Tag Archives: Spiritual

Ruminating

Ruminating (CaD Ps 140) Wayfarer

Sovereign Lord, my strong deliverer,
    you shield my head in the day of battle.

Psalm 140:5 (NIV)

Ever since I was a kid, I have been one to excessively ruminate on conflict or personal problems that I encounter along life’s road. When this happens, I can’t stop thinking about it, mulling it over, replaying things again and again in my head. When it’s really bad, my ceaseless ruminations can steal my sleep and paralyze me from effectively managing other important things in life.

The word “ruminate” has only been a common part of the English language since the 1500s. It derives from a Latin word that refers to animals, specifically cows, who can dredge up already chewed and partially digested food from their stomachs in order to chew it again. This is commonly referred to as a cow “chewing the cud.” I realize that’s a rather gross word, picture. But, it is an apt word picture for the thing my mind does with problems and conflicts.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 140, is another song ascribed to King David. Like other songs of David, he is lamenting unnamed enemies who are bent on his personal and political destruction. What is interesting about the lyrics of this song is the multiple physiological metaphors David uses:

  • stir up war in their hearts
  • sharpen their tongues
  • poison on their lips
  • hands of the wicked
  • trip my feet

As is common with ancient Hebrew songwriting, the central stanza of today’s chapter provides the main theme for the song. And I couldn’t help but notice that David asks God to “shield my head” in the day of battle. Of course, head injuries in human battle can easily be fatal, but as I read it I immediately thought about the conflicts, problems, and relational battles I’ve encountered along life’s road and my seemingly endless ruminating when they occur. I have found that me regurgitating an issue and chewing it over, and over, and over can be as much a spiritual and emotional threat to my well-being as a warrior going into fire-fight without their helmet.

I love that David asks God to shield his head. It’s my own brain that so easily works against me in times of trouble. I also love that David poured out his heart, his conflicts, and his problems in musical and lyrical prayers. I have to believe it was a healthy form of expression that helped him get things out so that they wouldn’t be bottled up inside where rumination can easily lead to unhealthy places.

In the quiet this morning, I’ve thinking back on circumstances that have led to ruminating in the last year or two. I have gotten better at recognizing when I’m doing it and addressing it sooner. I’ve gotten better at getting it out in conversations with the inner circle of confidants I’m blessed to have in my life. I’ve also learned that expressing things in handwritten prayers in my morning pages can be a really good antidote for ruminating.

Along life’s road I’ve observed that my natural temperament, personality, and bents lead me to certain patterns of reaction to negative stimuli I encounter along the way. Some of these natural reactions are both unhealthy and unproductive. Being a follower of Jesus, my relationship has motivated and challenged me to actively address some of my less than stellar traits, like my ruminating. By choosing to get out my ruminations, I make room for my heart and mind to meditate on the things with which Jesus asks me to fill them.

Lessons in the Landscape

Lessons in the Landscape (CaD Ps 125) Wayfarer

As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
    so the Lord surrounds his people
    both now and forevermore.

Psalm 125:2 (NIV)

I have always had a touch of seasonal affect issues. The long, dark nights and confining temperatures of deep winter in Iowa tend to easily put me into a funk. The past few days, the sun has been rising noticeably earlier and with it the temperatures have been rising, as well. The thick, white blanket of winter snow is almost gone. I can feel my endorphins kicking into gear like seeds buried underground in spring.

Yesterday, Wendy and I had appointments late in the day and found ourselves driving down the highway starting at a bright sun and seeing the Iowa landscape uncovered, ready for the resurrection we get to witness around this time every year. The further I’ve gotten in this life journey, the more I’ve come to appreciate the metaphors of creation. Anyone who has followed my blog for any length of time knows that Romans 1:20 has become a recurring theme in these posts:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

I have found that the spiritual truths that God wove into creation increasingly come into focus and gain clarity as my eyes weaken and my vision fades with age.

My chapter-a-day journey is trekking through a series of ancient Hebrew songs that the editors compiling this anthology put together because they were all “songs of ascent.” They were songs commonly sung by thousands and thousands of pilgrims heading to Jerusalem for seasonal religious festivals.

