Highways to Zion


As modern readers of the ancient world we easily give up our God-given compatriots. The writers who precede us, those honest troubadours of heart-splitting emotion felt what we feel and sensed what we sense. And in a time much slower than ours, they recorded these heart cries, vividly capturing joys and terrors, victories and laments. In their observing, speaking and writing they sensed what is easily lost to us today. Expression, depth-full and charged, has power. Emotion, felt and spoken, changes situations in ways a post-industrialist has learned to distrust. So, unafraid of feeling, these poets of long ago cried out their depths in ways so honest that we find them difficult.

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Blessed are those whose strength is in You,
In whose hearts are the highway to Zion.
As they go through the valley of Baca (weeping)
They make it a valley of springs;
The early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
Each one appears before God in Zion.

The world of today squeezes the polarities of our emotions towards a median center disallowing the expressions of the heart. (Who can shout with emotion in cubicle land or weep uncontrollably on the sidelines of a soccer field surrounded by other mini-van driving parents?) The edges of our culture’s emotional range are being pushed towards a generic center and in the process we are losing our God-given call to respond. This is not to say that there are not those who escape; the occasional outburst certainly occurs. But our reaction is to believe those capable of said outbursts are losing power over themselves not enacting it on some transcendent level.

In contrast to our idealized emotionlessness, the Psalmist writes of where to go with these cries of the heart. Build a road to Zion in our inner being, he says. (Zion is a mystical poeticism for the sacred center of the Jewish world—the temple mount and the God who is envisioned dwelling there.) Containers for the ways we feel don’t exist by water coolers or at PTA’s. Rather they exist in God. Each sensory reaction to pain or joy is a potential pathway to God. (Think of Chesterton’s hilarious quote: “The worst moment for an atheist is when he is really thankful and has no one to thank.”)

It is in the expressing of these reactions that something powerful occurs. Now, to be clear, this is entirely different than the empowerment of a person individually. In many ways, it generally looks like a giving up of rights and strength, an admission of weakness or gratitude, rather than an empowerment of our person. Stepping in to honest expression of our senses generally means admitting a joy that is beyond our ability to create, a thankfulness over benefits we do not deserve, or a wound that we are unable to conquer. On the road to Zion this seeming powerlessness becomes a connecting pathway to God Himself.

The Psalmist observes that tears shed in a posture towards God do not fall needlessly to the ground. In the desert wastelands of southern Israel, tears such as these fill pools with water and birth springs in the dryness. In great pain and joy we find the depths of our soul and from this point we cry out the smallness of ourselves and the greatness of our God. The desert of aloneness is replaced with the grace of walking with God. The darkness of pain meets the justice of One strong enough to act.

Such a person, whose emotions result in pathways to the vertical, walks from strength to strength. The connection with God, the walk with Him, becomes the strength in their lives.

We so wish to be empowered, to find that we are strong. But this strength comes from outside, from beyond. It is not one that can be claimed or controlled for it is gifted to us

The Psalmist then concludes:

O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer;
Give ear, O God of Jacob!
Behold our shield, O God;
Look on the face of your anointed!
For a day in Your courts is better
Than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
Than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
The LORD bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
From those who walk uprightly.
O LORD of hosts,
Blessed is the one who trusts in You!

Our shield from the attack and our sun in the darkness are the presence of God. Our pathway to him is honest expression of emotions. He thrives on the interaction, honest and secure, of children allowed to be diverse and changing in our heart cries.  Our guides on this path are the ancient poets who filled our Scriptures with poems so poignant they seem irreligious and dangerous to the pious.  They are a beacon of hope to those darling enough to realize the needed honesty of soul to dwell in the courts of God!

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2 thoughts on “Highways to Zion

  1. I love this. I am pretty emotionally expressive person, but I still find that I need reminders from time to time that it is okay to bring the fullness of ourselves to God and that He hears and responds to the cries of our hearts.

  2. I’m catching up on a couple of posts I missed over the last two months or so and just read this.

    Favorite lines* “Now, to be clear, this is entirely different than the empowerment of a person individually. In many ways, it generally looks like a giving up of rights and strength, an admission of weakness or gratitude, rather than an empowerment of our person.”

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