Friday, January 8, 2010

Are we just too loud?

Our parish home groups are reading and discussing the Psalms this year.

I participate in a group, where the host enforces the ground rule that I am just "some guy named Tim." It is a blessing and lets me read the Psalms prayerfully instead of with an eye to producing a lesson or sermon, and I enjoy to time to share thoughts and prayer with brothers and sisters in Christ.

This week I meditated on Book III of the Psalter, which includes Psalms 73 - 89 (quotations are from The Book of Common Prayer 1979).

Psalm 73 leads into a warning against cynicism. The Psalmist is open about his envious, despairing perceptions of those who get away with evil:

9 They set their mouths against the heavens, *
and their evil speech runs through the world.

10 And so the people turn to them *
and find in them no fault.

11 They say, "How should God know? *
is there knowledge in the Most High?"

12 So then, these are the wicked; *
always at ease, they increase their wealth.

But reality is rediscovered in intimacy with God:

16 When I tried to understand these things, *
it was too hard for me;

17 Until I entered the sanctuary of God *
and discerned the end of the wicked.

18 Surely, you set them in slippery places; *
you cast them down in ruin.

The "sanctuary of God" used to be the great Temple of Jerusalem, but in New Testament teaching it is a personal audience with God in prayer, made our right by Christ himself.

When we are distracted from this always available holy space of love and help, we become vulnerable to evil's infiltration of our thinking and our will, and we become more animalistic than Christlike:

21 When my mind became embittered, *
I was sorely wounded in my heart.

22 I was stupid and had no understanding; *
I was like a brute beast in your presence.

Subsequent verses in this section lurch back and forth between the security of the spiritual sanctuary...

73:25 Whom have I in heaven but you? *
and having you I desire nothing upon earth.

81:6 "I eased his shoulder from the burden;
his hands were set free from bearing the load."

7 You called on me in trouble, and I saved you; *
I answered you from the secret place of thunder...

...and the wasteland of pessimism:

74:3 Turn your steps toward the endless ruins; *
the enemy has laid waste everything in your sanctuary.

77:7 Will the Lord cast me off for ever? *
will he no more show his favor?

8 Has his loving-kindness come to an end for ever? *
has his promise failed for evermore?

9 Has God forgotten to be gracious? *
has he, in his anger, withheld his compassion?

10 And I said, "My grief is this: *
the right hand of the Most High has lost its power."

Then Psalm 81 makes an amazing point. When we are bellowing out our protests and fears, our prayer becomes a one directional rant. God is trying to speak to us, but we are too loud to listen. As much as we are frustrated by God's seeming silence, God is frustrated by all of our noise:

13 Oh, that my people would listen to me! *
that Israel would walk in my ways!

14 I should soon subdue their enemies *
and turn my hand against their foes.

15 Those who hate the LORD would cringe before him, *
and their punishment would last for ever.

16 But Israel would I feed with the finest wheat *
and satisfy him with honey from the rock.

The sanctuary of prayer is an audience with God. It is a chance to hear and receive as much as it is to be heard. May we be blessed to know that holy space.

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