Context: After my hospital trip to London I’m absolutely drained, so I’m particularly thankful for this short blog, which came to me a few days ago, whilst I was recovering from a migraine:
The Lord our God, the Lord is one (Mark 12:29; NIV).
One God, one Lord,
One Holy Ghost;
One faith, one hope,
One cup, one host;
One flesh, one mind,
One heart, one soul;
One life, one goal.
Let love be your highest goal! (1 Corinthians 14:1; NLT).
Godislove, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them (1 John 4:16; NLT).
There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called into one hope when you were called. There is one Savior, one faith, one baptism, one God and Creator of all, who is over all, who works through all and is within all (Ephesians 4:4-6; TIB).
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread (1 Corinthians 10:16-17; KJV).
YHWH fashioned an earth creature out of the clay of the earth, and blew into its nostrils the breath of life. And the earth creature became a living being (Genesis 2:7; TIB).
God, the LORD, created the heavens and stretched them out. He created the earth and everything in it. He gives breath to everyone, life to everyone who walks the earth (Isaiah 42:5; NLT).
I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one – as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me (John 17:21-3; NLT).
Whilst praying this morning, I reflected on the severely unsettled, and unsettling, state of our world:
Those who hold power are taking their stand, gathering their forces against YHWH (Psalm 2:1; TIB).
But then I saw that God is just as unchanging, powerful and loving as ever:
I am the LORD, and I do not change (Malachi 3:6; NLT).
Thine, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all (1 Chronicles 29:11; KJV).
He loves us with unfailing love (Psalm 117:2; NLT).
God waits for us to repent, so we can be forgiven, and start to change:
The LORD must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion (Isaiah 30:18; NLT).
Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; NLT).
So I prayed that we will all repent, turn to God, and start changing our lives before it’s too late: before we destroy the earth, our only home, and all her plants, creatures and people, through our foolish wars, hatred, selfishness, greed and ignorance:
Perhaps even yet they will turn from their evil ways and ask the LORD’s forgiveness before it is too late. For the LORD has threatened them with his terrible anger (Jeremiah 36:7; NLT).
Reading: Psalm 2, The Inclusive Bible
Why are the nations creating such an uproar?Why all this commotion among the peoples?
Those who hold power are taking their stand, gathering their forces against YHWH, against God’s Anointed One. “Let’s break their chains!” they say. “Let’s throw off their shackles!”
But the One who sits enthroned in the heavens laughs; the Sovereign One derides them, then rebukes them in anger and, enraged, terrifies them: “It is I who installed my ruler on Zion, on the mountain of my holiness!”
I will proclaim God’s decree – YHWH said to me: “You are my own; I’ve given birth to you today. Just ask – I’ll give you the nations as your inheritance! I’ll give you the ends of the earth as your possession! You’ll break them with an iron scepter; you’ll shatter them as easily as a clay pot.”
So, you rulers, be wise! And you who hold power, stand warned! Serve YHWH and rejoice – but do so with fear and trembling.Pay homage to God’s Own lest you be destroyed on your way in a blaze of anger – for God’s passion can flare up without warning.
Happiness comes to those who make God their refuge!
We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, justaswe are – yet he did notsin (Hebrews 4:15; NIV).
On Monday morning, a friend asked me how I understand Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, which prompted me to re-read Luke’s familiar story:
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days (Luke 4:1; NLT).
During this time, Jesus had to wrestle against the temptations caused by his desperate physical hunger (vv2-4), his desire for earthly power (vv5-8), and his longing to test out his trust in God (vv9-12).
Many people have written extensively about what Jesus experienced in the wilderness, but I would like to focus briefly on the mysterious, alarming figure who tempted him.
An immediate problem is raised by the Greek word “diabolou”, which is often translated as “the devil”. However, this word is actually an adjective, rather than a name or a noun. It means “prone to slander, slanderous, or accusing falsely” (Strong’s Greek). Thus, “the devil” is clearly not a being of any kind.
I find this interesting and helpful, as I have never seen the “devil” as a being. Rather, I understand the personification of “accusing falsely”as a way of representing Christ’s inner struggles with the temptations to which all human beings are subject. Welling up spontaneously from the unconscious mind, powerful, disturbing desires and impulses can assail us at any time, especially when we are very vulnerable, as was Jesus in the desert.
Jesus’ understanding of temptation
Jesus came to understand the inner, psychological process of temptation very well, both from personal experience and through observing others. This how he explained it to a crowd one day:
It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness…
It is interesting to note that there is no suggestion at all here that people are tempted by any kind of external force or being. Rather, Jesus concludes his teaching by stating firmly that:
…All these vile things come from within (Mark 7:20-23; NLT).
