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Third Sunday after Epiphany — January 22, 2023

The hope of Psalm 27 lies in a God who is always willing to be found, writes Teri McDowell Ott.

Teri McDowell Ott's lectionary reflections are sent to the Outlook's email list every Monday.

Year A
Psalm 27:1, 4-9

Years ago, when I first started in pastoral ministry, I found myself running spiritually dry. I felt so responsible for everyone else’s spiritual life that I neglected my own.

During this time, I discovered the writing of Henri Nouwen, in particular his book The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery. Nouwen’s honesty in this book resonated with me. He was a devoted Catholic priest in his own spiritually dry season that he described as a “restless searching.” He’d been extremely busy witnessing to God’s love through his teaching, lecturing and writing book after book, but growing more restless, like he was speaking more about God than with God. Writing more about prayer than praying. He decided he needed to step back from his life, to check himself in for spiritual rehab. “The way to ‘God alone’ is seldom traveled alone” he wrote, as he committed himself to live as a Trappist monk for seven months in the Abbey of the Genesee in upstate New York. The Genesee Diary is the compilation of his daily notes from this spiritual quest.

Psalm 27 reflects the prayer of a faithful individual who is in his own season of restless searching. The lectionary schedules this psalm to appear during the season of “Epiphany,” or the season of God’s “showing,” right after we celebrate Christmas. Pastors and other church leaders weary from all their Christmas responsibilities might find themselves feeling dry in this season and crying out to God like the psalmist, “Do not hide your face from me. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation” (v. 9).

In her Feasting on the Word commentary, Maryann McKibben Dana writes that Psalm 27 reflects a relationship with God that is deepening in intimacy. Verse 4 reveals a person content to simply live in God’s house: “One thing I asked of the Lord … to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” As the psalm progresses, though, the person needs a more intimate relationship with God. “Your face, Lord, do I seek.”

Any person of faith reading these words can relate to the psalmist’s struggle. There are times when we just need more of God. Times when our hearts lead us to search for God’s face. For the writer of Psalm 27, whose “enemies are all around,” McKibben Dana writes, “the worst-case scenario is not defeat, but alienation from God.”

The hope of Psalm 27 lies in a God who is always willing to be found. The psalmist is confident in the God who has aided and appeared to him in the past. “He will hide me in his shelter … he will set me high on a rock” (v. 5). These past experiences of God drive the psalmist’s current search. He trusts that God is there. He trusts that God is not hidden. Our spiritual lives may run dry, our hearts may be restless and searching, but God is present and ready to be found.

Nouwen left the monastery right after Christmas. “Did it work, did I solve my problems?” he asked of himself at the end of the book. The simple answer was no. Even a lifetime as a monk would not have solved his problems, he wrote. “Because a monastery is not built to solve problems but to praise the Lord in the midst of them.”

“Still,” he continued, “I can say that I have a most precious memory which keeps unfolding itself in all that I do or plan to do. I no longer can live without being reminded of the glimpse of God’s graciousness that I saw in my solitude, of the ray of light that broke through my darkness, of the gentle voice that spoke in my silence … This memory … continues to offer new perspectives on present events and guides in decisions for the years to come.”

No matter the season, no matter our spiritual “problems” God is present and ready to be found.

Questions for reflection:

  1. What thoughts, feelings, images or ideas arose as you read this passage?
  2. Have you ever known a time when you felt spiritually dry? What do you think brought on this season?
  3. When have you experienced God intimate and close? How can these experiences aid your future walk of faith?

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