This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Bible column: An all-in kind of love

Crack the first windows of your family Advent calendar and you will soon enough hear Mary and Zachariah and the angels in lyric worship and praise. The hour of promise come ’round could only ever begin that way. It’s like the noted preacher of an earlier generation who prefaced every sermon with this act of worship:

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And all that is within me
bless God’s holy name.

Jonathan Larson
Jonathan Larson

This touchstone from Psalm 103 frames the Sunday pulpit moment not as a chiding of the saints for lethargy and waywardness but as sweet service of heaven. (It might even nudge a preacher toward such poetic expression as comes from Mary’s mouth in Magnificat!)

In the above lyric lines of blessing, the noted preacher, with the psalmist, summons all inner powers to a moment of encounter with the divine. Both are owning the earlier appeal of Moses for an all-in kind of love for God, an answering love deserving of heart, soul and might.

This runs against the grain of a modern culture that has perfected the art of compartmentalization. Many of us live multiple lives — a private inner life, a life with family, a work life, a leisure and social life. None of these separate lives demands or merits all of our powers. A piece of us is sufficient. We are watchful that the boundaries not be breached.

Here is the modern “offense” — and gift — of faith: It foresees an all-in response — emotion, intellect, aesthetic, intuition — that issues in worship.

Which brings us to the brink of that rare possibility of a united life not just as individuals but also in community with others.

There has been a great search for the peak experiences of personal life — how to achieve them and how to fully harness their power. (For a biblical account of peak experience one need only turn to the story in 2 Samuel 6 of David lost in ecstatic response to Yahweh, dancing with abandon, while the sacred ark is brought into his capital city.)

Beyond that worthy search, though, is a peak collective experience where shared powers are lifted whole to a heightened dimension, into fellowship with heaven itself. Can this be what the psalmist envisions in the closing stanzas, where angels, mighty ones, hosts, ministers, works and dominions are swirled into an irresistible united act of blessing the Lord?

Is there an itinerary to such shared response to God’s love for us? Reading Psalm 103 could well suggest a pilgrim’s approach to some shrine, some consecrated precinct. It has a formal entry, a gateway marking sacred ground. The massive timbers through which you pass are deeply engraved with “all”:

All that is within me.

All God’s benefits.

All our iniquities.

All our diseases.

All the oppressed.

We come in entirety. Nothing is checked at the door. All of us will find a place under these eaves.

The steps beyond that gateway include a passage of self-reckoning: our flaws, our bent to wrong, the burdens of disgrace, our transience. As one poet says, we are “mere shadows cast by the flicker of a fire.”

But that is no impediment here. As each of these weaknesses is acknowledged, there comes a ringing affirmation of some redeeming, countervailing goodness from beyond. Bent over our creaturely weakness is the Himalayan love of God, the mercy of a shelter for the ages that ennobles the humble, the crushed, the forgotten.

Then follows that jamboree of blessing where status, pretense, caste or station are flung aside in a single act of fulfilled destiny, in a crescendo of blessing.
Each life, each community, is a sermon holding out an appeal for faith never more so than at Advent. Would it not be fitting that each such beginning, each such season, be marked with this act of worship:

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And all that is within me
bless God’s holy name.

Now writing and leading retreats, Jonathan Larson of Atlanta has wandered the globe as storyteller, service worker, teacher and pastor. He blogs on the spirituality of travel at

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