“Hear, O Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord is One.”  (Deuteronomy 6:4)

This morning, as I walked the wee hounds, I listened to Tim Mackie* talk about the first word in that verse.   The verse is known as the Shema and is central to Judaism.  The first word in the verse is “Hear” or better “Listen.”   The Hebrew word that is translated “Listen” is Shema.   Yep.  The verse is named after the first word.


Now when we think of the word listen, we think of something we do with our ears.  Mackie reminded me that to Shema is to listen with one’s whole being -heart, mind, body, and soul.  

To Shema is to (1) pick up a sound via one’s ears, (2) attend to that sound, (3) respond to that sound, (4) with urgency. 

A young mother is at home alone with her newborn who is asleep in her crib.   Suddenly, the baby cries.   The mom picks up the sound with her ears, attends to it (what is the meaning of it?), runs to the baby’s side, and picks her up.  

Hear.  Attend.  Respond with urgency.

All of that is packed into that one word, Shema.  To Shema, is a far sight more than simply hearing, more even than how we think of listening.

When the Shema begins with Shema! it means to hear with your whole being and rush to acknowledge with your whole being this truth:  the Lord is God, the Lord is One.   

The whole-being nature of listening (Shema) and doing is confirmed in the next verse:  “Love the Lord your God (response) with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength, i.e. your whole being.”

Mackie’s comments set me to thinking about the meaning and practice of parakaleo, ‘coming alongside‘ as it pertains to the suffering. 

It struck me that we are called by God alongside the suffering but we are also called alongside the suffering by the suffering themselves.

We all know that to come alongside the suffering at least entails listening to them when we get there.  But, what if to come alongside the suffering is to ‘shema‘ to them?

That would mean that when we are called alongside the suffering we are called not merely to come with an ear but to come with our whole being.  It means to hear/respond with the urgency required in the moment.

But how are we ‘called‘ by the suffering?  Do we wait by the phone?  Do we wait until we hear from them? No, the very fact of the suffering, the existence of the suffering, is call enough. 

One of the great ironic moments in scripture occurred when the priest and Levite, who likely prayed the Shema first thing that morning, passed by the man who had been beaten half to death by thieves.  (“He was just lying there.  He didn’t say anything!”) But, the Samaritan, the outsider, who likely didn’t pray the Shema that morning, heard the silence of the bloodied unconscious man and urgently responded to him with aid.

An unconscious bloodied man lying by the side of the road screams by virtue of the fact that he is an unconscious bloodied man lying by the side of the road.

He IS the call to come alongside and offer aid. 

Last week I spoke with the administrator of the assisted living facility where my mother-in-law lives.   He told me that 60% of the 105 residents in his facility have NO ONE who visits them.   I replied to him that whenever I visit my mother-in-law, I see the same 40 or so residents every time.  He said that that’s because that 60% tend to stay in their rooms. That is to say, that about 60 souls sit in silence behind closed doors alone, day after day. 

Now, I’m ruined.

I cannot walk the long hallway to my mother-in-law’s room without hearing the silent cry of loneliness coming from behind closed doors.


  • Tim Mackie is the excellent teacher on The Bible Project videos and podcasts. If you haven’t visited The Bible Project site…SHEMA!…What a terrific accessible resource it is for those who want to learn more about the Bible, the Books of the Bible, and other things pertinent to it as well. Their podcast is well worth the effort too!

5 thoughts on “Shema!

  1. We cannot un-know suffering once we know it exists. In my years of doing victim’s advocacy, our staff cared for one another as much as we cared for our clients. We understood the impact trauma had on the individual, the family, friends, law enforcement, the nurse examiner who took forensic evidence, and the advocates who were first responders. Often we walked into unknown situations, only to hear shocking revelations of how one human being had dehumanized another. Our de-briefs after an incident were critical to preventing the impact of secondary trauma and burnout. It was rewarding and worthwhile work, but I always felt humbled, like I was walking on holy ground whenever I met a survivor who lived to tell her story. We walked alongside survivors from the ER to the courtroom. Most of their stories will never be told since such a small percentage of rapes are never reported. I always returned to my home believing God had me there, in that exact place, at that exact time, for a reason. Shema.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t know that you did that kind of work, Nancy. That is God’s work right there! Incidentally, I’m going to be writing about a book I’ve been reading. You will recognize yourself or at least your underlying assumptions in it.
      Thank you for responding. (Oh…I did get your FB Message too. Will respond. A lot going on in my world right now.)


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