On the Sunday before Paul and Martha Puckett move from Spokane to ‘the Manor’ in Newberg, Oregon Spokane Friends, while reluctant to see them go after so many years of meaningful service to the Meeting, took the time to reflect on the importance of lives well lived. What follows here is a brief message prepared for the occasion but not shared. Instead there were innumerable personal statements of gratitude for having been the recipients of Paul and Martha’s hospitality, love and care over the years. At the conclusion a certificate was presented to them which read:
A MINUTE OF AN EXTRAORDINARY MEETING FOR BUSINESS
OF SPOKANE MONTHLY MEETING OF FRIENDS
REQUESTED BY THE ELDERS AND CALLED BY THE CLERK OF MEETING
DURING FIRST DAY MEETING FOR WORSHIP
The Elders, having had laid before them a concern for Paul and Martha Puckett removing themselves from our Meeting to Newberg, Oregon, recommend the following Minute to Spokane Monthly Meeting of Friends.
Acknowledging their years of faithful dedication to and their ministries within our Meeting, though initially conflicted and saddened over our loss of them to our fellowship, non-the-less we are clear that Paul and Martha Puckett be supported and liberated for the continuation of their lives and ministries among Friends of the Willamette Valley of Oregon and more specifically to Friends of Friendsview Retirement Community into whose care we lovingly entrust them.
Approved this tenth month the twenty-third in the year of our Lord 2011.
1Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
2Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
3You turn us back to dust, and say, “Turn back, you mortals.”
4For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night.
5You sweep them away; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning;
6in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.
7For we are consumed by your anger; by your wrath we are overwhelmed.
8You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your countenance.
9For all our days pass away under your wrath; our years come to an end like a sigh.
10The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.
11Who considers the power of your anger? Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.
12So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.
13Turn, O Lord! How long? Have compassion on your servants!
14Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us, and as many years as we have seen evil.
16Let your work be manifest to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.
17Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands— O prosper the work of our hands!
The first half of Psalm explores the relationship between God and us, we human beings, using time to plumb the depths of the human condition and then points us back to God.
As the psalmist reminds us that the Lord is the one who is…
- “Our dwelling place in all generations”
- The creator since “before the mountains were brought forth”
- Who has been God “from everlasting to everlasting”
- And for whom “a thousand years are…like yesterday…or like a watch in the night”
One the other hand, he reminds us that human beings are those who…
- “turn back to dust”
- “Are like a dream” in the night
- spring up like grass in the morning but for who are parched and withered by evening
- And have a lifespan of seventy, or perhaps eighty years, if our strength holds (Do you prefer the King James’ Version: “threescore years and ten, and if by reason of strength they be fourscore”).
The Psalmist concludes that all the years of human life “come to an end like a sigh.” The New English has: “The hurrying years are labour and sorrow, so quickly they pass and are forgotten.” The whole passage is a lament, a reflection on the transience of human existence. All the experiences of a human life seem meaningless.
The second half is different. It is a theological plea written, as someone said, in the key of hope. It is a prayer in which the Psalmist makes his plea to God and dares to hope for what is clearly not apparent.
The witness of the psalm—a witness made to God, perhaps even made against God—is that for mortals to find true hope for today and true strength for tomorrow, there is only one to whom they can turn, the eternal Lord. This is no carpe diem—Seize the Day—argument! Those are merely thinly veiled attempts to deny our humanness and mortality and are precisely the sort of foolishness that the psalmist prays against when he begs in verse 12, “Teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.” A wise heart is one which turns away from human attempts at self-deception and self-justification. One that paradoxically implores the very God who says to us, “turn back, you mortals!” (verse 3) to, in turn, “Turn…Have compassion on your servants!” (verse 13).
The psalm writer returns to the theme of time and pleads with God, if not to wind back the hands of time, at least to reverse some of the more deflating and discouraging effects of human mortality: the burdensome sense that a mortal life is without meaning; the debilitating sense that nothing we do matters, because death comes for us all; the horrible fear that there is nothing that can satisfy us or give us joy.
Thus, weaving back into the poem the earlier temporal terms such as morning, days, and years, The Psalmist prays “Satisfy us with thy love when morning breaks, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” The witness here is that joy, satisfaction, and gladness can not be fabricated or marketed. They are not goods that can be pilfered from creation. Joy, satisfaction, and gladness are gifts made freely available, offered without condition by our creator and redeemer.
Even the psalm’s doubly repeated closing plea to “prosper for us the work of our hands—O prosper the work of our hands” is not just a plea, it is a promise. It is the promise that the work done by our hands will make a difference, when blessed by the God’s spirit.