The lection from the Psalter this week includes: “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so God surrounds God’s own people, from this time on and forevermore” (Psalm 125:2). In a world of turmoil, what does this divine surrounding look like—and what is the breadth of those whom God surrounds? When the Psalmist offered this communal lament or prayer for help, “God’s own” most likely referred to those pilgrims who found security in Jerusalem’s protected location geographically and their understanding of covenant identity with the Holy One of Israel.
When Christians read this, we include ourselves in those whom God surrounds. Our interpretive struggle remains understanding the means of surrounding. Is it active protection, i.e., persons of faith receive a form of special providence that is denied to others? While this is comforting, especially in times of great distress, it seems to break down when the righteous suffer alongside the unrighteous in illness, natural calamity, or destructive machinations such as occurred on September 11—nearly eight years ago. It is difficult to present a coherent argument for this privileging of “God’s own” because, as the poet Adrienne Rich says: “Experience is larger than language.”
In recent years I have considered that the mode of God’s presence, God’s surrounding, is primarily through those empowered by the Spirit who would function as instruments of grace. God’s preferred agency is as “Word made flesh,” and faithful persons participate in extending the incarnation. Presently my husband is receiving hospice care at home, and these caregivers are functioning as an expression of God’s surrounding. In their attentive presence, God is accompanying Douglas. How grateful I am that God accords persons the great dignity of being the form of divine presence; it speaks of divine humility and extravagant grace.