Category Archives: observation


Happy is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways.

You shall eat of the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.

Thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord. Psalm 128:1-4, NRSV A Song of Ascents

Granted, this is from the gentleman’s perspective – wife and children the elements of his family. Looking at these four verses, you could say something like this: do what is right and work hard, and you will be blessed with a good wife and multiple children…and others will call you blessed when they see this. Most of us know that a blessed life doesn’t always look like this. It’s a limited perspective, but not a bad one.

It’s easy enough to expand on this, to see something more behind and through the words than the man. Fruitfulness doesn’t have to be about having children, but about living a beautiful life that honors God, self, and neighbor – and having this valued and respected by one’s beloved. Growing children don’t necessarily have to be biologically related; providing a safe, welcoming, loving place to grow can be for any number of young ones and can take on many different forms.

If I take time to fall through the words instead of getting stopped by their particularity, I’ll find a blessing rather than an impediment.


Happy is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways.

You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.

Psalm 128:1-2, NRSV

This is a good psalm for understanding what it means to fear God: if everyone who fears God is happy, then fear is not terror and God is not a wrathful being just waiting for an excuse to rain fire down upon the unfortunate soul who makes a mistake. I think fear is closer to awestruck; the presence of God is so overwhelming and all-encompassing that we find ourselves in way over our heads. Instead of being scared to death, we are scared to life – not a comfortable feeling, but an amazing one.

This is also a good psalm for understanding what happens when we walk in God’s ways. Showing compassion for those in need, being honest in our dealings with others, refusing to become so jealous of others that we lose all sense of joy and peace – these actions make us happy. No amount of wealth gained by illicit or immoral means can do that.

And what about eating the fruit of the labor of our own hands? Earning our living by working at something rather than being given money without the work points to a reality that gets lost in the shuffle sometimes: there is dignity, honor, and satisfaction in labor.

It’s something most of us know on a deep level, these truths about what makes life good. It’s ironic that the cultural ideal of a no-work self-centered life that promises carefree happiness is a sure way to an unhappy life…


Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.

Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain.

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives sleep to his beloved.

Sons(and daughters!) are indeed a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one’s youth.

Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them.

He shall not be put to shame when he speak with his enemies in the gate.

Psalm 127, NRSV. A Song of Ascents. Of Solomon.

Except for a few people, no one will remember me or the work I did during my lifetime. The pictures and books I treasure will find their way to Goodwill, a thrift store, or the local transfer station. The rooms I call home, the garden beds I tend – all of these will be handed on to people who have no idea that I once loved and cared for them.

The same is true of most everyone, with the occasional Shakespeare, Bach, and O’Keefe exceptions. A few may slap their names on plaques to prove they donated money or designed buildings, but no one really pays much attention to those a couple of decades after the dedication ceremonies. It is in vain that any of us lose sleep and perspective over things that won’t survive beyond us – or keep our names alive past our own lifespan.

Unless the point of work isn’t for personal glory and immortality. Unless the point of it all is to add our own unique talents and efforts to creating the beautiful kingdom of love and peace that is God’s blessing and intention for all of creation. Unless I find joy in the work itself and don’t expect it to be a testament to my existence.

Once I give up the need to be immortalized through my own efforts, I have no need to be anxious. I won’t lose sleep over it, because I know the truth: God holds my life and will not forget me. The same is true of you. The same is true of everyone.

Fortunes Restored

What comes to mind when you hear or read the words, fortunes restored? I think of a decaying manor house set in an English countryside, and a once prominent family with no means to restore it. There are a brother and a sister there, living in just a couple of the many rooms, taking care of a grandfather who is lost in memories of hunting parties and better days. A royal appointment, an advantageous but still for love marriage, or an industrious business returns family and manor to genteel prosperity and a deep generosity.

Perhaps an impoverished orphan who was once wealthy is discovered, and a distant relative or friend of the family comes to claim the child and everyone lives happily ever after (The Little Princess).

There are many other scenarios, but in all of them the fortune restored is a family’s wealth and former golden lifestyle. If it’s a Hollywood version, they live happily and more kindly ever after – deserving recipients of all that is regained.

That’s not what Psalm 126 is about. The fortunes restored are restored to a people, not a family or individual. Restoration was a return home and freedom to rebuild and worship at the Temple. Walking to Jerusalem, praying this psalm, surrounded by pilgrims all going up to the Temple: this is living the dream – who wouldn’t shout for joy?

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.

Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”

The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb.

May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.

Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves. Psalm 126, NRSV

Temptation Within Reach

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.

As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people from this time on and forevermore.

For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest on the land allotted to the righteous, so that the righteous might not stretch out their hands to do wrong.

Do good, O Lord, to those who are good, and to those who are upright in their hearts.

But those who turn aside to their own crooked ways the Lord will lead away with evildoers. Peace be upon Israel!

Psalm 125, NRSV

How profound it must have been to ascend toward Jerusalem while reciting this psalm. Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people from this time on and forevermore. The powerful nature of a mountain is most apparent to those who scale it, and its enveloping presence to those who gaze down from its height. As a people, to be surrounded by God’s presence as the mountains surround Jerusalem – what a powerful and palpable image to call on when inevitable difficulties arise.

