Weekly Reflection, September 29, 2016

The Bible divides itself between two principal ways of approaching God.  One might be called “kabod”, Hebrew for “glory”, and the other, “dabar”, Hebrew for “word”.

“Kabod” derives from a Hebrew root meaning “weight”.  Thus it implies an authoritative, even overwhelming, presence in the world, demanding submission, inspiring fear.  One might imagine Moses, prostrate before the burning bush, or the people of Israel fleeing before the fire descending on Mt. Sinai.  “Kabod” demands attention; a power greater than us is about to speak.

Thus “dabar”, “word”, follows – though the translation doesn’t capture the full range of the original.  “Dabar” is almost indistinguishable from “action”, with speech itself understood as a way of acting in the world.  So “dabar” sends us forth to speak, as much or more by what we do as by what we say.  Again one might imagine Moses, whose prayers had the power to unleash plagues on the Egyptians until Pharaoh let God’s people go.

Life can seem like just one thing after another, or an endless repetition of the same tasks.  From time to time, though, something recognizable as “kabod” intrudes itself, an event or encounter that demands our attention.  From this a “dabar” emerges, a message needing to be spoken in word and deed.  Often it can be heard clearly only in retrospect; it gets itself spoken both by and in despite of our conscious intentions.

Life unfolds in the rhythm of “kabod” and “dabar”.  In the power of these two expressions of the divine, and by our own flawed efforts to recognize and respond to them, our salvation is worked out.

John Graham