Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Friday, December 05, 2008


a year of morning thanks

Simple Profundity

Psalm 15 doesn't seem to require much commentary. It's a pretty straight-forward Q and A. "Lord," David says, "who's good enough to stand up on in your presence?" The question, it seems, is not rhetorical, for King David types the answer in a series of assertions suitable for framing, a formula as easy to remember as it is hard to maintain: that man or woman who doesn't lie, loves his neighbor, dislikes villians and loves good guys, breaks no promises, and tallies no interest on his (or her) loans. That guy.

Read it yourself.

That's it? Really? There's nothing about the usual list of pieties created by blessed evangelicals like myself? Calvin says those pieties are simply assumed. Just because attending to prayer, reading scripture, and starting accountability groups aren't listed in Psalm 15 doesn't mean they're optional. The only way we see righteousness is in action, he says, in our lives with other human beings. That's why David draws his examples exclusively from the second table of the law, those actions which have to do with the guy next door. Personal pieties are simply assumed, or so saith John Calvin.

Maybe. Maybe not.

Biblical truth has the astounding capacity to be, at once, both profoundly simple and immeasureably profound. Just take the first answer to David's question: "He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous"--even though that answer sounds as exact as geometry, any armchair philosopher could spend the rest of the day unpacking definitions.

I'm thinking maybe that's a characteristic of holy scripture. I mean, I'm not questioning its divine authorship, just trying to understand its capacity not to wear out or spring leaks or deconstruct. It's not that the Bible is just simple, and it's not that it's just profound. It's both simultaneously, which is, of course, both comforting and disturbing--and of seemingly little help on a cold morning like this.

Very strange, isn't it?

There is so much room in that odd paradox of meaning that the true believers among us can hang their hats on what they believe to be the exact truth of those very words, while the doubting Thomases can shake their wooly heads while maintaing that such immense bandwidth suggests that the words can meaning almost anything--or, perversely, nothing at all.

Somewhere between those two bookends the rest of us find our place on the shelf, I guess.

This morning, having just read Psalm 15 and Calvin's own take on the passage, I'm thankful for the profound simplicity of the psalms, and the fact that most of them--like this one--stick to the ribs, even when it's cold outside.

3 comments:

RickNiekLikeBikes said...

I have my three C's:

Christianese
Creates
Carnage

Harpweaver said...

"I'm thankful for the profound simplicity of the psalms, and the fact that most of them--like this one--stick to the ribs, even when it's cold outside."

I agree; there is just something about the Psalms that sticks with me all day to comfort and convict. Thanks :)

Anonymous said...

"Christianese"....
I've also heard it called "Churchianity."
Same result.