The 70th Psalm and the Monks of the Thebaid

There is a paraphrase at the beginning of Palm 70 that makes the following plea, “O God come to my assistance; O Lord make haste to help me!” This prayer of pleading is used as the beginning invocation in many devotions and office hours (scheduled times of prayer) that people use in prayer. The Psalm itself is a prayer of pleading concerning the enemies one is facing. This is a prayer for rescue. It is not a prayer for strength, for courage, for perseverance, it is a pleading to God because only God can change the outcome. There is nothing we can do and everything we can do. We can pray.

Can we really change the outcome? This is the wrong question. The right question is, “Can God influence this situation; respond to this prayer? Do we believe God will consider our cry? A prayer willing to trust, “Not my will Lord but your will,” is that needs to be God’s need for us to understand.

From the fourth century A.D., the desert Thebaid of Egypt was the home of thousands of monks and nuns who made the desert a city peopled with Christians striving toward heaven in the angelic way of life.[1] This prayer from the beginning of Psalm 70 vocalizes the real struggle we face every day. Our existence in this world is one of physical struggles and of a spiritual struggle every day of our lives. Psalm 70 speaks to the very real possibility of threat, a feeling of coming despair, and the fear we encounter when we realize we are not in control. We often just do not realize how much we are embraced by God’s grace and control in this world. We live in a relationship with a God who is always working for our good. Not through force but with the influence of faith.

A ritual of prayer invoking the fast intercession and immediate mercy can help us maintain a good anchor for the discernment of God’s desire for us daily. Such is the gift of information and aid of the contemplative practices of believers of the past. In this way, we do not just connect, but build roots.


An Attitude of Attention

My lectio time today was spent on the Gospel reading from Year C for March 23, 2022. In this passage, Jesus is tying himself to the faith of God’s people. Jesus is making a commitment to keep the law and use it properly. In this passage, Jesus warns those who would “edit” the commands of Scripture they are hurting themselves. I love the ESV Bible’s translation that uses the word relax to describe what this editing does.

No one knows the dangers of fundamentalism more than I do. I know how it can seem like a lifejacket but then changes to a straitjacket as it hardens our hearts and turns us into Pharisees and Sadducees. I know how the Bible can be used as a tool of indoctrination rather than illumination. But I have also seen how, in the name of popular theology, the Bible’s instructions and directions are called old-fashioned, legalistic, irrelevant for our cultural setting.

The first recorded temptation in the Scripture was one of taking a “relaxed” view of the instructions given to human beings by the Lord, “And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ “But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. (Gen. 3:2-4 ESV)

I recently sat through a seminar in which the speaker claimed that, especially in the Old Testament, the writers made mistakes. They got it wrong. But we, with our modern scholarship and “new” philosophical insights do not have to pay attention to those difficult passages. We can edit them. We can help to relax them. We need to do whatever we can to make the Bible fit us rather than trying to get us to fit the Bible. We must make the Bible fit into our version of relevant.

I think I would rather just say that there are certain things in the Bible I do not understand nor believe we can ever understand this side of eternity. I am not afraid of mystery. I am not intimidated by the words, “I don’t know.”

I fully understand that each of us makes choices about what we accept as truth, as guidance, as direction, and expectations from the Scripture. Each of us has been created with the power of choice. Through choice, we decide what we will have faith in and what we will not. Jesus speaks of the fulfillment of the law. Do we believe Jesus? This is a choice of faith. If we look for reasons not to believe the Bible, we will find them. If we look for reasons to reject the Bible, I have no doubt we will succeed. There will always be tares (weeds) among the wheat. There are always reasons to doubt.

I prefer to take the path of knowledge that I can confirm and trust. The vast majority of the Scripture speaks about the blessings God gives. If speaks of God’s patience and of God’s unconditional love. The commandments and directives of Scripture give us parameters and insights into how to live the best life we can. I have yet to discover a relaxing of any commandment as beneficial to me or others. I fact, I have found the opposite to be true. The more I grow in the gift and skill of discernment, the more I realize just how much the commandments and directives save me from suffering and pain.

I can live with mystery. I do not worship at the idol of certainty. I can live with some confusion or lack of understanding. I cannot abide by an attitude of judgment and control. I ask God that I not be tempted to relax any part of the law. I ask God to help me with issues of unbelief. I am grateful for the blessings I have received from my faith in a world filled with skepticism. I am thankful for an attitude of attention that leads me to trust God’s word rather than edit it on my own.