Psalm 3

Psalm 3

I lie down and I fall asleep,
and I will wake up, for the Lord sustains me.

Whereas the Second Psalm focused on the fear of God as a requisite to knowledge and, ultimately, any form of true power (one that is not founded in the Ego, but rather flows through and from God himself), the Third Psalm shows that the fear of the Lord leads to freedom from the fear of man.

The psalmist writes the words above in the midst of an immanent threat to his life—he is being pursued by attackers who will kill him when they find him. And yet, so confident is he in the Lord that he is able to do perform the most vulnerable act—sleep—even though a letting down of all defenses means a potential loss of life. The writer here is not just free from fear, but from all anxiety.

Interestingly, the writer’s security is not merely a defensive one, but it manifests itself in an active faith of the offensive:

Arise, Lord! Save me, my God!
For you strike the cheekbone of all my foes;
you break the teeth of the wicked

We don’t here see death and utter destruction, but we do see a plea for debilitation. The saving of the righteous happens transpires through the punishment of the wicked.

What is striking about this psalm is the writer finds himself in a place of true desperation

How many are my foes!
How many rise against me!

And the reiterate, no one seems to believe he can (or will) be saved:

How many say of me,
There is no salvation for him in God

“It is not God who will (or can) save, but he may save himself, perhaps” they say. But the psalmist rejects this: On the contrary, it is precisely the Lord who allows him to live, who gives him the ability to continue. It is through this knowledge that he does not fear either man (or himself!), but finds rest in the Lord, who watches over all things.

Advertisements

Psalm 2

And now, kings, give heed;
take warning, judges on earth

Serve the Lord with fear; 
exult with trembling, 

The second Psalm is one centered around fear, specifically the fear of the Lord—the same kind of fear that is considered “the beginning of knowledge” in the first Proverb. A king or ruler, of all people, should be one who fears the Lord, who “trembles before him,” because failing to do so only increases pride, ultimately leading to destruction. Interestingly, the ruler’s pride here isn’t characterized as a “worldly foolishness,” like a mere stubbornness, but rather one that invokes the wrath of the Lord. 

Accept correction
lest he become angry and you perish along the way

when his anger suddenly blazes up

Pride here isn’t characterized as an inwardly destructive force, but rather one that destroys from outside the self—pride is a provocation, a wind on the embers of the wrath of God.

But contrary to all of this destruction, the second psalm ends on on a positive admonition:

Blessed are all who take refuge in him! [The Lord] 

This imagery of “refuge,” of the Lord as a “strong tower” is one that will crop up again and again in the Psalms. There is a prevailing discourse of power that persists through these songs, one that compares the King (or ego) with the King of Kings.

Where does true power lie? Only where “will and power and one.”

Psalm 1

He is like a tree
planted near streams of water,

that yields its fruit in season

Such is the man who “does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the company with scoffers.” A man who delights in the law of the Lord, “and on his law he meditates day and night.”

Patience, is a motif here—or, more aptly, diligence or perseverance. We read that the fruit that is yielded is not immediate, but rather it is produced “in season.” When is this season for harvest? When Jesus spoke of a harvest, it was in reference to the “end of the age.” But I think we may be allowed to read this not in an exclusively eschatological light, but rather understanding that the fruit yielded from the labor of righteousness comes intermittently, in various “seasons”.

 

We are not to despair when the the fruit is lacking, but we are to wait, and to continue working.

The second half of the psalm echoes this motif focusing on the wicked,

“But not so are the wicked! They are like chaff driven by the wind…”

The image here of chaff, of something light being caught up into the daily shifting winds, is an image of idleness, of “flightiness,” characterized by submitting to the whims of fancy. It is a damnable evil, but one less severe than others (such as deceit or malice), one found in the likes of Dante’s 5th canto where the lustful are caught up in the powerful winds in the second circle of hell.

We find then that the first Psalm is fitting as ordered — it readies the one willing to pursue righteousness, telling him to be prepared to wait and continue in labor (persevere) until the time of harvest.

Cymbals

Our hearts aren’t hardened
Only deaf
Soft, but cannot hear
A deafness wrought from no defect,
But songs played in our ear

We’ve been charmed!
And by a tune
That we ourselves have sung

Instead of list’ning
To the notes
That God in heav’n has rung

A different kind of love we’d know
If our great chorus be brought low
And from above as stars and angels sing

Our hearts might hear the ancient song
composed before the primal dawn
A music woven into

Everything

The Devil Plays Stupid Tricks (or How I Learned To Stop Making Myths)

The syllable count in the lyrics have meaning.

