Is anyone else feeling like we are living out Psalm 102 this week?
For my days vanish like smoke;
my bones burn like glowing embers.
My heart is blighted and withered like grass;
I forget to eat my food.
In my distress I groan aloud
and am reduced to skin and bones.
I am like a desert owl,
like an owl among the ruins.
I lie awake; I have become
like a bird alone on a roof.
All day long my enemies taunt me;
those who rail against me use my name as a curse.
For I eat ashes as my food
and mingle my drink with tears
because of your great wrath,
for you have taken me up and thrown me aside.
My days are like the evening shadow;
I wither away like grass.
A week ago, I already felt like my heart was blighted and withered like grass. I already felt exhausted. I already didn't think I could handle more. I already felt helpless to do anything about all of the hurt in the world. Then this week arrived with suffering heaped upon suffering. I felt like I could literally taste the ashes in my food that had been soaked in tears.
And then today, as I was pulling onto a main road in my truck, I turned to wave at the person who let me in and, upon turning back, suddenly saw that I was going to hit the car waiting in the lane in front. I put my foot on the brakes as fast as I could, but I already knew that I had hit that car. I could tell there wasn’t major damage but I also knew there was going to be a mark. I pulled back into the parking lot and the other car did the same.
I felt my bones burning like glowing embers. How is it possible for things to keep getting worse? I felt like an owl among the ruins. How have my previously held images of my life--secure, unsurprising and full of ease--been so thoroughly demolished, so quickly and repeatedly these last weeks and months?
I saw the other driver get out of his car and thought, judgmentally, that’s a guy who’s going to care. I got out too and apologized to him because it was clearly my fault. I could see two long black marks on his clean white bumper. He went round to look for a long minute. He knelt down and prodded the bumper a few times. Then stood up and said, "well, it's really not that bad. I'll just go."
I was shocked. I had been expecting the opposite. I had been expecting to give him all of my information. I had been expecting to have to call the insurance company. I had already been rehearsing in my head the dreaded conversation with Nick that our insurance rates were going to go up.
"Don't you want my number? I can see the scratches. They're pretty big." I said.
He looked at me and paused for a long moment, then said, "You know, you look like you've had a really hard day. It's not that bad. Don't worry about it."
In no way did he owe me this kindness. It would have been totally reasonable for him to ask me to fix it. It would have made sense. It was the right thing to do. I was supposed to pay for it.
I said thank you an awkward number of times, definitely verging on tears. He just nodded and drove away.
I so needed that kindness to call me out of the depths of this time of despair. I needed it from someone from whom I absolutely would not have expected it, from whom I had no right to deserve it. I needed it to pull me up from this place of ashes and tears and ruins and blight.
I want to be like that. I want to be that person for someone else. And each of us can do that. We each can share that boundless compassion, that irrational love. The love that says you are worth more than my pride or how my car looks or any of what the empire tells me I am supposed to care about. That's the love that comes from God. We can call on that and we can give that to each other.
One of my favorite parts of the Old Testament is in Exodus, where Moses receives the instructions from God for building the tabernacle. God tells Moses that when this sanctuary is built, then God will come and dwell among the people. Then God proceeds to give lengthy, super specific instructions on how to do it.
It's not the most exciting reading with all of the details about curtains and cubits and crossbars, but I love how God lays all of this out and then the community comes together stone-soup-style, everyone contributing what they can, to create the temple that God has specified.
Through Jesus, the physical temple was destroyed and was remade in us. What are the new instructions for this temple? How are we told to make this sanctuary for God to dwell in us now? The instruction booklet for our mobile temple is just one word long: love. Love is our cubits. Love is our lampstand. Love is our robes and our purple-threaded embroidery. Love is our ark and our mercy seat. We build our temple out of love. A love that we receive from God and that creates a sanctuary for God to dwell in us.
That's how we fear God in the way the Israelites did when they built the tabernacle. We listen to and follow God's instructions. And God's instructions are to love each other with God's irrational, unending love.
That's what this anonymous person did for me today. That's what I want to do for other people. I want to build my temple of love so that God can dwell in me and I can share God's love with everyone around me. That's how we're going to get through this time that makes us all feel like we are withered grass that has been through drought and then set on fire and then stomped on. With love we will keep our roots strong in the soil. With love we will build connections and supports for one another. With love we will be replenished even as we are attacked anew.
Psalm 102 rolls over into Psalm 103 as we follow the ups and downs of the psalms. At the end of Psalm 103, we have this response to the absolute desperation that we found earlier:
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting
the Lord's love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children's children
with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.
It's okay to say that we feel helpless. It's okay to say that we feel like dust. It's okay to say that this is all too much. But if we stay in love, we can keep our hearts open to God. We can create a sanctuary for God to dwell in our hearts and for God's face to shine through us, sharing with others a love that breaks through the barriers of reason and circumstance. A love that binds us to one another and sustains us through so much hardship. A love that is always with us, always ours to feel and to give.
That's the gift that I received today. The gift of the reminder from God that yes, all of this around us is nothing. And we are nothing. There is no strength in anything but God and God's unending, steadfast love.
-by Dianne Garcia, Pastor of Family