For you yourself created my inmost parts;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I will thank you because I am marvelously made;
your works are wonderful, and I know it well.
This week's psalm is the kind that seems to take up residence in the spirit. You may know it in a different translation...for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. The words we'll pray from the psalm on Sunday are both comfortable and powerful.
It is an expansive psalm too. We'll only pray about half of it in worship. The rest includes more loving depth, and also somewhat more edgy power and vehemence. It was the favorite psalm of Howard Thurman; mystic, prophet, mentor, professor, activist, and pastor of the 1900s. And his insight always leads me to consider the psalm in its entirety when I hear just a part of it recited.
The edgy part of the psalm has to do with "opposing the enemies of God." On the whole, I'd say this is appropriate to leave aside in communal worship. We must, must take seriously the difference of the sentiment when prayed by the mouths of (originally) a handful of oppressed Israelites living away in the mountains, as compared to the mouths of contemporary Americans with a military presence that circles the globe and our president blustering about nuclear weapons on social media. But Howard Thurman found the value of the full psalm at the personal, devotional level.
Growing up in Daytona Beach, Florida, in the segregated black village on the outskirts, he knew that people could act as enemies to God; could assault the dignity of their neighbors and seek to strip it from them. But Thurman found a refuge in his family, and in the quiet, dark Florida woods, and in the Word of God. He heard in Psalm 139 both the intimate closeness of God, and the transcendent power of God to save and to ultimately distinguish without ambiguity between good and evil. By finding the fullness of God's care in the fullness of the Psalm, Thurman was set free to live with love.
I trust the Psalms to hold this gift for all of us. They can help us celebrate, grieve, commiserate, rage, be still, recover, and much more. With 150 to choose from, there is a Psalm for every need. In the "Ordinary Time" after the Epiphany, we remember that God is present for all of life. God "created our inmost parts" and is faithful as we discover them ourselves.