Doug Talks Torah

Reflecting on all the ways Torah builds the world.

Rejoice in the Lord


Paul commands us to rejoice. Echoing the ancient Psalmist, he rehearses the call to “Rejoice in the Lord.” How can joy be commanded?

After several days at the beach, my siblings and I were growing weary with play. We started complaining, arguing, and expressing general discontent. Suddenly my dad’s voice boomed into the mix, “I paid good money for this trip and you had better enjoy it!”

Half fearful of the consequences of not enjoying the vacation, we quit complaining and stiffly tried to enjoy. Somehow joy under command seems odd, if not impossible. It seems inauthentic.

“Hey folks, I’m suffering here. The last thing I need is someone telling me that I am not happy enough. Didn’t the writer of Proverbs warn us about singing songs to a heavy heart?”

In my own life, I’ve noticed that complaint can sometimes be a habit rather than a state of mind. “How did you day go?” “Pretty good. Of course, I had to sit in traffic for 30 minutes!” Sometimes I’ve already unloaded a crateful of complaints without even thinking about it.

Then again, real suffering, serious life/death suffering can drive us to desperation. Both physical and mental suffering can weary the soul and even make us feel helpless under the weight. There have been days when the sun shone brightly but the clouds of my soul cast me in a thick and choking darkness.

In the late 90s, I was surprised by hopelessness. I entered a season of smothering, of struggle to live through each day, of waking nightmares that invaded every waking thought. The joy of the Lord that Paul exhorts hid beneath a flood of torments.

Rediscovering joy did not come in five easy steps, but it did come. The joy returned as a gift of God in midst of stark barrenness. The joy of the Lord came in the friendship and encouragement of my wife. The joy of the Lord came in remembering the goodness of God in the land of the living. The joy of the Lord came in the rehearsing of my life in light of His grace and love and mercy.

I beheld afresh the Savior who endured the cross, despising its shame, for the joy set before Him. In the greatest event of human suffering, Jesus moved toward joy. In the cross, I beheld a love unrestrained, unexplainable joy. I beheld the love of God in the land of darkness. I beheld the grace of God in the face of Christ as He entered completely into the broken world, broken heart, and broken life of humanity.

Day after day, week after week, I am continually learning the story of God’s love made manifest in Jesus Christ. Again and again the Lord meets me in the desperate weakness of my own prayers, in the gentle embrace of my wife, in the faithful love of God’s people.

There are times when suffering seems so very real and joy seems so very illusive: God is faithful. When heaven and earth are thick, unyielding obstacles to peace and joy: He is near. May we have eyes to see and a heart that learns to trust that His love can and will shine through the thick, obtuse world, reminding me, reminding us that He is near. He is near. And that is cause for joy.

image used by permission. courtesy of Senor Codo via Creative Commons.

Remembering Home

Sabbath is like remembering home.

remembering home

image courtesy of Thomas Hawk (via Creative Commons)

Singsong voices ringing in the air. Running through the house, out the back yard and circling round again. Burnt leaves lining the sides of the streets. Aromas of autumn float in the air. Rolling pastries to the hum of Christmas songs. Family and friends crowded around the dinner table. Long stories. Loud laughter. Drooping eyelids.

Longing for an innocence, a wonder, a place before.

Abraham Joshua Heschel tells the story of a prince sent away from his home, his father. He wanders the world alone, longing for his Father’s love and approval. One day a messenger arrives outside the lodging of the prince and announces, “Prepare to come home.” Filled with joy, the prince runs through the village and into the local tavern. “Food and drinks for all. Today is a day of great joy for I’ve heard the call to come home.” Heschel says that Sabbath is a day of great joy for we are going home to see the Father.

The image of going home haunts music and stories from age to age. On her recent album, The River and the Thread, Rosanne Cash sings,

“You thought you left it all behind
You thought you’d up and gone
When all you did was figure out
How to take the long way home.”

Throughout the album, characters come and go, run away, even travel the world, but they always end up driving back home.

I tore up all the highways
Now there’s nothing left to say
A mile or two from Memphis
And I finally made it home

And again,

I went to Barcelona on the midnight train
I walked the streets of Paris in the pouring rain
I flew across and island in the Northern Sea
And I ended up in Memphis, Tennessee

Sabbath not simply a longing for home, it is actively remembering home. Instead of the prince banished from home, think of the young man who demands his inheritance and then leaves home. Abandoning his roots, he wanders into the ravines of a broken world. He is lost and has forgotten the way home.

Sabbath rehearses the story of a people who have not only left home, they’ve forgotten the way back. They’ve forgotten their names, their father, their identity. IN Sabbath, we meet the Father who remembers us, who calls us by name, who leads his children home.

G.K. Chesterton once suggested that sometimes people still live at home, but have forgotten their home, their identity, the wonder of their lives. Exile might be their only hope of getting home. In The Everlasting Man, GKC says,

There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place; and I tried to trace such a journey in a story I once wrote.

We live in an age of exile.

The pain of exile echoes through the writings of the poet Czeslaw Milosz. Born in rural Lithuania, his homeland was swallowed by Poland. “I am a Lithuanian to whom it was not given to be a Lithuanian.” He lived through the chaos of Nazi occupation and Soviet rule. Eventually, he emigrated to the West and began teaching at Berkley in 1961. 

