Psalm 24

I resonate immediate with Psalm by it’s powerful opening words, “God claims Earth and everything on it” :

24 1-2 God claims Earth and everything in it,
God claims World and all who live on it.
He built it on Ocean foundations,
laid it out on River girders.

3-4 Who can climb Mount God?
Who can scale the holy north-face?
Only the clean-handed,
only the pure-hearted;
Men who won’t cheat,
women who won’t seduce.

5-6 God is at their side;
with God’s help they make it.
This, Jacob, is what happens
to God-seekers, God-questers.

Wake up, you sleepyhead city!
Wake up, you sleepyhead people!
King-Glory is ready to enter.

Who is this King-Glory?
God, armed
and battle-ready.

Wake up, you sleepyhead city!
Wake up, you sleepyhead people!
King-Glory is ready to enter.

10 Who is this King-Glory?
God-of-the-Angel-Armies:
he is King-Glory.

I think that first verse resonates so well with me because it reminds me of the prayer I stuck on my mirror in my old Harlem studio in 2011. Back then, my prayer was for God to lead me into a complete, utter dependence on Her. The Scripture I posted on my mirror back then was Nehemiah 9:6You’re the One, God, you alone; You made the heavens, the heavens of heavens, and all angels; The earth and everything on it, the seas and everything in them;
You keep them all alive; heaven’s angels worship you!” So here in the Psalm we see the parallel between the two verses of meaning for me. The Psalmists declaration at the opening orients you (me) to the vastness and greatness of God immediately, as soon as you (I) open the Scripture. Said another way, if ya’ don’t know, now ya’ know. I also found humor in v3 that reads “Who can scale the holy north-face?” because as a Brooklyn girl that came of age in the late 90s, only one image comes to mind when I hear the term, “north face”. Here (of course) the Psalmist is not referring to bubble jackets! Rather, the north face is the most difficult side of the mountain to scale. Who but God! Can I mention just how much I love The Message version of the Bible? Always so modern and educating. v8-10 warns of an impending battle, perhaps against sin, death, false prophets, who knows? But the text is clear, the King of Glory is ready for war, “armed and battle ready,” and “God of the Angel Armies.”
So what is the takeaway here? I say maybe it is for us to continue to rely utterly on God the majestic Creator of all the Earth and to see Him and praise Her, and worship Her because you must NOW establish whose side you are on for an Earthly battle and if you do this God seeker (v6) He will also bless you with personal victories in your own individual battles.My prayer today is as follows:

I am a God dependent, God seeking, God praising, God worshiper, awake, expectant, and battle ready!

While I hold complete, unabashed adoration for the Lord, I am especially sensitive to this language of being “battle ready” today because of the ways in which current US and UN efforts are unfolding in Syria. It hurts my heart to think of the possibility that the US and its allies will wage yet another war. Equally troubling are the reports that President Assad is using chemical weapons against his own citizens. I won’t even pretend to have the “right” answer, but in praying for diplomacy without force, maybe Psalm 24 is guiding us as a nation to look away from fighting our own battles and lean more heavily on the God of Angel Armies’ strategies. Praying for peace.

Psalm 6

I’ve read this Psalm so many times over the last week that I think I could recite by heart. I feel connected– deeply connected– to it because it is so RAW and so DESPERATE:

1-2 Please, God, no more yelling,
no more trips to the woodshed.
Treat me nice for a change;
I’m so starved for affection.

2-3 Can’t you see I’m black-and-blue,
beat up badly in bones and soul?
God, how long will it take
for you to let up?

4-5 Break in, God, and break up this fight;
if you love me at all, get me out of here.
I’m no good to you dead, am I?
I can’t sing in your choir if I’m buried in some tomb!

6-7 I’m tired of all this—so tired. My bed
has been floating forty days and nights
On the flood of my tears.
My mattress is soaked, soggy with tears.
The sockets of my eyes are black holes;
nearly blind, I squint and grope.

8-9 Get out of here, you Devil’s crew:
at last God has heard my sobs.
My requests have all been granted,
my prayers are answered.

