It had been a damn tough 24 hours. Within that time, I had been given a few difficult bits of news and I was emotionally pretty much running on empty. Then this drifted from my memory:
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, and he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
So, I just stayed in the side office where I took that last piece of news and re-read this Psalm a few times. This isn’t to say that I have all my ducks in a row – not by a long shot, but after that final kick to my emotional testicles, I needed something.
You know, there is something to be said for bible study and prayer during the easy, boring times. Like my pointless visits to the forest gym twice a week. Let me explain. There is no real reason for me to work out so often, but I tell myself that I am preparing for the zombie apocalypse – that when the zombies attack, I won’t be the first meal they catch. It does however mean that at least running for the bus is easy and I can carry stuff. Plus, with having a sedentary day job, I know that my body is going to serve me better.
The same goes for getting into the bible, praying, and spending time with other Jesus followers. On a daily basis it can very often seem pointless, but when the wheels start to come off your life, and you find that you just can’t do that “Christian thing” any more, you have something to hang on to. You still have friends to call on. You still have bits of the bible stuck deep in your memory for emotional and spiritual first aid. After all, when the zombies attack it’s way too late to start cardio training.
On the way home just off the footpath, is a smooth rocky outcrop edged by a tall reeds. When the breezes blows through the reeds, and with a cool beer in your hand, it’s a really restful place. Either sunbathing on the warm rocks in the summer, or sat a roughly made log bench, it’s somewhere where I can simply .. “be” for a while. As I sat down on the bench I noticed that it had been dragged over the remains of a small fire. I was, both literally and emotionally, sitting in ashes.
This seemed in stark contrast to Psalm 23, of being led by still waters and lying down in green pastures. As I looked down at my feet, something in the bible about the sitting in ashes came to mind. In Isaiah 61:3 (I had to look it up ..), the bible talks about God turning ashes in beauty, and sadness into joy.
Often, Christianity just seems like one big paradox. Christians follow a holy, perfect a divine God who visited His creation as a mortal man and surrounded himself with the poorest and most outcast people he could find. He managed to piss off nearly all the temple leaders and ruling class. He told his followers, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”, and then got himself executed next to a couple of thieves. Sometimes I honestly think we have the most confusing God. Our God is described as a lion, a lamb, and as a King who washed the feet of fishermen.
If Christianity was to be judged merely on the balance of the examples I just mentioned, it might look haphazard and weak. Indeed many people who have read the bible cover to cover stumble intellectually and emotionally by it’s seemingly contradictory texts. If the bible is read outside of relationship with God, that’s actually probably to be expected. Christianity isn’t just a religion which follows a God described in a book. Christianity is also a relationship with a living and eternal God. From a starting point of knowing God, through Jesus, the bible starts to make sense and the paradox starts to resolve.
The Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need, and I was sat on the remains of fire, drinking beer because I didn’t know how else to make sense of my day.
Many times, the hardest thing is living in the tension between two opposite truths. The truth of my life feeling like it is burned out and covered in ash, and the opposing truth that the Lord is my shepherd and I will not be in need for anything. There is the tension between what my social media update could read, and the truth that God says about my life. There is a tension between what I can see with my temporally limited vision, and the eternal view point of God.
Is it possible .. ?
Is it possible that Jesus whispered the Psalm into my heart because He knows I needed to be reminded that everything is going to be okay? That in the middle of the darkest valley, it is there that He sets up the banquet? Is it possible, that He got the students to leave the bench over the remains of fire? So that when I sat down on it, He could remind me that He will turn ashes into beauty, and mourning into dancing?
Not just for me, but for anyone who looks for Him.