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  • Writer's pictureMarissa Galvan

Blow by blow, verse by verse

This sermon was preached on February 18, 2024. Lent 1. Psalm 25

Artful Pose

Maya Angelou in a poem called “Artful Pose” writes about the choices she makes as a poet:

Of falling leaves and melting snows
of birds in their delights
Some poets sing their melodies
Tendering my nights sweetly.

My pencil halts
and will not go
along the quiet path
I need to write
of lovers false
and hate
and hateful wrath

In the poem, she decides what path she is going to take. There are a lot of poems that are about nature, about love, about music, and about beautiful things.

But as a woman who was sexually abuse by her mother’s boyfriend and who became mute for five years believing that she was responsible for his death, her pencil and her words decide to go by another way. Her poetry is beautiful, but it is also a voice awakened to announce and denounce her story and the stories of others like her. Her pose, and her path are artful, but she decides to reflect on the path of affliction and trouble, and resistance and hope that mark her own life.

Let me know your paths

Elizabeth Caldwell, in her chapter about Psalm 25 writes:

Sometimes the way forward is very clear. And sometimes you can barely see the path. When walking in a field, it’s possible to follow those who’ve preceded you as you take steps in the grass bent down by their footsteps. Other times, you make the path. You’re the first one to set out, and others will follow the path you have made.

As we know, in our lives there are paths to take, even on a daily basis. She tells the story of how one of her brothers knew that he could be an architect from an early age, but for her, the vocational path for her life was not so clear. But imagine having to determine that path when you feel that you are in danger, when you are fearful, when you feel afflicted and when you feel lost and with no direction.

The psalm that we read today is attributed to David and it is written in the form of an acrostic, which is kind of a path to follow in itself. The poem follows a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet, like when we are writing a poem where the first verse starts with a A, the second with a B, etc..

But the psalmist deviates from the path a bit, when this becomes a psalm, not of praise or of thanksgiving, but a psalm of petition or expression of need.

The poet faces affliction and trouble (v. 18), enemies (vv. 2 and 19), and guilt from his youth (v. 7). Therefore, the poet prays in response to these problems. We can imagine him saying: “God, how can I find my way in life when all this trouble accosts me? How can I find a voice if all my enemies are shouting over me? How can I continue walking, if everything seems to be going wrong with my life?"

The psalmist asks for God to direct him to a path, and not just any path, but the Lord’s paths. “Your ways, O Lord, inform me, your paths, instructs me” as Robert Alter paraphrases. “God, lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long”

Caldwell shares that there are several themes in the passage: The writer seems to be in a critical situation. Yet, in the midst of these difficulties he waits for God. This is not a passive waiting, sitting down of the road to see what happens. This is a wait that happens in trust and step by step. As Charles Aaron states

"By waiting for God (vv. 3 and 21), the psalmist develops patience and serenity. These acts of devotion frame the psalm. Theologically, they affirm trust in God’s goodness and willingness to act.”

Of note as well, is that this request to know God’s path happens in this state of distress. The psalmist, as Aaron remarks, does not want this distress to impede the development of wisdom in his life. He remains faithful. And Aaron ends his comment saying that reading the psalmist’s troubles is helpful for us, as the church of today, because the “psalmist sought to learn of God’s ways, not in a time of comfort, but in the midst of difficulties.”

In the midst of the inevitable conflicts of life, individuals and the community of faith can exhibit wisdom, maturity, and love. Surrounded by grief, rage, and fear, we can trust in a God of steadfast love and mercy.

But there’s always the question that Caldwell posits for us:

“Do you think that the paths of faith God was showing the psalmist were there all along but he had failed to see the works of God, the visible expression of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness? Could it be that God is the one who has been waiting on the psalmist?"

That is indeed the question that we must reflect on each day, taking a pause and paying attention to the paths were the grass is already bent down, or the ones that God has specifically for us, those paths of faith that God shows us, and that sometimes we do not see.

Steve Bagmanyan (Last Repair Shop)

I was watching a documentary called “The Last Repair Shop”. The first time that I heard that title, I thought that it had to do with a shop that repaired things that no one repairs anymore. But, this is the story of a shop established by the Los Angeles government to fix the musical instruments for the kids participating in music programs in the public school system.

It tells the stories of four repairers and four kids. The supervisor for the shop is called Steve Bagmanyan. He is also the one that repairs pianos.

He and his family faced ethnic persecution in Azerbaijan in 1980 for being Armenian. He shares that when he was a child, he saw a piano for the first time. The piano tuner would come to his music class and he saw him take the piano apart, dealing with all the parts and the strings and being amazed by it. When violence seemed to surround his family, his father decided to stay, but when he was murdered, the family came to the United States. The memories of the piano were left behind, and he had to leave behind a guitar that his brother had given him. But paths are mysterious. When he visited the family that sponsored them here, the first thing he saw was a piano. It so happens that the man in the family was a piano tuner. And he invited him to work for him. He had being doing odd jobs here and there to help his family survive. He had gone through tribulation and suffering. But when given this opportunity, this path, he took it… and now, he helps others whose path is music to walk through their own paths.

Blow by blow, verse by verse

Antonio Machado wrote a poem that comes to mind every time I think about paths: “Caminante, son tus huellas / el camino y nada más; / Caminante, no hay camino, / se hace camino al andar.”

Joan Manuel Serrat wrote a song based on this song, that adds a layer of poignancy to the verse. Serrat sees a poet suffering , away from his home, crying, but at the same time trying to find the hope to keep on walking. The last verse of the song says

When the goldfinch cannot sing. When the poet is a pilgrim. When it feels like it is no use to pray. Walker, when there is no path, the path is made by walking. Blow by blow and verse by verse.

Family of faith, I do believe that God has paths for each one of us. Our ability in finding those paths lies in seen the visible expressions of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness that surround us. Sometimes that is not going to be easy. We will feel like not singing. We will feel like we are lost. We will find no words to pray. And sometimes, even the paths that God has for us are hard and full of obstacles. But, God waits. God helps. God provides. God gives us steps. God gives us voice. Blow by blow and verse by verse. We are not alone in the path. God walks with us.

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