furled fire (a Beltaine Birthday Blessing)

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Every year I wonder whether to write something to mark Beltaine, the Celtic feast which celebrates a cross-quarter day in the year’s wheel, the end of the dark half of the year and the beginning of its half of light.  I celebrate the waxing of the arc the sun’s path makes across the little slice of sky I can see from my bedroom window, lengthening the daylight, extending the twilight, elongating the stirrings before sun-up.  The mystic in me reaches back in time to dance with the Celts round their fires, hearing their circling prayers as they do so, being bound with them into the Great Wheel.  I reach back to listen to the songs of the May-day, Mary-Day, celebrations, watching young women entering into the mysteries of the holy feminine, embracing their potential to birth the Holy, to tend the sacred in the everyday, to serve the earth and all it feeds.  Amongst this cloud of witnesses, I also hear the shouts of workers banded together on Labour Day, revelling in the freedom of a ‘bank’ holy-day, their passion for justice and equality being an energy to which I could pay more heed, a demand for fair pay and right treatment fuelling an anger whose spark is still needed in so many places as we each fail to fulfil fair-trade agreements in the light of demands for our own comfort.

Such voices take on names, then grow into faces as my ancestors appear before me, my name ‘Kate’ receding back down the generations, and I thank God for those women who have gone into the making of me.  I thank their God and mine because the beginning of May marks my birthday, signalled by the beech hedges beginning to burst tight buds, when cracked, dry brown drops away to reveal such a fresh green it cause my eyes to hurt with joy.

smokebush 1 April 2020

Every year this season of another year’s uncurling brings mixed feelings, a new noticing of my own transformational ‘unfurling’ process into becoming the woman God has created me to be.  Every year the occurrence of Beltane creates in me a tremendous mix of thanksgiving joy, welling grief, and longing grace.  The paradoxical weakness of this year’s potent buds (the earth’s resurrection mirrored in me and vice versa) marks the beginning of my 31st year of learning to live with a chronic illness.  I recognise again the times I tried to push through the pain, mess and discomfort, and the periods I could do nothing but stop for a  paralysed rest.  I glimpse the ways in which I tried to seek different employment, before each career attempt was brought to a close by the next wave of demands from my body and mind.  Alongside such sadnesses, I can pick out my experience of individual days going back years by remembering the photographs I received and the images I made, knowing who I was with, and how the light smelt.  I can see favourite, and feared, places by colour.  I can note swathes of time passing by the creativity I explored, the poetry of #practicingresurrection with the community at Abbey of the Arts in 2015, the multi-media Oak Tree project when my ceiling collapsed in 2016, a summer #projectyellow marking a slide into intense depression in 2017, a painting adventure into ‘little Katie’s’ eyes in 2018, bringing a cosmic smash book on self-trust into being whilst in hospital in 2019.

There is so much to be so thankful for.   In all the gifts from darknesses that have punctuated the last 31 years there are indeed such spots of ‘bright fire’ (Bel-Taine) to celebrate and honour.  There, where the power of God was made present to my weakness and Spirit transfigured frailty into outpourings.  So as I move across this sacred timely threshold again and for the first time in the midst of all that is strange and familiar about the circumstances of COVID lockdown, I pause, praise and give thanks.  I hear again and for the first time Abba Moses ask me ‘why not become fire?’.

May my inner flame be strengthened to its fullness in bright depths of colour, may they thrill and fuel both my creativity and my compassion, so that Grace can call forth from me all that I have been designed to be just exactly for this moment in time, for whomsoever I might meet in my isolation. 

May this year’s cycle of unfurling begin.

become fire 1 2020

This article was originally written for the Godspace blog as part of their season on the theme of ‘Creation: Resurrection and New Life’, 1st May 2020.

psalms for passiontide: Easter Sunday Psalm 66.5

Whether it be in revisiting the victory song that is Psalm 118, or hearing the legends of exile recapped in Psalm 105 or 66, all of the Psalms the Lectionary nominates for Easter Day invite us to:

Come and see what God has done

(Psalm 66.5 NRSV)

These psalmists also agree that all God’s deeds up to this moment in the history of the universe have been ‘awesome’; whether people have been in triumph or in tragedy, God has remained jaw-dropping, astonishing, amazing in love and strength and Grace.

