Friday, July 29, 2016
There have been three thoughts roaming around my mind over the last week in response to the psalms I am reading daily.
First, in Psalm 26 vs 3 gives the image of walking with the truth...followed up by the psalmist singing that she does not stand with the foolish in vs. 4. There are two thoughts to these two short verses. To begin, the psalms often echo from verse to verse. Or as a seminary professor once asked, "Why is the psalm repeating itself?" This is a style of poetry in the time of the psalms, where a statement would be made in one verse, then slightly altered, but essentially saying the same thing, in the very next verse. This can be a bit repetitive...it can be a bit redundant (pun totally intended). But sometimes we need to hear something more than once. When the psalm echoes itself, it is trying to shout out, "Pay attention!! This is important!' Which leads me to the second thought, which is that these two verses are actually a reverberation of Psalm 1. Psalm 1 sets up a vision of the world/an orientation where the righteous thrive and the wicked are whisked away like chaff on the wind. Now the world doesn't always work that way. But the other opening image of Psalm 1 is a reminder to be careful where you walk (the direction your toes are pointing)...standing around...and sitting with. Sounds like advice my mom would give me ("Be careful who your friends are!) That is true whether we are ten or forty! So, the image is repeated here to emphasize that even 25 psalms later, that original lesson still stands and is one for us to continue to be aware of in our lives.
Second, Psalm 30...is an individual psalm of thanksgiving. In the fourth verse we hear, "You (God/ spirit/ life) brought me up from Sheol, from the pit (which is another example of repetition; Sheol and pit are both seen as low dwelling places) and gave me life". The word for life here is "nefesh"...as in Psalm 23, you restore my life...nefesh. This is a life breath, flow, energy, enlivening spirit that animates all of us...helping us feel fully alive. The psalmist is saying, "Thank you, God." Or as Eckhart once said, "If the only prayer we ever utter is, 'Thank you,' it would be enough." Yet, often I don't thank God from whom all blessings flow. I am quick to point out when life is difficult or challenging. I am quick to pray for an empty parking spot when running late...but rarely do I ever really give thanks. Thank you is a central prayer. Not because God needs to be thanked for all the blessings...but we need to say, "Thank you." We need to name and notice the grace flowing through our lives because it can change us. Giving thanks...not for all situations...but in all situations is one way we stay open to grace. Or as verse 12 of this Psalm states, "You turn my dirge into dancing". It is more commonly translated, "You turn my mourning in dancing." Both remind us of God's grace even in difficulty. I wonder if Psalm 30 was playing somewhere in Jesus' mind when in the sermon on the mount he would audaciously say, "Blessed are those who mourn." Not because there is mourning, but because brokenness is never the last word.
Third, Psalm 31...goes from thanksgiving to lament. Life does that. One minute all is good. But then a phone call comes or a doctor's appointment or someone we care about abruptly ends the relationship. We can go from dirge to dancing...and back again. This is what counter part to "Thank you"...which is (as Anne Lamont says) "Help me." It is an honest prayer. So often we ask God to help because we are afraid or ashamed to ask another person. We don't want to seem needy or beholden to someone's generosity. We don't want to let people see that we struggle...that we are not as awesome as we like to think. We need to not only pray, "Help me." But also be open to the hope that God's response often comes in the flesh of another. In the time of the Exodus, the people cried out, "Help me." God sent a man who stuttered and had a criminal record. In the time of Exile, the peopled cried out, "Help me." God sent prophets who didn't just tell people what they wanted to hear, but challenged them! In the time of Roman occupation, the people cried out, "Help me." God sent one named Jesus who would break open God's love for all people. Of course, Moses struggled with the people in Exodus. The prophets were ignored. And Jesus ended up on a cross. Not exactly a great track record for sensing the sacred in our midst. The psalmist asks God to set her in a wide open place (vs. 9). When we struggle, we feel confined (between the proverbial rock and a hard place). So we need that space to breathe and to be in God's presence.
May you continue to ponder prayerfully these holy words...may they sing to your heart.
Thursday, July 21, 2016
"My God, my God...why have you forsaken me" ~ Psalm 22
You may recognize those powerful, passionate-soaked words as the ones often read at Good Friday services...ones Jesus perhaps shouts...or whispers in the still, small silence of his soul from the cross. You might recognize these powerful, passionate-saturated words from your own life. Moments when everything is going to hell in hand basket...when life is turned upside down and inside out...nothing makes sense.
Forsaken-ness has been cried out and absorbed into countless doctor's offices.
Forsaken-ness has been cried out and absorbed into homes where words and even fists hurt and cause irreconcilable, unspeakable harm!
Forsaken-ness has been cried out and absorbed into city streets where more and more young men are shot...and into places where now police officers are targets.
Forsaken-ness has been cried out and absorbed into the walls of our very hearts when we struggle in the midnight of our souls.
That unanswerable question, "Why?"
We live in a world that has such a strong belief in order and reason. We live in a world that loves the quick fix and easy answer. We live in a world that craves someone to do something...even if it ends up making matters worse.
Forsaken-ness...like it's cousin brokenness...can linger and last long after the event....causing ripples and ramifications to touch every part of our life.
The psalmist in 22 continues to talk about feeling surrounded by bulls...with so much fear in her mouth that her touch sticks to the roof. How it feels like there are dogs all around, staring and glaring. The power of the metaphor is that it speaks truth. I know what it is like to feel tugged and pulled in so many different directions. I know what it feels like to sit in a space and my mouth as dry as the desert.
