March 31, 2020

Broad Places

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.
—Psalm 18:16-19

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 savanna. 

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 savanna." 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.

If I didn't believe this before, then I certainly believe it now, when I am forced by a virus to inhabit the opposite of the broad places of my ancient ancestors. Isolation in houses may help avoid physical diseases, but it does little for human mental health.

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; in the Name of Jesus Christ, who taught me to pray: Our Father...

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