On the Feast of the Transfiguration I was standing in church listening to the prayers a few minutes before the main service was to begin, when our rector handed me the Psalter and asked me to go outside and ring this bell. I was to ring it once by means of the foot pedal, read aloud a passage from the Psalter which was penciled off, push the pedal once more, read the next passage, and so on until another parishioner came to relieve me.
It was the first time I had ever rung that big bell. As I began chanting, I was praying the Psalm and at the same time reflecting on how I’d never known, when standing inside the church I heard those slow peals, that the bell-ringer’s voice was ringing out there along with the bell.
After a few stanzas, the words, “I walk in spaciousness, because I search Your commandments,” came out of my mouth and piqued my consciousness, as I did not remember reading that word spaciousness in the Bible before. Before I knew it, the skilled bell-ringer had come to my side and was gathering the ropes for all the other bells, getting ready to ring the full and celebratory announcement that accompanies the priest’s “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!” and I went back in. I hadn’t noticed which Psalm it was that I was reading, partly because the number was in Roman numerals, and those don’t register without my actively working them out as a puzzle, however speedily.
So it was days later that I found out it was Psalm 119 (or 118 in the Septuagint, which we use) and verse 45. Before that, I’d searched all the Bible translations and discovered that spaciousness is not in them. It is in the lectionary of the Orthodox Church in America. The other translations do use similar language, such as “I’ll stride freely through wide open spaces as I look for your truth and your wisdom.” (The Message) or “I will walk at liberty and at ease, for I have sought and inquired for [and desperately required] Your precepts.” (Amplified)
Just the week before, I’d been thinking about the negative and positive meanings of freedom and liberty. We can be free from something, or free for something. Even some of our positive freedom can be used to enslave, as T.S. Eliot put it: “Hell is where everyone must do what he wants.” That would be confinement, and not liberty.
This experience of true spaciousness can only be of God’s presence, or His energies, as the theologians explain it. And I like that Amplified phrasing, “I have sought and inquired for and desperately required Your precepts.” As Deuteronomy 4:29 explains, we find Him when we seek with our whole heart and soul.
Our whole heart and soul? I know that I have rarely felt that kind of wholeness. I am too scattered, distracted, agitated, muddled—even when I am not downright uninterested and double-minded. But occasionally I catch glimpses, of that spaciousness that is my Lord, the Holy Trinity in my heart. Breezes blow from those wide open spaces, and I know I am there for Now. And you can’t be in Now if you are wondering how long it will last.
This morning my dear friend at Bread on the Water sent me the whole of George MacDonald’s poem A Book of Strife in the Form of The Diary of an Old Soul, and I immediately looked, naturally, at the section titled “August,” which begins with this fitting stanza:
So shall abundant entrance me be given
Into the truth, my life’s inheritance.
Lo! as the sun shoots straight out his tomb,
God-floated, casting round a lordly glance
Into the corners of his endless room,
So through the rent which thou, O Christ, hast riven,
I enter liberty’s divine expanse.
Now, I expect we will have plenty of full-sunny days for another month, which will remind me to contemplate the divine expanse of His endless room, and strive to enter into His spaciousness.