Posts Tagged ‘Psalm 131’

Recently, I identified the red-streaked house finches in my back yard, in the evening sky the Orion nebulae in my telescope and also I sorted a way to respond to my wife’s request for feedback on how to handle a touchy relational issue.

I also learned that diatoms — a major group of algae, specifically micro-algae found in the oceans — may pile up a half-mile deep on the oceanic floor. It may well be that oil supplies were formed out of the carbons. I love scientific knowledge. So cool!

I also noted in the news cycle that mortgage interest rates are falling to historic lows, and I am sorting who the candidates in the next election are that best reflect my values and priorities.

Knowledge — we do well to embrace it and all the academic disciplines and news sources ferreting it out, and I do. I rush to knowledge found in theology, science, history, art, linguistics and literature. I am a truth-monger. I crave understanding. I look for it everywhere.

The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out.

Proverbs 18:15

It’s wise to dig for knowledge. It’s treasure. But sometime we shouldn’t try; and sometimes we don’t.

Sometimes life puts us in places where understanding is beyond us and our attempts to grasp it become befuddled and confused. Life’s trauma — relational conflicts, exhaustion, loss, illness, poverty, violence and war can bring us into times when try as we might, we lack understanding and even wisdom goes missing.

Such times create a knowledge-deprivation and an attendant insight-humility. Even when we are healthy and stable, concerning so many issues we remain benighted and confuzzled. We experience a kind mental cinemuck. We wallow on the floor of our own scary movie theatre. At such times, brought low, if we are honest, we admit what we don’t know. This can be so disconcerting. It can also be a relief and in itself enlightening.

We Christians, unfortunately, have too often — well or sick — trafficked heavily in wisdom replacements, bad science, inept interpretations, conventional platitudes, sappy cliches, out-of-context Bible verses and a pride fueled denial of our own ignorance. But a poorly researched, unfootnoted, overly syrupy, Pollyanna Christianity helps and enlightens no one.

I’ve mind-wallowed recently as some of my health issues have escaped my understanding and have dodged resolution, both by me and my doctors, even my specialists! The experts in medical science — baffled. Such ignorance however is common to all disciplines and Paul’s “we see through a glass darkly” comes to mind.

Psalm 131, I like it, it’s helpful in modeling the opposite of the ubiquitously ego-driven quest for knowledge, good as knowledge is.

Psalm 131

A song of ascents. Of David

My heart is not proud, Lord,

my eyes are not haughty;

I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.

But I have calmed and quieted myself,

I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord

both now and forevermore.

Two questions. One, what are the great matters? They certainly includes matters where we have tried to find understanding concerning something and failed.

I don’t believe David is modeling giving up on understanding. Certainly not. In his writings, we can see is on a constant quest for truth, and yet here, concerning great matters, he cloaks himself in humility.

If you look over the history of competitive, self-driven experimentation, research, invention and discovery — look in science or theology— wherever you find unbridled ego, you will find grave unhappiness and tensing ignorance. You will find conflicts, law suits and relational smashups.

In contrast, when truth diggers have taken humbled attitudes before the unknown, taken needed breaks, consulted and relied on previous seekers, consulted their team, answers have often come to them in epiphanies and “Aha!”moments.

Second question: What does it mean to be a weaned child, content in our relationship with knowledge?

It means that we do well to rest in what we do know, celebrate what we do know and to let ourselves be weaned from what Fenelon refers to as the pseudo experiences that give “false courage to the senses,” that is merely propping up a hungry ego with an incomplete theory or insight that won’t hold water when reality comes along with it’s pointy stick and punctures it.

What to do?

Don’t stop seeking knowledge.

But when life weans you from understanding, seek contentment.

And for we who have faith, trust God that he knows and that he, like a wise mother, has us.

We can sit with him quietly, not understanding, yet loved and and at rest.

The tendency with humans is to force stuff.

We force our spoons into our mouths, our expenses into our budgets, our bodies into our jeans and our ways, our opinions and our solutions onto the people we live with.

Push, push, push. Force, force, force!

But people don’t like it.

Psalm 131 offers a good alternative.

God, I’m not trying to rule the roost,
I don’t want to be king of the mountain.
I haven’t meddled where I have no business
or fantasized grandiose plans.
2 I’ve kept my feet on the ground,
I’ve cultivated a quiet heart.
Like a baby content in its mother’s arms,
my soul is a baby content.
3 Wait, Israel, for God. Wait with hope.
Hope now; hope always!

Not ruling the roost, not meddling where we aren’t wanted, not fantasizing about what we want that will never happen (and even shouldn’t happen), not flying away from reality — it’s best. We would do well if we attempted to control less.

The child content, with its mother, not with its mother to get something, but just content with her, calm, secure — that is the model of the soothed soul before God.

To just accept people, without trying to control them, would bring more peace to us and them.

And to calm down our discontent by placing our hope in what God will bring in his time and way — that’s what it means to have a quiet heart.

I like to hang around people in their twenties. They are in college, or in the beginnings of careers, or in love or not, but perhaps they want to be.

I love them. I see myself in them. They are dreaming and hoping for bread.

Yesterday, a large, black crow landed on the street in front of me, square in the middle of an intersection. He carried in his mouth a large, dry piece of bread. He threw it down hard on the pavement; it broke; he started his meal.

The light changed, a line of cars came at him from both sides. He took up the main of his  bread and flew.

We protect, our bread, the large piece of it at least.

When we are young, or old, our dreams of what we might yet get  take up our focus — and while large things intruded such as the rise and fall of the economy —  the flapping and gliding of our career paths, the loft and reach of our personal relationships, the competitive spirits of other people keep us moving, mostly.

A BMW ran fast in front of me last night on a freeway on ramp, cutting the line, forcing me behind its shiny, silver flank.

I have a sense of my right place in the line. I fumed a bit.

Nobody likes cutters. Such things cause fuming. For those who tend to take an  interest in getting bread, and keeping it, and in getting some place, cutters aren’t fun.

I hope for a great hope, for something wonderful, in the future. I hope hard for something full of beauty and refinement for all of the young people I know, and even yet for the surge and flap of my own dreams.

Dreams keep me going. I  hope for so much good for myself and my young friends.  I love dreams of good, of bread, of water, of love, of finding a good place in the line, and of finding out what was meant to be.

But one thing stands out today, and it isn’t that pushing forward, or line cutting or bread protecting.

Often, what is needed, on the way to somewhere else, in the flap and drive and hope of something better, in the middle of ambition is something found in Psalm 131.

1 My heart is not proud, LORD,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.

David, perhaps on his way to being a powerful leader and a great success, calmed down his feelings. He settled his own emotions, he leaned into being weaned. In other words, he told himself that he no longer required the comfort he had before, perhaps from the family he came from, and that it was not his business, in the moment, to determine his place in the line forming up outside.

This is the task of the anxious twenty-something, and perhaps for many of the rest of us, to lean into the calm found in the present moment, to take charge of the tendency to be troubled by the not-yet-achieved future, and to choose to be content with the bread God has given us to throw down in our own intersection.

Contentment, self-imposed, on the way to being king, is good!