Of the six songs of ascent I’ve read in recent days, three of them begin with references to “lifting my eyes” and “mountains“:

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains” Psalm 121:1
“I lift up my eyes to you” Psalm 123:1
As the mountains surround Jerusalem” Psalm 125:2

Just as I drove through the Iowa countryside noticing the spiritual lessons embedded in the spring landscape, so the songwriters of the the songs of ascent were writing from the perspective of rural pilgrims hoofing it to Jerusalem. For many, it was a trip that took days or weeks to complete. What do I do when I’m on a road trip and heading to a particular destination? I look to the horizon for that moment I can see my destination and know that I’m almost there.

The lyrics of these songs of ascent use this common human behavior for spiritual purposes. Jerusalem and Solomon’s temple sat at the crest of a mountainous range. Viewed from a distance there are even taller mountains in the “surrounding” landscape. As a road-weary pilgrim finally seeing Jerusalem and those mountains in the distance, I would find myself still miles from my destination. My soul still has hours with which to meditate on the spiritual truths that God wove into creation.

As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
    so the Lord surrounds his people
    both now and forevermore.

In the quiet this morning, I’m feeling gratitude for the sun rising earlier and staying out later. I’m grateful for the sun’s warmth and the promise of the new life ahead. I’m also mindful of the spiritual lessons that creation has to teach me and remind me during this season each year; Lessons that Jesus pointed out to His followers:

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

Of Traditions

Of Traditions (CaD Ps 124) Wayfarer

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 124:8 (NIV)

Here’s a little trivia for you: The now almost requisite playing of the Star-Spangled Banner at sporting events dates to 1918 at the first game of the World Series between the Cubs and the Red Sox. The series almost didn’t happen that year because so many Americans were across the Atlantic fighting in World War I. Fred Thomas, the Red Sox’ Third Baseman, and furloughed U.S. sailor got up during the seventh inning stretch and sang a moving rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. At that point, it wasn’t even the national anthem (that happened in 1931). It was so moving that it became a seventh-inning-stretch staple. During WWII, technology allowed for the anthem to be played by recording and it was moved from the seventh inning stretch to before the ball game. Other sports followed.

Obviously, the anthem has been a point of tension in recent years. It’s just interesting to me to realize that there were many decades of professional baseball when that the tradition didn’t exist. I find it fascinating how traditions can become so important to us as human beings, whether those traditions are religious, civic, social or familial. Messing with traditions can create major disruption in any human system.

I thought about the national anthem as I read today’s chapter, Psalm 124. The lyrics of this Hebrew pilgrim’s song read like a community anthem reminding the traveler of God’s blessing on their nation and deliverance from many enemies. The lyrics basically read like a national anthem for the Hebrew nation, and thinking of it being a tradition for Hebrew pilgrims to sing it while on pilgrimage to Jerusalem makes me think that it’s not that much different than the Star-Spangled Banner before every ballgame, or singing God Bless America at the ball game on Sunday.

When the songwriter of Psalm 124 penned “the flood would have engulfed us” the imagery was that of a dry river bed that fills up suddenly during seasonal rains and creates devastating flash floods. It’s a metaphor for the warfare and pillaging attacks that happened seasonally, just like the rains.

The song is structured for the first stanza to be sung by an individual leader, describing what would have happened had God not been with them. The second stanza is sung by all the people, praising God for deliverance from their nation’s enemies.

I find myself meditating on traditions in the quiet this morning. Wendy and I even talked about the season of Lent which our local gathering of Jesus’ followers is in the midst of celebrating. Lent is a tradition of followers of Jesus that goes back as early as 325 AD. There is nothing written in the Great Story in regard to it and there’s no requirement to celebrate it in any way. It’s simply a tradition that annually connects followers to Jesus’ story. That’s the way I’ve personally always approached Lent and every human tradition for that matter.

I’ve observed along my life journey that traditions can be a great way to remind a group of human beings about any number of things we find important from gratitude, to sacrifice, to history, and to matters of Spirit. I’ve also observed that when traditions themselves become sacred to the human beings within the system, then the meaning of the tradition can often be lost. The reason behind the tradition sometimes loses focus or potency as the tradition itself becomes the focus of the human system that holds it. I have experienced that the breaking of certain traditions has been a spiritually healthy thing for me personally. I have also found that rediscovering lost traditions, that may have needed to go away for a time, can be equally as healthy to my spiritual journey.

