David A. Davis
October 8, 2017
Just a few weekends I was looking out at the Atlantic Ocean as night was falling. The wind was whipping and there was a bit of mist in the air. There on the dune facing the surf I could see a few lights on ships far out on the sea. All I could hear was the wind though the crowd gathered for the rehearsal dinner wasn’t that far away. The vast expanse of the water. The constant rhythm of the waves. The mist starting to feel more like rain. Sometimes there are no words.
When you hold a newborn child for the first time. When you sit and watch your child say “I do.” When you stand before a Van Gogh and take in those water lilies. When you listen to a Bach cello suite. When you hold the hand of a parent who is drawing their last breathes after a full life of “four score and ten.” Sometimes there are no words. When you’re toddler has one of those blasted ear infections and it’s four in the morning and all you can do is hold them tight. When the doctor said the wait would be about two hours and it’s going on four. When your teenager goes through a breakup and doesn’t want to hear about other relationships yet to come. When you climb or hike or drive to that high point and then just look. Sometimes there are no words.
When all that you have is destroyed in a storm. When people you love are in harm’s way and there’s nothing you can do about it. When scenes of devastation and destruction are relentless. When you wake up Monday morning and learn of yet another mass shooting and the horrific death of more than fifty people in a matter of seconds and you try to wrap your heart around the magnitude of grief for those families and wrap your head around the sinfulness of a civilization that is bound and determined to do absolutely nothing about gun violence, the idolatry of the Second Amendment, and the feckless leadership of those elected to serve the common good. There are no words.
When you take a few moments to stop and breathe, to stop and be still… to stop; before starting the car, just as the light goes out at night, in the back of the Uber midday, when the child has just fallen asleep in the car seat, before the kids blow in the door from school, when you look at yourself in the mirror at the start of the day. You stop, heave a sigh, some days like a groan, others like a gasp of joy, and there are no words.
“There is no speech, nor are there words,” writes the psalmist. And yet there is this everlasting proclamation, this wordless telling, this persistent affirmation of God’s steadfast, immovable, presence in life and in death.
The heavens, the firmament, the sun, the moon, the stars. Creation’s expanse reflecting the One whose glory forever shines, whose mercy abounds, whose grace pours out, whose strength abides. The vast mysteries of the universe reflecting the unspeakable holiness of God amid our lives of unanswered questions and raging doubts and indescribable suffering.
The holiness made real in an eternal love known in the life, death, and resurrection of the Son, made sure in the Spirit’s presence with every breath we take, made visible in lives transformed, lives sustained, lives forever touched by the beauty of salvation. When words fail, when words are not enough, when words are nowhere to found, you and I, like the psalmist, we cling to and yearn for the silent telling of the glory of God.
On that canvas, onto the awe and wonder of that canvas God speaks. Into that intricate beauty comes God’s voice. God’s breath. God’s Spirit. Where there is no speech and there are no words, God has spoken. God speaks. God utters God’s promise. “The wind from God swept over the face of the waters… I am the Lord God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless and I will make my covenant between me and you… I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me… Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all you soul, and with all your might… The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined… I am the Lord your God the Holy One of Israel, the One your Savior… the grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.”
The word, the promise God speaks. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God… The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it… Remember I am with you always, even to the end of the age… I am the resurrection and I am life… Come unto me, all you who labor, and I will give you rest… Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain… They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from eyes.”
The heavens declare, the firmament proclaims, and God’s voice, God’s promise, God makes it all the more beautiful. It revives the soul. It makes the wise so simple. It fills hearts with joy, enlightens eyes, endures forever. Righteous. Pure. Like gold, much, much fine gold.
I was with a group of my Presbyterian pastor colleagues in St. Paul, Minnesota, at the end of last month. One morning in our daily worship, one of our colleagues preached on that scene in Luke’s gospel when Jesus is teaching and reading from the scroll in the synagogue. You remember:
“He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ And Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all were fixed on him. Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’”
The entire sermon that morning was one “today,” the word “today.” What does it mean that Jesus has fulfilled the scripture “today.” The preacher was offering encouragement and exhortation and reflection on what that prophetic promise from Jesus means “today’; to live into it, to live like it, to work for it, “today.”
So with the psalmist, Psalm 19. “The heavens are telling the glory of God” today. “There is no speech, nor are there words” today. “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul” today. “Making wise the simple… enlightening the eyes… true and righteous altogether” today. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” today. The heavens declare and God’s promise makes it all the more beautiful today.
I had to learn to drive in Scotland last summer because the three congregations I served on the island were miles apart. We picked up the car after a few days in Edinburgh. Online I made a reservation for a mid-size. It was more like a “Mr. Bean” car that I could barely get in and out of. It was quite an adventure driving in Scotland, an everyday adventure.
I came up with a saying about driving on the wrong side of the road (or the correct side of the road as folks told me over there). Every time I made a turn, every time, I would say out loud to myself “lefty tighty, righty widey.” I guess I was invoking a form of what my father taught me about a screwdriver, “lefty loosey, righty tighty.” Cathy can vouch for me that I said it every time and I said it out loud. Every day for six weeks. “Lefty tighty, righty widey.” I am pleased and bit relieved to tell you that it worked every time.
Some days, some moments, sometimes it feels like the whole world is driving on the wrong side of the road. Disorienting, dangerous, frightening, exhausting. Sometimes there are no words. At that moment, on that day, today, you ought to try a psalm or two. Just a snippet, a verse or less, like a breath, a breath prayer:
“The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want… How lovely is thy dwelling place, O Lord of hosts… I lift mine eyes to the hills, from whence does my help come. My help comes from the Lord.”
Say it every day. In those wordless moments, out loud in front of God and everybody:
“Bless the Lord, O my soul and all that is within me bless God’s holy name… God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble… The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?… Wait for the Lord, be strong, and let your heart take courage, wait for the Lord… Be still and know that I am God.”
Just try it. I am pleased and relieved to tell you that it works.“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.” Say it today. Every day. It’s a way to remember and to live remembering and knowing that the heavens declare and God’s promise makes it all the more beautiful today.
When there are words… why not use theirs.
© 2017 Nassau Presbyterian Church
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