January 22, 2017
Over the past six years, I have spent many months in the Psalms, more than once. In these poems, the writers speak their fears and hopes; their terrors and longings; their loves, and sometimes, hatreds. They speak their feelings of intimacy with God and their feelings of abandonment by that same God. They rehearse the ancient stories of their people, grounding themselves far back in History and Time when their vision falters in the Present Moment.
Doesn’t this mirror the stories of our own lives?
Psalm 27 begins with both a declaration and a question. The psalmist engages in that important exercise we call, “self-talk.” It’s like me on the way to the gym at 5:45 a.m.“Mary, put four things in your fanny pack–Driver’s License, gym ID, car key, house key. No, five things–don’t forget the cell phone!” Self-talk is an important way we practice remembering.
Yet, there is another kind of “self-talk” that is critical to our spiritual growth. In his marvelous book, “The Inner Voice of Love,” Henri Nouwen lays bare his deep personal journey unpacking a period of his life enveloped in the Dark Night of the Soul. This inner crisis drove Nouwen from his former active life to six months of counseling, advisement, and solitude among monks at a monastery. The book is composed of short journal entries from that time which friends later urged him to publish. I’m so glad they did.
Nouwen records his conversations with the conflicted parts of himself. Hear a brief excerpt: “You are constantly facing choices. The question is whether you choose for God or for your own doubting self. You know what the right choice is, but your emotions, passions, and feelings keep suggesting that you choose the self-rejecting way” (p. 113, The Inner Voice of Love, copyright 1998, First Image Books).
The Psalmists regularly engage in such inner dialogue as well as dialogue with God. Thus, David begins this poem, or song, with a declaration about God, followed by a question to himself, then another.
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
David is seeking internal perspective here. His outer life is filled with dangers and challenges. Throughout the Psalm he uses the following phrases to describe these terrifying realities: “When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh,” “an army encamp against me,” “though war rise up against me,” “my enemies all around me,” “the will of my adversaries,” “false witnesses…are breathing out violence.”
David’s situation seems overwhelming, too big for him to handle. Many psalms reflect this state of the psalmist. At times they careen from despair to hope; from doubt to trust; from lament to joy. And then they careen again, all the while, the psalmist speaking to the self while also speaking with God.
Hear some of David’s declarations about God in this psalm: “The Lord is my light,” “God will hide me in God’s shelter in the day of trouble,” “God will set me high on a rock,” “If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.” These are words of one who trusts a God who is Refuge, Light, Comforter, and Protector.
Now hear excerpts of David’s prayers, his deepest yearnings: “One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after…to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple;” “Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.”
Hear David’s love for worship and confession of trust: “I will offer in God’s tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord.” “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”
David also expresses his fear of divine abandonment, crying out, “Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!”
It’s all there for us to see–the trust, the hope, the fear, the prayers, the pain, the joy, the external threats. In the midst of the chaos swirling around David, he finds a place of refuge deep in the heart of God and in the sanctuary, the place of worship. His enduring desire and longing is to know God and keep following God’s way.
Since Thursday night, PCC has offered a lot of events open to the wider community. Taize provided worship and contemplation. An open building Friday at lunchtime provided silence and sanctuary. A potluck and conversation Friday night offered food, connection, and community-building conversation. While not planned by PCC, the Peace Vigil/Women’s Solidarity Vigil Saturday in Tappan Square brought out whole families, with children holding their handmade signs, and many others. Worship together today offers countless riches, not the least of which is stability of community and place. Finally, this afternoon, Cooper’s piano recital gives us a time to bathe in beauty. It reminds us that, no matter what challenges we face in the days ahead, we still need occasions to revel in beauty, music, joy, and laughter.
“The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” David asks himself in the maelstrom.
Of course there is fear. It is best to acknowledge our fear. It is a natural reflexive instinct, to which we often respond unconsciously with fight or flight behaviors, freeze or fawn reactions. Yet, there is also another way to approach our fear. We can take a more reflective approach, a conscious approach, one we learn from David and the other psalmists. We face our fear; we speak truth into it. We engage many spiritual practices to soften it. We support one another and “catch hope” from each other, and that hope turns into courage.
“How shall we sing the Lord’s song, in a foreign land?” the psalmist asks in yet another poem. How shall we do this, dear ones?
There is a way; we simply start singing. We simply start weaving, and we create new tapestries as we walk this road together. Amen.