Some of you may know that I'm reading through the Psalms right now -- slowly, like dripping molasses (Sidebar: a favorite expression in my family is "slower than molasses," which means roughly the same thing as "slower than Christmas"). Yesterday morning I read Psalm 48, and it was so chock full of beauty that I had to read it again. God shows us beauty in unexpected places sometimes. I know that when I was younger I would not have thought much of little Psalm 48. My favorite Psalms are 34, 37, and 139, but I'm learning that each one is a gem in this treasure collection of songs to God. I'm a woman who is desperately poor and destitute, searching in the wasteland and finding jewels beyond measure. And each day, I find something different: here an emerald, there a ruby. Psalm 48 feels like a pearl.
Psalm 48 is written about Jerusalem (Zion), but not in praise of Jerusalem, and the distinction is important. The psalmist (or psalmists -- the sons of Korah wrote this and several other psalms) got it right in this song. All fourteen verses are spent in praise of the God Who made Jerusalem great. The sons of Korah recount the way that God filled the city with His mighty presence so much that attacking enemies were seized with terror and turned and fled for their lives. At one point, the psalmist says that God has shown Himself to be a strong refuge by the way He has dealt with Israel and Jerusalem. My favorite verses, though, are 12-14:
Walk about Zion, go around her, number her towers, consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels, that you may tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever. He will guide us forever.
The psalmist instructs the people to look at what God has done.Walk about. Look at this beautiful city. Look at the beauty and the might. Look at what God has done for us. Even though this is at the tail end of the psalm, it was the first thing I wrote down in my journal. Look at what God has done for us.
Yes, this psalm is about Jerusalem -- Mount Zion, the "holy habitation of the Lord." But something (spoiler: the Holy Spirit) gave me pause. I've head before about the holy city, the city on a hill. And then I remembered: I am the holy habitation of the Lord. The New Testament is full of verses that tell us that the human body of one who has been redeemed is temple of the Lord, and that we are to honor God with our bodies. We are His palace, His dwelling place, His citadel.
Whenever I hear the word citadel, do you know what comes instantly to mind? Minas Tirith. For those of you who aren't as dorky as I am, Minas Tirith is the tower city of Gondor. It is the stronghold of the West, the first fortress against the darkness. It has seven levels, and it's made of white stone that gleams like pearl. It is magnificent and glorious, and it's one of my favorite fictional places. A picture for reference:
The Bible tells me that that's me. I am the holy city of God. I am His gleaming tower made of pearl. He has made me beautiful and strong and holy. And my job is to tell people what He has done for me.
This morning I read an essay in Shauna Niequist's amazing book Bittersweet called "Your Story Must Be Told". In it, Shauna asks us all to do just that: tell our stories. Tell the hard parts of your life, the joyful parts, the parts that bring you shame and grieve you and make you jump and laugh for joy. Tell all of it. All of it is part of you and your life. People need to hear that. They need to know that they are not alone. They need to hear the wisdom and gems that you have gleaned along the way.
The stories of our lives do not belong to us, Shauna says. They are evidence of the gospel, and they are all part of the incredible, indelible, joy-inspiring adventure story of God. And that's much bigger than any of us.
If you are a person of faith, it is your responsibility to tell God's story, in every way you can, every form, every medium, every moment. Tell the stories of love and redemption and forgiveness every time you experience them. Tell the stories of reconciliation and surprise and new life everywhere you find them.
Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet
Out job is to look at the lives we've been given and see what God has done for us in them -- and then tell others about it. My mission is to tell what God has done for me. And God has done so much for me. I've experienced darkness in my life -- nights I thought my heart would crack, days I cried so hard I nearly threw up. I've had days that felt like nothing went right, days that I wanted to either start over or finish as soon as possible. But I've experienced an incredible amount of beauty -- and more often than not, it's been mixed with or is born from the darkness and the dirt.
I've learned from failure.
Joy has come from mourning.
I've seen the night give way to the swift sunrise, and when I thought the dark was here to stay, I found myself laughing and twirling and singing.
Look at what God has done for me.
He's given me hope. I have a family I adore, a church I love, friends who love me though I don't deserve it. I have been given a dream that I am blessed to get to live out. There has been rough stuff -- don't get me wrong. But God is in the business of creating beauty from ashes, and new life from death. C.S. Lewis and Shauna Niequist both tell me that's the central image of Christianity: death and rebirth. And we get to be part of that unfolding story.
We are God's dwelling place. His home. His citadel.
May we tell our stories. May we be unable to stop talking about what God has done for us. May all those around us know through our stories Who God is.
That's what it means to be a citadel, I think: to show others beauty and light and strength -- not from ourselves, but what God has given us to give away.