The second powerful image: wickedness as a scepter – a symbol of power and rank, something to aspire to and seek. Wickedness as something that is powerful and appealing, something that looks beautiful, something hard to resist. Walking toward a cosmopolitan city, a seat of power, is walking toward those who hold what a scepter represents. The thoughts start coming…think of all the good I could do if I had power; think how much better life would be if I didn’t have to worry about money problems; how wonderful it would be to be the envy of others…

Evil is appealing, at least on the surface. What a wise thing to pray that the scepter of wickedness be removed. Because even the righteous can be tempted.


Psalm 124, by Riley Anderson

If it had not been for the Lord who was on our side – let Israel now say –

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when our enemies attacked us,

then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us;

then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us;

then over us would have gone the raging waters.

Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us as prey to their teeth.

We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped.

Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

[Psalm 124, a Song of Ascents of David]

Years ago, when I had pulled a window in for cleaning, a bird got caught inside. The poor thing flew against the ceiling, bumped into walls, then tried over and over to escape through the glass of the closed windows. I opened all six windows as far as they would open, then threw open the back door as well. It took a few minutes, but the bird finally flew outside and disappeared.

Had the bird not panicked, she could have gone out the way she got in. But claustrophobic fear made her blind to that quick and easy exit. It took opening many escape routes for her to get back outside, back to safety.

Feeling trapped is an awful thing, and struggling to break free sometimes just makes it worse. Sometimes, even if there’s a way out, it’s impossible to see or take. That’s when the only way out is through someone else’s compassion and kind effort.

Thank God for others who are willing to offer us release.


I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”

Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.

Jerusalem – built as a city that is bound firmly together.

To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord,

as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord.

For there the thrones for judgment were set up, the thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you.

Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.”

For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.”

For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.

Psalm 122, A Song of Ascents. Of David

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”

For most pilgrims, going to the house of the Lord, making the journey to Jerusalem, wasn’t an easy or casual thing. It involved lots of planning and a good amount of time and money (Perhaps, for the locals, it wasn’t quite as difficult – more like the issues locals have during peak tourist season.). I’m not sure glad would be how most were feeling. Determined, yes; expectant, perhaps; satisfied, or hoping for satisfaction, maybe. I could easily agree if the verse were along these lines: Once I got to the house of the Lord, I was glad I made the trip – an it-was-worth-it statement rather that a I’m-looking-forward-to-all-the-work-that’s-coming-as-well-as-the-end-result.

But then I think about times when I’ve traveled far to be with loved ones, devoting time and money for the chance to be together. Booking flights, renting cars, getting someone to take care of home and pets during my absence were things I did happily. The joy of being united with loved ones infused the necessary activities with its presence before it happened. Whatever needed to be done, I did gladly.

The same is true of the times I traveled to attend special services – weddings, baptisms, ordinations, even funerals. I was glad to do it because I could see where all the effort would bring me.

It makes me wonder if gladness just comes more easily when there’s a lot of work involved. Am I less able to be glad when it requires little effort? It’s counterintuitive, but just might be true.

Care of Souls

Philosophy is spiritual formation, care of the soul. Some need more care than others, just as some have a better metabolism or were born taller than others. The more forgiving and tolerant you can be of others – the more aware of your various privileges and advantages – the more helpful and patient you will be. Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

[The Daily Stoic, New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2016, p. 225]

When I worked in catering, I memorized various ways to set up tables in a space because it wasn’t something I could do with ease. Eventually, I got proficient at setting up a room without memorization – but it took years and a lot of practice, and patient coworkers willing to show me how.

When my patience is tested due to someone else’s inability in something that comes easily to me, I do my best to remember the patience of others – and to remember that it isn’t just a set of skills or a completed task at stake: it’s the care of souls.

The Eye of the Beholder

The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper. Eden Philpott’s, English poet, novelist, and playwright

I suspect that beauty, magic, and holiness have surrounded me since I took my first breath. Darkness and cruelty, too. How ironic that I expect the latter and not so much the former…

[Quote from Daily Peace, Washington, D.C.:National Geographic Society, 2016.]

Choose Them Wisely

A word doesn’t merely say something, it does something. It brings something into being. It makes something happen. What do writers want their books to make happen?

I wish that I had told my writing students to give some thought to what they wanted their books to make happen inside the people who read them…

[Frederick Buechner; Listening to Your Life; San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992, July 22/23 excerpts. Also online.]

What do I want my words to make happen inside the people who read them? If I’m writing a sermon, meditation, or Sunday school lesson, I want to offer just a glimpse of the marvelous and holy world that surrounds us and that lives inside us. The focus of my doctoral work was born in asking and answering that question.

Words open doors within our souls. They give voice to our deepest emotions, and they offer a particular perspective – a way of seeing life. They are tools that allow us to communicate, and they are also weavers of reality. They are powerful. They can heal and harm because they become part of the inner voice that speaks to us of our value from waking to sleeping – and sometimes even in our dreams.

Scripture is sacred because it is a word-constructed doorway that the Spirit draws us through into the love of God. Scripture is sacred because it is a word-constructed means to loving our neighbors more fully. It is the Living Word because it does something for us and with us.

It’s no wonder that Jesus is called the Word Made Flesh.

This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them down, and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. John21:24,25