Coming out from enclosure

This is my final reflection in this four-part series on the Psalms. Having begun with my own longing for consolation, comfort, and contentment (Psalm 23), I was confronted with an unexpected question: “Who am I calling to? Who or what is this ‘You’ to whom I call on with such anguish and hope?” (Psalm 46). As I’ve explored my own identity with the Universal or the divine through meditation and prayer, I did find myself comforted—met and heard—even when my feelings did not resolve. I was consoled IN my feelings, not relieved of them. I found I was being called to meet life as it is, to rise up and come forward wholeheartedly and graciously no matter how I was feeling (Psalm 57).

In this final Psalm I could hear an echo of the signature teaching of Zen formed as a question: “Can you simply be yourself wholeheartedly?” In this Psalm I could hear the song of gratitude for being brought “out from enclosure.” When I can step beyond my conditioning and the habits of reactivity I have the opportunity to awaken from the “self-centered dream” and realize the freedom that comes from having remained faithful to my most troubling and compelling questions. With an equal measure of joy and tears I discover again and again the nourishment I hoped for as I called out for comfort in Psalm 23. As my heart opens to others, I can both give and receive the essential nourishment of life. As I open, I spill out my pain and through the same opening I am able to drink from the kindness around me like “water in an arid land.”

Psalm 126

Norman Fischer version

When you bring us out from enclosure
We will be like dreamers
Our heads thrown back with laughter
Our throats vibrating with song
And the others will say

Great happenings
Have happened to them
The ones who have struggled
Long with their questions

Great things would have happened to us
And we would be dizzy with the joy of them
Drunk on water in an arid land
Our tears our joy’s seed
We’d go out weeping
And come back singing
Our arms full of sheaves

Then, like a silent messenger, the following quote from Mark Nepo arrived by email, deepening the message of Psalm 126 and the path to profound self-acceptance. I had to be reminded that I will forget all of this. That my commitment is to remember over and over, not to cling to what is remembered. I must discipline myself to taking my time, to learn to soften into strength, and to craft a particular kind of space for the inevitability of fear. This space is for surrender—to life as it is, to the the way we need each other profoundly, and to the endless beauty of loss and love.

Most of our searching is looking for ways to discover who we really are. Thus, we continually run into mountains and rivers, into the farthest seas, and into the arms of strangers. And some of us lead simple lives hoping to practice how not to forget. But, part of our journey is this forgetting and remembering.

So what can we do? Well, it is no secret that slowness remembers and hurry forgets. That softness remembers and hardness forgets. That surrender remembers and fear forgets.

It is beautifully difficult to remember who we really are. But each time we help each other fill the cup of truth and hold each other up after drinking it, we find the essence that always holds us.

~ Mark Nepo

Leaving Oahu

6 thoughts on “Coming out from enclosure

  1. Dear Flint,
    I love what Ram Das says: “In the end, we are really just walking each other home.”

  2. Hi Flint,

    Many ideas came up for me when I read your post. I’d like to offer some thoughts. I find Fischer’s version a bit weaker than the original on vital themes, such as individual and group enslavement to “the self-centered dream,” and our responsibility to work as a group/sangha for deliverance and freedom.

    It’s one of a group of “Songs of Ascent,” or communal songs (Psalms 120 – 134) that were traditionally sung on the annual journey “up” to Jerusalem for Passover, and this psalm was probably on the lips of Jesus and his followers as they made the final journey to Jerusalem. They weren’t individual songs; these are the feelings and expressions of a nation recalling and celebrating their deliverance from slavery to freedom, from captivity in Babylon into liberation, to seek their God, live their lives, and to be a nation as they chose. As Buddhists we can deeply relate to the ideal of personal liberation, sought as a dedicated group (sangha), and not only as individuals. This is an important element of these psalms; they are communal and reflect commonly held beliefs and traditions in a close and committed group.

    Here is the translation of the Grail Psalter,

    When the Lord delivered Sion from slavery,
    It seemed like a dream.
    Then was our mouth filled with laughter,
    On our lips there were songs.

    The nations themselves said, “What marvels
    the Lord worked for them!”
    What marvels the Lord worked for us,
    Indeed, we were glad!

    Deliver us, O Lord, from our bondage,
    as streams in dry land.
    Those who are sowing in tears
    Will sing when they reap.

    They go out, they go out, full of tears,
    Carrying the seed for the sowing.
    They come back, they come back, full of song,
    Carrying their sheaves.

    This is a song about finding liberation from slavery, as members of a chosen people. In both the Egyptian and the Babylonian captivities, The Chosen People became unfaithful in their search for God, and worshiped false idols and false gods. As they strayed from their pathway to spiritual freedom, they found life unsupportable: enslaved, hungry, thirsty, and unfree to practice the path of freedom and salvation given to them. They did not persevere on their path, individually or as a nation.

    The Buddha gives us the Dharma (our “divine” path), as our way to liberation and true freedom: freedom from our own limitations, from our habitual thinking, stories, and behavior — our own “false idols” that inevitably lead us to fall into bondage and slavery to ourselves and ways of being. Grasping and clinging, rejecting and resisting ourselves and our reality we find ourselves enslaved. But we experience “marvels” and “deliverance from bondage” when we follow the Dharma, the path given by the Buddha that leads to liberation. As in this psalm. it is like finding water in a drought, tears are turned into songs of joy, and we rejoice as we bring in the now abundant fruit of our faithfulness: wisdom and freedom. Here there is awe and wonderment; it “seemed like a dream.”

    We have the choice to persevere in the practices that lead to liberation. Of all the things promised by our practice, “liberation” is the one most I feel most drawn to and most in need of. The first part of my zen name is “Jigo: Healing Liberation.” Freedom from the “self” I think I am, from my stories, my past, my ideas, my interpretation of events, my take on people, my insistence on my ways, preferences, and beliefs — all lead me into bondage. I want to call out, “Deliver me from my bondage, quench my terrible thirst, caught as I am in the desert, the “self-centered dream!”

    May I lift up my voice with others, and sing the songs of liberation and abundance with joy and a free heart!

    1. This is such a thoughtful and deeply personal response born from years of dedicated practice, both Catholic and Buddhist. Thank you for adding to and deepening this conversation. Deliverance into freedom is our path. I am glad we on it together.

  3. Thank you for offering a different look at the Psalms, Flint. Norman Fischer’s translation adds such fullness to my study of them (previously in a Jewish context).
    About Psalm 126, after reading your comments what comes to mind is the joy (liberation) of being myself and meetin life as it is. This is because of my “trials” and not in spite of them.

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