As I write this lectionary reflection, Russian troops are waiting on the border of Ukraine for Putin’s order to invade. As I revise it, they have invaded. We’ve watched the buildup of troops for weeks. The situation has turned in a moment. Before, I watched reporters interviewing an elder veteran pacing an old army trench, a grandmother in a pink housecoat taking up arms, a mother and her teenagers practicing at the shooting range. Now, these common citizens answer the call to protect their homeland, their communities, their right to live free and secure. And the world will watch their battle on social media.
The questions of Psalm 27, “Whom shall I fear? Of whom shall I be afraid?” are not rhetorical for the Ukrainians, or the citizens of other countries threatened by invading armies and brutal regimes. But the stage need not be so large: these questions are personal for the abused spouse, the LGBTQ+ teen, the newly sober mom who can’t stop craving the alcohol hidden in her cupboard, or our children watching TikTok and wondering where war will strike next. There are plenty of enemies for us to fear and Psalm 27 names their place and their power. In her commentary on Psalm 27, Lindsay P. Armstrong writes, “Psalm 27 maintains gritty honesty as it dances back and forth between fear and trust.” (Feasting on the Word: Year C)
It’s this honesty that keeps me turning to the psalms during times of stress or fear. The psalmist’s no-spin version of faith isn’t trying to sell us anything or force an agenda. He’s just straight-up sharing his experience of God. And it’s not all positive.
The first five verses of Psalm 27 affirm the psalmist’s confidence in the Lord who is his light and his salvation, the stronghold of his life. But by verse 6 enemies are circling, God appears to be hidden or absent, and the psalmist’s faith is shaken. In verse 9 we read, “Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help.” The “have been” of this verse is devastating. God was once a helpful presence. But that help is now hidden. “Your face, Lord, do I seek. Do not hide your face from me.”
If we are as honest as the psalmist, we could say the same of God’s presence in our own lives. Celtic Christians refer to stone circles or awe-inspiring landscapes as “thin places” where the veil between our world and God’s is particularly thin. In these places, we experience God’s presence in profound and beautiful ways. But this also implies thick places — landscapes, situations, contexts where God cannot be readily experienced or known.
But the psalmist suggests that we have agency in this divine equation. The psalmist’s heart beckons him to seek God, to not remain idle or stagnant in faith, to not expect God to cover the entire distance between us by Godself. “Come,” the psalmist’s heart says, “seek his face!” This seeking is an imperative for our spiritual relationship.
In a 2009 interview with Oprah magazine, Toni Morrison spoke about her process of finding inspiration:
“Because I am open and available, the universe – the idea – comes to me. It feels a little like being called. I felt it very strongly with Song of Solomon. I had agreed to write the book and I was intimidated because I had never written about men … Then my father died and … this feeling of assurance came over me that I would know — I didn’t know all of it then, but I felt suddenly certain that whatever I needed to know was going to be there.”
“It’s that being open,” Morrison continues, “not scratching for it, not digging for it, not constructing something but being open to the situation and trusting that what you don’t know will be available to you … it is out there somewhere and you have to let it in.”
I love the trust and faith Toni Morrison reveals here. The inspiration that is unavailable to her now, she trusts will be, if she opens herself to receiving it.
Psalm 27 concludes with a similar affirmation of faith. If the psalmist seeks God’s face, if the psalmist opens himself to “wait for the Lord,” then, “I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of living.”
For those whose enemies are circling, whose safety and security are threatened and God seems nowhere to be found, Psalm 27 is a helpful and hopeful word. Wait for the Lord. Be strong. Have courage. Seek God’s face and you shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Questions for reflection:
- Recall a time when God felt hidden or absent to you? What was that like? What thoughts or feelings did you experience during this time?
- Recall a time when God felt particularly present and available to you? What was that like? What were you like in that moment? How did you receive God?
- How might Psalm 27 be a helpful guide to those whose enemies are circling?
To print, use this .pdf version: LITL March 13
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