Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful,
for I have taken refuge in you;*
in the shadow of your wings will I take refuge
until this time of trouble has gone by.--Psalm 57:1
I was listening to an unidentified speaker on the radio this weekend. His
message was like others I have listened to and benefited from. He reminded
us that we
are always within the presence of God. At every moment we can pause, like
the pause between breaths, and know the peace and equanimity of all that
is, by simply being
conscious of the fullness of God right here, right now.
That's an experience and a practice that I treasure. I have been wrapped
in the infinite life of God which is so filled with light and love that it
seemed to melt all division, all suffering and all limitation in an unspeakable
joy. I know what that feels like. And it feels more real than the contingencies
of everyday reality.
But most of my time I don't dwell in that rarefied peace. Most of the time
I'm stuck in the either/or limitations of a time-bound linear life with all
of its disturbing aspects of cause-and-effect.
Some parts of my life in this ordinary consciousness are delightful and fulfilling.
Life feels good and promising. Usually that's because things are going the
way I think they should. But other times in this ordinary consciousness seem
threatening and foreboding. The wider I cast my attention, the more foreboding
In so many ways it seems an unhappy and threatening time in our planet's
history. As encouraged as I sometimes am with some scientific
and technological advances, it seems that our human and spiritual consciousness
has not progressed
at a pace to keep up with our capacity for doing harm. We seem such a divided
people. We seem such a divided planet.
Part of me wants
to escape. Part of me wants to withdraw into the cocoon of divine presence
the shrill voices of external troubles. But that
is not consistent with the testimony of our inheritance as a Biblical people.
From Nehemiah's political memoirs of his brush with attempted assassination
(Nehemiah 6:1-19) to John's vision of the bittersweet taste of the futures
peoples and nations and languages and kings" (Revelation 10:1-11),
to Matthew's interpretation of Jesus' picture of the human lot --
we live with
weeds, and dare
not do too
much about it (Matthew 13:36-43)-- these readings plunge us into the ambiguous
and threatening thing that life is.
It's easy to get absorbed
in life's issues. It is easy to become fearful or compulsive whenever something
you love is threatened. Nehemiah keeps his
focus on the work he knows himself to be called to, and over and over he prays
to God, "Remember..., remember..., remember, O God." Psalm 57 cries
out to God, "I lie in the midst of lions that devour
the people; their teeth are spears and arrows, their tongue a sharp sword." But
in the face of this real-politic, the poet touches transcendent reality -- "My
heart is firmly fixed, O God, my heart is fixed; I will sing and make melody.
Wake up, my spirit; awake, lute and harp; I myself will waken the dawn."
These are reminders
of the both/and nature of reality. All things are within the reconciling
fullness of eternal love. And, life is hard, full
of foolishness and suffering. Only when I am grounded in the former reality
can I constructively confront the latter reality. Only when my heart is firmly
fixed in God can I rightly face the lions that devour the people. I am amphibian.
To turn entirely toward spiritual comforts is escapist; to be swallowed by
the sirens of the daily dread is death.
Prayer and worship help me with the back and forth between earth and heaven,
the contingent and eternal. Like the angel in Revelation, we have one foot
in the ocean and one foot on the ground. When we let the heavenly energy draw
us into earthly struggle and when we take the earthly struggle into divine
healing, we can sometimes stay somewhat sane, and occasionally even help a
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