Join us this week as we continue our “Summer Series” podcasts with a reflection on Psalm 84 by Joseph Wong, Director of the Tyndale Spiritual Formation Centre.
Joseph is also the Executive Director of Cascadia Living Wisdom. Joseph is a Spiritual Director and serves as a Pastor at Mosaic Baptist Church in Markham. He is passionate in bringing together theology and social justice, spirituality with culture and arts, and walking with fellow Christians to rediscover God’s presence and calling in their lives. Joseph has done missional work in China, South Africa and the First Nations communities in Northwestern Ontario. Joseph loves to travel and make pilgrimages to Holy Places and Sacred Sites.
It is an honour to have this opportunity to share my reflections on Psalm 84 with the Tyndale community, and how it impacted my own spiritual journey. Allow me to read Psalm 84 from the NIV version, and listen for the words or phrases that resonated with you.
How lovely is your dwelling place,
O LORD of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed it faints
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy
to the living God.
Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O LORD of hosts,
my King and my God.
Happy are those who live in your house,
ever singing your praise.
Happy are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
the God of gods will be seen in Zion.
O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer;
give ear, O God of Jacob!
Behold our shield, O God;
look on the face of your anointed.
For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than live in the tents of wickedness.
For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
he bestows favour and honour.
No good thing does the LORD withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
O LORD of hosts,
happy is everyone who trusts in you.
Psalm 84 is a psalm of Korah, which is filled with joy and anticipation and taking a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, being in a temple of God, according to the traditions in ancient Israel. This is a psalm that pilgrims would sing when they traveled to Jerusalem, for the yearly festive celebrations. It's a song of celebration as they journey and reflect on the blessings of God, the psalmist yearning to be in a temple to worship as a longing to be in the presence of God.
So, what does pilgrimage mean to us today? Pilgrimage is a spiritual practice of walking to a Holy site, of prayerful attention to the Holy Spirit's movements from within. Always having prayerful intention geared towards God. Praise and offer in ? believes that a pilgrimage is a way of praying with your feet. You go on a pilgrimage because you know there's something missing inside your soul. And the only way you can find it is to go to the sacred places, places where God made Himself known to others. In sacred places, something gets done to you that you have been unable to do for yourself. Sometimes they'll go on pilgrimages, when they're facing challenges and struggles in life, dealing with emotional issues, or feeling stuck in a bottleneck. They long to seek and connect with God. So they go on pilgrimage to retreat from the noises and distractions of the world, to be in silence and solitude as they discern the next steps in life. In verse one, the psalmist cries out "How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts. My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord. My heart and my soul sing for joy to the living God." The Psalm begins praising the house of God, remembering the beauty of the temple, the pilgrims longing to be in a dwelling place of God, to be in the presence of God. I wonder if you have similar experiences as the Psalmist, remembering how lovely it is to be residing near God, where you're soul's longing for God is so strong, that your heart and body cried out with all your strength for God, that you almost faint wishing to be in God's presence one small.
Several years ago, my father passed away from cancer. It was one of my darkest period in life. He had always been my hero and someone I always looked up to. It was very tough to see someone you love deteriorating day by day, before your eyes. I would often pray to God and ask him why is he letting my father go through so much suffering? I kept asking God why are these things happening? Why are my prayers not answered? I cried out day and night, longing to find God, longing for God to answer my prayers, longing for God to come to our rescue and show mercy to us. In the end, my father passed away, after spending his last months in end of life care. I felt really lost and confused. I was angry at God for letting all these sufferings happen to a good man. I was angry at God for not showing up and doing anything about the illness. I felt that my image of God as a loving, merciful God has been shattered. I felt I was stuck at a bottleneck and couldn't get out. Being in a dark room without lights. But deep in my heart, I know that God is ultimately in control, and he is God. I know that I need to find him again and reconcile with him.
So I went on a spiritual pilgrimage in Spain called Camino de Santiago, an ancient path that stretches over 800 kilometers across the countryside of Spain. To spend time in silence and solitude to process my grief. I reflected on my relationship with God, using every step as a prayer, to reconcile with God, knowing that God will honour our heart and our longings when we wholeheartedly seek Him.
In verse three, "Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God."
The pilgrims decided to be in God's presence. It's like the birds and the sparrows who build their nests near the altar, being near God every day. Engaging in ceaseless prayers and, and in worships. The Lord of hosts, offers protection, and shelter to all of creation in his care. One of the ways to be a true pilgrim is to learn to embrace poverty, just as Jesus sent the disciples out into the world. Jesus told them "take nothing for the journey, no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt" in Luke nine three. Jesus asked his disciples not to take anything extra with them, aside from what's on their body, not to worry about what to eat, not to wear, where to sleep, and how much money they have left, and learn to rely on the hospitality of the people on the journey, learning to trust in God's providence, the daily bread. The pilgrimage is an intentional form of poverty.
As I was walking on the pilgrimage on the Camino, I did not bring any cell phone, or GPS, or maps, only a guidebook and the absolutely essentials that I may need on my journey, and trust that God will provide for me along the way. I did not know what I would eat for the day or where I may sleep for the night. But God is faithful, and His grace and providence is always enough for me. This helped me to learn to be grateful for all the gifts and providence that God has given to me in my life. There's a lesson for me to learn to simplify my life and to declutter from things that are distracting me from seeing God more clearly. So, a question for us today is how can we simplify our life and declutter from things that are distracting us from seeing God more clearly.
