A river whose waters make glad

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Psalm 46

1 God is our refuge and strength,
     an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
     and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
     and the mountains quake with their surging.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
     the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
     God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
     he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord Almighty is with us;
     the God of Jacob is our fortress.
8 Come and see what the Lord has done,
     the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease
     to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
     he burns the shields with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
     I will be exalted among the nations,
     I will be exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord Almighty is with us;
     the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Imagine the absolute collapse of the material order — the earth gives way, the mountains fall into the sea, etc. The ‘sea’ and its mythical powers engulf God-given order. Chaos returns. This is the fundamental upheaval of the created order. In the midst of a return to primeval chaos, what would your state of mind be? What would you say to your kids as the world disappeared underneath your (and their) feet? The Psalmist here is either insane or he knows something we don’t, for he describes in the midst of such upheaval “a river whose streams make glad….” God is in her, he says. She will not fail. We may be in hell. We may be engulfed in universal collapse. We may be exiled and tortured, imprisoned and beaten for years in a Romanian prison, or gored on bulls. But it matters not what we are in. It matters what is in us. “God is in her; she will not fail.” And the Psalmist hasn’t left the collapse of the world in vv. 2-3 to write these worlds. He’s still there. The mountains and sea are still a single foaming chaos surging and swallowing all that is. Chaos is his address. And in this chaos he is made glad.

How? Where do the undisturbed waters of this river flow? Well, here they’re flowing in and through a world devoured by chaos. What is their source? Now that is a different question. “Be still,” he says, “and know that I am God.” In the quiet of silent prayer — there is the gladdening river, there is the table prepared for us in the presence of our enemies (Ps 23), there is the joy which is unspeakable and full of glory (1Pet 1), the peace that passes all understanding (Phil 3), the knowledge of a love that transcends knowing (Eph 3), there the forthcoming incomparable glory (Rom 8.18). In a word, there is apatheia.

When every evidence of God’s presence and goodness disappears from the horizon, when the mountains are cast into the sea and its waters roar and foam as every dependable structure of our world is swallowed and digested, when even the horizon disappears, there remain other waters (not the sea), waters which can only be said to absolutely transcend chaos in their ability to “make glad.” Let’s just say that Psalm 46 is the Rom 8.31-39 of the Old Testament (“Nothing can separate us from the experience of the love of God in Christ”).

(Picture here.)

Tenderly cradled in free-fall

Thank you Kayla Jean Mueller. Theology at its best. Not angry, pissed off or in the throes of despair. Rather, secure in an experience of love which your captivity could not silence or deconstruct. Now to get the rest of us who aren’t in anything like the circumstances you were in to know the abiding peace of mind you possessed. God have mercy on us all.

Portions of the letter she left her family:

I remember mom always telling me that all in all in the end the only one you really have is God. I have come to a place in experience where, in every sense of the word, I have surrendered myself to our creator because there was literally no one else, and by God and by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in free-fall…

I have been shown in darkness, light, and have learned that even in prison one can be free. I am grateful. I have come to see there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it. I pray each day that if nothing else, you have felt a certain closeness and surrender to God as well and have formed a bond of love and support among one another….

No, not that infinity

infiniti_essence_1_09If you’re unfamiliar with the ideas of St. Gregory of Nyssa regarding the believer’s unending progression into God, Fr Aidan discusses it in Meditating on Moses: The Infinity of Virute. It’s a wonderful thought—our perfection is a never-ending adventure into God. Heaven may be a resting place from the particular struggles and temptations of the present and from our proclivity to weakness and failure. But with respect to our perfection—i.e., the fulfillment of our natures—heaven is anything but the end of the road. It is an infinitely extended beginning of sorts, an unending adventure in God of his own infinite beauties, the perfect union into one final experienced rest both of being presently satiated and hungry for more. But this hunger for more is not deferment of the good. It express no failure of God to satisfy. Rather, it is the satisfaction of an expanding desire for God. Think of opening a present to find that the gift inside in addition to being more than you could imagine also contains its own gift which contains yet another and so on ad infinitum.

I won’t park here on the implications this has for apatheia as we’ve tried to express it here and why those who deny it are left with a view of their own eternal rest in God as the static repetition of the finite. In the end you reap what you sow.

(Picture here)