A Reading from Psalm 139
1 LORD, you have searched me out and known me; *
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
2 You trace my journeys and my resting-places *
and are acquainted with all my ways.
3 Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, *
but you, O LORD, know it altogether.
4 You press upon me behind and before *
and lay your hand upon me.
5 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; *
it is so high that I cannot attain to it.
6 Where can I go then from your Spirit? *
where can I flee from your presence?
7 If I climb up to heaven, you are there; *
if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.
8 If I take the wings of the morning *
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
9 Even there your hand will lead me *
and your right hand hold me fast.
10 If I say, "Surely the darkness will cover me, *
and the light around me turn to night,"
11 Darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day; *
darkness and light to you are both alike.
12 For you yourself created my inmost parts; *
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
13 I will thank you because I am marvelously made; *
your works are wonderful, and I know it well.
14 My body was not hidden from you, *
while I was being made in secret
and woven in the depths of the earth.
15 Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;
all of them were written in your book; *
they were fashioned day by day,
when as yet there was none of them.
16 How deep I find your thoughts, O God! *
how great is the sum of them!
17 If I were to count them, they would be more in number
than the sand; *
to count them all, my life span would need to
be like yours.
18 Oh, that you would slay the wicked, O God! *
You that thirst for blood, depart from me.
19 They speak despitefully against you; *
your enemies take your Name in vain.
20 Do I not hate those, O LORD, who hate you? *
and do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
21 I hate them with a perfect hatred; *
they have become my own enemies.
22 Search me out, O God, and know my heart; *
try me and know my restless thoughts.
23 Look well whether there be any wickedness in me *
and lead me in the way that is everlasting.
At the end of what was my first confession several years ago, the priest instructed me to sit in a quiet place in our church and to read this psalm. Though the confession took place in a chapel, and the priest would hold my words in strictest confidence, my tendency to privacy made it nonetheless difficult to speak about a long-past but not-forgotten experience which I still regretted. As I made my way through the psalm, I found myself not so much reading it, as being confronted by it; it was reading me, rather than I reading it.
It is an appropriate psalm to read after confession, as it teaches that nothing can be hidden from God, regardless of where we go. The psalmist states from the beginning verses that God has conducted a thorough search of his entire person and knows his every movement from start to finish. This all-encompassing knowledge “hems in” (in some translations) the author, which, in our modern thinking, might feel like the oppressive omniscience of “Big Brother.” But to the psalmist it is “too wonderful,” and “too lofty” for him to attain, and we sense his joy at that supernatural knowledge. God’s knowledge of us is total and perfect, because he made us wonderfully (vv. 13-15). Therefore, we can never be lost to his spirit or to his comforting presence.
We often confuse secrecy with privacy. But we also want desperately to be known and understood. Out of a healthy self-love, I hold some things about myself in private, sharing them only with those I love and trust. God made me and all of us in a “secret place” (v. 15); yet secrecy between ourselves and God is contrary to and obstructs the honest relationship we should have with him. Let us, like the psalmist, rejoice at how wonderful God’s knowledge of us is, which allows us to know and trust him. Where there is love and trust, there are no secrets.
Pamela A. Lewis taught French for 30 years before retirement. A lifelong resident of Queens, New York, she attends Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue and serves on various lay ministries. She writes for The Episcopal New Yorker, Episcopal Journal, and The Living Church.
Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Okene – The Church of Nigeria
Academy of Classical Christian Studies, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma