Updated: Oct 16
The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; they have eyes, but they do not see; they have ears, but they do not hear, and there is no breath in their mouths. Those who make them and all who trust them shall become like them.
These words from Psalm 135 echo the narrative we heard this morning from the story of the Exodus. In that story the people, led by Aaron – a high priest and brother of Moses – are losing patience with Moses apparently because he is taking too much time coming down the mountain from his one-to-one meeting with God. Instead of defending his brother, Aaron instead instructs the people to fashion their own God out of various pieces of gold jewelry taken from the people including the wives and children. They molded and cast their own god – the golden calf, and Aaron built and alter before their new golden god and announced that the next day would be a festive worship.
It should come as no surprise that God’s wrath was burning hot toward the “stiff-necked” people. What is surprising, is that Moses, who seems to be the coolest head amid the chaos, was able to talk God off the wrathful ledge. He was able to change God’s mind, and thus avert disaster for the people. Moses. Hero. Check.
We as human beings seem prone to all too often turn to false gods when things aren’t going our way. We can be impatient and demanding.
One of the less attractive traits among many less attractive traits of the untreated alcoholic personality is lacking the ability or willingness to practice delayed gratification. I speak from my own experience when I say that we wanted it all and we wanted it now. Simply put, we were, before recovery, impatient and demanding. That sounds a bit like the stiff-necked people and their golden calf god.
There is no shortage of golden calves in our own time. We sometimes feel that if we just have the right job, the right amount of money in the bank, the right address, the right car in the driveway, enough followers on social media, or like the people in the Exodus story – the right amount of gold adornment, that somehow these things can fill the hole inside of us. But the hole inside of us is ultimately a longing for God. It is a God-shaped hole, and the longing for God can only be filled by the things of God.
Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with having nice things. We all need financial security. We all deserve and warm, safe place to live. But obsessive overaccumulation can quickly drift into idol worship. Too much of anything can take hold of us and begin to rule us in unhealthy ways. They become our golden calves.
The wisdom of Saint Benedict teaches us that everything in moderation is the key. The monastic design for living asks us to practice the disciplines and principles of poverty, obedience, mindfulness, prayer, and silence, among other disciplines. Poverty helps us understand that the less we take from the world the more we have to give to others. It also brings us into a sense of solidarity with the millions of people in the world who never have enough food and basic necessities. Obedience is always about obedience to God, and sometimes that inspires us to stand against the institutions of the false gods that practice dominance, oppression, and bullying. Mindfulness helps us, as our friends in prison say, to “keep the main thing the main thing” – to always keep God first. Prayer, meditation, and silence allows us to open our hearts to loving action of God in our lives, who is always taking us to new and deeper places with freshness and newness of life.
One does not need to live in a monastery to practice these life-giving principles you your life. The human heart is the monastery. Each of us can embrace a spiritual design for living that allows us to remain grounded and not be tempted by lesser Gods that offer only the illusion of happiness, but in the end offer very little, if any, spiritual nourishment.
Think in terms of a simple spiritual design for living that help keep you focused and grounded amid the shifting sands and enticements of the false gods of our times. What might that look like for you?
What are the golden calves in your life? We all have something. Heck, just this morning I stepped on the scale for like the fifth day in a row and had to ask myself the question: “What are you worshipping here?” And trust me, I have had to overcome much more serious and life-threatening false God’s in my life. But thankfully I have a simple design for living that keeps me tethered to God.
Whatever false god competes for your heart, just know that the true God – the Lover of your soul, wants something better for you.
May God’s grace be with your spirit. May God’s peace be in your heart.