10/4: Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 and Psalm 19 • Isaiah 5:1-7 and Psalm 80:7-15 • Philippians 3:4b-14 • Matthew 21:33-46
Winter's coming, and covid's still here. The expression "stay safe," a well-meaning good-bye wish, sums up the problem: how should a person manage herself, both her physical and emotional health, during a global pandemic? And then along comes an answer – a tried and true answer – in the ten commandments from this week's Exodus reading.
I remember learning the ten commandments as a child during confirmation classes. At the time, they seemed like another set of rules I was expected to follow. Reading them as an adult in this day and time is a different story. They seem almost, well, optional!
In some way, the optional status has always existed and is part of growing up. Looking at the commandments as though one has a choice about them, and deciding to follow them, is different from a childlike adherence to rules. The choice to follow them is inherent in the framework itself. Starting at the beginning, the first commandment, you shall have no other gods before me, sets a person up to define herself and what god she will follow. However, the pressures of life often lead away from one's best intentions. The worry can be about anything; seeing the situation without letting it take over and rule the day is the challenge.
When anxiety rules, it becomes its own idol, somehow. The first commandment calls each of us to a reality-based framework: an authentic life built on an honest appraisal of self, one's place in relationships, and one's daily life. An anxiety-driven mindset has the opposite effect. When a person keeps going over events in her mind in an attempt to blame or scapegoat others, or continually beats herself up over her part in something gone wrong, or lets her imagination run away with possible repercussions, she loses the capacity to think clearly. Losing her own intentionality, she has put some other god first: allowing her fears to latch on to herself.
Bringing fear and anxiety down is not a simple matter. Taming waves of fear begins with engaging both thoughts and feelings about a subject – reconsidering it from various perspectives. When a person can face rather than succumb to anxiety, asking questions, understanding where it's making sense and where it's throwing her off track, new energy comes. When coupled with an open heart and mind, prayers for fresh insights do not go unanswered.
Each of the ten commandments offers its own insights into how to deal with life in general and covid in the fall of 2020 in particular. Here's a few of my ideas:
- Telling people not to take God's name in vain is another way of saying to avoid the unfiltered expression of emotion. Feelings come and go; one does have a choice about how one considers them and if/when to represent them. Growing up begins here.
- Telling folks to honor their parents is another way of saying to maintain ties with family. Family is a huge resource for living into the challenges of life. Family members can provide many views on any situation and add to one's capacity to see things more clearly.
- Not coveting what your neighbor has – house, partner, or clothes, even – is another way of saying to remember who you are. Getting caught up in another's life, envying what they have, is the fast road to losing your own self.
Losing and finding oneself is part of becoming an adult. In the stormy seas of 2020, the ten commandments provide a framework for managing oneself more maturely: an adaptable inner guidance system of a sort. Perhaps each person expresses the commandments slightly differently; perhaps families, congregations, and denominations do so also.
Morning: How can I use the ten commandments for guidance today? What insights do they bring to me?
Evening: When did anxiety creep into my day? How can I think differently about life's challenges?
Psalm 19:8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eyes;