Take a good look at God’s wonders—

    they’ll take your breath away.

He converted sea to dry land;

    travelers crossed the river on foot.

    Now isn’t that cause for a song?

(Psalm 66.5-6 The Message)

What has God done for me?: been God.

What is God doing for me still?: being God.

What am I doing for God?: being who God makes me to be.  My desire (however imperfectly lived) is to allow God access to all of me, so God might ‘shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life’ (Psalm 51.10 The Message).

All I can do is be the conduit who keeps inviting you, my reader, to ‘come and see’.  Increasingly that feels like my vocation.  Come, see a wondrous mishmash of words and images that point past me to God (I hope and pray).

All I can do is encourage you to bring your curiosity alongside your intention to pause, even for just a second; to come and see and hear again, or for the first time, God’s invitation to discover to you who God is and what God might do for, and with, you.

Come and see what God has done. 

Come and see through my eyes a world where God inhabits even the smallest detail, no atom or particle is too small that is does not contain all of the wonder who is God. 

Come and see a world where darkness, despair and death are not the final word. 

Come and see who God looks like in this day, and all days.

meeting the Already. (diptych. iPhone images)

meeting the Already 1 (bl)meeting the Already 2 (bl)

psalms for passiontide: Holy Saturday Psalm 31.1-4,15,16

refuge

rock

refuge

fortress

rock

fortress

refuge

These are the images of Psalm 31.1-4, the oh-too-solid opposites of the tangled net the psalmist feels closing around him. 

On Holy Saturday, these are also images of a tomb in which an already much-mourned, much-loved, broken body lies waiting for its final anointing and arranging once the sun goes down on a sabbath day of enforced inaction.

On Holy Saturday, a moment of silence between street noise allows me to catch a whisper of a welling up of grief from two thousand years ago, from two minutes ago.  These are the choked sighs of the many who wait in limbo, stuck in the unreality of an existence where there is a felt absence when there should be a body; where the strange experience of being caught in the gap between a death and the opportunity for a final goodbye can only bring bewilderment and a sense of shifting ground where once there was steadiness.

The verbs this psalmist uses are telling, too:

seek

deliver

incline

rescue

be

lead

guide

take

deliver

shine

save

My own faith story can be woven from these words.  And in the waiting room that is Holy Saturday, I am invited into the tomb, into the Rock’s very presence, to chew them over once again, finding there arc, hearing their resonance, rearranging their pattern.

For whilst I might begin my prayers with a desperate cry of ‘incline your ear to me’, a headlong dash for safety and reassurance, a pleading for an end to my troubles, through the help of this psalmist I can end them in the surety of steadfast love.

With the help of this psalmist I can begin to understand that God’s face will shine on me – will shine on me again and again – does not ever even glance away from me, even in my darkest dark.

At such moments when I feel agony or I feel numb, I hear myself mumble repeatedly, ‘My times are in Your hands’ (Psalm 31.15).  The resulting heart-knowledge has literally been my salvation.

 

backyard refuge rocks. (iPhone image)

For all those who are willing to take the opportunity of the pause that is Holy Saturday to be alongside those who grieve, and most especially in times of pandemic, I offer these words by Christine Valters Paintner:

Do not rush to make meaning.

When you smile and say what purpose

this all serves, you deny grief

a room inside you,

you turn from thousands who cross

into the Great Night alone,

from mourners aching to press

one last time against the warm

flesh of their beloved,

from the wailing that echoes

in the empty room.

 

When you proclaim who caused this,

I say pause, rest in the dark silence

first before you contort your words

to fill the hollowed out cave,

remember the soil will one day

receive you back too.

