heart as I feel a hand upon my shoulder.
“This way,” I hear you say with the voice of the morning wind in my ear.
“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf.’”
—The Gospel of John
Celtic Christians accurately described the Holy Spirit as the “Wild Goose” because it cannot be predicted and will not be tamed. It comes and goes as it pleases, plotting its own course in our lives. Just when we think we’ll never feel it so close again, the Holy Spirit knocks on our soul’s front door.
The Holy Spirit often comes to us in brief inspirational flashes, instantaneous realizations. Not unlike an Instagram or FaceBook post. The Holy Spirit can zip us a “tweet” or a “text” out of the blue.
The difference, however, is that, where so much of social media is inherently too abbreviated to be truly meaningful, the Holy Spirit’s “tweets” and “posts” are deeper than the sky.
And they invite us to go further still with the insights and understandings they provide.
The Holy Spirit’s messages are trail blazes on our spiritual journey, showing us which way to turn when we arrive at a crossroads and pray for direction.
And even when we don’t pray for guidance. Because the Holy Spirit is fully capable of picking the lock of our closed door if we refuse to answer its knocking.
This “Wild Goose” is not constrained or restricted by any flight pattern. The “Wild Goose” doesn’t join flocks of geese in the sky. Instead, it cares for each sheep and every single lamb in the Good Shepherd’s flock.
Loving and caring for you and I.
The Holy Spirit’s “voice” can resemble a feeling, a thought, an intuition, a hunch. Seemingly trivial and mundane things take on great meaning: a passing car with a message license plate that speaks like the direct answer to prayer that it is: God-incidence, not coincidence. If we are watching, if we listen. The Holy Spirit is able to use anything and everything to communicate with us. It might be an otherwise completely inexplicable occurrence or experience.
On a terrifically gusty day in February of 2017, I had just completed the manuscript for a book I believe God told me to write. (Two years earlier, the Holy Spirit had given me a sudden “vision” of this book, a book I’d never intended to write and hadn’t been thinking about at all.) I had just emailed it to my agent, who was pitching it that afternoon to a publisher he thought would be the perfect fit. I was out with my dog, letting him do his business, when I saw a leaf dancing mid-air in the windy distance. I had a flash of intuition that I was going to somehow catch this leaf.
The wind suddenly quieted, parting like the Red Sea, and the leaf floated straight toward me, closer and closer and then directly into my left hand. At that moment I “understood” that a path had been cleared for my book and that this particular publisher was, indeed, THE publisher. “I just ‘know’ the Holy Spirit was saying so with that leaf,” I told my wife that night. I signed a contract with that publisher a few months later.
The clearest sign that we have received and understood a message from the Holy Spirit will be a deep sense of peace, as if every blustering gust of wind has been calmed inside us. That’s just the way I felt on that wind-swept day after I caught that leaf even though I had been leashed to a particular spot with my dog. Or, I should say, after the leaf caught me.
None of us can fly on our own but, if we follow its “nudge,” the “Wild Goose” will give us its wings when we need it most, and in the way we most need it: a flight to our soul’s next understanding of how much God loves us.
Just as Jesus promised.