Reflections by Jerry Webber

Monday, May 28, 2012

Psalm 40 . . . In the Early Drafts

Psalm 40:1 - 6

I waited patiently upon the LORD;
he stooped to me and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the desolate pit, out of the mire and clay;
he set my feet upon a high cliff and made my footing sure.

He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God;
many shall see, and stand in awe,
and put their trust in the LORD.

Happy are they who trust in the LORD!
they do not resort to evil spirits or turn to false gods.

Great things are they that you have done, O LORD my God!
how great your wonders and your plans for us!
there is none who can be compared with you.

Oh, that I could make them known and tell them!
but they are more than I can count.

Parts of Psalm 40 sound cliched, like a too-good-to-be-true formula for getting what we want from God, or for getting what we think we need in life.

1. I wait patiently for the Lord.

2. God leans toward me and hears my request.

3. God rescues, or heals, or comes to my aid, or gives me a really sweet job, or "blesses" me with a BMW.

4. Others will see it, and want in on that sweet God-action!

5. Repeat above formula as needed.

As I've prayed with this psalm in recent days, creating a formula or a pattern with which to manipulate God (what some might call a "Bible promise") did not seem like such a good idea. It didn't seem too honest. I recognize the legitimacy of the perspective with which this person in Psalm 40 prayed these words, but I also recognize the danger in making his or her testimony into a proposition or a formula that, if followed, yields the same results.

Then I wondered if there might be other "drafts" or editions of this psalm that I could consult. Would they express such a positive outlook? Would they come to the same neat and tidy ending? As it happened, I found several earlier drafts of the psalm in the Archive of Lost Biblical Psalms.

There was one draft, for instance, that went like this: "I had no time to wait for the Lord. Patience, schmatience! God works way too slow for me. God can't keep up with my busy schedule. So I took matters into my own hands . . . I explored every option . . . I investigated every course of action. God gave me a brain, after all, and expects me to use it! Besides, waiting is wasted time. God wants us to be active, to take the initiative, to be people of action."

Another draft went like this: "I waited patiently for the Lord . . . for about 24 hours. Then I waited impatiently for the Lord. Why can't You speed this up, God? I can't wait forever, you know. So God, I'm waiting, waiting, waiting. Would you please hurry up? I'm waiting, impatiently, for the Lord. . . ."

There was the draft of Psalm 40 in the Archives that said: "I waited patiently for the Lord, and I waited, and I waited . . . and I have spent a lifetime waiting. I wait for some sign, for some movement, any indication that there will be rescue or healing. This is a long, long time to wait, Lord . . . days that stretch into weeks and months, and then the weeks and months become years. In fact, I may be waiting a lifetime. Finally, I didn't get rescued from the pit . . . rather, I waited so long that I ended up making my home in the pit . . . and I decorated my house with the miry clay. The pit became my home, not comfortable, but familiar, so that even if someone had come along to rescue me, I would have refused."

Then there was this draft of the psalm that went something like: "I waited for you, Lord, in patience and openness. I prayed and tried to stay vigilant. And you leaned in, you heard my cry. You were attentive to me. But you did not give me what I asked for. You did not give me what I wanted. You did not remove the trouble. You did not lift me out of the pit. I wanted rescue and deliverance, to be taken out of this cancer . . . this difficult work situation . . . this troubled relationship . . . You didn't give me that. You gave me something else. You gave me something unexpected. You surprised me."

In the Christian tradition, yesterday was Pentecost Sunday, the day on which the Church remembers the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). For all of the biblical symbols for God's Spirit (fire, breath, wind, water), most often I've found God's Spirit manifested in surprise. If I receive what I've expected, there may not be much of God's Spirit blowing in it. On the other hand, when I'm open to surprise and the unexpected, God's Spirit is most often the driving wind behind it.

For example, in Acts 1 and 2, Jesus had instructed his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the coming Spirit. They thought they were waiting for the coming of the Kingdom. What they received, instead, were tongues of fire and a radical empowerment for the days ahead of them.

"God, You are in the surprise at the end of my waiting, the unexpected outcome, the thing I have not looked for, nor sought. Your Spirit is most manifested, not in the formula carried out, but in the posture that is open to surprise. So I want to be open and receptive, attentive to see and experience your Spirit in the surprise of the next moment."

This is where God's Spirit, to me anyway, seems to be most alive.

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