Monday, February 21, 2011

A Place of Springs

If you pray Morning and Evening Prayer every day you will read over 70 or 80 different psalms per month. (I counted them years ago but have forgotten the precise number.) After a few months of doing this, you will start having favorites, and as the psalter repeats itself, you will happily greet each one as an old friend.

Monday, week III brings us  Psalm 84, which I love for several reasons. On the whole, the theme of the         psalm is "longing to be in God's temple", which as Christians we interpret as longing for heaven. The psalms of longing are great for either 1. giving voice to your desire for heaven or 2. reminding you that you ought to be longing for heaven, and if you're not, you'd better work on that. 

In particular, there are two images in Psalm 84 that I love. First, as a nature lover and a long time bird watcher, I'm delighted with, "the sparrow herself finds a home and the swallow a nest for her brood; she lays her young by your altars, Lord of hosts, mye king and my God." All the illustrations of the temple I've seen depict it as a fairly open-air structure, and one can easily imagine  house sparrows and swallows darting in and out of it, and building their nests in the eaves. I'm glad that the psalmist wasn't the terribly practical sort who saw those swallows and only thought of the mess dropping down from those nests and worried about getting it cleaned up. No, he was poet and a bird lover, and thought how lucky those little birds were to live in the presence of God.

What's even lovelier is the next section, which talks not about birds, but about us: They are happy, whose strength is in you, in whose hearts are the roads to Zion. As they go through the Bitter Valley they make it a place of springs...they walk with ever growing strength, they will see the God of gods in Zion.

Life is good, but the world is also a vale of tears. Suffering is inevitable. Catholics are so fortunate to have a theology of suffering. To know that joined to Christ's, our suffering has redemptive meaning. That's how we can make the "bitter valley" a "place of Springs" for ourselves and for those around us. We accept and offer back to  God our suffereings, and He can take that and do something with it. Also, the bitter valley becomes a place of springs when we remember that it's just a place we're passing through. Our hearts are on the road to heaven, and knowing that is a source of ever growing strength.

Running into Psalm 84 once month is one of the things I love about the Divine Office. Start praying it and discover your own favorites. (If you already do, share them in comments!)