Psalm 92

A song for the Sabbath

I will give thanks and sing praise to my Sovereign God, the Most High
I will remember and declare God’s steadfast love in my youth
God’s enduring faithfulness in my old age
With music and song, with prayer and reverence, I will give praise
My joy and my gladness are all God’s work, God’s great work in my life
Too great for my limited understanding
Though I struggle, though I doubt, though I fail again and again
God will prevail
I am saved, forever
Despite my struggles, despite my doubt, despite my failings
God succeeds, forever
And so I am saved and favored, a child of God, my Lady Wisdom
Destined for good, not evil
Destined for love, not hate
Destined for peace, not conflict
Destined for hope, not despair
Destined to flourish as God’s good seed grows in me
And bears good fruit, even as I age
Maybe especially as I age
Because God is good, my gardener, my rock
My savior, my righteousness, my Lady Wisdom. Amen.

The Last Shall Be…

The gospel reading today was Matthew 20:1-16, the parable of the generous vineyard owner. As I listened to the Lector reading the parable, another story came to life in my head.


What does it take for a person to change? Do you ever wonder what happened to those workers, the lucky ones who worked one hour and were paid a full day’s wages…

I wake late, as usual, and with a splitting headache, a dry mouth, a foggy memory of the night before. How many beers? How many shooters? Did I drive home? How late was it?

Damn all that noise – Joy and the kids clattering and squabbling through breakfast. Just a little while and Joy will be off to work, the kids to school and the world will stop bothering me.

She will be mad again. Please God, let her just leave without a lecture. I am so goddam sick and tired of her lectures, so tired of making promises I know I won’t keep. Goddammit, why can’t she understand that I need to relax after work, I need to be with the guys and the guys want to be at the bar. Does she expect me to be a hermit? A man needs friends. I bet George’s wife doesn’t ride him about his drinking.

Footsteps come down the hall. I pull the covers up, turn on my side, close my eyes. I don’t respond as she opens the door and calls my name…don’t respond to her loud sigh…don’t respond as she shuts the bedroom door, almost slamming it.

When I wake again, much later, I pull on my boxers and lurch to the kitchen to grab a can of beer, some bread and baloney from the fridge, and head to the family room to find that game show with the long-legged blonde.

Early afternoon, I get dressed. Why shower when I am going out to try to get work? I’ll just get dirty; I can shower tonight.

George and Joe are already at the work center when I get there. We stand around, smoking, talking a bit, exchanging nods and a few words with the other men. Then, just as I am about to head back home, grateful and ashamed to have spent another day not working, already rehearsing my story for Joy, some guy pulls up in a big van and hires me, George, Joe and a bunch of others to work in his vineyard for that last hour of the work day.

Lots of men are already working, practically sweating grape juice and dirt; some have been in those fields all day. We work just one hour then, at the end of the day, everyone gets paid the same. Joe, George and I couldn’t help grinning at each other; we made out like bandits! But, man, were those who had been working all day pissed off!

“What kind of shit is this? We busted our balls in your vineyard all day and you give these jerks, these one-hour wonders, the same pay?”

The guy who hired us didn’t give a shit about their complaining.

“Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”*

First thing I do is call Joy, tell her I’m taking her and the kids to Mickey Ds for dinner. But with all that money, much more than I counted on, I realize I have enough for a few drinks. I put $20 for drinks in my right pocket and the rest, for Joy and the family, in my left. Then I head for the bar with Joe and George. We need to celebrate our good luck.

I wake late, as usual, and with a splitting headache, a dry mouth, a foggy memory of the night before. How many beers? How many shooters? Did I drive home? How late was it?

There was no money for Joy and the family. There was no family – just a note on the kitchen table. Joy had left and taken the kids.

Damn that man. If he had hired us at the beginning of the day, I would have been too tired to go to the bar. If he had just paid us for an hour’s work, I would have been too broke. This is all his fault.

Now that the family has stopped bothering me, now that I don’t have to make excuses or feel guilty…What the hell am I supposed to do now?