The battle over our hearts
it carries on in a new frame

The gods of old fell apart
But resurrected with new names

All of the disenchanting
All of our deconstructing
Nothing is stopping the war

All of our internalizing
Every product we’ve been buying
Everything has been done before

It’s just a trick up the sleeve
Because the magic still dwells here

We don’t know what to believe
As it builds up under pressure

Still the demons haunt me
Through my technology
They posses me through screens

We made a myth for our age
And so surprised that we bought it

We shed the heavens and earth
Now horrified that we’re caught in

Chasms that swallow us whole
No one has any has any control
Everyone is losing their grip

Building only to tear it down
Losing all of our solid ground
We don’t know how to handle it

Watch for the hero to come
Listen for the battle drums
He is bringing us back home

Badly Bound

The Rich Young Ruler turned away unhappy

not because he served no god;

his devotion and his zeal were great

he had religion in his heart

and men are made

by their religion

but his religion

finally unmade him

for he made his maker

into his own image

 

We tell our friends over coffee,

with adamant eyes

and breathy seriousness

our work is our passion

we are changing worlds

shaping lives

good at what we do

and so, made to fit our toil like a glove,

we wear our gloves

on our right hands

in public

and at dinner parties

 

but we don’t wear them; they wear us.

down cast and heavy laden, our yoke is hard

our burden is wet wool

 

Where is freedom?

We don’t have it

religion either—

and think this makes us free.

but nakedness is just as bad,

no religion, bad for winter

wrong religion, bad for summer

shivering, sweating,

indifferent the sun stands judge

over self-made men

who make their maker

in their own image

 

Kyrie Eleison,

look at me

naked from the waste down

the rest of my body strangled

half miserable

full of pride

a Carnival attraction

for good catholics

to gaze upon and laugh.

crossing themselves they say a silent prayer

“Lord, keep me far from folly”

so I pray for them, a patron saint of fools,

“Religare!
We are bound!
and through our binding we had found
the Fundamental,
all our bearing
eating, drinking, clothes for wearing
syllables and definitions
symbols, carvings, prohibitions

Love and language hanging from eternal thread

Relaxare!
Feigned release!
We’ve escaped old walls of peace.
This continental
revolution
still revolving, cannot loosen
chords tied round our neck and hands
No one to meet our strange demands

We act as though the living were the dead

Combinare!
Come together!
Cursed in any type of weather
For sentimental,
we are pining
for woolen coats with linen lining
And wearing them upon our head
We shiver, burn, and lie in bed

We mix our wine and throw away our bread

Come, O Jesus, bind us right again”

Don’t be far!

Here’s a song I started back in 2009 kind of experimenting with electronic and dissonant sounds. At the time, only one intelligible lyric I had written was

I love / cuz I have to love

I re-worked it to relate to my thoughts on fabricating ecstasy; the song is written from the vantage point of someone who is desperate for some kind of emotion, especially in the context of musical praise. Lyrics below.

Caught up into the skies

Friends to my left and to my right

We’re reaching up to catch ambrosia rain

Fall, come and drown us out

Our noise, let it shake and move the ground

Cuz if you don’t hear us, we’re going to burn

Don’t be far from me

Don’t abandon me

Make me feel alright

Or I could die tonight

Thought that I was alright

But you told me I need to stay up all night

If I was going to prove my love

I love, cuz I have to love

Embrace, cuz I’m forced into your arms

Don’t let me down, come down, and make me high

Fabricating Ecstasy

On my drive up to Bellingham today, I was nostalgically listening to David Crowder. Listening to his song “You are my joy,” I was struck by the line,

            Love’s taken over me / and so I propose letting myself go / I am letting myself go

I looked at my console with the same irritated look I would give if my CD was skipping and asked out loud, “Why?”

In that moment my mind was instantly flooded with all of the anxiety and psychological tension that existed in the evangelical framework I was raised in.

Growing up, I spent most of my spiritual and intellectual energy attempting to have an encounter with God. The idea was never very concrete—I was taught from a young age the way we know God loves us (or, more precisely, that we are saved) was through “experiencing God.”

This kind of logic flows naturally from the Protestant idea of Sola Fide, and Max Weber even wrote an entire book about it. The only difference between the Weberian thesis of the Protestant work ethic and the modern evangelical idea of salvation by experience is that our spiritual currency has changed.

In the 16th century, after the structure of an outward, sacramental salvation came crumbling to the ground, people needed to look elsewhere for confirmation of their salvation. If not through baptism, if not through confession, how would one know that one is really saved? One easy way to know one’s eternal destiny was to simply look at one’s pocket book.

It’s not that the rich were the elect, but rather that the elect naturally became rich. The logic here is so simple as to easily miss it: If God had chosen you, wouldn’t He provide for you? If you were Elect, wouldn’t you be favored? In light of this idea, early Protestants, especially the English Puritans and French Huguenots worked very hard.

They worked hard because they wanted security, and they wanted security because they wanted proof of their salvation. The question of course wasn’t weather or not Faith alone saved you, but whether or not you really had Faith. Because there was no more structure to determine what concrete actions were Holy or not, the sacramental chasm left by Catholicism was filled with secular work.

