I love you, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.
The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction assailed me;
the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me.
In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help.
From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears…
He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters…
He rescued me from my strong enemy and from those who hated me,
for they were too mighty for me.
They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a broad place; he saved me, because he loved me…
With the merciful you show yourself merciful;
with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
with the purified you show yourself pure;
and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.
For you save a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.
For it is you who light my lamp; the Lord my God lightens my darkness.
For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall.
Reflection – This is only bits and pieces of Psalm 18, which is quite lengthy. I wish I had space to include the whole psalm, which is very beautiful, picturesque and stirring.
This psalm has a personal reference for me, as I chose as the scripture for my ordination card Ps 18: 19—‘he saved me because he loved me.’ The accompanying image for my card was the San Damiano cross of St. Francis. It seemed to me, ten years ago, that the most important thing by far was to communicate the merciful saving love of God to people, definitively given to all in Jesus Christ; the ensuing years have done nothing but confirm and strengthen that conviction.
The verse immediately before that one is a key psalm concept. ‘He brought me forth into a broad place.’ Sometimes this is translated, ‘he brought me forth into freedom.’ The Hebrew language frequently is short on abstract nouns, or they only develop in late Hebrew under Greek influence. So the concept of freedom is conveyed by that of being in an open space, open country, having lots of land to spread out, move around in.
This is actually a pretty theologically and philosophically dense notion of freedom. Our modern notion of freedom is very thin, ultimately very empty: I can do what I want to do. Yes, indeed. So you can. If you want to jump off a bridge, you can do it. If you want to cut off your arms, you can do it. You are free – yippee! You go, girl.
Very precise, very exact, and very, very meaningless. I mean, hurray – we are free to destroy ourselves. How lovely. And this is unfortunately not only what the modern world means by freedom, but how a great deal of the modern world actually exercises its freedom. Making choices that actually reduce our life, limit our life, destroy our life.
Biblical freedom means entering a space where life expands outwards, where our potential is increased, where we find ourselves in a bigger world, a space in which our life and being can expand and grow. Freedom, biblically, is intrinsically related to truth, then. For we cannot move and grow and expand unless we are standing on solid ground, on the ground of reality.
But even more so, freedom in the full biblical sense is life in Christ. The open space into which God leads us is the heart of Christ, the place in which our life expands to such an extent that we are truly sharers in God’s life, truly divinized by our participation in Christ’s life in the Father. God is perpetually drawing us into a bigger place, a larger world than we can envision or comprehend, and this is the whole movement of grace in our lives.
He leads us into this open space, saves us because he loves us, and so we can leap walls, conquer armies, shake off the cords of death and Sheol, and all the other lovely prospects Psalm 18 lays out for us. He leads us into this open place first—life in Christ—then in that space empowers us to make choice upon choice, in freedom, that make us more and more free, less and less encumbered, expanding ever outward and upward into the free space of love and truth, purity and mercy.