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Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
The Hebrew Bible contains 150 psalms—prayers, songs, poems, blessings and conversations between the children of God and their Provider, Defender, and Shepherd, their Creator, Potter, Knitter and Weaver, their Divine Parent, Righteous Judge, Merciful Redeemer, and Relentless Lover.
Some of the psalms are about God, while others are addressed directly to God, as prayers and songs of praise, as complaint, confession, lament, trust, meditation, thankfulness, anger and awe. Many of the psalms were written by King David, and some of them even include some basic information about the origin of the prayer.
Some psalms, for example, were written as Israel was about to go into battle—and so they plead with God for strength and protection, even for victory. Others were written in the wake of defeat or serious illness, and they beseech the Holy One for healing, strength and renewal. Still other psalms pray for the defeat of Israel’s enemies, for justice in the face of oppression. Some are songs of worship, and others beg God for the forgiveness of sins.
But we don’t know the circumstances behind the 139th Psalm. Oh, David is believed to have written it, but we don’t know what events or feelings inspired it.
But, as with all of scripture, we can wonder. We can imagine. We can study. We can meditate on it and consider its meaning; we can try it on for size and see if it rings true to us and our own feelings and experiences. We can listen to it, trying to hear between the lines the voice of the Stillspeaking God. We can choose to trust that there is within it truth that we can trust, good news that will bring light in the darkness and hope in times of struggle or despair. Or, if that feels like a stretch, we can at least contemplate what it might have to do with our lives here and now.
And we can wonder and imagine together.
When it comes to Psalm 139, I wonder if the psalmist has just left home and arrived as a new student at college, where he doesn’t know anyone and no one knows him.
And so he pauses to remember that there is Someone who is with him no matter where he goes, and that this Presence knows him completely and loves him wholeheartedly.
Or maybe the psalmist is a returning student or a returning teacher or medical or mental health professional, social worker or other school worker, making the transition back to school or work, trying to get back into the work groove.
And so she reflects on the truth that God knows all her ways, all the seasons of her life, the ins and the outs, the ups and the downs, and is with her through it all, that God has always been with her and will never leave her.
Maybe the psalmist is grieving the loss of a loved one, and wondering what happens after a person takes their last breath. Maybe the psalmist is nearing the end of their own life. Maybe the psalmist doesn’t know what to believe about what happens after death.
And then they remember that that’s okay. That it’s all a mystery, meant to be trusted more than understood. That the only thing certain about the end and what comes after is that we are with God and God is with us.
Maybe the psalmist is overcome by shame and guilt, worried that they will never be able to reveal their true self to another, certain that they’ll never get out of this deep hole their life has become, convinced they’re unworthy of love.
But then the scriptures remind them: There is nothing about them God doesn’t know. They can stop trying to hide what they’ve done or who they are. God knows. God sees. God feels their struggles and pain. And God wants to love them through the night and into the dawn of a new day.
It could be that the psalmist is struggling with depression, feeling lonely and wondering if life is worth living. Maybe the psalmist is starting to come to terms with their sexuality and gender identity and just doesn’t know what to make of it. Maybe they have moments when they yell at God, saying, “Why did you make me like this?”
And then someone tells them. Then they remember that God doesn’t make junk. Someone on a street corner or at a church potluck, a Sunday school teacher, a youth minister, a choir director, a Caring Companion, a deacon or a greeter, a parent, a friend, or a pastor tells them in no uncertain terms:
You—yes, you—are a beloved child of God. You are not an accident. You are no misfit. You are a work of divine art.
The Holy Artist took great pains with you, knitting you out of dust, weaving you together with great care, molding you like clay, with much love, until you were just right.
You are fearfully and wonderfully made, and don’t ever, ever, ever let anyone tell you any different. I know it doesn’t feel that way sometimes, and I know it’s hard to understand, but I believe with all my heart this is who you are: beloved. I know this is what you are: fearfully and wonderfully made. I know that you are loved more than you could ever imagine, and that this love will always be with you, wherever you go, whatever you do.
Yes, I know life isn’t always easy. I know there will be times when you want to give up. I’m pretty sure you’ll make mistakes—lots of little ones, and maybe a few big ones. I realize that you will need to find and make your own way, and that you may rarely think of God. You might even reject God altogether, at least for a time.
But our psalm tells me this: No matter what, God will never leave you. Even during those times when you are so angry at God and disappointed in the church that you swear you’ll never come back, God will be right there with you. Even if you decide you don’t believe, that you won’t believe, that you can’t believe, God will never stop believing in you. The Divine Artist will never give up on the holy work of art that is you.
God is the Potter, and you are the clay. You are a pot or a vase, a coffee mug or a bowl that’s never quite finished. As long as you stay on the Potter’s Wheel, as long as your heart is just the least bit open, God can continue to work, to mold and heal, to love and shape. Yes, to continue with this metaphor, life can be like a potter’s oven: loss and disappointment can harden us; bitterness and shame can crack us; struggles and bad choices can leave us feeling that our options have closed, that our time has passed, that how it is now it how it will ever be.
But the Potter never gives up. This Potter spends almost all her time at the wheel, almost never using the kiln.
This Potter never makes it to the arts and crafts fair, never sells a thing, because she never finishes her pieces—each one unique, every one different, all of them awesome in their diversity. She loves them too much to let go of them. She delights so in the creating, in the connection, in the constant spinning and molding and shaping. She works tirelessly, lovingly, tenderly.
Yes, you are fearfully and wonderfully made.
And God is not finished with you yet.
Thanks be to God!