Psalm 118 (The Message, adapted to be inclusive in reference to God)
Thank God because she’s good, because her love never quits.
Tell the world, Israel, “God’s love never quits.”
And you, clan of Aaron, tell the world, “Her love never quits.”
And you who fear God, join in, “Her love never quits.”
Pushed to the wall, I called to God; from the wide open spaces, she answered.
God’s now at my side and I’m not afraid; who would dare lay a hand on me?
God’s my strong champion; I flick off my enemies like flies.
Far better to take refuge in God than trust in people;
Far better to take refuge in God than trust in celebrities.
God is God, she has bathed us in light.
Festoon the shrine with garlands, hang colored banners above the altar!
You’re my God, and I thank you. O my God, I lift high your praise.
Thank God—she’s so good. Her love never quits!
The Hebrew Psalms have inspired composers for thousands of years. Many of you heard a story recently indicating that New York’s Lincoln Center is presenting The Psalms Experience, a festival of choral settings of all 150 Psalms by 150 different composers. Their director of programming, Jane Moss, says the challenges of our contentious political landscape led her to the psalms. “Historically, the psalms have been for are challenging times. They (were) explicitly designed to help (us) out when the going gets rough. And they include…all sorts of human complaints to God —like, where are you in these challenging times?”
Tido Visser, the music director of the Netherlands Chamber Choir, “The Psalms are about refugees. They are about unrighteous leaders. They are about abuse of power. Although the three thousand year-old texts were written by our ancestors, they are about the here and now.”
We’ve journeyed through the Psalms this fall. We’ve explored themes of orientation, disorientation, and reorientation. Today is another Sunday thinking about reorientation.
Usually when we talk about ‘reorientation’ in the Psalms, we name the ways people of faith returned to God after deep trouble and pain. We note the shifts in their prayers and in their stances toward God’s role in their lives.
But, another way to think about reorientation is to focus on how we stand in relationship to these ancient prayers themselves. The pain and anguish of our personal lives and our social climate today invite us to reorient ourselves as people in a long tradition, one with vast resources and insight. We are invited to reorient ourselves to God, yes; but also to the faith of God’s people who’ve gone before us.
For example, this week we celebrated the anniversary of a stunning presidential election. Many people of faith are coming together around the notion that the antidote to bullying, racism, hatred, and fear mongering is nothing short of revolutionary love. In fact, the movement called #revolutionarylove invites us to sign a declaration of love, stating,
We declare our love for all who are in harm’s way, including refugees, immigrants, Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, LGBTQIA people, Black people, Latinx, the indigenous, the disabled, and the poor.
We declare love even for our opponents. We will fight not with violence or vitriol, but by challenging the cultures and institutions that promote hate. In so doing, we will challenge our opponents through the ethic of love.
We declare love for ourselves.
This movement is not unearthing something new, but something ancient for a new time. The personal and corporate despair we fight can, if we let it, lead us back to a prayer language has stood the test of time, culture, ethnicity and gender. If it works for contemporary choirs from the Netherlands and Africa, if it worked for 4th century monks, if it guides feminist nuns at Holy Wisdom, mountain climbers in Switzerland, not to mention people of color in this country – do we not owe ourselves the time and energy to explore it for ourselves?
As we’ve noted throughout this series, there many versions – from Jewish translators, Zen translators, classic and contemporary musicians, urban monks and feminist writers. Each of these seek to help us access the psalms if reading them straight from the NRSV is hard.
However, praying the psalms in a culture of the urgent, the instant and the always present – will require patience, listening, and pondering. In the language of last week’s psalm, we are called to be ‘be still, for it is the rightness of all that is.’ Even if only occasionally. Stillness in order to see life in front of us is a radical confronting of the power of noise and busyness.
Omid Safi, a Muslim and American writer recently told a story about his 5-year-old daughter.
“My little girl, a real love of my life, came into the room in that beautiful way she does. She doesn’t so much walk as she skips, she glides, she dances… As she came dancing into the room, she started to say in her own sing-songy way, “Baba, would you like to…”
At that very moment she saw me, laptop in lap, locked into my jihad against email. The smallest jihad. The struggle I always lose. She cut herself off. Her dancing came to a halt. Her sing-songy voice changed to something else, something not even resembling disappointment. It was resignation…
Without waiting for my response, she cut herself off mid-sentence, pivoted on her beautiful feet, and (said), “Oh, you’re busy.” As she walked out, I stared at this blasted laptop screen. Silver frame. Plastic, shiny screen. Cursor that blinks like a heartbeat. But it is not alive, this laptop.
