Holy Walkabout: Day 18

Holy Walkabout: Day 18

“Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, those he redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.” Psalm 107:2-3

Psalms are often quoted a couple of verses at a time like this.  Sometimes that doesn’t do them justice.  Out-of-context is no place to take Scripture; and just creating quick, easy sound bytes or bumper stickers out of deep stuff like this can go terribly wrong.  But, I think there’s an upside (that’s why today’s reading is just this brief snippet): a verse or two can indeed deliver up simple, direct truth that is easily remembered and meditated on.  In many ways that jives well with the heart of the Psalms overall, as songs or poems or prayers that were spoken/read devotionally, in solitude, or in communal worship.  Maybe that’s why they’re so quotable, or why powerful lines stick with us.

“Let the redeemed of the LORD say so,” is just such a line for me.  It is memorable, very repeatable.  No wonder it shows up the way it does in Israel Houghton’s contemporary take, “Say So.”  Watch Gungor’s version here to see what I mean:

See how rhythm and repetition just flow with the Psalms, and with these verses?  It’s part of what they were made for.  Enjoy that, play it and let it play.  If you’re feeling it, then hang onto this today, and remember it; repeat it.  If not, keep reading.

Because the issue for some of us is that this very repetition, and the way contemporary Christian musicians quote the Psalms, can have an opposite effect — powerful Scripture gets “played out.”  Or, such deep truth treated too lightly, popping up randomly in our Pandora playlist, or on Christian radio, etc., leaves us feeling rubbed the wrong way.  We weren’t prepared for it; we may have been in no mood for feelings like this at the time.  It might be the worst day ever, or the most mundane.  We might be in a long-time or short-term “funk,” or just out of a quarrel with a loved one, or just involved in something we knew to be blatantly sinful.  Then, all of a sudden, we get hit with a line like, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!” and we don’t find ourselves feeling like we can sing along, not sincerely.  We don’t believe it in the moment; we don’t feel redeemed and certainly don’t feel like saying it.

If that is the case for you, and you are even slightly tired of feeling that way and are ready to feel differently, then let God do what God does through the word.  Let the Psalm go to work.  The rhythm and repetition can penetrate into us, I think.  Let me give you a side-story example.  I worked a few summers at a Methodist summer camp, and loved it to death.  You might have your own assumptions about the “summer camp counselor” type, but that is exactly what made the job hard for me sometimes.  It’s tough to be surrounded by college-aged Christians who feel like their task is to entertain children with over-the-top antics, cheesey smiles, corny activities and songs, and the like.

This camp did really, really well not to be overrun by all of that, and the staff was pretty excellent, but I think that sentiment always creeps into such settings.  It could be most evident at our three-times-a-day worship times, gathering in the concrete-floored, open-air, metal-covered shelter after every meal, for a mix of music/energizers/devotional time.  At a point, this time was something I dreaded, because the job could be physically/mentally/spiritually exhausting, we never rested enough on the weekends, and it was pretty well mandatory for all, several times a day.  It was more annoying because camp music, however spiritually-grounded, has a knack for becoming, well, campy.  We’d have stout hymns like “Here I am, Lord” mixed in with “Oomp-Ack Went the Little Green Frog.”  The most lyrically-solid song could be totally polluted by the goofy hand-motions that counselors had to add to every syllable to pretend like all the kids were involved and worshiping.  As a somewhat introvert, and someone who gets frustrated feeling pressured to be insincere in worship, it was distracting sometimes.

BUT.  But.  The music time did work on me.  Not all those other shenanigans; I’ll never be down with some of that nonsense (and our directors did a good job holding us accountable when the hand motions got out of whack).  But over my first summer this time transitioned into my favorite part of the day.  Because, consistently, whatever mood I brought with me to that metal shelter, I had a chance, even just a slight chance, to readjust my attitude and be more active to pursue God.  However tired, frustrated, bored, drained, guilt/shame-laden, happy, silly, etc. I felt during the day, there were three occasions, every day, to remember to pray, or to truly stand up and shout glory to God, or to be quiet and just enjoy the scene.  In reality, the natural surroundings of those mountains, and those kids, and that staff, were powerful evidence of God’s greatness and love.  I could let the bull jive of any ordinary day cloud that fact.  Repetitive worship was a tool to shake it off and get back to reality.

That’s where I learn much about the benefit of spiritual disciplines, rhythm and repetition.  They’re means of grace.  When our bodies are tired, or our minds aren’t right, and our spiritual selves feel dead and distant from God, we can still choose to attend to God.  And I have known God to respond.  It can feel fake just repeating something over and over when our heart’s not in it.  Don’t do things superficially, don’t just go through the motions.  BUT, repetition can help God break in on us.  Truly.

So if you read this little snippet of Psalm 107 and it’s just not your thing at the time — if you’re just not feeling it — try to let it go to work.  Read and re-read it.  Remember it and say it to yourself.  The words might become very true.  The joy and celebratory tone of Gungor’s singing it might be actually repulsive to you at first, or offensive.  You might not relate to the singers’ emotions at all.  Then forget those people and see what emotions God will stir in you.  Go in search of the alternative, grounded in truth and love.  Odds are, eventually, you might just find yourself yelling along with Michael Gungor, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!  Let the redeemed of the Lord RISE UP!”

That happens sometimes for me, in time.  No one should take me for telling you to check your brain at the door and mindlessly chant these verses.  Don’t blindly convince yourself, don’t “put on” those feelings.  But try to find your most real feelings, and keep trying.  Because the Psalm is true, for you and I.  It is true right now.  It is true and good because of the honor due to our king and companion, Jesus.  It is true and good and lovely regardless of how you feel this very moment.  So pursue it, and may you feel it sincerely.

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