Psalm 139 (all of it, not just 1-12,23-24)
I know people who like to talk about God for fun. Ok, I might be one of them. And there is no end to what could be said, from whatever perspective you say it. Is God the cosmic power over all? The personal savior? The beginning of all things? We can pick apart how God is represented, what beliefs reflect our picture of who God is, speculate about what God thinks of things or how God does or doesn’t intervene in life.
And whether its fun or frustrating, at some point, you reach the end of it; you’ve said about what you can say for now, you rise from your seat, clean up the empty wine bottles and dirty dishes, turn off the lights, and everyone heads home. And it usually doesn’t ultimately change you that much, all this ad nasueam talking about God.
Not like talking to God. Now that’s something else entirely.
Once you’re home, and the silence wraps around you and the whole world is asleep but you’re still lying there.
Vunerable. Tentative. unguarded.
Oh God. Hi. It’s me.
It’s me again. Little old me.
Do you know who I am?
I’m not sure I know who you are.
I think I saw you today, God. Was that you?
Where are you? I’m so afraid and so alone, where are you?
There is no telling where this might lead. You can talk about God without really even believing God exists. But when you talk to God you’ve just opened up your own being to another being. And that is quite something.
I love our Psalm today, because it feels like we are eavesdropping on an intimate conversation, peeking in at someone’s diary, listening in on their secret heart. This isn’t a poem about God, this is a love letter to God. And the voyeuristic thrill and sentimentality hook me right off the bat.
“Oh God, You have searched me and known me...”
How we long to be known! It is so rare and fleeting in life that we ever feel fully known. Being known in this life happens in glimpses, in spurts, in moments frozen in time. A look of shared meaning, the comment that show you this other person can tell what you’re thinking, the gesture that says he knows exactly what you need in that moment without you saying it.
It’s nice to be known, it makes us feel complete to be known. Full. At peace.
But we also like to control how we’re known, how much we’re known, what is known of us in different contexts, and how the knowledge can be used.
It is unsettling to think that there is one who knows absolutely everything, the good and the bad, the deep and ugly, the ridiculous and embarrassing parts of us, and not just what we’re willing to post on our status updates.
There is a song by the Civil Wars where the frustrated lovers sing back and forth to each other. He sings, “You only know what I want you to.” and she answers, “I know everything you don’t want me to.”
That God knows us that way? Everything, not just the things we want known about us. And closely, intimately...
I was with a dear friend this week, sharing something that painful, and she was right there, listening, and I felt really known. But then there was a moment when the being known went from feeling good to feeling too intense. When I became afraid of my own emotion and weary of sharing, and I didn’t want to take things any deeper or stretch the conversation any further. In a split second I moved from feeling open and trusting, grateful for her presence with me, to wishing I could teleport her out of my car so I could just cry in peace without her looking at me with such invasive tenderness.
Sometimes it’s hard to be known. Sometimes it’s excruciating to be loved.
Sometimes we’d rather be alone.
But God’s knowledge of us, God’s love of us, is apparently unyielding.
Margaret Wise Brown wrote a wonderful book called, The Runaway Bunny:
Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away.
So he said to his mother, “I am running away.”
“If you run away,” said his mother, “I will run after you.
For you are my little bunny.”
“If you run after me,” said the little bunny,
“I will become a fish in a trout stream
and I will swim away from you.”
“If you become a fish in a trout stream,” said his mother,
“I will become a fisherman and I will fish for you.”
And they go on: he becomes a rock on a mountain high above her, she becomes a mountain climber, he becomes a flower in a hidden garden, she becomes the gardener, he becomes a bird, a sailboat, a trapeze artist, she becomes the tree, the wind, a tightrope walker. And when he becomes a little boy who runs into a house she answers,
“If you become a little boy and run into a house,”
said the mother bunny, “I will become your mother
and catch you in my arms and hug you.”
“Shucks,” said the bunny, “I might just as well
stay where I am and be your little bunny.”
