Yesterday I was talking to a friend about spiritual learnings we are encountering. For me, not being so attached to particular things and outcomes is a present learning experience pretty much every day. I can imagine, for example, that when I pick up a book I will be able to hold it and read it. And when my hands are unable to hold the book and I loose my place in it several times in brief succession and I find myself growing irritated, I have another opportunity to learn about my attachment and expectations…and to not scrabble after them like I am the book falling from my grasp.
Every day we can learn something new about how to live faithfully. Some days we might even have the opportunity to learn many new things. Those can be both exhilarating and humbling days, depending on how we approach learning. If our identity is being learned already, if we’re attached to knowing what’s what and what’s up, then we will have, along with our serving of learning a nice dish of humble pie. At least, that’s been my experience.
Jeremiah is speaking some words of consolation to the people of Israel in this week’s reading from him. And when Jeremiah is speaking words of consolation, we can be pretty sure there’s something we are learning served with humble pie. For Christians reading this text, the new learning might be that for millions of people, the new covenant talked about here is not necessarily Jesus. For Jewish readers, and for Jeremiah, the new covenant is in the learning the people sent to the Babylonian captivity will have, after folks get to return from exile. Jeremiah’s talking about what the Book of Ruth teaches: when we return to our spiritual home we have to learn how to be together in different ways than we were before our exile. When those who were not exiled have to welcome back the exiles, we all have to learn how to be together in different ways than we were during the exile. The experience of exile changes all of us in our relationship with the Holy, Jeremiah is relating, and the One Who Is tells us that these experiences will change how we approach our promises together.
All of us – whatever our religious traditions and our beliefs in how we read this text – can keep learning from one another and from the truth that difficult experiences change us and change how we approach the Holy and how we live faithfully. In a covenant of caring for one another, we need to help each other grow spiritually stronger through our difficult experiences, and practice especially the commandments of love, mercy, and humility. How we learn to be faithful might not be comfortable. How we learn to be faithful might not be what we have expected. How we learn to be faithful changes as we change.
There is goodness in continuing to learn. Before the end of yesterday, I was a little tired of learning about my attachment and expectations that are being interrupted. But I was tired enough to be able to laugh at those expectations, to be grateful to the Holy that there were so many other good blessings I could name and appreciate (friends, sweet water, orchids blooming, a happy dog, the Scriptures, prayer – to name a few). Thinking about those easily named blessings I could give thanks, and that’s part of my learning, too: that there is goodness possible too in times of loss. It is a different understanding of Holy promises than I used to have, one that grows richer and fuller and differently with each day.