King David knew Mercy before mercy was cool.
He longed for the healing love of a savior before Christ came to change our world forever. The psalms chronicle his repentance and desire for Merciful love in raw and human ways. Few stories of kings are more full of human brokenness and the need for God, and few kings have had the impact on the world that David did.
When we reflect on the psalms, something makes us think that King David gets us, even if we’re separated by millennia. Praying with the psalms doesn’t just tell us about the Jews and the Old Testament, it reveals something to us about our own hearts.
How lovely is your dwelling place,
Lord, God of hosts,
My soul is longing and yearning,
is yearning for the courts of the Lord.
My heart and my soul ring out their joy
to God, the living God.
We are all looking for security, for a safe place, for a home. We work to provide one for our family, to make it comforting, inviting…. As David says, lovely. Why? The fathers of the Church tell us that our desires are all rooted in our one desire for God. Without knowing it, we are longing for the dwelling place of God, for Heaven. We try to find it here on earth, to create it, to earn it. We need it. Just like King David. How do we get there? Part of a poem from Teresa of Avila gives us a map:
Soul, you must seek yourself in me
And in yourself must seek for me.
For well I know that you will see
Yourself engraved in my breast—
An image vividly impressed—
And then you will rejoice to be
So safely lodged, so highly blest.
And if by chance you do not know
Where to go in quest of me,
Do not go far my face to see,
Searching everywhere high and low,
But in yourself must seek for me.
For, soul, in you I am confined,
You are my dwelling and my home;
And if one day I chance to find
Fast-closed the portals of your mind
I ask for entrance when I come.
Oh, do not seek me far away,
For, if you would attain to me,
You only need my name to say
And I’ll be there without delay.
Look in yourself to seek for me.
-from “Soul, Seek yourself in Me” by Teresa of Jesus (Alison Peers translation)
The psalms and St Teresa both point us down the same road to the House of God, the road of prayer. In prayer we walk with Christ to the ‘lovely dwelling place of God’ within our soul. David got that.
In prayer, yearning becomes joy. Not only can we visit the dwelling place of God- we can live there with him, since he has made his home in our own hearts (John 14:23). The psalmist continues….
The sparrow herself finds a home
and the swallow a nest for her brood;
she lays her young by your altars,
Lord of hosts, my king and my God.
They are happy, who dwell in your house,
forever singing your praise.
They are happy, whose strength is in you,
in whose hearts are the roads to Zion.
As they go through the Bitter Valley
they make it a place of springs,
the autumn rain covers it with blessings.
They walk with ever growing strength,
they will see the God of gods in Zion.
Joy gets real when life hits hard. David knew this. The composer of songs and the guy who danced before the Lord also suffered – from sin and from the world (I’m not getting into it here…read the books of Samuel).
Even when we live in the dwelling place of the Lord, life can hurt. It can be stressful. The challenges don’t go away. But we walk through life ‘on the road to Zion in our hearts’, we walk with Christ, and he becomes our happiness and peace that can’t be taken away by whatever we encounter on the journey.
So like David, we have worries about our nest of ‘young swallows’, and we have to deal with the darkness of whatever “Bitter Valley” du-jour we find ourselves in, but these are not the only realities in our lives. They aren’t the defining reality. Our Lord changes reality into something deeply joyful below the chaos. He is there and he loves us. Bringing Christ into our daily lives touches the realities around us because of the reality within us.
We place our own ‘little sparrows’ before His altar in prayer, we walk hand in hand with Christ and the Valley becomes a place of refreshment instead of a place of bitterness.
Jesus brings deep love, peace and joy regardless of the concrete circumstance we are bringing Him into. St. John of the Cross, in the Spiritual canticle gives us the image of the bride seeking the Bridegroom and asking where he is. In reply the shepherds say:
Spilling out unbounded graces
He quickly passed these groves;
His glance alone
Left them blanketed with beauty.
This is what the mere look, the gaze, of Love Himself does. It transforms. It makes all things new and in some way beautiful. And when he looks at us, or through us at others, St. John’s bride tells her Bridegroom that it does this:
When You regarded me,
Your eyes imprinted in me Your grace:
For this You loved me again,
And thereby my eyes merited
To adore what in You they saw.
We are made beautiful by his love. That’s Mercy. And looking at the beauty he has created in us, he loves us more and more and we become more and more beautiful, more like Him. When we let Mercy live in us and look upon others through us, they too are transformed and made beautiful by Him. The world changes.
This is a portrait of our mission in life, according to the Second Vatican Council “The laity must take up the renewal of the temporal order as their own special obligation.” The temporal order means the world around us, and we transform it simply by living with Christ where he dwells in our hearts, and introducing Him to others through our witness, and our call to evangelization.
We bring Christ by letting him dwell in us. And we find the road to His lovely dwelling in prayer. Just like David, Teresa and John.
The king finishes his psalm saying
Lord, God of hosts,
happy the man who trusts in you!
We have all seen the painting of Christ knocking on a door to a house that has no exterior handle. The door is the door to his ‘lovely dwelling place’, our heart.
David shows us the key that we alone can use to open it, to let Christ in. The gift we can give the Giver of all things. Our trust.
We open, he enters, he dwells, we are happy, and the world around us changes.