So much for Weber’s thesis. These days, there’s an acute awareness and skepticism of any kind of “false gospel” that preaches health and wealth (though these kinds of movements are still very much alive.) But it’s not that the early Protestants were into a Prosperity Gospel. In fact, just the opposite: They didn’t want God to give them health and wealth, they wanted God to give them salvation. What was lacking, as we’ve seen, was a means to know whether or not salvation was granted. Fast-forward to the present in an industrialized, wealthy global economy, and we can begin to see how the signs and symbols of salvation have shifted: The modern Christian no longer tends to his outward-secular work, (for even the non-believers do this!) but instead looks to his inward-spiritual state.

There’s a lot of theology that leads up to this shift, but the shift can be traced very easily. Look at the American revivalist movements, the first and second Great Awakening—something new was happening. Tent revivals were filled with “Holy Rollers,” the fire of tongues began to catch and spread like wildfire (in America, anyway.) People rejected the “old Puritanical ways” and took up a new mode of soteriological gnosis: experiencing God. 

Crowder’s refrain of “letting go” is a rally call. It is a call to awaken the lazy spiritual worker and get him to start working towards an experience with God. Instead of working hard to secure a prosperous business life, the evangelical works hard to secure the elusive (and amorphous) encounter with God. 

I’m reminded of similar refrains from worship songs when I was younger: Lines like, “And I’ll become even more undignified than this” (meaning I’ll “let myself go” or “get wild” in the presence of God) and an endless repertoire of lyrics begging for God to “fill us up” so we could simply “catch a glimpse” because all we really needed was “one moment” in order to be “satisfied”.

We truly were hungry, desperate for God, but not in any measurable or rational way. We were at pains to know that God really loved us, and, unfortunately, we had been taught that the only way to really know for sure was if we felt something.

And so we took the work of salvation into our own hands; we were fabricating ecstasy. From altar calls to all-night worship sessions, we squinted our eyes and, like one in pain, lifted our arms up to the heavens in hopes of the elusive encounter

The great mystics of the Counter-Reformation, while holding moments of spiritual ecstasy dear, never attempted to create or contain them. St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Lisieux, Ignatius of Loyola—all understood that God was still present—if not more present—in the seasons of absence and dryness. We cannot let ourselves go, because we cannot free ourselves.

Anxiety

I suffer from it. 

I’m neurotic, (like, legit DSM-neurotic) and have had and entertained irrational fears from a very young age. 

When I five or six, I used to think my drinks were filled with poison. I would carefully taste my juice or milk (to detect any bitterness, of course) before swallowing. 

When I was seven and eight, I used to fear that there were needles hidden under my bed, waiting to inject me with poison. 

(This is for real, by the way.)

I grew up with a plethora of irrational fears—usually fears that involved my very life. What would kill me? What would harm me? 

By the grace of God, I’ve outgrown all of these irrational “someone-is-trying-to-kill-me” fears. But now there is a new, real, enemy I face. 

Illness. Disease. Disability. 

And I have symptoms. In the past six months, I’ve developed weakness in my limbs, endless muscle twitching, and now, most recently, a kind of tingling “pins-and-needles” sensation in my extremities. 

All of which are tell tale of dangerous neurological disorders like MS, ALS etc. 

I fear disability. I fear not being able to control what happens to my body. 

In a way, my fear itself gives me something to control—and so when I am experiencing and am acutely aware the crazy muscle twitches and the weird tingling feeling in my feet and hands, the only recourse—the only action I feel I can do is fear it. 

This is a lie, of course. 

Ultimately, fearing something doesn’t fix anything. It makes it worse. But my fear is, as I mentioned, a way for me to feel a certain amount of control over a world I otherwise have no control over. But there is another way. I have an option to lean into God Himself, to trust Him in all things. 

And, indeed, this is the fork in the road that all of us who suffer eventually come to. We can choose to grab hold of our own control mechanisms, or we can relinquish our control and trust in the Lord. We may choose faith. 

Suffering, fear—they force us into a decision point. We can no longer ignore our mortality or weakness. In the midst of suffering we see our true selves—our true state in life. We see our powerlessness, our vulnerability. And it is from this point of true sight that we make the most important decisions we can make. 

In whom (or what) do I place my trust? 

Does my suffering have meaning, or no?

In Christ, our suffering has meaning. In Christ, death itself is defeated, and there is life in its place. 

Else, we are left to construct our own meaning in the midst of suffering—another form of fear—another control mechanism.

This is a narrative trap that those who do not suffer from anxiety have the luxury of falling into, but it’s a trap nonetheless. The weaving of our own stories do not mitigate or change the reality of our suffering or the meaninglessness of it without the hope of redemption. 

Redemption is not monstrous, as Zizek might posit. More on this later. 

Thoughts, dear readers?