Jeremiah 31: 7-14
Twenty-five years ago I had a memorable conversation with a woman
at the Loretto Motherhouse in Nerinx, KY.
It was one of those conversations where a few words have
Myself a young adult, and she in midlife, I was poised to absorb
insight from her life experience.
Sitting in her lovely wooden rocker with a large window view of
Kentucky rolling hills behind her, she tells the story of herself as a
young adult with a decision to make.
The issue for her is that she cannot decide.
She speaks of being immobilized by an on-going ambivalence.
Her process of discernment seemingly goes nowhere.
After time, eventually and then finally, the burden of indecision is
She tells of being in a chapel. While in silent solitude she hears
and feels within her being these words:
"If you don't go forward, you will go backward."
With these words, she instantly knows what to do.
Resistance and ambivalence melt away and she is able to choose a
direction for her life. She decides to enter into the community of the
Sisters of Loretto.
While listening to her I glanced at the rolling hills through the window
behind her and I remembered having read a theologian's description
of God as "Depth;" that the Holy One is infinite depth and we
experience this within ourselves like a geographical horizon that we
explore but never grasp.
Today's reading from Jeremiah begins with the prophet saying,
"Thus says the Holy One."
Like the Loretto Sister hearing divine direction in her depths, the
words of the Holy One are made known in Jeremiah.
God who is infinite depth~~and prophet who is open~~
meet one another.
There is a mutual apprehending.
It is a mysterious intermingling of divine power and human
vulnerability as well as divine vulnerability and human power.
This intermingling illumines the consciousness of the human person
with an unmistakable awareness.
The words made known to the prophet in this particular passage are
words of consolation to a disoriented, dislocated and suffering
Through Jeremiah God announces:
"I will bring them in from the northland,
Gather them from the ends of the earth---
The blind and the lame among them,
Those with child and those in labor----
In a vast throng they shall return here.
They shall come with weeping,
And with compassion I will guide them.
I will lead them to streams of water."
"With compassion," says the Holy One, "I will guide them."
Rahamin רחמין is the Hebrew word for compassion.
Etymologically it means "womb" or "guts."
Scripture scholar Phyllis Trible says rahamin refers to "trembling
womb" and so we have a maternal image of God's bond of love
and tender expression for individual human beings.
Each one gathered here in this sanctuary today is an expert
decision-maker. Each one here knows what it is to labor over a
decision, to be in discernment about the next step to take, to struggle
for what is the best possible choice. Yet there is always the next
decision and the next step.
Deep within we are all on a pilgrimage, a life-long
pilgrimage. Like the Loretto Sister and the prophet Jeremiah, we
hunger for transcendence. Our lives are an on-going reach toward
the ever-receding horizon. We long for newness to be revealed and
we search for the meaning of it in our flesh and blood bodies.
The rahamin of God, the compassion from the very guts of the
Holy One, stirs in us on our pilgrimage. When in our lives there
is weeping, disorientation and dislocation, there is Divine
Love leading us to streams of water.
The redeeming power of biblical Divine compassion is breath-
taking: I will bring you~I will guide you~I will return you~I will lead
you~I will guard you~You shall be radiant~You will be comforted~
You will be like a watered garden~You will dance, women and men,
young and old alike~
Theologian Wendy Farley says that Divine Love is manifest to
creation as compassion---not to suffer with it but to redeem it.
The Divine compassion that pulsed through the body and words of
Jeremiah is the Word that was with God in the beginning, the Word
that shines in darkness, a darkness that did not overcome it.
It is all one~~ the Hebrew prophet; the compassionate Messiah born
of Mary and Joseph; those of us here today whose hearts beat toward
love and healing for ourselves and for others.
The Loretto Sister said many years after her decision that the
ineffable sign that her life as a Sister is authentic is the presence of
compassionate love directed toward the needs of the neighbor and
the world. The Divine Love that speaks intimate guidance in an
individual human heart is the same Divine Love that stands trembling
like a mother and father at the distant horizon resisting the suffering
of Her children and restoring them to their natural beauty.
This Divine Love is in you and with you on your daily pilgrimage.
You may feel it in your gut or you may hear it in words.
Whatever mysterious way Divine compassion is revealed to you,
it is ultimately a Word that shines in darkness for you and beyond