Songs for Different Seasons

Songs for Different Seasons (CaD Ps 123) Wayfarer

We have endured no end
    of ridicule from the arrogant,
    of contempt from the proud.

Psalm 123:4 (NIV)

I have, throughout my life journey, had the honor of regularly speaking to groups of people both large and small. One of the things that I have learned along the way is that those who may be listening are all over the map when it comes to their motivations for being there, the struggles they are experiencing both physically and spiritually, and what it is they are seeking. Everyone has a story and, depending on the situation, I may no a few, if any, of them.

Today’s chapter is another “song of ascents” or a song that Hebrew pilgrims would sing on their way to Jerusalem. What’s been fascinating as I journey through them this time is to see the variety of themes in the lyrics. Among the thousands and thousands of wayfarers making the sojourn to Jerusalem, there was any number of things weighing on their hearts and lives that they wanted to bring to God.

Psalm 120: Those feeling alone and in exile.

Psalm 121: Those seeking assurance of safety and security.

Psalm 122: Those seeking out justice.

Psalm 123: Those suffering the ridicule and contempt of others.

There were different songs of ascent for the different seasons of life each spiritual wayfarer might be in on the repeated journey to and from Jerusalem. Today’s song resonated with those whose hearts and lives were stinging from being the object of contempt and ridicule.

One of the realities that I find is often lost or forgotten among followers of Jesus was just how much contempt and ridicule He faced. After His first public message, in His hometown, the listeners rioted and wanted to throw Him off a cliff. Entire towns refused to let Jesus enter and teach in their villages, some let Him enter and treated Him and His message with contempt. Jesus’ own family attempted, at one point, to take control and have Him committed. Thousands of people were following Jesus one day, and the next day virtually all of them rejected Him and walked away. His closest followers were tempted to do the same, and one of those followers ultimately gave himself over to contempt and accepted a bribe in order to seal Jesus’ death with a kiss.

As I read the words of Jesus, these things shouldn’t surprise me:

“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.”

“They are going to throw you to the wolves and kill you, everyone hating you because you carry my name. And then, going from bad to worse, it will be dog-eat-dog, everyone at each other’s throat, everyone hating each other.”

“If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about the thousands of ancient sojourners trekking to Jerusalem, each with their own story, their own burden, their individual spiritual needs. Each with their own song of ascent to sing and prepare their hearts for worship, offering, and sacrifice. I think about the individuals who listened to me a week or so ago, each with their own story, their own burden, their own waypoint on the spiritual journey. Perhaps some, like those ancients who sang the lyrics of today’s chapter, feeling the ridicule and contempt of others.

I am reminded that this is a spiritual journey that I am on. The song of ascent that my heart sings today is not the one that resonated with me at different waypoints on the journey, in different chapters of my own story. My spirit will be singing a different song of ascent if my earthly journey continues a year from now, a decade from now, or beyond.

I have always experienced God meeting me right where I am at on the journey, no matter what song my heart happens to be singing.



Brooding

Brooding (CaD Ps 116) Wayfarer

Return to your rest, my soul,
    for the Lord has been good to you.

Psalm 116:7 (NIV)

I have always been a world-class brooder. It comes in tandem with the pessimism that marks those of us who are romantic individualists known as Enneagram Fours. If there is a major relational conflict or some kind of crisis in life, I will tend to brood on it.

Brood is actually an interesting word because the most common definition in the English language means “to sit on” and “incubate” as a mother hen sits on her eggs. What an apt word picture for what I can do with a conflict or crisis. I mentally and emotionally sit on it, keep it warm, keep incubating as I stir it in my soul over and over and over again. I may look like I’m perfectly normal on the outside, but inside I’m a boiling cauldron of angst, fear, negativity, and insecurity.

Along my life journey, I’ve gotten a lot better at recognizing when I’m going into brood mode and when I find myself there. As a young man, I know I spent long periods of time in brood mode never knew I was doing it. To the world around me, I appeared to be functioning normally, but I was actually mentally and emotionally disconnected for long periods of time. This is when having an Enneagram Eight as a spouse is really helpful. Wendy is quick to see me go into my brooding mode, and she’s quick to address it.

Having said that, I’ve also learned that I am an internal processor who has also, along my life journey, developed decent communication skills. This means that I can typically talk through what I am thinking and feeling with others, but not before I’ve taken some time to process it alone. I believe Wendy has done a great job of recognizing that there is a difference between me processing something internally and giving me time to do so, and me silently disconnecting and descending into my brooding pit where I might not surface for a while.

