Somewhere in between is where we find ourselves.
This morning, like most Wednesday mornings, I took part in a weekly exercise at our church. We meet at 6:30 to practice Lectio Divina, or Divine Reading.
If you're not familiar with this practice, it's centuries old. It's been practiced by monastics and non-monastics alike for all this time, as a way of drawing closer to the mind of God in prayer and meditation.
Lectio, as we do it, involves reading a short passage of Scripture repeatedly in a group, slowly and deliberately. We chew over the words and listen to each reading until a word or phrase seizes our attention. When the reading has been completed, we take that word or phrase and journal about it, a writing prayer, slowing our minds to let the Spirit guide our thoughts. We may share the results of our journaling, or we may pass - it's an individual choice. We don't interrupt the speaker as he or she shares what focus they had; we don't try to evaluate, interpret, or "fix" the speaker. We share our prayers. All this takes place in the context of an abbreviated liturgy that begins and ends our time together.
Our passage this morning was Psalm 82. Here's how this sounds from the New Jerusalem Bible:
Against the judges of the nations
Psalm Of Asaph
God takes his stand in the divine assembly,
surrounded by the gods he gives judgement.
'How much longer will you give unjust judgements
and uphold the prestige of the wicked?
Let the weak and the orphan have justice,
be fair to the wretched and the destitute.
'Rescue the weak and the needy,
save them from the clutches of the wicked.
'Ignorant and uncomprehending, they wander in darkness,
while the foundations of the world are tottering.
I had thought, "Are you gods,
are all of you sons of the Most High?"
No! you will die as human beings do,
as one man, princes, you will fall.'
Arise, God, judge the world,
for all nations belong to you.
I was struck by the phrase "divine assembly." I wrote that it was a very ironic description, that the "gods" were in session, presided over by the real God. How much strutting and posturing must have been on display; where was humility shown before the real Judge?
My thoughts continued - their true nature was revealed; all their self-importance was so much sham. Poor and pathetic like those they judged, mortal all, unable to ransom even their own lives.
I prayed that I would not fall into the same trap, of hubris and vainglory. I prayed that I might understand my own mortality, and hold each day as precious and sacred.
Finally, I mused on what it was about us that God finds precious, and why we are worthy of the sacrifice of the life of his own Son. And my musings ended on that holy mystery.
When it came time to share, I repeated essentially what I just wrote. My thoughts had been focused on our human tendency to inflate our importance and ignore our humble state. Maybe it's just me, but that notion comes up again and again in my own prayers.
One of our other readers, however, had been seized by a different thought. He mused about our failure to see just how special we are in the eye of God. How we overlook or ignore the very image of God - the Imago Dei - at our heart.
When I heard this, I wondered if perhaps I have been focusing too much on my human frailties, and not enough on those things that (can) make me little lower than angels. What I saw was this:
A "god" with his feet buried in dung...
Look down - nothing but shit
Look up - nothing but heavens
Look inward - what is there?
And once again, I ended on a mystery.
Jesus followers live in a mystery space. We exist in the tension of pairs of paradoxical elements - free will & predestination, works & faith, unlimited love & irresistible justice, absolute sovereignty & sacrificial death on a cross at the hands of sinners. We would like to have nice tight answers to questions, but too often, they're slippery and must be spoken of in metaphor, analogy, and simile, in song and poetry and painting.
We're somewhere in between. I don't see any way out of that reality in this life. Here's another paradox for you, one that's a deep fact for Christians - patience and urgent desire. We have to wait, and we must keep our lamps ready.
Mystery and knowing; we're somewhere in between.