Earlier this year I read through the Book of Psalms and now I’m reading one daily as suggested by following the Daily Office. The Psalms have always intrigued me – it’s like someone took a journal they found, or several journals, put them together and declared them truth. I’m not one of those people that believe every word in the Bible comes from God’s mouth to our ears or eyes. There are many reasons I don’t believe that, but one is because of this book. I would never expect someone to pick up one of my journals (Lord, help me if anyone ever does) and expect to find God’s word in them. Sure, there may be a few insights, but God’s word? No. I think the same is true for the psalms. There are lots of beautiful poems and hymns to be sure, but did God really suggest we strike the babies of our enemies against rocks? (Psalm 137) I think not.
However, I do think there is a lot of wisdom to be found in the lyrical writings of the psalms. I’ve noticed one trend recently – there is a constant reminder from where they’ve come. This makes sense considering many of the Psalms were written while the Hebrew people were in exile – taken away from their land and forced to start over in a foreign land. For generations they were kept from the land of Moses and Abraham. And because of this, they often forgot. They forgot who their ancestors were; they forgot the promises God made to them and the promises they made to God. They forgot who they were. So, they had to be reminded.
Remember, someone wrote – remember how we wandered but we were never hurt. Remember how we were hungry and food appeared. Remember how we were given faithful rulers. Remember how we were protected from unjust powers. Remember the frogs and the locust and the sea. Remember how God chose us. (Psalm 105)
Last year in the high school Sunday school class that I taught, we spent several months going through the main stories of the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation, I had them read stories and create posters to put up on the wall. I wanted them to see something about humanity – something that was true then and is still true now. What we discovered together is that people are flawed. They would try to make good choices, and sometimes they made very good choices, but then, they would get tempted or distracted and slowly they would forget. Over and over again they would listen, make a good choice, get comfortable, forget and then make a choice that hurt them and those around them. And, over and over again God would teach them, forgive them and offer another chance to try again. Over and over and over again.
If you don’t want to read the Bible, that’s fine – just pick up a history book and you’ll see the same thing. You may not identify God in the story, but I bet you’ll still find second chances and redemption in there somewhere.
I wanted to do this with my high schoolers because I wanted them to know they aren’t alone. Sure, some of them found it frustrating that things really never change among humanity. I get that. But I wanted them to find the hope too – the realization that yes, sometimes your choices aren’t ideal, but the story of God’s people shows us there is always another chance. We have to face the consequences, that’s part of life. However, if we are looking for it, past the judgment and the shoulds and coulds, we will discover the grace – the unexpected rainbow, the new opportunity that doesn’t feel deserved. Because it’s been my world the last 13 years, I see this need for grace a lot in teen faces day after day. But I know it’s not just teenagers that need to know they aren’t alone – we all do. We all yearn to know that we aren’t in this alone.
These psalms of remembrance remind me to remember my own story, to look back at my own life and search for the moments of grace. I look for those times when I thought the pain would never end and discover that the pain did end. I look for the times when I felt lost and thought I’d never find my way and discover that there was a new way, a new path. I recognize that each misstep or “mistake” was actually an opportunity to learn more about myself and my strength. I see that through it all I was never alone – I will never be alone.
Throughout various times in my life I have struggled with the Bible and what it means to me. I have struggled to find the Truth and often doubted it’s validity. What I’ve learned though, is that it’s a story about humankind. It’s a story that we can all relate to – whether you’re Jewish or Christian or Muslim or Hindu or you claim no faith at all – it’s a story about you and me. It’s a story about how we treat each other with loving-kindness…or not. It’s a story about ruling with justice…or not. It’s a story about treating creation with compassion…or not. It’s a story about trusting in the goodness of humanity…or not. We are still living these stories today. We are still trying to figure out how to love each other and live together and treat each other and the land with respect. It’s hard – this human thing is hard. Today is a first for all of us – none of us have ever lived September 29, 2016 before. We’re all trying to figure out how to make it work. And so, just like the Hebrew people hundreds of years ago, we need to be reminded from where we came to help us know where to go. We need to remember the goodness we’ve experienced before so that we know what it looks like when it shows up at our front step. We need to remember what love feels like in order to share it with a stranger.
Remember and give thanks. There are stories in all of our lives that we want to forget, that we want to pretend that never happened. However, I’ve learned that when I remember and give thanks for the stories that hurt and caused me pain, they own me less. They have a little less power than last time. I can see the goodness more than fear – I can remember the friend that supported me or the stranger that helped me. When I remember and give thanks, I am reminded that I am not alone. I am grateful for those who went before me who remind me that I am never alone.