Sunday, May 17, 2020

Words from dead white guys.

Psalm 66:16-20 Common English Bible (CEB)
16  Come close and listen,
    all you who honor God;
    I will tell you what God has done for me:
17  My mouth cried out to him
    with praise on my tongue.
18  If I had cherished evil in my heart,
    my Lord would not have listened.
19  But God definitely listened.
    He heard the sound of my prayer.
20  Bless God! He didn’t reject my prayer;
    he didn’t withhold his faithful love from me

Mrs. McClintock, my 4th grade teacher, was renowned for two things.  Her class always marched and spelled out words during the Annual Spring Festival, and her class was required to memorize and recite poetry every month.  We memorized The Owl and the Pussycat and The Village Blacksmith and The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere and other poems by dead white guys that I have, thankfully, forgotten.  Standing to recite those poems each month was terrifying. I watched with dread as my classmates went to the front to recite in alphabetical order, hoping against hope that some miracle would keep me from having to perform.  That never happened.  I honestly cannot remember anything that terrified me so thoroughly all through school as those monthly poetry recitations in 4th grade.   

For decades afterwards, I could not read poetry.  Which is actually kind of sad, because prior to 4th grade I was writing poetry.  My mother saved several of my early poems.  But from 4th grade on, if I saw anything in a book I was reading that was shaped like a poem I would skip over it.  It wasn’t until my Freshman English class when I was 44 that I was introduced to poetry that didn’t look or sound anything like those dead white guy poems.  I met Maya Angelou and many other modern poets - some of which didn’t even rhyme! - whose work spoke to experiences and feelings I could understand.  

All of this to say - I didn’t, couldn’t, read the Psalms for a very long time.  Periodically I would try to, but until that Freshman English class just the sight of poetry could make me start trembling.  When I finally did read the Psalms I discovered that in many cases the Psalmist and I had a lot in common.   He spoke the words of my heart, and the experience of my life.

Let me tell you what God has done for me!  How much grace God has poured out on me!  How God heard the prayers of my heart, even when I could not form the words.  And God listened!  No person ever really hears what is in my heart, but God does, and listened to me!   I know that if I had asked for anything with evil intent, then God would have ignored my pleas.  God listened, and loved me, and set me free from the chains of addiction and sin that bound me!  Praise God, all you people!  

Gracious God, I give you thanks and praise this day, for your love, and for the healing power of poetry.  Amen. 

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