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Archive for June, 2016

As the Psalter works its way down the home stretch toward its finale in the 150th psalm, the gloves come off. Doxology reaches to a stretch, digs down to bedrock, summons even the unseen powers and convenes heaven’s lights.

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts!

Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!

Let them praise the name of the Lord! For he commanded and they were created. And he established them forever and ever; he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.

(Psalms 148:1–6 ESV)

In the ancient Israelite context, calling upon sun and moon to praise their Maker is brave. They were often worshiped as gods themselves. It is also polemical: they are put in their place.

They do not seem to mind, in the psalmist’s opinion, though worshippers of the heavenly bodies might beg to differ. The psalmist imagines heaven’s lights praising YHWH at full throat simply for the privilege of having been created at his command so that they can do so.

There is, we are asked to accept, no corner of heaven or earth where praise is rightly withheld. If there is war in heaven, celestial conspiracies afoot, they are forgotten as the psalmist reaches forward to how things should be. Will be.

The most awesome, the most mighty, the high and almost holy, even these burst into song when their time comes. They know their place, and are glad in it.

How much more we mortals, elevated as we are now to sing along without too much embarrassment about our little voices, trembling hands, sad yesterdays.

Perhaps He commanded us, too, into existence so that we could sing like this, eyes moist because we are not yet fully home.

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We feel as though our lives flow along in an indistinguishable stream of moments and events. In truth, our legacy is not formed this way. Life is both chunkier and clunkier than this.

Our defining moment—we never see it coming—falls upon us in a moment. Our legacy is too often defined by an awkward lurch as by a premeditated jog. Wisdom means that our unforeseen moment—the thing for which we will be remembered, the event that will hang like an adjective about our neck—will be of one piece with how we have lived up to that moment. People may be surprised by this, but they will say, ‘Yes, this is exactly like him’. And smile.

Sadly, the inverse is also true.

Then Menahem the son of Gadi came up from Tirzah and came to Samaria, and he struck down Shallum the son of Jabesh in Samaria and put him to death and reigned in his place. Now the rest of the deeds of Shallum, and the conspiracy that he made, behold, they are written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel. (2 Kings 15:14–15 ESV)

The English translator, in order to collect his well deserved paycheck, is obliged to smooth out the unpolished redundancy of the Hebrew text. Woodenly, the summarizing statement about this forgettable, murdered king reads like this:

Now the deeds of Shallum, and (or ‘especially’) the conspiracy that he conspired, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel?

By this point in the Book of Kings, we are accustomed to this formula. As kings are honored or dismissed by the Israelite historian, we find that there is more to their lives than what he has been able to publish. But these deeds, should someone want to have a look, are available. You’ve just gotta’ look them up.

After all, are not the rest of (fill in the blank)’s deeds written in the Book of the Annals?

The unfortunate and lamentable Shallum is a little different. Shallum’s life distills down to ‘the conspiracy that he conspired‘. It is not a flattering abbreviation of a man’s life.

We don’t get to write our own epitaph. We are not consulted on the matter of how we will be remembered. We generate our legacy, but it is not ours to edit.

The wise and godly person understands this. Her life is of one piece, her ‘what you see’ is the same as her ‘what you get’. When her defining moment comes upon her, she gets no advance warning. Any surprise that is in it is an upside surprise, burnishing an already favorable reputation or—in the harshest cases—vindicating a righteous woman who had fallen under attack.

Biography is not a fair practice. It is raw and unforgiving, never entirely free of a judgmental edge. It selects its own data. It HIGHLIGHTS what it wants.

Almost nobody remembers Shallum. Those who do know only one awful thing about the conspiring lowlife. History’s verdict spits ‘Good riddance.’

So shall it ever be. Much hangs on that one thing, that one moment. Best to make sure it is a bead on a string of handsome little spheres that line up to become something worth wearing, worth guarding in a quiet drawer, to be treasured upon each recurring glimpse with a smile.

 

 

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not one step

Hold thou my hand; so weak I am, and helpless,
I dare not take one step without thy aid;
Hold though my hand; for then, O loving Savior,
No dread of ill shall make my soul afraid.

Hold thou my hand, and closer, draw me closer,
To thy dear self, my hope, my joy, my all
Hold thou my hand, lest haply I should wander,
And, missing thee, my trembling feet should fall.

Hold thou my hand; the way is dark before me,
Without the sunlight of thy face divine;
But when by faith, I catch its radiant glory,
What heights of joy, what rapturous sounds are mine!

Hold thou my hand, that when I reach the margin,
Of that lone river thou didst cross for me,
A heavenly light may flash along its waters,
And every wave like crystal bright shall be.

Hold thou my hand; so weak I am, and helpless,
I dare not take one step without thy aid;
I dare not take one step without they aid.

Fanny Crosby, 1897

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