Psalm 143:6 I stretch forth my hands unto thee: my soul gaspeth unto thee as a thirsty land.
(From the Translation of the great English Bible, set forth and used in the time of King Henry the Eighth, and Edward the Sixth, in The Book of Common Prayer, 1662)
Gaspeth! There it is! There’s the word I’ve been looking for. In a snapshot, a word picture of what my relationship with God often looks and feels like. It’s like a Deep Breath of Remember, only quicker. More paralyzing. Desperate. Maybe without exhale. What any good trusting relationship with God should look like.
We all have dreams about our good life. Hopefully we get glimpses of the good life smack in the middle of hardship and suffering. Paul did:
2 Corinthians 4:8-11 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.
Here’s part of a story, still unfolding, to illustrate my new found appreciation for an obscure word that gives voice to my soul.
My soul gaspeth…
It’s what I do when the criminal investigators invite my son to join them in their unmarked police car for a ride to the station. They have a few questions. It’s what I do when, out of curiosity, I pull up the online local newspaper and see a posting, “Police ask for help identifying suspected arson,” accompanied by a surveillance video. I click >. And there he is. My beloved youngest son carrying a gas can down the hallway of the Christian School he’d attended. The school my wife worked at for nine years as secretary.
It’s what I do when my pastor sits in my living room with a shocked mom and dad, listening to us groan. Listening to our deep ache gushing forth in tears, questions, fears. Stunned at our crumbling world. He prays for us. Prays for our son. Reminds us of something I hadn’t thought about much. Our core identity. In God. Beloved son – beloved daughter of God.
It’s what I do when the officers return and my son struggles out of the backseat in leg shackles. A thick leather belt around his waist with one-foot long chains connected to his handcuffs. He stands, quivering, trying to find a way to make it all go away with his final drags on his final cigarette that, because of the chains, he has to stoop forward in order to reach to his lips. He had the guts to confess to the early morning crime. And for good measure, also confessed to setting the same school gym on fire two years previous. Now, no longer an unsolved mystery.
It’s what I do. It’s what my son does when I speak redemptive words gracefully prompted by my pastor. “My son, there’s nothing you can do to diminish the love God has for you. There’s nothing you can do to diminish your mom’s and my love for you.” I call these redemptive words because they bought us, delivered us, out of the grip of despair, hopelessness, shame.
My wife and I hug him. Hug him hard because it feels like it might be the last time. There’s a price to be paid, you know. Hearings. Pleas. The slammer.
It’s what I do when, having bled a father’s grief watching television news flashes and front-page headlines, I sit staring in numbness out the window. I witness the strangeness of black storm clouds roiling in the eastern sky suddenly burst into a blood redness as the sun sets. Not red on black, or black on red. But, red in black. Like liquids mixing. Suddenly redemption bursts into the story. Blood redemption weaved into the same tapestry as life’s darkness. Redemption’s bloody. There was a price to pay, you know. Hearings, beatings, nails, thorny crown, curse, death.
That very blood redemption story was carried by ministers of the gospel into the heart of the prison. Straight into the heart of my son. Along with a message from an entire Christian School, students, teachers, faculty, “We forgive you!” More redemptive words.
Especially during times locked alone in his cell, throughout his years of incarceration, my son learned to hear and rely on that Redeemer’s voice that speaks, “My beloved son.” His soul learned to gaspeth.
It’s what we do, years later now. Time served. Prison navigated, survived. Mom, dad, son after a church service. Gospel preached. Redeemer worshipped. My son turns toward us and says, “I need a hug.” We hug hard.