Wednesday, August 25, 2021 (Day 81)
Katie Snipes Lancaster
Psalm 81 (from Robert Altar’s 2007 translation)
Sing gladly to God our strength, shout out to the God of Jacob. Lift your voices in song and beat the drum, the lyre is sweet with the lute. Blast the ram’s horn on the new moon, when the moon starts to wax, for our festival day. For it is an ordinance in Israel, a rule of the God of Jacob. A decree God declared it for Israel when God sallied forth against Egypt’s land—a language I knew not, I heard… “I am the Lord your God who brings you up from the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, that I may fill it.”
An Opening Word
There is something emphatic about Psalm 81. It is coaxing you to sing. It is luring you to play the drums. It is enticing you to strum the lyre and sound the horn. An orchestra has been conjured. A celebration, materialized. The energetic, forceful, decisive persuading voice of the Psalmist has everyone up on their feet, ready to dance and praise God. For me, it’s only on Christmas Eve that I can imagine a whole village rising up to praise God with such effortless energy. Nothing, not even a pandemic, could keep us from the festive call to “sing gladly to God our strength.” But this Psalm has one more trick up its sleeve—this celebration is not necessarily optional, but “an ordinance,” “a decree” since the days when God freed the slaves in Egypt. Because of this story of salvation, there is a binding, unavoidable regulation prompting praise. I guess, I can see that too, at Christmas time. Even when we’ve felt blue for ages, even when it feels as if the whole world is tossing and turning around us, we feel obligated to celebrate Christmas, to force a smile and sing “Joy to the world” even if it isn’t decidedly joyful. Sometimes the “forced celebrations” can feel fake, but other times, the familiar retelling of God’s story of love across the generations can truly lift our spirits. In the case of those who are obligated to praise God in Psalm 81, I hope it was the latter (getting out all the musical instruments in the house, in my experience, can lift my spirits, that’s for sure).
Today’s mystic Rufus Jones (1863–1948), would suggest that the call to praise God may, in fact be innate. He suggests that we each have an “inner light,” and “there is something Divine, ‘Something of God’ in the human soul.” We cannot-not know God because we each innately have a divine connection. Born in 1863 in New England to a Quaker family, he was transformed by his reading of Ralph Waldo Emerson and George Fox. During World War I he founded the “American Friends Service Committee,” for conscientious objectors who wanted to serve, but who would not join the army. They trained to work for the “Friends Ambulance Unity” in Europe, and after the war, provided relief and food to Germans who otherwise would have been without. In that way his mystic approach was always interconnected with a sense of action, justice, and peace. His approach was not sectarian, and was influenced by world religions when, after the war he traveled to India, where he met Gandhi and Nepal, to visit the birthplace of Buddha. In 1938 after Kristallnacht he went to Germany to speak out against such violence. His mystic approach was inviting and invitational without pressure to require complicated mystical visions or intellectual knowledge of “the mysteries of God” or time consuming elitist spiritual practices. In a “Time” magazine article in 1948 about Rufus Jones and Thomas Merton they said “both men re-emphasize two facts often forgotten: the world still has millions of mystics, and the most mystical human beings are often among the most practical as well.” He says a mystic is someone who “feels their relationship with the infinite,” and seeks “the direct encounter with the living, revealing God in the depths of the soul.” Isn’t that what we’re all seeking?
Prayer from the Mystics: Rufus Jones (1863–1948)
“…There is no limit to the interflow
between God who is love
and the one (you or I)
who has learned to love as Christ loved.”*
May there be a deep interflow of love,
You at one with God. Amen.
*The quote above is from Rufus Jones book, “Social Law in the Spiritual World: Studies in Human and Divine Inter-relationship”