Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Promise of the Broad Place

Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry.
Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him.
He bowed the heavens, and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. v He rode on a cherub, and flew; he came swiftly upon the wings of the wind.
He made darkness his covering around him, his canopy thick clouds dark with water. 

Out of the brightness before him there broke through his clouds hailstones and coals of fire.
The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice.
And he sent out his arrows, and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings, and routed them.
Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.
He reached down from on high, he took me; he drew me out of mighty waters.
He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from those who hated me; for they were too mighty for me.
They confronted me in the day of my calamity; but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a broad place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me.
The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me.
For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God.
For all his ordinances were before me, and his statutes I did not put away from me.
I was blameless before him, and I kept myself from guilt.
Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.
With the loyal you show yourself loyal; with the blameless you show yourself blameless; with the pure you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you show yourself perverse.
For you deliver a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.
It is you who light my lamp; the Lord, my God, lights up my darkness.
 
—Psalm 18:7-28

I love the image of the broad place that's mentioned in Psalm 18:19 (the exact same verse is found in 2 Samuel 22:20), and also used in two other psalms as well as the Book of Job. The broad place represents both safety and freedom. It's been argued that this is where the human psyche is most at home, since our species evolved on the African savannah. 

For example, Yuval Noah Harari author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, said, "Today we may be living in high-rise apartments with over-stuffed refrigerators, but our DNA still thinks we are in the savannah." And Johann Hari, in Lost Connections, argues that our mental health benefits from communing with nature, and seems to respond best to a landscape similar to the one in Africa where the human species originated.

So it's not surprising that in the Bible, the broad place represents well-being, and that I still respond positively to that image 3000 years later. In today's psalm, the earth is in tumult, wickedness seems to be prevailing, the waters of chaos have overtaken the psalmist, but through it all, there is the promise of the broad place, the place of safety, the place of belonging. And it is to this broad place that God delivers the faithful.

There's a reminder at the end of today's portion of Psalm 18 that the arrogant cannot appreciate this. Could it be that the prouder we are, the farther we try to distance ourselves from our origins as creatures of God?

O God, when I wander in the shadows, seemingly far from where I need to be, light up my darkness, and deliver me to the broad place where I know I belong to you, to my community, and to the earth that you have given us all to share. Amen.

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