A year ago this week I paused at Psalm 18 to reflect in my personal scriptural journal on this first line of the last couplet and specifically at the phrase, an open place. The ‘open place‘ (elsewhere in scripture referred to as the ‘broad place’) as a biblical metaphor is one of that has captured my imagination – opening doors to my understanding of the intention in God’s creation – one that allows that though the passageway to union with God might indeed be narrow, the land – the geography – the space where life is best lived in harmony with God and where God’s will be done, is broad and open and with room for all of creation to dwell.
I paused at these words last year because my experience of the open place, and specifically God drawing me into it, was different than the promise suggests. I was newly ordained and serving in a parish I thought to continue serving for a very long time. But the message I was receiving from my superior conflicted – thwarted? – that plan. I was told that the congregation was too small for two paid clergy and that my preaching and teaching was better suited for a different kind of congregation. It was all said with a smile and couched in comforting words like “you know we love you here, but….”
So, last year when I encountered this psalm in Epiphany 2 I was rethinking what the open space meant in terms of my own ministry. I thought I had discerned God’s hand in bringing me to this particular parish, but I was hearing just the opposite from the person who had initially welcomed me into the fold. Had I discerned wrongly? Again?
I hadn’t remembered that I had paused here last year and was surprised to find this reflection in my journal when I went to it this morning to reflect not on the first line of the last couplet but on the second line,
20 He brought me out into an open place; *
he rescued me because he delighted in me.
“…he delighted in me” Ugh. How I do not feel it to be so. Pause. Breathe. Hold back the tears. That is what happened when I prayed the psalm this morning. Pause. Breathe. Think. Go deeper, think more deeply. Why does praying this bring up tears and why does my heart begin to race a bit?
I am no longer serving God’s church in the parish I referenced above. I now reside in that open place the Holy Spirit had me contemplate last year. Since Advent 1 I have floated from one congregation to another, in and out of my current home state, trying to discern God’s hand. Is he leading me out in an open place?
Or am I here in this open place, untethered to a particular church because that is where I was intended to be all along? Was the priestly ambition mine alone? It is difficult for me to consider otherwise right now. The spirit landed these words, ‘because he delighted in me’ right on my heart and my first utterance at reading them today, was
…ugh. I hear your word, Lord, I know it to be true, God, that you save and delight in each of your children, but I cannot honestly say I feel this – I do not feel that with me you delight.
Before Christmas I was having a heart to heart with a loved one. She was sharing some of her recent trials – things that had happened over the previous year that had set her back towards her goal of getting free from unhealthy habits. I had suspected that she had lost her way but I hadn’t known how far it had gone. When I asked why she hadn’t come to me sooner, why she had ignored all my texts, phone calls and emails that had offered a hand, she said, “Because you make me feel badly about myself. I didn’t want your help.”
Words alone don’t make something so, even divine ones that a believer may know to be true but haven’t dropped into the heart-feeling-through-every-cell-of-their-being territory. Maya Angelou is quoted as saying something along these lines, something to the effect,
You are not remembered for the words you write to someone, nor are you remembered for the deeds you do for others. You will be remembered for how you make people feel.
My loved one has not experienced unadulterated love from me. Over the years she has received many words from me, many good deeds, but at the end of the day, she doesn’t feel that I delight in her.
I’m beginning to comprehend this disconnect between words, actions and experience-feeling. I think about all the people in my life who may or may not feel loved by me, no matter what words I have used with them over the years. I think, too, of how I have felt loved or delighted in by others and realize that if I have a hard time feeling delighted in and loved by my Lord, I have likely made it hard on others to love me. Sorta kinda really makes me sad and grateful at the same time – that the spirit paused me today to think on these things.
To live the gospel, to preach the gospel, to share the love and good news, it has to be felt – embodied.
Praise God from whom all blessings – and smiles and tears and feelings and open places – come.