A Psalm of Comfort
There are always good reasons for me to stay with the daily lectionary. The lectionary gives me readings from the Psalms, other readings and a chance to ponder the important things in my life. I do this because I realize that if I don’t do it, I will walk down an aimless, busy kind of life. It scares me to think how easy it is to live an unreflective life. I am sure this is what Socrates had in mind when he noted that “an unexamined life” is not worth living.
The lectionary reading for Compline (the closing time of worship in the Benedictine monastic day) was reassuring. I guess that is fitting that we be reassured as we close out the day and head to bed. It proves the lectionary has a reason to it! The time I spend with the lectionary matters to me because I know monks and other seriously engaged spiritual people are doing the same thing that I am doing. The point is not simply to read the same stuff I know they are reading. The point is to reflect on that material and let it massage my soul.
Psalm 16 was the first Psalm in the Compline reading. The fifth verse of that Psalm says, “You, Lord, are my inheritance and my cup.” That sounds like the biblical way of saying that God and I are in relationship. In a way we are part of the same family. This is where the personal metaphors for God---like God is father or mother---make sense. If God is our parent, then we will be inheritors. We are part of the divine legacy. That is a privilege and a gift.
The Psalmist continues. “You control my destiny.” This can be a hard saying for all of us who are independent and think we can do anything we want to do. Often I fit exactly in this category. And for all intents and purposes, I am quite independent. I have enough money to do what I want. I have enough freedom that it seems like I can do exactly whatever I want to do. I have enough health to be fairly free to go and do most things. Who needs God?
Of course, there is a deep part of me that is certain I need God. Our ultimate independence is an illusion of course. All the money, freedom and health in the world do not change the destiny of death. In the end we all die in poverty, enslaved by mortality and sick to death. God knows that and so do I. That is why I am committed to my connection to God.
The Psalmist continues with assurance. “The lot marked out for me is of the best, my inheritance is all I could ask for.” Once more, the Psalmist is confident in his relationship with God. That I feel, too. It does not depend on me. My relationship is my strength. I am good because of God. And God is always good, always dependable even if I waver and wobble.
I add another line from Psalm 16. The Psalmist says, “I will bless the Lord who gave me understanding; even in the night my heart will teach me understanding.” It is perfectly appropriate to bless God. Blessing is an even higher order than thanking. I am thankful for all that I have been given. But blessing comes out of the inherent relationship we have with the Holy One. Blessing ensues from staying true to the relationship. God is ever dependent. I am the tricky one! That is why I need the Psalms to remind me of the blessings I have.
This is the kind of wisdom the heart teaches even at night. The blessing comes out of the assurance the Psalmist knows. That writer says of God, “with him at my side I can never be shaken.” The words of the Psalmist I want to claim for myself. I think that is why it is written. It is written for us, the readers centuries later. The truth of the Psalmist is our truth. That story can be our story.
To claim the story, however, is to claim the whole story. We cannot have the goodies without paying the price. The price is not calculated in money. The price is our life. The currency is not coins, but commitment. Over time the price increases. As the passing of time happens, the price is not paid in dollars, but now in discipleship. This is the journey I am on.
Because of the journey, I need the discipline of the lectionary and the assistance of the Psalmist and the support of all those who have walked the path before me. Some are saints and more are ordinary folks like me. I am certainly no saint. But I am related to the Holy One and the call is for me to do my best. Sometimes I am disappointed with my “best,” but I vow to keep at it and improve.
We call it a spiritual journey for good reason. It is not a sprint. It is a pilgrimage into a deeper and deeper life of the Spirit. That is why along the way I need the comfort of the Psalms. Thank God!