Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Speaking Our Souls

Our scriptures for this week are Psalm 84, 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18, and Luke 18:9-14. Give them a read (though be sure to look up and read all of Psalm 84, not just the 7 verses here--why the lectionary refuses to include full prayers, I do not know!) here.

Psalm 84 is a beautiful prayer--melodic, hopeful, full of emotion and joy and authenticity. But as I've begun living in it and studying it this week within the broader context of the book of Psalms, an interesting tension has bubbled to the surface for me. When considered in its content, Psalm 84 sounds like it belongs with the Song of Ascents--that is, among the 15 prayers found in Psalms 120-134 that are the cries of pilgrims going up to Jerusalem for festivals, travelling long distances until they finally come into view of the Temple at the top of the Mount...the place where the God and community they long for can at last be found.

Yet this is not where Psalm 84 is found contextually--rather, it is embedded among a group of prayers anticipating and dealing with the reality of exile, with impending separation from home and the Temple where God's presence can be felt most fully. The prayers on either side of it are cries of lament over gathering enemies, cries not of God's beauty but asking God to relent in God's anger.

How is our reading--and praying--of Psalm 84 enriched when we read it in a broader context? When we realize that the Psalmist was likely not actually seeing the Temple, but rather tasting the bittersweet fullness of perpetual longing and fainting spoken of in verse 2? What must it have taken for the Psalmist to keep praying his or her deepest longings even as it looked like there was little possibility of these dreams becoming reality in his or her lifetime? Why would the Psalmist persist in praying such impossible longings, persist in speaking his or her soul in such a deep way?

Before we get together on Sunday, try praying Psalm 84...pray it with the fullness of your heart, and see what happens. Which words or images reach your soul? What deep longings does it stir in you?

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