Sit where sense has vanished,

control has slipped away,

with futures unravelled,

where every drink tastes bitter

despite our thirst.

 

When you wish to give a name

to that which haunts us,

you refuse to sit

with the woman who walks

the hospital hallway, hears

the beeping stop again and again,

with the man perched on a bridge

over the rushing river.

Do not let your handful of light

sting the eyes of those

who have bathed in darkness.

 

‘In a dark time’

Christine Valters Paintner

backyard refuge rocks (bl)

psalms for passiontide: Easter Eve vigil Psalm 136

Thank God! He deserves your thanks.

    His love never quits.

Thank the God of all gods,

    His love never quits.

Thank the Lord of all lords.

    His love never quits.

Thank the miracle-working God,

    His love never quits.

The God whose skill formed the cosmos,

    His love never quits.

The God who laid out earth on ocean foundations,

    His love never quits.

The God who filled the skies with light,

    His love never quits.

The sun to watch over the day,

    His love never quits.

Moon and stars as guardians of the night,

    His love never quits.

(Psalm 136. 1-9 The Message)

love never quits (bl)Love never quits.  Canon 7D. f9. 1/250. ISO 100.

psalms for passiontide: Good Friday Psalm 22

This is such a richly textured psalm, densely packed with all kinds of imagery, depicting a plethora of emotional experience, and provoking in me a vast range of emotions.  It feels too much to unpack (and it is!); it feels too raw for me to want to sit with it for long.

God, God . . . my God!

    Why did you dump me

    miles from nowhere?

Doubled up with pain, I call to God

    all the day long. No answer. Nothing.

I keep at it all night, tossing and turning.

(Psalm 22.1-2 The Message)

This is a song-cry of anguish from one with years of faith experience behind them, who at the moment of writing finds themselves isolated and in all kinds of pain, desperate to convince themselves of the holy reliability of God and the certainty of faith.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

(Psalm 22.1 NRSV)

So many of these verses have phrases that writers down the centuries have plundered, using them to telescope time and show how God is there with the poet then, as much as God is present with this writer now.  Even the very structure of this psalm yo-yo’s between ‘I’ verses and ‘Yet You’ verses.

All of the Gospel makers draw on this psalm in one way or another in depicting their Crucifixion stories: the focus of this lean feast day today.  For instance, hear the mocking voices of onlookers at the foot of the cross:

Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver –

let him rescue the one in whom he delights

(Psalm 22.8 NRSV)

Or hear the soldiers taunts who tacked up the notice of the charge, ’This is Jesus, King of the Jews’ (Matthew 27.37) and see their behaviour as they exercised their dominant religious and political power, in this:

They stare and gloat at me;

they divide my clothes among themselves,

and for my clothing they cast lots.

(Psalm 22.17-18 NRSV)

It seems to me this psalmist is intimate with chronic illness, and with the physical effects that extended psychological and emotional stress can manifest:

I am poured out like water,

and all my bones are out of joint;

my heart is like wax;

it is melted within my breast;

my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,

and my tongue sticks to my jaws;

(Psalm 22.14-15 NRSV)

And yet… the psalmist forces out a testimony to God’s faithfulness that I can adopt as my own:

I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;

in the midst of the congregation I will praise you …

stand in awe of him …

For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted;

he did not hide his face rom me,

but heard when I cried to him.

(Psalm 22.22-24 NRSV)

Yes.  I too, can look over my life and see some clear places where I would not be here now if it were not for the Grace of God, if it were not for those precious seconds out of a lifetime where I felt God’s face turn towards me and even the very marrow of my bones knew that God saw my pain, understood and offered me my next healing breath.

Through his testimony this psalmist moves from being bound up in his own suffering, to seeing that of his community, the members of his congregation.  And as she talks of God’s steadfast love, God takes her ‘praise-life’ song and lifts it up so that the poet’s voice rebounds down the years.  He could be talking directly into our pandemic situation now:

From the four corners of the earth

    people are coming to their senses,

    are running back to God.

