Lord, you have been our refugePsalm 90: 1 – 6
through all generations.
Before the mountains were born,
the earth and the world brought forth,
from eternity to eternity you are God.
You turn humanity back into dust,
saying, “Return, you children of Adam!”
A thousand years in your eyes
are merely a day gone by,
Before a watch passes in the night,
you wash them away;
and in the morning they sprout again like an herb.
In the morning it blooms only to pass away;
in the evening it is wilted and withered.
My paternal grandmother, like many who are dying, wanted one of us to read to her from her worn Bible. The Psalms were a particular comfort to her, and it gave us something to do as we stood by her bedside, helplessly watching her fade from this earth.
Lent reminds us that we were created from nothing, and that God’s breath, His essence, is what gave us life and keeps us alive. Dust and ash, earth and sinew—these are vivid metaphors to sober us when we forget who we are, and Whose we are.
It is not macabre or hopeless to consider ourselves composites of dust and ashes. So much can emerge from meditating on our smallness and finitude, in light of God’s vastness and infinity. Lent is a liturgical season that beckons us to return to the Source of our being, to remember the cyclic nature of life and death, and to meditate on our own mortality with great hope.
It is God’s mercy that upholds us.
The Psalmists knew this well. Psalm 90 begins with a recollection that God is eternal and has created all things: “Before the mountains were born, the earth and the world brought forth, from eternity to eternity you are God.” We would do well to begin our Lenten journey with this in the forefront of our minds.
Begin each prayer with appreciation for God’s eternal nature and the gift of His choice to enter into time and become one of us. Think upon the beauty that surrounds you as you go about your day—the woods nearby your home, the varieties of birds migrating this time of year, the flowers beginning to sprout above the earth.
We can then move to meditating upon God’s infinite mercy and goodness. Though we are a mere breath away from being extinguished—“remember you are dust and to dust you shall return”—God sustains us. He gives us chance after chance. Dawn reminds us that, as the sun ascends above the horizon, so we have also been given a new day to make things right where we have sinned the day before.
There is still time to make amends. It is now.
The Psalmist begins with acknowledging God’s vast nature that cannot be plumbed by human thought or word. Then he moves us to the jarring reality of our mortality, that we have a beginning and an end—“you turn humanity back to dust.” Again, the image of time passes before the reader with the next phrase—“a thousand years in your eyes are merely a day gone by”—where we can only begin to fathom what a thousand years might be for us, who only live about a hundred years.
To God, time is neither long nor short, because He exists outside of time. He created time. Yet He chooses to enter into time for our sake, for the sake of love. That is a mercy beyond imagining.
We then read that those thousand years are “washed away” before “a watch in the night” passes by. We slumber, not knowing what transpires while our conscious mind drifts away. The Psalmist is building the tension for us, as we imagine our own lives as a fleeting wind, here and then gone without notice.
This section concludes with the cycling back to life from death: “in the morning they sprout again like an herb. In the morning, it blooms only to pass away; in the evening it is wilted and withered.” Just like delicate blossoms unfurl with the morning sun, they wither with the first frost of autumn.
Lent gives us pause to consider that we are like these flowers and herbs, the passage of time within every beat of our hearts. We “sprout” at birth as wrinkly pink newborns teeming with a full life ahead, but our lives fade – some sooner than others. One person’s “evening” of life may be very young, while another lives well into her nineties.
But all of us bloom, and all of us wither. Lent places us into the Passion story, so that our souls are awakened from their long spiritual slumbers. We are given a chance to be the vigilant virgins who awaited their bridegroom, rather than the foolish ones who fell asleep. When we live with souls earnest to receive the Holy Spirit, we come alive again and again when He stirs us to move.
He may sleep, or He may act, but we can open ourselves to whatever He wills, when He wills.