Truth and Power
As often as I am on the prowl for the new and interesting events of the day to see where spirituality is at work, I am just as often very content to stay with the daily lectionary readings for inspiration. Perhaps this is like a two-handed approach. On the one hand, I watch for spiritual novelty. I think God continues to work in our world doing new things, if we but had eyes. I try to use my eyes to catch these new things. On the other hand, there is the traditional---the oldies, but goodies. God is just as much involved in speaking through tradition if we but had eyes to see.
So today it is the traditional that spoke to me. When I use the daily lectionary---the daily readings provided by the monastic community---I start with morning prayer. If I were really at a monastery, these would be the hymns, scriptural readings, and prayers that the monks would chant and say. I can’t be at the monastery every morning, but I can participate in what I know they are doing.
Today’s morning prayer opened with a familiar prayer---the one they pray to open every morning time of worship. And then comes a hymn. This morning’s hymn particularly spoke to me. Allow me to share the first stanza and then to reflect on it. The hymn begins as if it were a prayer to God:
Creator of the earth and skies,
To whom the words of life belong,
Grant us thy truth to make us wise;
Grant us thy power to make us strong.
To address God as Creator is one of my favorite ways of greeting the Divinity. I do think of God as Creator and as creative. If forced to try to explain how God creates, I find myself on shaky ground. I do not take the Genesis creation story literally. I don’t think God used seven literal days to create the world we know. I trust the scientists who tell me the story of evolution. Somehow I think God created in an evolutionary fashion. And if that is true, then God is continuing to create. I actually think that is cool that God is still creatively at work!
God is the creator of earth and skies. That says to me that God is the Creator of the entire universe. And it is to that creative God that “the words of life belong.” That phrase is a little harder to understand. In the first place the words of life may well be a reference to that Genesis creation account where God “speaks” the creation into existence. In that account God keeps saying, “let there be” and, lo and behold, there was! There was light; there were animals; there were human beings. And it all was good!
The last two lines of the hymn really caught my attention. Both of these lines are petitions. One line asks God to “grant us thy truth to make us wise.” The first thing to strike me about this is that it is a prayer of the community. It is not the lone individual sitting with this request. The line uses plural language---grant “us.”
Grant us truth. Yes, but the real request is to become wise. And we become wise by learning and knowing the truth. I suspect this hymn is talking about a particular kind of truth---a spiritual truth. It is not the truth to be discovered in a laboratory, but rather a truth that is discovered in the heart. What kind of truth would this be?
One aspect of that kind of truth that makes us wise would be the truth that God is love. And our Divine calling is to know this love, to embody this love in our actions in the world so that we might become peacemakers. Just think what a different world this would be if we all could know, accept, and live this truth. Heck, we would have a difficult time finding a war in which we could fight!
The last line of the hymn is also a petition: grant us power to make us strong. I like that request. I doubt the hymn writer meant physical power. This is not a call to hit the weight room and develop muscles. I think the writer is talking about spiritual and psychological power. Probably it is the power to live out the truth, which God will grant us.
It is the power, which strengthens us to be strong in a principled life. It will make us strong in the face of temptations to lie, cheat and steal. I know I am tempted to lie to myself---to pretend to be who I am not. I am tempted to cheat. I can cut spiritual corners and hope “God understands!” I am capable of stealing. I don’t steal money. But I might steal someone else’s rights, privileges, and due rewards.