“Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.” Psalm 84:3
My mother thought the world of the college where I spent most of my professional life. All three of her children went there and many of her grandchildren. Her son taught there for thirty years. She believed in Dordt College. But let’s be clear: she lived 500 miles away.
My wife worked in financial aid, my daughter still does work there, same office as her mother, in fact. My wife and daughter are as human as anyone else on this terra firma, as am I. When the three of us talked about the college where we all worked, we generally didn’t speak romantically as my mother did. Of course, she’s 500 miles away, or did I say that already?
Absence can make the heart grow fonder--for institutions as well as sweethearts. And—not to empty the cliché bin—familiarity has been known to breed some feisty contempt.
Benedictine monasteries are trendy places these days, in part because fine writers like Kathleen Norris make them seem a bromide to the desperation of our lives. But her own work makes clear that people don’t check their sin at the door when they walk into the abbey. I know churches where preachers on staff can barely speak to each other. The average term of office for a youth pastor today is little more than a fortnight, I’m told, in part because so many of them can’t get along with their often less cool superiors. Churches are not heaven.
Distance is sometimes delightful, comfortable. Landscapes can be beautiful; close-ups can be brutal. I’m not all that sure the Psalmist is talking about a building—that’s what I’m saying.
What about Eli, the priest at the door of the temple? He was a fine man, but he couldn’t control his boys, who dallied with the women who worked right there. Neither Hophni and Phinehas, nor their paramours, despite the immediacy of their temple tasks, were “ever praising” God, as the Psalmist so dreamily envisions.
Psalm 84 is an exile psalm, and its exaltation of the temple is, in a way, and the psalmist is certainly not where he wants to be. He longs to return to a place far away, a place where he can’t go, where everything is perfect, where the pious are all praising God.
Is there such a place? Only in your dreams. He wants badly what isn't there.
That desire is in us too, even though there’s no sacred temple locked up in my memory. We want blessedness.
Three women we know well are doing poorly right now, trying to fight the cancer that not only threatens but already cripples. They’re not just skirmishing with the beast. It's all-out, take-no-prisoners war.
A man who sat here not twenty feet from this chair not long ago took a nap last week and never woke up. Sixty killed yesterday when a suicide bomber did his thing in Baghdad. Hundreds of Cubans are in Panama, trying to hike all the way through Central America to the U.S., whole families, darling little kids. Millions are fleeing Syria.
Sometimes it feels altogether too much as if this world is not our home. Sometimes we're happy we're just passing through. Sometimes we feel horribly exiled. Sometimes we wish so badly to dwell in the House of the Lord.
“Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.”
Lord Jesus, come quickly.