For a few weeks now I have been reading and praying the Episcopal Daily Office — morning and evening prayer. I don’t yet have a prayer book so have been using the online Office provided by Mission St. Clare.
The Office consists of varied readings, responses, prayers, and the Apostle’s Creed. Some bits are the same every time, and other bits have a handful of variations or options, and other bits vary by the church season.
From time to time I might blog about anything in the Office that stands out to me for one reason or another — as being puzzling or beautiful or whatever.
Today we read Psalm 103 with its long list of things God does for people, and later in the Gospel reading we had this troublesome verse: “Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you” (John 16:23b).
I want to hold the Bible as the true Word of God, to take it the way it really is and not as we think it is or think it should be, and it is not always an easy task. Some traditional and conservative ways of looking at it have become problematic, and while some more liberal approaches seem to be fully faithful and offer workable solutions, it’s a bit scary to move in those directions, down that old slippery slope.
What could Jesus have possibly meant by “ask anything and get it”? Surely it’s not literally and absolutely true. Does it really hinge, as many say, on what “in my name” means — that asking “in my name” means only asking for things that he wills to happen anyway? That seems disingenuous at best! Or does it mean having enough faith, so that if I don’t get what I ask for, it’s my own fault? That doesn’t seem quite right either. In the same way, while God does sometimes for some people do all of the wonderful things in Ps 103, he doesn’t do them all for all people at all times… is that a problem or not?
The other thing that stood out to me in today’s reading was from Genesis 17:8 — “And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding…” Oh how many troubles have come from that promise! Why, dear God, did you choose this path? Some would say that the Canaanites were especially wicked and it was judgment against them — others would say that everyone is that wicked and we should be more amazed that anyone escapes such judgment. I suppose yet more would say that it’s symbolic of the spiritual promised land to come — that the people had to have a journey to a new land to prefigure this spiritual journey.
In the same way the Genesis passage, and the one from Colossians, deal with the symbol of circumcision. (Today is the day for commemorating Jesus’ circumcision — his first shedding of blood for us… interesting.) Concrete in the past, symbolic now in baptism — a connection that still seems a little odd to me. It’s interesting that circumcision is the only requirement God gives Abraham for keeping covenant. These days there’s not as much support for physical circumcision — an unnecessary and painful operation with lasting effects. Why would God have mandated such a thing?
And there we go — not much besides puzzlement today. And yet I am being as faithful as I can be; it does no one any good for me to pretend I don’t wonder about such things.