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Posts Tagged ‘chesed

“How Can I Help You?”

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Hungry for Power Vs. Repairing the World

This question is an invitation—a beautiful invitation.

If you ask me how you can help, I have an immediate gut response: “Yes! Wait. What do I need right now?” Your question makes me an active participant in my life. The question reminds me I have choices to make about my needs. Do I need someone to hold a door or a wrench or a flashlight? Do I need a kick in the butt or a power nap?

What I need right now depends on what I am trying to do at this moment. But longer term, what does an employee need from a boss to do her job? What does a student need from an instructor to apply these writing lessons to his life? You can see the question initiates a call and response—like most everything with communication. A question that needs an answer. A draft followed by a revision.

From Christian theology, I might call the question an artifact of kenosis, that notion of self-giving that is so hard for us power-hungry humans to live out. Then again, maybe it is less an artifact and more an aspiration. Maybe the question is a statement about the person I hope to become: caring and thoughtful and using my time and attention to help you reach your goal. But still aspirational, because I have a feeling you may actually tell me what you need. And then I have to put down my book or turn off the TV or be late to work to help you.

No matter how you look at it, the question asks you to know something about yourself and about your journey through life. What do you need to move forward in your journey right now? Back to theology for a moment: The psalmists who wrote the Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120-134 in the Christian Bible) knew to query the creator and to articulate their need, whether for food or stability or growth or to beat up enemies. These authors (and generations of people who pray) had the sense that the Holy One was waiting in the wings with lovingkindness (“chesed”). They (the authors along with the many who pray) made a career of depending on that offer of help.

Maybe our use of the “How can I help you?” depends on the psalmist’s impulse. We thwart our own power-hungry instincts when we ask it of those who have no chance of moving us forward. But we ask it because of the kind of people we want to be and because we believe there is a deep well of chesed out there.

Maybe we ask “How can I help you?” because we are weary of constant rage and yearn for a vocation of repairing the world.


Image credits: Kirk Livingston

Please Write This Book: A Year in Chesed

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of course there is dancing

In A Year in Provence, British copywriter Peter Mayle, moved to France and wrote about this place of exceptional food, wine and beauty. Mayle provided his reader with nearly first-hand experiences of cooking, shopping and conversation. Along the way we saw hints of a different way of living.

I want to read a book that takes a similar journey, but rather than air travel to a glorious foreign country, I want the author to settle into a land devoid of anxiety and full of bonhomie toward men and women. I want the author to get there by following the thread of meaning from a very particular foreign word: “Chesed

Google chesed and you’ll find a central Jewish value that means (for starters) “lovingkindness,” but points to much, much more. This old Hebrew word appears 247 times in the Torah and 127 times alone in the Psalms. “Chesed” has shades of meaning in the Torah, variously translated to English as: loving-kindness, mercy, favor, pity.

I imagine living in chesed is something like life in a foreign country. My glimpses of this country come mostly through the Psalmists who use the word again and again as they respond to or acknowledge God’s care. It is a word that describes a way of life that is the polar opposite of my country’s “Black Friday,” and all that consumerist orgy represents.

As you write this book, please take long, generous expeditions into this land of living in gratefulness and thanksgiving. Explore how the inhabitants of this land depend on materials and attitudes already in their possession. Please show me what contentedness looks like. Show me how they brush off the slights and insults and lack of fame because they are grounded with a deeply-rooted faith-joy in the creator. I imagine this land as anti-Kim Kardashian: Sopping with contentment. Joy. Stability. Not glamorous. Not narcissistic. Not attention-seeking. So that means your book won’t get on the news every evening. But I’ll buy a copy.

Spend a full year there. Show me what happens when the crops are not bountiful and enemies encroach. Show me chesed when taxes are due and when plans go terribly wrong.

Please write this book soon because my land is teaming with insects whose bite results in a longing for more shiny stuff and much daily fame. In the meantime, I’ll keep looking through the postcards the psalmists sent.


Image Credit: Via 2headedsnake

Written by kirkistan

December 7, 2011 at 9:15 am

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