READ: Psalm 116
“Gracious yet righteous is the Lord; yes, our God is merciful. The Lord cares for the humble, for I myself was humbled and the Lord did lift me up.. Peace unto God’s rest, O, my soul, for the Lord has dwelt bountifully with you. For the Lord has delivered you from death, my eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling. I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” – Psalm 116:5-9
“And I will walk before the Lord … in the land of the living.” Sometimes it is on the hundredth time that a verse of Scripture suddenly captures my soul. This morning this little verse of the Psalmist became radiant in my mind – almost overwhelming my thoughts and surely filling my soul with existential wonder. “And I will walk before the Lord … in the land of the living!” As if by angelic heralds, I became exquisitely aware … “I am alive! And I am aware that I am alive! And in that awareness, I now also am aware that I walk in the Presence of God, for I walk among the wondrous miracles of all these souls about me. All of these souls who are alive, somehow alive by way of some miraculous good Providence… conscious to one degree or another that we are also alive in the midst of the Life of God!” This moment, this epiphany sparkled with the clarity of high mountain air and the taste of cool, pure, mountain waters, a dawn of heavenly light upon a once darkened soul. “I am alive! I walk before the Lord in the land of the living.”
“I am alive! I walk among the living! And the life of the Lord has made it all possible!” Something I have always known this is true, but somehow have known it to a lesser degree, a fainter measure, but now somehow known in a discovered, new dimension, one more vivid, now understood in greater, more vibrant way … “I am alive … and I stroll about the living … thus God is here in the midst of it.”
I bring to mind a certain August day, years ago, in the city of Boston. I had spent an hour or two walking about the crowded downtown streets, shoppers and business people coming and going in all directions. Taxi cabs honking as they impatiently hurried, delivery trucks double parked in cause of quick commerce, bicycle messengers wheeling and needling their way through the traffic, window shoppers gawking at temptations beyond their means, bus passengers waiting at the bus stop, leaning for a look down the way, a sea of faces coming towards me while another followed me to the places down the way. I was caught up in the cross currents of that busy city, rubbing shoulders with so many souls, souls much like my own, only different, each in our way.
Later that day, my sightseeing stroll brought me to the entrance of an old, city cemetery, one guarded by tall, wrought irons gates and enclosed by stretches of wrought iron fences that had the look of an army of spears planted in a row. I ventured in for I had time to spare. But as I soon as I crossed the threshold of those hallowed grounds, I slowed my pace. I strolled those quiet paths that wandered aimlessly through the many grey and granite stones and all their aged history. And as I walked … I must have thought … (at least, I seem to remember that I thought) … that I was a solitary, living soul amongst all these souls who were now left and gone to other realms. Here I was alive, a living, breathing soul, still walking this earthly path … while all these others about me … were but memories. I was still moving and still considering with unspoken words while all these others sat silent and still about me. And I reflected … what does it mean … to be alive?
Now years later, as I once again walk past the simple, grey crosses that mark the graves of the Benedictine Brothers who have lived here at Greyfriars’ Abbey but have died and now gone on … I find my soul is sensing a somewhat different experience than I experienced in that Boston graveyard. … it is the feeling that here, because of the eternal, immortal life of Christ that I share and have shared with these departed loved ones, I am still – in a certain understanding – walking among the living … strolling through the life of God with God both above me and beside me. … What does it mean to be alive, my departed Brothers? What does it mean to be alive, walking among the living?
But now I hear the bells ringing, beckoning the Brothers to gather in the Chapel for evening prayers … and we will all come from our many different places to gather once more, once more together … in community … in our shared life … each of us and all of us making our way to our common place, walking amongst the living and in the midst of the life of God.
Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk and world famous author, once wrote in his journal about a sudden awareness that came upon him one day while visiting the city after years spent in monastic solitude. As he stood in the midst of a city crowd, as the people crossed back and forth at a busy intersection, he underwent an epiphany, an enlightenment of God’s Light. He writes of this experience in this way …
“Yesterday, in Louisville, at the corner of 4th and Walnut, suddenly realized that I loved all the people and that none of them were, or, could be totally alien to me. As if waking from a dream — the dream of separateness, of the “special” vocation to be different. My vocation does not really make me different from the rest of men or put me is a special category…. I am still a member of the human race — and what more glorious destiny is there for man, since the Word was made flesh and became, too, a member of the Human Race! Thank God! Thank God! I am only another member of the human race, like all the rest of them. I have the immense joy of being a man [human person]! As if the sorrows of our condition could really matter, once we begin to realize who and what we are — as if we could ever begin to realize it on earth.” – Merton’s Journal
We are alive, you and me! We walk among the living, you and me! And we walk before the watchful Presence of the living Lord, you and me!
Brother Anthony of the Cross