The power of a tent

I am following a Facebook public group (“The Psalms in 184 Days”) that is reading through the  Psalms at the average of about one per day.  Having gone through the Psalms three times on sabbatical, I thought that participation with this group would help me stay engaged with the psalms now that I am back in ordinary time.

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The Psalm for today is 61 and this is the verse that stuck with me: “Let me abide in your tent forever, find refuge under the shelter of your wings.” (Psalm 61:4). It was the image of “tent” that grabbed my attention.  I am not sure what the psalmist was thinking by using the word “tent” as a place where one could live with God.  Perhaps the psalmist pictured the tabernacle that moved around with the people of Israel as they wandered through the wilderness and into which Moses would go and pray and come out with his face shining.

But whatever the psalmist was thinking, this metaphor stirred up vivid images of my own: the tent my son lent me in which I slept for two months as I made my way down the Appalachian trail through Virginia.   This is what I know and appreciate about my tent.

  1. The tent moved with me from one place to another.  We traveled together.
  2. The tent provided protection, at least from insects and other night crawlers.  I remember the night I tented near a shelter where a new, spacious and clean privy had just been built.  The old lumber  from a dismantled privy was stacked around and had become a haven for spiders, some of whom tried to migrate into my tent.  I  had to make speedy entrances and exits, but, once inside, I was safe.
  3. The tent provided a refuge from sudden thunderstorms.  Once my hiking buddy and I were on a high ridge in the early evening when a distant thunderstorm suddenly took a quick turn and sped right for us.  We decided to hunker down under some smaller trees and set up our tents.  I climbed in mine just as the raindrops started to fall.  The thunder was loud so high up, but I stayed dry through the night.
  4. The tent sheltered me from the cold, gusting winds on the slope of Mt. Rogers, the highest mountain in Virginia.  The habitat had changed, populated now by fragrant Frasier fir and red spruce. All night long the wind whipped at my tent’s fabric and hissed through the fir and spruce needles.  But inside my tent under my quilt I was warm and sheltered.
  5. Inside the tent one could be more vulnerable, shed the day’s sweaty clothes, and clean up. Baby wipes are great.  Enough said.
  6. The tent never blocked out the noise of the living world but it did signal to others: Let her rest.  I found hikers to be respectful and quiet when around another’s tent.
    Waynesboro Park

    Waynesboro Park

    7. The tent became a holy space for me to read a psalm right before going to sleep or first thing when waking up.  It was the sanctuary for the first and last prayer of the day…although there were many more prayers and psalms along the trail during the day.

Now I am no longer a hiker—at least for this season.  But I am still a pilgrim, a follower of Jesus Christ. Just as many have pointed out that the journeys of pilgrims on the trail or road is a type of metaphor of our spiritual journeys, so has my tent become my metaphor of God’s presence.  I think I know now why the psalmists, who because of their non-tech culture probably spent quite a bit more time outdoors, chose in their writing to use words like “refuge,” “shelter,” and “tent”  to speak of God.  God has promised to be with me wherever I go.  God is my protection, my refuge, and my shelter.  God as my tent is where I can be my true vulnerable self, bare my soul and confess my failings.  God is where I am can be at rest and can be renewed.   God is where I can pour out my heart in psalms and prayer in the midst of God’s surrounding, holy presence. Yes, God is my tent all right…and I doubt God would mind that metaphor.  We both enjoyed life on the trail.

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