[For those of you who do not know, I will soon start doctoral studies at Andover Newton Theological School with the express purpose to continue the work I began in Living the Prayer of Jesus: A Study of the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic. I will be exploring other key teachings of Jesus through the Aramaic lens. The study of Hebrew, a living language, provides an important foundation to learning the ancient tongue of Jesus, Aramaic, as both languages share the same script. Aramaic, today, lives largely only in the shadows of memory. This post is being shared just days before this journey begins.]
You can still see traces of them winding around the old, sleepy towns down south. The old roads they call them. The ones replaced by the “super” highways in the fifties. When I go home to visit, I always look for them. They call to me and I have yearned to follow, right down those cracked, bulging, heat baked, overgrown and unmanicured roadways. To follow, slowly, so I could hear what they would have to say to me. Sometimes, there are old wooden or rusty wrought iron farm gates standing watch. But, still the roads call, call out on whispers, barely audible, yet lingering on the moist hot air. I’ve been thinking a lot about those old roads lately and wondered why. Then, this week, I found out.
Recently I’ve taken up the study of Hebrew which captured me in Psalm 23 and, in ways unanticipated, nafshi y’shoveiv, restored my soul. Each morning, I devote a part of my spiritual practice to tracing, feeling and sounding the life of each living letter. I quite proudly dote over my colored pencils: regular for the script, blue for letters changed by a dot, red for letters that change form at the end of a word and green for verbs. Just in the past few weeks, I’ve started to sound out words and have been taken utterly by surprise by how much glee escapes me each time I hear those living sounds, suddenly, make a word. Just amazing.
But, back to those old roads. This week, at the end of my Hebrew lesson, my teacher suddenly said, “Before you go I want you to do something.” Then, she opened a copy of the Torah and put it in front of me saying, “Read the first line. Go for it!”
What?? My heart gasped, yelled, screamed, cried, laughed all at the same time. And, instantly, I heard my two year old grandbaby say, “Let’s do this!” which has become her favorite saying when trying to learn something new. Fearless, she is. And, with a deep breath, so was I. Letter by letter, then word by word, I read until the first line was complete.
And then, oh my, what did just happen?
On the way home, I suddenly pictured one of those old rusty farm gates take leave of standing watch to, breathlessly, fly open leaving my heart exposed, raw, yet somehow revived by a jolt of memory long forgotten. “Shema, listen,” I heard the old road say, and this time, I stopped…to linger and to hear…
Follow me. I will lead you to Moses whom you have long held dear. And, along the way, should you feel unable to meet the task before you, remember what the Lord said to Moses when Moses protested, “Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth and teach thee what to say.” And, as you travel on, look closely for the faded markers, the shadows of those letters you are now living. They will lead you to the end of the road where you will discover the teachings of the one called Jesus, teachings still living in those shadows, the language he spoke. And, just like Moses, God will tell you what to say to bring the Word out from those shadows to shine upon all and help illuminate the world.
And, so, I leave the “super” highway, the familiar, to start down an old road into the sacred unfamiliar for the shadows of those letters call me. And I must follow.
Just one more look back. Then, as I turn to begin suddenly I see, in my mind’s eye, my grandbaby already scampering ahead of me, “Let’s do this, Grandma!” she exclaims, grinning back at me.
And so I will…for her…
And for all who hear the call of the old roads…