Daily Old Testament: Daniel 4 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 4)

Daniel 4 – This part of the book is written by Nebuchadnezzar in the first person. He tells of a dream he has that terrified him. He dreamed that he saw a tree in the middle of the world. Its top reached the sky and it could be seen from everywhere. It provided food and shelter for all the birds and animals. A “watcher” [messenger/angel] came down and shouted, “Cut down the tree and lop off its branches. Shake off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Chase the wild animals from its shade and the birds from its branches. But leave the stump and the roots in the ground, bound with a band of iron and bronze and surrounded by tender grass” (4:14-15).

 

He asks Daniel what it means, and Daniel tells him the tree was him (the king). ‘You are to be driven from human society, and live with the wild animals. . .seven times [periods of time] will pass over you until you have learnt that the Most High rules over the kingship of men and confers it on whom he pleases.’ Daniel urges the king to “break from your wicked past and be merciful to the poor. Perhaps then you will continue to prosper” (4:24). Things do not change, however.

 

A year later, as Nebuchadnezzar walks “on the flat roof of the royal palace in Babylon,” he looks out across the city and says, “‘Look at this great city of Babylon. By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor’”  (4:29). Just as he boasts of his majesty, a voice from heaven calls to him and tells him he is no longer the ruler. “You will be driven from human society. You will live in the fields with the wild animals, and you will eat grass like a cow. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses” (4:32).

 

The king’s sovereignty is taken from him, and he is driven away. His time of madness or whatever it was passes, and through his repentance and acknowledgement of God, he comes to reassume his powers and he praises God.

 

It’s hard to read this and not to speculate that this Jewish notion of God’s ultimate supremacy over all worldly powers was not in some way the foundation of our very different notion of monarchical/governmental rule – that it was not utterly absolute the way it was in most eastern civilizations.

 

 

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism

Part 4

For me, God was not in church so much as he was in “the place”. He was in my room at night when I went to sleep, in the physical features of my environment, in the air around me. I felt I could breathe him in when I was sad or upset, and he would strengthen me physically. He opened my eyes to the beauties of nature. One morning, in the middle of winter, I set out for the rocks and caves that I often roamed behind the estate on the hill that led up to another old estate where there was a small lake and swans. There had been an ice storm the night before, and everything—trees, rocks, even frail brown leaves that still clung tenaciously to dry branches—was coated with a paper-thin film of ice. The breeze clicked the branches together, and everything sparked like diamonds in the morning sun. It was the first time something beautiful made me cry.

 

Church was good, but not in the same way. It was beautiful at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, and I continued somehow to go even though I was the ONLY Episcopalian now in the house. No one had to prod me. I enjoyed church—the stained glass, the dark, candle-lit interior, the flowers, the music, the sixteenth-century language of the liturgy. I joined the choir. I went to confirmation classes in the eighth grade and received my confirmation on the third Sunday after Easter in 1958. Everyone confirmed received a copy of the Book of Common Prayer. I still have mine.

 

Maybe it was the beauty of the psalms we read in church every Sunday that made me want to read the Bible, or maybe it was the importance it had to my other grandmother, my Christian Science grandmother. She was my father’s mother, the one who had tried so hard to adopt his political radicalism in the ‘30s and ‘40s. By the ‘50s, however, health problems had caused her to abandon politics and look back to her faith. In the years I knew her, her daily routine always included sitting down to May Baker Eddy’s Science and Health with a Key to the Scriptures and the King James Bible. She was really the only person I knew who read the Bible. Whenever I visited with her, she would share verses with me and impress on me the importance of reading the Bible for its spiritual truths rather than its literal words. Whatever the cause, sometime in the late ‘50s, I asked my grandfather to buy me a Bible for my birthday. We shopped for it together and got a beautiful King James Version with black and white etchings on thick, silky paper. I read it as I would have read a novel—straight through—or almost straight through. I think I bogged down around Daniel [funny that I’m on that book now on the blog!].

 

Something about the Bible impressed me. I remember telling a friend, in one of those adolescent kinds of conversations about what one book you would take if you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one book for your whole life, that I would take the Bible, not because I attached such great religious importance to it, but because it had been so important to so many people throughout human history. I felt it had to be pretty rich in content to be popular so long.

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