Growing up the Adventist-style Church of God I was raised in had a hymn based on this psalm, which rendered it in a way that seemed to focus on our behavior: to be a tree planted by streams of water I needed to act, dress, and talk a certain way. I needed to avoid certain people. Only then could I be blessed and happy.
To me as a child gaining this message as I sang this hymn reinforced in me a sense that my relationship with God depended on me. I remember even after I heard the promise of grace – that God loved me with a love that would not let me go, and that God’s mercy and forgiveness are without condition – still feeling if I did not live well enough I was in deep trouble. I remember feeling never able to be right enough in attitude, actions, and company to truly be “the blessed and happy” man this psalm promised.
Reading this psalm now I notice it centers on one specific spiritual practice – meditation. How do I become one grounded, with a life planted with deep roots drinking of life-giving Spirit? It is by meditating, meditating on the symbols of my faith. In ancient Israel, the law was the great symbol of faith and reminder of God’s covenant relationship and promises. Yet the law and prophets continued til John the Baptizer, says the writer of the Gospel of John, and grace and truth now through Jesus Christ. So now the symbol of my faith upon which I am called to meditate is the Gospel of Christ, the life of Jesus, the promise of grace, and the enduring truth Jesus proclaimed.
It is amazing since beginning a practice of Christian meditation practice in my life how this text which once led to insecurity and uncertainty is a word of encouragement.
When I sit and engage in meditation, allowing myself to be present to myself, to my world, to God, without judgment or attempt to coerce or control, I find so much anxiety and frustration begin to fade away. As I am truly myself before God through meditation I find myself coming to see both my strengths and areas where growth is needed more clearly. But since I am practicing not judging myself there I learn to extend to myself the same grace God in Christ has extended to me when God promised to never leave me nor forsake me, and in practicing grace to myself I find myself seeing ways I have failed to extend grace properly to others so I learn to be more gracious in all my life.
A part of Christian meditation is not just sitting non-judgmentally with yourself and others but also, through meditation practices like breath prayer, lectio divina, or Ignatian meditation, centering your mind on glimpses of the life of Jesus, on the promises of the Gospel, or the challenges of Christ’s words.
In lectio divina, the words of a set scripture are used through, repeated reading and reflection, to open yourself up to areas of your life where God needs to be heard, felt, or known. A word, a phrase, an image will stand out to you as your read and reflect which speaks directly to your life inviting you to see Jesus personally alongside you in your present experience.
In Ignatian meditation, you hear or read a story from the Gospels through many times, allowing your imagination to envision you as each of the different characters in the Gospel story, imagining what you would have felt in their shoes, and what that encounter with Jesus was like. As you do so, you can begin to see areas in which Jesus has been alongside you this whole time but you could not see. You might begin to see areas in which you are being called to be as Jesus to another but had not slowed down enough to see.
For me these practices of Christian meditation do the exact opposite of what I heard from this text as a child. Instead of inviting me on to the treadmill of ever striving more to be enough, to better, to overcome, Christian meditation invites me to a true Sabbath rest. It invites me to cease all striving and, for those few moments, simply rest in the arms of Jesus knowing to Him I am enough, just as I am. In doing so I truly become more rooted in the life-giving presence of the God who, like a stream of flowing water, refreshes my soul.
How is it you become rooted more fully in your life?
What practices center you and give you life?
What texts have you come to see afresh as you have progressed in the spiritual life?