*Matthew 20:13-15

Psalm 93

The majesty of God’s rule

The Almighty is sovereign, robed in majesty, stronger than death
She created me, all of me
And is with me always
In darkness and despair
No less than in light and joy
My emotions flood me
My wants drown out my peace
My fears thunder
My disappointments rage
But mightier than these is the Almighty, my God
Almighty God, Wisdom Woman, Your decrees are sure peace
Living with awareness of You is holiness forevermore. Amen

Psalm 93 – Again

God is sovereign, in majesty and strength
Creator of all, creator of me
And it is all good, secure forever and good
Except it is not
Evil exists
What we call sin exists
Separating us from good
Inside me and all around me
And I don’t understand that
(But Paul says nothing can separate us from God’s steadfast love)
Because God is mightier than evil, stronger than sin
Bigger, better, greater, more powerful
Than the floods of doubt, depression, despair, darkness
That roar high and overwhelm me
More powerful is my God, my Lady Wisdom
But still, still, those floods come
Overwhelming my good, my faith
Yet I am called to believe
Despite all evidence to the contrary
That God’s commands are supreme
That God’s own holiness is mine
Forever. Amen (and sigh)

Psalm 94

O Sovereign, You God of vengeance
You God of vengeance, shine forth!
Rise up, O Judge of everyone
Give to the proud what they deserve!
No, wait! I am proud, so often
With so little reason
Thank goodness, thank God
You do not give me what I deserve
But what Your steadfast love provides
But Sovereign God, how long shall I struggle
With the wicked, weak parts of me
With thoughts and feelings that I despise
How long will they trouble me
They crush me, Sovereign Lady Wisdom
They defeat my best efforts
I try to be good to all
Especially the marginalized, the disenfranchised
I try to be generous and merciful
But I forget, or I get tired or cynical
I am the dullest of people
Foolish when I should be wise
Forgetting Your knowledge of me
Forgetting Your teachings and Your discipline
You know my deep and lofty thoughts
Ha, You know they are but an empty breath
Bring me the happiness of Your discipline, O Sovereign
To order my unruly spirits
Save me, again, from days of troubled thoughts
Pits of dirty despair
Do not forsake me, do not forget me
Help me to live Your justice, Your righteousness
Help me to follow You with an upright heart
Who but You lifts my spirits
Who but You defeats my worst tendencies
If You do not help me, I am surely lost
Whenever I think that I will slip forever
Beneath my own muck
Your steadfast love, O Sovereign Lady Wisdom
Lifts me and holds me
When the cares of my heart are many
Your consolations cheer my soul
Can my best selfishness do that
Can I create a better world for myself
Too often I feel that my worst tendencies
My pride, my need to be right, my fears, my anxieties
My critical judgments of others
Too often I feel these band together to make me ugly
To destroy my innocence and joy
But You, only You, are my stronghold and refuge
In You my better qualities arise
With You my wickedness is defeated, wiped out
You, my Sovereign God, my Lady Wisdom, will wipe them out. Amen

Psalm 95

Let me sing a song of wonder and joy to Lady Wisdom
Let me rest in Her presence with thanksgiving
Let me make a joyful noise to Her with my song of praise
God is great
Sovereign over all the petty distractions of my life
Creator God, Maker of mountains and seas
Sovereign of the rich times and the parched times in my life
You created me
Blood and bones, skin and thought, sinew and feelings
You created me
So let me bow down and worship You
Let me kneel before You as my Creator, Savior, Helper
I am Yours
So, please, help me to live as Yours
With contentment not fear
Generous not grasping
Soften my hard heart
Do not despise me for my lack of faith
Because of my unruly heart’s doubts
Lead me from my times of testing You
And quarrelling with myself about You
Please do not leave me stranded in my desert times
Thirsting without water
Doubting without faith
Demanding without gratitude
Wandering without rest. Amen.

