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Pants the Hart

March 15, 2012

The first practice of cross country season was the worst practice of the season.  Oh, other practice sessions were more difficult physically but this practice was designed to break the weak and weed them out.  We would gather under the hot August sun, most of us woefully out of shape from lazing about during the summer, at Plamann Park.  After stretching and a short warm-up jog, we would get into the workout.  The name of it still strikes a chord of misery within me: mile repeats.  We would gather under the cloudless sky and go to the start of a mile-long loop of asphalt than wound its way through the park (and around the petting zoo!).  The workout was simple: run a mile at your anticipated race pace; take the same amount of time to catch your breath and collect yourself; repeat.

The first couple repeats were rough but not awful.  They helped shake off the dust of lethargy.  The next couple repeats were difficult as the body rebelled against working that hard.  The last one or two were miserable.  I recall with great clarity one of the things that kept me going (in addition a stubborn quality that refused to admit that my body was not in shape): water.  At the end of the mile loop were water containers (our own or provided by the team, I can’t remember).  While drinking a lot of water during the workout was inadvisable, the promise of a mere sip was glorious.  The workout made me thirsty in a way I have seldom experienced.  I’m not talking about thirst in terms of the drink being pleasant or enjoyable.  I’m not even talking about thirst as knowing that you need water.  I’m talking about coming down the stretch with nothing left, thirsting for water with your soul, knowing you need it in the very depths of your being.

Psalm 42 begins, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God” (NRSV), but I admit that I much prefer the older language captured in the hymn: “As pants the hart for cooling streams/When heated in the chase/So longs my soul, O God, for you/And your refreshing grace” (Lutheran Book of Worship 452).  For what it’s worth, I’ve always thought that “Pants the Hart” would be a good cartoon character, but that’s neither here nor there.  The psalm and the hymn lift up the image of a deer running in terror for all it is worth, yearning all the while only to stop and find the one thing that will give it comfort: cooling, flowing streams.

That is what it means to yearn for God’s grace with your very soul, even and especially when God seems absent or distant.  Twice the psalmist lifts this up the accusatory query, “Where is you God?”  The psalmist knows.  God is in the cooling waters.  God is in the grace that flows with refreshment, renewal, and rebirth that comes in the drowning waters of our baptism.  Much of the time we pretend we don’t really need the gifts of baptism, the promise of forgiveness, redemption, and salvation.  But when God seems distant and we are empty, God promises to meet us again in these waters.  When we are running for our lives, God assures us that our thirst is slaked with God’s grace.

Maybe today you feel empty; maybe you’re running in circles; maybe God seems far off or absent.  God is no such thing, hidden instead in the cooling, flowing waters of your baptism.  Run there again today and find the only thing that can quench your deepest thirst, the yearning that wells up from your soul.  Stop and drink.  Be refreshed.  And continue to run, knowing that God goes with you and will bring you back to the waters once more.

“Why are you case down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?  Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.”  Psalm 42:11

This post is an adaptation of a sermon preached by the author at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Pawleys Island, SC, on Wednesday, March 14, 2012.

From → Scripture

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