The Riddle of the Psalms

For the last forty years, my prayer time has started with the Psalms. And for forty years they have alternately given me hope and then pulled that rug of hope from beneath me. They make great promises, but when I pray them with honest self-reflection, the promises fade away.

the-riddle-of-the-psalms

Look at the hopeful assurances offered:

  • Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear. (Ps. 27:3)
  • The Lord preserves the simple. When I was brought low, he saved me. (Ps. 116:6)
  • The Lord is my Shephard; I shall not want. (Ps. 23:1)

The problem is simple: these promises seem reserved for Saint Francis, not me:

  • The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me. (Ps. 18:20)
  • Give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit! (Ps. 17:1)
  • If I have repaid my friend with evil … let the enemy pursue my soul and overtake it, and let him trample my life to the ground. [YIKES!!] (Ps. 7:4-5)

When I try to pray phrases like, “I have trusted in the Lord without wavering,” the words dribble out of my mouth and splatter on the floor.

Hearing God: Learning to Recognize His Voice in Meditation

God speaks time and again—in various ways—but nobody notices” (Job 33:14).

Core to the nature of the human race is a desire to hear God. Well, more than mere desire. We crave a connection with the divine, somehow to see the face of God, to touch and be touched. It’s an inborn, inherent ingredient of our humanity.

The cacophony of voices

Scripture says God is always speaking, but we miss it. It’s not that he doesn’t speak to us, it’s just that we don’t recognize it when he does. Oh, sometimes he breaks in through writing on the wall or thorough a speaking donkey, but mostly he speaks in a still, small voice.

We miss his voice because it is drowned out in the sea of other voices. The cacophony of sounds, like an orchestra tuning, obscures that still small voice. Stomachs growl their hunger, bosses bark their orders, and that insult from twenty years ago still shouts its condemnation.

How do we begin to recognize God’s voice? In meditation. Christian meditation trains our ears to distinguish God’s voice—that one instrument—amidst the orchestra of others. And once we learn to recognize God’s voice, we begin to hear it “time and again, in various ways.”

To hear God’s voice, we need to learn to meditate. Unless, like Balaam, you have a talking ass.

Imagination and Hearing God

I’m discovering that meditation is the most powerful way to hear God. Actually, “powerful” isn’t a strong enough word. Meditation may be the most profound, deep, life-changing, heart-enriching way to hear God I’ve ever experienced.

images (8)

But there is a problem. I picture meditation—maybe you do too— as something kind of weird. It’s someone dressed in leotards, sitting in an awkward position, humming nonsensical syllables, emptying the mind, and thinking of “one hand clapping.” It’s the mystic monk escaping the world. It seems totally disconnected from real life.

But everyone is a meditation expert. We meditate all the time. We don’t know it because we call it something else, and we slip into it accidentally.

Transforming our everyday meditations into prayerful imagination will change your life.

Hearing God in Meditation

God speaks time and again—in various ways—but nobody notices” (Job 33:14).

Most people I know have an innate desire to hear God; actually, more than a desire, an intense longing. We want to connect with the divine, to somehow see the face of God, to touch and be touched. It’s inborn, an inherent ingredient of our humanity.

Scripture says God is always speaking, but we miss it. We don’t notice his voice because we don’t recognize it. Oh, sometimes he breaks in through writing on the wall or through a speaking beast of burden, but mostly he speaks in a still, small voice.

voices r2

We miss his voice because it is drowned out in the sea of other voices. The cacophony of sounds, like an orchestra tuning, obscures that still small voice. Stomachs growl their hunger, bosses bark their orders, and that insult from twenty years ago still shouts its condemnation.

How do we learn to discern God’s voice? In meditation. Christian meditation trains our ears to distinguish God’s voice—that one instrument—amidst the orchestra of others. And once we learn to recognize God’s voice, we begin to hear it “time and again, in various ways.”

To hear God’s voice, we need to learn to meditate. Unless, like Balaam, you have a talking ass.

