Many of us turn to the Book of Psalms when we need comfort, hope, or the assurance that others have been where we are. I’ve been reading the Psalms daily, online as part of a brief prayer service since Pentecost. Sometimes the words are very familiar and others seem as if I have never heard them before. Psalm 81 is one that sounded unfamiliar to me, though one phrase has suck with me: “I answered you in the secret place of thunder…” (v.7). This line has captured my imagination.
Psalm 81 is a reminder to Israel (and to us) that God is our strength and is worthy of our praise. It opens with a call to praise God, a reminder that praising God for all that God has done is not optional. This is worth remembering in and of itself. Praising God even when we don’t feel like it, might help lift our spirits if we can find it within ourselves to offer honest praises to God.
The next few verses are where it’s at for me. They serve to help God’s people remember that God saved them when they were burdened and in trouble. God answered them when they were in distress. And, yet, it is so often a challenge to stick with God’s ways and live in sacred peace. As much as we know that God is God and there is no other, we often stumble off into a path of our own making and find ourselves deceived and entrapped by lesser gods.
The next section of the psalm is a recounting of the downfall of Israel. While the psalmist says that Israel fell because God allowed it or caused it, it is more likely that abandoning God’s holy ways – peace, love, hope, healing, mercy, forgiveness, etc – led to Israel’s destruction. It happens to us all the time, doesn’t it? We become absorbed by other things and our attention to God and our intention to live in love and hope falls away. Then, sooner or later, we find ourselves far from where we intended to be and wonder where God is in the midst of the chaos that surrounds us.
The good news is that this psalm ends with restating God’s desire to love and nurture Israel more closely – “with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock” (v. 16). God’s desire is always to love and nurture us with the sweetest of honey. We are the ones who forget this. God always remembers God’s love for us. This is why that verse from earlier in the psalm has stuck with me.
The people of God called to God in their distress and God answered them from the “secret place of thunder.” God is not a stranger to the secret places that thunder around us or within us. There is no anxiety, depression, grief, confusion, addiction, etc that will keep God out. God can enter in to the thundering echoes of our being, and speak words of peace, hope, healing, and love. God remembers who and whose we are, especially when we forget. And God’s claim on us never ends, not even in those moments when we cannot remember that we are God’s beloved.
No matter how secret or how loud the place of thunder within, God knows us, remembers us, and seeks us out with the same tenacity that God pursued Israel. This is good news. We are not alone, forgotten, unforgiveable, unworthy, or unlovable – no matter what. We have no secret places within us that God cannot enter in and guide us toward wholeness.
Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe
Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is an author, and the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, MN. You can find links to her blog, video series, and books at Beachtheology.com