Long-lost families

    are falling on their faces before him.

God has taken charge;

    from now on he has the last word.

All the power-mongers are before him

    —worshiping!

All the poor and powerless, too

    —worshiping!

Along with those who never got it together

    —worshiping!

Our children and their children

    will get in on this

As the word is passed along

    from parent to child.

Babies not yet conceived

    will hear the good news—

    that God does what he says.

(Psalm 22.27-31 The Message)

God does what God says God will do: there is no distinction between who God is and what God does;  this is the poiesis of God, where word and deed and being meet.  And so as this psalmist utters a parting triumphant flourish ‘saying he has done it’ (Psalm 22.31 NRSV), so Jesus can say from his cross:

it is finished.

(John 19.30 NRSV)

and mean that the shaping of a genesis week from the chaos of my life is just beginning.

entwined into God's finishing (bl)entwined into God’s finishing. (iPhone image)

psalms for passiontide: Maundy Thursday Psalm 116.1,10-17

As I write this I am at present without a voice due to a virus I picked up several weeks ago.  My throat is my weak spot and a barometer to the state of my overall health, and over the last few years I have experienced several lengthy periods where I can only whisper, and twice have been told to rest my voice entirely for six weeks or more , which led to some hilarious speed notebook writing episodes.  My memories of such enforced silence, the endless battle to work through my frustrations, with the resulting sense of isolation and locked in grief and despair, means I am particularly sensitive to phrases that are about crying aloud to God.  Thankfully, I know that God doesn’t need me to be literal, but even knowing the Spirit can communicate through my wordless groans, does not exonerate me from the fact that there are moments where I have to make a very deliberate choice to communicate with God in the midst of my everyday mess, rather than try to flee in the opposite direction.

This psalmist asks me a very simple, direct question:

What can I give back to God

    for the blessings he’s poured out on me?

(Psalm 116.12 The Message)

I am left silent at that question.  I can write, make images, paint, print, and publish.  I can care for those around me.  I can pray for people – known and unknown to me.  I can tithe money, give my time, skills, possessions, but I’m still aware all that still falls far short.  As Christina Rossetti asks, ‘What can I give Him, poor as I am?’

The answer this psalmist gives is clear:

I will lift up the cup of salvation

and call on the name of the Lord

(Psalm 116.13 NRSV)

I have been created into a vessel by the steady hand of Love, my Maker.  Love has gushed the waters of life over and through and into me in an endless stream of abundance. 

All I can do is to render back to God the cup I am. 

I am made to be a reflector, made to become a cup of blessing returned to God and to others.

The psalmist challenges me to perform an agape action, and intentionally dedicate myself to God in response to blessing.  I lift myself up as a toast to God! 

This symbolic moment is deliberately designed to refer back to a sacred Temple rite, and perhaps also to evoke the image of the ‘cup of blessing’, one part of a Jewish ritual marking the Old Covenant between God and the tribes of Israel.  The psalmist’s urge is to rush to the Temple and enact a sign of thanksgiving and adoration.

Yet, in a wonderful telescoping of God’s history, the word this psalmist uses to describe the cup of salvation is ‘Yeshua’.

Will I therefore lift up Jesus? 

Will I drink from him? 

Will I partake in the endless cycle and exchange that is this cup of Grace?

And what will be my ‘call’?

I can bring the words of this psalm out of the ancient Temple and onto my kitchen table, knowing that any cup can be a held as a gift and as an offering; and that every sip can function as a silent acknowledgment of Love.

‘Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.’ (In the bleak midwinter, Christina Rossetti)

I love the Lord, because he has heard

my voice and my supplications.

(Psalm 116.1 NRSV)

messy vessel blessing (bl)messy vessel blessing. (iPhone image)

psalms for passiontide: Holy Wednesday Psalm 70

I find it fascinating that the Lectionary gives two days for me to contemplate this psalm in Holy Week.  What can possibly be so important in it that I need to hear it twice?

