Napa Valley Taize

Lenten Meditation 2010

These are the words she wrote in an email to me this week:

I want to thank you for gently caring for me and coaching me through this last month or so, For singing in my ear, so I don't forget who or Whose I am,
For keeping my spirits up and my heart glad.

Her words surprised me. I had not known I was singing in her ear all that time, and since I was preparing for Lent, I realized the songs of the Psalms were exactly that, Spirit's songs breathing in my ear.  Words reminding who I am and Whose I am.  I realized I needed just that, the Spirit singing me through this lent.  So when I approached the lectionary and saw that our first Psalm was Psalm 91, my ears pulled in their antennae.  We Christians sing Psalm 91, we pray it, and we quote it.  But for me it's really scary.  As I read about the angels 'holding us up, lest we dash our feet', my honest response might be that there is some magic going on, because I, we, the world are dashing their feet, and heads, and hearts thousands of times each day.  In reality, really bad things happen to those surrounded by angels, and loved ones stumble against more than just stones.  

For me, the promises of Psalm 91 are particularly discordant.  One beautiful June morning in 1974, I awoke to the praises and graces of this psalm on my lips.  I was seven months pregnant with our second child, while on this particular June morning, our 19 month old first born, fell from a bridge on our property and irreparably cracked her head on the rocks below. The juxtaposition of the promises of Psalm 91 fell like a Halloween cookie-cutter over the life-altering brain injury that could never be reconciled.

So much for the Psalmist whispering beautiful affirmations in my ears and heart.  I half-heartedly thumbed my way to the gospel for Lent 1.  Luke.  Jesus is hiding out in the desert and Satan is quoting this very passage in Psalm 91 about the angels buoying him up, lest he dash his foot against the stones.  He is urging Jesus to try to get him to toss himself off a pinnacle.  I notice, however, Satan says some other interesting things.  He says 'if you are the will throw yourself down.'  And my ears begin to vibrate again.  I remember those words from just a few sentences before.  Jesus is with John in the water, and the Spirit comes like a dove and overwhelms everyone, particularly Jesus, by calling him 'Beloved'. Just the week before Lent began I read those words about the sky opening on a mountain and Jesus being lifted up all shining and the Spirit's voice called him 'Beloved of God.'

According to the Genesis story, as Moses descended the mountain after he'd come face to face with God, his skin was said to have been brilliantly shining so the people who looked were blinded and afraid.  In response, Moses covered up with a veil, so God's glory was not directly visible.  Also, in his transfiguration, Jesus shone with the light so crystalline, his friends had to imagine a shack to hide under.  Wouldn't it reason that as we stumble away from our personal and corporate transformations, we grieve our loss of belovedness, our connections even while we re-emerge into a concrete world, where we have been hurt, calibrated, veiled, and scorched.  Perhaps it is our nature that fear and arrogance insist on veils, even while our faces still shine, and we are unable to read each other's lips forming the word 'beloved'.

Perhaps 'beloved' is what the Spirit whispers after the cosmic storm subsides and we're left with the backdrop of the way our lives looked and we get our ears back so that we are able to hear.  Even though the individual veils of our human limits are drawn aside long enough for us to observe and affirm what in our dreams might surround us on a universal and cosmic level, (angels and saints, honoring us and talking with us), they swing back and lock down with such force that the amazing consolation we experienced turns immediately to a singular cocoon of Lent.  From it's permeable walls we're no longer able to see the largess of our revelations.  Our personal veils drop back and layer upon layer, estrange us once more from ourselves and each other.

Psalm 91 insists, and Psalm 27 our second weeks' study, offers hope that we will see God in the land of the living.  How can veiled ears hear the 'promises': We are lifted up by angels, we are rescued, and we are honored and blessed.  We are called to live as the beloved in the midst of the chaos and real fear surrounding us.  Well, we say, we know the end of the story.  Jesus died.  My baby was deeply wounded. 

I feel the breath of the word, 'beloved' but I continue the self-talk.  Perhaps it is my veil that insists I consider the over-reaching 'if' tirelessly badgering the beginning of each sentence of the Psalm.  'If' I am the beloved, my mind persists, I would 'believe', and 'trust' even when reality has just dealt me a terrifically insidious blow and doubt comes rolling in.  I see creation does not go against the natural order of things.  Nature demands that for every action there is a reaction.  Babies fall when not held.  Political prisoners are executed.  

The Spirit's words persevere.  We are beloved.  There is no 'if' in her words.  We struggle with veiled thinking and are enveloped with our shrouded reasoning.  Psalm 91 tells me I will be under the Creator's pinions, those downy little feathers a hen grows under her wings.  Psalm 63 (Lent 3) hints again at the feathers that will cover me.  Perhaps the promise is true, not just for me, but for Jesus, who lives today in all of creation, and for my baby, who in her resurrection has grown to be a beautiful woman.  Do I dare dream that I too, am surrounded by my creator's pinfeathers, that I am called 'beloved'? If so, I begin to pray as I can, not as I cannot.  My body begins the work as I walk into what has been given each day for love and blessing and beloved.

As we continue to pray through the Lenten season toward Good Friday and our fourth Taize, may the breath of the Spirit infuse us with songs and memories of who and Whose we are. It is the true surprise of the Spirit.  We are the beloved. 

Ruthanne Svendsen