(This was the fourth meditation for the Lenten Service of Motets and Meditations March 16 and 18, 2018)
I will lift up my eyes unto the hills from whence comes my help. My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip. He who watches over you will not slumber. Psalm 121, sung by Canto Deo, is quite probably a Psalm of David; it is a dialogue of confession and assurance. Walter Bruegemann in A Way Other Than Our Own views Psalm 121 as the song of a traveler. Indeed, it may speak of a literal caravan on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem or a dialogue within a single heart. It is a divine path. It stresses the importance of receiving our traveling mercies from the God who made heaven and earth. Though the path may be treacherous, effectual aid comes from the Keeper. Your foot will not slip, He will watch over your life, He will watch over your coming and going, now and forevermore. This is the God of omnipotence. The Psalmist is telling us that it is not possible to have confidence in God until we have an understanding of God as the all-powerful one.
Yet, as we read through the Psalms of David, we are inescapably captured by other language that David uses in his prayers to God. The terms steadfast love, tender mercies, loving kindness, and gentleness occur over and over in the Psalms of David. Love, mercy, kindness, and gentleness allow us to bear the truth of God as we walk the path of the Divine. We are all reclamation projects and we find in David the King, someone who understood the transformational quality of gentleness. While the tragic choices of David are recorded for all of history, yet he was called “The Sweet Psalmist of Israel” by Samuel the prophet. His writings have provided for the people of God throughout the ages examples of deep, intimate communication with God, but he was a great warrior and military strategist. His accomplishments are without parallel. He set up an effective central government out of a tribal nation and organized a worship system centered in Jerusalem. His throne was established as perhaps the central institution of Old Testament prophecy, for one day the offspring of David would rule eternally as the King of Kings. But let us hear the tender words of David, spoken to God toward the end of David’s life and recorded in II Samuel 22:16: “Your gentleness has made me great”.
Our Lenten path must be both the path of the God of Power, and the God of all Mercy. It is not the world’s path. It is a path “Other Than Our Own” and it is our faith that calls us to this path. Matthew Arnold, a Victorian poet, wrote against the backdrop of a culture that was as troubled as our own. Victorian England was a dark picture of contradictions with its sharply divided social classes, its curious, rigid morality, its workhouses, child labor, food contamination, and early deaths of children.
The poet, mourning the loss of faith in his culture, writes these lines in his 1851 poem, Dover Beach:
The world, which seems to lie before us like a land of dreams,
so various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, nor certitude,
nor peace, nor help for pain.
And we are here as on a darkling plain,
swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
where ignorant armies clash by night.
The darkling plain is the poet’s central statement on the human condition, but there is another path. The Lenten season invites us, in the words of author, Walter Wangarin, from a path of mourning to a path of dancing. He speaks of the Primal Relationship renewed. Everything is reversed. When the Primal Relationship broke, so did all the others. Death caused death, but now life reveals life. The renewal began in Jesus. It was initiated long ago on the cross. Always, always it is God who begins things and we who benefit. In nature, then, the great God smiles. In ourselves, the spirit breathes. And in others, Jesus dwells and loves and comes to us. He who outfaced death, humble and low, dying all of the dyings, he who triumphed over hell itself; He it is who holds me now, for He caught me when the branches broke, and He never let me go. In Him, then, we have peace. “My peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither be afraid. In the world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.
Now we begin again. Our relationships may be knit with the love of God rather than the love of self. Now comes the ability to forgive as we have been forgiven. For now we are the image of Jesus unto others and the Word of God is the source of all our words. Our relationships can now honor the earth with wisdom and care. It is the Divine Path.