In verse seven, they go from strength to strength, until each appears before God in Zion. The Lord gives the pilgrims strength for the journey. They go from strength to strength, enough energy and perseverance to overcome the demands, struggles and temptations they may have to face on a spiritual pilgrimage. We need to trust God in each and every single step. It is a journey of faith. And then it's not easy to do, as we need to constantly be aware and being present to God's guidance. On the path of the Camino, there are many signs and symbols that are a guidance to the pilgrims and help them to stay on the right path. The signs are mostly made up of bright yellow arrows, and they point to the direction one has to travel. However, the Camino symbols changes from region to region. Sometimes these camino symbols are hiding behind the bushes, or sometimes they're scallop shells that are nailed to the local resident’s houses. Sometimes it appears on the ground and it can be missed easily if we walk too fast. Sometimes it's a pile of rocks that ? the Inukshuk, which is the Inuit manmade stone landmark, which guides travelers on their path. This is sort of like a scavenger hunt, a type of training in our faith and trusting and following God's guidance. This is very similar to a spiritual walk with God.
A lot of times, God speaks to us through various signs or through different people, or through passages in Scripture. When we communicate with God regularly, we spend time to pray and reflect. We learn to listen to how God speaks to us. We learn to listen to God's voice. This is how our relationship and intimacy with God is built up that different spiritual pathways and they're unique to each person's character and personality. Some people are more aware of God's presence when they take a walk, in nature, being surrounded by creation. Some people feel closer to God when they seek new understanding in Bible verses and scriptures. Some people are able to feel God's love and presence through music and worship. Others feel God's presence when they serve others in need. So we need to learn and listen to the Spirit for experiences and ways that we interact with God.
It's been a tough year and a half as the world's dealing with the pandemic. I do not know what you're going through right now in your spiritual life. Maybe you're going through changes in life, or facing various struggles and challenges. There may be changes in your career, in your studies, struggles with financial needs, or in your relationships. Even though we may not see the signs, or where the exits are, what the world will be like several months from now in the midst of all this chaos and uncertainty, trust that God will lead you and guide you, and will not leave you to face these perils alone. Let us learn to live in the present and learn to depend on God.
In verse six, as they pass through the valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs, autumn rainss also cover it with pools. Scholars do not know the exact location of the valley of Baca, but it can be viewed as a symbol of a deep valley, where pilgrims will need to pass through to get to the Holy city. Some people say that it is a valley of tears, or the valley of weeping, as the pilgrims travel in autumn, which is at the end of the dry season, and early rain will come where the land will be renewed. Pilgrims come with anticipation of joy as they approach the temple to be in the presence of God. They bring joy and hope to places of tears and despair. Here my prayer, Lord God Almighty, listen to me, God of Jacob, look on our shield, oh God. Hear my prayers. Lord God Almighty. Listen to me, God of Jacob. This verse is a prayer from a first person point of view, and Selah, a signal to pass a calling to those who are reading or singing the Psalm to break and to reflect on what they've just song or read.
We all need a time of retreat from our daily lives to reflect on where God is. And what is He drawing our attention to. Then this verse switches from a first person to a community asking God to look on our shield. As a pilgrim, we need to learn to embrace community. When I was doing the Camino, every night at the hostels we'll eat together with other pilgrims, the time where we will share about the day's journey. We check each other's feet for blisters. But most importantly, we share our life stories. Every one of these pilgrims are searching, searching for purpose, searching for meaning of life, searching for a path to be closer to God. We often believe that the spiritual journey is a individual journey, that we have to walk the path along with God. But this Psalm is a reminder for us to walk together in community, with our brothers and sisters. Because it's too tough to walk alone. We need the support of others and to journey together.
Better is one day in your courts than 1000 elsewhere. Being God's presence for one day surpasses 1000 days anywhere else. We know that our true values and identity are centered in God. For the Lord God is our sun and our shield. He is our protection and nurturer, and provider of life. When we are centered in God, all the worldly recognitions, fame, power, success are no longer important. Where do we spend most of our time today? What are our priorities in life at the moment? Are we truly centered in God? For the Lord God is our sun and shield. The Lord bestows favour and honour. No good things does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. When I was going through the dark places of anger and despair, off of this idea that God is holding back his blessings and good things for me. But this Psalm is a reminder that God does not withhold good things from us. It's just that we do not recognize the good things that he is already bringing into our lives. On the Camino, there's a ritual that pilgrims will perform. Before someone begin their journey, that pilgrimage, we are asked to take a piece of stone or rock from our homeland, and carry it along on our journey. This piece of stone symbolize our baggage that you have been carrying, a blockage or resistance that you're experiencing in your relationship with God. Pilgrims will carry this piece of stone and lay it down at the feet of the Iron Cross with our prayers. That is the highest point on the entire journey. The process of laying down the stone before God, let it go. Letting go of our fears, our doubts, our anger, our resistance, and lifting them up in prayer and releasing them to God. As I laid down a stone at the foot of the cross, I learned to lay down my pride and ego and to learn that God is the great mystery. I cannot fully comprehend God's power, nor understand His will. Even though I may not see it at the moment, I learned to be humble and trust that God has my best interest in my heart because of His love for me.
So what is it that's blocking you from God right now? Maybe it's also time for you to lay down that stone in your heart and let God's loveflow through you. Lord Almighty blessed is the one who trusts in you. Psalm 84 is a psalm about movements, from being in the wilderness to being in God's temple, from a place of weeping and tears to a place of spring and renewal. From being an individual to being in community, from worries about our daily concerns, to resting in the presence of God. For our spiritual journey, there may be struggles, pain, questions, doubts, a lot of ups and downs, but also seasons of joy, blessing and celebrations. The journey is worth it, because we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord.
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