Sunday, September 12, 2021(Day 99)
Katie Snipes Lancaster
Psalm 99 (from Robert Altar’s 2007 translation)
The Lord reigns—
enthroned upon cherubim—
the earth shakes.
The Lord is great in Zion
and exalted over all the peoples.
They acclaim Your name:
“Great and fearful, God is holy.”
An Opening Word
Psalm 99 envisions God’s rule as so powerful that people tremble. God’s throne is so powerful, the earth itself shakes. And Robert Alter reminds us that the cherubim are “not the dimpled darlings of Christian iconography but fierce mythological beasts—with the body of a lion, large wings, and a human face—that were imagined as God’s celestial steeds and also as the throne on which God sat.” The note about cherubim reminds me how much cultural baggage we carry into our own interpretation of scripture. On the one hand, the nature/earth images in the Psalms seem effervescent and eternal. But on the other hand, images that lean heavily on cultural understanding, whether that be a reference to cherubim or Zion, give us interpretative hoops to jump through before we can envision what the ancients were talking about. We must rely on biblical scholars to open us up to all of that, and also assume that ultimately, even the biblical scholars can’t time travel to know exactly what every text is referencing. I guess that’s why we say prayers before we read scripture that say, “Open my heart God, to your word.” Finding inspiration in God’s word does not require us to know everything. God is always there to lead us on as we read.
Today’s mystic text comes from the Celtic Christian tradition, from a set of writings called “The Broom of Devotion.” I love texts like this that seek to expand and flesh out the many names for God, that unleash a creative streak of language that helps us to find our way into God’s presence. There is something Psalm-like here, very nature-oriented, using light and water as primary images for the divine. There is also something relational, images of friend and brother to describe Jesus giving us a new horizon, an entryway into knowing Jesus in a new way. I’m guessing many people are familiar with the Celtic traditions which go back to the early years of Christian influence in what we now call Ireland, Wales, and Great Britain. It is an ancient form of Christianity which is notable for (1) it’s centering of women in leadership, (2) making room for imagination, creativity, and freedom of thought in Christian prayer/theology (art and poetry), and (3) a deep awareness of our embodiment, where the mind is not over-and-above the body, but mind-and-body are equal partners in encountering God.
Prayer from the Mystics: The Broom of Devotion
O holy Jesus,
Midday sun adorned,
Brilliant flame of righteousness,
Life everlasting and eternity,
Fountain ever-new, ever-living, ever-lasting…
True and lasting brother,