Rev. Kathy Donley
Scripture Lesson: Psalm 62:5-8
I have been a lot of beautiful places in the last few months. In May, we spent just a few days, not long enough, at the Grand Canyon. I learned that my body no longer copes well with being at elevation. No matter how much water I drank, my head hurt pretty much the entire time and yet, I did not want to leave. Many of you have been there before and you know that words and even pictures are inadequate to convey the magnitude of its beauty and grandeur.
The people who live and work in the area are eager to share all they can about the Canyon. One afternoon, as we rode the shuttle, our helpful bus driver told us that at the next stop, the Colorado River would be one mile below us. He told us where to stand to glimpse it and he said that if we were lucky, we might even hear it. We might hear the sound of the water. Wow. We unloaded from the bus and wandered towards the rim, looking for the particular place he had suggested. Standing there, we could just make out the path of river far below. We waited for the shuttle to re-load its passengers and for the sound of its motor to die and then, in the silence we strained to hear the river. . . . Only as we stood there, another tourist came along. He was carrying a device that played music. No joke. He might have been using earbuds. I can’t remember, but the volume was such that we could hear nothing else. So Erin and I began a LOUD conversation about how this was the place to hear the river, and I asked her if she could hear it and she said no, could I? And in that passive-aggressive way, we outlasted the man with the music who took himself and his noise somewhere else . . . and then in the blessed quiet, when we listened carefully, we could indeed hear the river churning its way to the sea, more than a mile below us.
“For God alone my soul waits in silence,” says the psalmist. Ours is a noisy culture. Silence is hard to find. And sometimes, when it does get quiet, our own thoughts seem so loud that we might as well turn up the radio.
I like silence, but you might not know that, because I also like words. It can take a long time for my words to run out, for me to turn off the flow of sound and sentences and just be quiet. Except that lately, I am finding words, my own and other people’s more excellent words, to be inadequate. All the eloquent language, all the compelling arguments, all the chants and slogans and speeches, they just don’t seem to be enough. I find myself falling silent because I have said all I know to say. I have used up my own resources. Perhaps I am learning what the psalmist means, “For God alone, my soul waits in silence.”
There is a small Hebrew word which is repeated several times in this short psalm. The word is ’ak. It occurs 24 times in the entire book of psalms, but 6 times in this one psalm. This word can mean two things. It means only or alone. It also means truly or indeed.
It occurs in these verses (1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 9) and the New Revised Standard Version always translates it with the first meaning of alone or only. We could translate it with the second meaning, “For God truly, my soul waits.” The beauty in the Hebrew is that the term most likely has a double-entendre. It carries both meanings simultaneously. To wait for God alone means to wait on God indeed. To truly hope in God means that we hope only in God.
“God alone is my rock. God is truly my rock.” This psalm picks up that image of God as a rock which is repeated in several other psalms. This is an image that I plan to explore with you across the next month. It is an image of security, of strength. Rocks stay in place. They remain part of the fixed landscape. The opposite image might be of the sea.
For ancient Hebrew people, the sea was a symbol of chaos and fear. The sea was constantly moving. It was the place of monsters and storms and roiling waters. The sea was death and insecurity and danger. They did not know that atoms were moving all the time in rocks and so when they said, “God is my rock” it mean that God was faithful and solid and steadfast. You could depend on God like you could depend on nothing else.
Scholars have different schemes for categorizing psalms. None of the systems capture all the psalms, but Walter Brueggemann’s categories are very helpful to me. Brueggemann is one of the leading contemporary Old Testament scholars. He says that some psalms are written for good times, when everything seems normal and right with the world. These are the psalms of gratitude for God’s ordering of life. They reflect life as God intends it. In these psalms, God is praised and the creation is celebrated. Brueggemann calls them psalms of orientation.
But life is not always like that, and so there are songs, poetry, and psalms written for the times when things seem to fall apart, when things look bleak and life is inexplicably difficult, times of radical change when old certainties no longer hold. Some psalms reflect faithful people’s response to God during those broken times. Brueggemann calls them psalms of disorientation.
His third category are psalms of new orientation, which are deeper versions of the orientation psalms. Having lived through the times of crisis, people come out on the other side with a deeper, stronger faith and their praise takes on a new dimension.
Many of us feel we are living through disorientation. Things about our communal and civic life which we have assumed were established and solid are being called into question. From the ways in which government works to the rules of polite conversation to some of the inalienable rights our ancestors claimed were self-evident, everything we thought was nailed down is coming loose.
In times like these, the psalms remind us, “God alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.”
Jesus told a parable about a wise person who built a house on a rock and a foolish one who built on sand. These images of rocks and sand, of wisdom and foolishness – they just lead me to more questions. In what do we trust? In our own resources, the strength of our logical arguments, our votes, our buying power? What would it mean if God alone, God indeed was our rock, our unshakeable fortress?
Another way to ask this question might be to ask about authority. What has authority in our lives? Roger Shinn was a Christian ethicist and theologian who taught at Union Seminary in New York for many years. He describes three basic kinds of authority. The first kind is external, based on power. This is the authority of the state, the police, a parent. When a child asks, “Why do I have to brush my teeth and pick up my toys?” and their parent says, “Because I said so,” that is external authority.
The opposite of external authority is internal. This is when a person says, “I’m in charge of my own life and I’ll do what I want. I’ll do what I determine to be right.” Some of us here might remember Frank Sinatra’s song “My Way” which encapsulates this concept. A more contemporary expression “You’re not the boss of me” also sums up internal authority.
Sometimes we think that those are the only two choices. Either we submit to someone else’s authority and we take charge of our lives and come up with our own answers. But Roger Shinn taught about a third authority. He said that this the authority of truth. Truth exists outside of us and within us. Looking for truth as the authority, the guiding principle requires reason and logic and intellectual struggle. It requires us to examine what we are hearing and seeing, not to accept things at face value but to go deeper. It happens in study and in conversation with people who have different life experiences and in examining our own life experiences. It happens when our own resources fail and we are reduced to silence. Shinn says that this authority becomes transformative when we recognize that God calls us to be true to ourselves as created by God, and not to be a twisted self, torn by conflicting loyalties and warped understanding.
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” He also said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” God is my rock. God is my truth. In silence, I wait for God alone.
I invite you to nurture truth and silence in your own life. Here’s one suggestion – use the psalms as a tool for spiritual discipline. You probably know that there are 150 psalms. If you read 5 psalms a day, you could read the whole psalter every month. That works pretty well until you to Psalm 119 which has 176 verses. But you can work around that. Try starting with psalm 119 today or tomorrow. And then on Wednesday, which is the first day of August, read the first five psalms and on Thursday, read the next five and so on. Or sit down with the Bible, but don’t read it. Instead quiet yourself and just be silent. Try doing that every day for a month and see what happens.
Let me close by reading from Psalm 62 again. This translation was done by my professor, Marvin Tate. Dr. Tate taught a class on psalms which I took in seminary. We also build on truth under the encouragement of beloved teachers. Here is my teacher’s translation:
Vs 1: Yes, my soul waits calmly for God, from him is my salvation.
Then picking up verses 5-9:
Yes, calmly wait for God, O my soul,
for my hope is from him.
Yes, he is my rock where I am secure,
my stronghold where I am unshaken.
My welfare and my power depend on God;
I am rock-strong and secure in God.
Trust in him at all times, O people,
pour out your hearts before him.
God is our refuge! Selah. 
 Rolf Jacobsen at http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1215
 Walter Brueggemann, Praying the Psalms: Engaging Scripture and the Life of the Spirit, (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2007).
 Marvin Tate, Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 20: Psalms 51-100, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990), p. 117.