Saturday, August 3, 2013

My favorite Psalm

Listen to this, now.
In some ways I am the consummate overachiever. But in my own mind I am quite an underachiever. I find ways to tank the best of the worst of times. For some reason that reminds me that you should give this disc a listen. Two quick rabbit trails then back to the meat of this post. First, Tracyanne Campbell, my proposal still stands...marry me! Second, musically, this is not the best album by Camera Obscura, but that mostly has to do with recording quality. Also, they were still developing their sound, BUT, lyrically it's divine. It is the classic cheeky lyricism that defines them. My favorite album is probably My Maudlin Career, but more purist fans will argue Let's Get Out of this Country is better.

One of the ways that my overachieving efforts used to manifest themselves was a habit picked up at old First Baptist Church of Florence, Texas. I couldn't tell you exactly who was the first to teach me, but I suspect it was either Evelyn Permenter or Brent Batson. And really, what they taught me was not bad...not at all actually. But for a kid who loved to earn points with people, I really didn't understand the value of what they taught or the purpose behind it. So, what was it?

That would be highlighting and underlining my Bible. I think my goal as a junior in high school was to underline everything. I wanted to earn a "U" on my chest for being the Bible underline king. I think anytime I read a Scripture, out came the highlighter. Preferably the orange one, because it bled through the paper and looked all the more impressive. It was really quite something to look at that poor Bible. Beaten and abused into submission by a teenage kid who was obviously more spiritual than everyone else, because I mean...look at all those highlights!

Somewhere along the way I lost that Bible. And highlights or not I was a bit devastated. I think, our printed versions of the Bible (just to theologically clarify where this is going) become a bit like our favorite jeans or shoes. We know them so well. They fit perfectly. And when something happens to them, it is oddly kind of emotional. It is like something inside of us gets lost. After I lost that Bible, I think I went quickly through and highlighted the next Bible up with any verse I could think of. And I lost that Bible. I went through like five or six Bibles and just never got around to showing me spiritual prowess in the newest one. Until about October of last year.

But something happened. I didn't highlight anything. As I flip through this copy of the Bible the only thing I have marked here is a bracket around Psalm 16:5-11. Here it is:
The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and my cup;
You support my lot.
The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;
Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me. 
I will bless the Lord who has counseled me;
Indeed, my mind instructs me in the night.
I have set the Lord continually before me;
Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices;
My flesh also will dwell securely. 
For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol;
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.
You will make known to me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.
I mentioned in a previous post that I read through the Psalter every month. This month makes one year for that practice. I really like it. I think I will probably re-up and do another year. But I think this passage is one that stood out every month. I am always surprised by how early it comes in the Psalter. It usually fell around the 2nd or 3rd of the month. The language is beautiful to me. The message encourages me...and yet, somehow it was never a passage I heard taught or even mentioned growing up. It was also a passage that led to one of my learning experiences this year.

Some of you may know that last fall I applied for a position at the Abbey of Iona. I went through the interview process. But before they came to a decision, I withdrew my name for candidacy. There were just some concerns that I couldn't get around. And the position wasn't exactly what I thought it was. So, in the end, I'll never know if the job would have been offered or not, but I know I made the right choice, not to even put that chance before me.

Yeah...I almost lived here for three years.
So, why did I even apply? Partly because things were rough at work. Partly because it seemed like the dream job. Partly because of Psalm 16: "Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me." When looking at our family history one thing that we know is the Loves were a part of Clan Mackinnon. Our people helped serve in Iona generations ago. We were tied to it. And the possibility of reconnecting with those ancient roots, especially in a place as significant as Iona was too much not to at least try for.

But reason, and I would say wisdom won out for me. There are still a great many Loves in and around this part of Scotland. What is interesting is how many went into two professions: medicine and ministry. That was somehow, before I ever knew about family history, the two areas I wanted to study when I got to college. I wanted to be a medical missionary. Turns out one zoology class was enough to quash pursuit of medicine. But the love of spiritual things stuck with me.

But more than this place, Iona, what I began to realize is that my heritage (at least on my father's life) was that of not just intelligence, but spirituality. Even my family members who don't necessarily gravitate toward our Presbyterian roots, or heck, even Christianity in traditional forms, are all quite spiritual. It is just something ingrained in us. And so this inheritance is something that has marked me. There was something early on I recognized that God was my inheritance. It was almost like being a Levite (which is kind of fun since I have a cousin named Levi!). The world was gonna pass by with this great inventions, or that great fortune, but the Lord would be my inheritance.

Part of the mural at The Cathedral.
When I look at those words a lot of things begin to make sense. My underachieving for instance. I have just not pursued some of the things that I could have. I was too distracted by "that church thing" I did. It also kind of made sense why I worked so hard to find myself approved by church people. Because they are my family...just like the people of the Bible, and the Saints and those converts in Mongolia or Tunisia. The Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels in Los Angeles did a great job depicting "our family." You can see part of that mural to the left here. It depicts the family of God through many generations, callings and nationalities. It is quite impressive in person.

And, so over the course of this year, these words have helped give expression to this emerging thought. The Lord is my inheritance. My heritage is beautiful. God's presence is where the fullness of my joy can be found. And that is how this, I would say somewhat obscure text, has become the bedrock and foundation of the past year. It is how I have begun to understand the garden I have been planted in as it were. I think in all of my struggles for identity and understanding where I fit in, Psalm 16 has helped point me to the ancient the archaic terminus of where this journey began. It helped me understand that what surrounded me was different, because...well, it really was different.

And so, there it is. Psalm 16. This beautiful passage that communicates that there are those of us who find satisfaction in this spiritual pursuit. There are those of us who make these odd choices, because we are thinking of things different than what others think of. It's not that they are better things, they are just in some regard altogether different. And I'm thankful for finally connecting with that differentness.

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