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Archive for March, 2012

Psalm selection 19:1, 2

The heavens are telling the glory of God;

and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

Day to day pours forth speech,

and night to night declares knowledge.

 

The Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart writes that God’s work in the cosmos is an unending artistry of repetitions and iterations that are always new, distinct, and beautiful. “Day to day” and “night to night” as the Psalm says, God’s work of creating love is going on.

 

This creates the conditions for peace. If the cosmos is simply set in motion by material forces, then it is easy to conclude that we are in a “zero-sum” game in which you must lose for me to gain, and if you gain, then I lose. The world has only so many resources, so we need to fight for ours. Often, this is paradoxically supported by a call for caring for resources where again, it is stated that there’s only so much to work with so we must share.

 

While sharing fixed resources is better than fighting for them, both are based on a false premise that “the earth and it’s fullness” are a fixed sum. But if God’s work is to continue to pour God’s own creative artistry into creation, then we live in a creation characterized by infinity, not scarcity. Then the premise for sharing is that hidden resources are unleashed. Then it is not “prison-cell” sharing of a single loaf of bread (again, better than fighting) but rather the discovery that there is bread for all and more left over.

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Psalm selection 19:1-4

The heavens are telling the glory of God;

and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

Day to day pours forth speech,

and night to night declares knowledge.

There is no speech, nor are there words;

their voice is not heard;

yet their voice goes out through all the earth,

and their words to the end of the world.

There is a deep character of creation and this character shapes our character. We have deeply differing impressions of this character. Some will say it is the pitched battle and struggle of evolutionary processes. Others will say it is the utter silence of material realities written in elemental stone.

The intuition and insight of faith is that from the heart of all the processes of the universe is spoken a voice of deep beauty and deep love. It is not obvious or inevitable, but it is real and not merely wishful thinking or imaginary. This voice is the voice of the One who loves us and gives us life.

If that voice is speaking the deep character of creation, then we may be people who exhibit that character with confidence: people of love and peace. In a world where great violence continues (Syria is on our hearts today) the deep structures are love and the peace that endures. As we seek to respond to violence, we may proceed from creation’s voice that speaks love.

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Psalm selection 19:12b, 13

Clear me from hidden faults.

Keep back your servant also from the insolent;

do not let them have dominion over me.

Then I shall be blameless,

and innocent of great transgression.

 

How often have you longed for and prayed for utter innocence? It is a challenging prayer indeed. Especially when the definition of “transgression” is broad. If transgression is the “personal ethics” sins of cheating and lying and so forth, some of us may try to make a run at innocence. But when “transgression” includes awareness of “social ethics” processes of privilege and violence then innocence feels elusive.

 

I always remember Titus Peachey studying the military-industrial structures in “very Mennonite” Lancaster, PA, and despairing of ever disconnecting from those structures woven into so many parts of the daily economy. He concluded his goal was to do “one good thing for peace”.

 

In a complex world, the Psalmist’s longing for innocence of transgression my seem impossible. But perhaps it is the “one good thing” step that I take today that matters and that in fact can be part of walking a great path of faithful living.

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Psalm selection 19:7

The law of the Lord is perfect,

reviving the soul;

 

In what way does a law “revive the soul”?

 

To paraphrase an old insight from Scott Peck, there are four faith stages.

1) Chaos – here you long for order; depending on the level of chaos, you will do anything for order. So an orderly law looks wonderful.

2) Order – here you abide in the orderly house. But look, there are problems, “cracks”, inconsistencies. No order is perfect. Is the law greater than order, you may begin to wonder?

3) Skepticism – you have pondered and puzzled on some of the “cracks” in the order and now you find yourself in active questioning and doubting mode. Was that order “the law of the Lord?” Probably not. God’s law has more going on in it than order. Here you take apart order, examine it, stand back from it. But enough of this and you may feel drained of joy and love.

4) Mysticism – Skepticism has moved you to seek something greater, deeper, more numinous, and so you have begun to meditate on the mysteries of love, and how all things are connected (not the same, but connected). As you move into this kind of experience and understanding, you find that yes God’s law does have elements that save us from chaos. But that is only the smallest part. The greater and more wondrous reality is named in the beginning of this same Psalm that celebrates the law: “The heavens are telling the glory of God”. It is God’s glory written like a code into creation that is the great foundation and heart of our lives.

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Psalm selection – 25:7

Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;

according to your steadfast love remember me,

for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!

 

What’s your “back story”. We all have histories and they are all populated with lovely old memories and things that are at least regrets if not in fact deep embarrassments or worse.

 

Remembering our stories “according to steadfast love” can be a source of great strength and joy. It keeps us from obsessing over the “ouch” moments and lets us savor and hold the wonders that have come into our lives.

 

Love puts the old regrets, etc. into perspective. Are there things that we still need to repair? Do we need to do the AA-style “making amends” in some cases? Love will go with us. The Holy Spirit is with us in all things and bringing forth life. In this way we can move on strengthened for the days to come.

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Psalm selection – 25:5 “For you I wait all day long.”

There is the story from an African continental culture of the man who had to walk slowly to a meeting so that his soul could catch up with him. I once drove, rather than fly, to Michigan to a meeting so that my soul could catch up with me. I called it “fossil fuel meditation at 80 mph”.

 

The Doobie Brothers line “It keeps me runnin’, yeah, it keeps me runnin'” come to mind. What keeps you running these days? Is your soul with you? How might it catch up with you?

 

Peace for these days.

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Today, a “side” meditation on another Psalm – Psalm 23 (from my editor’s note in our Focus newsletter).

We have a group that meets every Thursday for story-sharing and reflection. It is a soulful time, and a I told our Thursday evening group last week that poet’s seem to have two favorite subjects: February and Death. There are all these poems about freezing, getting buried in snow, days of darkness, etc. Some poets – you just can’t cheer them up!

I think that what is so powerful, however, is that for the poet and for the person of faith, there may be a sense of a lovely vision, of a sense of life and love, or beauty, that paradoxically finds glorious, touching, deeply resonating connection in the subjects of seasonal “down times” such as February, and of course with that all-encompassing “down time” – death.

It is the intersection of that eternal light and love and beauty meeting that most mysterious and often tragic departure that is death that for many poets and their ilk that generates a “Psalm 23” expression: a piece of lovely and great rhetorical power that carries the heart even in the hardest of times. “Yea, thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil….”

What is like Psalm 23 for you these days? What is the great and deep affirmation of love and life?

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