Outside the Tent
I got the title for this inspirational piece from the little time I took last evening to do the Vesper Service that is part of the monastic daily lectionary I follow. I am affiliated with a Benedictine monastery for a number of reasons. I am surely not a monk, although I very much admire their calling, commitment and service to their community and the world. My affiliation is called an oblate. I am a Benedictine oblate---meaning that I am a lay affiliate of the monastery.
As an oblate, I share my own form of commitment. I like visiting occasionally because I find them inspiring. They inspire me to be better than I would be on my own. And part of the sharing is to follow the lectionary---the daily readings---I know they are doing. They are much more in-depth than I am and they certainly are much more committed and regular. And I find this inspires me to be better than I am on my own.
They have two devotional periods at the end of the day. Verspers come very late in the afternoon right before the evening meal. At every one of their services a few of the Psalms are either chanted or recited. When I do this at home, it is not the same thing. Typically, I just read the passage and meditate on some aspect that grabs me. And then the last service of the day is called Compline---meaning to complete the day. I like this one at the monastery, because much of the year it is dark. There is something restful and reassuring when the place is dark and the candles are both a small source of light and of hope for a new day.
So last evening, I turned to the readings for Vespers. One of the Psalms that was part of the reading is Psalm 15. The first verse of that Psalm spoke to me. The Psalmist asks, “Lord, who will live in your tent? Who will dwell on your holy mountain?” When I read that first question I almost broke out laughing. Lord, who will live in your tent? I nearly blurted out “Not me.”
There is no way I am capable to live in the tent of the Lord. I was intrigued nevertheless with that question. I might add that I am not put off by the metaphorical way the Psalmist talks about God. I understand it as a metaphor. Of course, the God in whom I believe does not literally live in a tent. In fact I would be quick to say I don’t think God lives any “place.” But the Psalmist is using an anthropomorphic way of talking about God---God is being portrayed as a person. I am ok with that.
I suspect this Psalmist originated within an agricultural context. Actually, it probably was even more specific than that within the Palestinian setting. It may have originated out of the Bedouin, tribal group. This was a nomadic group of people living in that area---likely most of them shepherds. Normally, they would live in tents. So it is not surprising that their God also was portrayed in a Bedouin-style fashion. God, too, lives in a tent---the divine tent.
This is the context in which we need to understand the Psalmist’s question. He asks, “Lord, who will live in your tent?” In effect the Psalmist is asking who can go to God’s place? Who can live with God? My first thought was “Not me.” I am not worthy. My response matches the rest of that 15th Psalm. Effectively, no one is worth to live with God. God is God and we are not gods. We are creatures of the Holy One.
I continued to think about it. I began to realize a better response from myself would be “Not yet.” Instead of saying I can never live in the tent of the Lord, I can honestly say, “I can’t live there yet.” I am not ready. But I could become ready. That is what I think God wants and it becomes possible if I want it, too. It dawned on me that is what the life of discipleship is about. Disciples do not start off perfect and, maybe, disciples don’t even end up perfect. But I do think God wants us in the process and expects our effort and will match our effort with God’s grace. That is where I am at the present. I am in process.
If I can make progress in becoming more like God wants me to be, then I believe it is appropriate to hang out in the vicinity of the Lord’s tent! The Presence of God is so pure inside that tent that no one would live there and survive. But we can live in the neighborhood. We can live near the Presence and be positively and effectively helped in our spiritual growth. I can come to live nearer and nearer to the tent. But I can’t live inside.
My “Not yet” is, then, my honest confession that I am still too much of a beginner---too much to learn and do yet---to be very close. But if I hang out with the good folks in the neighborhood---the saints-in-the-making---I will be helped to become more pure, more true than I am today. I like the idea of hanging out in God’s neighborhood
And I like the image of being a spiritual nomad. Who knows when God may pack up the tent and move to some other place where that Divine Presence is needed in a more powerful, direct way? I want to be free to be on the go, too. I am ok being outside of the tent of the Lord, but I want to be in the neighborhood.