We sing the hymn about “how lovely is your Dwelling Place” and think about the beauty of the church’s sanctuary but this limits our vision. Sure, the psalm focuses on being “beside your altars” and we’re used to seeing God present in a particular building. This leads however to the mental habit of assuming that God is only present in a particular building. Even worse, we start to assume that God’s dwelling place actually is a building.
Now I love those buildings, and love to be in them whether people are gathered there or not, because the whole space speaks of God Present Among Us. But this limitation of God is… unhelpful/short-sighted/flat out dumb because it lets us pretend that God is ‘out there’ and not ‘in here.’ This is particularly surprising given the way the psalm mentions the highways to Zion that are in our hearts. (and yes for those who remember the 80’s, there is a song about that highway).
The psalm talks about going through the valley of trees and finding it a place of pools, of going onward strength to strength (or height to height) and seeing God. For those who remember, when we talk about God being seen upon the heights, there’s some rich biblical imagery involved. So this psalm which we would expect to be just about houses talks about journeys and hearts as well. And that, ultimately, is the point.
You see, the psalmist is indeed singing the praises of the place of God in life.But far from our bound view of where God can be, the place of God is more than walls, it is hearts. There’s even a hymn about this whose last verse includes the line “my heart an altar and thy love the flame.”
Our hearts are thus the dwelling place of God. For that matter, the whole cosmos is also the house of God, with a moon like a sliver of silver, like a shaving that fell on the floor of a carpenter’s shop.” God is therefore on the hills around us, dancing on the heights, singing in the breeze. We taste God present in the water we drink and even in our longing for water. God is everywhere, softly, strongly present. And one of those places where God is, is our heart.
So what kind of dwelling is our heart? Is it open, closed, hard, soft? How’s our spiritual spring cleaning coming along? Are we dreading the Dire Footfalls which precede that Eternal Question “would it kill you to clean up in here?” What does our life look like, what kind of altar is our heart upon which the flame of God’s love will burn?
If the highways to Zion are in our heart, if we are going on “from height to height” within our hearts as we go on this journey, then we are ourselves the dwelling place of God. And we are a lovely dwelling place no matter what we might think of ourselves.
We have developed (and in some cases, been given) images of what we are and how our being stands before God. Some images are of our life as Glorious Wonder, others would have us as Ugly, Dirty-Thing but all of them are our images. The image which God has for us is that we, our heart, our flesh, are a lovely dwelling place.
The psalmist explains that “blessed are those whose mightiness is in you” and although our translation uses “happy” the word “blessed” is just as true. Blessed are those who live in your house, blessed are those whose strength is in you, blessed is everyone who trusts in you. Thus the people who see their heart and life as God’s lovely dwelling place, are blessed in their seeing and in their living it out.
How lovely you are, God’s Dwelling Place.