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August 18, 2003
The eMos are written in this way: I turn on the computer and let it hum and click itself into some consciousness of the new day, reading Morning Prayer, from the Book of Common Prayer, while it is doing so. Then I write the eMo. Although the eMo is not ordinarily a meditation on the scripture passages I have just read, it is nonetheless part of the morning's meditation for me. When technology fails me -- or, as is more often the case, when I fail it -- and I can't write the eMo right away, in the early morning, I miss it. Writing has become part of my prayer. No matter what my subject.

Reading makes you write. Reading anything. Are you blocked from writing today? Read something. Read something you've written. Or briefly, what someone else has written, noting its style and technical tricks. You'll write.

Reading scripture orients you to holy things, holy writing -- even if, as is the case today, the passages in question are about some pretty violent moments. Here is what goes in the Daily Office today, for instance: David finally engages the army of rebellious Israelites that his own son has arrayed against him, and twenty thousand of them are killed; Paul is hauled up before the chief priests and the council and one of them orders him struck in the mouth. "God will strike you, you whitewashed wall!" Paul responds, and the clearly the hearing is not off to a good start. Even Jesus is having a bad behavior day: he goes to a fig tree -- at a time when figs are not in season -- and, finding no figs, curses it. It withers to the ground in a single day. This is the only such story about Jesus retained in the canon of scripture that eventually became the New Testament -- there were more such grim stories circulated about him in the early days, but this one is the only one remaining in which we see him cursing something. Not exactly the sweet Jesus we're used to -- you don't want to get on his bad side.

Whatever these violent stories did for their first hearers, their presence in scripture gives us leave to find something that they might do for us. How might I be edified by David's slaughter of twenty thousand men? By cranky Paul, not your model defendant? By a cursing Jesus?

I could thank God we're not nearly as violent as the ancient Israelites, but we are. We're much more efficient killers than they were. I could thank God that the justice system has improved since Paul had his day in court, but lately I am not so sure.

That leaves the cursing Jesus. Hungry, tired and angry -- He was truly human, we tell ourselves each time we recite one of the creeds, and that day He acted like we act. If there had been a wall nearby, he might have put his fist through it. If He had had a wife, He might have yelled at her. Might He have done worse? We do, sometimes. But Jesus? These are terrible thoughts. That capital "H" looks incongruous among them. These are lower case deeds.

Maybe the story isn't true -- a story told around ancient campfires to others, not to us. Maybe we can safely discard it.

Or maybe we can think of something else, something that we don't like to think of: that Jesus' being truly human meant that He wasn't perfect, as we always say He was. That He learned like we learn: by making mistakes. That he wasn't born knowing everything -- he learned, and puzzled, was instructed by his parents. That His divinity, present from the first, dawned upon Him and grew in His awareness, bursting forth in all its blinding force at the moment of resurrection. Intertwined, until then, with someone who was much more like us than we like to think. Because if He was more like us than we think, we could be more like Him than we are.
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