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Posts Tagged ‘Psalms’

 

Lectio THEN (June 15, 2009): Psalm 12 New Jerusalem Bible

 

Yahweh’s promises are promises unalloyed

I think it was the word unalloyed that first caught my attention.  First I thought about what happens when we alloy metals and why we do it – to make them stronger, to reinforce it maybe.  Or maybe the main metal is valuable ad we don’t want to use so much of it, so we pump up the volume with another metal.  Either way, it’s not pure anymore.

 

God’s promises are not alloyed – they don’t need to be strengthened with anything, and they contain to hidden agendas.  And what are God’s promises?  A perfect life, fancy car, big house, no unemployment?  While God cares about my life and necessities, these aren’t God’s promises.

 

What God does promise is to love me unconditionally, to never leave me, and that God’s grace and mercy can never be depleted.  It’s one thing to say, but another thing to take down deeply and really believe – that God’s love for me is not based on my performance, on what kind of wife, daughter, sister, friend or employee I am.  I confess: I don’t wholly believe it, though I really want to.

 

Returning to the word alloy, I think of “ally” and “allegiance.”  I think of the compromises that are sometimes made for the sake of one’s ally, again rendering a motive a bit less pure.  But God doesn’t have to ally herself with anyone or anything to gain or maintain power.

 

Because God’s love for me is not based on my performance, I have a difficult time understanding it, and as I prayed and waited to hear God’s response, I found it hard to hear anything.  Stuck in my own murk again.  As I tried to quiet my mind and let things settle, I found myself in God’s kitchen again.  God was standing in front of me, and with a smile that was both intentional and light said “What?  I just love you.  That’s all.”  And then, in the style of God from Wm. Paul Young’s The Shack, she leaned in and said “in fact, I am especially fond of you.”

 

That’s all.  Unalloyed love.

 

*******

 

Lectio NOW (November 8, 2010): Psalm 12 NJB

salvation to those who sigh for it

 

My breath is a powerful indicator.  I breathe deeply when I am at peace and full of well-being.  I hold my breath when I’m waiting in anticipation.  And I sigh heavily when distressed, anxious, and leaning into despair.  These are all things I’ve been aware of for a long time.  So when I read this psalm, I was immediately caught by this phrase, salvation to those who sigh for it.  Do I ever sigh for salvation?  What does that even mean?

 

As I prayed over this psalm, and turned over this phrase, I told God about all the ways I experience my breath.  And I had to confess that when I sigh, it’s generally the heavy kind of sigh.  And generally in that moment, I’m not mindful of God’s presence.  Rather, I’m full of dreads and worries.  I get caught there a lot, and one worry quickly leads to another, bigger one.  It’s not pretty.  And then I get jumpy.

 

The other times that I’m mindful of my breath is during centering prayer.  Centering prayer is a receptive form of prayer, rather than an active form of prayer.  When praying this way, one is resting in God, beyond words.  Whenever the mind begins to wander (and it frequently does), the breath acts as the sacred symbol to return to rest in God.  Focusing on the breath helps to quiet the mind, and regenerate the soul.

 

I should say that centering prayer is often confused with Eastern meditation.  But as I understand it, emptiness is the focus of Eastern meditation, whereas in centering prayer, the focus is on resting and union with God.

 

As I leave this psalm, I feel nudged to think about bringing that awareness of my breath during centering prayer into the rest of my life.  Perhaps when I am aware of my heavy sighing, I can use my breath in that instant to turn my thoughts toward God, and the hope and trust I have in God’s steadfast love, never-ending kindness, and enduring loyalty.  Perhaps instead I can rest in God’s embrace.

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Lectio THEN Psalm 11 (June 11, 2009) New Jerusalem Bible

the honest will ever see his face

I almost missed it – I thought at first that my phrase for this lectio would be “In Yahweh I have found refuge,” because that’s been such a prominent image for the past few days.  When I am most honest with myself, I can see God’s face, unobscured by the clouds of deceit.  But then I start swirling around in a whirlpool of self-deceit, and I find myself in that place where I allow myself no grace, and no excuses.

I think about areas of my life where I feel like I’ve been a failure, like I could have and should have tried harder.  And then I tell myself that there’s been an awful lot going on, several huge life changes, and it’s just been really hard.  And I come back with “don’t be such a wimp.  You’re supposed to sacrifice for God”, and stuff like that.  And I know I shouldn’t do that but I can’t stop, and everything gets so cloudy and murky and I get so dizzy I can’t see or think straight.

And then I remembered something about false humility, and how it is really another form of pride – and I wonder how what I do is like that.  I think I start with the premise that I’m supposed to do everything and do it perfectly – like God.  But I don’t allow for what my gifts are and aren’t, who I am as a unique creation.  I tell myself I have to get out of my “comfort zone.”  Maybe.  But maybe comfort zone is different than area of giftedness.

Along with that premise is also that I have to do it alone.  Which leaves no room for God, and that’s clearly not okay.  And so I have to relinquish that fatally independent attitude.  And I have to be still and accept grace.  And when I am still, those murky, scary dark waters settle down, and there’s God’s face – she’s always there, but I guess I can’t see her when I’ve got everything all churned up.

Be still – and steep deeply in God’s grace.

