Ps. 92: There Is More Than the Present Moment
Samir Selmanović Ph.D., PCC, currently serves as Co-Chair and Director of Strategy and Partnerships for Vote Common Good. Born and raised in a secular family (with Christian and Muslim family ties) in the Balkans, he later served for twelve years as an ordained Evangelical pastor in California and New York and founded an interfaith organization in Manhattan. For the last ten years, Samir has worked as a coach, consultant, and speaker, helping leaders—from veteran CEOs to teenage community organizers—survive and thrive. His latest entrepreneurial venture is The Kitchenhood, A community of aspiring home chefs discovering and using their kitchens as places for the practice of mindfulness, personal nourishment, and professional growth.
“Memory is not just a then, recalled in a now, the past is never just the past, memory is the pulse passing through all created life, a waveform, a then continually becoming other thens, all the while creating a continual but almost untouchable now. But the guru’s urge to live only in the now misunderstands the multilayered inheritance of existence, where all epochs live and breathe in parallels… Memory is an invitation to the source of our life, to a fuller participation in the now, to a future about to happen, but ultimately to a frontier identity that holds them all at once. Memory makes the now fully inhabitable” (David Whyte, Consolations, p. 143).
When I learned that in the Jewish tradition that Psalm 92 (along with Psalm 93) is recited every Friday evening, and again on Saturday morning, I was puzzled. Discomforted—to name the feeling more precisely.
While Psalm 92 does open with the words “A psalm, a song for the Sabbath day,” it says nothing about restful sleep, longs walks in the park, tasty meals, or renewing conversation with friends—nothing of the beauty expressed in other biblical and Jewish sources about Shabbat1. In fact, it says nothing about the Sabbath at all. Rather, it goes on to describe in stark terms the destiny of “brutish” and “wicked” “fools” and “wrongdoers” in contrast to the “righteous” and to the “Lord of all.” This felt at odds with the unity and serenity we long for every week as we prepare for the Sabbath.
Reading Rabbi Miriyam Glazer’s eloquent description of the place of Psalms 92-93 within the broader liturgical order of the Kabbalat Shabbat (Sabbath Welcoming) service2 (developed centuries ago by Jewish mystics) helped me gain a different perspective on the matter:
The sequence of the Psalms of the week recapitulates the process of creation of the world described in the opening pages of Genesis! … By Friday, not only do we celebrate God’s reign in our universe [Psalm 93], but we declare our love for God’s law, God’s Way [Psalm 92]. By Shabbat morning, we have achieved a sense of spiritual and existential security and a reassuring, gentle and beautiful promise. Going through the week, then, is like going through the fiery furnace of human life into the beauty of God’s majestic light (Psalms of the Jewish Liturgy, p. 17).
This led me to think anew about why I became a Christian at age 17.
There were two primary reasons:
First, in the pages of the Bible—both the TaNaKh and the New Testament—I discovered a new way of seeing the world. The world was not only made of matter, plants, animals, and people; it was made of stories—stories that are so powerful that they alter the ways in which we understand and interact with the matter, plants, animals, and people of the world. By investing my faith in the Creator and Sustainer of all life, and in the interconnection and interdependence of all of creation, I developed a new and deeply meaningful narrative frame for my life.
Second, I discovered the practice of Sabbath, a quality of time, an element that humans cannot ultimately control or conquer, but which we can share with one another. This practice seemed to embody in concrete ways the most powerful elements of the bigger story of Creation. On this day, we give thanks for the blessings of our lives—past and present—while envisioning a future Sabbath time of universal redemption. As a person who entered the Christian community as a Seventh Day Adventist, the practice of celebrating the Sabbath from sundown Friday to nightfall Saturday has held me for almost 40 years.
Shabbat is magical because, as the poet David Whyte states above, it helps us to cultivate a “frontier identity,” in which past, present, and future come together through rest, ritual, and imagination.
During this time of pandemic and social upheaval, I feel as if the Sabbath psalms are coming full circle in my life. I have regular mindfulness and meditation practices and am well aware of the power of living in the present moment. But the here-and-now is not all that there is.
Sabbath is, for me, the only spiritual practice (besides cooking), that weaves together our here-and-now presence with the larger story that animates and shapes my life.
Years ago, Rabbi Lawrence Kushner told me that we all have mystical experiences, and I got very excited. And then he said, “Yes, they come for about 20 seconds every two years.” I have been thinking about that a lot and have come to understand that mystical experience is an occurrence of being fully present and fully storied at the same time. Even if it lasts for just a minute, an hour, or, if we are lucky, a day.
For me, holding both the reality of the here-and-now and of the world as it should be are twin disciplines. The grim facts of the pandemic and of institutional racism are real. But so is our past and our future. There is a love that has brought us to this moment and that will see us through this terribly painful period of time. This love is already forming in us and manifesting as protest, scientific research, prayer, and small acts of kindness.
Returning to Psalm 92, I need to say that I still find the dichotomous language of the “righteous” and the “wicked” off-putting (and potentially dangerous). It is helped somewhat if I internalize these descriptions and remember that I am often “brutish,” and a “wrongdoer.” With this reframing, I can also face the wickedness I see enacted by others with greater compassion and vigilance. My Sabbath practice provides me with a weekly opportunity to hold past, present, and future tenderly, knowing that we are loved, connected, and empowered to move into the unknown. And next Friday night, we will once again pause from our daily routines to reflect, relish, and imagine.
1One of the sources that has been most significant to me is Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s modern classic The Sabbath.
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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.