Psalm 55 Reflection

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“Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me.” – Psalm 55:1-2a

“My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen on me.  Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me.  I said, ‘Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!  I would fly away and be at rest.  I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.’” – Psalm 55:4-8

“Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.  But you, God, will bring down the wicked into the pit of decay; the bloodthirsty and deceitful will not live out half their days.  But as for me, I trust in you.” – Psalm 55:22-23

Sitting at the stone desert circle,
the fire burns on its pillar.
The smoke rising, the embers burning,
the fire is small,
yet burns with strength and eternal endurance.

I stand up from the bench on which I am sitting,
from looking intently upon God’s fire,
and look to the horizon.

Dark clouds, heavy with rain,
envelop the barren horizon.
The sky is thick and grey.

From the distance, over the expanse,
across the dirt, sand, shrubs, and rocks,
I smell the rain.
Humidity presses against my skin.

Amid the empty desert,
secure on God’s stone foundation,
I watch the sky grow dark.
I wait upon the impending storm to assail our position.

The fire burns bright and strong,
the Spirit’s flame distinguished against the darkening sky,
contrasted against the impending battery of rain, wind, and thunder.

The storm is upon us.
Rain pummels the desert sand.
Wind beats the brush against the dirt.
Thunder breaks overhead.
Lightning flares in rage across the now blackening sky.

Water rises against the foundation.
The desert, a black ocean,
with waves darkened like oil,
emerging from the depths of the earth.

The wind riles the ink-like, glimmer-less water,
agitating it into madness,
enjoining it to rise, towering above us;
in the storm’s ire, charging it to crash against us.

The sky coal, the water oil,
the earth dark and outraged,
there is no light to look upon but God’s fire.

Its flame burns tall into the sky,
swelling in intensity,
point by point,
matching the storm’s ferocity, strength, and violence.

The stone foundation,
inundated in the storm,
is washed of its desert sand,
its true character and integrity revealed.

Standing upon the rock, peering to its edge,
I see the eternal abyss below,
haunting the depths of the water’s surface.

Fear enters my mind.
Possibilities emerge from its pathways.
Knocked over, pushed to the edge,
my fingers clutching the lip at the edge of this rock,
mustering strength to reach up my hand for Jesus to take hold,
yet my strength finished;
losing my grasp, tumbling deep into the abyss,
forever falling, hopeless.

Water rising, crashing,
seeking to intimidate any who would stand on God’s foundation,
against the brutality of the rain, wind, thunder, and lightning.

I look to the center of the rock,
to the radiant ferocity of its blinding flame,
the illumination of its brilliant pillar of fire.
The storm, in all its indignation,
unable to affect God’s signal in the darkness,
exasperated.

Saturated though I am,
my skin and clothes deluged with the storm’s rain, wind, and waves,
compelled to kneel in reverence and awe,
I look towards the blinding fire’s vivid light before me.
Its tower rising above the clouds,
God sees into the light, beyond the tempest’s edge.

Like Peter, focused on Jesus standing before him,
in the darkest of nights, terrified,
stepping out of the boat,
battered by the squall’s wind, waves, and rain.

Stepping in faith, during the storm.
Overcoming the abyss to where God is calling.
Walking into the waves, understanding the pit that lies beneath.

Focused on Christ.
Knowing his fire is upon you.
Lighting the way before you.
To see Christ and look to him alone,
despite the distraction around you.

Jesus, let your fire fill me.
Let the brilliance of your Spirit strengthen me,
to step into the darkness of the storm.

I step.
A valley opens in front of me.
The sky clear, the pasture green,
God’s creatures grazing in its peace.
The storm gone.
Mountains beset the pasture before me,
framing the meadow to the east and west.

To step into the savagery of the storm,
God with you,
is to step into the valley.
Knowing the fear of the pit underneath,
the anxiety of drowning,
the doubt of falling into a depth with no end,
floundering with no hope.

Yet to look at Jesus and step anyway.
Yet to know the Spirit is with you and step anyway.

You feel the water give way beneath you.
Despair rushes into the cracks of your soul.
Yet an arm reaches out towards you,
grabbing your arm, unrelenting,
strong, and not letting go.
Holding you, bringing you up.

Jesus, with you.

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100 Miles for Safe Harbor: The Conclusion

The towering trees, rising from the hills of Marsh Creek’s western shore, were silhouetted against the yellow super-moon, setting as the night sky succumbed to the dawn’s chase. The moon glowed brightly with the reflection of the rising sun’s light, a final conversation between the two as they continued their perpetual pursuit of one another. I was caught in the middle, in the space between night and day, paddling west toward the last of the moon’s brilliance, then turning around and going east toward the inevitable victory of daylight.

The scene reminded me of one of my favorite books – Jack London’s The Call of the Wild. I imagine somewhere out there, in our nation’s vast wilderness, a pack of wolves was howling to that glowing celestial ball orbiting this earth. Closer to Marsh Creek Lake, where I paddled for 24 hours straight, it was probably a pack of coyotes. But during those night hours, time and space came together as the moon, stars, and wisps of clouds reflected on the lake’s glassy surface. It was only broken by the occasional faint breeze and the bow of my kayak cruising through the moonlit darkness.

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From Friday, June 21, at 7 p.m. to Saturday, June 22, at 7 p.m., I kayaked exactly 100 miles at Marsh Creek in order to raise money and awareness for Safe Harbor of Chester County. Safe Harbor is a homeless shelter on North Matlack Street which provides many amazing services to Chester County residents who are in need. They offer meals, overnight shelter for 20 men and 20 women, and the hope and opportunity to turn lives around. It is a great, and much needed, organization in our community.

With the help of the staff of Safe Harbor and the congregation at my church, the West Chester Church of the Nazarene, people from the community sponsored me per mile with donations to Safe Harbor in order to make this event successful. In fact, if you go to Safe Harbor’s website, it’s not too late to give a donation!

I’ve been doing ultra-marathon kayaking since 2009, when I paddled the world’s longest continuous non-stop river race, the Missouri River 340; yes, the 340 stands for 340 miles. And since then, I’ve completed a handful of other races in various parts of the country, as well as other distance kayaking fundraisers for homeless shelters.

Some might say it’s crazy; believe me, I understand. Even as I was out there on Marsh Creek, during the last few hours and the remaining 20 or so miles, with my mind and my muscles exhausted, every other thought was calling me to just stop and call it quits. But remembering that this wasn’t for me, but for the people of Safe Harbor, helped me persist in fighting on to 100 miles.

Still, my exhaustion was only for a single 24 hour period of time. I knew that once it was over, I could eat a decent meal, take a needed shower, and rest in a soft bed under a roof. Not everyone has that opportunity; there are many, even in the West Chester area, who don’t have those blessings. When I lived in Kansas City for a few years, I worked at a homeless shelter; people who walked around the city during the day with a suit and tie and you would never know they were homeless – they grabbed a blanket at night and slept on the concrete until they were woken up in the middle of a cold winter night and told to move to the next corner. And even here in West Chester, poverty exists around us. There are people in need.

But the amazing thing is that each and every one of us has an awesome opportunity to help!

Kayaking is something I enjoy; through doing something like paddling 100 miles in only 24 hours on a lake with no current to assist, I hope I was able to do something to help those in need. It might only be a drop in the lake, literally, but it is something. I’d encourage all of us to creatively think about the capabilities we have and do something to not think selfishly of ourselves, but to think selflessly about others in order to help people who are in need. And if you’re wondering where to begin in the Chester County area, and whether it is through volunteering or a financial donation, Safe Harbor is certainly a great place to consider!