Back in my seminary days my liturgy teacher, Fr. Quinn, often reminded us that we prayed many of the psalms more in hope than as true claims about ourselves. For indeed many of the psalms make almost boastful claims:
- LORD, my heart is not proud; nor are my eyes haughty (Psalm 131:1).
- They have almost made an end of me on earth; but I have not forsaken thy precepts (Psalm 119:88).
- The deceitful and bloodthirsty man the Lord detests. But I through the greatness of your love have access to your house. I bow down before your holy temple, filled with awe (Psalm 5).
- Many are my persecutors and my adversaries, but I do not swerve from thy testimonies. I look at the faithless with disgust, because they do not keep thy commands. Consider how I love thy precepts! (Psalm 119:157-159)
Yes, such psalms are not full realities for us now, but we pray in hope they one day will be. Fr. Quinn also reminded us that they are also psalms that we, as members of the Body of Christ, pray with Christ and in Him they are true and fulfilled. But for us, they are not yet.
I think the same thing must be true for some of the hymns we sing. In my parish, we occasionally sing a hymn that says, “I surrender all, all to Jesus I surrender, I surrender all.” Sometimes I wink at the end of the song and say, “liars!” And we all laugh because we know we barely surrender half. But one day the Lord will get us there!
Another hymn came to mind today that also challenges me more than it describes me. And as it challenges me, I think it also challenges the Church. Although it is a Protestant hymn, we have sung it a lot in the parishes (mostly African-American) in which I have served. The hymn says, “There’s nothing between my soul and the Savior.” And each time we sing it I wonder if I can really say that. The answer comes back clearly enough: there are lots of things, too many things between my soul and the Savior.
So here is another song I sing more in hope than in reality. I sing of my goal and, I pray, of my end. “One day it will fully be so, but not now, not yet,” I say in shame and humility. Ponder with me the lines of this old hymn and use it as a kind of examen. After each verse in bold black italics please pardon my commentary in plain red text. The hymn is by Charles Albert Tindley (1851-1933)
Nothing between my soul and the Savior,
Naught of this world’s delusive dream;
I have renounced all sinful pleasure;
Jesus is mine, there’s nothing between.
Is there really nothing between? Frankly for many of us there is a lot in between: politics, career, personal preferences, worldly priorities, the football game … you name it. And of this world’s delusive dreams, we often seem quite willing to buy in to the lies and false promises. We almost seem to WANT to be lied to and to have false promises made to us. Maybe it suits our fantasies and dreams. Maybe we want it all to be true somehow. Maybe it is because the world’s pleasures come quickly and we think we can ultimately ignore the bill (we cannot). The final line of this verse, however, may betray the real problem for many. It says, “Jesus is mine.” And while it is the last line, it is also the true premise of the whole verse. For only if I really experience Jesus as my Savior can my divided heart become clear. Only the deepest gratitude for His saving work and thirst for God’s face can wrench my poor heart from this world’s false promises.
Nothing between my soul and the Savior,
So that His blessed face may be seen;
Nothing preventing the least of His favor,
Keep the way clear! Let nothing between.
Here again, we easily permit many things to get between us and seeing the Lord’s blessed face. The fog of this world obscures our sight and darkens our mind. Too many would prefer to see anything but His face. Our preferences include sporting events, movies, pornography, and almost any foolish diversion. Even lawful pleasures, out of moderation, can enslave, blind, and hinder us. The hymn admonishes: keep the way clear! And this is good advice. It may not be possible to eliminate everything all at once. But what one thing is the Lord giving you the grace to set aside or to see less of, what one thing?
Nothing between, like worldly pleasure;
Habits of life, though harmless they seem,
Must not my heart from Him e’er sever;
He is my all, there’s nothing between.
Yes, it is critical to identify habits by name and to bring them to the Lord. Ask the Lord to break their power, for habits have a great hold on us. Seasons like Lent and Advent are great times to break off in new directions. Perhaps you could watch less TV, indulge in mindless diversion less frequently, or end the “nightcap” (or limit it to weekends). Maybe these things are not wrong in themselves, but they are too much and they get in the way. As before, the last line sets the premise: as the Lord becomes my “all” there is less need for “fillers.”
Nothing between, like pride or station;
Self-life or friends shall not intervene;
Though it may cost me much tribulation,
I am resolved; there’s nothing between.
Almost no one today even considers that the Lord may actually ask him or her to endure tribulation or to take up a Cross. In our hedonistic culture even Christians cry out, “Doesn’t God want me to be happy?” But in saying that, of course, most are referring to the happiness of this world. The happiness that God offers is tied to holiness and, paradoxically, it comes from losing our life to this world in order to gain what is far greater from the world that is to come. We need to be willing to forsake friends who tempt or mislead us. We may even experience the hatred of this world in order for there to be nothing between our soul and the Savior. Scripture says, Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:4-5). If the world is between you and God then there is also enmity between you and God. The last verse says, “I am resolved.” To resolve means to once again let go or release something (re– (again) + solvere (loosen)). Ask the Lord to help you let go again and again of whatever hinders you, whatever is between your soul and the Savior!
Nothing between, e’en many hard trials,
Though the whole world against me convene;
Watching with prayer and much self-denial,
I’ll triumph at last, with nothing between.
Our journey to there being “nothing between” is assisted first of all by trials, because they remind us that this world is filled with cruel disappointments. But trials can also hinder us if we allow ourselves to grow bitter and to blame God because the world is no longer paradise. Never mind that it is we who have made it so; we easily grow angry at God. And thus we must ask to be free of bitter disappointment and permit our trials to remind us that this world’s joys are passing; they cannot last. Further, if we seek to remove anything “between,” rest assured (as the song says) that the world will direct hatred toward us and turn up the temptation level. Only prayer and self- discipline, by God’s grace, can save us from giving in to temptation and returning to the foolish grip of this world. In the end, the world can only give us a grave. But for those who triumph in Christ, death leads us to that victorious place where there is nothing between our souls and the Savior, nothing between!
Amen! Pray, too, for the Church, that there will be nothing between our soul and the Savior—not compromise, not fear, not flattery, not politics, not political correctness, not silence. May the Church and Christ be always one and let no worldly concerns or strategies hinder us.