Reflections by Jerry Webber

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Living Large in the Land

"Dwell in the land and feed on its riches."
(Psalm 37:3b)

Over the years I've found the image of landscape and terrain to be helpful in framing the spiritual life and prayer. I think of how we each enter this vast god-landscape in different ways, and how we tend to congregate in a particular part of the terrain.

We "camp out" there, so to speak, or build villages in particular parts of the land, along with others who want to make that part of the land their home, also. We can get very comfortable and settled in an acre or two of a vast land that stretches far beyond the limits of our imagination or journeys.

For some persons, there comes a point at which they feel drawn out of the safety of the camp and into the largeness of the land, exploring different ways of prayer and opening themselves to experiences of God's Spirit that deepen their knowing of the land. While we can do this exploration in the company of others, mostly it is a solitary journey, for no one else can do the work of exploration for you.

There are guides, however, who have walked just a little ahead and have seen a bit more of the terrain than we have. These guides are valuable partners on the journey deeper into the interior of the landscape, for they are able to encourage us and to help us beware of the pitfalls to which travelers often succumb. Some of these guides are wise elders who lived long ago, and some of them are contemporaries, offering their wisdom face-to-face, so to speak.

This weekend I've wrestled around with images from Psalm 37, trying to hear the psalm in fresh ways. The psalm is about trust and delight and the vast "land" of God.

"Dwell in the land and feed on its riches," (Ps. 37:3b) I read. I played around with that phrase, holding up to the light and turning it slightly this way and that way in order to catch the variety of its facets. I found myself writing these words to express poetically what this verse strikes within me:

Live large in the terrain God has laid out for you;
explore its vastness,
live in it fully,
take your nourishment from its abundance.
If you live large in the land,
the land will sustain you.

I was somewhat taken aback that I wrote those last two lines. For as much as I've thought of life with God as a vast landscape, I don't remember thinking that by living large in the land, the land would sustain me.

Yet, I was drawn to those words. There is something about this land that provides sustenance and nourishment to those who walk it, to those who explore it. In fact, the provisions we bring with us and stuff into our backpacks only weigh us down on this journey. This journey invites us to "live off the land," to travel light, to find in the journey itself all we need to sustain us.

The words I wrote came, as best I can tell, from deep within me, from that soulful place where I am most intimately connected to God.

Do I believe these words? Certainly, I have some hesitation . . . but most importantly, there is a part of me that believes them completely. And that's the part of me that I hope grows to guide my steps.

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