The subtitle of this psalm reads, ‘To the leader. Of David, for the memorial offering’ and there is an academic theory that suggests it might mean that this psalm was not assigned to a specific Temple rite or feast, but was kept ‘on file’ as it were, so that worshippers who turned up knowing they needed to go to Temple, but not having the words to articulate the depths of their grief and anxiety, might be given this psalm to say for themselves.  There’s something very powerful in the thought that for thousands of years these public words have been transformed into deeply personal and private prayers by seekers of God in their times of trouble.

The psalmist begins the poem by listing all the ways in which people are doing him down.  He is being victimised, mocked and criticised – and he’s asking God not just for deliverance from his problems, but vengeance on his persecutors.  She is angry, calling down shame and dishonour on their heads, begging that what they’ve dished out to her will be turned back on them.

Here is an individual, persecuted and desperate, feeling isolated from their community and their God.  I am poor at expressing my anger in healthy ways, and I have fortunately had few occasions in my life where I have thought of anyone as my enemy.  Perhaps shouting out Psalm 70.2-3 would be a good way of channelling those emotions?

Yet in the current pandemic situation I am also aware that perhaps we need to say this psalm together as a community, making the ‘I’ into ‘we’, as we ask for deliverance from an unseen enemy that we know so little about. which is affecting our lives in such extra-ordinary ways. 

Perhaps this psalm isn’t just about how I might get angry, it’s about how I ask for help – how we ask for help.

At the heart of this psalm lies a series of juxtapositions:

Let all who seek you

rejoice and be glad in you.

Let those who love your salvation

say evermore, ‘God is great!’

But I am poor and needy,

hasten to me, O God!

(Psalm 70.4-5 NRSV)

Yesterday I thought about how flabby my rejoicing muscles are, and how rarely gladness is my first response to anything.  Today, I am reminded again, as I was on Monday, that the psalms keep bringing me back to a central inarguable tenet of faith: God is Great.  But I am not.  I am so very far from being anything like.  But I know that I like the idea of loving Your salvation, even if I’m not sure what that really means for me in my here and now.

In acknowledging my poverty of spirit and my yearning for the comfort, security and reassurance of Your shelter, this psalm helps me see that what I am crying out for is an encounter with God’s Presence.  I want to behold God: to see and feel and touch and know intimately what is Great about God.  I long for my body to be cleansed, helped, healed and generally made fit for God’s purpose, with all the tactile, sensory entanglements and messiness that might require.  And as I write that sentence I feel a ‘yes’ rise up in me, though I have no real clue to what or to whom it is I am saying ‘yes’.

I return to what has become my passiontide prayer, and glimpse that I am already trying to surrender my poor spirit to the cosmically vast envisioning of the Great Artist:

shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life

(Psalm 51.10 The Message)

what Genesis might feel like perhaps (bl)what Genesis might feel like perhaps.  Canon 7D. f4. 1/800. ISO 100.

psalms for passiontide: Holy Tuesday Psalm 70

Psalm 70 is a psalm for anyone (like me) whose faith seriously wobbles from day to day, moment to moment.  It is a psalm that is a cry for help, and the psalmist needs help in a hurry.  It is full of worry, of panic, and there is a growing sense of urgency as the poet pleads with God to respond:

O Lord make haste to help me!

… You are my help and my deliverer,

O Lord, do not delay!

(Psalm 70.1b, 5. NRSV)

Too often I want a God who is an on-demand-fixer of the discomfort of my now.  Unthinkingly, I absorb the zeitgeist of immediate gratification and transfer it to my spirituality.  I run after new insight, new revelation, new intensity, new sensation, all in a rush to find a reassuring feeling that I am in contact with You.

This psalmist asks for immediate deliverance from the situations where she is criticised, ridiculed and mocked; situations where it feels like everyone is against her; situations where she feels persecuted for being who she is.

This psalmist runs to God for sanctuary:

Let all who seek you

rejoice and be glad in you.

