Friday, March 3, 2017

Stay Near

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

Solomon prayed, “You have kept the promise you made to my father David; today every word has been fulfilled.” - 1 Kings 8:24 (GNT)

Indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. - 1 Peter 2:3

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 32; Ezra 3; Acts 27:39-28:6

We human beings are apt to see life as black or white, good times or bad times. It's like we expect to be able to divide life into stages, and label each one either a big dark challenge to be met, or a shining moment of victorious peace. We sometimes describe ourselves as optimists or pessimists, which has to do with whether we expect more good times or more bad times. But either way, we use these either/or categories to divide life into meaningful chapters.

There are several examples of this in today's scriptures. The 1 Kings verse shows Solomon dedicating the temple; life is good, because the work is done, the vision has been fulfilled, and now life will be better because the temple is ready. Several hundred years later, in Ezra 3, after Solomon's temple has been destroyed and the people have spent a generation in exile, they begin to return and rebuild and rededicate the temple. There is both rejoicing as God's ways are taken up again in the Promised Land, and weeping as people remember how much more glorious the old temple was. Depending on your point of view, life is either new and wonderful and promising, or depressingly inferior to the old days.

In the New Testament reading, which we're focusing on during Lent, the people on board the storm-tossed ship see land, even a beach where they might be able to safely run ashore. We're saved, life is great! But the ship hits a reef instead, and starts to break up. The soldiers on board consider killing the prisoners so they can't escape. Life is terrible again, we could be killed! But the centurion puts together a plan to get everybody to shore, and they discover that the island they've come to is Malta, where the people are friendly and helpful. Thank God, life is wonderful! But a snake bites Paul, leading people to expect his death again. Life is tragic - Why, God? But he lives. Life is so amazing, the people of the island even think Paul might be a god. And so on.

There are so many back-and-forth moments like this, it can make us dizzy trying to categorize the stages of life. Is this a good time, or a bad time? Should I be joyful or despondent? What's wrong with me if I feel the opposite way? What do I pray for? What special sign or act of God should I be looking for when it's time for things to turn around?

I don't think this is how life really works; I think we do this to ourselves with the black/white, either/or way of thinking. But what if we worry less about categorizing and labeling our times, and just focusing on the moment? What if we realize that in every moment, regardless of how we'd label it or how we feel about it, we have a living connection with God that sustains us, inspires us, and gives us whatever we need to keep going?

Psalm 32 tells the story of a moment like this, when the psalmist rediscovers how life-giving and refreshing it is to renew an honest connection with God:

            I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;
                I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
            Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
                whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle,
                else it will not stay near you.

Maybe a better way to look at life is just to "stay near" to God - all the time, every day, no matter what's happening, whatever our hopes or fears or feelings are. Time spent in prayer and scripture and gratitude each day is a great antidote to feeling overconfident or taking God for granted in easy times, and to feeling rejected or worthless or distant from God in hard times. It's certain that we can expect all kinds of life experiences, and looking back, we can see how some were pleasant to be in, and some weren't. But every day, we do well to remember that God is near to us, and so we can stay near to God. May we find hope and vision and inspiration and sustenance for the journey - every day.

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