Morning comes, and bedwarm cuddles for all. Then breakfast and the happy rush of places to go. I take Beangirl to school, and she runs to catch up with the boy down the street so that they can giggle their way to class together. Blue and his Daddy march off to campus together, where nursery waits with finger-paints, and a library then for the Spouse.
And I come home to a quiet house and a morning when I can read. A refuge. A dwelling place.
Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
And the Psalmist sings.
Psalm 90 was written in the voice of Moses. Reading it this morning, I still hear his calling after the commandments: Do not be afraid. And now he calls to me that God is eternal. Before the mountains, before the formation of the world, there was God.
From everlasting to everlasting, you are God.
When I was a child, this rang deep within me. Everlasting was a word I would roll around my mouth. It tasted like summer should. Because summers ended even though they shouldn’t. The bright light and laughter on the lake, the eternity of summer weeks at camp, the nights when the stars were so close and so bright and moon walked down the paths before us through the woods, leading us all down to sleep. When those summers came to an end, I thought they tasted like all endings – dislocation, desolation, the wrongness of the world.
But still, after the summer clothes were packed away, glimpses remained. The word everlasting whispered somewhere, maybe just to myself. The October Sunday mornings when I’d stand sweatered with my family in the church and we’d sing together and the light would come in again through the windows.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise, than when we’d first begun.
I stand again in that place when I read this Psalm. The Psalmist stands there, too, humanly aware of our endings. We are so slight in the span of time. God alone is eternal. And God is our refuge.
But then the Psalmist turns, and the hard words come.
For we are consumed by your anger; by your wrath we are overwhelmed.
We won’t be reading these words in church on Sunday. The lectionarians have chopped up the Psalms again, so we’ll be leaving verses 7-12 unread. All the bits about God’s anger and our fear.
I feel awkward about this. These words are in scripture for a reason (or maybe more helpfully, for reasons.) But then again, maybe corporate worship isn’t the ideal place to puzzle over the complexities and contradictions of our grappling understandings of God’s goodness. I’m not sure. I do know that these are hard words and hard thoughts.
As a parent, I’ve had to deal with fear and anger. That sounds terribly heavy-handed, and we aren’t with our kids (or with much else, hopefully.) But in teaching kids love and respect, there are times when you teach them consequences. (And the following story isn’t parenting advice, and neither is it about gendered divisions of the tasks of parenting – it’s just a story of something that happened at our home that made me think a bit more deeply. Chalk this one up to practical theology.)
Beangirl did something to hurt her brother. It wasn’t quite an accident, but she didn’t really mean it either. It was a moment of excitement, pique, and unfortunate spontaneity. All of a sudden, Blue went silent. And Daddy looked appalled. Beangirl felt it. She feels things very profoundly – maybe it’s her spot as the first child, an off-shoot of perfectionism and parental attention. I don’t know. Anyways, she fled the scene. I found her in her bed, cowering.
“I don’t like the world anymore.”
She knew that Daddy was sad and angry because of something she had done. She felt brokenness between her and her Daddy. And also between her and her brother. That she hadn’t meant to do it probably made things worse. She wanted to go to bed until everything was over.
I get that.
But we can’t stay in bed. So, she and I had a long talk about making it better with Daddy and with Blue. In the end, it all got sorted out with lots of love and a lot of effort (effort mostly on her part – though we all helped.) It’s hard to say sorry and it takes a lot of courage.
Then I hear the Psalmist calling: Who considers the power of your anger? Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due to you… Turn, O Lord! How long? Have compassion on your servants!
And I wonder if the Psalmist was trying to put in the effort, or trying to stay in bed, waiting for the hurting to go away. Sometimes taking refuge in God’s everlasting love takes effort.
But the effort isn’t all our own, and I do think the Psalmist gets there, after his exclamation marks. Because the final bit of this psalm, the bit beyond the edit, becomes supplication. The Psalmist asks for God’s help in our lives.
Satisfy us…so that we may rejoice.
…Let your work be manifest.
And prosper the work of our hands.
Moses knew a thing or two about this prayer – even if the Psalm wasn’t written by Moses, it is good to read it in light of his story. He had to shepherd a whole people through the difficulties of becoming a nation. Parenting writ large, there. He had to be both suddenly appalled when the people made mistakes and affirmingly loving when the people wanted to withdraw to their beds (or back to Egypt as the case maybe.)
Maybe this is the calling for all of our hands. To respond to wrong and love it into right.
In the world, in our children, and in ourselves. And mercifully, lovingly, everlastingly, God works with us in that calling.
O prosper the work of our hands.