The New Jerusalem Bible’s version of the psalm for today, psalm 24 translates the Hebrew four-letter code for God’s name as “Yahweh,” a name so Holy that in Jewish tradition it’s not pronounced while reading scripture. As I read I’ll replace the word “Yahweh” with other kinds of “non-names” since the reminder that we’re referencing the unknowable, unnamable Holy One is important, and it’s a fact ancient Jewish listeners would have been aware of.
It reads: // To the Holy One belong the earth and all it contains, the world and all who live there; it is he who laid its foundations on the seas, on the flowing waters fixed it firm. Who shall go up to the mountain of the mystery of God? Who shall take a stand in his holy place? The clean of hands and pure of heart, whose heart is not set on vanities, who does not swear an oath in order to deceive. Such a one will receive blessing from the God beyond our knowing, saving justice from the God of his salvation. Such is the people that seeks him, that seeks your presence, God of Jacob. //
The passage is meant to be evocative. The earth and all there is, including us, was made and is sustained by the awe-inspiring, unknowable Holy One we call God. And what’s more, by some unfathomable miracle this Holy One whom we were taught to call our Father in heaven loves us dearly, and is as close to us and ever-present as our own breathing, the sound of which some have argued is what the name “Yahweh” represents.
I wonder if we really go about our days surrendering to and living out the powerful truth of those words. Or are we “functional atheists” to use a term coined by Parker Palmer. Palmer described a functional atheist as someone who claims belief in God, but lives out their lives as if they were in control of everything, with little hint of the all-loving, ever-present Creator to whom we belong. If we are claiming some relationship to the mystery of God praised in psalm 24, we might wonder if we’re moving through life as if we truly embody that reality.
What if were true that the mystery we call God creates and sustains all that is, breathing life into all of creation, including His beautiful children, us, in each and every passing moment? What if it were true that being aware of His Holy presence simply meant having a heart free of the vanities of this world, the distractions of our ego? What if it were true that knowing God’s Love just meant not falling prey to and participating in the lies of this world — and remembering to whom we belong and that we’re not the ones in control.
If all those things were true, then the only thing that separates us from God, us who seek Him, is our awareness in this moment of His presence. Our awareness that every beat of our hearts, and our every breath is a gift from the Holy One that loves us more than we can ever possibly imagine. And who can stand in His Holy place? Well, that’s a sort of a trick question, since all we really need to do is open our eyes to see that wherever we are, we’re already standing in His presence. Whether we’re at work, waiting at a stop light, or even listening to a sermon in a small stone chapel.
So let us pray: Oh Holy One, we who seek your presence thank you for the wondrous beauty of your creation as it unfolds around us. We ask only for the wisdom and courage to surrender to your will — to let go of vanities and lies that blind us… to the miracle of this moment, to your ever-present love, and to the awesome truth that our entrance into your Holy Place is as close as our very next breath — Amen.
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