Let’s Become Emotional Christians

I woke up last week to the blahs, like Marie Antoinette’s claim, “Nothing tastes.” This happens to me when I’m tired, and ten restless nights had drained me. I felt exhausted. And melancholy.

I wasn’t irritable (at least no more than usual). It was just a sense of doldrums. I tried a couple movies, but they didn’t grab me; I tried some good books, but they bored me. Nothing tasted. As a distraction, I did deskwork, but it all felt so dreary. Like doing taxes with a toothache.

Madonna

I also tried praying. It wasn’t bad. I even felt a flicker of inspiration, but then it flickered out. (“Typical,” I thought.) I wasn’t particularly sad, but I did feel kind of … emotional.

How are Christians supposed to handle our emotions? It simply cannot be limited to:

  • The Emotional Prima Donna. EVERYTHING is SO EPIC! Like geysers they spurt tears at every Hallmark holiday. Their feelings make them the center of attention.
  • The Emotional Volcano. Pissed at the world, they erupt at the tiniest insult and explode at a slightest sign of disrespect. Their feelings threaten the world.
  • The Emotional Eunuch. Claiming to be mini-Spock’s, they stuff their feelings. But they lack his charm (and his cool, pointy ears). They seem like animated cabbage. Their lack of feelings make them alien.

Please, tell me I’m not the only one annoyed by these responses (although, come to think of it, maybe I am feeling a bit irritable).

Then—I kid you not—I read a quote by the pop star Madonna, and it began my recovery.

Sinvitation: Ask Why

A man I know refuses to ask himself, “Why?” When sexual temptations entice, he grits hisarrogant-man r1 teeth and orders himself, “Resist!” When other people irritate him, he furrows his brow and wills himself, “Be nice.” When anxious feelings rear their heads, he decapitates them with a hearty, “Be gone!”

But the thing is—and I’m not sure how to phrase this—he seems a bit arrogant. He handles life so very well; what’s wrong with the rest of us? His advice to sufferers is, “Don’t do it,”  “Be happy,” “Suck it up,” or “Just stop!”

If I’m ever hurting … well … his number is not on my speed-dial.

Another man I know came to me a year ago because someone told him he complains too much. He asked me what I thought.

The truth was he did complain a lot. Grumbling seemed the bass-drum beat of his conversational style: “My wife is a slob,” “My boss it too demanding,” “My colleagues are unappreciative,” and “No one wants to talk with me.”

Yikes! I wasn’t sure how to answer him, but I uneasily admitted that he might grumble more than most. I asked him “Why?” He left in a huff, determined never to complain again (though I’ve wondered since if he complained to his wife about me).

A few months later he was no longer complaining. He was angry; livid with his wife for her housekeeping; angry at his boss for an assignment, and furious with co-workers for their ingratitude. He had exchanged self-pitying complaints for an other-blaming fury.

It was not an improvement.

We need to recognize a spiritual principle           

Pursuing an Inner Life

The two pictures below show Mt. St. Helens. One was taken on May 17, 1980, and the other was taken several days later.

Beneath the calm exterior of a majestic mountain boiled an inner life that would erupt with 20,000 times more power than the Hiroshima atomic bomb.

Each of us has an inner and an outer life. We sense this intuitively. We say of others, “They don’t know me, the true me.” A popular book on the Myers Briggs personality test is entitled, Please Understand Me.

While we vaguely sense an inner self, we primarily invest in our outer life. We dedicate hours in running on treadmills; we devour the latest tabloid diet; we pour out our hearts on career advancement; we spend hours in shopping for shoes or for shotguns.

These external activities are like mowing the lawn of Mt. St. Helens, on May 17, 1980.

Our truest self is our inner self. We are the same person the day before we are fired as the day after. A friend recently lost most of her right arm in a freak accident, but she lost not a single strand of hair of who she truly is.

The person we are inside is our truest person. But we’ve barely begun to know that person because we fail to know our inner life. And we certainly don’t invest in it.