"Selah," by Claire Helton
For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from the Eternal. God alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On YHWH rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God. Trust in the Holy One at all times, O people; pour out your heart before God, who is a refuge for us. Selah Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath. Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them. Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, and steadfast love belongs to you, O Eternal. For you repay to all according to their work. This is one of our sacred readings. Thanks be to God.
It’s often said that the Bible is not a book, but a library, containing a wide breadth of genres in the various books that lay between its covers. Of all the books in the canon, the book of Psalms is even more diverse than most, and is held by some to be representative of the entire range of human emotion, from the heights of gratitude, joy and awe to the depths of rage, despair, and an utter sense of hopelessness. The literary genre that allows for this broad swath of the human experience? Prayer. The book of psalms is a book of prayers to the Holy One – who takes many different forms for those who are doing the praying. Some of the psalms are directed to the great Almighty who stands over human events, directing their course: Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. Some are pleas, instead, to a God who seems to be distant, unhearing: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? I cry by day, but you do not answer; by night, but find no rest. Still others are written as an act of defiant hope, even when the darkness is closing in: Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why so dispirited within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise my help and my deliverer. The text for today is drawn from Psalm 62, and despite its antiquity, to listen to it, it seems it is a prayer that could have been written just this week. As we encounter its words here in the season of Epiphany, the season for dreaming new dreams, for setting out on a journey toward a destination yet unknown, I want us to have the opportunity to pray alongside the psalmist, to experience what it is to speak to God with the full range of this psalm’s honesty, its hope, and its wisdom. And so I invite you to enter this text prayerfully with me this morning, as we listen for a word of truth in the encounter of the psalmist’s prayer alongside the prayers of my heart and those of our community. For God alone my soul waits in silence. Unlikely, in this day and age. Or has silence always been so hard to come by, has it always felt like forcing a frayed thread through the eye of a needle trying to make the circumstances just right, to approach the silence in just the right emotional state, to get everyone else within earshot to cooperate with the whole idea of silence, or – on the other hand – to differentiate between the perpetual silence of pandemic solitude and the intentional silence of opening ourselves to the holy? For God alone my soul waits in silence. I recognize the need for it; having once tasted it, I know that the silence is precious and sweet. In this Epiphany season of dreaming, of vision, my soul knows the truth: that without the silence, the vision does not come. The spirit of the Holy One so often speaks in a whisper, and without a cease to the constant clamoring of my spirit, the spirit goes unheard, unheeded. Like the farmer who allows the land to lie fallow, placing priorities somewhere other than the bottom line, who knows that the truth is: more and better fruit can be produced when space is made for the resting; so, too, does my soul – for God alone – wait in silence. For my hope is from the Eternal; God alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress: I shall not be shaken. As in the silence, I wait, there comes a knowing, a sense that hope is near – not here, not yet – but soon, surely soon, to be made manifest. And yet, underneath the hoping for hope is uncovered a deeper and truer knowing, yet, that our wellbeing does not depend on what is made manifest, that – rather – we paint on the landscape of the far horizon a vision of the future we long for, to quicken our step, to keep ever before us the hope of what is not and may never be, and yet, surely must. The vision of what must come, of beloved community, of kingdom come, of kingdom turned kin-dom, of empire upside down, these are the kinds of visions that do shake things up, and yet with the Holy One as rock and as fortress, I know that I shall not be shaken. Though the mountains quake in the heart of the sea, still I know that the spirit of love harbors me. On YHWH rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge, is in God. On YHWH rests my deliverance: Deliver us, O Holy One, deliver us from the terrors that beset us. If on you rests our deliverance, then deliver us from the evils of hatred and division, of economic injustice, of racism and sexism and heterosexism, of xenophobia, of bigotry, and blind wielding of privilege and power. Holy One, when we ask for your deliverance, we know what it is we are asking. Deliver us through the hands and the feet of the ones who do your work, deliver us through the long and tired hours of those who refuse to give up or give in, deliver us through those who lead and inspire us toward that justice-seeking, peace-building, soul-restoring land toward which we walk. Some trust in chariots, some in peaceful transitions of power. But this truth we know: the walking continues, the work goes on. Trust in the Holy One at all times, O people; pour out your heart before God, who is a refuge for us. Listen, O Holy One, to the cry of my heart. Hear my groaning for the sake of my people, my lament for four hundred thousand lives, for four hundred thousand mothers, fathers, daughters, sons. Hear my cry for the brokenness of a nation whose illusions of security have been shattered, security from illness, security from one another, from the threat of ripping ourselves apart from the inside out. Deeper still, Holy One, hear my desperation at the knowledge that in the wake of these losses, most of our efforts will likely be put into building back up the illusions themselves, rather than doing the harder work of coming to terms with the insecurity that colors our existence, and walking forward hand in hand anyway. Trust in the Holy One at all times, in the times when we know how secure we are not, and in the times when we’re fooling ourselves. To you, O Holy One, we can bring the wrestling and the sorrow and the hope and the fear, and trust that in you, our cries have found safekeeping. Those of low estate are but a breath. Those of high estate are a delusion. They confound the scales, even combined, they are lighter than a breath. The weightlessness of it all, O God, the weightlessness of us, each one, is hard to take in, hard to wrap my mind around. All my posturing toward righteousness, my striving for reputation, and still, the day will come when my memory is no more than a breath on the wind. Not quite ‘vanity, vanity,’ all meaning is not lost. But it does not lie where I’m eager to think that it does. For a deity who dabbles in revolution, uplifting the lowly and emptying thrones, you are familiar with the tides and the seasons, how things come and go. Teach me to walk in that way, to find in that rhythm the cadence of my living, to learn what it is to dance on the air. Put no confidence in extortion, no vain hopes on robbery; even if riches increase, do not set your heart on them. If and when I give my heart, Holy One, away to lesser loves, I am sure that I will always return to you. How is it I so often forget? How do I find myself here once again, promising tomorrow, tomorrow’s the day when the new start begins? What I want, what I need, is an anchor, a place to sink my line down deep, then to rise back up and float, uninhibited, tethered and free. Once God has spoken, twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God; and steadfast love to you, O Eternal. The kingdom, and the power, and the glory, yours forever, forever not my own. And in truth, I don’t know that you have much need of them either. Once God has spoken, twice have I heard, that the true power of God is in love, the steadfast love of the One who knew suffering and death, who broke bread with those who were no more than a breath, who made peace with the silence of the grave, until new life emerged. O Eternal, Holy One, grant the light that we need to set out on the path toward that land, the land of our hope, the land that may not be, and yet, it must. Amen.
Invitation to Respond
On paper, or with someone in the room, reflect on one or more of these questions:
· Which part of the psalm today is closest to your heart?
· What kinds of prayers do you find yourself praying lately?