WHO THE HELL IS DRIVING THIS THING?! (Psalm 48:6)
Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth. (NIV)
SO. It’s been a hot minute since I’ve written about the psalm I’m trying to memorize line-by-line, and there’s a reason. I’ve hit a theological brick wall. Here is what I am dealing with: the “desolations he has brought on the earth”. DESOLATIONS! That he brought! This sits waaay crooked with me, like trying to swallow a carrot sideways. Gentlemen, I say: fuck that shit. The God that I know, in the fibers of my heart and marrow of my bones is not a desolation type of entity*.
For weeks I’ve been chewing on this, talking about this, and sweating this. My tolerant spouse, who occasionally stuns me with his orthodoxy, pointed out that I’m using a Protestant translation for this exercise, and the “approved, Catholic” translation is as follows:
Come and see the works of the LORD,
who has done fearsome deeds on earth. (NASB)
I like “fearsome deeds” much more than “desolation”. I like science. I like to think that tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, etc. have much more to do with tectonic plates, atmospheric pressures, and human tampering with climate systems than they do a vengeful god who likes to wreck shit to make a point.
“Fearsome deeds” I can get down with: every single sunset is a fearsome deed. The Mojave desert is a fearsome deed. The way Moms love their kids is a fearsome deed. The evolution of the Brown Booby bird so that one baby kicks the other baby out of the nest to murder it is a fearsome deed. Mount Everest, ditto. I understand this. And in general, I’m prone to trust the exceptionally-educated scholars of my own 2,017 year old faith to translate ancient texts over Dan McMann over at the Presbyterian college down the street.
So. “Fearsome deeds” it is.
Which is not to say the Catholics are unfamiliar with desolation. Jesuits, who are the Church’s braniacs**, have this thing they use when making big decisions called “discernment of spirits” that Ignatius Loyola came up with. To the extent that my moldering peanut-brain can grasp it, any important decision is bookended by both positive and negative impulses (which he in his 16th century way described as “good spirits” and “bad spirits”).
We can tell whether an impulse is positive or negative by what direction it leads us in: toward something healthy and good (which he termed “consolation”), or toward something dark and unhealthy (which he termed “desolation”. If you don’t stop and examine your motives as you fart around through daily life, you can end up in spiritual desolation.
According to the people at Ignatian Spirituality, “desolation is…an experience of the soul in heavy darkness or turmoil. We are assaulted by all sorts of doubts, bombarded by temptations, and mired in self-preoccupations. We are excessively restless and anxious and feel cut off from others. Such feelings, in Ignatius’s words, “move one toward lack of faith and leave one without hope and without love.”
Who is unfamiliar with that road?!? No one I know.
The whole reason I started to memorize this Psalm is that it’s my favorite. It’s my favorite because of the first part of verse 46:10:
Be still, and know that I am God.
So I’m not going to sweat verses 8 and 9, although for thoroughness’ sake I will memorize them on the way. To me, this verse is the meat of the psalm. To me, it says in a very momentous way: COOL IT MISSY. I’VE GOT THIS. And this is medicine to me, because I am a type-A control freak who likes to think (or, more honestly, pretend) I’m steering.
One thing that you learn in the nicotine-stained and brutally frank basements of AA is that you are definitely, most certainly, utterly not the one at the steering wheel. (If you are, you have used that steering wheel to wrap your brand new Honda Civic around an unfortunate oak tree on the side of Route 180.) Weekly, daily, sometimes hourly, I have to remind myself that while I can make decisions and choices about my actions and thoughts, I actually can NOT control my fate. Sorry William Henley, I am not the master of my fate. Sorry Jerry Seinfeld, I am not the Master of My Domain. I am definitely not steering.
And this is why we chant the Serenity Prayer like a magical incantation: please help me to see the parts where you are the driver, God, and give me the good manners to let you have the wheel. Please help me to see the parts where I am the driver, and help me remember to use my turn signals. Please help me to tell the difference in the foggy shit-show of daily life. It is not easy.
And he says BE STILL: PUT IT DOWN YOUNG LADY. I WILL BE TAKING THE WHEEL FROM HERE.***
You fucked it up. And he says,
KNOW THAT I AM GOD: I INVENTED HYDROGEN AND NEBULAE, I CAN SYNTHESIZE AND DENATURE PROTEINS AT WILL, I DESIGNED THE HUMAN HEART BOTH LITERALLY AND METAPHORICALLY. I’M PRETTY SURE I’VE GOT THIS.
It might be my favorite part of the whole bible****. It reminds me, again, that while I might be able to swab the poopdecks however I want, I am not the captain of the ship.
- *unless you’re Jerry Falwell et. al., who like to frame natural disasters as The Lord’s Vengeance against their own personally chosen group of oppressed people to bully. In that case, fuck you and your man-made “God” anyway.
- **(described once by a Quaker friend of mine, only half-amicably, as “the intellectual storm-troopers of the Catholic church”)
- ***Apparently God speaks in all caps, like Owen Meany or Terry Pratchett’s “Death”.
- ****Well, tied with John 1:4–5, but that’s another long, disjointed post for another time.