Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Are you wearing green? Hopefully this holiday will make Monday a bit more festive!
A song of ascents.
1 Blessed are all who fear the Lord,
who walk in obedience to him.
2 You will eat the fruit of your labor;
blessings and prosperity will be yours.
3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.
4 Yes, this will be the blessing
for the man who fears the Lord.
Last spring, I walked 500 miles across northern Spain on the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage to the traditional burial site of Saint James the Apostle.
I’ll admit that those seven weeks were among the most challenging of my life not just because of the physical strain, but the opportunity to witness, hour after hour, and day after day, the rantings my inner tyrant.
This voice knows everything there is to know about anything. It judges without reason or remorse. It possesses a steely refusal to ask for help or receive it graciously when offered. Most of my life I’ve believed this messenger’s authority without ever examining the messages. “Toughen up,” it tells me. “You idiot. Why did you do that?” “Push down those feelings. No one wants you to bother them.”
While my normal life tunes out this inner tyrant, the hours of relentless walking with nothing else to do allowed me to become profoundly acquainted with its workings.
One day, in a shining moment, I realized the true identity of this messenger: my ego. My Wizard behind the curtain. This little tiny dude in me that is all bluster and bravado. What else are the fruits of the ego but comparison, judgment, resentment, and hostility? What’s beneath it all but fear?
And it’s fear at the heart of this lovely psalm.
When you consider it, the ego has a lot to be afraid of. Namely its own demise. No wonder it’s so feisty-sounding. The ego wants to stay in power. It wants to be God. If I walk toward the place my ego is most afraid of, God is there, ready to wipe it out.
In this moment of profound clarity, I realized that I’m an infinitely small speck hurtling through a giant cosmos with no knee pads or helmet. I am completely vulnerable. I’m completely reliant on God’s generosity, love, strength. On a cosmic level, my ego is irrelevant.
This is what I’ve come to understand to be true fear of the Lord. It’s not a trembling fear of getting zapped, lightning-bolted out of existence. It is a real fear of what the Sufis call annihilation: accepting that I am almost nothing in the grand scheme of things.
And despite being next to nothing, I am completely cared for by God. Teeny little me. Teeny little you.
The Divine is providing everything you need. Already. With no help from the ego. You did nothing to earn this abundance except show up like an olive shoot to the family table.
My response to this insight (and perhaps the thing we’re all called to do) is to lean into this Source which is so much more substantial than our bruising ego. We are called to open up and receive all that the Divine wants to give us. There is so much we can’t provide for ourselves.
The thing I love about this psalm is how it acknowledges that it is labor to face God. Releasing the ego’s hold on us is hard, uncomfortable work. We resist feeling small. Yet on the other side of this effort, fruits and blessings await. Placing our trust in God, the psalmist tells us, will yield joy, peace, abundance, and love.
I can vouch from experience that these blessings arrive. The night of my insight about fear, trust, and my place in the cosmos, I lay on my back surrounded by snoring pilgrims and could feel myself held in God’s palm, completely loved and supported. Not even a peep from my ego.
Not a bad fruit for my labors.
And may you experience the same blessings – or better – this Lenten season.