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Life’s Journey in Psalm 23

December 17, 2008 2 comments

Living our lives involves peace, nourishment, growth, struggle, suffering, surprise, joy and love. In the midst of this shifting world, we must learn to rest confidently in the absolute faithfulness of God…to the very end.

Born into a family we grow and learn and change over time and in space. We move from infant to child to youth to teen to adult. Then our adult life is a separate journey that may repeat aspects of our childhood in differing order. Recently, I was thinking about this passage through time in light of Psalm 23.

I think this Psalm might provide a helpful lens to consider the path upon which we walk and the places we pass through along the way. At the same time, the Psalm may reveal some sense of the journey of Israel, God’s people chosen to bless the world. These thoughts are still forming, but I thought I’d jot them down.

Psalm 23 begins in the place of infancy:

1 The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.

The baby is completely dependent upon the gentle care of the parent. The babe has no wants and trust the parent to provide food, comfort, shelter and care. In the story of Ancient Israel, we see God rescuing the people from Egypt. They are completely helpless and can only survive by trusting in His complete provision. From crossing the Red Sea to drinking water from the rock, Israel must rest in God’s direct provision for their sustenance.

Like Israel, we begin in a place of complete dependence. We cannot safe ourselves. We are helpless, sinful, blind, and enslaved. In His grace, He draws us to Himself and feeds our soul. His love covers a multitude of sins. He showers us with grace. He heals us. Feeds us. And guides us.

But then the babe must begin to grow. They learn obedience, they learn discipline, they prepare to become adults who will carry on the name of their family. The giving of the Law at Mt Sinai is the gift of God to transform the children of Israel into a kingdom of priests who will bring blessing to the world. The parent trains their child in righteousness, and in the same way, the Father prepares us to bear His name. We must grow up into Him, into the life He has called us.

3 He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

There are seasons when He brings us back to the lessons of childhood. For the Father disciplines His true children. If we are to bear His name, if we are to reveal His blessing and glory, we must be trained in His righteousness by His Holy Spirit.

Adolescence can be painful. The shifting from child to man is wrought with emotional and physical development that turns the youth’s world upside down. For some this season may shift from extreme joy to extreme anger to extreme sadness. I would suggest it might be like passing through the “valley of the shadow of death.”

4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

As the Father calls us to grow up into love, we also must pass through the “valley of the shadow of death.” In this place, we face our own desperate need for God’s grace. It is here that we will learn the love of Christ. It is here that we will discover the great depth of God’s grace.

And it is here that we will face our greatest trials. For in the “valley of the shadow of death,” we face the wounds that sin has inflicted on our lives and through our lives. There are caves of bitterness and rejection and loneliness and anger. It is here that the seducer of our souls calls out to us. He seeks to lead into the tailspin of self-reliance, into the path of the dead.

In the “valley of the shadow of death” many people forget the green pastures they once knew. In fact, they begin doubt there ever was a shepherd caring for their souls. If you live in a cave too longer, you may quit believing in the sun. And eventually, you’ll become blind in the darkness. The valley of the shadow of death is dangerous and may cost us our life.

This is where advent begins. We join Israel in the valley of the shadow of death. We discover that their exile, their story of being cast into outer darkness is actually our story. For in this dark valley, we realize that we were not as shiny and pretty and wonderful as we had imagined. The wounds of sin have penetrated our memories, our hearts, our minds, and our souls.

Why would the Father so cruelly lead us into to such a place of death? It is here that we realize our deep need for healing and grace. It is hear that we discover a love that touches our deepest pains. Without passing through this valley, we will never know the depths of love, we will never be healed by the depths of love. In the place of death, of darkness, of exile, we must learn to cry out, “Lord have mercy!”

There’s only one way out of this valley of the shadow of death. It is by entering into the shadow. Death is the only way out. So we must enter the one who consumed and the grave. In the cross of Christ, we discover life.

Here we discover Jesus has already gone on ahead of us. He’s passed through this valley and His cross has made a way to another land. There is a feast awaiting us.

Psalm 23:5-6
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.

Weeping may endure for the night but joy comes in the morning. The night of sin and death may seem to last and last and last. But it is but a blink of the eye compared to the joy that is to come in the full light of day. By His grace, we awake in the morning of His love (with the promise of day to come).

We return to the place of rest and trust in the Shepherd of our souls. But now we are adults. Jesus offers His body and blood as a feast of life in the midst of our enemies. The battles are not over. In fact, we may still face great suffering and struggle. But His Spirit has taught and is teaching of the wonder and secret of deep joy.

