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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Hope in Chariots and Horses

Part of my personal spiritual discipline is trying daily to do the lectionary reading.  This means I follow a prescribed order of reading.  I have chose to follow the Roman Catholic lectionary.  I like the fact that I am doing the same thing millions around the world are doing.  I know I am following the readings being done in many monasteries.  It gives me a sense of connection.  I may be doing it on my own---but I am not the only one doing it.

As with any discipline, some days it goes very well and other days I wonder why am I doing it!  All this means is that it is important to know why we do discipline.  Typically discipline is a means to an end, and not the end itself.  I practice the piano in order to play better.  The goal is not practicing; the goal is to play better.  Practice is the means to get there.

So it is with a spiritual discipline.  For example, I don’t pray just to pray.  I pray in order to connect with the Divinity.  I pray in order to give God thanks or perhaps even praise.  I pray in order to invoke healing for another.  Again, the goal is not prayer.  Prayer is a means to some other goal.  In this sense it does not matter too much how I feel about it.  I pray because of the goal, not because it makes me feel good.

So my daily lectionary reading has as a goal to spend some time reflecting on my life and what God might want out of this life I am living.  The words of the lectionary are meant to be guides.  They focus my attention and give me an arena for reflection.  It is not the same thing as study.  My goal is not necessarily to understand everything I read in the lectionary.  Certainly, the goal is not to analyze it so I can pass a test.  Rather the lectionary becomes a laboratory for my experimentation with God.

The lectionary I use has morning readings, evening readings and some in between.  I admit that some times I look ahead and do the evening one early in the day.  I did just that today.  Here is part of the Psalm for tonight’s reflective reading.

The Psalmist says, “We will rejoice in your salvation, we will raise our banners in the name of God; may the Lord grant all your prayers.” (Ps. 20)  I like sentences like this.  There is so much meditative possibility.  To begin with the Psalmist speaks for those who rejoice in my salvation.  I find that good news!  It affirms my salvation.  Now I do not know precisely what the Psalmist might have meant by salvation, but I do know I would rather have it than not!

And that section concludes with the prayer that God grant me all my prayers.  “Yeah,” I say, “grant me all my prayers!”  I realize that is quite powerful.  If we read it carefully, it does not say, “grant me my prayers.”  It says ALL my prayers!  So is this license to go prayerfully crazy?  Of course not.  My theological perspective would say that God does not grant crazy, wacky prayers.  If all my prayers include a fancy Mercedes car, I don’t think for a minute God is going to deliver a sleek, black machine in my garage.  That is not a prayer; that is greed praying!

The Psalmist continues in this 20th Psalm.  “Now I know that the Lord keeps his anointed one safe: in his sanctuary in heaven he hears his prayer, and lends the support of his strong right hand.”  I take solace in these words, as I reflect on them.  I want to believe and accept that I am one of the Lord’s anointed.  Have I been blessed with oil?  No.  But I have been blessed.  I want to be safe in the sanctuary and be kept safe by God’s strong right hand.  Heck, I am ok even in God’s left hand!

Finally comes the line that made me smile.  The Psalmist notes, “some put their faith in chariots and some in horses, but we invoked the name of the Lord our God.”  I do not know one person who has put his or her faith in chariots and horses!  Obviously, that strikes us as funny.  It is so old-fashioned to put your faith in chariots and horses.  Clearly, it is a historical anachronism.  But I don’t dismiss it too quickly.

In what do I put my faith?  Sure, I can say “God.”  But if honest, I recognize I put my faith in other things.  Perhaps a contemporary rendition is to put your faith in positions of power or influence.   Maybe I put my faith in my bank account or my charming personality or brilliant looks.  There are many options for contemporary men and women.

The Psalmist has it right.  Be careful of putting your faith in “chariots” and “horses.”  Instead invoke the name of the Lord God.  I understand the Psalmist reminding me to go to the Source and to be careful relying on my own resources.  Make sure I spend some time seeking and, then, soaking in the Presence and Power of God. 

Put me in the place and give me the grace to be able to say, “not my will, but Thy will.”  There is where the real hope can be found.    

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