10 Cowards, my enemies disappear.
Disgraced, they turn tail and run.

The sadness and sheer exhaustion indicates to the reader that the author is nearly at her wits end (v6 “I’m so tired of all this” and v2 “I’m so starved for affection.Can’t you see I’m black-and-blue, beat up badly in bones and soul?”). The words seem almost forced to me at v8 (“Get out of here, you Devil’s crew”). Who among Us when at their wits end has the strength left to muster such a strong command? I know at times when I’ve felt this kind of emotion, most of my energy is spent completing only the necessary tasks. So it was startling for me to see how quickly the psalmist went from groping around in the dark to having all prayers answered. And that it was at that moment in v8 when I read the command that the light bulb moment occurred for me.

In my experience, most of my blessings haven’t happened in the blink of eye, in some immediate v7 to v8 kind of way. They’ve happened slowly, deliberately and, with diligence. So I wonder if the author here has not really received those answered prayers that she is referring to. Maybe, she is speaking her truths into existence– speaking to the future instead of focusing on the difficult present. The author’s determination to pen it, to recite it, and CLAIM IT is reminiscent of another later Psalm 31 (v23-24) which is “I know you take care of those who pray and spend time with you” and “I am trying not to lose it, to not give up, I expect you will save me soon.” Perhaps the lesson One (me? you? We.) can  take from this is that even in the midst of travails, our words have POWER.

We are guided, no, instructed by this psalm to SPEAK LIFE despite. To believe, to trust and to focus on with confidence, in demeanor, in words, and even in facial expressions, the time when according to Her plan, our prayers are answered.

Did I just say even our facial expressions should be focusing on the time when our prayers are answered? Yes, yes I did. What would that look like? A smile of course! So, you want me to smile even when I am in the midst of the storm? Now you’ve got it! The simple physical act of smiling can make you happier.

According to the Scientific American:

“It would appear that the way we feel emotions isn’t just restricted to our brain—there are parts of our bodies that help and reinforce the feelings we’re having,” says Michael Lewis, a co-author of the study. “It’s like a feedback loop.”

What the author is saying is, sad face = sad emotions and (you guessed it) happy face with a smile can lead to happier emotions. Other studies have shown that even when that smile is not yet real it has the power to lift our mood. 

If science can demonstrate that a “not yet real” smile has the power to lift our moods, what do you think not yet real words can do to our mood? Or our lives?

What if, even when I didn’t feel it, I said : “I am so happy today!” or “I can feel God’s majesty working in my life” even when that’s the furthest thing from what I am feeling? Or if I exclaimed, “Man I feel GREAT about myself!” or “I love my body!”

I don’t know what would happen if we spoke these things daily, but I have feeling that like the psalmist we might begin to see our prayers answered sooner than we think.

In close, “I AM POISED FOR GREATNESS!”

What not yet real sentiments will you speak into your life today?

Psalm 49

Psalm 49 opens with a serious tone and calls the reader to immediate attention (i.e., “Listen, everyone, listen–)
49 1-2 Listen, everyone, listen—
    earth-dwellers, don’t miss this.
All you haves
and have-nots,
All together now: listen.

3-4 I set plainspoken wisdom before you,
my heart-seasoned understandings of life.
I fine-tuned my ear to the sayings of the wise,
I solve life’s riddle with the help of a harp.

5-6 So why should I fear in bad times,
hemmed in by enemy malice,
Shoved around by bullies,
demeaned by the arrogant rich?

7-9 Really! There’s no such thing as self-rescue,
pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.
The cost of rescue is beyond our means,
and even then it doesn’t guarantee
Life forever, or insurance
against the Black Hole.

10-11 Anyone can see that the brightest and best die,
wiped out right along with fools and dunces.
They leave all their prowess behind,
move into their new home, The Coffin,
The cemetery their permanent address.
And to think they named counties after themselves!

12 We aren’t immortal. We don’t last long.
Like our dogs, we age and weaken. And die.

13-15 This is what happens to those who live for the moment,
who only look out for themselves:
Death herds them like sheep straight to hell;
they disappear down the gullet of the grave;
They waste away to nothing—
nothing left but a marker in a cemetery.
But me? God snatches me from the clutch of death,
he reaches down and grabs me.

16-19 So don’t be impressed with those who get rich
and pile up fame and fortune.
They can’t take it with them;
fame and fortune all get left behind.
Just when they think they’ve arrived
and folks praise them because they’ve made good,
They enter the family burial plot
where they’ll never see sunshine again.