As a human being, though also divine, Jesus was subject to temptations, just like us (Hebrews 4:15; NIV), and how strong they must have been during those challenging days alone in the wilderness. He had just experienced one of the high points of his life: hearing God’s approving voice, and receiving the Holy Spirit at his baptism. Then, immediately afterwards, he felt compelled to spend many days alone in the wilderness, facing extreme heat, cold, hunger, thirst, and the constant threat posed by wild animals.
What a strange, challenging experience this must have been, causing him much deep physical and mental suffering, so it’s not surprising that the Gospel-writers’ accounts faithfully reflect the vivid, hallucinatory quality of Jesus’ desert retreat. Perhaps this is what leads so many translators to personify the powerful reality of his inner temptations, by turning them into an external being they called “the devil”.
The LORD is like a father to his children.
(Psalm 103; 13; NLT).
As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you. (Isaiah 66:13; NIV).
Holy Spirit, pray within me –
Like a father, safely guiding,
Like a mother, reconciling,
Like a teacher, gently chiding –
Now, and evermore.
Holy Spirit, pray within me –
Like a potter, smoothly moulding,
Like a mentor, wisely scolding,
Like a comforter, enfolding –
Now, and evermore.
Holy Spirit, pray within me –
Like a pastor, interceding,
Like a doctor, caring, healing,
Like a pilgrim, sighing, pleading –
Now, and evermore.
The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
(Romans 8:26-7; NRSV).
Reflections on Biblical translation
I’m often struck by how powerfully Biblical translations influence the thinking, attitudes, beliefs and behaviour of their readers. The consequences of such effects can be positive or negative, both for the holder, and for those they relate to.
Below are four renderings of the quote which ends today’s blog. They illustrate how differently these verses can be translated in terms of the grammatically gendered pronouns used to refer to God’s Spirit. I have highlighted the relevant words for each quotation:
1. Neuter/masculine Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God (KJV).
2. Masculine In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God (NIV).
3. Feminine The Spirit, too, comes to help us in our weakness. For we don’t know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit expresses our plea with groanings too deep for words. And God, who knows everything in our hearts, knows perfectly well what the Spirit is saying, because her intercessions for God’s holy people are made according to the mind of God (TIV).
4. Inclusive The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (NRSV).
These four quotes illustrate significantly different ways of translating the original Greek text. All of them are justifiable, though the first three are incomplete. This is because the Greek word used for “Spirit” here is grammatically neuter, whilst its definite article (the) denotes feminine, masculine and neuter. Moreover, the reflexive pronoun translated as “Himself” in the second example, actually means he, she, it, they, them and same (Strong’s Greek).
The sheer breadth of meaning that needs to be compressed into a single pronoun here is stunning, and sadly the English language offers no easy way to express the extraordinary inclusivity of the Greek. The fourth quotation is the only one which manages this, by carefully using solely inclusive, non-gendered vocabulary.
I have great sympathy for translators faced with the challenge of trying to convey such complex meanings, especially as the decisions they make are also likely to be influenced by countless conscious and unconscious factors. Here I would include, for example, the conventions, attitudes and prejudices of their era regarding the ascribed roles and status of women and men. Each translator’s individual upbringing, education, training, experience and stage of faith development are also likely to play a part in the words they choose. So I don’t envy these brave souls, who carry a heavy burden of responsibility for how each reader understands, and responds to, every word they read in their chosen Biblical translation.
Acknowledgement All the grammatical information on which this discussion is based is taken from Strong’s Greek, which is publicly available, free of charge, via Blue Letter Bible, at: https://www.blueletterbible.org
The Almighty …blesses you with blessings of the skies above, blessings of the deep springs below, blessings of the breast and the womb.
(Genesis 49:25; NIV).
✝️ Greetings and blessings to everyone who visits and follows here. I pray for you all each day.
This extra message is to let you know that from tomorrow onwards, I will be using inclusive language for my blogs wherever possible. When this goes beyond my writing ability, I will try to post two versions, one using the traditional male pronoun for God, and one using more inclusive language.
I’m well aware that whilst some people will welcome this change, others would find it a big challenge if I moved suddenly to expressing a wider understanding of God. I’ve been pondering about how best to begin this transition for some time, but today God showed me this simple way forward, to my great joy.
