It must have been a game changer for the people of the psalm times as they realized that animal sacrifice was not a proper means of expressing gratitude to the Almighty. That shift from ritual sacrifice to informed obedience recognized that our relationship with God evolves as we mature in our spirituality. It calls for a deeper discernment of God’s will, and a deeper personal connection to the meaning of that call. The psalmist prays “Here I am,” not here “we” are, and “I” come, not “we” to do “your will.” The psalm response calls each of us to talk directly with God, and to surrender ourselves to God’s will, as did Mary in the Annunciation.
This seems difficult on so many levels – how do we know we are hearing an authentic call from God? Can someone else, and their experience, inform us what the will of God is for us? What exactly is God calling us to do? What does it mean for us to surrender ourselves to God’s will? Are we really ready, willing and able to respond affirmatively to all that God’s call means, to the “do” part and not just to understanding what God’s will might be? Do we understand that responding as did Mary with “yes” is a commitment to a life-long journey?
This may be the hardest part of my own spiritual journey – recognizing what God’s will is for me personally, and then the doing. I can intellectually appreciate that God calls us – but I have difficulty always feeling confident in acting on what that call is. And it seems that we use the expression “God’s will” to express the inexpressible as well as to describe the pull we feel to do the “right thing.” I find it frustrating that some will retreat into resignation when confronted with the vagaries of life’s fortunes by repeating “It’s the will of God” as a mantra to bad news or tragedy, as if God intentionally willed that this misfortune fall specifically on them. Really – was it “God’s will” that a drunk driver ran over my best friend when we were 5 years old and bounced her lifeless body 100 feet down the street? Is it “God’s will” that a young mother dies while giving birth to her daughter? Is it ”God’s will” that people are starving in the Horn of Africa? Is it “God’s will” that Syrians are being slaughtered by their own government?
Well, yes, in one sense. Part of human life is the existence of death and disease and horrendous acts committed by people against people. Part of human life also is the beauty of a sunrise, the smile on a toddler’s face, and the warmth of a lover’s hand. Certainly God willed all these experiences for us by creating life. As we come to this realization, people may say “It is God’s will” to somehow try to make sense of the incomprehensible, to explain away the sadness and pain. And it can seem like we are personally being picked on at times. There is a great line from “The Fiddler on the Roof” in which Tevye prays to God as the pogrom takes place in his village “I know we are your chosen people, but just once in a while couldn’t you chose someone else?” As an aside, it is curious that we don’t seem to use the same expression “It is God’s will” as frequently for events of wonder and awe as we do for sudden death and disease.
For me, this seems to make sense if I accept that life is life, that what happens is beyond my control. I can’t stop death, or disease, or discrimination. I can’t change people’s hearts. But I can open my eyes to what life is sending my way and respond – I can say “Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.” I can forgive the drunk driver who has caused so much pain. I can comfort the bereaved father and motherless child. I can take steps to reduce the famine in Africa by financial contributions or personal actions. I can attempt to minimize human suffering from ruthless dictators by supporting political pressure to reduce their power. And I can always pray that God support these suffering people in their times of need.
One of my favorite readings in scripture is 1 Kings19:11-13, where Elijah seeks guidance from the Lord. Only when he is able to quiet himself, and be at inner peace, only when he listens to the tiny whispering sound, does he understand God’s will. And so my prayer today is for the grace to be still and quiet, to hear and feel God’s call, and for the strength to act, so I can confidently and reverently say “Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.”
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