Yet, the psalmist refuses for this to be the only word...just like at communion we proclaim and celebrate that brokenness is NEVER the last word from God. The psalmist goes on to say that we sing out because that is also true. We trust that the poor will eat, we know that God is not one of forsaken-ness, but blessedness. That God will be the one who reminds gives us strength to put one foot in front of the other.
I don't know what it means that right before the most beloved Psalm...23...we get this heart and gut-wrenching prayer...but I know in my life the truth that I have to process my pain. I need to notice and name that which hurts me. I need to pray my heartache before I can praise. So, I give thanks for psalm 22. I give thanks for its honesty, even when it is too bright or too harsh. I give thanks that in a time of too much violence and hate-filled speech, I remember that life was not better back then. There has always been moments of feeling forsaken among God's people. There has always been the truth of, "God of our weary years...our silent tears...God who has brought us thus far on the way." So, today, I hone in and open my heart to the faithful presence of God who has led me to this day, this incredible, amazing day...God has made.
May God meet you in your forsaken-ness with a presence and promise that offers you hope and healing.
Friday, July 15, 2016
As we continue our conversation with the Psalms...these Hebrew Hymns and Prayer-drenched poems that simultaneously connect us to our ancestors and to today; a prayer from these holy words.
For ideas and insights we hold clear and point us toward You,
For questions that linger persistently and doggedly refuse easy answers.
For mystery we sit silently...comfortably beside.
For hope that stirs
For frustrations when the words won't conform to what we thing.
For raw emotions
For release and relief.
For this day...this holy, amazing day of life.
For this breath...and the one of this.
For an understanding and orientation toward God
That suddenly, like a drop of a roller coaster called life which comes
In phone calls
A blink of an eye...
And we feel the world spinning and stirring in dizzying disorientation.
For the questions of why?
What in the world?
And cathartic tears and a sudden smile,
And praise that drips from our heads to our pinkie toe.
Thank you, O God.
Grace and peace ~
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
As you read through the Psalms there is a re-occurring word, "Selah". Honestly, we don't have a clue what the word means. Some propose that it was for musical direction, perhaps a word that directed how loud or soft or what kind of tempo or even key ~ major or minor ~ the people would sing. That is a GREAT way to think about the word. When you come across "Selah" it is good to think would you sing this out with loud trumpets blaring and blasting...or do you need Robert Johnson's blues guitar in the background? Would you sing it loud or quiet...like you are whispering to an infant? Selah may invite us to think musically about the words we are saying...for indeed the Psalms are the original Hebrew Hymnal.
What if Selah might have also been an invitation to pause...stop reading...do not pass "Go" or collect two hundred dollars but actually think/reflect/prayerfully ponder what you just read?
For example, in Psalm 4:5 ~ "Quake, and do not offend...speak in your hearts on your beds, and be still. Selah" If you really let those words soak, settle, simmer in your soul that will take some time. Those words invite us to consider...what is causing us to quake individually, communally, collectively as a nation or world? What ways have we witnessed offense and what has been our response? How do we find our voice...our true authentic voice? And can we listen for God's still speaking voice?
When we let the words of the Psalm do their slow work upon our soul, it makes all the difference. Yet, that work cannot be done as though we are going through the drive-thru window at a fast food service. We let each word have its say and way with our heart...we return to that word throughout the day to see if there is a tiny new insight or idea that is pouring forth. The psalms are poetry in the best sense that poems move us toward a more profound imagination and insight into this life, usually with just one simple sentence.
I pray you will find the margins and spaces to "selah"...to listen...to be open to these powerful and profound psalms that truly connect us to the sacred.
And may grace and peace surround you as we savor these words.
Two weeks ago, we got a new puppy. It's has been a lot of fun...and a lot of work...which is a true statement about most things that offer meaning within our life. Whether we are talking about work or relationships or prayer or trying to train a new puppy there are moments of joy and frustration. Times when it feels like it is two steps forward (only ONE accident inside today...or I only lost my temper once...or finding yourself saying, "I can't believe they pay me to do this!) and then it is four steps back (Really? Four accidents today?? or I can't believe how frustration is just fuming out my ears right now...or they really don't pay me enough to do this!). There is risk in life. Anything worth doing will offer incredible and indescribable moments and moments you wonder why. A huge part of why this is...is because we come face-to-face with the truth that we are not in control...you can't logic your way out of everything (especially with a puppy) and there is risk in any relationship.
Now...if this is true for us humans here on earth, it is also true for our connection with God. It is especially true as we try to stay open and aware of the holy in our lives. God can at times seem as unpredictable and unclear as dealing with a puppy. What does God want me to do? Usually cultivate joy, share love, seek justice and celebrate the beauty of God around us and within us. But beside all that, what does God want me to do with that person or is that situation? Sometimes we know...but we want to know more and be more confident and certain and alleviate all our fear. But that might actually make our life less mysterious and holy. On my best days...most prayerful and sacred soaked days...I don't want to know everything. I want to be surprised by the serendipity. I want to laugh at my boneheadedness and fall flat on my face. I want to look at fear and say, "Sure I know you are here, but you don't get to pick the radio station" - to quote Elizabeth Gilbert. I want to live in the moment...this beautifully imperfect moment with all its wonderful unpredictability.
There is probably lots more I could say...but my dog just brought me her blue ball and its time to play.
Grace and peace ~
Saturday, July 9, 2016
While weeding this morning
Dirt climbing up my arms
Clinging to my clothes
And nearby a small lizard leaped
As if to encourage and cheer me on...
I noticed that by tugging on one weed,
the others close by came with.
Connected by a network just beneath the surface.
Connected one to the other.
Which made me wonder,
If weeds are connected
Sticking and staying together...
Why is it so hard for humans?