“Enoch walked with God after the birth of Methuselah three hundred years, and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. Enoch walked with God, then he was no more, because God took him…” – Genesis 5:22-24.
In my Brooklyn neighborhood, it’s not at all unusual to walk past a favorite shop or business or a restaurant and learn that it has closed. Or that the shop has changed hands. Or that the place has joined numerous other retail spaces “for rent.”
It can be mind numbing really. We walk, things change. We notice or don’t. But we keep walking. Things change around us, but there’s still a hint of the familiar, even when the underlying reality can quite dramatically become different and strange.
How strange it was to notice this week that signage had been hand-painted in the window of a nearby business under construction. “This is not a brothel. There are no prostitutes at this address.” The visitors and tourists and the evening strollers who fill sidewalks in my neighborhood may even find it quite bizarre. But those of us who call the ‘hood home, know the reference was to news coverage that suddenly appeared out of nowhere in The New York Post last fall.
First came the headline “Sketchy Brooklyn shop may be a brothel open for business.” Then a month later: “Neighbors want to know why cops haven’t closed brothel yet.” And other stories followed. And then, the business was no more.
That momentary local news “boomlet” last November and December distracted sidewalk conversation away from the election outcome. Yet what followed, coincident with the inauguration of the 45th President, has been a tsunami of news –news that far outweighs the intrigue and scope and even criminal severity of a tiny, once-upon-a-time Indian restaurant that turned into a brothel on a main city street and then became a virtual reality pop-up shop and which now appears to have yet another consumptive incarnation ahead.
And this past week, mercy! News these days brings to my mind the wise words of a clergy colleague with whom I served at The Riverside Church in the City of New York. In passing along a treasured tidbit of wisdom from her grandmother. She summarized it with seven simple words: “There is so much to pray for.”
In the living of these days, it is a time of great prosperity. A record-breaking stock market soared to higher and higher closing averages on each of the first three days of October. The cooler evening breezes of autumn beckon.
And yet, I am constantly reminded of the challenges encountered by so many.
Emails sent to a friend outside San Juan still remain unanswered. I wonder. I pray, knowing that 95% of Puerto Rico’s electric power grid remains crippled in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. A public health crisis is underway. And nearly 3.5 million U.S. citizens, including a spiritual teacher who is dear to me along with many friends, desperately need help.
Fights have broken out on the internet over the question of whether The New York Times has accurately reported the stunning statistic that 521 mass shootings have occurred in the past 477 days. Some call that fake news. Others simply wonder how and why yet another city – Las Vegas – has been added to an ignoble list that includes Columbine, Colo., Blacksburg, Va., Newtown, Conn., Orlando, Fla., San Bernardino, Calif. and so many more.
Globally, it is a time of incredible stress and suffering for so many. Bombs are tested in new and frightening ways in Korea. In Mexico City, the search for victims has ended following the most deadly earthquake to hit the region in 30 years. The number of Rohingya Muslim refugee who have fled persecution in Myanmar has now exceeded 500,000. The United Nations is sending human rights workers into Yemen. LGBTQIA communities in Azerbaijan and Egypt being targeted for arrest and detention.
Indeed there is so much to pray for. And yet, for a global, justice ministry interested in peacemaking and reconciliation this is an opportunity to focus, to pray and to call upon all friends and allies to find hope in God.
One hopeful story may be found early in the Bible’s first book, in the unlikely genealogy of Seth. In most translations, Genesis 5 typically opens: “These are the generations of…”
It is as though a “Don’t read me” alarm has been triggered.
Biblical genealogies notoriously offer a free pass to skip them. In the living of these days, I newly wonder whether these otherwise “boring” passages might bury treasure.
One by one, the narrative in Genesis 5 unfolds with the introduction of men, some with nearly unpronounceable names. They live a long time and die. End of life is a dominant theme. The sentence, “then he died” is repeated eight times.
Enoch, whose name means “consecrated one,” breaks the pattern in Genesis 5. Instead of saying Enoch lived, the writer notes that he “walked with God.” And then, unfortunately, most translations blur the beauty of emphasis in the Hebrew.
Vayyitehallek chanok et-ha’elohim
Enoch walked with God, habitually. All the time. Repeatedly. And yes, God took him.
It is easy to focus on the phantasmagorical. Enoch seems to have eluded death.
But I wonder whether this passage might not be offering us a different message as we wrestle with bad news, atop bad news beside crisis next to storm?
Might it offer a message of faith?
Enoch lived in a bad time. Adam’s family (then and now) was in trouble. Ultimately Enoch, like many prophets, heralds a harsh judgment on humanity. But I’m drawn past the work of his life to the manner in which he lived it. He walked with God, all the time, in regular fellowship.
Enoch is mentioned in the New Testament in Jude, Hebrews and in Luke’s Gospel. Yet, much of modern Christendom is unaware of his prophetic writings. Among the so-called Jewish pseudepigrapha, the Book of Enoch is considered to be the most important apocalyptic work after Daniel. And as a prophetic book, I Enoch has been embraced as a sacred text and included in the Bible used by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and some Coptic Christian communities in the Middle East.
This week, as we contend with the bad news in our midst and as we wrestle with all the many things for which we might pray, let us remember to take a walk…with God.
Eternal and Loving God, thank you for walking with us. Help us open every area of our lives to you. Make sense of our hopes and dreams. Show us our purpose. And, let us walk with you all of our days. Amen.