Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage (Deuteronomy 6:1-15) transports me to the hills of Eleuthera in the ancient mythological world of the Greeks, where Zeus dons the disguise of a shepherd to seduce the Titan goddess Mnemosyne (the one with the beautiful hair), sleeps with her for nine consecutive nights, after which she gives birth to the nine muses (Clio and Calliope and the gang). Mnemosyne is the goddess of inspiration and memory, and from her we get all those mnemonic devices, like the short poem that helps us remember the date of Columbus’ voyage and the Good Boys Do Fine Always acronym for learning to read music and the string around the finger that helps us remember the loaf of bread on the way home.
The passage today speaks of the importance of mnemonic devices in the covenant relationship between God and Israel. Listen, the passage signals, God is one (and a jealous One at that), so you best do all you can to remember. This foundational creed of Judaism, the Shema, is the basic vow that weds the Jewish people to one God. No more playing the field. Fidelity is the bedrock of the relationship. And like any marriage, it’s a covenant between particulars. God is not only One, but God is a particular One. The Deuteronomist is not Prince singing the Shema, ain’t no particular sign I’m more compatible with. No, there are particular signs that God is more compatible with, signs of faith and fidelity. God is particular, in both senses of the word, having distinguishing characteristics as well as preferences. Likewise, the people are to be particular, in both senses of the word. Covenant relationship is not a general state of being, any more than people can be generally married.
Covenant people have to work on their marriage to God, just like husbands and wives have to work on building a marriage. We tend to be forgetful, to forget what the characteristics of marriage are, and to forget that we truly are particular when it comes to recipients of our devotion. I think that the Shema notion of loving with all we have – our thoughts, our decisions, our resources – is what it means to be “taken,” as in don’t mess with her – she’s taken. But even when we are completely taken, we need reminders. Mnemonic devices. Phylacteries tied to hands and head. Signs on the doorpost.
Remembering has its rewards. It’s when we fully remember who we are, whose we are, and who wed to, that creative inspiration is born, and the muses are most likely to strike. Remember and wait, and before you know it you have a houseful and heartful and headful of Calliope and Clio and Erato, Euterpe and Melpomene and Polyhymnia, Terpsichore and Thalia and Urania. Which is to say, your marriage – to your spouse and to God – becomes epic and historic and lyrical, musical and tragic and choral, filled with dancing and laughter and stardust. So, as the great old gospel song says, roll back the curtain of memory now and then. . .remind me, remind me dear Lord.
As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. And if you enjoy the Daily Passages, please share them with friends and family in your network.