A group of us this summer went to the ICE building in Burlington with our Jewish friends for a public lament over our government’s merciless practice of separating immigrant children from their parents. The Rabbis who led the gathering sang a Hebrew chant based upon an interpretation of Psalm 118:5 – “I call to you from the narrows, from the narrows, and you brought me to a spacious place.” It’s the psalmist’s poetic way of naming how God’s spirit works and moves in our lives; bringing us from the narrow and cramped quarters that we tend to back ourselves into and out into spaciousness. In the context of the Public Lament at ICE, the phrase spoke of both the imprisonment of immigrants but also the narrowing of our own national lives in the effort to keep “the others” out.
But the poetic passage can be a clarion call for other parts of our lives too. We carve deep narrow ruts at times with the circles we run in and our thinking follows, leaving little opportunity to truly learn about someone or something new. We can become narrowly focused on the end results of the work we do and forsake the more spacious question of the value, rightness and truth of the work itself. We can be rigid in our sense of what our children need to succeed and narrow the scope of their lives towards a particular path that speaks more about ourselves than about who God has called them to be. We can – to quote Parker Palmer – find ourselves in “a gated spiritual community of one” instead of braving the often more challenging prospect of being committed and involved in a community of faith. And yet it’s the community of faith, not the community of one, that breaks open the heart and soul to a more spacious place where God’s presence can enter and dwell within us.
As summer draws to a close and we open up to the fall and a new year together as a church community, I invite you to consider where the narrow places are in your life and how you might opt for practices, directions, activities that lead you to a more spacious place. Our church offers many broadening opportunities with the Refugee Immigrant Ministry, with the Outdoor Church, with the Dwelling Place, and the youth’s Philadelphia project, among others. Our God is not a cramped God but a God of spaciousness within whom we all “live and move and have our being”. May our lives together move always towards greater spaciousness so that God may dwell therein, so that we can grow in our lives of faith, and so that others might know through us the blessing of a broad and spacious love, in Jesus name.