Monday, October 26, 2015

Looking In Triumph Over Our Foes

Save me, O God, by your name,
and vindicate me by your might.
Hear my prayer, O God;
give ear to the words of my mouth.

For the insolent have risen against me,
the ruthless seek my life;
they do not set God before them.

But surely, God is my helper;
the Lord is the upholder of my life.
He will repay my enemies for their evil.

In your faithfulness, put an end to them.
With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you;
I will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good.

For he has delivered me from every trouble,
and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies.
Psalm 54

Reflection – The Monday Psalter continues its tour through the ‘gloomy 50s’ – this portion of the book of psalms focuses with pretty much laser focus on the enemies of the psalmist, their wickedness, the harm they have done to him, and the surety with which God will punish them and deliver him.

In other words, all the things that we try not to make the main focus of our own spiritual lives! Generally speaking, as a spiritual director, I try to steer people away from this kind of obsessive stewing over injuries and God’s punishments of those who deal them out. It doesn’t seem to be the healthiest and most peaceful way to live one’s life.

Nevertheless, here we are. We are never given any specific information about the sufferings of the psalmist; it must have been severe, given the extremity of response we read in the psalms. And it seems that one of the first lessons we are to take from this kind of psalm in general is that, while an exclusive focus on this aspect of life is unhealthy and embittering, we do need to have room for it somewhere, somehow, as needed. Bad things do happen; there is wickedness, harm, evil; we have to be able to lament and grieve over it and cry out to God for deliverance.

What is this deliverance, then? For the psalmist, it almost certainly was understood in worldly terms. They lose, I win! Simple, right? For Christians, we may be inclined to pray this psalm in entirely unworldly terms. I go to heaven, they go the other place. In other words, they lose, big time, and I WIN!!! Simpler yet, right?

While any old thing might happen in this world and the spinning of the wheel fortune (non-game-show version) is unpredictable, and furthermore the questions of eternal reward and punishment are strictly and utterly above my pay grade and so I will not address them here or elsewhere, I think there is yet another way to look at this question of God’s deliverance.

We may indeed ‘win’, either by coming out on top of whatever situation we find ourselves oppressed by, or (please God!) by ultimately getting to heaven. But there is another deliverance the Lord wants to give us in this life that I think has its own depth and import. Someone yesterday was quoting to me from the diaries of Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman living in the Netherlands during the Nazi occupation. She would indeed ultimately die in the Holocaust.

In the diary entry the person was telling me about, she describes living in Amsterdam under the German occupation. She is surrounded by the signs of anti-semitic violence and threat. Signs proclaiming ‘Jews and Dogs not allowed’, swastikas, and so forth. The tides of hatred against her and her people are rising. It is a situation of mortal peril and profound ugliness, evil, brutality.

Her own ‘victory over her enemies’ at that point was her realization that interiorly, she was free. She did not need to allow her enemies’ hatred to become hers. She did not need to allow fear, hopelessness, anger, and the host of other emotional and spiritual responses to be the master of her. And this was, at least in that moment, that period of her life, a great victory for her. Evil is evil, and it is a terrible ugly thing; it does not have to have the last word for us.

Hillesum, living confronted by an extremity of evil, is one thing. For us living in a world where perhaps we are not yet faced with such an enormity as the Nazi movement, we are called even more so to that space of interior freedom. There is terrible evil in the world, and I won’t bother listing it all off here – we all have our lists. But we do not need to allow that evil to become our master, to let anger, fear, despair, sorrow, vengeance be our dominating realities.

Interior freedom, the choice to live in the light, in hope, in peace, and in joy, and in love—this is the here and now victory over our enemies. Your interior castle is your own, and no matter what battles are raging against you outside it, the keep is secure, the citadel stands. With Jesus’ help, the citadel stands. So let us hold our heads high and look in triumph over whatever foes we have – not with arrogance and vindictiveness, but with faith, hope, and love today.

P.S. For those who are my regular faithful readers, the Monday Psalter will be transforming into the Friday Psalter as of next week, as my regular poustinia day is shifting from Friday to Monday.

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