A Reflection in Psalm 139
Leaving Steeretown, Jamacia, after ten days of working to build a Methodist Church there, was filled with emotion. There were goodbyes to the church members who had hosted us and worshiped with us and worked alongside us to lay a concrete floor and paint windows. Our team had grown close, and we were beginning our goodbyes to one another. We shared a moment in time that changed us.
Steeretown is not where the Sandals Resort is. It’s closer to where Bob Marley was born; where he wrote his songs. “One love; One heart. Let’s get together and feel all right. Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner; There ain’t no hiding place from the Father of Creation.”
Jamaica is a poor island. Beautiful beaches with multi-million dollar resorts skirt the poverty that is the real story of Jamaica. But the people there are generous and hospitable and welcoming to teams like ours. I left remembering the goodness of the people, and I left thinking how hot the sun was there. I missed air conditioning and a bed in a room where I did not have to watch out for the scorpions. I had an overwhelming sense of my own hubris and naivete in swooping down from my perch of privilege to put a little band-aid on the situation and circumstances of pervasive wealth inequality and systemic inequities.
I remember thinking about the question of Psalm 139. Where can I go from your Presence? I remember feeling so thankful that I had a place to go back to. Home. Comfortable, beautiful, air conditioned home. Food. Gasoline in my car. And I remember thinking our Steeretown friends really did not have another place to go. They were home.
One lesson I am learning in the COVID 19 shelter-in-place social distancing is that there is nowhere I can go – nowhere you can go to get away from it. We can’t just board a plane or hop a bus and drive to a place the virus is not, or not yet there. For people in a lot of places around the world, money and mobility afford a way out. Even that is not much help now. Corona virus is the new equalizer of the human condition.
Going back to the Psalm of the second week of Lent, Psalm 121, it asks the question, “Where can I go for help?” Psalm 139 gives a clear picture of the answer by asking another question, “Where can I go from your Spirit, or where can I go from your Presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there. If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.” As this virus sweeps across the globe, God is already there.
In every town and city from New York to Los Angeles, from New Orleans to Seattle, from Steeretown to Raleigh, North Carolina, God is already there. In every hospital and clinic, in every ICU and every family waiting room, God is already there. It’s why the psalmist of psalm 139 acknowledges, “How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God. How vast the sum of them. I try to count them, they are more than the sand.”
Harry Smith, television photo journalist offered a piece on NBC that compared our days living with the pandemic as living in real time Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day. We wake up and every day is the same. Spring is still springing; grass is still greening. Infection is still infecting. The virus is everywhere around us. Thankfully and blessedly, God is around us too. “The darkness shall cover me, but even the darkness is not dark to you.”
Approaching Holy Week 2020, I pray we will find a prayer of assurance in the psalms and that we will find strength in the coming days and weeks to live as Resurrection people. Amen.