Bible Study Week 1: Refuge

To start out our study Hide Me in the Shadow of Your Wings: Security, Surveillance, and the Psalms, we’ll look at an image that pervades the whole book of Psalms: refuge. The constellation of Hebrew words that sometimes are translated as refuge (other times as saving help, place of safety, and deliverance, to name a few) appear more than 100 times throughout the Psalms. Refuge is the positive side of security. It’s good to be attuned to what the Psalms think safety should be like. It can help us figure out how we fail to provide security in our communities, or when we misunderstand what we really need in terms of help.

Think about the word refuge. What does it conjure up for you? How many people are there? Can others gain access to your place of refuge or is it closed off?

You might try a Google image search for refuge. Do the images look like yours?

In Bible study on Sunday morning we noticed that a place of refuge often looks very different whether you are on the inside or the outside, not to mention how safe you already feel in your refuge.

Take a look at a few of these Psalms. How do their images of refuge compare with your own or to ones that show up as search results?

Visit the Salem Lutheran Facebook page to join the conversation.

Welcome to Security, Surveillance, and the Psalms Bible Study

Welcome to the online component of our Salem Lutheran Bible Study: Hide Me in the Shadow of Your Wings – Security, Surveillance, and the Psalms. For the next 6 weeks on Sunday mornings at 9 at Salem, we’ll be studying this topic together. You’re welcome to come. But if you can’t make it, or would like to continue the conversation beyond Sunday morning, then you’re invited to this ongoing online conversation. This is a new format, so we’ll be trying to find the best way to proceed. (Feel free to make suggestions by marking your comment “To Admin”)

The Psalms have been part of the life of the Church for as long as it has existed (and of course have been around for much longer even than that). Both ancient and exceedingly familiar to us, the language of the Psalms gives voice to almost every kind of human longing and concern. While the Psalms are not laid out like an instruction booklet for a life of faith, they can attune our ears, hearts, and voices to the ways faithful people have prayed to God over the centuries. They can both widen our concerns and give voice to our deepest fears. It is in this context that we will use the Psalms in this study: We will borrow their language to speak about the world in our time, seeing if ancient eyes don’t offer us a new perspective on our own concerns.

Security and surveillance are certainly not new-fangled concerns, but they have surfaced again recently in national discussion, especially with respect to the abilities of governments and corporations to collect vast amounts of electronic data from nearly everyone, with or without their consent. The national debate has centered around terms that are frankly foreign to the Psalms. Information, privacy, and consumer convenience are not notions that the Psalms find salient. But deeper concerns about protection and well-being, deceit and power, exposure and being known are all given expression by the Psalms.

The Psalms also speak from within a world that is already broken, spoiled and hopelessly entangled in sin. The Psalms do not offer idealized solutions for a perfect world, but prayers from this one, in the middle of things. The Psalms often admit to the speaker’s own failings even in the midst of prayers for rescue from forces beyond the speaker’s control. It’s complicated. But in the Psalms, it’s never too late. Things have never gotten so bad that they cannot be set right. Again and again the Psalms acknowledge that it is God who has ultimate charge of the world and its creatures.

To join the conversation, look for the link to the posts on the Salem Lutheran Facebook page.

Poem for Advent One

First Sunday of Advent, Dec. 1, 2013
Lessons: Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44

The Gospel Truth Security Company
by Kathryn Smith

We begin by seeking morning
in a world of night, then follow up with prayers
for peace within your walls. You don’t think
that’s enough? You want guns to chase
the needy from your threshold? Sorry,
we don’t work that way. This is so top-
of-the-line it’s over the line. Protection
redefined. Our blacksmith shop hammers
your locks into soup spoons. Our smelter
melts the barrels of semiautomatics and molds
the metal into tent poles. One weapon
can house an army, battalions of the homeless,
peacemakers reclaiming even the very
vocabulary of violence. Our guards
never sleep. When a stranger breaches your gate,
alarms raise the dead and the living
alike, chiming like a dinnerbell, kitchen timer shrill.
Those walls we mentioned?
They’re metaphorical. They’re everywhere,
and broken, and the peace you tried to hold
within is leaking through chinks in the stone.
No one knows when the thief is coming,
so we leave the table set all night.

Two poems by Lynda Maraby

In the Company of Angels

 

Heads bent low
we focus on the
dark ground
as one foot
proceeds
the other

finding little time
for conversation.

Presently
their shadowy
forms seem mere
obstructions
to the waning light.

Inspiration shallow,
even their singing
stops as
we turn inward, heedless of
loving hands that
lend balance
or support.

Undaunted still
they walk
beside us

hoping we will turn
to see and
smile.

Boxing Christmas

 

From a warm
hearth it is
easy to lift the
little lean-to from
the mantle, wrap
each figurine in
tissue, bag
the gilded plastic
straw and place
them in the
box that bears
their name.

