Psalm 91 has a nickname of the “Amulet Psalm” given to it by an Israeli scholar years ago. An amulet is an object usually worn around the neck that would convey protection for the person wearing it. It was a custom for a royal authority to give an officer an amulet to be worn around the neck or a ring to be worn to convey the authority of the regent for protection. The same idea holds true in our baptisms. We were signed by the sign of the Cross in our baptisms by oil of Chrism (meaning “anointed”, further meaning “chosen”) Christ being our amulet. Some of us wear crosses to remind us of his Presence. Of course this sacrament was not known by David at the time of his writing but prophets and kings were anointed with oil when crowned or chosen.
David experienced that God has guarding power as Jesus would later say, “no one can snatch them (disciples) out of my hand (John 10). Three speakers in the poem attest to this: the poet (vs 1 & 3-13), the man who trusts in God (vs. 2) and God, (vs. 14-16).
Birdwatchers (like me!) are in awe when we perchance see a mother bird covering her fledglings with her wings. This is a commonly used image for the compassionate care of God. The protection appears to come through two forms: plague or hostile people. This immediately brings back moments in my life where I was in situations where I had a brush with death but came through unscathed or bruised up a little. This often causes me to shudder inside, humbling me for the grace that somehow reached through my situation or lack of sense to sustain me. This is not to say that those who do die in war or accidents are not equally loved or cared for because we all die eventually and God is with each one of us at the end and beyond.
Verse 10, I believe, offers us a wakeup call. At first we can dismiss the idea of being saved from harm near our tent. This agrarian way of life known by farmers and ranchers may now only be identified by city folk who camp or backpack. But it carries with it the reality that is often snuffed out by our modern way of life with all its conveniences. We too, are a nomadic people on a journey. In one way, we are living the paradox of “standing still” while the nomadic part is urging us to “move on” as the spiritual life is a journey, not static. God is always still but is at the same time on the move.
Sometimes we are bruised in life. We rarely have our feet bruised by a stone as was often the case in Israel as there were no roads so to speak of until the arrival of the Romans. In ancient Israel, people stubbing their toes was commonplace. Being on a journey means that we sometimes risk bumping against barriers, but God promises to lift us up.
We’re beginning to see more and more where wildlife, whose land has been confiscation by development have begun their movement into towns and cities. Lions and Vipers for most people are something seen on the screen or in a zoo. Those of us who live in the country experience the risks of animals in the wild, having a sense of what people faced long ago.
Saving the best for last, love, loving God, is the greatest protector of all, bringing us into God’s presence and awareness, not just bringing us long life but a real one. Salvation meant for the Hebrew people being “delivered into a wide and open space.” In the midst of our present restrictions, can we experience the “wide and open spaciousness” of the presence of God?
What is it like to be held by the Love of God? How would you describe this? Tell someone. Something within them might be dying to know.
To the Spirit’s wide and open spaciousness,