“. . .while he may be found.” Psalm 39
Emily Dickinson poetry is often haunting. One of her many poems that will never leave me is one numbered “LV,” which begins “I know that he exists/Somewhere, in silence.” Profound sadness fills that opening line. She knows he is there—she doesn’t doubt his presence for moment; but He is silent.
He has, she goes on to say, “hid his rare life/From our gross eyes.” I think of a million prayers from Dachau and Auschwitz; a young mother mourning her son, killed on a motorcycle; a grandpa whose grandson was swept away in a prairie creek, the body never found.
Sometimes it seems that God has simply left the building.
Then Ms. Emily sports with this peek-a-boo behavior. “’Tis an instant’s play,” she says, “a fond ambush,/just to make bliss [ours, of course] earn her own surprise!” Notice the exclamation point. God plays with us, and isn’t that cute, she says, tongue in cheek.
“But should the play/Prove piercing earnest”—as it has last week in a million places around the world, in a million grieving families, “Should the glee” from this little game of hide-and-seek God is so fond of—should that glee “glaze/In death’s stiff stare,/Would not the fun/Look too expensive?”
What if we call on his name—what if our souls scream at the shocking death of a thirteen-year-old boy who won’t need school supplies in another month, who will never kick a soccer ball, or lean into his mother’s shoulder on the couch before bed—what if God is playing this silly game at the moment we need him most? That’s what she asking.
Then—and it happens to many of us—“Would not the jest/Have crawled too far?”
The awful word here is crawled, because that word suggests a god who is, at best perhaps, a worm. Or sickness—this cute little game of his crawls.
I know some believers who can read Dickinson and not feel what she does. Some sanctified smiles simply write her off. But Dickinson is haunting because I think she’s on to something most believers feel during at least some moments of their lives—and she is a believer: “I know that he exists,” she says to start the poem. “I know.”
A line like David’s warning at the end of verse six inflames Ms. Emily’s anger in “lv.” David has just laid out the essence of God’s love—his forgiveness. Then he adds this caveat—“while he may be found.” In the words of the old psalm we used to sing, “Then let the Godly seek thee in times when thou art near,” especially then because it seems anyway that he’s not always conveniently located.
The most horrifying suggestion of David’s assertion is that sometimes he leaves.
If that makes no sense, you’ve begun to understand, I think, because it would be so humanly satisfying to create a God out of our finest aspirations, wouldn’t it?
But God is God. We worship him, not because he is the best of my dreams or imaginings, but because he is, ultimately, not made of what we are. He is not the best I can create on this page or pages, he is eternally much, much more.
His ways—and sometimes his seeming absences—are simply beyond our ken.
He is God. We’re not.
Those who worship him, worship him in that fear, that unfathomable regard, that profoundly mystifying awe--and on our knees.