Society is really good at making us worry. And stressed and depressed and all-over anxious.
And, of course, by society I mean all of us. Because we participate in, put up with and consume all the stressing messages that flood our heads and homes.
Psalm 111 works against all that.
The Psalmist takes you by the shoulders and shakes until you wake up sane.
I was at the hairdressers on Saturday morning. I tend to go to the hairdressers about once every six months. A combination of I-just-can’t-be-bothered, frugality induced self-ignoring, and procrastination. But six months have rolled around, and there I was. As I waited, I picked up a magazine and flicked through the glossy pages. A whole pile of beautiful worries. Haircare, skincare, caring about fashion for the self and home, and then a page about kids’ fashion because that’s something else we should care about. (Are striped tights the way to go for the five-year old or are the flowered ones better this spring?) Then, the healthy recipes section with sidebars about nutrition and slimming. And a three-page article on stain removal. Which reminded me on the red wine stains on my white sofa-covers, only partially removed in the wash last week and lingering, hauntingly, like ghostly reminders of inadequacy.
That these worries are frivolous makes it worse. They seem like entertainment or like maybe small and useful tips to make life prettier (a sofa without stains would be pretty – who rents out an apartment with white sofa-covers to a family anyway?) But they create gaps between how we manage our lives and some glossy ideal. And those gaps grow.
Worry becomes a hole. A sunken place. There are anxieties in the shadows. Doubt echoes somewhere in the depth. And we disguise it all as care.
So, that – plus a haircut – was Saturday morning. Saturday afternoon, I read this week’s lectionary psalm- 111.
Enter the Psalmist and let the shoulder shaking begin.
Alleluia! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart.
Not my worried heart here. Not my holey heart. My whole heart. Undivided and conquered.
In the company of the upright, in the congregation.
With others, witnessed by others, the Psalmist proclaims praise. And then, step by step, verse by verse, the Psalmist fills the empty hole of worry with the things of God.
Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them. Studied that we might know and trust. Delight. Because working through the things of God is good.
Full of honour and majesty is God’s work. And God’s righteousness endures forever. Righteousness is made solid by God. Enduring. It doesn’t slip through your fingers. You can hold on tightly to the goodness of God.
He has caused his works to be remembered. God has let us remember. God lets us remember. There’s the beautiful line. Goodness and grace. God lets us remember.
Psalm 111 is one of the dozen or so alphabetical psalms in the Bible. Each of the 22 lines in the Hebrew poem begins with one of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. A word game for the writer, much in the same way that rhyming is a game. And, for the Hebrew reader, a memory aid. You count off the letters and remember the psalmist’s proclamations.
ABC -The Lord is gracious and merciful. Simple enough to sing with toddlers. Memorable to get past the messiness of worry.
There is a lot of scholarly debate as to the dates of the Psalms. Because it is devotional literature, it is easy to place these words in human context, but difficult accurately to assign historical context. But whether these words were written before the exile and then remembered and shared by those living far from Jerusalem, or composed during the exile and clung to as reminders of God’s goodness and grace even in the midst of the exile experience, the structure of this poem was designed to help the faithful remember. The alphabet, almost as close as language itself, sets the heartbeat to this poem, the words then spell out doxology.
God lets the people remember.
This week, I am praying to remember that God’s glory is abundant. A glory so vast that it fills the hollow spaces and brings enduring love.
Remember with me that where there is fear and an uncertain future, God can bring radical peace. Remember the people in Burns Lake, B.C. - as they look for hope after this weekend’s sorrow.
Remember with me that God is faithful and is at work in the world, surprising us with grace. Remember Helene Campbell – she has now moved to Toronto to wait for her double lung transplant with joyful optimism.
Remember that God created us all for doxology and the joy of remembering each other.