Archives, Biography, Orlando, Pondering, Sons of Korah

Not Nice Water (Psalm 42/43)

The rocky northern Atlantic coast, while majestic, is not a swimmer’s paradise. The rocks on the “open side” are particularly high and jagged, and the water that crashes against them is deadly cold. On Monhegan, an island off the coast of Maine, no one who has fallen into the icy water on the open side of the island has ever been recovered.

Rocks on the ocean side of Monhegan Island, Maine

Several years ago my young son and I enjoyed an extended stay on Lake Superior, North America’s great inland ocean. Lake Superior, like its Atlantic companion, is also not a swimming lake. But after a week of ninety-degree weather, the water felt quite inviting and my small son and I were ready to venture in farther than our toes. We decided to head for a rock about thirty feet from shore. But we were only a few paces out before I grabbed my son and pulled him back to dry land, my legs fighting a current that would have swept us out and under its wake if I were ever to lose my footing. Ethan, alarmed, clung to me and exclaimed,  “Mommy, that is not nice water!”

I’ve been thinking more about our “roller coasters on a wave” and I think this experience depicts another part of the spiritual dynamic present here. There are times we encounter situations that are, quite simply, “not nice.” Sometimes we get pulled in over our heads, feel as though we are drowning, and, terrified, realize that we have no way to rescue ourselves. I experience this sensation most often at times when I need real wisdom and guidance now. There’s not time for deep, peaceful reflection. I need to act, and the moment is present, not future. My emotions take on a life of their own while my mind struggles for wise air, all the while fighting the undertow of fear.

The Sons of Korah write of this spiritual experience in Psalm 42/43.They start with the deer who are panting for water in the midst of a chase, and trying to regroup from the voices howling destructive thoughts in their ears. But the first try, while significant, isn’t enough.“Why so downcast, oh my soul…” is followed immediately by “My soul is downcast within me.” And this time the psalmist does not stop like a deer at the edge of the water, but finds himself pulled under the current generated by a waterfall: Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. (vs. 7)

OK. Two observations. First, the psalmist lived to sing his story. And second, right in the midst of the intense roar is another voice calling to the deep places in the psalmist’s soul. An outside deep calling to our inside deeps. What might the external voice be saying as we try to listen for it in the midst of roaring waterfalls in our spiritual ears and breakers and waves crashing over our all-too-real circumstances? It is this: “By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.” (vs. 8)

The Lord commands his love. Right here. He orders his love to be present as the spiritual waves break over our heads and the undertow of life pulls our feet out from under us. He sends delegates: “love poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us,” (Ro 5:5) or an even angel perhaps: “ministering spirits sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit eternal life” (Heb.1:14). He takes action, for this steadfast love has got a far better grip on us than I could ever have on my small child.

I got pulled into an undertow one day last week. I fought as my old acquaintance, despair, did its best to hold my spiritual head under the water. I was so close to drowning that I had to excuse myself from dinner that night and let the tears come. In those tears was my unarticulated cry for help.

Then I got up, went to the person with whom I needed to swim in these turbulent waters, glimpsing the fear in his eyes as I opened my mouth. And words of truth and hope–words that certainly did not come from my own heart, but out of the heart of this love commanding God-came pouring out. It was a moment of deliverance that brought with it incredible clarity.

Once again I have encountered God to be the great commander delivering his love when this child has lost her footing and the waves are crashing over her head–perhaps especially in water that is not at all nice. Thanks be to God!

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