The joy of children is the joy of innocence. It is beautiful. Playful. Lyrical. The joy of adulthood is the joy that has the power to face the darkness, to drink the cup of suffering, and to continue singing and rejoicing. This is the joy of Paul and Silas imprisoned and beaten unjustly.

No they are not treated fair or right, but they can still rejoice in the Good King, the Savior of the World. In the midst of their enemies, they feast. They eat at the table of the Lord. They enjoy the anointing of God’s Spirit and are filling to overflowing with life that pours out upon the wicked prisoners and jailer around them.

By the great grace of God, we are called to grow up into priests, kings and prophets in the midst of world scarred by sin and corruption and death. We don’t escape this world of pain but we bring goodness and mercy into the midst of it.

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD
Forever.

As we grow, we learn to draw from the hope that is held securely for us behind the veil. This hope of complete redemption, of eternal glory, of faithful love sustains us. This hope is not in the shaking sand of emotional or mental assurance but in the absolute fidelity of Jesus Christ who cannot be moved but has already been faithful to the end of all things. His complete faithfulness to the Father in and through death continues shining as He raises from the dead, a light of hope bursting back from the end of all things to this moment in time.

So I rest in His faithfulness and know that the Shepherd of my soul will bring me to dwell in His house forevermore.

Categories: Advent, meditation Tags: , , ,

Objective Remembering

October 4, 2007 Leave a comment

Hans Urs Von Balthasar challenges me to the call to live as a historical person–grounded in the earthiness of daily life.

In “Love Alone is Credible,” Von Balthasar presents an extensive discussion on the nature of the the Son’s kenotic (self-empyting) act as the absolute expression of love. In the midst of his essay he talks about the act of remembering this act through the grace of the Holy Spirit. In the Eucharist, the church actively remembers Christ. Much more than simple recall, eating the bread and drinking the wine is act of faithful remembering that is only possible via the Holy Spirit. Von Balthasar writes:

In the ever-present Anamnesis (“Do this in remembrance of me,” 1 Cor 11:25) of the self-sacrifice of God’s love (unde et memores), the living and resurrected Christ becomes present “until he comes again” (Mat 18:20)–but present “until he comes again” (1 Cor11:26), and therefore, not looking backward, but with eyes set forward, into the future and full of hope. Only non-faith and nonlove can imprison Christians in their past.; the Spirit has set them free to enter into every age and every future; indeed, the move forward, fashioning and transforming the world in everything they do in light of the abundant image that rises before the, not subjectively but objectively, at every moment.

This one passage has stuck in my mind. If I am hearing him correctly, I hear that the physical act of communion that is memory and presence is both a human act and a Spirit act. The church is freed from simple subjectivity that relegates it to an ahistorical existence on thought and inner experience. TheEucharist grounds us in time and yet by the Spirit in all times.

In remembering the church is enacting. The communion meal sets the tone for action in all spheres. We becomes the self-emptying body of Christ poured out for the world. Thus like Paul, we are compelled to reconcile all things to God. From the mundane to the spectacular activities of each day, we exist as living witnesses of Christ’s presence by His Spirit.

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Diversions to Death – Pascal

February 9, 2007 3 comments

Blaise PascalHere’s a thought worth consideration from Pascal

The only thing that consoles us for our miseries is diversion, and yet this is the greatest of our miseries. For it is this which principally hinders us from reflecting upon ourselves, and which makes us insensibly ruin ourselves. Without this we should be in a state of weariness, and this weariness would spur us on to seek a more solid means of escaping from it. But diversion amuses us, and leads us, gradually and without ever adverting to it, to death.

Man is broken

December 8, 2006 Leave a comment

Here’s neat little quote that Jimmy posted on the kidney transplant list:

Man is broken. He lives by mending.
The grace of God is the glue.
Eugene O’Neill

Makes me think of a Dylan tune. I hope we’re all sticky today (and mend everything we touch).

Excellent Social Network Resources

November 7, 2006 Leave a comment

I discovered a wonderful source of information on social networking this evening at The Belonging Initiative. They’re committed to fostering belonging and ending isolation among people with disabilities. The vision is wonderful but their comments extend beyond the vision to each of us. With the growing sense of isolation in this nation, and the explosion of social nets online, these social networking analysis resources may be a great help for those interested in exploring social networking.

Living a Life of Dialogue

October 31, 2006 1 comment

Here’s a great quote from a man whose writings have deeply shaped my life:

All real living is meeting. – Martin Buber

I could write a few paragraphs of commentary or I could simply let it stand and encourage you to think about that for a little while today. Good words.

Words

October 23, 2006 Leave a comment

A word for the day from one of my favorite poets:

“To find my home in one sentence, concise, as if hammered in metal. 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.”
Czeslaw Milosz

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