This week, our Rooted in Creation series offers an image of our need–our thirst–for God.
1As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.
2My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?
3My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?”
4These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.
5Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help
6and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
7Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts; all your waves and your billows have gone over me.
8By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.
9I say to God, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?”
10As with a deadly wound in my body, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?”
11Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.
It is hard to preach on the psalms. Or, for that matter, to blog about them. Psalms are poetic prayers. They are not so much to be explicated as to be experienced. The best thing you can do with Psalm 42 is pray it -alone, or with others–until it really starts to work on you.
But this is a blog so I suppose I should say something. The writer of the psalm seems to be someone who wants to worship at God’s Temple in Jerusalem but is not able to do do. (The psalm may come out of the exilic period, when some of Jerusalem’s inhabitants were carried off to into captivity in Babylon). So the psalmist tries to self-soothe, stirring up hope in the promise that separation from God is not forever.
The central image here is that of thirst -a poignant symbol of the soul’s longing for God. (I can go awhile without food. Deny me water and I will not last for long).
I wonder how many of us can really relate to the notion of thirsting for God. Isn’t that…a bit much?
Perhaps this is one way the psalm can speak to us: We thirst…whether we know it or not. To be created, to be creatures, to is to have certain needs and longings -for food, for shelter, for security, for friendship, for sex, for love. It is normal and natural for us to long for all of these things. But the Christian church has bee in the habit of denying or even repressing bodily desire. It might be good for us to stop and acknowledge our own desires. It might be even better for us to admit that other people also have legitimate desires to the same things that we do. Human yearnings for food and safety and shelter and warmth and dignity are not trivial; they make it into the psalms!
But, also, the psalmist thirsts for God. Sometimes I think that good UCC Christians would sooner confess their yearnings for sex than their yearnings for God. Do we even know our yearnings for God? Are we in touch with our own deep desires?
There is this wonderful line from St. Augustine. It’s in the very first paragraph of his Confessions, his autobiography. Looking back over his life, addressing himself to God in prayer, he says this: “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
Isn’t that lovely? Preachers adore this quotation. We haul it out all the time. And we usually say something like this: “See you’ve got this longing for God, deep inside of you –a God shaped hole. And you can squander your whole life trying to fill that hole with things that don’t fit –a career, a family, bad habits and elaborate hobbies. But only God can fill that hole in you. Only God can satisfy your deepest longing.”
Pretty good, right? I mean, that will preach! But there may a big drawback to that kind of language: it reeks of consumerism. It risks consumerism speaking of God as if God were an Apple Watch –the new and improved product that I’ve been waiting for, the perfect piece of merchandise to scratch all my itches and meet all my needs. If I can just grab hold of God—if I can just put God in my pocket—all my problems will end.
But that’s not how it works. If we know anything about God—anything at all—we know this: God does not fit in my pocket. There is always something more to God –something bigger, something elusive, something I can’t quite get my arms around. God is always beyond all of my words and all of my concepts. God is elusive.
We long for God, but can’t quite get there. We yearn for God, but God is always just out of our reach. So what will we do with this yearning?
I can tell you what I do, most days: I ignore it. I drown it out. I distract myself with work and family and a thousand other things until I have lost touch with my own deepest desires; until I forget that I long for God. I learn to be content with lesser things.
But the psalmist doesn’t do that. The psalmist does not settle. The psalmists pays attention to their deep yearning; they are aware of their own sick and restless longing. The know it. They name it. They live with it.
And that is a form of faithfulness.