Brooding is like mental, emotional, and spiritual spelunking (those crazy people who descend into and explore caves). A wise spelunker always has a safety line that is attached to a strong ground anchor above. Along the way, I’ve also learned that I need spiritual, mental, and emotional “anchors” with which to pull myself out of my brooding pit.

That’s what came to mind this morning as I read today’s chapter and came upon the verse I quoted at the top of the post:

Return to your rest, my soul,
    for the Lord has been good to you.

When I descend too far into brood-mode I have allowed myself to go into a mental space that is not healthy. I have learned that one of the best anchored life-lines I have is my spiritual journey and my life journey. I can look back on that journey and recall several stretches of stress and crisis which were brooding bonanzas. In each one I can recount how faithful God was to me, how things worked out despite the difficulties, and how God used those moments to bring about growth, new levels of maturity, increased faith, and spiritual fruit. By recounting these both the crises and the progress it afforded in my spiritual journey, it helps me put my current crisis in perspective, to trust God’s faithfulness, and to left faith help lift me out of brood-mode.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself grateful for the waypoint I find myself in this life journey. I’m thankful for the things I’ve learned about myself, my loved ones, and how differently we engage in the world around us and in relationships with one another.

Socrates famously said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” This morning, Socrates has himself a witness. Were it not for my spiritual journey as a follower of Jesus, I’d have gotten stuck in a brooding pit years ago and might never have made it out.

(Did I mention Enneagram Fours have a flair for the dramatic? 😉

Exilic Reflections

Exilic Reflections (CaD Ps 107) Wayfarer

Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.

Psalm 107:6 (NIV)

As I’ve been mulling over the spiritual milestones I’ve shared about recently, I have been looking back at my life journey of 20,000+ days and my spiritual journey of 40 years. There have been some amazing moments, some stretches of prosperity on multiple levels, and then there have been some seasons of soul-stretching adversity. As I recount the peaks and valleys and where they’ve brought me, it occurs to me that the latter has been more critical in my spiritual growth. And, very often the former follows. The valleys of life prune me spiritually, and when I eventually reach the high places they are particularly fruitful.

“Exile” is one of the grand themes of the Great Story. Some scholars have gone so far as to say that it is the primary theme that occurs over and over again, beginning with Adam and Eve being exiled from the Garden and their intimate relationship with the Creator. The Hebrews living in bondage and exile in Egypt, then later being exiled and scattered by the Babylonian and Assyrian empires. The crux of the Great Story is Jesus leaving heaven to be exiled here as one of us to make a way for us to escape our own earthly exile and be at home in eternity. And, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Exile is a theme in the stories of Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Ruth, Esther, Daniel, Nehemiah, Mary, Joseph, John the Baptist, Jesus, John, and Paul.

All good stories are a reflection of the Great Story, and I typically find the theme of exile in every major human epic.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 107, kicks off the fifth and final “Book” of Hebrew Song lyrics we know as the Psalms. Psalm 107 is another liturgical song, most likely written to be sung during one of the Hebrew religious festivals. Most scholars agree that it was penned during the period of time when the Hebrews returned from Babylonian exile, rebuilt Jerusalem and God’s temple there. Having come through years of captivity and exile, they have ascended Mount Zion to worship, reflect on their experiences, and give thanks.

The song lyrics introduce different exilic experiences: wandering in the desert, living in darkness, struggling through captivity and forced labor, bitter consequences of foolish choices, sickness and disease, and being lost and rudderless on the stormy seas. In each of the stanzas the description of exilic struggle leads to the phrase: “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble.” This is followed by God’s salvation, deliverance, redemption, and restoration. Each stanza ends calling the listener to gratitude and praise.

In the quiet this morning, I’m seeing the pattern. Out of darkness into the light. Up from the valley to the mountaintop. Return from exilic adversity to the blessing of finding myself safe at home. This is the Great Story. It’s life’s story. It’s my story, too.

As I meditate on the lyrics of Psalm 107 and look back on my journey, I’m reminded that there is purpose in the painful stretches. Perseverance has always paid off. I have always been able to cry out to the Lord in my troubles. There have always been better stretches ahead.

Note: A new message has been posted to my Messages Page.

