The Divine Hours

A complete guide to the ancient practice of fixed-hour Prayer

Confronting Lions

Heaven can help us in our struggles on earth

Written by Lowell E. Grisham

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful,
for I have taken refuge in you;*
in the shadow of your wings will I take refuge
until this time of trouble has gone by
—Psalm 57:1

AngelI was listening to an unidentified speaker on the radio this weekend. His message was like others I have listened to and benefited from. He reminded us that we are always within the presence of God. At every moment we can pause, like the pause between breaths, and know the peace and equanimity of all that is, by simply being conscious of the fullness of God right here, right now.

That's an experience and a practice that I treasure. I have been wrapped in the infinite life of God which is so filled with light and love that it seemed to melt all division, all suffering and all limitation in an unspeakable joy. I know what that feels like. And it feels more real than the contingencies of everyday reality.

But most of my time I don't dwell in that rarefied peace. Most of the time I'm stuck in the either/or limitations of a time-bound linear life with all of its disturbing aspects of cause-and-effect.

Some parts of my life in this ordinary consciousness are delightful and fulfilling. Life feels good and promising. Usually that's because things are going the way I think they should. But other times in this ordinary consciousness seem threatening and foreboding. The wider I cast my attention, the more foreboding things appear.

In so many ways it seems an unhappy and threatening time in our planet's history. As encouraged as I sometimes am with some scientific and technological advances, it seems that our human and spiritual consciousness has not progressed at a pace to keep up with our capacity for doing harm. We seem such a divided people. We seem such a divided planet.

Part of me wants to escape. Part of me wants to withdraw into the cocoon of divine presence and ignore the shrill voices of external troubles. But that is not consistent with the testimony of our inheritance as a Biblical people. From Nehemiah's political memoirs of his brush with attempted assassination (Nehemiah 6:1-19) to John's vision of the bittersweet taste of the futures of "many peoples and nations and languages and kings" (Revelation 10:1-11), to Matthew's interpretation of Jesus' picture of the human lot—we live with wheat and weeds, and dare not do too much about it (Matthew 13:36-43)—these readings plunge us into the ambiguous and threatening thing that life is.

It's easy to get absorbed in life's issues. It is easy to become fearful or compulsive whenever something you love is threatened. Nehemiah keeps his focus on the work he knows himself to be called to, and over and over he prays to God, "Remember..., remember..., remember, O God." Psalm 57 cries out to God, "I lie in the midst of lions that devour the people; their teeth are spears and arrows, their tongue a sharp sword." But in the face of this realpolitik, the poet touches transcendent reality—"My heart is firmly fixed, O God, my heart is fixed; I will sing and make melody. Wake up, my spirit; awake, lute and harp; I myself will waken the dawn."

These are reminders of the both/and nature of reality. All things are within the reconciling fullness of eternal love. And, life is hard, full of foolishness and suffering. Only when I am grounded in the former reality can I constructively confront the latter reality. Only when my heart is firmly fixed in God can I rightly face the lions that devour the people. I am amphibian. To turn entirely toward spiritual comforts is escapist; to be swallowed by the sirens of the daily dread is death.

Prayer and worship help me with the back and forth between earth and heaven, the contingent and eternal. Like the angel in Revelation, we have one foot in the ocean and one foot on the ground. When we let the heavenly energy draw us into earthly struggle and when we take the earthly struggle into divine healing, we can sometimes stay somewhat sane, and occasionally even help a bit.

Copyright © 2005 Lowell Grisham