The writer of Psalm 119, the longest of all 150, is my kind of religious person: faithful, but really wanting some faith. In various ways, the writer spirals around the basic premise that meditating on the law of God keeps us close to God, and will keep us close to safety and security.
Maybe it doesn’t?
Over and over again, the psalmist insists that God’s “statutes” are true, and that keeping close to them is the way of life. And the psalmist insists on just how close to death they may be.
Meditating on God’s law, if you take the Psalm to mean some form of studying scripture, feels good for me in so many ways. It connects me to my ancestors who have wrestled with the questions of what it means to be alive for a lot longer than I have. It takes me out of the time of my world, and places me in a timeless conversation the source of my being. It connects me with others looking to these same scriptures around the world this day.
None of it makes me better or safer or smarter.
In a time of complete loss, I remember holding my grandfather’s bible in my hand, and kneeling, and opening it, and reading it… wanting so much for it to give me life when I felt so dead. Mainly I still felt hollow when I closed it.
But later I started to read with others, and to talk about what we were reading, and wonder what on earth it could all mean, and what the heck the context was for all these writings so outside our world, and how we might live in echo and response, and wonder how so many people wanted to claim laws for God that made people less alive, more oppressed, less fully themselves… and… and… and
Reading the Bible never made me more likely to live longer1, or live better. It invited me to focus more on what I was living for: at first my friends reading with me, then a church, then a whole bunch more. It made me more likely to call out with the psalmist: “How long, O God?” Because things fall apart. It still happens. But I have friends with me, and ancestors, and Jesus—oh, God, do I have Jesus with me—in that cry and complaint, and wonder. And so, in the end I read… not because it will fix me, but because it will help me not to be alone in the unfixable, and that companionship of spirit may heal all our hearts.
Though, prayer, meditation, or just going on walks and being bored all seem to have pretty good health benefits, so maybe let’s all give it a shot more? ↩