40

This past year, I’ve been learning to pray through the Psalms. At first it was difficult. The voice of the psalmist(s) seemed so foreign, violent, and not always reflecting what was churning in my heart. Yet, I kept reading them, because great women and men of faith have always pointed to the psalms as a source of prayer. Within this work of 150 songs, I received an invitation to pour out my heart – even my anger and curses – unto the Lord. The book of Psalms was an invitation to throw back at God all that life had thrown at me.

So it was with great excitement that I came across this work by Nan C. Merrill. Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness could be seen as just another translation, but Merrill has removed the language of patriarchy and competition, focusing instead on a movement towards healing and reconciliation. For personal devotion, this has been of great help. I haven’t set aside the “well-loved, still meaningful, and historically important Psalms of the Hebrew Scripture,” nor would I start using this translation in congregational prayer. But it’s like hearing a new cover to an old song (really, really old songs).

Reading Psalms for Praying has also reminded me of the kind of language I use when I speak of God. “Lord” and “King” are words associated with power and authority. How often do I address God as “Beloved” or “Love”? As “Friend” or “Healer”? Why is that?

And so I quote a prayer for us:

I waited patiently for the Beloved,
	who has heard my cry and
		came to me.
Love raised me from the pits of 
		despair,
	out of confusion and fear,
	and set my feet upon a rock.
		Making my steps secure.
There is a new song in my mouth,
	a song of praise to the Beloved.
May many see and rejoice, may they 
	put their trust in Love.

Blessed are those who make Love
		their home,
	who do not turn to the proud,
	to those who follow false idols!
O Beloved, how wondrous are your gifts
		to us; your thoughts are 
		beyond our imagination.
	What joy to live in Oneness with You!
Were we to proclaim and tell of Your
		beauty and blessed grace,
	who could measure it?

Sacrifice and offering are not 
		your desire for us;
	for, you have opened our heart's ear.
Burnt offerings are not required.
My heart affirms my surrender;
	in the Book of Life it is written:
“I abandon myself into your hands,
	for I love You and wish only 
		to create with You,
			O my Beloved;
For You are the Life of my life forever.”

I tell the glad news of 
		Love's way
	to all who will listen.
Yes, I raise my voice,
	with praise and acclamation.
I tell of Love's saving grace
		within my heart,
	I speak of Love's faithfulness
		and healing power.

I aspire to reveal your steadfast love
		and truth
	through the witness of my life.
Do not, O Beloved, withhold
	your mercy from me,
Let your Love, your Light,
		and faithfulness ever
	guide and uphold me.
For fears so often overwhelm me;
My desires and anger cause me	
		to be blind; so
I look away when I see injustice,
	my heart becomes cold.

In your mercy, O Beloved, deliver me!
	O Love, make haste to help me!
Let my fears be put to rest,
	fears that separate me from You;
Let al that keeps me from love,
		from peace and gratitude, 
	be transformed within me.

And may all who seek Love
	rejoice and be glad;
May all who would live truth
		and justice,
	continually call upon Love!
As for me, though often broken
		and weak,
	I know that Love dwells within.
For now, where injustice or illusion 
			make their home,
	I witness to your Peace and Love,
		O Teacher and Friend to All!

Psalm 40, from Psalms for Praying, an Invitation to Wholeness by Nan C. Merrill

Still

The ashes are falling.

I feel like I’m walking through the aftermath of a bomb – a bomb that has ended all strife and striving. A bomb that has severed bridges or roads of return. Everything has been incinerated and gone up in flame and smoke. There is nothing left to burn but a few smoldering coals.

The ashes fall. Gently like snow on a crisp prairie winter morning. I hold out my hand and catch the grey flakes drifting down around me. They crumble to dust  when I fold my fingers into a fist. The wind unfurls my hand and carries the dust away.

I still live, I can move to walk through the rubble. But whatever that was pursuing my life has ended as well. I may have lost much.. but I’ve gained so much more.

The wind will pick up and carry these remnants away.. where they will settle in pleasant valleys and be reconstituted into life again. Do I stay or do I leave? I know that life will return, there are signs already. Look, there are buds on the tree. The trunk has been singed but she still stands, her roots are deep.

After the ashes will come rain. And after the rain, will come the sun. Come, it’s time to prepare and sow. It is time for shalom.

Movement

It’s been a year.

A year since graduating with a strange degree that most people haven’t heard of. A year since student life ended. A year since hopes were raised.

It’s been an tumultuous year. Three months in the Holy Land (which felt like year on its own), becoming a full-fledged pastor, turning thirty-three, first Christmas away from family, having my heart dropped then stomped on, and learning to minister while grieving. It’s been a year of reluctant growth and unnecessary suffering.

It’s been quite the year.

Lent is soon ending. There is a movement in me to seek, once again, what it means to delight in God. If there is joy to be had, then I want it. If there’s a peace that would penetrate the fissures in my soul, then I hunger for it. If there’s a love that allows me to rest with security, then I thirst for it. If, even for a moment, I can feel God’s pleasure and delight in me, then I’m desperate for it.

For if I delight in God, then I can hold His people more tenderly. I see the obvious and subtle posturing for recognition and attention. I see the cracked, jagged edges caused by care-less words and actions. I see the dullness in sleepy and weary eyes. I see the weight of fear and apathy. I can see all of these and still speak words of hope and peace.

There is a wholeness yet to come.

It’s a wonderment, that on a chilly, rainy, late November day, the birds are singing and dancing in the wind just behind the window pane I’m staring through.

I’ve rearranged the furniture in my room, added another lamp from the attic, and now I can tap away on my computer while looking out at the mountains and harbor. Vancouver hasn’t been sunny or warm for several weeks now, the rain keeps falling and falling. I remember to take my vitamin D this morning. And perhaps with the extra light in my room I can feel cozy and energized. Still, I miss the kiss of the sun on my face. I miss other types of kisses as well.

A flock of tiny birds just flew by my window. It’s quieter now. But I still hear the sound of birdsong… and a couple of plump robins bounce through the top of the naked tree directly in front of me. A few stubborn yellow leaves cling on the trees, and shake in the breeze as a reminder of the season that we’re in.

A woodpecker just grabbed onto the top of my bedroom window. I bend my neck to the side to look at her, she peers back at me. Embarrassed, she takes off to find another wooden structure to feast on. Her red feathered head matched the rose that sits on my window sill, given by my landlady.

The birds keep singing. Their cheer pierces through the gloom, like red petals against an autumn gray sky, like a voice calling out to lone fishermen on a placid lake. Beyond the clouds I know the sun still shines otherwise I wouldn’t be able to see anything out my window. The birds know this, they live in the rain and darken woods, but still they sing. Oh that my heart would sing as they do. With spring and sounding glory, and the tenacity of hope resisting.