Lord, you have been our refuge
from one generation to another.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or the land and the earth were born,
from age to age you are God.
Here as our church year winds to an end, this Sunday we will be treated to Psalm 90, which was traditionally attributed to Moses as a prayer and meditation as he faced the end of his days. Although our reading from Deuteronomy will remind us that in all of time there was no one like Moses, still at the end of his life this psalm depicts Moses as praising God even through the memories of adversities and afflictions to which no one is immune, even the greatest prophet to ever live.
Even in my everyday life, as the autumn days grow shorter, and yet there is so much to cram into each hour. The busy days flow past, one after the other, each one full, yet telescoping away from me I cannot remember when I did what. Yet when I feel breathless and overwhelmed, the psalmist who composed Psalm 90 has provided me a little reminder right at the start that each day is not ours but a gift from God, who is and was and shall be.
Now is the time some of us need that reminder. The sky overhead just this week has turned leaden, and chill winds send yellow leaves swirling down gravity’s well as if possessed of a mind of their own. Summer will not endure forever, as much as the Midwestern weather tries to convince us otherwise, with spikes of heat lingering well into October this year. Overnight, it seems, those leaves changed from a dull green to a mustard yellow and they remind us of how soon things can change.
Yet Lord, You have been and will be our refuge, from time before our birth. When we need respite from the thoughts that swirl like leaves through the doorway of our minds, You are with us, and the gentle pressure of your hand upon us bids us to be still and quiet. Yes, each moment is fleeting, but it is part of the tapestry into which all our lives are woven. My dear friend and mentor Clint McCann reminded me once that Isaac Watts’s version of Psalm 90 sings out the assurance and trust that we can take from this knowledge of God’s promises fulfilled:
O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home….
Even Psalm 90’s reminder that we are dust, and to dust we shall return, is also at the same time a precious remembrance of our unity with all creation. We are made of dust and water—the warm seas of creation roll through our veins. Flesh and bones are made from the same stuff as the stars—and the same as the solid rock that provides the foundations of the world. As songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman sings, “Solid stone is just sand and water, baby—sand and water, and a million years gone by.” So leaf subsides to leaf, in the image I recall from a snippet of a poem by Robert Frost. In the end, all things subside into one, and yet even the stones sing out with the glory of God who shapes them and us with the same sustaining hand. Each numbered day we receive is a holy day, as long as we remember that all is a gift from God.
Psalm 90 recognizes that even as we traverse adversity and are shaped and molded by the trials and careless wounds that sometimes get inflicted upon us, the refuge of God’s love and care is always available to us—as close and as precious as a breath. As winter darkness gathers closer, and at the end of each day, it is God’s graciousness that is our comfort and promise fulfilled.
Most Merciful God, we praise and bless You,
remembering your faithfulness and care for our souls.
Holy Spirit, abide within us,
and give us charity toward each other, as you love us.
You are our refuge,
You who uphold the stars as they tell their tales,
You who uphold us in life and in death.
Teach us to number our days as your holy gift,
that we may serve You and each other with joy, Lord Christ.
Bless and keep us, O Redeemer,
and place the seal of your gracious love upon those for whom we pray.
Leslie Scoopmire is a retired teacher and newly ordained priest in the Diocese of Missouri, at this time serving as an assisting priest at Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis. Her blog, where she posts daily prayers and sermons, is called Abiding in Hope.
Image: by Leslie Scoopmire