Reading Writing

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt–a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD.But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Jeremiah 31:31-34  (excerpt from lectionary text for Sunday, October 20, 2019:  Jeremiah 31:27-34)

How many cashmere sweaters does it take to fill a hole in the soul?

This is a trick question.  Cashmere does not fill the hole.  Cashmere covers it over, hiding it from sight and perhaps, for a little while, from mind.  There is comfort in that.  Passing comfort, to be sure, but no less real while it lasts.  My curser hovers over the ‘Buy now’ button.  No.  I will not buy.  Though the price has dropped.  Does that make it all right? How to read the signs?  My friend is a pastoral counselor and an indefatigable knitter.  If anyone can give me advice about the spiritual dilemma that is cashmere it is she.

How to read the signs?  She takes the question seriously, at least.  And (ever the good counselor!) does not give me an answer.  She nods recognition as I voice what I already realize.  It’s not really about the hole in my wardrobe (a mulberry-red cardigan would be useful).  I know.  By hearing me trace over the lines I’d already noticed, she’s made them plainer, easier for me to read, harder for me to avoid seeing.

Why all this about reading?  What does this have to do with Jeremiah, anyway, that fifth century prophet speaking protest and pain at the end of the nation, in the name of the LORD?  What does this have to do with this word of a new covenant coming?

Notice the particular newness that is promised.  The covenant is not new in content, nor even new in being written.  The newness is the direct locus of the writing:  the heart.

God has written the covenant before.  God’s own finger wrote two stone tablets at Sinai (Exod 31:18; Deut 9:10).  And after those first tablets were smashed in response to the people’s sin, after Moses had pleaded and God had resolved to restore relationship with the people, then God wrote the covenant a second time.  This time, God wrote on two stone tablets he commanded Moses to carve, in a process of divine-human cooperation (Exod 34:1-4; Deut 10:1-5). 

Is the new writing another instance of the same cooperation?  Moses provided the stone.  I provide the heart.  God provides the writing.

Then here as before, the writing does not end the process but begins it.  Keep these words in your heart, Moses had said.  Write them and recite them and wear them and talk about them (Deut 6:4-9).   Writing is written to be read.  Inscription is not itself the goal but the means towards knowing God, loving God with all our heart and soul and might (Deut 6:4).  God promises to short-cut the process, writing directly on the waiting heart, yet in support of that same goal:  ‘know the LORD.’  I learn God by reading God’s writing.

So, what is God writing on my heart, in my life?  How to read the lines that sometimes seem so faintly limned?  Look.  Listen.  Ponder.  Pray.  And ask not just my own soul but inquire of others’ visions and voices.  God does not write to end the process but to bring it further towards completion. 

Don’t try to cover over the hole.  Plumb it.  Realize, even, that it’s not a hollow, all the way through, but a channel.  It is the path of a diamond-point pen inscribing God’s will for my life, God’s love for my being.  God writes so that I may read and, reading, may know the LORD. 

So, read what God is writing.  Read even (especially) the words cut most sharply and deeply in my heart.  Read carefully.  Read closely.  Read in company.  Read life to have life.  Abundantly.  

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