(Psalm 70.4 NRSV)

Suddenly I am pulled up sharp by this reminder to rejoice.  In the midst of all my frantic need for real change of the situations I find myself in, I am asked to rejoice?

I am asked to rejoice in You.  I am asked to rejoice in Your steadfast love, in Your constancy, precisely at the very moment when I feel most in danger.  And in order to rejoice I have to stop my hamster-wheel anxiety and be still; become utterly present to the I AM.

You are my present.  Your presence with me is joy. 

All the faith and trust I ever might need is in that statement.  So I repeat that reconnection with Joy, again and again, growing gladness in me with every repetition.

In the midst of all my sorrows, God keeps calling me out to gladness: there are always, always, things to rejoice over, if I will but look. 

Again I pray with the psalmist whose words I read yesterday:

open our eyes to light

(Psalm 36.9 The Message).

Again I pray with the psalmist whose words I read on Passion Sunday:

shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life

(Psalm 51.10 The Message)

exercising my rejoicing muscles (bl)exercising my rejoicing muscles. (iPhone image).

psalms for passiontide: Holy Monday Psalm 36.5-11

I begin where I ended yesterday, reminding myself of Your steadfast love.  The Message version of Psalm 36.5-6 tells me in no uncertain terms that I cannot underestimate the extent of Your love and of Your constancy; that when I try to speak of them no superlative is too extravagant:

God’s love is meteoric,

    his loyalty astronomic,

His purpose titanic,

    his verdicts oceanic.

Yet in his largeness

    nothing gets lost;

(Psalm 36.5-6 The Message)

And yet … too often, lost is precisely how I feel. I can feel overwhelmed by the lists of jobs and the screeds of creative ideas I never get to.  I can feel numbed by depression, overcome by physical pain and unmoored by the extent of the brain-fog which seems to dim even my physical eyesight.

Yet this Psalm contains a contemplative photographer’s blueprint on which I feel I could meditate my whole life, and still not comprehend: I am beckoned into God’s shadows, so that I can find a secure place from where I might see God’s light, and see that light in abundance, and with rejoicing.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!

    All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

They feast on the abundance of your house,

    and you give them drink from the river of your delights.

For with you is the fountain of life;

    in your light we see light.

(Psalm 36.7-9 NRSV)

Right seeing is embedded in cosmic universal steadfast love.

Right seeing is miraculously made physically present to me so that it might be experienced as the felt Presence of God in all things. 

The Psalmist pleads not to be taken away from the experience of this sanctuary made from steadfast love, pleads not to be taken out of the place of being right with God, at home with God.

For me, so much of Passiontide is about remembering the utter isolation and desolation which the all-too-human Jesus experienced – rejection, betrayal, trial, torture, execution – in a spiral of continual misunderstanding and miscommunication, even with those to whom he was closest.  The excruciating emotions of Passiontide resonate deeply somewhere within my depressive self, and they make me very afraid of the strength of these feelings which seem to hurl me into lostness, away from any experience of God.

Yet time and again, I remind myself that I have heard Spirit whisper to me that it is only by entering into these shadows that I will realise they are safe, because God does not abandon me. As Barbara Brown Taylor says, ‘darkness is not dark to God’. Steadfast Love invites me to run into Love’s shadows, because it is only from there that I might find out what God’s light might be; it is only from there I might find who God’s light is; it is only from there that I become part of Your Light.

In the shadows of what I cannot possibly comprehend, in the depths of the suffering of the peoples of this world, and in the shame of my own distorted being and acting and seeing, in all the endless murky mysteries, God still shines out and through, from the mightiest mountain top to the deepest depths.  In awe and wonder, I see how what I thought might be lurking shadow might be transfigured into brightness by God’s hand. 

When the eyes of my heart are filled with awe in the presence of my steadfastly loving Maker, I can feast continually on the springing up of wonder and the gushing over of worship:

you fill our tankards with Eden spring water.

You’re a fountain of cascading light,

    and you open our eyes to light.

