Hashem, God, Master of Legions, hear my prayer; listen, O God of Jacob, Selah. Look upon our shield, O God, and gaze at Your anointed one’s face. For one day in Your courtyards is better than a thousand [elsewhere]; I prefer to stand exposed at the threshold of my God’s house than to dwell securely in the tents of wickedness.
–Psalm 84:9-11 (Stone Edition Tanakh)
Almost a year ago, I wrote a “meditation” called A Christian at the Gates of the Temple of God. Not much has changed since I composed that last part of my “meaningful life” series. I always imagine that I’ve progressed in my life of faith more than I really have. Reviewing year old (and even older) blog posts shows me that I’m asking the same questions now that I’ve been asking for a long time.
The classic question is, “Where do I go from here?”
The generic answer is always “forward” but I sometimes wonder if instead of actually moving along the trail, I’m simply standing still, or to use a water-based metaphor, am I just treading water?
If so, then I don’t think I’m alone. I could state the obvious and say that many people in churches and synagogues are probably making no more spiritual progress than I am, but they have plenty of company to do it with, so I guess that means it’s “OK.” When you are a “free agent” or “unaffiliated,” the dynamic feels a bit different. When you’re alone, it gives the impression that lack of progress is somehow tied to lack of fellowship.
I suppose fingers could be wagged at me for the choices that I’ve made, but so be it.
I had coffee with a fellow the other day who reminded me a lot of myself. He too seems to be spinning his wheels in his life of faith. He too is unaffiliated. I realize that there are a number of people I’ve been acquainted with over the years who, for one reason or another, do not attend a congregation or faith group. Many have been “burned” by organized religion or some aspect of it and feel that they are safer when worshiping alone or just with their families.
I realize that a significant portion of this population is classified as “fringe,” “oddball,” or worse, and many of them really are rather “unusual” in their theological conceptualizations.
I don’t think I’m one of that crowd, but I’m sure a lot of Christians and Jews would disagree with me. I don’t think my coffee companion belongs to that group either, but again, when you don’t follow some denomination’s pre-programmed doctrine and dogma, it’s bound to look a little odd to an outside observer.
What spawned this particular “meditation” was my reading of Psalm 84 and particularly verse 11:
I prefer to stand exposed at the threshold of my God’s house than to dwell securely in the tents of wickedness.
According to the psalmist, his options were standing exposed at the threshold of God’s house or dwelling securely in the tents of wickedness. I don’t see my two choices as exactly those, but they come close. In writing A Christian at the Gates of the Temple of God, I envisioned myself at the threshold of the Temple of God; the actual Temple as it stood in Holy Jerusalem thousands of years ago. It might surprise you to hear that I sometimes imagine myself praying silently in the court of the Gentiles, off to one corner, in the back, in the shadows, beseeching Hashem, God of Jacob, “have mercy on an unworthy Gentile.”
OK, I’m a Christian, which means I have a relationship with Hashem under the Messianic covenant, but nothing about that removes the necessity for humility and submission when standing in the House of God. I read verse 11 and the image I just described came rushing back to me, along with my “Christian at the Gates” blog post. Then, I remembered this:
It will happen in the end of days: The mountain of the Temple of Hashem will be firmly established as the head of the mountains, and it will be exalted above the hills, and all the nations will stream to it. Many peoples will go and say, “Come, let us go up to the Mountain of Hashem, to the Temple of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths.” –Isaiah 2:2-3 (Stone Edition Tanakh)
Actually, I find that vision rather intimidating. It’s one thing to imagine being a first century God-fearer standing alone and isolated in the court of the Gentiles in Herod’s Temple, and another thing entirely to be among a crowd of tens or even hundreds of thousands, making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, climbing up to the restored Temple, actually anticipating the presence, no matter how distant, of the King of Kings, physically, majestically, in glory, standing before his people.
Who am I to stand in the presence of the Messiah King?
And imagining all that, I feel very small.
Only yesterday, I posted yet another illustration of Jesus as the Jewish King rather than the “warm and fuzzy,” blue-eyed, Christian “goy” Savior. Not that he isn’t the Savior, he just isn’t that cute and cuddly guy of uncertain European lineage (such as the image I’ve provided below) who we often see in the photos and paintings reproduced in some of our Bibles.
I’m writing this on Sunday morning and so it’s easy to picture the hundreds, the thousands, the millions of people, in my own little corner of the world and all over the world, sitting in church pews, listening to the sermon, listening to the “praise and worship team,” getting coffee, eating donuts, going to adult Sunday school, listening to a pre-programmed Bible study, everybody agreeing with everybody else.
OK, I’m being cynical. I’m also remembering my former church experience. Among many other states, it produced a state of security. Everybody (as long as they agreed with the program) belonged. But do I belong there or am I the guy standing at the threshold of some place where he probably doesn’t belong (at least not yet)? Am I the Christian standing exposed at the gates of the Jewish Temple, when I could be dwelling securely in the “tents” of the church?
No, I’m not comparing the church to the “tents of wickedness” but I am drawing a comparison of sorts. I really would rather stand, a mass of insecurity, isolated and alone, trembling with fear at the threshold of the Temple of God than seated comfortably in a pew or a folding chair at my neighborhood Christian church.
I’m not much of an adventurer or risk taker. I like adventure stories, but living out that kind of life would actually scare the daylights out of me.
On the other hand, that’s what I’m doing in my walk of faith, and that’s why I’m scared to death every day that I walk the path. I can’t dwell in the secure and safe and rather boring and unchallenging churches. Many, many true disciples of the Master find God within those walls, in the sermons, in the songs, in the Bible studies. But not me.
But for me, I find him within the Temple in Jerusalem, though it has yet to be restored, and I stand every morning, in the world of my imagination, in the court of the Gentiles, pleading before the God of Abraham, to look upon me and not turn away, invoking the name of my Master as his disciple.
Standing exposed at the threshold. May God grant me the courage to one day take the next step and to enter His House of Prayer.