Psalm 1: Riverside Prayer

Praying the Psalms

After a lengthy hiatus, I am drawn back into the Book of Psalms, to mediate and to pray my way through this rich heritage. I am especially pulled by the psalms which speak of streams and rivers. This imagery is something I would like to explore this summer. How fitting to begin with Psalm 1. 

“Blessed is the man [whose] delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.”

Psalm 1:2-3

O Lord,

Your law is life, a living stream which feeds the roots of my spirit. It is no dusty rulebook, but the sap of my soul.

Let not my wandering feet stray to the path of the wicked, but plant me in the way of righteousness.

Show me the difference between merely sitting and living rooted. I do not want to be chaff when the wind arises. I want to be firm, my foundation stretching into the fertile soil of your riverside. On the banks of the living word, I will rise and yield my fruit.




The lad with the paper bag lunch

I am the lad with the paper bag lunch. Five barley loaves and two small fishes. The food of the poor. Coarse, dark bread, that kind that gets shared with animals. Dried fish, just a little something to spread on the bread and stave off the gnawing in my stomach. 

Perhaps I did open the bag in a surge of generosity, inspired by the great and mysterious rabbi. Perhaps I wanted him to notice me. Perhaps I truly wanted to help. Or perhaps I came along hoping to make a profit, to sell to the all the suckers who came unprepared, disciples included. Perhaps I’m just looking for my next meal. You never know. 

But that’s the point. Does it matter whether I’m some boy-hero, ever to be lauded for my humble offering, or whether I’m Galilee’s own Oliver Twist, scraping by on the pennies of the religious multitudes? 

Does it matter how I got here? Or only that, at the end of the day, what I counted as mine is now in the master’s hands? 

Who can say what hopes and hoarded manna we carry around in brown paper bags. All I know is, it’s not enough. It’s never enough.

I thought I knew what poverty was. The five against the five thousand. How’s that for odds. But it wasn’t until he held the loaves that I saw it clearly. All I had, crumbling between those fingers. The five against the One. Completely outnumbered. 

And yet, he gave thanks. For my sack of crumbs. Others could have brought more, and better. He could even have created the feast from nothing. Some days nothing seems more appealing than what I’ve got. 

But he thanked me. And he thanked God. As if we were in cahoots somehow. And he uttered one of those upside-down blessings than turns the poor into kings and the beggars into sons. With his own flesh he broke the bread and began to feed the whole wide world, right there on the grass. Barley loaves have never tasted so good.

Please sir, I want some more. I can’t even look him in the eye, and my bony knees are trembling. The paper bag is crumpled in my hands. “Have as much as you want,” he says. And I let go of the bag. 

I am the lad with the paper bag lunch. Does it matter how I got here? Or only that, at the end of the day, what he counted as his is now in my hands.




The Beginning of Green

I’m not sure how to say what I want to say. Only that spring is at last returning, but don’t look up to find it. It’s not in the sky, or even the trees. 

Green always begins in the ground. Beside the mud puddles, pushing up under the beer cans the fishermen toss aside, creeping steadily through the rot of last fall’s leftovers. 

Spring doesn’t arrive as some lofty ideal, descending in glory from the heavens. 

It’s a slow but steady thaw. It endures the tramp of muddy boots. This green simply perseveres, through frosts and false starts and one more day of mittens. 

No, green begins in lowly places.

I just want you to know, that if your world hasn’t burst into technicolour bloom yet, it’s ok. It’s ok if your leaves are still hiding, tight in their buds. It’s ok if the only spring you see is down in the ditch. 

It’s coming. Do not despise a humble beginning. Green always begins in the ground. 




Rise Heart! The Lord is Risen!

Happy Easter one and all! I love this poem by George Herbert, from his work “The Temple,” written in 1663. It is simply called “Easter.” (Thanks to Malcolm Guite for including it in his poetry collection for Lent and Easter, The Word in the Wilderness. This is where I discovered it.)

The older English comes across in some of the archaic spellings, and you can hear echoes of Psalm 57, a psalm traditionally read as part of morning prayer on Easter Sunday.