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Lectio NOW Psalm 11 (November 7, 2010) NJB

the honest will ever see his face

What does it mean for me to be honest?  I suspect it’s more than just not telling lies.  I have a hunch that for me the answer lies more in the order of living authentically.  And I wonder about ways in which I am not doing that very well, ways that I’m living as a false version of myself.

A lot of writing on contemplative spirituality talks about the “true self”.  Thomas Keating, in Intimacy with God: An Introduction to Centering Prayer defines the true self as: “The image of God in which every human being is created; our participation in the divine life manifested in our uniqueness.”  (196)

By contrast, Keating defines the false self thusly: “The self developed in our own likeness rather than the likeness of God; the self-image developed to cope with the emotional trauma of early childhood.  It seeks happiness in satisfying the instinctual needs of survival/security, affection/esteem, and power/control, and bases its self-worth on cultural or group identification.” (192)

In the writings of Thomas Keating, the false self is an attempt to create an image of myself in order to avoid or deal with pain.  This false self tells lies about what I must do or be to be accepted and loved.  Before long, I have created me in the image of myself, and my true self lies imprisoned.

As a sensitive child, the image I created was that of a tomboy, a tough girl who was a force to be reckoned with.  If someone hurt my feelings, I would get angry.  Because I was sensitive and compassionate, I didn’t really want to physically hurt someone, so I would make a good show of threatening them so I didn’t have to.

Over time, this image of me solidified itself not only in my own sense of self, but in others’ impressions and understandings of me, and especially in the way they interacted with me.  This dynamic continued to escalate until the sense of dissonance between how I truly felt inside and how I was forced (by my own doing) act became too much to bear.  And so began the “dismantling of the false self.”  This is just one example of how one emotion affected one facet of my being.  Of course, there is an array of emotions within each of us, leading to very complex versions of our false selves.

When I think about what it means to be honest, it means that I need to look carefully at how the affective emotions (i.e., anger, fear, and discouragement) are at work within me, and what they’re trying to protect.  By looking carefully at these motivations, and finding ways to act against these emotional programs for happiness, I recover and uncover more and more of my true self.  That true self, without all the muck clouding my vision, is most clearly able to see God.

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Lectio THEN: Psalm 10 (June 10, 2009) New Jerusalem Bible

“His speech is full of lies and browbeating, under his tongue lurk spite and wickedness”

What lurks in me?  The anxiety and dread: “He keeps watch crouching down low, the poor wretch falls into his clutches.”  This is what happens when I go into that cave from yesterday’s lectio, and I think I need to solve all my problems on my own.  But I can’t; the temptation to succumb to the lies and browbeating is too great.

“You give them courage”.  I need courage to trust you.  You tell me when I ask “Why, Yahweh, do you keep so distant” that there is no distance between us.  I only need to remember you, to call my awareness to the present where you are and where you say “I AM” – I AM is a present tense verb.

I spend most of my time in the future, consumed with anxiety and dread.  When I see that cave, Lord, give me the courage to not go in and fall into its clutches.  Give me courage to call on you so that I may turn away, trusting you with the dark and scary things that lurk in that cave beneath the water.  Help me to develop and cultivate the habit of calling on you, and constantly remembering you.

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Lectio NOW: Psalm 10 (November 5, 2010) New Jerusalem Bible

Why, Yahweh, do you keep so distant?

If I know someone is hiding, it makes me really nervous.  Even if I know who it is, and even if they’re a loved-one, and even if it is all in good fun, I’m still nervous.  It’s some deep, subterranean terror that takes over and all my rational faculties are powerless against it.  From there, it’s one tiny step from fear to anger.  When it is God that I sense to be hiding from me, it’s one tiny step from anger to apathy.

This psalm is full of contrasts between God and the wicked, distance and proximity, looking and hiding/turning away.  The opening question is so human, and so easy to identify with: Why, Yahweh, do you keep so distant, stay hidden in times of trouble? Who has seen God come to immediate aid in times of trouble?  Maybe some of us, but most often we’re left asking why?

A bit further on, I’m stung by verse four.  The wicked in his arrogance does not look very far; “There is no God,” is his only thought. What is so striking to me is the contrast between the question in verse one about the ‘distance’ of God, and the wicked one who ‘does not look very far’.

Every contemplative (and wannabe-contemplative like me) will say that being aware is key to living a life in the presence of God.  Because God is always right here, but stuff (and other “s” words) gets in the way.  Seeing is a major human problem.

This psalm reminds me that my perception that God is hiding, isn’t the same as someone hiding who’s out to get me. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that God won’t try to trick us by giving us a snake when we ask for a fish (Matthew 7.10).  God does not aim to harm me.  But that’s what I accuse him of when I can’t see him.  Like the person whose eyes are only on his steps in verse five, I don’t see the judgment hanging right over my head.

And what is the judgment for me?  Am I a wicked one?  Sometimes, maybe.  I can certainly be arrogant, trying to do everything on my own.  And then God lets me try, and I bring judgment down on my own head, in sort of self-fulfilled prophecy.  If I act as though I am alone, then I will most certainly experience it to be true.

This psalm doesn’t give us any real closure by showing God finally coming to the aid of the oppressed.  It ends with a cry for justice, and maybe with an opportunity to choose a new way to see.

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