At The Bottom Of The Holy Hill

Psalm 24 – The 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for July 15, 2012

“…Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?” (Psalm 24:3)

Why do I still believe in God?

When I awoke this morning, dawn hours away and darkness shrouding my home, that question settled in beside me.

Unbidden. Unexpected.

And yet perhaps not, for earlier in the week I’d read a Psalm I’ve spoken, whispered or shouted scores of times . . . Psalm 24.

I’ve read Psalm 24 because I’ve read all the Psalms. I’ve read it because it follows the famous 23. I’ve heard variations of 24 because numerous hymns have been inspired by its words.

Earlier in the week, on a Wednesday, I’d again studied Psalm 24 as one of four scheduled lectionary readings. I could lie and claim its verses inspired or troubled me. They didn’t. The day before I’d glanced at a passage about King David. The next day, dutifully following the lectionary for July 15, I spent a few moments with the first chapter of Ephesians. None of those passages, Old or New Testament, did much for me. ‘Tis the truth.

Still, maybe something happened on that dull Wednesday morning when I read 24 for the 24th or 224th time. Did a notion get planted within my consciousness, quietly and benignly, like a seed in the soil?

And there it grew until a few days later—until I woke and wondered, “Why do I still believe in God?” I suspect verses three and four might’ve been the “seed” for my pre-dawn query.

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully.

Isn’t the psalmist asking who can be with God? Then the pure-hearted and true-blue soul answer quickly arrives in the next verse.

My heart is not pure. Want one well-trod and easy example to judge my purity score? I went through a divorce. It might’ve been a thousand years ago, but I recall the hatred, anger and self-loathing, and how those feelings were hammers bruising my heart.

Sorry, Psalm 24, but my soul has also courted “what is false.” And I won’t give safe examples from my immature past, but from recent weeks. AT&T, the provider of my whiz-bang digital television link, offered three “free” months of HBO/Cinemax, hoping I’d get hooked and become a subscriber. And while I enjoyed Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, I channel-surfed and caught scenes of a sleazy show with frequent nudity and nonexistent plot. Television at its best one channel away from the worst; there goes the soul. Again.

According to Matthew 6:8, Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

Hmmm. No purity around here.

Who will ascend the hill of the Lord? Not me. Why would God want me up there, anyway? And, since I’m at the base of the “hill of the Lord,” wallowing in memories and weaknesses, I have time to gaze at the muddy, bloody world around me where . . .

  • Every aspect of politics seems divisive. (Why is compromise such a dirty word?)
  • Christians belittle fellow Christians because one knows exactly what the Bible means and the others are village idiots.
  • Educated, intelligent people are demeaned.
  • Nobody wants taxes, but everybody expects cops or firefighters lickety-split at emergencies. Especially my emergency.
  • Rich get richer and poor get poorer.
  • We call fellow humans aliens or illegal because they want to work a crap job most wouldn’t want to do (and by the way, we want our farm fresh food real cheap but very safe).
  • People sue, lie, cheat and steal and comfortably refer to those activities as business as usual.
  • We are so much more accepting of gays, but nearly every week I hear news about gay-bashing.
  • Women are finally (whew) equal, except (gulp) they aren’t. Glass ceilings remain as thick as glacial ice.

God knows, I could blather on with my complaints or confessions. As someone with a less-than-pure heart and a soul as bent as rusted, corrugated steel, why in hell, or heaven, should I believe in God?

And yet I do. Impure me. Broken-hearted me. I still believe.

Maybe belief is kept alive when I make a hospice call and ask how a person who’s had a loved one die is doing. I truly-deeply-honestly ask, wanting them to know I’ll listen to any answer they give . . . whether they mutter a pre-packaged lie to me—a.k.a. the stranger that cold-called them—or they share the harsh reality of grief’s ragged blade continuously piercing their soul. Maybe, because of my impure heart, I can’t see God, can’t imagine trudging up the holy hill, but I sense my neighbor’s pain, and I have a few words or shared silence to let them know—believe—they are loved. I can’t do much; I can do that.

In the darkness, honest enough about my failures, I sense a hint of dawn. While I am stuck at the bottom of the hill that old Psalmist imagined, I also strangely, fervently believe that’s where God hangs out most of the time. At the bottom. With the foolhardy. With those who hurt. Next to the ones who shuffle through each day with regret or guilt or both.

I’m grateful the Psalmist dreamed of the holy heights and holy places. But I am awake, in the shadow of the hill, with just enough belief left to sense God also believes in me.

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