Tuesday morning I was reading one of my favorite commentaries on the Book of Psalms, Busco Tu Rostro, by Jesuit Father Carlos Vallès (translated into English as Psalms for Contemplation)
The floods have lifted up, O LORD,
the floods have lifted up their voice;
the floods lift up their roaring. (Ps. 97:3)
Padre Vallès’ reflection on the Psalm begins (my translation from the Spanish) “I contemplate with fear the eternal spectacle of the furious waves of a rebellious ocean dashing themselves ceaselessly against the high rocks of the immovable coast.”
I was sure that the reflection was going to be about the incessant, stormybattle of my prideful, selfish will clashing constantly against God’s will for me. This was more of the same from last week’s reflection about the Kingdom that’s full of holes in the places where I've refused to do God’s will and have left certain things undone. So I was startled when the next sentence of the meditation launched instead into a reflection on God’s infinite might as shown in the power of the sea.
More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters,
more majestic than the waves of the sea, majestic on high is the LORD! (Ps. 97:4)
Padre Vallès says he never tires of reflecting on the divine power displayed by the waves and the surf. He then goes on, “Me regocijo al ver destellos de tu omnipotencia, al verte como Dueño absoluto de la tierra y del mar, porque yo lucho en tu bando, y tus victorias son mìas,” “I rejoice to see flashes of your omnipotence, to see you as the absolute Ruler of land and sea, because I'm fighting on your side, and your victories are mine.”
I was jolted and a little embarrassed by the realization that I had completely overlooked the obvious point of the Psalm (God’s supreme power and might as shown forth in the ocean) and had immediately assumed that the Psalm was all about ME! Instead of thinking about God I was thinking about my puny efforts at rebellion against God.
LECTIO AND NAVEL-GAZING
Of course the whole idea of lectio divina is to challenge myself with the question “What is this sacred text saying to me?” and “What does this reading have to do with my life?” So you can see how I might be tempted to fall at times into a little navel-gazing. But the first step in meditating on a scripture passage is to ask "What is the sacred writer's intention in writing this? What is he getting at?" Another version of the same question is "What does this passage tell me about God (or about Jesus)?"
Only after answering these fundamental questions do you move on to "What is this passage saying to me?" or "How does it apply to my life?" And now the answers to the latter questions will make much more sense because they're being asked in the context of an all-loving and all-powerful God who is with me always to guide and guard, to sustain and help me at every moment of my life. So even when I'm asking "How does this passage apply to me" it's not really about me at all, but about God.
It also occurred to me that the psalms are never really about psalmist. He never sounds like a narcissist: his mind and heart are always lifted toward the Lord. Whether he’s marveling at the moon and the stars in Psalm 8 or simply calling on God for mercy in Psalm 51, he always seems to frame the issue much more in terms of God than of himself.
What a great model for prayer! I hope I'll remember Tuesday morning's lesson concerning prayer: It's not about me! This is of course a good lesson for living in general, but it's especially true of prayer. The Psalmist reminded me that even the most inward-looking prayer is still going to be more about God's goodness, might and love than it is about me and my brokenness and sins. ..
....Life before starting to practice humility and obedience.