And so he did.
“Have a carrot,” said the mother bunny.
THIS is how relentless God’s love is.
But there’s more, even.
What about that chunk of this Psalm that was omitted for this week’s lectionary, and is almost always left out when we hear this psalm?
The part where our cosy waltz veers off into mixed martial arts and starts ranting about hating people and asking God to kill them.
Pretty horrifying, actually. Almost discredits the whole thing. I suspect this section gets cut because it makes us so uncomfortable to think someone could be this intimate with God and then go off into a hatred spiral. It feels so inconsistent.
But instead of being scared off by this part of the Psalm, I suddenly remember that I am seeing this as a raw, open diary, as a brutally honest person talking right to God who knows what he’s thinking anyway.
And then it strikes me as so beautiful in its uncensored wrongness, it’s candid depths, and the trust it must take to say it all to God, it all its passion.
And it’s a little bit of a relief, too, to see this here, because how often do we get it wrong! In how we unthinkingly judge other people and the world, how we try in unhealthy ways to fix what we see broken, in what we selfishly ask God for or mistakenly offer to God as some kind of praise.
But as heartfelt and misguided as we so often are, even that doesn’t stop God for a second. I imagine God taking this passionate psalmist up into God’s great lap and pressing his head onto God’s ample chest and rocking, crooning, chuckling about all the offers to smite the enemy on God’s behalf, just like I do with my tiny ninja when she tires of protecting the house from invisible impending doom and peels off her mask, dejected,
or how I held my fierce little big brother when I heard that he stood guard over his little sister for four straight days when she started at his daycare, ready to take on a anyone who tried to mess with her until the teachers finally told him they’d look after her and he could stand down.
Hush now. Mama God says. I’m here. I don’t need your protection. You can set down your weapon. Just let me love you.
God loves us with an unfathomable depth of love. God knows us. So it’s ok that we get it wrong sometimes. And when the sadness or the disappointment or pain pierces you, it’s ok to say irrational and crazy things. It’s ok not to qualify yourself, or censor to what you think God wants to hear. And even if you try to run away and hide your face in shame after you realize what you’ve actually said, what you’ve really done, there is nowhere, NOWHERE you can go to get away from God.
Oh the mixed joy and terror of this!
Oh the freedom and bondage that is being loved so completely!
God simply will not let you go.
Knew you before you knew yourself, knew you in the context of the very earth and cosmos, before time and space! Knows when you work and when you play, when you rest and when you run yourself ragged. Knows when you’re generous and loving and forgiving, and when you’re at the end of your rope and lash out in inappropriate anger at your children or roommates.
Knows all that you do and think. ALL of it.
And you can’t hide. You can’t escape. Wherever you go, God is there – and not just peeking through the crack in the door, like a mother I know watching her son at Summer Robot Camp this week – no, standing there in plain site, WAITING for you, like YOU are the reason for God to show up at all.
And in the utter depths of despair, when it feels the night will swallow you whole, and the darkness cover all that is light, darkness is no thing to God. Dark, light, night, day, in, out, old, new, malignant, benign, free, incarcerated, whole, broken – this one’s not intimidated, not backed down, not going anywhere. Steadfast. And unafraid. And this unafraid one is standing here for you. With you.
When all is said and done, and the flailing or fleeing or shame or doesn’t do a thing – God is still right there. And when the words run out and the theories about God and all the eternal trying and failing to be the person you think you should be, there God is. All along.
“Fine then. God, Search me, Know my heart, you may as well if you love me that much. Look in on my thoughts and help me, change me, heal me. I relent. I surrender. Shucks, I might just as well stay where I am and be your little bunny.
I invite you today to begin the conversation again, as we are invited to everyday.
Hi God, it’s me, you know, me.
Surrender to the one who knows you so completely and will never let you go.
Abide in the love of the one who holds you.
And have a carrot. Cause God’s not going anywhere.