This week I have been writing about the Shema–the ancient declaration that the one God whose breath is the foundation of existence deserves our total love, our strength, our everything. The name Shema comes from the first word of the prayer. In English, this word is often translated “listen” or “hear.” The original Hebrew text has a richer meaning. As this stunning video explains, there is no word for “obey” in Hebrew. In other passages when God’s people are told to “obey” him, the same word is used: Shema.
Many religious people set aside time for reading or listening to scripture. When they set down their holy book, turn off the podcast, or leave their place of worship to continue with their day, the instructions of the text may swirl around their minds for a little while. They may even determine to make some change in their life. Just like New Year’s resolutions, though, the hope of living better may get lost among the to-do lists and thoughts of last night’s chili.
The meaning of shema prompts me to ask if this way of life marks honest devotion to God. I follow Jesus, and he said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” He spoke these words as a Jew–someone who would have said the Shema morning and evening, every day of his life. For him, obedience and listening went hand in hand. If this is true, what would it be like if every passage of Scripture I read, I acted on within twenty-four hours?
It takes about six to eight hours for food to pass through the stomach and small intestine. Passing food through the large intestine and releasing it takes twenty-four to seventy-two hours. Jesus said, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God,” to tell the devil that the words of God provide greater nourishment than physical food. If this is the case, I want to feed myself with that which will sustain a strong soul. I want to “work out” on my spiritual food before it has time to solidify and pass, like an athlete whose strength and appetite go hand in hand.
I will eat/work out. I will listen/obey. I will shema.