Psalm 139:1–6 (NIV)
You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
You know me.
I get the impression from Psalm 139 that David, the psalmist, was feeling slightly invaded by the knowing presence of his shepherd God. I get the sense he has detected the prodding of the Shepherd’s staff or perhaps heard his beckoning voice to “come back” from a sojourn or a wandering. It is like David is saying, “You know me, don’t you, shepherd God? You know it all, sitting, rising, coming, going, my words and before they were words, my thoughts. Indeed, shepherd God, you are familiar with all my ways.”1
Here’s my translation of Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; too lofty for me to attain:” Your attention to me blows my ever-living mind. (insert mind blown emoji here). I cannot fathom how deeply attentive and comprehensively attuned, you, the God who created the universe, are to me. In fact, this is so pervasive I cannot even escape you.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast. (Ps. 139 7–10)
In other words, this shepherd God who hems us in actually comes even closer. He lays his hand upon us. His hand guides us. He holds us fast. And he does this whether we know it or not and whether we like it or not. Here’s a good word for you: If you love God, you are right where you are supposed to be. He is leading you, guiding you, way beyond your ability even to follow him. His leadership and guidance of you so far outstrips your ability to follow him that even though you try to get away his hand still holds you. Let go of your anxiety. You can’t outrun God. You can’t hide from God. He will pursue you with his love until you wake up and find yourself inescapably caught up in his embrace.2 Even in the darkest beyond dark place you may find yourself just now, behind the walls and bars of a prison cell, in the throes of suicidal depression, in the desolation that comes before and after divorce, in the dystopian grip of addiction, in the devastating decimating crush of disease becoming death, he is there . . . hemming you in . . . holding you fast . . . working all things together for some unforeseen good somehow and in some way.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you. (Ps. 139:11–12)
“Come on!” you say, “How can this be?” I don’t know. I only know it is so. In his awareness he sees me. In his attention he pursues me. In his attunement he knows me. And nothing can stop this, not our unawareness, our inattention, or our lack of attunement—for darkness is as light to you. This is why we keep declaring this Word of God to one another, in a stern tone, with a gentle grace.
Wake up, sleeper! Rise from the dead! And Christ will shine on you. Indeed he already is.
Farmer Father God, I confess, sometimes I don’t want to believe you are this near to me and this attentive to my life. It can feel like too much, until I remember you are yourself unrelenting, unfailing, unflinching love. This knowledge is too wonderful for me. It blows my mind. It is too lofty for me to attain. But then I remember I don’t have to attain it, just receive it. Open the way for this receiving, more today than yesterday. I receive your awareness. I receive your attention. I receive your attunement. It is leading me to a place of deep attachment. I sense it. And I thank you. Praying in the name of Jesus, amen.
If you love God, you are right where you are supposed to be. What do you make of this? Agree? Disagree? Relieved? Comforted? Offput? And if you don’t love God, you are a lot closer to where you are supposed to be than you could possibly realize.
For the Awakening,
NOTES FOR FURTHER REFLECTION
1. I don’t know the chronology of the writing of the Psalms and often wonder how that relates to their ordering in the Psalter. For instance, I would imagine Psalm 139 was written before Psalm 23. While we tend to think of David writing Psalm 23 as a boy in the sheepfolds, I think it actually reflects the mature reflection of many years. Psalm 139 strikes me as the musings of a young king on the run who believes the stuff of Psalm 23 and yet still hates his enemies who pursue him to death. It takes the perspective and faith of years to understand that the Shepherd “prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”
2. The celebrated Breastplate of St. Patrick comes to mind in this reflection about being hemmed in by God, particularly this part.
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.