The psalms are the language that God has given the church to pray, to sing, to speak his language back to him. Each Sunday, we have one psalm as a centerpiece of our worship time together at WIts' End. During this series of reflections on the Lectionary Psalms we will hear from people in our community as they think and pray through the upcoming psalm for that week.
This week's psalm is reflected upon by our own Becca Shirley, a graduate of The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology (M.Div.2013) and a distinctly profound voice in our community.
One cannot read any words, no matter which, where or when, without being impacted or implicated on some level. Words in any form are not static. They are inherently relational. The impact of words (past and present, our own and others’) are felt and carried in our minds and hearts and are lived in our bodies. Previous experience informs our present response, shapes how and what we choose to bring to bear in any given moment.
Stated another way, reading is an intimate act. Reading Scripture is particularly so. Holy texts such as this one bring humanity into conversation with the deepest parts of ourselves. How each of us holds what is sacred in us shapes how we encounter such words. Thus, when reading an opening like this one: “Oh LORD, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?” that speaks directly to the possibility of intimacy with our Creator, we are engaging no less than the sacred ground that holds our deepest desires.
Now, as to where I sit... As it happens, my recent days have been marked by disruption, death, loneliness, and disorientation. Not willing to give up hope for myself nor for those that I love, I have dug deep in fighting hard for what I desire. Holding fast to what I hold sacred, desperately afraid of losing it. It seems I have lost so much already. And so as I wake to these words this morning, I am finding that it is too much for me. Holding a sacred space comes with too much complication. Too much disappointment. Too much responsibility. Too much pain. “Who can ascend the holy hill of the LORD?” Surely not I, my soul cries out. It is too much for me. Too much. Lord have mercy.
Many steams of the Christian tradition read Scripture as a standard by which to measure one’s faithfulness. To read this Psalm in that way leads me immediately to despair. I am so tired of trying to be blameless, of doing what is right. So tired of feeling the struggle for life in myself and in others. So tired of matters of life and death riding on my own performance. For better or worse, I can no longer function that way.
Having thus been sufficiently provoked and exasperated by my initial reading of the Psalm this morning, I turned to the scholarship of a trusted friend and professor, Dr. Tremper Longman, to receive whatever deeper wisdom might help me in siting with this Psalm. As I read through Tremper’s introduction to the Psalms (in his Introduction to the Old Testament, co-authored with Ray Dillard) I was reminded that in their original setting, the Psalms were written and collected not for purposes of instruction, but for purposes of worship. Tremper says, “The psalms are historically nonspecific so that they may be continually used in Israel’s corporate and individual worship of God. The psalms are always relevant to the needs of the nations as well as to the individual Israelites.” Thus, in the life of the community, the Psalms functioned similarly to the hymns and other songs used in corporate worship today. Tremper identifies three most common categories of psalms in the Scriptural canon: joy, lamentation, and thanksgiving. He also calls to mind Walter Brueggemann’s helpful categories: orientation, disorientation, and reorientation.
Based on this limited understanding, I identify Psalm 15 as one of orientation. As I read it in my weary and disorientated state, I am enraged and want to dismiss the words as futile. Orientation is too hard. Faithfulness too much for me… But… even in saying so… I find that Scripture has brought the despair that I so often hold well concealed within myself out in the open, into conversation with God. In this moment I cannot help but feel my desire. And so, as I sit in this reality of mine, with all of its pain and confusion, I find that I am in fact sitting on holy ground. Could it be that this space within me, fraught as it, is in fact the Lord’s holy hill?
I don’t understand these things. But I do know that in this moment, all I can truly say is Lord have mercy.