the Lord saith

honey and milk are aflow in the land

beneath the lushness of olives I stand

and sing the provision of God’s ready hand

and the Lord saith, I AM.

 

when nights they are hot and they’re stale and they’re old

but tears on my cheeks like the stars are so cold

and bitter as lead is the taste of my woe

yet the Lord saith, I AM.

 

cast from my comfort the wild to roam

seeking His strength but dry to the bone

waiting and knowing He’ll yet call me home

still the Lord saith, I AM. 

 

And the Lord WAS, and the Lord IS, and the Lord IS TO COME. ~Revelation 4:8

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That my God’s name is I AM does not cease to awe me. He IS – all that is good, that is true, that is beautiful. No matter what my own circumstances are, whether I am spiritually thriving, or whether I am wretched and lost and generally messed up, God is still God. Even in the darkest nights where I cast Him aside, God is still infinitely good and very much present – as His name promises, and I take comfort in that. 

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Psalm 23, paraphrased

Psalm 23:1  The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 

[2-3] It was 3:00 in the afternoon, the quietest hour of the day. Most people were still at work, while those with night shifts were sensibly in bed. All that penetrated the grungy kitchen window were faint beams of sunlight and the indistinct chatter of children being dropped off by the school bus.

I leaned back in my folding chair at the breakfast table and closed my eyes. Why God? I asked.

The faucet dripped. Dripped. Dripped.

A long sigh, and just for a moment I allowed my mind to empty of thoughts. No worries. No anger. Just my lonely quiet.

I AM, He said, a voice soft as the afternoon sunshine.

[4] Half an hour short of midnight found me walking the two blocks to the bar where I worked. The forgotten streetlights cut deep shadows. I slipped through a narrow alley, its entry guarded by a broken figure lost somewhere in the needle’s dream. The walls on both sides of the alley were dark with age and other things I didn’t care to think about. Behind a dumpster a man and woman were at it. I averted my eyes, only to find myself looking into the leering gaze of a drunken man. He grinned, and wavered toward me on unsteady feet. Our father who art in heaven, I mouthed to myself, hollowed by thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…

Bob greeted me as I entered the bar. “Hey kid,” he grinned, lacking teeth but not sincerity. He was a regular, homeless, living on the small check his son in Chicago sends him monthly. It was too small to feed him, clothe him, or house him, but it was just enough to drink himself slowly to death. I mustered a smile for Bob.

[5] 6:00 A.M. My shift ended, and I walked a block to the small patch of green that passed for a park. I settled on a bench facing the street to watch the world go by, kicking the heels off my tired feet. I sipped coffee from a flimsy paper cup as nightshifters dragged their weary carcasses home and cab drivers woke up to their first cup of joe.

I started on my sandwich about the same time the rain did. I liked rain. It was only a light mist, crowning my hair with moist. But now my sandwich was damp – though the ham was still good, and raindrops collected in the ruts of my coffee’s plastic lid. Umbrellas popped up like mushrooms all along the street. The crowd had shifted to office workers and businessmen with long, self-important strides. Dark suits and dark umbrellas. Like a funeral.

[6] The mission at 27th Street Methodist opened at 7:30. Old, brown brick with tall, narrow windows, designed by someone to instill good old-fashioned religious awe. The marble steps were slippery with rain, though it had stopped a while ago. There was a side door, but I preferred the giant oaken ones, heavy to touch but noiseless on oiled hinges.

From the tall windows inside, painted sunlight dodged pillars and flooded the still sanctuary, though dusk still shrouded the dais. Warm voices drifted up from the basement, where the homeless were now milling about exchanging greetings, and the kitchen staff was bustling frantically. I’ll join them in a moment, but for now I stood in the back pew. A sudden urge grasped me to light a candle for some forgotten one, but here there were no candles to light. I picked up a hymnal instead. It fell open to 437, It Is Well with My Soul. I whispered the words to myself, and they bounced softly from the marble pillars and high ceiling back at me, now colored with light. It was good to be home.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. 

Every Act an Act of Praise

So much for writing more steadily… But to the post.

A while ago Jennifer Pharr Davis came to speak at our school. She is a well known hiker, who has hiked the Appalachian trails 16 times, and I think she holds the record for the fastest hike (45 days or somewhere close). She told a nice coming of age story, but inevitably, someone finally asked her, “but what’s the point of hiking?” (It was, of course, phrased more politely.) As a Christian, how does one justify spending so much time and energy on hiking? when it really doesn’t do much for the world or the church.

Jennifer’s answer was something along the lines of, “it’s what God made me for.” Hiking was something she loved, and on the trail she came closer to God than anywhere else. But also, it was something God made her good at.She explained that flat breasts and strong thighs – something that caused her much grief through adolescence – were perfectly suited to hiking. By utilizing the gifts that God has given, by utilizing them fully, it was an act of praise.

Praise is not simply defined as singing in church.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. ~ 1Cor. 10:31

By utilizing our talents, by enjoying what God has blessed us with, that too is an act of praise. A power act of praise. Recall at the creation? God created “the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds.” And what did He say of them? “And God saw that it was good.” (Gen. 1:21) The fish were good, not because they could fly, or sing, or do cartwheels. They were good

because they had all the qualities of fishiness. They were excellent fish, because God endowed them with beautiful fishy qualities. Does that make sense? They were good, because they were fish.

The same goes for the birds, or the animals which creep and crawl, or the plants. They were all good.

Recently, I have grown rather fond of the verse about the shouting rocks. Jesus was at the Mount of Olives, and the crowds were praising God “joyfully… in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen.” But Pharisees, of course, were displeased and told Jesus to rebuke them. He answers “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:37-40) That’s a scary thought, shouting stones. But why don’t the stones shout in praise? Ought not all creation sing the praises of God? (Psalm 148)

Well, if you ask me, the stones are praising God, by merit of being very good stones. I mean, can one find a more stoney object than a stone? God made them stones, and they are beautiful stones. They are fulfilling all the duties of being a stone. And thus they are a beautiful praise.

Praise does not lie only in songs and dance, or even serving. It lies in using God’s blessings, be that in hiking, or writing novels, or learning a new language. It also lies in washing dishes – to do a good job washing dishes in a great act of praise. It lies in writing papers, in reading for class, in taking good notes. It lies in sweeping the floor, in taking the bus to work, or making a good cup of coffee. Everything can be done in a prayerful, praiseful heart. Monks once thought that manual work (e.g. gardening) was an act of worship. And I think they were right.