Sunday, July 11, 2021 (Day 41)

Katie Snipes Lancaster

Psalm 41 (from Robert Alter’s 2007 translation)
May the Lord sustain him on the couch of pain.
You transformed his whole bed of illness.

An Opening Word
I can’t get over this phrase, “on the couch of pain.” It feels like a line out of a movie. Many English translations use the word “sickbed” instead of couch, but the couch just seems so much more evocative. It strikes close to home too. How many of us have sorely carried our sick bodies down to the couch to sit or lay nearer to the family? Or found ourselves hobbling in the door of our house, unable to make it up to our own bedrooms, only to lay on the couch for hours? Or for some, watched a loved one suffer pain from the living room day after day, an unknown future unfurling?

Robert Alter says that the whole point of this Psalm is to praise God in deepest gratitude. The Psalmist has recovered from illness and was so near the brink of death that the gratitude is at a scale impossible to measure, bubbling over, maybe even in disbelief.

While the Psalmists write their thanksgivings and laments from the centuries before Christ, most likely emerging from the Babylonian Captivity a key historic moment in biblical history, today’s mystic comes from an often under-articulated historical context centuries after Christ during the emergence of Islam. Maximus the Confessor was born in 580, serving as a politician (and becoming quite prominent as a young man) before becoming a monk. By the time he was in his 50s, Maximus was impacted by the death of Muhammad in 632 because within a few years of Muhammad’s death, Damascus, Syria, Jerusalem, and other sacred ground transferred power to the Muslim leadership of the day, and by 642 North Africa fell as well. The overlap of politics and religion was palpable.

Maximus the Confessor was among those internally displaced within the Roman empire as the geopolitical landscape shifted and changed. All the while theological debates within Christianity churned, and Maximus the Confessor became the target of some theological gatekeeping, that got him exiled to Bizya (modern day Vize, Turkey). It wasn’t until just after his death in 662, that Maximus the Confessor’s theology was reassessed, and he was sainted by both the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.

Nothing earth shattering about his words on love below. We know this truth deeply, but its worth considering again, from the lips of a man who lived during such an interesting historical context.

Prayer from the Mystics: Maximus the Confessor (580–662)
Many people have said
much about love,
but only in seeking it
among Christ’s disciples
will you find it,
for only they have
the true love,
the teacher of love,
of whom it is written,
“If I have prophecy
and know all mysteries
and all knowledge
but do not have love,
it profits me nothing.”
Therefore, the one who
possesses love possesses God,
since “God is love.”
To God be the glory forever.