A Year of Morning Thanks
For several years, she worked for me, a student aid. She was, back then, efficient and punctual and thoughtful in a very mature way, even though she needed a ton of approval, a characteristic, I thought, which likely stemmed from her having been home-schooled and therefore accustomed to a much more constant level of supervision that than most students are. She was unique, as all students are, and a fine writer--sharp perceptions, graceful style, and wise. I liked her--still do.
Yesterday, she and her husband stood up in front of church and had their baby baptized--a boy, their second. They were alone--neither her parents nor his are from here and neither were in attendance. That they weren't seemed, at first, a bit sad; on the other hand, their absence made the event seem a bit more sacramental than it often becomes when friends and families tote in video cameras and turn baptism into a scrapbook. Yesterday, the sacrament was simple and rich, maybe even more sacramental.
Then she gave the baby to her husband, who stepped down while she walked over to the piano. There, she met another young woman, who, together with her, sang a traditional setting of the 23rd Psalm. It was all very nice--very simple, very elegant, very memorable.
And I couldn't help but smile--not only because I felt a touch paternal, having known her so well years ago when she was in college, but also because the week before I'd been using the 23rd Psalm behind the walls of a state penitentiary, then listened to inmates read meditations they'd written on a whole number of the 23rd's famous lines. I couldn't help but smile because in the little stories those men wrote it was clear they too--like the young mom--had found a place of their own in that ancient psalm, some quiet water and a divine green pasture.
And then there's this: out on the reservation, I've been talking to elderly Navajos about their lives and their faith. What's come up more than once in those conversations has been the 23rd Psalm, and that it would makes good sense. They all, as kids, tended sheep. One man told me that the lines from scripture that he understood best when he was a boy at a Christian mission school for the first time was "The Lord is my shepherd."
When the young mom and ex-student stood up front in church and sang through the 23rd Psalm, I couldn't help but be reminded of how much room there is in the spacious experience in that poem, so much that all of us can find ourselves and our own experience in its wisdom. King David may have written the 23rd, but all of us read our lives in it.
"The marvel with the Psalter is that. . .the reader takes all its words upon his lips as though they were his own, and each one sings the Psalms as thought they had been written for his special benefit." That's the way Athanasius put it 1700 years ago in Alexandria. The wonder is not that the psalms vividly describe a life gone by, but that, even today, readers go through them "not as though someone else were speaking or another person's feeling being described, but as himself speaking of himself, offering the words to God as his own heart's utterance, just as though he himself had made them up."
Those words worked yesterday in church, last week in jail, decades ago in New Mexico, and centuries ago in Egypt and Israel.
In the book of Psalms, Martin Luther says "we find, not what this or that saint did, but what the chief of all saints did, and what all saints still do."
This morning, I'm thankful for the amazing grace of those words.