(Psalm 36. 8b-9 The Message)

Yet again, this psalm tells me that God’s water is what I need to rinse through me, cleansing me, so I can create anew.

light fountain. (iPhone image).

shadowed seeing (diptych: ink, charcoal & graphite on paper)

Kate Kennington Steer

shadowed seeing1shadowedseeing2light fountain (bl)

psalms for passiontide: Palm Sunday (Psalm 118.1-2,19-24)

Is this a psalm for a victory parade or a protest march? 

I can hear the cheerleaders encouraging the onlookers lining the route to join in with the passing refrain: ‘God’s steadfast love endures for ever’.

I can hear the warm up act encouraging the marchers’ chants before they set off: “let me hear you shout it, house of … : ‘God’s steadfast love endures for ever’”,  “let me hear you sing it, house of …. : ‘God’s steadfast love endures for ever’”.

I can hear that slogan echo down the years to my private prayers: ‘Your steadfast love endures for ever’. 

Now that all mass gatherings, nearly all over the world, have ceased, I can hear especially clearly the echo of that very public chant come down the years to this solitary who is struggling to pray for herself and her world.  Normally Palm Sunday means looking outwards, seeing the Christ enter his final days as he goes through Jerusalem’s gates for the last time, watching him as he enters accompanied by the sounds of songs and shouts, songs sung by singers or shouted by proclaimers failing to really understand what they sing and shout.

But this year I suddenly notice a new need to bring this psalm in from the streets through the door to my home and into my heart.  Today, I need to be both the one who cries “open the gate!”, and the one who welcomes the incomer:

Open to me the gates of righteousness,

that I may enter through them

and give thanks to the Lord.

This is the gate of the Lord;

the righteous shall enter through it.

(Psalm 118.19-20 NRSV)

What thresholds am I currently refusing to cross?  What gates in me am I declining the opportunity to open?  Where am I resisting letting the knowledge of God’s steadfast love flood through me?

After all this psalm, like countless others, tells me I do not need to go through another battle since steadfast love has already won out.  It tells me I am not knocking at gates that are unused to opening; I am not going to meet an unknown reception.  However much I hide from the knowledge, however many times I feel others have ‘rejected’ the very core of me, judging my ‘stone’ as wildly unsuitable for their grand project, I know that the embrace of steadfast love waits to greet me.

I know my gates are sometimes there for my protection, just as at the moment my front door is the barrier which keeps me from additional disease.  But what if my habitual defences, in this instance, point to one of my greatest weaknesses?  What if I am isolating myself against God’s steadfast love because I fear what may be demanded of me?  What if I am isolating myself against Love because I don’t feel strong enough to do or be what God might demand I perform or to become?

Every passionate prayer is an opening of my gates.  I remember what I prayed seven days ago:

shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.

(Psalm 51.10)

Psalm 118 testifies that if I open myself to being shaped by God’s steadfast love, I open myself to God’s transfiguring plan for me:

the stone that the builders rejected

has become the chief cornerstone.

This is the Lord’s doing;

it is marvellous in our eyes.

(Psalm 118.22-23)

As I open my gates and cross my latest threshold towards God, Steadfast Love strips away my defences and disguises.  If I am left vulnerable, with tingling nerve ends supersensitive to new creation, I am not left alone.  Steadfast Love gives me new eyes so I can look at everything around me with the lenses of a love which is constant and dependable.  By opening these eyes, I might finally be able to be present enough in my now to understand God’s Presence in it, all around me.  In the abundance of the Love that surrounds me, wherever and however I am, I might be able to sing again:

This is the day that the Lord has made;

let us rejoice and be glad in it.

(Psalm 118.24)

(If you would like to join with an audience of thousands in these days of isolation try listening to this modern gospel version of this song by Fred Hammond https://youtu.be/o5fXhoxJqQQ )

this could be the Gate of the Lord (bl)this could be the Gate of the Lord. Canon 7D. f9. 1/80. ISO 1000.