20 We aren’t immortal. We don’t last long.
Like our dogs, we age and weaken. And die.

This is a shift from the celebratory tone of the previous two chapters to a solemn tone of salvation. The psalmist is painting a clear portrait of the inevitability of death, and consequently, the impermanence of life. The Psalm as I read it aloud gave me pause at the v15 mark when it reads, “But me? God snatches me from the clutch of death,
he reaches down and grabs me.” this was extremely relevant for me because of a very vivid dream I had about being chased. The dream ended with me being hurt, near death (scary, I know!), and laying on the ground singing “Hallelujah, Salvation, & Glory” . Anyway, the dream is very present for me at the time of this writing so (even though it was a dream) I am remembering the simultaneous feelings of pain and peace. And in that very moment, like the psalmist outlines, God reached down and grabbed me. This is key.

If we make ourselves available to God at all times, but especially those times when we feel consumed by internal or external darkness, it is in God’s desire and God’s ability to ACT to save us. She’s not a passive God to watch and give small warm and fuzzy signs of direction out of the abyss; no, She’s an active God who extends loving, frantic arms to literally and figuratively snatch us from doom.

Let’s pause on that promise of salvation for a moment. You are saved, despite. Walk in that, breathe that in all the way. You are saved, despite. I don’t care what the world tells you! You are worthy, just as our God is worthy. Trust.

The above point about not caring what the world tells you is a good segue to the next portions of the text, v20 “We aren’t immortal. We don’t last long. Like our dogs, we age and weaken. And die.” which to me is saying be very careful what you put your stock in, your “fame fortune and riches” (v16) can be taken to the family burial plot, but no further than that. So, what are you doing today to leave a greater legacy behind? God will protect your reputation. Honor and serve Her, not the bling and all will be granted in your favor. On some days when I read this, it feels like an uphill battle. Have you ever tried, really tried, to ignore world?! It’s everywhere! (smile). One key takeaway for me is despite the impermanence of life, it is our duty to celebrate and love what matters, in our short time here.

Once we are keenly aware of our own mortality, our actions can be set accordingly. Spend time on that which matters, Friend!  As a framing tool, perhaps this list of the “Top 5 Regrets of the Dying” by Bonnie Ware, a palliative nurse, can shed light on what others feel when they can no longer avoid their own mortality (i.e., they are faced with their own death). The list is as follows:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

“This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.”

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

“Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

“This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”

What can we learn from this list of regrets of the dying? How do we avoid experiencing these same regrets? Through daily action! Allow yourself to feel happier today. Out of love (not fear) call that old friend you’ve been meaning to catch up with. Accept a little bit more about your own shortcomings. Chief among them for me is the theme of forgiveness. Forgive yourself. Now. Not not in a few minutes– right at this very moment.

As the psalmist notes twice in this passage (v12, v20), “We aren’t immortal. We don’t last long.” My prayer is that for today, and each day that follows, we are so inspired by our own mortality that we live with an unparalleled zest, fearlessness, and passion for life.

Per #3, I will have the courage today to tell you exactly how I feel: I love you.

Psalm 29

Psalm 29 is such a whimsical entry

1-2 Bravo, God, bravo!
Gods and all angels shout, “Encore!”
In awe before the glory,
in awe before God’s visible power.
Stand at attention!
Dress your best to honor him!

God thunders across the waters,
Brilliant, his voice and his face, streaming brightness—
God, across the flood waters.

God’s thunder tympanic,
God’s thunder symphonic.

God’s thunder smashes cedars,
God topples the northern cedars.

The mountain ranges skip like spring colts,
The high ridges jump like wild kid goats.

7-8 God’s thunder spits fire.
God thunders, the wilderness quakes;
He makes the desert of Kadesh shake.

God’s thunder sets the oak trees dancing
A wild dance, whirling; the pelting rain strips their branches.
We fall to our knees—we call out, “Glory!”

10 Above the floodwaters is God’s throne
from which his power flows,
from which he rules the world.

11 God makes his people strong.
God gives his people peace.

I find this Psalm playful, joyous, and insightful. Observe what is outlined in this passage. Watch the majesty of God’s power that can move mountains (v8), while simultaneously being concerned with the business of strengthening and bringing peace to individuals (v11). God is a masterful multi-tasker, indeed!

Who but God can focus on all these things and still complete them with sheer excellence. (Hint: Not me.) God has cedar trees trembling, deserts shaking, and mountains with a spring in their step. It makes me wonder if the psalmist isn’t trying to shout like God’s thunderous voice that we little humans are as important, as powerful, and as great as every other one of God’s creations. We possess the same beauty as the sunrise. We contain the strength of floodwaters. We have the power of the Universe and one million galaxies within Us!

