I am back home, sitting at my desk. The cat has her back to me, sleeping on the couch. The kettle is heating some water for chai tea. I just finished an assignment due tomorrow, and have 50 papers to grade and some reading to do for Monday. Big things like graduating with my MA are on the horizon, but in reality, it is the little details that I attend to every day, like keeping up with my assignments, exercising regularly and eating well, taking time to rest, and avoiding unproductive pursuits, that get me to the big things.
I have been reading the book of Leviticus, chock full of laws and regulations on many minute details of life. It can be quite a downer if one sees mostly the oft-repeated ominous statements: "make sure you don't do this" and "if someone does this, they shall die" or "this makes you unclean." It just all seems so petty , doesn't it? Who cares if two types of fabric are sewn together? But interspersed throughout all of this is the recurring statement, "I am God, your God." In some chapters it shows up every few verses. Is this the equivalent of a parent saying, "You should obey me because I'm your father!" or "Do this because I said so?"
Not at all. This small phrase is a constant reminder of what lies behind all these regulations, all these distinctions between clean and unclean. God is inviting a people (Israel) to attach themselves to Him, to belong to him, to be holy (set apart) like he is. He invites them to once again act like him and look like him so that the resemblance that he originally put there (making them in his image) is given a chance to shine. This repeating phrase is a comfort, a gentle prodding by a mentor, a statement of support and encouragement. I am here. I am not going anywhere. I will be with you. Don't lose sight of me. Don't forget who loves you and claims you as his own. I will be your source of strength. Don't give up. Trust me, I have your best interests at heart.
Many of the guidelines have direct health implications; some are related to promoting a safe and just community environment; others signify a commitment not to follow the pagan ways which many of the tribes around them practised (to their own detriment); still others seek to promote common sense and an improved lifestyle. But these rules are never the point. The writer chooses to insert the main point over and over again in case we miss it (and we most often still do): I am God, your God. This God is the beginning and the end of us, and he is trying to tell us how to live life well, in sync with him instead of opposing him. Why is this so difficult for us to hear? To live? Perhaps because he knew exactly how difficult we would find it, these words of committed reassurance are included.
Set yourselves apart for a holy life. Live a holy life, because I am God, your God. Do what I tell you; live the way I tell you. I am the God who makes you holy. (from Leviticus 20, the Message)
This is a photograph I took at Penn Station in New York City. A small stop of a few hours on my journey to Washington DC.