I do not relish when people ask me, “What is your favorite… (fill in the blank)?” It’s not the question but the ability to make up my mind to narrow whatever the topic is to one item. Take the Psalms for instance. Well…there’s 42, but there’s also 46, 62 and 51. Oh yes, it must be 139. Kathy’s is 91 that we say in Compline a lot. Another brother told me 117 is his favorite. What’s yours?
Psalm 139 reveals God’s relentless search for our own innermost thoughts, His ineffable presence and the limitations of our mortal understanding. The Spirit knows us better than we know ourselves (what a relief that is especially on those days when I am such a buffoon!) and that that his Love shapes each of us from our beginnings in the womb. The “innermost parts” come from the Hebrew word, “kidney.” According to the work of Robert Alter, the kidneys were the seat of conscience in the biblical understanding. Hebrew is an expansive language, more inductive in nature than our western habit of using deduction to narrow causation to one factor. The kidneys would translate into the meticulous beauty of the organs of the body with a connotation of beauty and wonder. Years ago, I was privileged to observe an abdominal surgery and was overwhelmed with the beauty of the human body in all its intricacy and how it was formed together in such a perfect (complete/whole) way.
The writer experiences the “hand” of God upon him, which for some of us who are less tactile, might seem a little “close” or for those of us who suffer from excessive guilt, might seem more like a threat, like an authority figure grabbing us when we didn’t toe the line. However the word conveys more of an action of a potter who shapes a vessel. Who wouldn’t want to become a beautiful vessel instead of a cold hard lump of clay?
Darkness is something not to be feared as darkness is not dark to God who is Light during the day and night. The unknown is often equated with darkness. If the unknown is also filled with the presence of God, is there a need for us to be afraid? We have the alternative opportunity to listen and open to God’s presence in the unknown. In all reality, all life is unknown. None of us knows what will happen five minutes from now. Why should this preclude our enjoying life? We know who we are by Whose we are.
The writer experiences himself as being written down in the Book of God with a sense that the Potter’s created has a destiny to fulfill. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we do not have free will. But we were all born with gifts, strengths and a spirit that look to be fulfilled.
We can never get our minds around the greatness of God. Metaphorically, the writer uses grains of sand to describe the infinite mind and thoughts of God. God already knows our thoughts. Sometimes I would like to pretend that He doesn’t until I realize that when I allow God into my thoughts I am released from the suffering which some of my thoughts created.
The writer closes with the same verb as he did in verse 1: Search. The writer asks for God to search his mind and heart in order to cleanse us from anything that might impinge on us from the Spirit’s entrance and continual presence within us. The writer asks God to remove anything that would vex God or cause pain to himself such as any idol that is placed in the way of God. The request to “Lead me,” gives the image of being accompanied into the eternal nature of God. Eternal life isn’t a place—not static. Eternal life is a way of being in the world, Holy Spirit merged with our human spirit. I am reminded of the title of Dr. Seuss’ last book. O The Places We’ll Go! Nothing like dwelling the eternal space within God—an endless journey. Is God within us? Or are we inside of God? I prefer to think that it’s both.
May the love of God explode all over you!