The lectionary makes it a little easier for me to engage some practice. The lectionary I follow is the one from the Benedictine monastic tradition. I like the fact that monks around the world are doing the same readings from the Psalms that I am doing. And they are also hearing the same passages from the Old and New Testament that I read. It is not the same thing as being there with them, but when I can’t be with them, I like knowing I am doing what they are doing.
The lectionary is broken down into seven or eight worship or devotional times during each day. I usually am trying to do the early morning ones or the evening or night ones. Yesterday I managed to do Compline, which is the last one of the day. The monk uses this one, and then heads back to his or her own room without talking and is done for the night. Often the focus for Compline has a sense of finishing the day. I like that way of finishing the day.
The end of one of the Psalms in the Compline reading caught my attention. Psalm 86 is one of supplication. The Psalmist asks God to be present and protective. The Psalmist begins to wrap up the Psalm by petitioning God. “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth.” Another translation has the request to be taught the “path.” I like to read a short phrase like this and then lean back and ponder or meditate on it.
I like the fact the Psalmist uses the verb, “teach.” “Teach me,” he requests. This simple request suggests two things. In the first place the Psalmist is portraying God as a teacher or, perhaps, mentor. We know it was common to think about Jesus as Teacher, but we don’t always think about the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) talking about God or Yahweh as Teacher. But for me, it fits. God appropriately requires many images or metaphors to describe the Divine Being and Activity. God is creator, nurturer and teacher, among others.
Secondly, the request to be taught suggests that the Psalmist can actually be taught! The writer is assuming that he can learn. I want to share that assumption for myself and for all of us. If God is a teacher, then we can all be learners. We can all be students of the Divinity. God the Teacher can teach us, according to the Psalmist, the path or the way. Obviously, this is very general and somewhat opaque. What is the path or the way?
The way or path is probably itself general. The path is the path to God. It is the way to God’s heart and the means to be within the care of the Holy One. The path is the way we come into relationship with God and the means by which we stay in and sustain that relationship. Let me suggest this way or path is related to us being students. In the classical languages of the Bible, a student is nothing more than a disciple. So the way is the way of discipleship. Literally, it is following the path God lays out for us.
We are ready now to look more closely at the second part of the quotation from the Psalm. The Psalmist asks to be taught the way “that I may walk in your truth.” Notice how nicely the word used here, “walk,” fits the idea of way or path. We need to be taught the path in order that we may walk in truth. Clearly, this means the path or way is one of truth. In effect, the Psalmist is asking to receive from God the appropriate way to live a life of purity and love. Let me live in truth and not falsely.
Let my life be a witness and not a weakness. Let us bear witness to the verity (truth) of our calling and connection to the God who created us and has high hopes for us. To live up to the hope God has for me is to live truthfully. The Psalmist rightly knows God needs to help us all be able to pull off this kind of life in truth. We need to be taught the path and, then, we need continued guidance to walk the path.
Although the Psalmist does not go this far, I would argue this is precisely the place for community. The pilgrimage down the path God teaches us is not a lonely pilgrimage. It is with others who have also been taught the path and are walking in the truth. There may be times I am alone, but on this pilgrimage I should never be lonely.
Maybe a simple way to get at this is to ask, “Where are you heading in life?” The answer the Psalmist offers is my choice. We are heading down the path of truth, which the Holy One has taught us. And we are traveling with a band of pilgrims into the very Presence of that Teacher of Truth. My daily simple prayer is to continue to walk and invite others along the way.