Advent Day 23: On the Edge of Eternity

I have two friends – one from middle school and one I’ve only gotten to know a bit this year – who have accidentally faced the natural elements this year, uncertain they would survive. They both survived, thanks be to God, and seem to both credit the intertwining of those great sacred forces: inner strength and random luck.

They are probably both, truth be told, still wrestling with the trauma of just barely making it. Which is appropriate.

And I find myself here, this 23rd of December, wrapping presents for the tree, thinking about them both and about how hearing their stories has impacted me in these past few days.

Here’s the scripture I’m holding today, from Psalm 62:

For God alone my soul in silence waits; 
truly, my hope is in him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation, 
my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken.
In God is my safety and my honor; 
God is my strong rock and my refuge.
Put your trust in him always, O people, 
pour out your hearts before him, for God is our refuge.

These kinds of scriptures – the ones that seem so assured that there is some strong-guy “God” out there, fully apart from us, who doles out strength to us as needed (or not), who gives us safety (or not), who protects us from the forces aligned against us (or not) – have always kind of been my nemesis in the Bible.

I know that for some people these kinds of scriptures are empowering and reassuring. And, I should clarify: I think there probably have been and will be times in my life when they might provide some kind of comfort. (I’m remembering here the times I’ve sat at someone’s deathbed – that is exactly the time that these sorts of scriptures shine their brightest.)

So I guess I have two responses to this scripture, while thinking of my friends, today:

1.) The “power” and “safety” of God – that rock and refuge – often manifests in a quiet, inner strength that we don’t know we have access to until we absolutely need it. That’s the nature of this sacred strength, for better or for worse: it doesn’t knock on the door of your consciousness, telling you it’s there while you’re out and about in daily life. It doesn’t hang around in the corners of your spirit. It is completely invisible until it is completely necessary. Then you discover that there is this strength, this force, this… something that has always been with you that you never knew before. You can name it as you experience it: your own inner strength, the Spirit, the Universe, God, Zeus, Zool, no really, whatever it is, this experience and presence is at the heart of the world’s religious traditions. And when it shows itself, it changes you. It changes you into being more yourself.

2.) These kinds of scriptures, as I said, are at their best when when they are being read by or to people who are on their literal deathbed. But here’s the thing: we are all on our literal deathbed, every day, right here, right now. We are all dying. Each day could be our last. So, maybe these kinds of scriptures are really “at their best” when we aren’t denying that factual reality. Maybe these kinds of scriptures are meant to keep us alive, awake, aware that we are but a breath, that every moment of every day is a gift, and that the possibility of being changed by that deep and quiet inner Spirit is always being offered to us.

Thanks be to God.

And, now off to finish this wrapping. I’m listening to Saint-Seans Christmas Oratorio this morning, relishing the beauty and the memories of the many seasons I performed this, how about you?

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