Red and white tulips on the Cathedral grounds

Psalm 31

In you, O Lord, I seek refuge;
do not let me ever be put to shame;
in your righteousness deliver me.
Incline your ear to me;
rescue me speedily.
Be a rock of refuge for me,
a strong fortress to save me.

You are indeed my rock and my fortress;
for your name’s sake lead me and guide me,
take me out of the net that is hidden for me,
for you are my refuge.
Into your hand I commit my spirit;
you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.

You hate those who pay regard to worthless idols,
but I trust in the Lord.
I will exult and rejoice in your steadfast love,
because you have seen my affliction;
you have taken heed of my adversities,
and have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;
you have set my feet in a broad place.

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
my eye wastes away from grief,
my soul and body also.
For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,
and my bones waste away.

I am the scorn of all my adversaries,
a horror to my neighbors,
an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.
I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.
For I hear the whispering of many—
terror all around!—
as they scheme together against me,
as they plot to take my life.

But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hand;
deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your steadfast love.
Do not let me be put to shame, O Lord,
for I call on you;
let the wicked be put to shame;
let them go dumbfounded to Sheol.
Let the lying lips be stilled
that speak insolently against the righteous
with pride and contempt.

O how abundant is your goodness
that you have laid up for those who fear you,
and accomplished for those who take refuge in you,
in the sight of everyone!
In the shelter of your presence you hide them
from human plots;
you hold them safe under your shelter
from contentious tongues.

Blessed be the Lord,
for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me
when I was beset as a city under siege.
I had said in my alarm,
“I am driven far from your sight.”
But you heard my supplications
when I cried out to you for help.

Love the Lord, all you his saints.
The Lord preserves the faithful,
but abundantly repays the one who acts haughtily.
Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
all you who wait for the Lord.

Those of you of a certain age may suspect that the writers of Monty Python and the Holy Grail had the 31st Psalm in mind when they penned this exchange:

GOD: Arthur! Arthur, King of the Britons! [Arthur and his knights fall to their knees, trembling.] Oh, don’t GROVEL! One thing I can’t stand, it’s people groveling!
ARTHUR: Sorry.
GOD: And DON’T APOLOGIZE! Every time I try to talk to someone it’s ‘sorry this’ and ‘forgive me that’ and ‘I’m not worthy’…It’s like those miserable Psalms—they’re sooooo depressing. Now, KNOCK IT OFF!
ARTHUR: Yes, Lord.

Many of our psalms are brooding, bereft, with the psalmist repeatedly portraying himself as a fragile clay vessel created to hold and preserve the spirit of God—but now broken and empty. Yet none is as stark as verse 11: “I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors, an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me.”

The face of God has been eclipsed; the psalmist, David, consumed by fear and self-loathing. The absence of light is so absolute I’m surprised I’m able to read the text at all. Why, then, do I find that meditating on this psalm—on its dark poetry and spirit—feels so…comforting? I think it is because as lost as David feels, he knows that he is not alone in the shadows. In other words, as broken as the psalmist feels, his faith abides. And where there is faith there is, by definition, hope. See the word in the psalm’s final line? Speak it aloud! Hope.

The metaphor of God as “refuge” (mahseh) permeates the psalter, and the 31st in particular. God as our divine protector comes by many names. As a Lenten theme, the comfort and protection promised by Yahweh is an antidote to our shame, our sins, our fear, our doubt, and the snare of our enemies.

What does “refuge” mean to you? Is it an actual safe and quiet place where you go to retreat? Or is it your safe and quiet place found in God with whom you share a lifeline? Depending upon the day or the hour, I depend on God to be for me one of these iconic metaphors: “my shield,” “my rock,”“my cup,” “my portion,” “my stronghold,”“my fortress.” But it is in the “shadow” of God’s “wings” where I find my “nesting place.”

This “nesting place” is where I can escape (and stop groveling!), and also a place on which God has “set my feet in a broad place.” The 31st psalm encompasses all of my emotions and expressions of trust, lament, pleas for deliverance, and thanksgiving and praise in one. Which can pretty much sum up my emotional state depending upon the day or the hour. What about you? Where do you find refuge?