January 29, 2008

A Stable Floor

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 27

In this short little life I have been given, on lease from God, what I think I most long for is to not be afraid any more.

I long to discover all those interior caverns of fear, wherein there exists a kind of negative space—a vacuum, a void, an absence of promise. To root out those undisturbed but disturbing spaces in my interior life; to have them filled, not with the nothingness of fear, but with the somethingness of grace—these are my frequent prayers. In them I confess that I am not even certain I know what it would look or sound or feel like to not at some level be afraid. Yet I'm certain that I want to know.

I recently found myself stuck in the Greensboro airport past midnight, my forty-nine fellow passengers and I standing like zombies near the baggage carousel, waiting for our luggage to appear. Even in my lethargy, I noticed next to me a slim, thirty-something Asian man who was nervously scanning his eyes around the room, panning the floor in search of an explanation.

And then I felt it, too. Shaking. The entire floor of that rather large complex was shaking, pulsating ever so slightly. It was the sort of modulation you would never notice if you simply rushed through the building, trying in haste to catch another flight. But when I did take notice, with him, I suddenly felt a subtle trembling. (Incidentally, I experienced a similar phenomenon on the George Washington Bridge entering NYC. It was bumper to bumper traffic, and during one of many stops mid-bridge I suddenly realized that the entire structure was undulating. Yikes.)

How often our lives are like that room, that bridge. Darting from here to there to everywhere, we're likely not to notice that at some subterranean level, in the deep-down things, in a place not often noticed, at a pitch not often heard, our lives are subtly trembling from a lifetime of being afraid—the embodied modulation of a thousand little anxieties, both conjured up on our own and ingested on behalf of others. The perennial shakes.

Then along comes the psalmist,
humming his ancient tune of trust:

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?

I imagine, then—and have occasionally experienced—that while fear has a way of rattling your bones, prayer has the opposite effect, a ratcheting result. To the extent that my prayers before God are honest and accurate, to the extent that my subtle case of the shakes is exposed for what it is, to the degree that in confession I name my lack of any real control over my surroundings … In all of this I find more and more pieces of my pulsating life bolted down to something solid, something stable. It is prayer that lashes me fast to the Unmoved Mover.

The twenty-seventh psalm is not the thin bravado of someone who laughs in the face of danger, who struts through life with chest thumped and muscles flexed. Psalm 27 is the gladsome tune of one who has been scared to death, but who has discovered in that place that God is in the business of life. To move into God's house is to unpack your possessions and set up your furniture in a sanctuary, a fortress, a stronghold. And among the many features of that divine dwelling, it has a most stable floor.

You pause inside for a moment,
waiting to feel the old familiar tremors.

But there are none.

And then, miracles of miracles, one begins to discover that stable feet make for a stable life. When I am not frenetically storing up huge stockpiles of unlived life for that terrible day when the other shoe drops upon me, I begin to discover untapped and deliberate energy for the living of life in the grip of God's grace. I learn to imagine that my baptism is a sign that I have been anchored into a ground more settled and steady than my own. It is holy ground, a stable place, a stronghold. It is a place for living, loving, and laughing; a space for making melody to the Lord.