Those of us who pray the Liturgy of the Hours are familiar with Psalm 95, which opens up the prayers of the day:
Come, let us sing to the Lordand shout with joy to the Rock who saves us.
Let us approach him with praise and thanksgiving
and sing joyful songs to the Lord.
The Lord is God, the mighty God,
the great king over all the gods.
He holds in his hand the depths of the earth
and the highest mountains as well.
He made the sea; it belongs to him,
the dry land, too, for it was formed by his hands.
Come, then, let us bow down and worship,
bending the knee before the Lord, our maker.
For he is our God and we are his people,
the flock he shepherds.
Today, listen to the voice of the Lord:
Do not grow stubborn, as your fathers did
in the wilderness,
when at Meriba and Massah
they challenged me and provoked me,
Although they had seen all of my works.
Forty years I endured that generation.
I said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray
and they do not know my ways.”
So I swore in my anger,
“They shall not enter into my rest.”
I find it to be a somewhat unnerving prayer, since it starts with joy, and ends on a threatening note. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews talks about it:
Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest remains, let us fear lest any of you be judged to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them; but the message which they heard did not benefit them, because it did not meet with faith in the hearers. For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said,
“As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall never enter my rest,'”
although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way, “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” (Hebrews 4:1-4)
This rest, then, is the rest of completion. To enter into God’s rest is to have come to the final fruition of our creation – to attain the Beatific Vision. Every day I advance to, or retreat from that goal. I am a wanderer in the wilderness, often moving in weird spirals as opposed to a straight line.
William Blake, in the middle of his long poem, Jerusalem, drops a neat little bit of verse:
I give you the end of a
Only wind it into a ball:
It will lead you in at
Built in Jerusalems wall.
(This is, of course, immediately followed by one of his weird, proto-Nietzschean rambles. Blake continues to fascinate and frustrate me for reasons like that)
It is true that getting to where I need to be is a matter of winding up that string. But that necessarily means giving up on the idea of charting my own path, which is frightening – especially when I cannot see where I’m being led. So it is salutary that every morning I should receive that nudge. And it is typically the case that even the low points become better if I follow up on it, as the first psalm of Lauds for this morning underlined:
As they go through the Bitter Valley
they make it a place of springs,
the autumn rain covers it with blessings.
They walk with ever growing strength,
they will see the God of gods in Zion.