Creation Contemplation

Creation Contemplation (CaD Ps 104) Wayfarer

May my meditation be pleasing to him,
    as I rejoice in the Lord.
Psalm 104:34 (NIV)

Among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers, we’ve been asking a lot of questions about distractions and attachments. Primarily, we’re asking ourselves some introspective questions regarding just how attached we are to our phones, tablets, and screens. And, how do those screens and the how the limitless amount of information and entertainment, literally at our fingertips, is forming us. While it might be easy to perceive this as some religious Luddite rail against technology, it’s really an attempt to ask some very sincere, personal questions about time, thought, habits, distractions, and Spirit.

Yesterday our Scottish crew (still stranded by COVID in America) was discussing the fact that back home in Edinburgh they would be spending a lot more time outside in the more temperate winter climate of the UK. Here in the snow and midwest deep-freeze of Iowa (-2 F this morning), that’s just not an enjoyable possibility. So there’s been a tremendous amount of screentime for the wee one as four adults try to work.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 104, is ancient Hebrew song of praise. The theme is the wonder of creation, and this is a great song for anyone who is fed spiritually by being out in nature. What is it that feeds your awe and wonder of the natural world? I know for a lot of people it’s the mountains. For me, it’s always been water. I love being on a ship out on the ocean, a sailboat, or even sitting on the dock in the morning at the lake. There is something spiritual and life-giving to sit in the quiet, to take it in, and to have undistracted time to think, ponder, dream, and meditate.

What’s really cool about Psalm 104 is the thought with which the songwriter structured his lyrics. This is obvious to the casual reader, but when you break it down, it’s really genius. It’s structured like concentric circles moving out from the center (like the expanding universe?), and as the stanzas move out from the center they are connected thematically:

Praise

Three Verses: Celebrating the celestial world above the earth

Five Verses: The earth’s foundations and boundaries

Nine Verses: The diversity and abundance of life on earth

Five Verses: The earth’s cycles and rhythms

Three Verses: Celebrating the nautical world below the earth

Praise

As I meditated on this in the quiet this morning… (Actually, it wasn’t quiet. I had a three-year-old watching a YouTube of Transformer toys on my lap.)… I couldn’t help but think about the thought the songwriter put in to not only write a song about creation, but also craft it so that the whole song’s structure was another layer of metaphor that speaks to the design, order, and structure of the universe.

There is something so beautiful in this that was worth my time this morning with which to sit and meditate. It motivated me to whisper my own quiet prayer of praise for creation that’s all around me.

I also couldn’t help but be reminded of these questions Wendy and I have been asking ourselves about the things to which we are attached, the things that distract us, and the limitless information and entertainment waiting for me there on the phone, the tablet, the television, and the laptop. I can go down the online rabbit hole so quickly and become immersed in a world of information that offers me little or no spiritual benefit.

Or, I can be mindful of making different choices. Which is what I’m endeavoring to do today.

My Inmost Being

My Inmost Being (CaD Ps 103) Wayfarer

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

Psalm 103:1 (NIV)

In a few weeks, I will mark a milestone in my spiritual journey. It was a frigidly cold February night in 1981 when I decided to become a follower of Jesus. It’s been forty years.

The number 40 is significant in the Great Story. It is the number of trial, testing, and ordeal:

Noah’s flood resulted from 40 days of rain.

Moses lived 40 years in Egypt, then led the Hebrews through the wilderness for 40 years.

Jesus was in the wilderness 40 days being tempted by the Evil One.

The resurrected Jesus appeared to his followers over a 40 day period before ascending to Heaven.

Ezekiel laid on his side for 40 days as a word picture of the sins of the kingdom of Judah.

Elijah fasted for 40 days on Mount Horeb.

So, I’ve found myself meditating on my spiritual journey of late as I mark the milestone. I had been raised going to church as a child, but the experience for me was largely about ritual. It was something I did because it was what my family did each week. It’s not to say that it wasn’t without its lessons and benefits, but it was largely a weekly physical routine and family ritual to be endured. After completing my confirmation coursework at the age of 13 my parents told me that I could decide on my own if I wanted to go to church or not. So, I stopped going.

