Pilgrim Notes

Reflections along the way.

Month: May 2013

Psalmist Clings to the Path of Life


As I listen to the songs and prayers of the Psalmist, I hear the distinct struggle of being caught between the two paths. Since the Psalms are grouped into five books (Psalm 1-41; 42-72; 73-89; 90-106; 107-150), I was wondering if I might just listen to the cries, songs, prayers and hear some repeating rhythms in these books. Today I am listening to the first several Psalms of book one.

Psalm 1 opens with a clear separation of two ways, two paths: the wicked and the righteous. While Psalm 1 ends with the wicked (think oppressors) perishing, Psalm 2 opens with the wicked ruling nations and mocking the righteous and the righteous God. The Psalmist reaffirms Psalm 1 and trusts that these mocking oppressors will not oppress forever. A day of reckoning is coming.

In Psalm 3, our poet is surrounded by those who walk in the way of wickedness. His trust in the Lord’s faithfulness is tested and he cries out for salvation (vindication; justice). In Psalm 4 continues to call for vindication but also encourages the listeners who also struggle to rest in the Lord’s faithfulness by remembering the blessings of Lord.

As I continue reading, I hear this rhythm of struggle. I hear expressions of turmoil, possibly temptation, doubt, frustration. And yet, song after song the Psalmist is calling his hearers, his nation to trust in the righteous judge, to press into the instruction of the Lord (meditate upon Torah), to walk in the way of life and avoid the slippery path of destruction. In the midst of this struggle, I hear songs of praise, focusing on this wondrous creation, the redeeming action of the Lord and the wisdom of the commandments.

By singing and praying these songs, I am resounding the word outwardly and inwardly. I am confessing the very real struggle of living in a world where wicked oppressors seem to thrive. I am acknowledging the pressure to leave the path of life and pursue the path of wickedness for my own protection, my own provision, my own safety. Yet, even as the pressure mounts, so does the confession resound, clinging to the faithfulness of the Lord, learning the way of trust.

* Image by deadmanjones on flickr. Used by permission via Creative Commons.

Singing in the House of Sojourn


“Your statutes have been my songs
in the house of my sojourning.” (Psalm 119:54)

My restless tongue intones the hope of home in the echo of the Psalms. Praise is the language of my people, my homeland, but I sojourn so far from home. I long for the land of harmony, but wander through valleys of dissonance. A wayward tongue blinds the eye to beauty, sounding complaint, frustration and disgust instead.

James writes that blessing and cursing gush from the same mouth. It ought not be, but is. I am an imperfect witness. Sometimes sounding praise, sometimes cursing the ground on which I stand.

Words pound the pavement with anger. News blares sounds of strife and struggle, neverending dispute. The unpeaceable kingdoms of this world sound the drums of dissatisfaction, distortion and destruction.

Oh, to speak one true word in a world where so many sounds collide and crash and dissipate. “To find my home in one sentence, concise, as if hammered in metal,” writes Czeslaw Milosz. “Not to enchant anybody. Not to earn a lasting name in posterity. An unnamed need for order, for rhythm, for form, which three words are opposed to chaos and nothingness.”

He knows the chaos and nothingness of sound without fire, words without life, clouds without rain. So many words flash and fade, undoing the family, the community, the nation. The furies of strife usher a deluge of destruction.

When the Lord instructs, “you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Deut 5: 20), He guides in the way of Life. He also reveals the way of creation. His Torah undergirds the very structure of creation. As Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote, “The Torah determines both the essence and the existence of the universe.”

His words echo Wisdom’s voice in Proverbs 8,
“The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of old.
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth,
before he had made the earth with its fields,
or the first of the dust of the world.
When he established the heavens, I was there;
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master workman,
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the children of man. (Proverbs 8:22-31)

Bearing witness is not an arbitrary rule but the shape of this ordered world. All things bear witness. The grass, the trees, the sun and the stars all bear witness. Day after day, they silently proclaim the Glory of God. Even as the tree bears witness to God’s glory, it silently bears witness to itself. The Dogwood tree in front of my house reveals the wonder of a Dogwood. In silence, I behold a symphony of shape and color and motion through all seasons of the year. The Dogwood tree gives witness of itself while witnessing to the Glory of God at the same time. And it also silently witnesses to the creation around it.

To adapt the words of John Donne, the Dogwood is not “an island entire of itself.” This little tree lives in mutuality with the soil below and the air above. Even as I behold the Dogwood, I behold the fiery Cardinal alighting on it’s crooked limb. The limb provides a place for revealing the Cardinal in all it’s splendor. In some way, the Cardinal reveals the Dogwood even as the Dogwood reveals the Cardinal. The sun above gives witness to Dogwood and Cardinal since without the light, I could not behold the wonder of each. At some level, every particular thing in this vast creation is giving witness to the Glory of God, the glory of it’s own unique form, and the glory of the world around it.

