Psalm 63 is one of the so-called desert psalms. Andrew Louth wrote in The Wilderness of God: “(The desert) is a place of beginning, a place where the human is refined and God revealed”. Via the momentum of a mere eight verses one sees how the desert has stripped David of all pretences, but simultaneously left him a man closer to God. Is this not the potential that a wilderness experience may have for any person? It does not take a huge imagination to visualise the desert experience that someone has to go through when confronted with bad news: whether this is the news of a terminal illness; a changed HIV-status; or the unexpected death of a beloved. Whatever the details of the desert experience may be, for many people it results in spiritual wrestling. Therefore, words such as “seeking”, “thirsting” and “longing” are more than familiar in a time where life is experienced as “a weary land where there is no water” (v 2).
One of the results of such a dry period in one’s life is that you search for consolation. You want to be comforted. You want to feel secure. You want to be anchored in something greater than yourself, while your own life’s foundation feels unstable. David experiences this. Not only in his inner space when he wakes up in the morning, meditating on God. Not only at night in sleepless struggles when he acknowledges a Greater Power, whilst his own physical power diminishes. What is striking is that David also expresses his wish to rebuild his inner strength “in God’s sanctuary”.
Is it possible to define “God’s sanctuary” today with “there where the faithful – together – contemplate God’s presence”? Can one translate this with “the community of believers”? I am hesitant to ask, “Is this the church”?
If this is really the case, then the reality of the relationship between HIV and AIDS and the church confronts the reader: why is it that those with some illnesses may – unmasked – call out: “I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory”, whilst those with other illnesses have to camouflage themselves in order that “the other” may not know? Is the church really the place where any person, regardless of their desert-content, may experience a sense of homecoming? Is the sanctuary of God really the place where, together with fellow believers, the practical realisation of God’s power and greatness can be experienced? Or is “the sanctuary” (read: the church) ultimately only the critical, unsympathetic, judgmental and stereotyping environment of which so many accuse us of?
How can we become that sanctuary where somebody, irrespective of illness and status, can call out: the one place where I can experience the greatness and power of God is amongst believers? There my thirst will definitely be quenched!
To think about or discuss: How can a congregation become the place where people, regardless of their desert experience, experience caring, comfort and support?