Sunday, 6 November 2016

These Psalms Were Made For Walking

Some Psalms are known as the "songs of ascent", to be sung by pilgrims while walking up the steep road to Jerusalem for the major festivals. A friend was telling me this morning how he had done this himself earlier this year, an experience which had changed his understanding of the Psalms forever. But it turns out most of the Psalms have a sense of movement about them.

For example, what comes to your mind when you think of Psalm 23?

Perhaps it's a cheesy picture of Jesus as "The Good Shepherd" surrounded by some fluffy little lambs, or an image of lounging around beside some still waters (maybe with a picnic to represent "a feast set out in front of my enemies").

At least, these are the images that come to my mind. This is a psalm which I have always read as static. Peaceful, certainly, but often with a feeling of cosiness and putting your feet up rather than engaging with the wider world.

I read it again today and realised I had been taught it the wrong way round. Listen again to the verbs of movement:

"I have everything I need...  
(The shepherd) leads me beside quiet waters... He guides me in the right path...  
Even though I walk through the valley of darkness, I am not afraid because you are with me... 
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life"
This is not an exhortation to JUST be still, as if our highest calling is to do nothing. This is a poem about how God calls us to rhythms of effortful practice so that we may develop our gifts to competently serve others, followed by rest, followed by getting up and seeking again to grow and improve. The good shepherd is the one who came so that we "may have life, and have it to the full", or as some put it, "the glory of God is a human being fully alive!" Doesn't that sound like persevering in purposeful practice to you?

"I have everything I need" is echoed later by the promise in Ephesians that "God equips us for every good work". "He restores my soul" (or strength, depending on your translation) so you can get up and try again. "Goodness and mercy" have to follow me about because I'm hard at God's work all the days of my life, and it only comes to a full stop at the end, where "I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever". So I'm going to work to become the best engineer I can be, and I'd love to hear what you're doing to live life to the full.

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1 comment:

  1. One of my very good Muslim friends recited Al-Fatiha (Chapter 1 of the Qur'an) while we were walking together on our Christian-Muslim pilgrimage. It was a great reminder of being on the 'path' together, also reminiscent of Psalm 1. Thanks for your blog.