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Psalm 84: The sweetness

Lynne Baab • Tuesday September 8 2020

Psalm 84: The sweetness

I need some sweetness right now. The past six months have been unbelievably intense for me, as for you, I’m sure. The pandemic has evoked so many roiling emotions, with grief sweeping through me in powerful waves as I learned about each new crisis: severe overload for health care workers, widespread job loss, economic disruption, disproportionate effect of the virus on people of color, loneliness, mental health issues, and on and on. My grief reached its nadir with the deaths of precious people who should never have died – Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd.

Now, six months after the pandemic began, my pervasive sadness continues as the United States still has to deal with ongoing issues related to the virus and racial justice.  The conflicts over how we should respond to the virus are deeply disturbing to me. The peaceful protests have been encouraging that maybe things will finally change, but the violence has been scary on many levels, and the political division over how to respond to racial issues has also been upsetting. The run-up to the American election is vicious and reveals such different visions for our country.

Come with me into the sweetness of Psalm 84, exactly what I need right now.

“How lovely is your dwelling place,
          O LORD of hosts!” (verse 1)

My heart needs something lovely, and the psalmist indicates that the loveliness I am longing for can be found in the presence of God. The psalmist describes this longing:

“My soul longs, indeed it faints
          for the courts of the LORD;
     my heart and my flesh sing for joy
          to the living God.” (verse 2)

I know I’m longing for relief from the intensity of the emotions I’ve been feeling, and the psalmist helps me focus my longing on God’s presence. I’m not sure my heart and my flesh are singing for joy to the living God right now, but these words help me settle down a bit and rest in the fact that in the past I’ve sung for joy, I will do it again, and somewhere someone is singing for joy to God.

“Even the sparrow finds a home,
          and the swallow a nest for herself,
          where she may lay her young,
     at your altars, O LORD of hosts,
          my King and my God.
Happy are those who live in your house,
          ever singing your praise.” (verses 3 and 4)

Sparrows and swallows are small birds, so numerous that they seem inconsequential. Even those small birds are able to find a home in God’s house, close to God’s altar. I feel like one of those small, negligible birds, and I find huge comfort in my welcome into God’s house. That feeling of welcome does make me feel happy, at least briefly, and results in praise for God.

“Happy are those whose strength is in you,
          in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the valley of Baca
          they make it a place of springs;
          the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
          the God of gods will be seen in Zion.” (verses 5-7)

Scholars aren’t really sure where Baca is, but the implication here is that it is a dry place, normally without a lot of rain. I can identify with dry places, and I long for my life to be a place of springs and pools. I long to go from strength to strength. The psalmist names my longing so clearly.

“O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer;
          give ear, O God of Jacob!
Behold our shield, O God;
          look on the face of your anointed.” (verses 8 and 9)

Lord, we’re praying. We need your help with the virus and with justice. We need your wisdom in so many areas of our lives, and the courage to act on what we hear from you. Lord, hear our prayer.

“For a day in your courts is better
          than a thousand elsewhere.
     I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
          than live in the tents of wickedness.
For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
          he bestows favor and honor.
     No good thing does the LORD withhold
          from those who walk uprightly.
O LORD of hosts,
          happy is everyone who trusts in you.” (verses 10 to 12)

Lord God, our Sun and Shield, help to enjoy your presence so much that we can say with the psalmist that we would be happy to be a doorkeeper in your house. Help us to see the favor and honor that you bestow on us, and give us grateful, loving hearts in response to your goodness. In these challenging times, give us the simple happiness of trusting in you. Amen.

(Next week: Interesting pictures of water in Psalm 84 and Deuteronomy 32. Illustration by Dave Baab: saltmarsh sparrow. I love getting new subscribers. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up below.)

Recently someone asked me which of my books I'm most proud of. I have two answers for different reasons. Sabbath Keeping is my best selling book by far. It's grounded in Dave's and my experience being forced to keep a Sabbath in Israel when we lived there for 18 months. I'm proud that the book has resonated with so many readers and that it was chosen as a book of the day at Urbana 2019. The other book I'm particularly proud of is The Power of Listening. In 2011, I interviewed 62 ministers and leaders of congregations about why they thought listening mattered in ministry and mission. In 2012 and 2013, I gave close to a dozen workshops on listening, where I gathered more stories about the power of listening. The book grew out of so much interview research, as well as deep engagement with the communication literature on listening. I'm really happy with how that book turned out. (But I hate the cover, which I think has detracted from sales of the book. For many of my books, I've had no opportunity to give feedback on the covers ahead of time).

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