My prayer today is that we would see within one another the same gloriousness we so easily observe in the natural world.

You are a Wonder.

Psalm 34

In no particular order, Blogging the Psalms continues this afternoon with Psalm 34.

34 I bless God every chance I get;
my lungs expand with his praise.

I live and breathe God;
if things aren’t going well, hear this and be happy:

Join me in spreading the news;
together let’s get the word out.

God met me more than halfway,
he freed me from my anxious fears.

Look at him; give him your warmest smile.
Never hide your feelings from him.

When I was desperate, I called out,
and God got me out of a tight spot.

God’s angel sets up a circle
of protection around us while we pray.

Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see—
how good God is.
Blessed are you who run to him.

Worship God if you want the best;
worship opens doors to all his goodness.

10 Young lions on the prowl get hungry,
but God-seekers are full of God.

11 Come, children, listen closely;
I’ll give you a lesson in God worship.

12 Who out there has a lust for life?
Can’t wait each day to come upon beauty?

13 Guard your tongue from profanity,
and no more lying through your teeth.

14 Turn your back on sin; do something good.
Embrace peace—don’t let it get away!

15 God keeps an eye on his friends,
his ears pick up every moan and groan.

16 God won’t put up with rebels;
he’ll cull them from the pack.

17 Is anyone crying for help? God is listening,
ready to rescue you.

18 If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there;
if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath.

19 Disciples so often get into trouble;
still, God is there every time.

20 He’s your bodyguard, shielding every bone;
not even a finger gets broken.

21 The wicked commit slow suicide;
they waste their lives hating the good.

22 God pays for each slave’s freedom;
no one who runs to him loses out.

I like to think of this Psalm as the “Psalm for Dummies” because of the simple beauty and comprehensive instruction it provides. The basic guidelines are so easily digestible that anyone can understand– those from eight to eighty! Here is a Psalmist who says: You are hurting. You are unhappy. Things are tough? Don’t Worry. God is living on your praises! God shows up when you announce Him. If God is present in our speaking praises (v3) and in our worship (v11) then how can he “occupy” places where He is not welcome? Like schools where prayer is discouraged or not considered? Systems will remain in disarray until we invite God into these spaces. I don’t think it takes a revolutionary overhaul, just one willing soul. If we truly want a shift, one that can transform our nation we need to invite God into every aspect of our lives. We have a tendency to compartmentalize God– relegate Him to only the church or only to Saturdays or Sundays. God is not limited by our man made religions, so to be clear, I am not speaking of a “Christian” only God.

If we really want to see God move, God change, and God rebuild, we need to stop segregating God from our public and private spaces, and invite Him into our everywhere.

Friday Meditation

What shall we ponder today?

I will be meditating on Psalm 18: 24, which reads:  “God rewrote the text of my life when I opened the book of my heart to his eyes.” This is one of my favorite verses, and it once inspired me to celebrate the Universe with the Red Balloon Project. More on that another day.

For now, let’s together gather our thoughts on the wonderful, restorative love of God outlined in the text.

*deep inhale*

Haleakala Sunrise, Maui, Hawaii

Haleakala Sunrise, Maui, Hawaii

*deep exhale*

Amazing love. Just for me (and you). If we remain OPEN to it.

*deep inhale*

Words to say aloud:  “I am open.” (repeat as many times as your heart desires)

*deep exhale* Amen.

Honoring God, Celebrating The Universe

Have you ever received a gift so meaningful that a mere “thank you” just didn’t see to fully cover the depth of your appreciation? Once, during a particularly stressful time writing my dissertation, that gift was peace. The gift giver was God.

How do you fully thank God? I did the usual praise and worship, I tithe as diligently as my finances allow, and I was my typical helpful self (e.g., buying lunch for the guy holding the doors outside of Wendy’s on 125th Street). But that just didn’t seem to cut it. I wanted to celebrate God and give a gift to Her. So I spent an afternoon (it was more than an afternoon!) mastering iMovie and made a worship video, just for Her. The song is Jason Upton’s No Sacrifice, and the images celebrate the multi-ethnic faces Christ and His followers.

That peace stayed with me for a long time after. I think She liked it. Maybe you will, too.

Here’s my life.