I ran after my little love and held her in my arms. I wanted to apologize not just for being busy in that moment, but for all the hundreds of other times she must have come into the room, dancing and prancing, singing and wishing to take me with her on her imaginary flights of fancy to beautiful worlds where little girls and their babas walk through meadows populated only by butterflies, unicorns, friends, tea parties, sunshine, and hugs. It’s a beautiful pink and purple world that my daughter lives in. Far too often, she’s been there alone.
I am a good baba, I know I am… I try to be a good colleague, a good son, a good friend, a good partner, a good sibling. It’s not about how much I love her… It’s about the quality of time in which I am wholeheartedly present.
People talk about FOMO: Fear of Missing Out. I don’t fear it; I know it. I am missing out. I’m missing out by being so busy.
We live in a culture that celebrates activity…The public performance of busyness is how we demonstrate to one another that we are important. The more people see us as tired, exhausted, over-stretched, the more they think we must be somehow… indispensable…But, I know I matter each time I look into the eyes of she who matters most to me. I don’t gain anything by stepping into the swamp of busyness. No one emerges from this busyness whole.”
Can we support each other in cultivating a counter cultural stance of stillness and attentiveness? Can we double down on whatever spiritual practices we have, or develop a simple one, that invites us to breath deeply, pray simply, revisiting the God of our ancestors and that love expressed in countless ways today. Are we willing to ‘miss out’ on some of our busyness in our to soak in God’s goodness?
And finally, to refocus? I think of refocusing as exploring the filters through which we view our world.
Many of us have fun with filters on our cameras – different filters give a very different look. We start with one view, and depending on our mood, our needs, our place in the world – we change the filter. In the end, we may not even know which picture is the ‘original.’ But we get to choose.
Life gives us these options too. As our oldest son entered his junior year at Memorial, he announced his decision to quit the Varsity sport of volleyball in favor of the up and coming sport of Ultimate Frisbee. I questioned him, suggesting that if he stuck with volleyball, he could earn a letter, as well as play an officially recognized sport that at least a few fans would come to watch. I asked him to consider if he’d regret his decision in the years to come. My inquiry exposed my filter and the parameters that I thought mattered to him – recognition from others.
He chose a different filter through which to evaluate the decision. He wanted to have fun. He didn’t like volleyball, he loved Ultimate Frisbee. He didn’t care about a varsity letter, then or now. As he approaches age 30, having played and coached Ultimate ever since, having developed a community of friends, while enjoying his athletic skills and traveling the world as a player and coach – he gently reminds me about once a year that he was smart to choose his own filter all those years ago, not mine.
A return to and a revisiting of the prayers of our faith helps us examine why we are making choices and to take responsibility for how we want to live.
We are not facing anything new. The ancients knew our pain and developed a robust tradition of prayer. Might we reorient our lives to explore those songs and that prayerbook? To hear their prevailing prayer, “God’s steadfast love endures forever.’
No wisdom has ever developed without an appreciation of stillness. Might we revisit our long held truths to find life giving patterns of living, however counter cultural they are? In that new spaciousness might we hear again that “God’s love never quits.”
In the end, the decision is ours to make. Can we refocus our priorities, even in small ways? Can we listen to sources of wisdom that may seem obscure, such as our children, so that we can choose the life path that brings life to us and the world within our sphere of influence?
Prayer Shawl blessing
O Binding One, we give you thanks for hands that can knit and hearts that care for the world. We give you thanks for this ministry of simple love. We give you thanks for every woman and man who has contributed to the creation of our 500 shawls these past 10 years.
O Healing one, may your grace be upon these newly dedicated shawls…warming, comforting, enfolding and embracing. May these sacred garments convey security and well-being…sustaining and embracing in good times as well as difficult ones.
May the ones who receive these shawls be cradled in hope, kept in joy, graced with peace, and wrapped in love.
Blessed Be! Amen