As I pondered over and prayed with today’s readings, the image of the book of life was slowly weaving its way through my mind and heart. Faced with apocalyptic pools of fire, it’s hard not to wonder “just how does one get written into the book of life?” My sense is, all is grace, even our ability to walk together as a community of faith in the light of Christ. And yet, what each of us does matters, so it’s also hard not to look for those breadcrumbs guiding the way…
The first line of today’s psalm resonates compellingly. “My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” Here seems a promising path of life: to become deeply aware of the longing within us for what alone will sustain, for what alone endures; “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Lk 21:33).
And then, further on, like a keyhole suddenly appearing, a gap in the lines of today’s psalm becomes apparent. I have always loved the image of finding refuge in God, that shelter of love which alone can respond to the longing of heart and flesh. So I was curious about the lines which follow, those not included in today’s reading. The complete lines 6-7 (translation from the Catholic Biblical Association of America) read:
6Happy are those who find refuge in you, whose heart are set on pilgrim roads.
7As they pass through the Baca valley, they find spring water to drink.
Also from pools the Lord provides water for those who lose their way.”
What a beautiful invitation: to have our hearts set, not on security or stability, but on “pilgrim roads” where we must rely on our companions and on God–even as the road takes us where we would rather not go. The word baca has its roots in the Hebrew verb “bakah”, meaning to weep, mourn, lament. To have your heart set on pilgrim roads means to pass through valleys of profound grief and lament, to have our hearts broken open in ways from which we cannot even imagine what healing would look like. In these times, companioning each other in shared grief is sometimes all we can do. Together, pilgrim companions, both strangers and friends, we trust in the promise of God’s “[living] water for those who lose their way”—which no doubt means all of us as we walk our life’s pilgrimage.
Scholars tell us that Revelation was composed as resistance literature to meet a crisis, most likely horrific persecution of the early church by Roman authorities. In our own time we too are facing cataclysmic crises: a quick scan of headlines shows mass shootings, catastrophic earthquakes, mudslides, fires and hurricanes, war, species extinctions, political and climate refugees… What better time to walk together, companioning each other—both stranger and friend–through the valleys of grief, nourished by living water? Perhaps this is how we might write each other into the book of life. Perhaps this is how we keep alive the memory of the Passion in our hearts.
Lissa Romell is the Administrator at St. Vincent Strambi Community in Chicago, Illinois.