It’s High Time To Rise

I began again this morning a new cycle through the Psalms. This has been my practice now for five or six years. I read one or two Psalms a day. When I come to the end of the whole book, I start over. This is an ancient practice, of course, likely what Jesus did, surely the pattern for the Apostle Paul. It is such a life-giving, nourishing practice that nudges us toward human flourishing. Each morning we wake up, get ourselves reoriented. We are fed. We drink deeply. We are nourished.

In the sixth century, the great St. Benedict laid out this practice for his monks: They were to read, sing, chant, and meditate on the Psalms as the centerpiece for their daily liturgy. They needed to complete this cycle for all 150 Psalms every week! “Let us get up then,” says Benedict, “at long last, for the Scriptures rouse us when they say: It is high time for us to arise from sleep.” That’s the spirit with which I want to read the Psalms. It’s high time to begin again each morning.

And so I began with Psalm 1 again this morning. What a magnificent piece of holy writing! Look at this poem with me for a moment.

Happy is the one
who does not take the counsel of the wicked for a guide,
or follow the path that sinners tread,
or take his seat in the company of scoffers.
His delight is in the law of the Lord;
it is his meditation day and night.
He is like a tree
planted beside water channels;
it yields its fruit in season
and its foliage never fades.
So he too prospers in all he does.

The wicked are not like this;
rather they are like chaff driven by the wind.
When judgement comes, therefore, they will not stand firm,
nor will sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

The Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked is doomed.

Happy are those, we begin, who delight in the words of the Lord. That’s the premise, the promise, for those who mediate on those words day and night. Such meditation calls on us to slowdown in our reading. Let’s take time as if we are eating a wonderful meal. By practicing this discipline, we guard against taking other paths that are dead ends, diversions, bankrupt, dried up. If we take these other paths, the wind blows us around like so much debris or dust. We become the scoffers.

No, if we take the path of meditating through God’s words, early in the morning, daily in fact, we are like a tree planted beside a stream of water. We sink roots down deeply. We are nourished by the water deep beneath the surface. We become sturdy, poised, unshaken when the winds blow. We blossom. We flourish. We bear fruit. Our leaves won’t wither and blow away.

The Psalmist says we will prosper in all we do. Sometimes we have distorted this word. We scoff at those who practice what is called the prosperity gospel. Resting on what our society values, almost above all else, we sometimes think prosperity is all about money and material possessions, as if that’s the promise. As I read the Scriptures there is nothing necessarily damaging about wealth, only if we begin to equate human flourishing with being wealthy. In my reading of this Psalm, we who follow the words of the Lord will prosper, no matter our fate with money. I think this is true, though it takes a lot of meditating on the words of God to reorient ourselves in this way. But this is real prosperity.

When I think about all the winds blowing around us these days, I yearn to be like this tree planted beside the living stream. When I think about the tugs toward a shallow, confused, even hateful life, I want roots that tap deeply into nourishing waters. I long to be nourished so that I may nourish others. There are a lot of things that threaten to pull me off this path, but, no, I want to be that tree, planted by the flowing water.

For me, as with the ancients, it all begins early in the morning, meditating on these very words. These words create holy space. When we grow quiet enough in this space, God chooses to come close. Then we are awakened. Yes, indeed, then “it is high time for us to arise from sleep,” open our eyes, reorient our yearnings, and stand poised like a tree planted beside the waters. I long to be more like this tree standing strong, content, nourished and nourishing, beside the deep waters.