Today’s Bible reading
Read Psalm 126
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.
More thoughts for meditation
There is a wisdom that we find in religious literature that teaches us that fate is like a great wheel that turns, at once to fortune, then to calamity, then back to fortune, etc. We even find this kind of philosophy at places in the Bible. In such a universe, our task is to resign ourselves to fate, endeavoring not to be too upset when things are not in our favor, nor be too confident when they are. The wheel will turn and we will have to turn with it, whether we like it or not.
Are we bound on a course of necessity? I can think of two things that may have lent credence to the worldview outlined above: first, cycles do indeed seem to govern the events of nature; and second, a lot happens that is beyond our control. If nature itself is bound to the inevitability of the seasons and the day, and if nature is more powerful than ourselves, then we must admit that we also would be unable to escape the inevitability of fate.
But the vision given to us in this Psalm is not of inexorable fate. It is of the miracle that grows right up through all of the so-called inevitable cycles of the world. It is the miracle that our tears, when buried in the earth, burst forth into laughter. But not only that, it is also the miracle that a seed, buried deep in the earth, turns into a stalk of wheat. Existence itself is a miracle. It defies explanation. Even before we are given to meditations on the cycles of life is the fact that there is life at all. Each season is more or less abundant, but do not let this obscure the fact that existence itself is something profligate.
And yet, all life seems caught between two opposing forces. It seeks abundance, but all the time is pulled toward deprivation. It reflects and manifests God’s wholeness while also succumbing to the disintegration of time. God made a universe that gives Him glory, but also a universe that is moving toward entropy. So also for our lives. We live in the same collision of opposites. We feel the force of pain and loss, even while our faith tells us of a deeper love that brings light to darkness. It seems sometimes that life is as delicate as a candle flame. The miracle of existence gets swallowed up by our knowledge of its fragility.
Given that, the temptation is to hold ourselves back from participating in our own life, from letting ourselves feel the pain and grief of reality — with good reason. The seed that is sown into the earth ceases to be a seed, even if it becomes a grain of wheat, which is what it was all along. Loss tugs at us, and threatens to undo everything that we are. We should honor the trepidation we feel and the impulse to protect ourselves. We feel our life to be something precious, and are afraid that we are going to lose it. Yet Jesus teaches us the way of the seed: only by losing our life do we find it. Not all things pass away, but all things are brought to their fulfillment in God’s eternal life.
Listen, and you can hear the voice of nature whisper all things will be lost to the dust. No one, from the rich to the poor, escapes the wheel of fate. But listen more closely, and God whispers more quietly but more strongly, nothing of mine is ever lost, even if it sleeps in the earth. Though you sow in tears, you will reap laughter. The miracle of existence, which stands prior to all of our philosophical reflections, becomes after all the miracle of ever-lasting life.
Suggestions for action
Pray: “Nothing of Your is ever lost, Lord. Grant me the peace that comes from knowing that all things are in Your hands.”
Listen to this recitation of Psalm 126, set to music by Philip Glass. Glass captures well the majestic joy of the people of Zion, whose fortune has been restored. Notice how he plays with the idea of repetition and elaboration. He works with repeating structures that reveal subtle movement and development.