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Psalm 124

June 26, 2009 Leave a comment

Psalm 124

Stepping out into steady drip, drip, drip of an early morning rain, Victor walks toward home. The cool, crisp air greets him as soft water streaks down his face, reminding him that he is alive. Alive.

The greenness of the grass washes over his eyes, the sweet smell of spring flowers mixed with the earthy smells of mud and trees intoxicates him. He looks around and beholds a new world. A new creation.

Fallen trees and leaf-covered paths suggest a heavy rain had passed through this place. A deluge. But now the devastation of last night’s storm has given way to a gentle sun penetrating the soft, spring rain flowing into rivulets along the road.

Overcome with thanksgiving, he stops walking and lifts up his hands and to proclaim,

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side—
let Israel now say—
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side
when people rose up against us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away,
the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone
the raging waters.(Psalm 124:1-5)

This Psalm burned in Victor’s soul as he meditated upon the words day after day after day for the past 15 years. Plunged into prison for his faith, he was starved, beaten, mocked, and drugged. Despair engulfed him, darkness choked him, death drew near.

Day after day after day his confession of faith was tested. The enemy came like a flood, swallowing Victor’s faith and and hope and love. Yet the Lord was faithful even when Victor felt the last vestige of faith slipping from his soul.

He thought the world forgot and feared that God forgot. From the depths of Sheol, he cried out to the Lord. “Remember me!”

And He did. In the place of forsakenness, Victor encountered the faithful love of the Lord that lasts forever.

And strangely, in this place of pain and loneliness, he also met a company of friends. As the prison swallowed Victor alive, he remembered Jonah plunged in the bowels of the great fish. As he faced year after year of suffering and hardship, he remembered the Israelites breaking under the harsh whip of Pharaoh.

In heart of darkness, he met King David crouched and hiding in a cave; Jeremiah in a sinking dark well; and Paul being stoned and left for dead. As He descended down in the dark chasms of suffering, Victor came to realize he lived in a great company of saints. In the mystery of God’s encircling love, he rested in this family of the not forsaken.

One vague story haunted him in the dark watches of the night. Again and again his mind returned to the 3rd century story of St. Julian, an old man accused of following Christ. Tormented and crippled by gout, Julian was carried into the court for trial. This frail and broken man stood without waver in the face of judgment and destruction.

Victor dreamed. And as he dreamed, he encountered Julian.

“Get up!” The gruff voice of an old soldier wakens Julian from his momentary dozing. Stiffly and slowly his rises. His shoulder is dislocated and his swollen feet feel like clods of earth attached to his legs. Julian hobbles towards the guard with a secret smile.

Today he is going home. As he walks, his shackles fall away, and Julian is free. He is going home. He thinks of himself like a bird getting ready to fly. And he remembers an old psalm and silently sings:

Blessed be the Lord,
who has not given us
as prey to their teeth!
We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped! (Psalm 124:6-7)

Dried blood cracks along deep cuts, and fresh streams wash down his back. Once again a secret smile. Julian remembers another washing.

Long ago in another age, he was plunged into waters of life. As Julian was immersed into the waters of life in death, he remembered and was remembered.

The Lord gathered this poor and forgotten boy into the family of God. The joy of this embrace gave him a song that never ceased. And like a bird from the heavens, he never stopped singing Psalms of thanksgiving to Lord who put him in family.

Today the song bubbles just beneath the surface. For in the great and merciful love of his Lord, Julian now enjoys the honor of another baptism. And in this great cleansing, he feels giddy like a young a boy with the fire of life.

Again and again, the dreams of Julian encouraged Victor and reminded Him of God’s unfailing love. Today as Victor leaves the prison and walks home, he envisions Julian walking home alongside him.

He soaks in the cool rain, the mud-soaked ground, and gentle mist floating over the fields. At the edge of the field stands on old stone house. Crossing the path, he walks toward two people working in the morning drizzle: the wife of his youth and his boy become a man.

A song flies upward from his mouth to the throne of God. As he sings, he tastes the sweet joy of St. Julian.

Tears of joy flood Julian’s face as he climbs the cold, stone steps one last time. The joy inside him overpowers the twisted and broken limbs and for a moment, he walks upright before the cheering crowd. Soon he will be home, but first another promised baptism. As Julian walks into the raging fire, his secret song explodes out from his lungs in a psalm of praise.

Julian’s and Victor’s voices join the chorus of David, Jeremiah, Daniel and all the people of God walking home to the Father:

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 124:8)

Doug Watching at Panera

November 19, 2008 1 comment

I’m sitting at Panera Bread thinking and watching. For the past several years, I’ve started my day at Panera or some other coffee shop. Each morning I read a few poems, sing the Psalms (ever so quietly under my breath) and read a few passages from Scripture. All the while I sit and watch and listen and reflect.

I’m no longer going into an office every morning to work, but the habit of Panera still moves in my bones. And so this morning, I’ll read and reflect here a bit before returning to the house to work.

Sipping cream-soaked coffee and listening to the soft strings of some nameless composition, I cast my glance about the room and discover a delightful convergence of interesting people. Three women just over the half wall chat about Christmas shopping. As they rise and walk toward the door, I notice one of them walks slower than the other two. She is still chatting, and yet she ambles out as her eyes wander, noting every other person in the room.

Our eyes briefly meet and then she moves along with her friends. This fascinates me because I notice that many people walk across the dining area without acknowledging anyone. Their eyes are set on the destination.

