Again, it’s back to the basics. I know I have done this quite a bit. But it is always a good thing occasionally to go back to the basics. I like reading a range of material and I am always amazed how easy it is to find spiritual connections and lessons in a huge number of venues. It is true, I believe, to find the spiritual ebbing through almost all of our daily life. But there are always good reasons to go back to the basics.
Back to the basics for me means that I engage the daily lectionary that I use. Of course, most days I don’t use that to comment on life. But it is always present. It is the substratum of life for me. It is part of the day’s pulsating presence. I know it is always there, but I also know that sometimes I pay no attention. And then I wonder why life seems a bit shallow or maybe a little more aimless. God is always present and ready to speak to me, if I will but listen.
I know God does not speak in a normal human way. I don’t hear voices in my ears. I don’t get visible signs in the world as I walk around in it. I have no billboard divine announcements. But God does speak. I hear that voice in scripture. I discern that divine voice in the words of God’s saints. And frequently God speaks to me with the voice of my friends and acquaintances, but those are the most difficult to believe that God is actually using them for me!
For example, this morning I turned to the morning readings from my lectionary---the daily prayers and readings from my Benedictine monk friends. The heart of the morning lectionary reading was from Psalm 84. It was a Psalm I had not remembered reading, but I am sure I have done it a few times. I love the way the Psalm begins: “How delightful is your dwelling-place, Lord of Hosts.”
Then a little later in the Psalm comes some great spiritual truth for me. The Psalmist assures us, “Blessed the man whose help comes from you, who has set his heart on climbing to you.” When I am devotionally attentive to this kind of material, I try to move through it slowly and let the truth impact me and to absorb it. If I stay with this sentence, I realize it affirms that God helps us. I am convinced this is true for all of us. However, it is also true that this help may not always be very evident or visible. Some of us would have a difficult time pointing to something and saying, “Yep, that’s God’s help.” And so, it is easy to assume God helps others, but not me!
Maybe we need the other half of that verse to make it full. God helps us, but we also have to set our heart on climbing to God. That idea resonates with me, although there are times I confess I would just like God to help me and I’ll forget the climbing part! Give me grace, O Lord, and don’t expect any effort from me! Climbing? That sounds like hard work!
Let’s pursue the climbing theme to see how the Psalmist develops it. The Psalmist tells us spiritual climbers “pass through the valley of thirst and make a spring there…” The valley of thirst is a powerful image. On the surface it sounds uninviting and foreboding. Who wants voluntarily to pass through a valley of thirst? Can’t God simply order a helicopter and fly us directly to the Presence of the Divine? I think the answer is obvious. Spiritual climbing---the religious journey---takes human effort and the gift of Divine grace.
Even though we go through the valley of thirst, there will be a spring made there. I understand the spring to be symbolic of that grace God provides. It takes some faith to believe that God will provide the grace of water if we head into the valley of thirst. But if we have no faith, if we fail to go, we’ll never know that Presence of Divinity Itself.
I would like to nab one more line from the Psalmist. If we can undergo that spiritual climb, the Psalmist tells us that we “will go from strength to strength…” That is encouraging and reassuring. “Trust me,” I hear God telling us. Trust is simply another word for “faith.” Paradoxically, if you begin the work and effort of spiritual climbing, we will go from strength to strength. Much of faith is paradoxical. I think of the biblical assurance that in weakness comes strength.
It is all worth it. We have a goal. The Psalmist puts it in biblical, theological terms. The Psalmists blesses us with the promise: “they will see the God of gods, in Zion.” You can’t see God unless you begin to climb. Along the way, you will find springs of living water. And instead of fatiguing, you will go from strength to strength. And finally, you will “see.”
We may literally see God. But surely, metaphorically we will “see.” We will understand life. We will grasp meaning and purpose. We will know that our life is good, is worthwhile, and has dignity. We will know that we are treasures in earthen vessels.