Later the same day:
As I look back over my recent writing, it’s proving hard to find a piece that doesn’t already use inclusive language, so you may well not notice much difference. However, I still want to be upfront that this change is on its way.
I hope very much that those who find the change difficult will not reject these prayers out of hand. To begin with, when there are two versions of the day’s blog, I will always put the traditional version at the top of the page, so you need not look any further if that is more helpful for you. This is why I have arranged the photos illustrating this message with a more traditional choice above, and a more inclusive version at the end.
I pray that, in time, embracing a fuller and deeper understanding of God will become a huge blessing for us all. Please be patient whilst I learn to adapt the way I write. I’m sure there will be times when inclusivity will present me with a steep learning curve!
✝️ With love from Ruth xxxxx
As truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our mother.
(Revelations of Divine Love, Chapter 59, Julian of Norwich).
I want people everywhere to lift their hands up reverently in prayer. (1 Timothy 2:8; TIB).
Jewish people have a long-established tradition of praying in the orans position. This means standing with the elbows close to the body, while the lower arms and hands are uplifted and extended. The practice is often mentioned in the Old Testament (eg Psalm 134:2; NLT, and Psalm 28:2; NLT). Early Christians were encouraged to pray in this posture by the apostle Paul (1 Timothy 2:8; TIB), but over recent centuries its use has declined in some denominations.
Orans means “one who is praying or pleading” (Wikipedia). For those who are in good health, standing to pray with uplifted arms may present no problems. However, for those who are sick, disabled or in pain, perhaps with limited balance, strength, or energy, this posture may seem too challenging to try. Fortunately, though, it can be adapted to suit individual needs.
This is important, as whatever our state of health, the orans posture offers a wonderful way of communicating with God. Furthermore, it can be particularly helpful when we are distressed, or afraid, or when prayer seems impossible.
The basic, free-standing orans posture
🌺 In the basic, free-standing orans position the feet are planted solidly on the floor, slightly apart. The elbows are tucked in at the waist, touching the sides of the body. The lower arms are extended forwards, upwards and outwards. The hands are gently cupped, facing each other, with the palms turned slightly upwards (see photo at the top of this article).
The significance of the orans posture for me
When I stand in the orans posture, I see my feet as being grounded on the base of a large triangle. I visualise the sloping sides of the triangle as running through the centre of each palm, just as the nails pierce Christ’s hands in many depictions of his crucifixion. The sides of the triangle continue upwards, meeting above my head. This creates a sacred space, whose apex is in heaven.
The orans position helps me to be more fully aware of God’s constant, loving and liberating presence within and around me, no matter how, or where, I am. It fosters a sense of co-creating, entering, and sharing a sacred space with God. Within this space, I consciously embrace my essential oneness and communion with our Lord (see Ephesians 4:5-6; NLT, and 2 Samuel 22:20; NIV).
Praying in this posture also reflects and expresses my intention to be completely open with myself and with God, who desires our honesty at all times. It facilitates a sense of sharing everything with God, who suffers with me, and of giving, as well as receiving (see Psalm 51:6; NLT, and Isaiah 63:9; NLT).
Adapting the orans position
As mentioned above, the orans posture can readily be adapted to fit individual needs. So, I would like to offer some examples of how it can be used whilst standing, leaning, kneeling, sitting and lying. There are several options for some body positions, each offering a little more support than the one before.
🌺 Stand with your back to a wall. Position your heels a few inches away from the wall, with feet slightly apart. Lean back very slightly, allowing your shoulders to rest against the wall. Keep your elbows by your sides and raise your hands as for the free-standing position described above.
🌺 Stand facing a wall, with feet slightly apart, and a few inches away from it. Place your lower arms against the wall, leaning on them, so the wall helps to support your weight. Keep your back straight. You can also rest your forehead against the wall, if you wish. Bend your wrists slightly backward, so you can hold your hands away from the wall, cupping them as shown in the photo below.
🌺 Lean your thighs or hips against a solid support, such as the edge of a dining table or the front of small chest of drawers. Position your arms and hands and arms as for the free-standing position.
🌺 Stand two or three inches away from a solid chest-high piece of furniture, such as a tall-boy. Lean your abdomen and chest against it, then lift your arms and hands into the oransposture, as in the photo below.
🌺 Kneel, facing a hard chair, or bed. Keeping your elbows by your sides, rest the sides of your extended hands on the support in front of you. If the surface is too low, use a pillow to raise it to a comfortable level.
