Friday, June 15, 2018

Psalm 67

Processing this morning after reading Psalm 67:

A few short months ago, I was ready to write off the world, to hole up in one small corner of it and build a shrine to happiness. I had overextended myself, gotten chewed up in fights spiritual, domestic, and vocational, and I was thoroughly bruised, thoroughly wounded, thoroughly disillusioned. All I wanted was a small corner of the world where I could heal up and build a life around love instead of around conflict.

Even in the middle of that retreat, however, there were voices that came like a bracing shot of reality to the face. One recurring story reminded me that I was called to the service of my King, that I had a responsibility to build for his sake, for his kingdom. I told myself that just maybe, building a tiny corner out of the way of the larger battles was better. Maybe the wars would pass me by.

It was the voice of my bruises, my fear, speaking. It was true that I needed healing, and God graciously provided it, and continues to lead me down those restorative pathways. I am coming to see that my corner of the world doesn’t belong to me, but it is a crossroads in the grander struggle. Reading Psalm 67 this morning was a sharp reminder that when God blesses us, it is not for our own sake, our own indulgence, though Israel made that mistake and the church through the ages has done so as well. God blesses us for the sake of “all the nations,” as he told Abraham and repeats throughout the scriptures. Looking at the original languages, that phrase -- “all the nations” -- is not about political borders but about groups of people, tribes and ethnicities -- so that all people may know the Lord. The trials leading up to the Exodus were as much for the Egyptians to know the Lord as they were for the Israelites to be set free. So my smaller struggles are not just for the sake of my own freedom or happiness, but they are part of the larger war God is waging against ignorance about his character and unbelief about his love.

One particular theme kept recurring in those days, in the days when I was realizing my shrine to happiness was not going to be built, at least in that moment or in the way I had envisioned. That conversation urged me to go find my voice, to take up the mantle of building things for my King. It wrenched me away from the desires of my heart and sent me into what was probably a necessary, excruciating exile, an imprisonment in a hospital room where I could begin to recuperate. Even in the middle of whisking me away to the forested hills where I live now, it’s clear God was also drawing me into a new stage, a new place where being blessed myself is for the sake of what he is up to, not just for the sake of my own healing. He is at work in a multiplicity of ways. Always.

The wisdom of God is in this, because as much as I thought I wanted to retreat from life’s battles, I’m not done yet, not done with the struggles, not done speaking, not done building. There are words to be spoken and kingdom work to be done, even while the bruising fades and healing continues. I’m not yet good at turning away from the needful battles. I’m not good at keeping silent. The words Tennyson puts in the mouth of Ulysses ring true also for me: “How dull it is to stop, make an end, to rust unburnished, not to shine in use. As though to breathe were life! Life piled on life were all too little.” It is, I imagine, a sign of progress, of healing, to be hungry for battles and building once more, even though I still weary easily and most evenings find me staring out at the sunset on the lake dreaming of that little out of the way life built around love. These days I imagine if it ever comes it will be as part of a kingdom-building community, as an outpost of the love of God set amid the great struggle to speak a word of truth into a falsifying world, to live the delight of the love of Jesus as he lived it, amid the great currents and migrations and within all the contests of the powers vying for supremacy.

And yet I don’t think it’s wrong to long for an island of peace. Lazarus and Mary and Martha lived in Bethany, in close orbit around the hairball that was Jerusalem in those days, and their home became a sanctuary for Jesus, a place of refuge and retreat, and even in some ways a base of operations for his movement. Peace and love and joy are all marks of the authentic presence of God’s Spirit, after all, and it seems reasonable to long for those qualities to be the warp and woof of a life that is lived in obedience to his calling, as much as the more public face of such a life is still lived in the presence of the powers, in the context of grander conflict.

Life is not a fairy tale. But if you read the book, even Westley and Buttercup got to settle down and build a home and raise their daughter, though that came with its own struggles. A life built around love is still something to hope for.

Meanwhile, I need to get to work. Sunday is our big “Share the Dream” event here at Decision Hills, and while I’ve delegated as much as I can, I have plenty to do and fewer and fewer hours to do it. Watching the weather forecast, getting the repaired dock put in the lake, mowing trails and repairing concrete foundations and coordinating first aid stations. There’s a joy in the work, a joy in creating an event that will hopefully speak a strong word to the local community and beyond about what God is doing in this place.

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