Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Narratives of the Bible: The Story of Exile and Return

Exile ... like the exodus-from-bondage story, the exile story is one rooted in our individual and collective consciousness. Whether it be as "simple" as being sent into the exile of a disciplinary "time-out", or whether it be the all-too-common trauma of being cast out of the "popular crowd in school, or whether it be as insidious as being out-cast from a spiritual fellowship ... exile is part of the human experience.

Let's hear what Marcus Borg unpacks - my comments will follow:

- Like the exodus story, the story of exile and return is grounded in a historical experience. The exile began in 587 BC, when, after Jerusalem and its temple were conquered and destroyed by Babylon, some of the Jewish survivors were marched into exile in Babylon some eight hundred miles away. There they lived as refugees, separated from their homeland and under conditions of oppression. Next to the exodus, this experience of exile and return was the most important historical event shaping the life and religious imagination of the Jewish people. It seared itself into their consciousness and became for them a metaphor for their relationship with God.

- It is an experience of separation from all that is familiar and dear. It usually involves powerless and marginality, often oppression and victimization. As a life of being separated from that to which one belongs, exile is often marked by grief. This feeling of being separated from home and longing for home runs deeply within us.

(I can attest to the power of this experience ... while I was never marched for hundreds of miles, I experienced the pain of moving many times, as an "army brat" ... I moved 25 times in my life, most of them in my growing-up years ... 3 high schools ... numerous times of having to leave those I loved, back in the days when the hand-written letter was the only affordable means of communication. Even worse, however, is when a religious community moves from being a 'safe haven' to the ones who oppress and cast out a member ... shunning is alive and well within a great number of Christian churches and fellowships/ministries ... if one cannot sign a "statement of beliefs", or if one's perspective changes, or if one points out a problem, one *becomes* the problem ... the system, seeing the system as more important than those within it, will self-protect ... humans become disposable elements, so that the system can continue ... and yet, this very experience can be a blessing-in-disguise, as it shockingly reveals what is *not* "home" ... we cannot know and experience the truth, while enslaved to a counterfeit ... there are times when we turn to God while being shaken, only to discover that it is GOD who is doing the shaking! But ... I'm getting ahead of myself!)

- In our own lives, the experience of exile as estrangement or alienation can be felt as a flatness, a loss of connection with a center of vitality and meaning, when, one day become very much like another and nothing has much zest. We yearn for something that we perhaps only vaguely remember. Life in exile thus has a profound existential meaning. It is living away from Zion, the place where God is present. Indeed, exile is central in the symbolism of the Garden of Eden story in the book of Genesis. The garden - paradise - is the place of God's presence, but we live outside of the garden, east of Eden. If the problem is exile, what is the solution? The solution is, of course, a journey of return. Thus, like the exodus story, the story of exile and return is a journey story. It images the spiritual life as a journey to the place where God is present, a homecoming, a journey of return.

(So many things come to mind here ... I think of the prodigal's story ... his exile was self-imposed ... in chasing after what he *thought* would make him happy, he found himself in a place of ruination and exile. He was not led to the pig-sty by an external captor, but by an internal one ... his own ego told him how to find happiness, and he believed that small voice, rather than the Voice of truth. He had lived with the Voice of Truth - symbolized by his won father - for all of his life ... it had always been there for him. But he didn't recognize this truth until he had traveled far from it. This journey, then, this exile, was required -- he had to get far enough away, and to "lose" that which he'd not known he'd had, in order to wake up, come to his own senses, and finally *begin* to SEE what he'd always had. It took what it took - and the wise father let him go ... knowing the value of the experience was well-worth the monetary "loss" of his inheritance. It was worth forfeiting his fortune, in order to discover that which is priceless: his true identity as a Son. He returns from this self-imposed exile while still in the midst of confusion ... still rehearsing his speech, still very filled with mixed-motives. He is not yet clear, in his mind, of his identity ... he is willing to settle for less. However, his heart knows the way home, and so he goes ... even as his mind is yammering about how to justify this offense. I love how the father - who personifies God - brushes aside the rehearsed speech, and simply embraces and celebrates -- the son has returned! The father's heart has never left the son ... the Father never forgets who we really are, even while we are deluded ... the Father knows that there is no separation, that the separation is only in the mind of the one who has listened to his own fear- and shame-based egoic thinking. It is the *ego*, and only the *ego* that imagines, and thus experiences, the separation. The Father sees the Truth, from the Higher/Deeper perspective. The Father continues to watch and to love -- waiting for us to come to our senses, to awaken to His reality, to re-turn home to Him, and to who we really are. So too, does God deal with the "obedient" one who always held to the law, and never rebelled, and YET, never appreciated, nor experienced, what he always had ... whether we come to the end of ourselves through rebelling, or complying, the awakening, and the embrace of the Father is the same.

Re-turn implies that we were there to start with ... that we go back to where we began. So too with reconcile - to be reconciled is to imply a previous conciliation. I see our exile, in whatever form, is just as illusional and self-imposed as that of the prodigal -- indeed, I believe that that's one of the messages of the parable, if we only have eyes with which to see at that higher/deeper level.

