The little tableau we did for the kids is like those scenes in comic strips when a character has to make a decision, and a little devil appears over one shoulder tempting them to do wrong and a little angel appears over the other urging them to do the right thing. In the cartoons, if the character makes the wrong choice, they usually get their comeuppance, and if they make the right one, they are rewarded.
As Ada and Andi found in their little dialogue, that’s what the Psalm is suggesting, but we already know it can’t be as simple as that. Meditating on the Law or Word of God is not a guarantee that all will go well in life – if it were, I’m sure more people would read their Bibles more often! This is poetic expression, not scientific analysis. The Psalms are songs and poems, not lesson books. The language of “meditating on the law of God” might not resonate with us, but it simply means learning the Bible, praying with the stories and songs and poetry and proverbs of its pages, and letting them shape our lives for the better. We wouldn’t be here on Sunday if there wasn’t at least a part of us that wanted to do that. Many of us have spent our whole lives absorbing the Bible’s teachings and traditions, and some of us are just starting to find out what is between its pages.
Psalm 1 says that if we do this, we will be like the strong, beautiful trees that line the lakes, the rivers and streams of this island. Even in times of drought when the water is so low we wonder how they survive, their roots are deep enough to get them through to the rainy season. I made friends with such a tree when I was on retreat last week. It was standing on a stony streambed between what would have been two branches of the same creek if the stream were running as it should have. It was a gorgeous tree, starting from one trunk and branching into two, with a carpet of moss on it as thick as the curly hair on a poodle – and just as nice to hug! (Yes, I really did hug a tree on my retreat. I couldn’t resist!)
Unfortunately it isn’t true that all our deeds will prosper if we shape our lives around the word of God. But I do believe we will be like that tree, strong through difficult times, resilient, not having to fear what may come because we have God to feed and nurture us no matter what else is going on in our lives. The Psalms are my go-to book when I need that kind of nurturing, because it is so very human: it ranges from outrage to hatred to despair to longing to joy to praise to tranquility to trust and about everything else a person can experience. When we only know one or two Psalms – like the 23rd or 121st, as beloved as they are – we miss the breadth of the expression of faithful humans responding to their life experiences. The psalms are such a rich treasure trove for developing a faithful prayer life and a God-centred response, because they don’t shrink at anything – and yet over all the message of the Psalms is one of reassurance. The overall message of the Psalms is: Whatever comes, trust in God, because God is steadfast and faithful, and will be the living water to the thirsty roots of your soul.
So I invite you now to close your eyes if you’re comfortable doing so, or find a point of focus such as the Christ Candle, or the cross, or the light coming in the window. I’d like you to picture yourself as a tree, standing tall and firm. How do you connect with your roots? What feeds your spirit, your soul? Take a moment to just sit with those questions…
Now wonder: what winds threaten to knock you down? What floods might come and try to wash you away? What for you has the relentless power of a desert sun, pulling the moisture you need to grow out of you to evaporate in the dry air? There are so many things that can pull at a person, make it hard for us to make the next right choice, do the next right thing. Sit with those things in your mind and heart for a moment.
Now, in your mind, send your roots down, down, down to the source of Life, the living water of God’s Spirit, God’s Word, God’s Water of Life. Send them down deep, and feel the Spirit sending life back through your trunk, up through your branches, to the tips of the leaves or needles. Feel it pulsing through you like sap through a tree. Sit with that image for a moment, and become that tree, planted near water, full of life.
When you are ready, open your eyes and return to the room. I encourage you throughout this week to return to Psalm1, to that image, especially in times when your peace is threatened and you need to reconnect with Life abundant. As children of God, may we know life in abundance, the gift of the God of all life. Amen.