Friday, November 6, 2015

In The Thick of the Battle

Give ear to my prayer, O God; do not hide yourself from my supplication.
Attend to me, and answer me; I am troubled in my complaint.
I am distraught by the noise of the enemy, because of the clamor of the wicked.
For they bring trouble upon me, and in anger they cherish enmity against me.
My heart is in anguish within me, the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me.

And I say, “O that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;  truly, I would flee far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness; I would hurry to find a shelter for myself
from the raging wind and tempest…”

It is not enemies who taunt me—I could bear that;
it is not adversaries who deal insolently with me—I could hide from them.
But it is you, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend,
with whom I kept pleasant company;
we walked in the house of God with the throng…

But I call upon God, and the Lord will save me.
Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan,
and he will hear my voice.

He will redeem me unharmed from the battle that I wage,
for many are arrayed against me.
God, who is enthroned from of old, will hear, and will humble them—
because they do not change, and do not fear God…

Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you;
he will never permit the righteous to be moved.
But you, O God, will cast them down into the lowest pit;
the bloodthirsty and treacherous shall not live out half their days.
But I will trust in you.
Psalm 55

Reflection – The Weekly Psalter – now moved to Friday because of my changed schedule – continues on its grim march through the ‘gloomy 50s’ – a section of the psalter that is marked by continuous laments over human perfidy and wickedness and injustice.

I gotta say, none of these psalms come particularly naturally to me. I am both blessed with a fundamentally cheerful disposition (well, most of the time) and have also been blessed with truly a beautiful life. That could all change tomorrow, of course, and I’m not saying nothing bad has ever happened to me (that would be weird! And untrue!). But, honestly, I have not lived my life ringed round by enemies and continually beset by wicked men.

Someone was just asking me yesterday how to pray the psalms, since that person found himself in the same position as me. Not quite personally engaged with sentiments such as we find in Psalm 55. The answer is that we need to pray these psalms along two lines. 

First, as an intercessory prayer for precisely those people who are in this situation. The suffering people of the Middle East can (and maybe some of them do) pray Psalm 55 as an almost eerily precise description of their lives now. Especially this aspect of betrayal by former friends—the inflaming of religious hatred has pitted neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend.

Just because the clamor of the wicked and the terrors of death are not all about us right now, today, they are indeed about many millions of our brothers and sisters in Christ (and our brother and sister Muslims, too), and we can surely spare them a psalm or two, right?

Even deeper, though, is that while the emotional experience of this psalm is probably not ours today (although who knows who reads this blog? Maybe you’re exactly experiencing this today. I’m so sorry, if so.), but the objective reality of this psalm very much is ours every day.

Know it or not, we are surrounded by enemies. Know it or not, there is a mortal battle raging around us. Know it or not, we are indeed needing to cry out to the Lord for deliverance and succor. As one of our wise elder MH priests (since gone to rest) used to say, “If you don’t know you’re in a battle, you’re probably losing!”

So all of these psalms (which admittedly, we don’t much care to pray, and probably are not our go-to place, psalm-wise), are a great check on our complacency, our easy assumption that life is OK, we’re OK, all is good and that we have nothing much to worry about. We have nothing to worry about, but that’s because the victory belongs to Christ and all our trust is in Him, not because we’re sitting pretty while the world goes to hell in a handcart.

No, we are beset, we are besieged, we are beleaguered. And we need to know that. And cry out to God. And know that He is all-in-all and He is stronger than all the wickedness and evil in the world. And that He is taking care of us, and of all the people suffering terribly in our times, and taking care of the evildoers, too. How? When? That’s for Him to say and ours to trust. 

And ours to keep praying for the whole world and its terrible racking and rocking with evil and chaos and violence and hatred. We have to be right in the thick of the battle, right in the heart of all of that, wherever and however God has placed us on the field… and trusting in God through it all. And that’s the life of a Christian disciple.

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