So, too, with the narrative of the Garden ... I notice that when the humans chose to disobey, that though *they* hid, God came looking for them ... though our tradition tells us that they fell from grace, that relationship with God was severed, the text does not say so, nor does it imply so. God came to find them, to talk with them, to explain to them the consequences (not punishment!) for their choices, and then to provide for them. God knows, as a good Father, that His children had to strike out on their own, with their egoic-inheritance of shame and fear, to live it up and spend that inheritance, until they, too, would come to the end of all they had, wake up in whichever pig sty they'd find themselves in, come to their senses, remember who they really are, and return Home, to God.

It takes what it takes ... both individually and collectively. But people, and even cultures, do indeed awaken. It's happening, on both a micro and macro scale.

We, too, can realize that Home was always available, that God was always present, that we were always loved, always spoken to, always provided for. That only our own delusional/egoic perspective stood in the way of us *seeing* what there was to see.

We, too, can wake up, remember who we really are, and return Home.)

Tomorrow ~ Narratives of the Bible: The Priestly Story

Shalom, Dena


cwtpmom said...

We, too, can wake up, remember who we really are, and return Home.)

I can't believe you just said that :)
It hints of Pre-existence.....

I haven't been able to keep up with daily blog writing, but I see you are doing great. I enjoy what you have been writing about the book you are reading. It is very good.

MysticBrit said...

"It hints of Pre-existence....."

Well, cwtpmom... aren't our souls eternal, and therefore have always existed/will always exist?:) Maybe when they take the physical form of a 'body' they sort of 'forget' who they they really are, and have to 'remember'? Just thinking aloud, but it 'feels' right to me. And totally heretical... but then I love me some heresy with my brekkies;)


dena said...

LOL - cwtpmom is a long-time friend of mine ... we come from vastly different church backgrounds, and used to spend our time fruitlessly attempting to convert one another...! ;) Finally, we gave up, and have just enjoyed this obviously-divine friendship we've been given. We're not *supposed* to be friends, according to our faith-traditions...! And YET! The heart knows what the doctrines cannot corral.

She's been telling me about pre-existence for over half a decade now, and I've been resisting. I'm certainly not in the "mind's made up" camp (actually, that's a stance I no longer make at all, prefering to trust that God will continue to tweak my beliefs/perceptions), but I'm seeing that it's got a lot of truth to it ... perhaps not quite as framed by her group's teachings, but truth is truth, and it will emerge. So, yes, I'm coming to see validity in this concept, and I do see it as having a biblical basis. Funny, no?

I figure all groups have tasted and experienced truth ... which shows why it bevooves us to connect, communicate, and appreciate each other's perspectives -- we're smarter together than any of us could be alone (quoting my friend, Kevin Beck)!

Shalom, Dena

graham old said...

'The heart knows what the doctrines cannot corral.'

Ha! Superb.

MysticBrit, hi - from another Brit. Can I ask you what makes you think the soul is eternal?

MysticBrit said...

Graham - hi back! What part of the UK? I'm in the extreme SW corner of Lincolnshire - Stamford.
Well... we're told we have 'eternal life', and that 'death is no more'... I just 'feel' it to be true, really, and it's not something I feel a need to defend in any way. I find that holding it to be true changes the whole way I approach 'life'.
Sorry if I'm being vague here, but this is all 'working out' in me, and my heart is still chewing on it!

MysticBrit said...

Dena - may your heart continue to fathom these Wonderful Things, and may your mind then go diving joyfully after it:D
Are we 'Alone', or 'All One'?;)

graham old said...

Mystic, Thanks for taking the time to reply.

'Well... we're told we have 'eternal life', and that 'death is no more'... I just 'feel' it to be true, really, and it's not something I feel a need to defend in any way. I find that holding it to be true changes the whole way I approach 'life'.
Sorry if I'm being vague here, but this is all 'working out' in me, and my heart is still chewing on it!'

No need to apologise!

I guess I've never seen those two ideas as implying the pre-existence of the soul. For me, 'eternal' is not the same as never-ending, so I don't take that into account.

Actually, I'm more inclined to question the existence of the soul than to credit it with pre existence. I tend to see it as a functional description of something that I as a person do. E.g. My 'body' is how/when I interact with the physical world. My 'spirit' is a description of how/when I interact with the 'spiritual world' and so on.

Not sure if that makes a difference?

graham old said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
graham old said...

Oh, I'm in Northampton, btw.

MysticBrit said...

Graham - It's hard to keep up with this 'insanely exhilarating':) woman's rate of output, so I've only just got round to responding to you. It's good to connect with folks in such weird and wonderful ways...

I'm coming to believe that the soul is actually a unique expression of God, God 'Godding' so to speak and so has 'allways' existed and 'allways' shall. I find that answer satisfies me just now.

Not being Dena, I'll leave it at that;)