The songwriter asks: “What’s it gonna take to save the day? What you gonna need to feel ok? If you close your eyes what would you pray? What’s it gonna take to save the day?” What’s it gonna take to save the day for you? What will make you feel okay? A winning lottery ticket? A new car? A new job? A new house? A new spouse? For what do you most long? For what does your soul thirst?
If I were asking these questions at Children’s Time, the children would shout the answer together: “God!” Not so much because they had read Psalm 63, but because the answer to most of the questions I ask at Children’s Time is “God.” The kids are on to me!
If you’re like me, you suspect that the answer to the “for what do you long” question really is God. There’s something inside us that senses that the thing that will satisfy all our longings is connecting with God. As St. Augustine said in the 4th c. “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” I don’t know how it is for you, but for me, knowing that God can satisfy my longings doesn’t always translate into actually trying to connect to God. In fact, I often find myself searching for satisfaction from any source BUT God. Does that ever happen to you?
In some translations, Psalm 63 begins with the inscription: “A Psalm of David, when he was in the Wilderness of Judah.” David. Now, there’s someone who, from time to time, looked for satisfaction in places other than God. He looked for it in power; he looked for it in placating his children; once, he even looked for it in a fling with his neighbor’s wife.
As he was doing these things, each one seemed like it would solve all his problems. In each moment of temptation, something inside David told him the thing he desired would be the one thing that would make everything fall into place for him, the one thing that would make everything okay, the one thing that would “save the day” for him.
After giving in to each temptation, though, it became clear to David that the thing he thought would save the day—and maybe his soul—in the end, only created heartache and complications and really big messes.
It’s while he’s in the wilderness—perhaps after one of those failed attempts at finding happiness—that David gains a crucial insight. After looking for it in many other places, he comes to realize that the only thing that ever truly will satisfy him is God. Money’s not going to do it. Power’s not going to do it. Sex is not going to do it. A new job is not going to do it. The only thing, the only thing that will truly and completely satisfy his soul is God.
And so out in the wilderness of Judah, a place with little vegetation and few sources of water, a place he has gone—perhaps—to escape from another mess he’s made, David cries out: 1”O God, I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” And then he remembers: “Y2our steadfast love is better than life…5 My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast…*67 you have been my help…. 8 My soul clings to you.”
To what does your soul cling? Is whatever you’re clinging to satisfying your soul “as with a rich feast?” Or is it leaving you feeling empty? Yet again?
A couple of weeks ago in Sunday School we talked about giving up things for Lent. I talked about giving up French fries…about how hard it is. A couple of us mentioned things we couldn’t give up because it would just be too hard. In response to all this, someone said a startling thing: “We’re all addicted to something.”
When she said it, my first thought was “Uh uh! Not me! I’m not addicted to anything!” But then I started thinking about French fries. About how much I miss them. About how much even smelling them sends me into a tailspin. About how many times I’ve thought about giving up giving up French fries for Lent…and how I would have done just that if I hadn’t gone and told everyone in Sunday School that I was giving up French fries for Lent. Community can be so annoying…as can wise statements from others that hit the nail on the head.
We’re in the process of retooling our spiritual memoir reading group. The new version of the group is going to involve a book blog and quarterly lunch conversations. (Stay tuned.) This month’s memoir is by novelist and Presbyterian minister Frederick Buechner.
The thing to which Fred clung for much of his life was unspoken grief about his father’s suicide when Fred was ten years old. After his father’s death, Fred and his family never spoke of the death or even of his father. It was as if his father had ever existed.
Fred’s years of clinging to the silence surrounding his father’s death took a heavy toll on him well into adulthood, especially in his relationships with his children. He admits to closing his “eyes for years to the secret that [he] was looking to [his] children to give [him] more than either they had it in their power to give or could have given without somehow crippling themselves in the process” (Telling Secrets, 75).
It was while visiting one of those children in a hospital across the country, a young woman who had nearly starved herself to death, that Fred began waking up to just how spiritually starved he was. He writes: “My anorectic daughter was in danger of starving to death, and without knowing it, so was I. I wasn’t living my own life anymore because I was so caught up in hers. If in refusing to eat she was mad as a hatter, I was if anything madder still because whereas in some sense she knew what she was doing to herself, I knew nothing at all about what I was doing to myself. She had given up food. I had virtually given up doing anything in the way of feeding myself humanly.” (Telling Secrets, 25)
Fred began dealing with his addiction, if you will, to his role as father when he joined Al-Anon, a 12 step group designed to help family members of alcoholics. In Al-Anon he began to see his “clinging” to his daughters for what it was: a way of avoiding dealing with his father’s abandonment, first by his drinking, then by his suicide.
After a time, Fred slowly began to recognize his true need—not his need to be the perfect parent to his daughters (at which he was failing anyway)—but his need to be a whole human being. His need to recognize just how much God loved him. His need to rest in God. It was only when he stopped clinging to his daughters that Fred’s soul finally was able to begin clinging to God. It was only then that his restless heart found its rest in God.
I don’t think I ever really understood—much less experienced—the idea of resting in God until I started going to the monastery. If you’ve never been to a place where they stop and pray at regular intervals every day—“praying the Hours” it’s called—it can be really annoying. You feel like you just get started doing something when the bells chime and it’s time to go back to prayer. Again.
After a while, though, you begin to look forward to the bells…because you know that for 25 or 30 minutes you’ll get to rest from everything and just be with God. You’ll sit, you’ll pray, you’ll sing. That’s it. You don’t have to do anything except show up and be in God’s presence.
On one trip to the monastery, I took with me an index card with your names on it. I had planned to pray for you while I was at the monastery….but oh, I was tired! It was two days after Easter and I was beat. But I had told you I was going to pray for you and pray for you I would!
So, my first morning at prayer, I arrived at the chapel early and pulled the folded index card from my pocket, ready to pray. But the oddest thing happened as I began unfolding the card—I heard a voice. It said: “I will hold them.” I looked around. Nothing. As I straightened the index card readying myself to pray, I heard the voice again: “I will hold them,” it said.
By the third time, I figured out that maybe it was a God thing, that maybe God was saying God would hold you all while I used the time to pray for myself. I argued with God. No! I told them I’d pray for them! Let me pray for them! “I will hold them,” the voice kept saying. In fact, it didn’t quit saying it until I refolded the card and slipped it back into my pocket.
I know. It sounds strange, nutty, even. But for 4 days, I heard that voice every time I tried to take the card out of my pocket. On the fifth day, the voice was gone. That was the day I started praying for you all.
It’s not four days, but I invite us to take the next few minutes to rest in God. David will sing. You don’t have to do anything except be. Just be. Just be who you are and allow God’s love to wash over you. Let God hold everything else that’s clamoring for your attention right now…all that stuff will be waiting for you again when David finishes singing. You’re welcome to go back to worrying then. But for now, just for these few minutes, let God hold everything else and allow yourself, allow your soul to cling to God. [David sings “You Are Mine.”]
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2013
A Psalm of David, when he was in the Wilderness of Judah.
1 O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.
3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.
4 So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name.
My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,*
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
6 when I think of you on my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7 for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
8 My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.