The Fortress and the Flood

Yesterday, Houston flooded, and today thousands of people all over Houston are working to restore normalcy to their lives. I’ll be on the phone today, talking with area churches to see how they were affected, and what our community can do to help. Unfortunately, some families will never recover all that they’ve lost. For them, normal life–when it eventually arrives–will be different than it was on Sunday evening, before the storm.

Of course, one need not survive a flood to have that experience. In fact, while most of the folks in our congregation didn’t suffer any real damage from the flood, I suspect most of us have experienced that shift in some way, where we wake up one morning to a world completely different than the one from which we fell asleep.

Daniel points to this Psalm today.

Psalm 46
God is our refuge and strength
     A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
     Though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
Though its waters roar and foam
     Though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
     The holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
     God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
     He utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
     The God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come, behold the works of the Lord;
     See what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
     He breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
He burns the shields with fire.
     “Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
     I am exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our fortress.

Today, I’m taking Daniel’s suggestion quite seriously. I have some anxieties, some burdens that I need to surrender. I’m craving the nourishment of being filled by an awareness of God’s presence and his love for humanity. So I’m grateful that Daniel has offered us some practical suggestions for sitting in God’s presence. But as I think about that, I see this image from the Psalm: “The God of Jacob is our fortress.” One does not sit with a fortress, as though being aware of its mere existence is enough to protect from the raging storms. No, God has given himself to the psalmist as a place in which to dwell. In prayer and meditation, we don’t sit with God or for God, but in God. As we sit still and breath and pray, knowing God as God, we do so in a mighty fortress, a refuge which is nothing less than the very heart of God.

This may seem too powerful an image to describe what we normally experience when we pray. If you take a few minutes in the morning, over your coffee, to sit and read scripture, or to pray, or to meditate on God, your experience of that might not match what the Psalmist is describing. If you pray on your commute, perhaps you’re more aware of God as one who brings safety (particularly as you pass traffic accidents or see the remnants of yesterday’s flooding). But you may not feel as though you sitting in the drivers seat, but also securely stationed in God, our fortress. If you slip off for lunch now and then by yourself, to get some quiet and alone time, and in the midst of the solitude you find yourself just suddenly aware of the creator, you may feel warmed and grateful, but are you really sitting here, in the heart of God our fortress? Yes. For God “is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’.”

This was a good morning to reflect on this Psalm. I’ve been tossed around lately, from stresses and anxieties which both emerge out of and extend beyond the circumstances of my life. But this morning, I feel better rooted, grounded in the awareness of that God is God. That the Lord of hosts is with us. That the God of Jacob is our fortress.