What happened a couple of years later on that cold February night was something completely different than anything I’d ever experienced. It was not a religious ritual or physical routine. It was something that happened in my inmost being. I opened my spirit and invited Jesus to come in. I made a spirit decision to surrender myself to following Jesus, whatever that might mean. Something was spiritually birthed in me that is still growing 40 years later.

Jesus gave His followers a word picture about the most religious people of His day. He said that religion was an ornate marble crypt you might see in your local cemetery. It looks beautiful, majestic, and expensive from the outside as you’re driving by, but if you step inside the crypt you’ll only find darkness, cobwebs, and decomposing bones.

If find that a really accurate description of my spiritual experience before that February night forty years ago. I physically went through religious rituals. I mentally considered the things I was taught. I took a class, learned what was required to take a test, and got a piece of paper telling me I was now a member of the institution. Yet, there was no spiritual change.

In today’s chapter, Psalm 103, King David pens the lyrics to a really beautiful song of praise to God. When David was still a kid, God called him “a man after my own heart” and Psalm 103 is a testimony to the intimate Spirit relationship David experienced.

In the very first verse David says that it praise comes from his soul. The Hebrew word he uses there (nepes) alludes to “breath” or the “essence” and “life force.” He then states that his “inmost being” (the Hebrew word is qereb) praises. This word alludes to the intimate interior of the heart that is the seat of thought and emotion. In other words, David is not calling his listeners to trek to church each Sunday and go through the ritualistic motions. This is David, who once got so intense in his worshp that he peeled down to his tighty-whities as he danced and publicly embarrassed his wife. David is calling his listener to an experiential rendevouz with the Creator. He is calling for an all-out ecstatic expression that comes from the depths of one’s soul. A personal exhale of life force in a euphoric song and dance with the divine.

In the quiet this morning, I find my spirit stirred by David’s spirit and the words it motivated in his lyrics. Dude, I get it. It isn’t about empty religious ritual and rote mental and physical machinations. That’s just a crypt. It’s about that which is spiritually alive in me that has to get out. It’s what the prophet Jeremiah described: a fire shut-up in my bones. It’s that life that was birthed in my inmost being forty years ago. I look back from 40 years further down life’s road and find that it only grows stronger within me, even as my body grows slowly weaker.

Connected

Connected (CaD Ps 98) Wayfarer

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth…
Psalm 98:4 (NIV)

I took a class on Psalms back in college. It was a winter post-term class which meant we took the entire three-credit course in three weeks of January between our holiday break and second semester. It’s funny how the senses connect with memories because doing this chapter-a-day journey through the same text at the same time of year has brought back certain memories for me from that class.

As I think back on that class from 35 years further down life’s road, I’ve found myself meditating on a few observations.

First, while I learned a ton about the Psalms in the three weeks of that college class, it’s a fraction of what I’ve learned in the three and a half decades since. My chapter-a-day habit is just a part of an on-going, life-long pursuit of Jesus in which I’m always learning more.

Second, knowledge and wisdom are two different things. I cognitively learned facts about these Hebrew song lyrics in that class. Many have stayed with me. Yet, my brain and my spirit were still forming at that waypoint on Life’s road. What is spiritually important is the connection of what I know to my life; As I perpetually endeavor to weave my knowledge of the Great Story and Jesus’ teaching into my daily thoughts, words, actions, habits, and relationships the tapestry of knowledge and experience produce wisdom.

Third, I have yet to reach a point where I know enough (there’s my one word again). The further I get in my life journey the deeper I find layers of knowledge, connection, and understanding in the Great Story.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 98, continues this section of ancient Hebrew calls to praise. As I read the text this morning, two things struck me. First, there are three stanzas of lyrics (vss 1-3, 4-6, 7-9) with three lines each. The praise progress outward like three concentric circles. The first stanza is the Hebrews worshipping in the temple in Jerusalem. Then it pushes out to “all the earth.” Finally the shouts of praise reach out to all of creation.

As I meditated on this, two clear connections came to mind.

First, I began to realize that the lyrics of this song foreshadow what followers of Jesus call “the great commission” or the mission Jesus gave to his followers to take His love and message “to Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Like the praise of Psalm 98, the love of Jesus to radiate outward.

