He said: I love you, O Living One, my strength.
2 The Living one is my solid rock,
my fortress, my rescuer.
My God is my rock— I take refuge in You!—
You’re my shield,
my salvation’s strength,
my place of safety.
3 Because You are praiseworthy
I cried out to You, oh One Who Lives,
and I was saved from my enemies.
4 Death’s cords were wrapped around me;
rivers of wickedness terrified me.
5 The cords of the grave surrounded me;
death’s traps held me tight.
6 In my distress I cried out to you, my Living One;
I called to my God for help.
God, You heard my voice from Your temple;
I called to You for help,
and my call reached Your ears.
9 God, You parted the skies and came down;
thick darkness was beneath Your feet.
10 God, You mounted the heavenly creatures and flew;
You soared on the wings of the wind.
11 God, You made darkness Your cloak;
Your covering was dark water and dense cloud.
12 God, Your clouds went ahead
of the brightness before You;
hail and coals of fire went too.
13 You, Living One, thundered in heaven;
You, Most High, made Your voice heard
with hail and coals of fire.
16 From on high you God reached down and grabbed me;
You took me out of all that water.
17 God, You saved me from my powerful enemy,
saved me from my foes,
who were too much for me.
18 They came at me on the very day of my distress,
but the Living One was my support.
19 You brought me out to wide-open spaces;
You pulled me out safe because You are pleased with me.
Last night when I got home, my dogs showed me something wonderful. I took them on their walk which I always do right after returning home from work. This time we walked into the woods behind my apartment complex. Their eyes always get bright with joy, the kind of unfettered happiness which comes so easy for them but we find difficult with our many worries, our weighing decisions, and the pain that often marks our days. They were content to dig in leaves, to point at birds, to hear the soothing rush of the river. I say not that I saw something wonderful but they showed it to me for this day, as it is often, they are the ones who have called me to open my eyes, to fully see life.
I remember many a day right after Kat died when I simply wanted to not get out of bed. I awoke cold and trembling inside, or numb to the world. All life felt like in the moments of waking up was darkness and pain. I would not know how to go on. Then it would happen. There would be a scratch at the door. A worried sounding whine. If I left my door open just a crack, I would wake to a big pile of fur bouncing onto my shoulders, with a tongue wiping my eyes open in a wet doggy kiss. These dogs woke me up, took me by the hand, and made me awake to my world many a day.
And they did show me things. Because they buried themselves in the leaves I noticed the leaves had fallen. I saw the blazing reds and oranges of autumn. Because they tried to leap into the creek and I had to hold them back I saw the beauty of water, heard the relaxing flow of stream. Because they pointed at birds I saw their bright colors in the trees and heard their soothing melodies. One day, because they tried to run off at break-neck pace, I saw so many deer — beautiful, peaceful, and majestic, whom the dogs had tried to chase.
Last night after work, I led the walk for a change. I am beginning to see my world again without need for such furry prompting. I am beginning to hear the bird song, the wail of the wind, the rustle of leaves, without instruction needed from wet noses. I am beginning to see the flaming horizon aglow at sunrise, the stars in the night sky shining like a million opening to the other world, the smile of a friend, the shining eyes of a gorgeous woman, the splashing foam of crashing river.
I experience my life beginning to open up again, even though there are moments the pain does break through.
And this night I walk the dogs feeling myself tied up in stress, exhausted, spread thin like butter. It has been such a day, such a week, not just with work but with life itself. And so we walk off the paved trail, to see the stream and walk beside its comforting song. And I look up, hearing the crackling of broken leaves upon the ground. And I see it. Its eyes shine and its nut brown fur trembles just so. And it looks into my eyes while standing still as a stone. I find we have walked up to a deer a few feet away, who was drinking from this same stream. We both watch each other, eyes locked, this deer and I. I notice the sounds of more leaves cracking, see other eyes. My dogs and I stand surrounded like Elijah on his hillside not with flaming chariot but an army of peaceful deer encircling us. They too watch us in whispered silence.
It is a moment of stillness in the midst of noise. It is a reminder to me that all of my life is sacred, for this is a holy moment and if a part of our lives are holy, than all of life is holy.
Time seems to stand still, with peace enveloping me like a warm blanket against the cold night.
Then as soon as it happened, the deer moves. Its compatriots turn. And it is me and my dogs, alone in the woods, being drowned by the music of flowing water.
My experience reminds me of two poems by great spiritual writers. One, the southern poet Wendell Berry, speaks of the power of living things – things like my dogs, like the river and the deer – to awaken us to life, to help us hear again the rhythm at the heart of existence. Berry writes in “the Peace of Wild Things”:
“When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
“I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
This experience of being opened up to life which I experienced last night, but also which I am going through as I begin to recover my life after this loss also reminds me of a beautiful prayer, written by renowned German theologian Jurgen Moltmann:
“When I love God I love the beauty of bodies, the rhythm of movements, the shining of eyes, the embraces, the feelings, the scents, the sounds of all this protean creation. When I love you, my God, I want to embrace it all, for I love you with all my senses in the creations of your love. In all the things that encounter me, you are waiting for me.
“For a long time I looked for you within myself and crept into the shell of my soul, shielding myself with an armour of inapproachability. But you were outside – outside myself – and enticed me out of the narrowness of my heart into the broad place of love for life. So I came out of myself and found my soul in my senses, and my own self in others.
“The experience of God deepens the experiences of life. It does not reduce them. For it awakens the unconditional Yes to life. The more I love God, the more I gladly exist. The more immediately and wholly I exist, the more I sense the living God, the inexhaustible source of life and eternal livingness.”
(from Jürgen Moltmann, A Broad Place: An Autobiography, 350 )
May you, like me, find God pulling you by hand to the wide open spaces in which you find life anew and afresh.
Your progressive redneck preacher,