The Limits of Words

God is an ideal. Pure good, no faults. Eternal, unchanging. That is beyond any human reality. Maybe by focusing love on a perfect God, we actually make it more difficult to accept imperfect reality, to love imperfect people (including ourselves).

Can God be both light and dark? How do we understand the world of light and dark, the people — the real, flawed people — we are called to love, as the beloved creation of a God of all light, of steadfast love?

How do we learn to love the imperfect through the adoration of the perfect?

Is this why the psalmist so often has God changing, growing angry or simply forgetting him? Is it easier to love people if we don’t hold too closely to an image of God as unchanging perfection, always worthy of love?

Perhaps the proper focus of words is this world. God cannot be approached in words. My thoughts, my words neither contain nor define God.

Words are bricks and mortar. We can use words to build strong and true and needed houses to live in. Houses of ritual and dogma. But we cannot use words to feed us, to sustain us. Not through words do we grow, not usually and not easily. Even as bricks and mortar, words become more prison than home if we are not careful.

Thoughts and words are our homes, our shelter.
God is our earth and sky, our food and water.

What I Learned in Sunday School

In a voice barely above a whisper, one of my third grade boys asked, “Will there be tests?”

“There are never any tests in Sunday School,” I reassured them all. “And here’s why: Teachers care if we pass or fail tests; God doesn’t care if we pass or fail; God only cares that we try.”

And so, once again, Lady Wisdom blessed my teaching and used it to lighten my own darkest doubts with a spotlight on the essential. It’s enough that I keep trying. Success is optional (and by no means guaranteed).

And so, once again, the Paraclete teaches through me and to me.

On Being Impoverished

A few days ago I read this quote from Carl McColman’s Joy Unspeakable: “The problem is not that privileged people are drawn to contemplation. The problem, as I see it, is that the contemplative community has not yet found a way to step beyond its privileged pedigree and become a more truly multi-cultural and diverse community of contemplatives.”

I’ve thought about it for days because something about it bugs me. And here’s the closest I was able to get in words: I think there is power and necessity to this point of view, but I also think there is power and necessity to the opposite point of view: “meditation”, “contemplation” (in the sense it is used here) and “mindfulness” are, perhaps, not privileges that need to be shared but correctives. Correctives that God graciously offers to those of us too much dependent upon words and thoughts, too little skilled in approaching God in the immediate exigencies of NOW (which, as C.S. Lewis says, is where time touches eternity). So maybe the practice of meditation is not a privilege but a corrective. Maybe those of us who use it are not uniquely privileged but rather impoverished. And maybe, with a little luck and a lot of Divine assistance, we can learn how to hold both of those views simultaneously.

Then, in a coincidence that I choose to see as something of a Divine affirmation, today in a transcript of Maria Kalman’s interview with Krista Tibbett for On Being, I read this:

It’s taken me these many years to understand that a human being can encompass very contradictory ideas and feelings at the exact same time. They’re not separate; they don’t even follow each other so much. They just live in you. And for me, to clarify what I love, to do what’s amazing, to understand my confusion or my sorrow and to still continue to — I mean the thing about it is that you persevere. And so I do follow my nose, and I do have many rituals that I love following; and I love breaking the rituals, so I’m not a prisoner of the construct of my day.

Sometimes, I’m spending too much time wandering around when I actually have work to do, but I always say that’s — “Oh, well, this must be the work that I need to do right now, before I do that other work.” And really, I think, the more that I work and the more that I see what my life is, the more simple it becomes and very elemental. I mean it’s really — it’s very boring, actually, for probably — if most people had to live it, they would go, “Oh, that’s it?”


Small insights

Forgiveness is just another word for loving the real person rather than our idealised image.

Humility is accepting that both evil and an omnipotent, loving, good God are real.

It has taken my working through over a hundred psalms to truly understand that God is not changeable – it is our perceptions of God and our feelings about God that are changeable. The psalmists live through storms of despair and doubt and feeling that God is angry and has abandoned them but return again and again to the calm climate of joy and praise.