January 23, 2011
“Seeking God’s Beauty”
David A. Davis
One thing. One thing. One. One thing I asked of the Lord that I will seek after. “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom I shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” My light and my salvation. Be strong and let your heart take courage. And right in between, right there in the middle, there’s that one thing. One thing. One thing I asked of the Lord that I will seek after.
Most lists are longer than that; the lists of questions to ask God one day. You don’t write them down, but you sort of keep track in your head. Theological questions: were we even close with this doctrine or that, Lord? Questions of history and particular pastoral situations and acts of nature; questions of why, God? And those child-like questions: how did you get the job of being God anyway? The list most have going is a lot longer than one thing. As for a prayer list; the best pray-ers keep quite a list; names on scraps of paper tucked in their bible, a notepad next to the bed, names on cards over at the desk. Yes, some moments in life offer a singular focus, or an urgent concern that comes down to one desperate plea to God, but those whose gift of the Holy Spirit is prayer, they would be way too humble and way too generous with their gift to limit their prayer to one thing.
The psalmist asked for one thing. One thing to seek after: “to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in God’s temple.” Living in the house of the Lord every day, seeking God’s beauty, asking of the Lord there in the holy place. When Psalm 27 is read at a service in witness to the resurrection, it has an eternal tone to it. “All the days of my life”. When confronted by death, that one thing asked for could be forever. Dwelling in the house of the Lord now and forever. All the days of life before you, O God. Yet, the psalmist’s mention of evildoers and adversaries and armies and war rising up, it has a rather urgent tone to it. There’s not much of “the world to come” about it. It is very much here and now, very much of “a this world” kind of petition. The one thing, living in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. Not just then. Now.
Dwelling in the house of the Lord. Beholding the beauty of the Lord. Inquiring in God’s temple. It could be religiously formal in nature, the one thing; a yearning to worship the Lord, to join in the liturgy of God’s people, to petition God in prayer. A life of worship. Or even more, a vocational choice, a monastery, a spiritual retreat 24/7, a yearning to get away from it all, to make ritual an occupation, to answer the calling, to become a religious professional. Here I Am Lord! That one thing where observance and practice and prayer and sacrifice can be a way of life there in God’s house. But the psalmist proclaims God’s action not just in the temple, not just in the house, but as a shelter in the time of trouble, and with protection out under the tent, and being lifted up, set high on rock. The one thing, this one thing, is not just to draw in or to step away. There is a sending out, a going forth, a traveling on. Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path. For the psalmist, the request, the one thing to seek after is not some sort of spiritual fetal position, a liturgical safe house, far removed from this land of the living. “I believe I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”
To live in the house of the Lord, to behold the beauty of the Lord, to inquire in God’s temple. One thing I ask. One. Jonathan Edwards wrote page after page on the beauty of God sure to be revealed in heaven. Saints and mystics describe seeing the beauty of God in an almost out of body prayer experience. The beauty of God cries out in creation, as the earth poses for one picture after another. A reflection of God’s beauty can come in the notes of Bach, or the brush strokes of Rembrandt, or the words of Shakespeare. And, yes, in relationships of love, and acts of kindness; in compassion, mercy, and justice God’s beauty abounds. But notice the everyday nature of the beauty sought by the psalmist. The request to be in the house of the Lord and to behold God’s beauty and to inquire amid God’s holiness, it is for everyday, it is for here and now, it is for the grind, for the long haul, for the less than ordinary moments. All the days; not just the memorable ones or the extraordinary ones. Not just days to come at the heavenly feast, not just the gorgeous days when creation sings, not just the days when all of life was just so sweet. Seeking God’s beauty, it’s not just asking for the highlight reel. “Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! ….Do not hide your face from me.”
One thing. One thing. One. One thing I asked of the Lord. And it is for everyday and it is for now. It is for all the days of my life. To live in God’s presence, to behold, to be aware, to know God is there. To ask of and to bask in God’s holiness today, and tomorrow, and the next day. For God’s beauty is God’s presence. God’s beauty is God with us. God’s beauty is God here. To live everyday aware of the very presence of the Living God in your life. God’s beauty. To rise every morning with a day stretched out before you, knowing that God is with you. God’s beauty. Taking the wings of the morning and settling at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me and your right hand shall hold me fast. God’s beauty. It is the one thing asked of the Lord. To sense, to know, to be aware, to live in God’s presence all the days.
Lives made holy, not because of what we do, or how well we pray, or the excellence of our worship, or the depth of our discipleship, but lives made holy by the presence of the Risen Christ. Space like this in our tradition, space set a part by function, a gathering space for worship, it is not holy or sacred in and of itself. It is not holy or sacred because of its simplicity, it plain splendor. It is not holy or scared because of what we do here, sitting there, standing here, gather at the Table, coming to the Fount. This space is made holy and sacred by the presence of the Risen Christ, the Living God whose Spirit invites us here, and unites us here, and claims us here, and sends us out from here as the Body of Christ. Not everyone has had the chance to be in this room all alone. Early morning is best with some sun coming in. It’s quiet except for the floor that creaks when you walk. The pews are as uncomfortable when you’re by yourself as they are when the room is full. But when you are in here all by yourself, the only holiness to be found comes as you receive the promised presence of God, as you find yourself claimed and accompanied by the presence of the Risen Christ, as you are aware, have a sense or the presence of the Holy Spirit. Space like this in our tradition, it is like life; for its beauty comes first and foremost with the presence of God.
One thing, the one thing. One. One thing I asked of the Lord that I will seek after; to know and be assured of and receive and live in your presence, O God, all the days of my life. All the days. That is God’s beauty.
© 2011, Property of Nassau Presbyterian Church
Contact the church to obtain reprint permission