Into the midst of this wordless pageant, a voice speaks. I am the articulate voice. You are the articulate voice. We alone echo the Voice of God by speaking and singing into this world of glory. The Psalmist tunes my tongue and my ear to the sound of a true word. Even as the Psalmist sings the statutes of God in the house of sojourning, he anticipates the One True Word Enfleshed.

Jesus, the Word become Flesh is the True Witness of the Father, the World, and the person. In Him and by His Spirit, I behold the fullness of glory. Even as Jesus reveals the Father, He reveals my call as True Witness. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). The music of creation pulses in my heart, as the Word shapes my lips into songs of praise.

We play the honored role as articulate witnesses. Life and death are in the power of our tongues (Proverbs 18:21). We are learning to become who we are by the wisdom of Christ. His Word shapes our ears, and eyes and tongues. Like the Psalmist, we learn to sing His Word in our house of sojourning. May Jesus, the Word made Flesh, make our flesh the echo His Word. May our frail and muttering tongues give witness to the glory of God, the wonder of His creation, and the beautiful beloved people who people this world.

“O all ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord praise him and magnify him for ever.”

* Image by Funchye on flickr. Used by permission via Creative Commons.

Living in the Ordinary

stairing blue eyes

We rise to the ordinary, the predictable, the mundane. We move through a pattern of daily repetitions: wake, shower, dress, eat, and go. Somewhere. Life is so utterly predictable.

If traumas don’t kill us, something odd happens. We keep living, breathing, existing. Peter denied Christ then woke the next day. Living in the present is so difficult because it is so ordinary. We dream of future possibilities or glorify past excitements while breathing in this ordinary present moment.

Thomas Merton once cautioned the would-be contemplative that prayer quickly becomes boring and repetitious, routine. The ordinary predictability of inhaling and exhaling becomes a weight that some cannot bear. They grow weary.

One way to respond to this utter predictability is to seek out crisis, to create crisis. Oddly, even wanderlust can grow tiresome. Crisis loses the edge of surprise over time. Reflecting on the horror of the trenches in World War 1, Eugen Rosenstock Huessy said that most of the time it was boring.

We may look at other people and dream of what could have been. In fact, some try to recreate could-have-beens. The man or woman who has an affair soon discover the malaise overtaking the newness. Binx Boling called my attention to the malaise.

In Walker Percy’s “The Moviegoer,” Binx Boling is a man who has the good life. The life we all dream about. He is financially successful, comes from a secure family, enjoys the best culture has to offer, and spends his time watching movies and dating beautiful women. Binx also seems to be caught in a struggle. He feels the malaise at the back of all things, but at the same time, he is startled and surprised by existence.

Being alive is wondrous and dreadful. Why are we here? What are we supposed to be doing? What will it take to give our lives signification? Is it praise from others? Some recognition for all our dedication, all we’ve suffered, all we have given? Are we really yearning unlimited wealth? Some spiritual power? Lots and lots of stuff?

Why doesn’t any answer satisfy?

At times, the idea of eternal life can be horrifying. “You mean we just keep living and living and living?” This terror of never-ending life may be bound us in the terror of the ordinary, in the anguish of why?

The suffering of loneliness and sickness and broken relations may hide the suffering of being alive. We are caught between the wonder and the terror of existence. We know so little and feel even less.

For those who do not know the malaise, these words will make little sense. For those who do, you might hear a distant echo of anguish the trembles deep in the soul. My intention is not to solve our human dilemma in 500 words or less.

I am looking for clues. I am looking at the Risen Christ, and hopefully through the Risen Christ. In Him, I see life lived fully, completely. I behold love poured out with no restriction. All things were made, shaped, formed, properly ordered through the Son, the Word Made Flesh. In Him, I see the wondrous order of all creation.

Order? There is an order, a shape, a form to all creation. Without order, all form is but a momentary illusion.

The word “ordinary” derives from order. Our ordinary world, our ordinary moments are ordered.

In Christ, I see a glimpse of this order. His life is poured out fully in love: every moment from birth through death. In His resurrection, I behold the unrestricted reciprocation of the Father’s love by the Spirit.

In Him, I live and move and breathe. I breathe. I inhale and exhale. Each moment ordered by exhaling, inhaling: pouring out, filling up. In my very breath, I see but a tiny pattern of reciprocal life revealed in Christ. Within this wonderful and terrible existence, I breathe, we breathe. The wonder of reciprocation, of giving and receiving, of loving and being loved is enacted all around me in the sun and moon, man and woman, trees and bees. All creation echoes a reciprocation of life, a mutuality of giving and receiving.

Mostly I am deaf and blind to this magnificent symphony of love, this order of love. Some times, the blind will see. The light of Christ pierces my eyes. In this ordinary moment, I behold love unspeakable and full of glory.

* Image by Thomas Leuthard on flickr. (Used by Creative Commons Permission)

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