What revives your soul? When life has handed you a raw deal, when tempests rage around you and within you, when you are weary—oh so weary—what revives your soul? Where is your respite? Certainly, for many of us, living with the reality of Covid-19 has changed the way in which we revive and refresh ourselves, or seek revival. Consider for a moment those times we kicked back and met with friends, seemingly without a care for contagion. Those times when we stopped by a local café with colleagues on the way home from work? Those times when we met up at the gym, the bar, the dance floor, the playgroup, the salon, or the local sporting event? For many of us, these things have been put on hold or suspended temporarily as we assess our relative risk level and that of others.
We’ve had to find ways to revive ourselves closer to home, often with family in-tow. We’ve taken up more solitary pursuits, tightened the circles in which we work and play, travel closer to home (if we travel at all), and had to creatively expand our definitions of finding rest and renewal to include pandemic-friendly activities. Even those of us who may have found some escape from reality by watching T.V. or sports may have had to find new outlets to revive our souls. Some have used the expression “circling the wagons” to describe their homelife in Covid times.
So, in some ways, this message is a plea from your pastor to do a self- wellness check and to check what is in your spiritual first-aid kit. How are you finding renewal these days? Admittedly, it can be hard. Many are still adjusting to different work expectations and transitions to living life on-line. Fear is keeping pace with the dangers of these times, daily living has been entirely upended around the world, but “reviving the soul” is still possible. This past week, a friend sent me photos of the Chesapeake Bay from her boat. She is spending more time on the water, finding comfort in the natural vista from her retreat to the sea. Her photos were a breath of fresh air, a reminder that our human-made calamities have a beginning and an end, even if we can not fathom it yet. Another friend sent a link to a video of young children dancing in South Africa. For some of us, taking a hike in the woods or the park, or climbing to a higher place where we can gaze out over valleys of autumn foliage is a similar experience. Or maybe looking to the heavens to capture a glance of Mars and our fabulous moon, or walking under the stars, or in a pumpkin patch, or simply breathing in the scent of cooler air transports us beyond human faltering, political strife, and sufferings.
And so, we come to Psalm 19: “the heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.” Reading Psalm 19 this week is a purposeful and necessary pause amid so much news that leaves us keening for more stable, safe, and peace-filled days. Psalm 19 is an invitation for us to expand beyond ourselves and our country’s problems for a moment and widen our consciousness to include the glory of God. We don’t often reflect on the glory of God, or the awesome nature of this life that we share, or “infinity in the palm of our hand” as William Blake once wrote. In Psalm 19, we glimpse the rising and setting of the sun and are reminded of God’s presence in the most uncertain of times.
As we witness the natural handiwork of our Creator, we also remember that we are not left without direction or hope or instruction. Psalm 19 declares that our scripture also brings certain comfort to the soul: for the “law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart.” Perhaps we may not find God’s ways “perfect,” “sure,” or “right” in every case, depending on our direct experience, but we can surely count on its wiser navigation for our souls when we feel constricted, afraid, wandering, or wondering what “it” all means, when our worst fears clamor for attention and our brains dispute our present circumstances.
There is promise revealed in Psalm 19: that by keeping the ordinances or the precepts of our Lord and God, we will find respite, sweetness, and a certain wealth, regardless of the general craziness and chaos that may surround us. Investing ourselves in scripture, spending time reflecting on and keeping God’s directives will give a greater return than our financial portfolios, a greater reward than our cravings for sweets, and a greater wisdom than what we may find on social media.
Perhaps it is about gaining perspective. Gazing at the heavens and this amazing creation—both its beauty and fragility—we see our connectedness to a world beyond ourselves. Reading scripture opens the vast landscape discovered and explored within us. Scripture invites us to simultaneously look beyond ourselves while gazing within our souls. It invites us to examine our morality, it’s shading, our fundamental notions of right, wrong, and terrible compromises, our healthy, unhealthy, and communal behaviors, while mirroring all the complexities in which we may find ourselves. We are invited to locate ourselves in a greater story and trajectory than what we had for breakfast this morning, or what present turmoil is on the horizon, or even whether we will survive 2020.
In addition, Psalm 19 reminds us that scripture provides a kind of warning system when we are traveling in shark-infested waters. We are warned of human sin and errors, warned of consequence and misplaced convictions, and guided to making better choices when we weigh the whole of scripture with our own hard-won human experience.
It isn’t surprising that Psalm 19 ends with a plea to be cleared from hidden faults and kept at a distance from the insolent. The writer wants to be blameless in God’s sight and begs to be innocent of “great transgression.” Yet, we are human and prone to mistakes, prone to poor decisions, and prone too, to domination by the insolent and rude. And yet, Psalm 19 ends with a recognition that our words and the meditation of our heart will be examined by God, herself. This God who made the sun, moon, and stars…who connects us in mysterious and marvelous ways, who asks us to commune with each other and the whole of creation by loving our neighbor as ourselves, THIS God, knows intimately our hearts and the way in which we use our thoughts, words, and actions for good or for ill. In God, we find the revival for our souls that we presently seek. In God, we can find a way to navigate through troubled waters.
Friends, to this God, we are beholden.
To this God, we give our gratitude.
For this God, justice is not far off, but a steady course.
May we sail forward my friends, not forgetting who has set the course, who anchors our souls, and who leads our faltering ship to deeper and calmer waters.