Monday, November 13, 2006

Rat, Mole, and Reverence

Cindy Mercer Photography

“Mole, I'm afraid they're in trouble,” Rat said gravely. He went on to inform Mole that little Portly had gone missing again. “Well, suppose he is; why worry about it? He's always straying off and getting lost, and turning up again; he's so adventurous. But no harm ever happens to him,” Mole said with a shrug. “Yes,” Rat responded, “but this time’s more serious.” Rat’s concern intensified as he told his friend that “the Otters have hunted everywhere, high and low, without finding the slightest trace,” and he “hasn't learnt to swim very well yet.” Together, they determine to help the Otters find their son. Thus begins the search for young Portly of the Otter clan in Kenneth Grahame’s, The Wind in the Willows.

Exploring the hedges and hollows on a silvery, moonlit night yields the unexpected. Rat and Mole find themselves confronted by a “Presence” and a sweet, transcendent melody. “Here, in this holy place, here if anywhere, surely we shall find Him,” Rat declared. Grahame writes,

Then suddenly the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground. It was no panic terror--indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy--but it was an awe that smote and held him and, without seeing, he knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near. With difficulty he turned to look for his friend. and saw him at his side cowed, stricken, and trembling violently. And still there was utter silence in the populous bird-haunted branches around them; and still the light grew and grew. . . . Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.

In this beautiful passage it appears that Rat and Mole understand Psalm 2:11 better than most: “Worship the Lord with reverence, and rejoice with trembling.”

Fear-of-the-Lord is a lost art. This is a “stock biblical phrase for the way of life that is lived responsively and appropriately before who God is, who he is as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” writes Eugene Peterson in Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. But, often, we’re not interested: “We desperately want to get out of the uncomfortableness of the situation. Rather than make ourselves available, we seek to hide. We hide behind the noise, the busyness, the self-importance, even the self-sacrifices of our existence. Rarely are we stopped and in fear of moving on, we're mostly running away from those moments.”

“Fear-of-the-Lord is not studying about God but living in reverence before God. We don't so much lack knowledge, we lack reverence. Fear-of-the-Lord is not a technique for acquiring spiritual know-how but a willed not-knowing. It is not so much know-how we lack; we lack a simple being-there.

How do we cultivate Fear-of-the-Lord? “The primary way in which we cultivate fear-of-the-Lord is in prayer and worship--personal prayer and corporate worship. We deliberately interrupt our preoccupation with ourselves and attend to God. . . . We become silent and still in order to listen and respond to what is Other than us. . . . Prayer and worship provide the base.”

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