Thursday, September 16, 2010

Speaking a Psalm

Back before the turn of the century, when I was in seminary, I became friends with a husband and wife who'd re-located to Vancouver, BC from New York city.  He was an actor studying to be a pastor, she was an artist who had spent 20+ years in the fashion industry, creating sweaters for me.  I have to say, Jim wore the most gorgeous sweaters I've ever seen on a man, far out of our tax bracket, that's for sure.  This couple was in my community group so I got to know them well during the two years they lived in Vancouver. And it was a season of fire for them.  Just the week before they moved across the continent, Linda's breast cancer, three years gone, re-emerged with a vengeance.  So she spent the two years in BC crossing the border weekly to get treatments in the states, flying to NY monthly for her job.  It was grueling.

And Jim studied.  Cared for their two daughters when she was gone or sick.  He got involved at Regent with a bang.  I had several classes with him, so we often studied together.  Once he told me that I was more pastoral than most pastors they'd met, so why wasn't I in the divinity track?  Though I thought of becoming an MDiv, I never quite felt the draw to being a church pastor, but his comment made my day, and I've apparently never forgotten.

Anyway.  Chapel is held every Tuesday morning at Regent.  The whole student body, faculty and staff gather in the chapel for a worship service.  Various faculty members, visiting profs, artists, etc speak.  The music is always varied but engaging.  You get that many seminarians together and you won't find them nodding off in their pews, if you know what I mean.  Maybe taking notes, or critiquing, but not sleeping.

My most compelling, breath-taking, moving experience in chapel at Regent College (and perhaps one in any worship service in my life!) was done--performed, really--by my friend Jim.  One morning he sat up in front on a stood and began speaking the words of the 139th Psalm.  Not reading them, not reciting them, but speaking them as if he'd just been thinking about them, or was just praying off the top of his head to God and we were part of their conversation.  "God," he said. "You have searched me and you know me.  You know when I sit down and when I rise."  As he talked to God he untied a shoe, took it off, pulled the sock off and placed it inside, and put it on the floor, speaking the words of the Psalm the whole time. He did the same with the other shoe and sock, and then he stood up. Taking off his shoes to speak these words, reminding us of the holy ground of such thoughts--of the awe of standing before Him and knowing He is in control and we are always safe with Him.  That God knows us, hems us in, that we cannot go anywhere He is not.  That darkness and light are the same to Him.  Jim's voice rose as he spoke these beautiful ideas, and somehow they were new to me that morning. 

And then there was this moment, this holier that holy, this lump in my throat, take my breath and toss it into the sky to God moment, when Jim got to a particular section where the Psalm says, "For you created my inmost being..." In those words each of us is reminded that our creation is purposeful, not accidental, that God had intention, far more than our mothers and fathers did, for our lives--the length and breadth of them.  God always knew who we'd be, even when we did not.  That's what Jim's speaking of this Psalm helped me hear that long ago morning.

But then, his voice rose and got angry.  I mean, rose to yelling.  Because You had purpose, God, because You created each of us with intention, because You alone know...yes, in light of all this, only You can slay the wicked, can take care of the evil ones.  YOU must do this.   And as he yelled, Jim also put on his shoes.

Then he said, quietly, "Search me.  Know me."  See if I, too, am the wicked, the evil one. And suddenly I got it. Those shoes, his raised voice helped it make sense. WE have taken what is holy ground and tarnished it. WE have forgotten that He created us, that He is in control, that HE is our God. That He knows us. What should be holy--our very selves!--we profane by sin.

My breath caught.  But then, I think there was a deeper collective inhale by all of us in that place, if such breath was left in any of us.  Yes, search me.  You have searched me, you have known me.  Now search me and know me. Search me even more than you already know me. Am I among those I rail against? Am I one who causes such great harm? The Psalm had never fit together so clearly before.  Those verses (19-22) weren't accidents.  They are also for us.  All for us.
Then: "Keep me from this," the last words imply. "Lead me in the way everlasting."  My Christ-saved heart led to these words, "Holy Spirit, indwell in me so that I walk in a manner worthy of YOU--and what You have made--Me."

Psalm 139 was my mother's very favorite Psalm, her very favorite section of scripture.  I wish she could have heard it amplified in such a way that gave it life.
No, Incarnated it.

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