But a few people, walk just a bit slower as they constantly survey the room and the people in the room. Even as I write, one gentleman strains his neck to see me and nod before sitting down at a table around the corner from.

A small stocky woman passes by in style with black pants, a silky black shirt, a flowing black jacket and a black hat. A small black scarf with highlights of red encircles her neck. She’s ready for something.

Across the room, I notice an older man whose messy gray hair sticks out from his “M” patched ball cap. He drinks several cups of coffee, talks on the phone and edits some papers. I assume he’s a lawyer because the papers look like briefs. But they could be anything.

Two old friends sitting behind me catch up on life’s news. I can’t them but I hear her and him talking about family, friends and life.

One of the Panera employees steps up to the drink station, cleaning the tea containers. Her turquoise shirt is a bright contrast to that dull green Panera smock. She rocks as she works. Back and forth. Back and forth. The rhythm she responds to is internal. For it is clearly a different song from the one broadcast through the speakers.

A young Bob Newhart walks by. He looks mighty serious, but I suspect a deep grin on the inside.

The manager sits nearby. At first I thought she was working on the next week’s schedule. But then I see her signing a card. Her lips are moving and eyes are focused as she’s seems to be thinking about something other then the work in front of her. Every couple moments she interrupts her work to run back to the kitchen.

There she comes again. She’s back at it. At something that seems pretty important from the look of her face.

As I sit here each morning, I usually don’t record my observations, but my eyes still dart about the room watching and listening while reading and reflecting. I enjoy the quiet and the solitude, but as a true extravert, I think best while immersed in the continual flow of people, streaming across space…and time.

Meditation as Song

August 22, 2008 1 comment

I’ve been chanting the Psalms in the mornings, and it occurred to me today that singing is meditation. In the past I’ve thought of music and chanting as a means to focus the mind on a singular idea. So music was a way to meditation. But I considered the actual meditation pure thought.

Now I realize that the Psalmist is not stripping the outer world away to think in a purely rationalized or abstracted level. Rather singing is meditation. Just as eating the bread and drinking the wine is remembering the Lord’s death.

While thinking draws on a rationality, true meditation is so much more. It brings together imagination, rationality, the physical body and emotions. Meditation is training me to be a whole/wise person (a home sapien) and not simply a homo logicus.

Words to meditate

March 31, 2008 Leave a comment

Words to meditate

Here’s a shot from the retreat I did last weekend about meditation and the Law. Taking Psalm 119 as our guide, we began listing words related to meditating upon the testimonies (10 Commandments) of God.

Advent – Remembering

December 18, 2007 1 comment

This week, the rhythm of advent shifts from looking forward and anticipating the return of the Son to looking back and remembering His first coming. Each year the church pauses to remember through stories, songs, plays and pictures. We remember, retell, reconsider, rehearse.

To re-hearse is to “hearse again.” That word causes me to stop and think. When I think of rehearsing, I think of practicing my lines for an upcoming performance. So what does this have to do with a hearse?

A hearse refers to a tomb, an encasing, an elaborate framework used in ceremonies commemorating those who have died. So a hearse helps us remember those who died. Hearse comes from the word “harrow,” which means to cultivate, break up, tear apart the land.

Each year the farmer re-harrows the land before planting. Each year we re-harrow our lives by remembering the incarnation of God in our midst. We must rehearse or else our minds grow hard, cold, infertile and forgetful.

Our land has forgotten the ancient stories, and I fear our churches have as well. One friend who has served his mother struggling with Alzheimer’s disease suggested to me that the prevalence of this disease in our time seems to be a sign of a culture that has forgotten their roots. Failing to re-harrow, we suffer from memory loss.

The church didn’t always set aside a time for remembering the birth of Christ. An intentional focus on remembering the birth of Christ came in response to a heresy that suggested Jesus was never really born in human flesh: he was simply a spirit that came to enlighten us. So the church decided to re-harrow, remember, rehearse the ancient tale of God made flesh.

This act of remembering was an act of war against thoughts and ideas fighting to diminish God’s action in human history. And the war still rages. The culture continues to forget and diminish and discard the wonder of God, the gift of God, the blessing of God upon us.

The festive trappings that overshadow our season of remembrance can be frustrating. As Frosty, Rudolph and Santa loom larger than the Lord of Glory we may feel shut out from our own party.

I would suggest the response to this mass forgetfulness is not anger but remembering, re-hearsing. Let us revisit the ancient stories. Let us remember the babe in the manger, the shepherds in the field, the angels in the sky. But let us deepen our memory, reaching further back into the story.

Let us revisit the story of creation, the story of the garden. Let us brood deeply upon the flood, the tower of Babel, the call of Abraham. Let us pause at the enslavement in Egypt, the wondrous journey to the land of promise, the time of the great judges. Let us reconsider the glory and tragedy in the kingdom of Israel. Let us weep with Jeremiah at the destruction of temple, and dream with Ezekiel at the temple to come.

As we reread, remember, rehearse these stories, we come to realize with the writer of Hebrews that we are part of the story. Their story is our story. The story of the Jesus is our story. The miraculous birth, the announcement in the Temple, the flight to Egypt: these are all part of our story.

We are part of the journey from the mount of Transfiguration to the mount of Golgotha to the mount of Zion. This is our story, our testimony. Let us remember and retell and rehearse our story.

During this time of remembering, I encourage you to pause and rehearse the story of our Savior born in Bethlehem. Let it cut deep in your heart. I trust the Spirit of grace will come and break up our fallow ground, restoring us by “re-storying” us in His grand drama of redemption and recreation.

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