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.