Path of Life
Last evening as I was doing the readings from the Benedictine lectionary for the Evening Prayer (called Compline), I was struck by one line. It comes at the end of Psalm 16. The Psalmist speaks to God, “You show me the path of life.” (16:11) I appreciate the matter-of-factness in these words to God. It is not a petition to God. The Psalmist is not asking God to be shown the path of life.
When I read it closely, however, I see there are two possibilities. One way to read this passage is to understand the Psalmist saying, in effect, “You have shown me the path…thank you.” This would show me the Psalmist now knows the path and needs no more instruction or revelation. The job now is to get on with it. In some sense it now becomes an issue of obedience. I know the path and now I have to walk it!
The other possible reading is more of a process. In this reading the Psalmist says something like, “You are showing me the path and you will continue showing me the path.” With this reading the Psalmist acknowledges getting enough insight to begin the journey on the path. But the whole thing has not been given. We must start to walk the path and trust that more will be given as we traverse it. In this sense obedience is paired with more revelation.
When I read a line like this one, I often am tempted to think about how the Psalmist would have articulated it. Where would he put the voice inflection? Imagine with me. Would the Psalmist emphasize the subject of the sentence, namely, God? If this is the case, you can imagine the voice would emphasize “YOU.” Say with me an emphatic “You!” It is you, O God, who shows me the path. To look at it this way means the subject---you---is the most important part of the sentence. The emphasis is upon the actor---upon God.
Or it is also easy to image the emphasis is not upon the subject---upon “you”---. Rather it might be on the verb---“show.” This is easy for me to suspect might be true. So many times, I tell students verbs are really important. They are the action pieces of the sentence. In this case the Psalmist would emphasize the verb. You SHOW me the path.
Showing could be seen as a form of revelation. Reveal to me the path, O God. Indicate to me the way I should think and practice my faith that will take me into the fullness of the Godhead itself. I like this emphasis. It shows a kind of Divine care. God is solicitous on our behalf. Don’t worry; God will show us the path.
The final obvious choice for emphasis in the sentence is the direct object---the “path.” In fact, it is not just any old path. It is the path of life. That prepositional phrase---“of life”---is quite important. The Divinity Itself will reveal to us the way to live life to the fullest and to participate in the beatitudes of God’s blessings. It is interesting to me that the Psalmist does not say, “show us the only way.” The Psalmist simply says it is God who shows us the path of life.
Most of us could probably write a few paragraphs about the path of life. For me it would have to be a spiritual path. It would have to be a path that is good---that is virtuous. It would be a path that is enlivening and vitalizing. After all, it is a path of life. This implies there are other paths that can be chosen. There are paths that might be deadening or that might be superficial. Meaning and purpose are not guaranteed in this life. One has to tread an appropriate path that leads to meaning and purpose and, hence, to life.
The good news is God will show that path of life to us. One more observation can be made. God does not do this haphazardly or randomly. God may do this “showing” to all people. But if we look closely, the Psalmist says that God shows this path of life to me. That is very good news! I trust and hope you get this “showing,” too. And perhaps we all get it in the end.
It is good news that I have it shown to me. But I also realize it probably is not automatic. I suspect that if I have not readied myself to see it, I will miss the “showing.” And if I were not prepared to begin walking that path of life, the “showing” would have been pointless. To see is not yet to do. In this case it is seeing and doing.
This has become a powerful verse for me. It is reassuring, but also cautionary. It reassures me because it suggests that God is always ready to show me the path of life. However, I also am cautious. There are things I need to be and to do to prepare to see what is shown. It is not as simple as flipping the switch on an electric appliance. Rather I must flip my spiritual switch and ready my heart and mind---and then eyes to see.