Friday, 7 February 2014

In the midst of the mess of life

Readings for Feb. 16, 2014: Deut 30:15-20, Psalm 119:1-8, 1 Cor. 3:1-9, Matt 5:21-37.
Donita Wiebe-Neufeld

Psalm 119 has captured my interest this week. At first, when I read the eight verses listed for this week, (I used the NRSV) I was caught up with the "happy" word. What is happiness? Is it having a spouse, a white-picket fence, two kids and a dog?  Is it feeling smiley and giggly? Is it really the thing we are supposed to pursue in life? (Yes, there is some sarcasm here! The second part of verse 8 certainly tells us that not all is happy-the psalmist worries he might be abandoned by God. Not happy.)

I guess I think of "happy" as a fluffy word, lacking substance. While it is fun and I revel in being happy at times, happiness is also ephemeral, frothy, and often temporary. Words like joy and contentment, on the other hand, seem to have more depth and endurance to them. I can be content, even though I'm going through a rough patch. I can have a deep attitude of joy, even when my surface cannot smile.

Other versions of this Psalm (like the NIV, and NKJ) use the word "blessed" instead of happy. That's a deeper word, something that exists beyond the moment and doesn't rely on transitory feelings.

The second thing that caught my interest is the length of the Psalm. This is 176 verses long! It is exhaustive and all-encompassing. Apparently the psalm is composed of 22 sections representing each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Each section is 8 lines long and they all begin the same way. There are 8 different synonyms for "law", showing the important place God's word has in the psalmists outlook. This is an exquisitely crafted piece of poetry, but some of the beauty gets lost in translation!

Not wanting to stay in the happy fluff floating on top, I plunged in and read the whole Psalm and was amazed at the great variety of emotion, experience, and teaching that is here. (Lots of great descriptive language too!) This "happy" psalmist experiences his soul clinging to dust (v 25) and he needs to be brought back to life, he has detractors (v 69-70), he is impatient while he waits for God to be the judge (v 84), he delights in the law (v 92), he asks for teaching and understanding (v 33-34) he cries streams of tears when he sees God ignored (136), and in the end he admits he has gone astray and he asks God to find him (v 176).

The Psalm is a whole worship service in itself, the beginning and the end and all the praise and confession and joy in between. It is a celebration of God's love and care as expressed in scripture. It is an invitation to delight in God's word and to gain the blessings that come from it. Much more than just happy, this is enduring contentment and joy in the midst of the mess of life.

This week the Psalm was a blessing to me. (Right now I'm happy too, but the blessing part will stick around long after the happy fades!)

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