Listen to resonance of exile in his words. “Let my case stand as a lesson: behold the enduring image of a poet, ill at ease in one place, ill at ease in the other–“always and everywhere ill at ease”–who managed to distance himself by spinning cocoon-like, his incomprehensible language.”[2]

At age eighty, Milosz returned to visit his childhood land. His reflection may help us get a sense of the longing inherent in Sabbath.

In a world dominated by technology and mass mobility, most of us are first- or second-generation immigrants from the country to big cities. The theme of homeland, the whole nostalgic rhetoric of patria feed by literature since Odysseus journey to Ithaca, has been weakened if not forgotten. Returning to my river valley, I carried with me the heritage of these venerable cliches, already grown somewhat pale, and I was rather impervious to their sentimental appeal. Then something happened–and I must recognize that the myth of Ithaca stems from profound layers of human sensibility. I was looking at a meadow. Suddenly the realization came that during my years of wandering I had searched in vain for such a combination of leaves and flowers as was here and that I have always been yearning to return. Or, to be precise, I understood this after a huge wave of emotion had overwhelmed me, and the only name I can give it now would be–bliss.[3]

Stepping into the memory of home surprised Milosz with bliss. The joy of Sabbath is the joy of remembering home. This is not a sentimental reflection. It is a hope that lies beyond us, looking back and forward.

Sabbath looks back toward a home we only know in stories, Eden. Sabbath looks forward to home that is coming, New Jerusalem. On most days, we walk and live and shape our lives with a sense of exile. Some respond to this sense of lack by mastery of the world in business, government, and even religion. This mastery has an ancient name: Baalism. It will use the world and the people around me to fulfill me, my goals, my longings. It will always result in oppression.

Sabbath chooses the way of trust instead of mastery. I cannot find my way home, my way to very reason I exist, but I can trust the father who created me to restore me and lead me into the fullness of love.

Sabbath is a way of weakness. It is a way of remembering home. It is way of turning and returning to the lovingkindess of God. In Heschel’s language, it is a “palace of time” where we taste the coming hope to live and move and dwell in our only true home.

So we pause weekly, daily and even in the moment to look out to a hope that lays beyond us in the grace of God. We remember his lovingkindness is everlasting. We trust that He is faithful and will lead us into the fullness of love. He roots us in his life and reveals his fruit, his joy, his peace in our lives as we wait and walk toward home.

[1] From Wikipedia. (Lithuanian) “Išėjus Česlovui Milošui, Lietuva neteko dalelės savęs”Mokslo Lietuva (Scientific Lithuania) (in Lithuanian). Retrieved October 16, 2007.
[2] Czeslaw Milosz. To Begin Where I Am. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, NY: 2001, p. 11.
[3] ibid. p. 25-26.


“If we are not able to rest one day a week, we are taking ourselves far too seriously.” – Marva Dawn

Discerning Spiritual Experiences

spiritual experiences
“…faith is understood as the encounter of the whole person with God. And it is precisely the whole man that God desires to have before him. He wants for his Word the response of the whole man. God wants man not only with his intellect (which would, in any case, have to be sacrificed to a truth which is not self-evident), but, from the outset, also with his will; he wants man not only with his soul, but also and equally with his body.” (Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Glory of the Lord, Volume 1, p. 213)

Living faith is not simply mental consent to a set of propositions about God and man. Von Balthasar reminds us that we participate in this living faith with our whole and undivided person. Spiritual experience encompasses our whole life and may overwhelm us in ways we had not expected. Continue reading

The Mystique of Spiritual Direction

spiritual direction

I was talking with a friend the other day about spiritual direction, and the conversation continued in my head long after I walked away. In fact, our conversation was an overflow of a conversation she had with another friend the day before. Words, thoughts, questions sometimes linger long after we leave the presence of another. Continue reading

Building Hope Amidst the Ruins

building hope

In the lonely haunts of forsaken places, the people of God are building hope.

What does building hope look like? It looks like a glimpse, a hint, a promise of God’s coming Shalom. The Lord rescues the children of Israel from a world built and sustained by slavery. He leads them on pilgrimage through the stark barrenness of the wilderness. Far away from the Nile and the bounty of Egyptian food, his people face the threat of no water and no food. Stripped of necessary provisions, the people of God learn that we do not live by bread alone but by “every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3). Continue reading

“Christianity does not make a new cosmos but makes the cosmos new.” – Herman Bavinck

Asking Questions in Torah

questions in torah I’ve got a questions about asking questions in Torah, and maybe you can help. I am trying to collect questions in Scripture and think about how they relate to questions in our lives. I am also thinking about how we group questions. A few cursory searches have revealed several interesting approaches to grouping questions from a range of viewpoints including teachers developing questions for tests, philosophical questions, grammatical questions, rhetorical questions and more.

Even as I ask questions about questions in Torah, I want to hear how other people think about questions in their own lives. Continue reading

“Flowers laughing in the sunlight of their sprightly names. Earth will write them up in its book of rising accounts.” John Hollander

Change My Way of Thinking


way of thinking

“Gonna change my way of thinking
Make myself a different set of rules
Gonna change my way of thinking
Make myself a different set of rules
Gonna put my good foot forward
And stop being influenced by fools”

On his Slow Train Coming album, Bob Dylan sang, “Gonna change my way of thinking.” (See He is talking about a change rooted in “a different set of rules” that take shape in him putting his best foot forward. These lines sound like they could be informed by the psalmist who is meditating upon Torah. Continue reading

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