🌺 Sit up reasonably straight on a hard chair. Keep your elbows by your sides and feet flat on the floor, slightly apart. Rest your lower arms on your thighs, cupping and tilting your hands, as before. Place a pillow across your lap if you need to raise the level.
🌺 Sit back comfortably in an armchair, whilst adopting the orans position with your arms and hands. Use a pillow on your lap if you need to raise the level, as below.
🌺 Sit with your legs raised, using a footstool, or reclining chair. Rest your arms and hands on your thighs, or on a pillow, as before.
NB Sitting in the orans posture is particularly useful if you want to pray discreetly during a meeting, conversation or argument, whilst travelling, watching TV, relaxing etc. If you are sitting at a table, you can keep your arms and hands below it in the core position. If there is no table, place a jumper, coat, or newspaper on your lap, then position your lower arms and hands underneath it, so you can pray privately, even though you are with others.
🌺 Lay on the floor or in bed, with a pillow supporting your head and neck, feet slightly apart, and arms by your sides. With relaxed shoulders, rest your elbows on the floor or mattress, whilst placing the sides of your hands on the tops of your thighs. The hands are tilted slightly upwards and cupped, as always. You can keep them above or below a blanket, or the bedclothes.
🌺 Lay on the floor or in bed, as above, but this time place your elbows a few inches away from your sides. If you are in bed, your upper arms and elbows cab rest on the bedclothes. Bend your elbows, raising your lower arms until the backs of your cupped hands rest on the pillow beside your head, as illustrated below.
🌺 Lay flat on the floor or in bed. This time, keep your arms relaxed by your sides. Let the backs of your hands rest on the mattress, a few inches away from your thighs. Keep the hands cupped, with palms tilted gently upwards and towards each other, just as before.
Be creative when you pray in the orans position:
Moses’ arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up. So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands. So his hands held steady until sunset (Exodus 17:12; NLT).
Lean or sit on whatever solid surface is nearby, for support. Prop up your arms, wrists, or hands with pillows. If you get cold whilst standing, leaning, or kneeling, wrap a blanket loosely around you, tucked in at the waist. Use a blanket or duvet to keep warm whilst sitting or lying down.
You can look gently upwards, or straight ahead, or bow your head, just as you wish. Your eyes can be open or closed. If you wish to, make the sign of the cross before you begin, and kiss your fingers, blessed through prayer, when you end. Keep on praying, even as you move out of the orans position to continue with your daily activities. Allow yourself to improvise, doing whatever feels most helpful, appropriate and expressive at the time.
Whether your prayers last for moments, minutes or hours, make sure you are as relaxed and comfortable as possible. It’s fine to change from one body position to another, just as you feel the need. Don’t push yourself to maintain the posture for longer than you want to, or are able to manage comfortably. The most important thing is to experience the sense of space, peace, love, safety, openness, freedom and communion with God offered by this posture.
Lastly, you can adapt the oransattitude to your personal needs. For example, when praying at my shrine, which is on a tall chest of drawers, I lean against the chest, positioning my hands just above some of the small items at the front of the shrine. In this way, I become part of the shrine, which I find particularly helpful.
Similarly, when walking outdoors with my rollator, I can pray whilst holding the handles with cupped hands, keeping my fingers, slightly curled, resting safely on the brake levers. Walking with my hands in the orans position in my pockets would have a similar effect. Alone, in the house I can walk about freely with my hands in position as I go, even whilst carrying light objects.
When saying grace, I can rest my lower arms on the edge of the table, lifting my wrists and hands into the orans position to bless God’s gifts.
Even if I only have one hand free, I can still pray mindfully, for example, whilst cleaning my teeth. There are countless personal variations like this to discover, develop, enjoy and value for everyone who chooses to incorporate the orans posture into a life of constant prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17; NIV).
Praying in the orans posture
Whenever you use the orans posture, you might like to ask the Holy Spirit to help you pray (Romans 8:26-7; TIB). Then, with open hands, mind, heart and soul, you can share yourself completely with God as you pour out your prayers (Psalm 62:8; TIB). You can intercede for others, for the world, or for yourself. You can pray aloud, or in your head, or without using words at all, just as the Spirit moves you. Wordless prayer in the orans posture may be particularly helpful for those who want to pray, but find it impossible.
I very much hope that some of you will try praying in the orans posture, and that you will find it as liberating, comforting, helpful and fulfilling as I do. Whether our prayers are short or long, it offers a very effective way of consciously choosing to engage with God.
My warmest thanks to Wikipedia for introducing me to the standing orans prayer posture.