The Demand to Stay
September 20, 2011 § Leave a Comment
More explicitly now than ever before, I’ve been turning back to the Minor Prophets. What began as an intellectual curiosity and an aesthetic catalog has taken too long – as it always does – to become the spear that skewers me through and demands ethical action, asks for something real on my part, more real than a few nice metaphors, at least.
In this the Minor Prophets hold sway because of their extremes, their emotions, the impulses and motivations, fears and faiths, that could only come out of them through the poetry they wrote. Habakkuk and Nahum are two of my favorite because even their reception of the prophetic word makes note of its human pain. Where the other prophets begin their records by explaining that “the Word of the Lord” came upon them, Habakkuk and Nahum use a word easily translated as burden. The Burden of Nahum. The Crushing Weight of Habakkuk. The Load I Cannot Carry But Must Carry. The Word I Cannot Speak But Must Speak.
What it means is that there are no more half-measures, no more partial attempts, no more warming and cooling. The prophets each dealt with their own Words and Burdens, but they were – even in Habakkuk’s questioning – united in their red hot, fiery commitment. They were absolutists – not to dogma or belief or some outside universal they sought to impose – but to a living Demand to carry these burdens, to walk and grow weary and still walk further.
That’s part of what I have missed seeing in Hosea’s story. Hosea was commanded to marry a prostitute who continued to leave him – an intended symbol of God’s commitment to a people who consistently dismissed Him. I usually put the emphasis of the story in Hosea’s feelings for his wife, imagining his love for someone who spurned it at every chance, who continued to walk out.
And that might be there, but I didn’t see the Demand on Hosea’s ethical life. Through whatever thorny experience, he was to persist, to remain, to love in return, without thought of what he deserved or the fairness of the situation. He had a line, straight through from the flicker of present into each unhindered step of future.
That is not me. Or, rather, it hasn’t been. The fury of the moment drives me, compels me past any such demand to act like this or to do it this way, this time. Like the Minor Prophets, I and every other human who has had the fortune to blink awake has had the misfortune of unfairness, injustice, death and decay, an inner or outer sickness. But unlike the Minor Prophets, I fall in front of the ethical commitment to a Demand, the at once vague and yet intimately known one, the eternal one to each human in each circumstance, the one that clamors for a window in the wall of Self, something to look out from. Rather than the Demand that creates the now, and the later, in one single act of assent, I find myself withholding the option to do otherwise, to be different than.
I’m not sure why I’m writing all of this – I’m never sure when I write an entry that forces me to use the “Public Journaling” category, which I have been doing more frequently, it seems. Perhaps it is a public admission. Perhaps, even, it is to say that it’s something I want to change, something I have to change. The Minor Prophets encapsulated the experience of the people with an eye towards the inevitable consequences of repeated action. Theirs was the pain not simply of what is happening, but what they saw in visions, words, and burdens will happen. Hosea’s was the pain of knowing his wife would be unfaithful, again and again. What, then, I know is the future if the ethical Demand is not heeded, if the burden is not carried. That, I hope, is enough.