And for all those who have played their part in musical offerings this weekend, it is a beautiful reminder that all our praise originates in Christ’s work on the cross.

¶ Easter

Rise heart; Thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise
Without delayes,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him mayst rise:
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more, just.

Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
With all thy art.
The crosse taught all wood to resound his name,
Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.

Consort, both heart and lute, and twist a song
Pleasant and long:
Or, since all musick is but three parts vied
And multiplied,
O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.

I got thee flowers to straw thy way;
I got me boughs off many a tree:
But thou wast up by break of day,
And brought’st thy sweets along with thee.

The Sunne arriving in the East,
Though he give light, & th’ East perfume;
If they should offer to contest
With thy arising, they presume.

Can there be any day but this,
Though many sunnes to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we misse:
There is but one, and that one ever.

~ George Herbert




The Snake and the Swallowed King

And the LORD God said unto the serpent: I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall crush thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. (Genesis 3:14-15)

On this God-forsaken Friday, the serpent-bitten king is lifted up for all to see, the venom of death slowly paralyzing the seed of the woman. He appears pinned by the viper’s teeth, powerless in the grip of its poison.

He is the only one able to resist the serpent’s lies, old as Eden, and yet the only one able to drink the bitter drug to its dregs.

Eve rolls in her grave, and Mary weeps at the foot of the enemy’s staff of torture. The woman can reach out and grasp the bloodied heel of her son, feel the life draining out through her fingers. Now she knows the piercing that was to come. Now her heart breaks, and with it all creation, as all the promises, the very protoevangelion itself, seem smashed to pieces.

The Roman sword only proves the point – the enemy has at last swallowed his victim whole. Jesus disappears into death.

And yet . . .

What seems crushing defeat is a cunning twist of events on this hill of the skull.

For the serpent cannot be defeated by flesh wounds. His undoing must be from the inside out. And there is only one who can descend into the stinking belly of the old liar and live to tell the tale.

The sting of death is sin, and this is the sinless One – sinless to his final death rattle. As he breathes his last, he is swallowed down the human-shaped chasm of the serpent’s throat.

The snake has taken the bait. He thought Jesus’ humanity would be his weak spot, like all other sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. But this second Adam is not like the first, oh thanks be to God. In the writhing pit of filth, that hellhole where God is not, comes the God-Man Himself.

His humanity allows him entrance. His divinity assure him victory.

The snake’s insatiable hunger is his undoing. A hunger that would swallow God whole will not go unchallenged.

And now from within, the snake-bitten son’s mightiest weapon is unsheathed – perfect, pure, self-giving, all-giving, all-consuming love. It begins to pulse and throb, the only heartbeat in this tomblike darkness. It begins to burn, like glowing needles, like fiery double-edged swords, like raging infernos from the heart of the earth. And there, in the midst, is one walking like the son of God!

Only he is not walking, he is waging war. He is taking hold of every lie, every rebellion, every sin, every disease, every shadow, every soul-sucking power of darkness, and ripping them all to shreds. He is cutting out the forked tongue from its root. And the serpent writhes in agony and wishes he could spit the hell-bent Hero out, but he cannot.

And when the swallowed king at last destroys the ancient predator, he does it from the inside out, emerging on the third day from the putrid vomit of the snake, and not one hair on his head is singed.

The serpent’s power is no more, but the final move, this will be done in the daylight for all the world to see. The scaly beast can no more even whimper in the dust when the Warrior raises his heel, and with a heaven-shaking roar crushes the skull of the snake.

Oh, death, where is your sting?
Oh, hell, where is is your victory?
Oh, snake, where is your tongue?

Death has been swallowed up in victory!

And what is the sign of this victory?
The God-Man lifted up on a cross.
The God-Man who even yet bears the scar on his heel, but at whose feet lies the skull of the snake.

This is love. Behold your God.

Look, and believe!
Look, and be healed!
Look, and be freed from the power of the curse!
Look, and live!

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the son of man be lifted up: That whoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
(John 3:14-15)