The tree takes
longer.
Needles fall as
ornaments removed by
careful hands reveal
the simple
beauty of
each branch

the bright
angel who
watched over
all resumes her
winter sleep.

So I wonder
when that first
angel choir had
finished singing for
a homeless infant born
when all the
shelters shut
their doors

was there emptiness or did
songs of
joy continue
in their
hearts?
 
A note from the poet, Lynda Maraby, about her use of angels:
Whether we believe in the standard images of angels, I think they symbolize something true. In the physical universe, despite all the suffering and grief, if we observe carefully, there is also hope and joy. So often, we focus on the negative and ignore it, and this tendency appears to be a human trait, perhaps partly from guilt over our contribution to that suffering. But if we look at nature, we see a movement toward wholeness. Trees waiting to bud and bloom, mother cats tenderly grooming their kittens, flower bulbs that hide their sprouts until just the right moment. I think these poems reference that joy latent in all life and waiting to burst forth. The Christmas story and its angel heralds is a kind of promise that there is another possibility, one which we have only to open up and see.

A poem for the First Sunday of Christmas

Storm Warning

by Lynda Maraby

Silence
and the dropping curtain
of a late December

Herod’s forces
regroup
for one last offensive
from a horizon
obscured.

Ensconced in tinsel
and tradition,
we scurry
to whatever
beckons

hoping for inward grace,
searching for outward signs,
distracted

by all the pretty lights.

A note from the poet:

I wrote this poem a long time ago, but reworked it as “Storm Warning” at the outset of the Gulf War, when some were predicting an easy and quick victory. I was especially appalled at the notion that we could make a first strike. Although the leadership of Iraq was corrupt, that did not seem like enough reason to enter into a such a conflict. The propaganda was full of the same old patriotic claptrap about keeping us safe, but we were about to commit lives and resources to something so thinly veiled that oil dereks and dollar signs were visible just under the surface.

The reference to Herod came later, as I reflected on the nature of politically generated conflict in general. I think the reference to the slaughter of the innocents in the New Testament was a similar kind of comment (perhaps comparing the actions of Rome against its seized territories to those of Pharoah in Exodus).  It seems have not learned much since then except how to kill faster and more efficiently. We certainly have not learned how to control those political leaders who think they can do whatever they like in the name of protecting the common good.  I say “we” because all are culpable (and, as the poem implies, too easily hoodwinked).

This poem was published in 2007 in Simul: Lutheran Voices in Poetry. Maitland, FL, Xulon Press.

Lynda Maraby is a member of Salem Congregation.

Poem for the fourth Sunday of Advent

Mary Describes How it Feels

By Kathryn Smith

When the angel spoke, the axis pulled
through earth’s center like a needle through
cloth. Mountains split and plunged
to the depths of the sea, whose tides had turned backward,
whose moon no longer held sway. At the sound
of the angel’s voice, the tree outside my window
gave back its sunlight. It began to shrink its branches,
leaves furling in on themselves, bark returning
to a cellular memory, down to the code
of a single seed. The whole world was a walnut,
and it latched within me. When I sleep,
I dream of armies marching straight
into oceans, of one hundred lambs
penned for slaughter and the axman
throwing open the gate. I dream of plagues
undone. But mostly
I don’t sleep, spun by the hurricane
churning inside me, buildings rising
and tumbling until one
stone remains. Rumor of war
in the womb’s dark snare, kernel of coiled history
ready to spring, to hurl every last molecule
from its place—my
untamed, my temblor, my sweet
internal fire unleashing and no one,
no one prepared for its terrible,
beautiful havoc.

A poem for the third Sunday of Advent

Lessons: Zephaniah 3:14-20, Philippians 4:4-7, Luke 3:7-18

I’m a quiet person, and John the Baptist’s warning in Luke 3 is noisy. I wanted to reflect on this notion of winnowing, of throwing the unfruitful trees to the fire, but without all the yelling and accusation. Because after all, as we’re told at the close of this Gospel reading, the unquenchable fire that burns the chaff is good news.

Gathered

by Kathryn Smith

In this valley, the sun
is always behind us, light
that can’t quite lift itself
above the fence of mountains.
Keep me here, O Lord, in the safety

of fog’s enclosure, where a solitary figure
crosses the field, pruning saw in hand.
The gray orchard has not
dreamed of spring, trees nestled
in dormancy, their sap

an unseen coursing beneath the bark.
This is the time for pruning.
The orchardist knows the saw’s perfect
angle, the importance
of a steady grip. He knows

what thrives, budswell, small signals
of bearing. A firm hand

makes the cleanest cut. Nothing fruitless
remains. Nothing’s left to break

under winter’s burden,
spent limbs bundled and burned
in the damp morning. Smoke rises,
indistinguishable from fog,
from breath. I pray for necessary
injuries, wounds that remind me,

with each knotted scar, to whom
I belong.