A Search for Comfort and Courage

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After an extended period of dismay and bewilderment, Psalm 39 opened a vein to write again.

Image of hermit crab crawling inside an empty shell.
Hermit Crab crawling into an abandoned shell

A Psalmic Meditation of a Hermit Crab

I said, “I will be careful how I act
    and will not sin by what I say.

I have been careful. A hermit crab at low tide, I sidle into a borrowed shell, not too big and not too small, to hide from birds of prey. I stuff myself inside. When the tide comes in, I may leave this shell. But not now. The sand is hot. The gulls are feeding.

 I will be careful what I say
    around wicked people.”

It’s not just the birds of prey that keep me here. Whatever I say outside will make it hotter for crabs like me. I’m crabby and cranky. “Keep your words to yourself! The world doesn’t need more heat. We all need to cool down.” 

So I kept very quiet.
    I didn’t even say anything good,
    but I became even more upset.

Despair is a horrible thing. “If you can’t  say something nice, don’t say it. Stay in your room until you have something nice to say. You have to be positive.” I have nothing good to say. Nothing calm. Nothing of value. Nothing to cool the beach at noon. Nothing to lower the blistering heat rising in me.

I became very angry inside,
    and as I thought about it, my anger burned.

Glass shattering, Stop the Steal, Hang Mike Pence, Execute Nancy, Make America Great Again, sounds of threats and violence, cries for help, and the silence from the White House still hurt my ears.

Then I remember how Jeremiah wept. Truth, he said, was dark and deep, and bought a worthless plot of land where hope could live. 

The prophet Jeremiah, Michelangelo fresco, Sistine Chapel

So I spoke:

“Lord, tell me when the end will come
    and how long I will live.
    Let me know how long I have.

You have given me only a short life;
    my lifetime is as nothing in your sight;
    Even those who stand erect are
but a puff of wind.

It’s hard alone outside the shell. The wind is stiff. The sky is dark. Light is White and right; Black is dark and wronged again. Truth sways by a noose from the lynching tree.

When will this end? When will it stop? How will it stop? I’m an old man; my time is short, this short puff of air, soon to disappear.

People are like shadows moving about.
    All their work is for nothing;
    they collect things but don’t know who will get them.

My kind and I are like ghosts sidling along the wall of shadows we faintly see in Plato’s cave. We find no respite from the heat and clamor into which we once could crawl — or thought we could. We leave behind a scorched gift to generations yet to come.

“So, Lord, what hope do I have?
    You are my hope.”

Sea levels have rise, the tides are higher, the forests burning, the rivers drying, fields once lush and green now parched and brown, the planet spinning out of control, like a top our hands have spun. These mortal selves, this factory of gods our hearts conceive, cannot hide from Thee, O Lord, the “I AM” without end, the Breath of Life that breathes a breath through me.

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), host of Views from the Edge: To see More Clearly, Brooklyn Park, MN, January 23, 2023.

My Soul Waits in Silence

A contemplative reflection on Psalm 62 at Saint Augustine Beach, Saint Augustine, FL.

For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. I wait in silence. [Psalm 62:5 NRSV]

I wait in silence.

Withdrawing from the noisy men next door in Saint Augustine, I am like the Hermit Crab crawling into the borrowed snail shell on Saint Augustine Beach.

This is the same beach brave souls dared to integrate in 1964, a place where then there was no place to hide, the public white beach where the Hermit Crabs refused to hide when the billy clubs swing to drive them from the white man’s beach. There are no billy clubs on the beach today but the shouting of the world we call civilized still hurts by ears.

How long will you assail a person,
will you batter your victim, all of you,
as you would a leaning wall, a tottering fence? [Ps. 62:3 NRSV]

The world is noisy. Loud. Cacophonous. Bellowing blasts, bewailing, and bedlam in Beirut, Baghdad, and Boston hurt my ears. Hoping to leave it, I come to the beach where the tides know nothing of the color of my skin, my income, my worries or fears.

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honour;
my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.  [Ps. 62: 5-7 NRSV]

Hermit Crab crawling into abaondoned snail shell

Hermit Crab crawling into abaondoned snail shell

At low tide I crawl inside the borrowed shell looking for a respite from the noonday heat, my deliverance, my refuge, my fortress. But, even here, the noise follows me.

The blasts, buzzes, and bellowing echo inside the shell. Silence eludes me. Even here, I am a poor man, a mere breath, walking among the vendors and hawkers, resentful, angry, beset, a man of low estate.

Those of low estate are but a breath,
those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
they are together lighter than a breath.
Put no confidence in extortion,
and set no vain hopes on robbery;
if riches increase, do not set your heart on them. [Ps. 62:9-10 NRSV]

Here I am a breath stripped from the delusions of high estates indulged on the other side of the sand dunes that separate the beach from the street.

I wait in silence.

I ponder the speed outside the Hermit Crab’s temporary home, the abandoned snail shell, the speed that is itself an illusion, a flight of hubris washed away by the tides of time. I remember the race to nowhere, the myths of ownership, invulnerability, control, and superiority that race through the minds of low and high estates alike.

I hear the distant shouts and screams from the integration of Saint Augustine Beach that still plunge the despondent men next door into the oblivion of cheap booze, dope, and, maybe, crack. But the longer I wait and listen, my heart grows strangely calmer. Quieter. More at peace.

I come into the deeper Silence of the Breath once heard by the psalmist.

Once God has spoken;
twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord.
For you repay to all
according to their work. [Ps. 62: 11-12 NRSV]

In the wordless silence I hear the Word I’ve come to the beach to hear:

“Be still, and know that I am God.” [Ps. 46:10 NRSV]

– Gordon C. Stewart, Saint Augustine, Florida, January 31, 2015