The Stewardship of Wonder


Psalm 139

O Lord, You have searched me out and You know.

א. לַמְנַצֵּחַ לְדָוִד מִזְמוֹר יְהֹוָה חֲקַרְתַּנִי וַתֵּדָע:
2. You know my sitting and my rising; You understand how to attach me from afar.

ב. אַתָּה יָדַעְתָּ שִׁבְתִּי וְקוּמִי בַּנְתָּה לְרֵעִי מֵרָחוֹק:
3. My going about and my lying down You encompassed, and You are accustomed to all my ways.

ג. אָרְחִי וְרִבְעִי זֵרִיתָ וְכָל דְּרָכַי הִסְכַּנְתָּה:
4. For there is no word on my tongue; behold, O Lord, You know it all.

ד. כִּי אֵין מִלָּה בִלְשׁוֹנִי הֵן יְהֹוָה יָדַעְתָּ כֻלָּהּ:
5. From the rear and the front You encompassed me, and You placed Your pressure upon me.

ה. אָחוֹר וָקֶדֶם צַרְתָּנִי וַתָּשֶׁת עָלַי כַּפֶּכָה:
6. Knowledge is hidden from me; it is hard, I cannot attain it.

When I want great Chinese food, I go to a person raised in China.  When I want a great French meal ,I find a French restaurant never fails to satisfy.  But when I want to take in the Psalms, I usually go to the text as it has been meticulously translated by my Jewish brethren. Christians have many gifts. Even Anglicans have some.  But translating the Jewish scripture seems not to be one.

This translation of the Torah in the Tanakh exposes my favorite psalm and my favorite thing about it.

I think of these last two verses from among the first six of psalm 139 when I see this section of the carving of the Last Supper on the frontal piece of the Cathedral’s High Altar. It was carved by a master wood-carver from Oberammagau, Germany and is one of the masterpieces of art in the church.

When I look at this man in the front of the table (on our side), I tend to identify with him.  He looks confused.  The others, on Jesus’ side of the table, are animated- buzzing around Jesus.  Jesus is staring off into the distance as if contemplating his decision to offer himself. He is paying attention to not one of the disciples. He is looking off into space – into the cosmos.  And this man, the one on our side of the Last Supper table, is seated with his profile towards us.

He is neither happy that there is a party going on nor that there has been talk of dark days ahead.  He is not poised to run away nor is he high-five-ing Jesus with an “atta-boy.” He is not discussing the corner office he wants when this all goes down. And he is not weeping.  He seems only to wonder.

“5. From the rear and the front You encompassed me, and You placed Your pressure upon me.

6. Knowledge is hidden from me; it is hard, I cannot attain it.”

I get this feeling which this guy seems to be exhibiting (or which I am projecting onto him.) I feel it often.  Rowan Williams calls it “the wound of Knowledge” and describes well the reality that we cannot now not know what we know. Even when we wish we could turn back the clock to the not-knowing-time.

I often feel like this guy looks.  “….really? This is the plan? If you ask me it is not a great plan…I want ice cream. Ice cream would definitely help…salted caramel…I should have taken that job in insurance sales when I had the chance…this is not a great plan.”

“Knowledge is hidden from me. It is hard.  I cannot attain it.”

Some of my friends do not believe God is at work.  They are, Deists I guess.  They think God set us in motion and is keeping an eye on us while he plays Mahjong with Jesus and the Bird in some smokey back room in Heaven.  But I think God really does have his hand on me – on all of us.  And I think we sense it.  Often.  And it has times of real pressure, like the pressure of a potter’s hands on a ball of spinning clay. We are being made and sometimes it hurts.

I would change the plan. If I were God, I would put despotic rulers and evil Bishops in Time Out (after the hug they so badly seem to need).  I would impose nap time as a liturgical act and give free hot fudge sundaes to the kind Bishops and good leaders.  And I would wink the richest and the poorest people of the planet into an exchange of houses – the way Tabitha could on Bewitched -and then host what would be, I expect, a valuable conversation about God’s bounty.

Or I would sit there, like this guy in the carving. Wondering.  Hoping. Praying. Imagining that somehow God has this all under control. That all things shall be well.

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