I also couldn’t help but recall the moment when Jesus is entering Jerusalem at the beginning of his final, fateful week. As crowds of people were praising Him and the religious busybodies criticized Jesus for allowing His followers to praise Him. “Even if they kept quiet,” Jesus replied, “the stones would cry out in praise.” Creation resonating with praise to the creator is a theme throughout the Great Story, just as physics reveals that all matter resonates at frequencies our ears can’t hear. It’s as if Jesus is connecting with the concentric circles of Psalm 98. “You might forcefully censor the praise of this crowd in Jerusalem, but you have no power over the universe as it cries out ceaselessly at 432hz.”

It brings me to one of the grand spiritual mysteries I’ve endlessly discovered over forty years: Everything is connected.

I couldn’t have made those connections in the January chill of my winter post-term as I fell into a crush with a classmate and worked on my extra-credit assignment of putting one of the psalms to music with my guitar. But, I made the connections that I could make at that point in my journey. And in the chill of this January’s quarantine I realize that those connections were part of these connections I’ve made in the quiet this morning.

Concentric circles. God’s Spirit, God’s creation, God’s love, God’s praise are always pressing outward, reaching out, embracing, pulling in, and sending out. As I follow Jesus, that’s where I’m constantly led in my spiritual journey: living, loving, praising further out, further up, and further in. And the further I get, the more I realize that the love and praise were already resonating before I got here.

Just like Jesus said.

Just like lyrics of Psalm 98.

Everything is connected.

Dark Places

Dark Places (CaD Ps 88) Wayfarer

For my soul is full of troubles,
    and my life draws near to Sheol.

Psalm 88:3 (NRSVCE)

I found it ironic this morning that in the very midst of the holiday season my chapter-a-day journey would bring me to perhaps the darkest song we will encounter in this anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics. As we reach the end of 2020, mental health experts have warned that social isolation, fear, anxiety, and depression created by the pandemic will have long-term effects. Just a few weeks ago it was reported that San Francisco has had more deaths by drug overdose in 2020 than Covid deaths. It is clear that many people are finding themselves in dark places mentally, emotionally, and spiritually right now.

One of the things that I’ve come to appreciate about the Great Story is that it doesn’t gloss over the darkness that is experienced on this earthly journey. In fact, what I have found in the 40 years that I’ve been studying it is that suffering is consistently presented as an essential ingredient in spiritual development, formation, and maturity. I’m reminded of our landscaper telling Wendy and me not to be too generous in giving water to our newly planted trees and shrubs. “They need to suffer a little bit,” he said, “even if it looks like they’re struggling you want to force them to push their roots deep into the soil. It will ultimately make them stronger and healthier.”

The liner notes of Psalm 88 attribute the lyrics to Heman the Ezrahite, who was well-known as a Hebrew sage in the days of Solomon. If the song is at all biographical, then Heman had a rough life. There is no uplifting statement of faith or hopeful assurance like those found in the darkest of King David’s songs. There is darkness, the pit of despair, the loneliness of being a social outcast, and the ever-nearness of death. If you’re an angst-filled teenager or a melancholy Enneagram Type Four, then you’ll love wallowing in the gloom as Heman pens “the Darkness is my closest friend.” It is part of the human experience to attribute life’s difficulties with divine wrath, retribution, or judgment.

It’s easy to overlook, however, that the lyrics quite purposefully state that the person is still praying morning (vs. 13), noon (vs. 9), and night (vs. 1). He is struggling through the darkness, blaming his troubles on the God to whom he continues to cry out, to pray, and to seek. As I meditated on this fact, God’s Spirit brought two other passages to mind:

Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
    to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
    If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
    to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
    you’re already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
    At night I’m immersed in the light!”
It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;
    night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.

Psalm 139:7-12 (MSG)

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)

In the quiet this morning I find myself reflecting on the difficulties we’ve all experienced in 2020. On this life journey, I’ve observed that every person treks through dark places when the last thing I want to hear is a cheery “Buck up little camper” or some over-spiritualized encouragement. As an Enneagram Four, I’m given to wallowing in the melancholy. In my own life journey, like Heman the Hebrew Sage, I’ve found myself in those stretches just continuing to press on in seeking, stretching, crying out morning, noon, and night.

Jesus told His followers that He was “the vine” and His Father was “the gardener.” From my current waypoint on life’s road, I can look back and see how in the darkest stretches of my life journey the Gardner was present, watching over me, pruning, and prodding: “Keep thirsting. Dig those roots deep into the soil. That’s where you’ll find Living Water.”