One of the loveliest phrases from the Psalter is, “I flee unto thee, O Lord”. (Ps. 142:9 LXX / Ps 143:9 KJV) The way I learned the line of the Psalm was in the old Book of Common Prayer where it reads:
Deliver me, O LORD, from mine enemies; for I flee unto thee to hide me.
It is one of those very deep and moving lines of Scripture that helps us move to God in the midst of our turmoils and difficulties. We all have times where we feel as though we are attacked on all sides and there is no way out. Sometimes this is from our own doing, sometimes we are indeed being set up by others so to speak. Nevertheless, the words, “I flee unto thee” remain a profound start to prayer.
Yet, I sometimes think we don’t take our flight to God as we ought to do and I think if we look at those words more closely we can come to a better way of flight, one which will allow us to more deeply enter into that deep and profound love of God.
Let us first recall that our enemies are not our circumstances or those around us. We most often fail to see this. Saint Paul writes, “For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.” (Ephesians 6:12 DR) This often seems not to be the case in our regular day to day grind. We are in competition with others for our jobs, our raises, our recognition, our projects. It seems that we are struggling against everyone. And when others begin to politically or overtly attack us, then we are convinced that they are truly the ones against whom we wrestle. But that is not really so. Saint Paul makes it clear that it is against the world of darkness and the spirits of wickedness, sometimes those around us fail in their struggle and allow darkness to win over them. When this happens they become the co-workers of darkness. Yet, for the salvation of all mankind, we never label others to be our enemies. We must struggle to remember that they are frail and weak and have fallen prey. They are casualties. There is no doubt that they can do harm, nor is there any doubt that they bear culpability for their broken actions. But they need to be rescued, not shot.
In World War I, my paternal grandfather was a horse-drawn ambulance driver. Of his experiences in the Great War, he only told me—through some considerable, and well-justified, self-satisfaction—that only one soldier lost his life in my grandfather’s ambulance, and then only when the aid station was within a hundred yards. As a young boy, like all young boys, I wanted to know that my grandfather was a brave and courageous warrior and so I was unsure what to make of him being an ambulance driver, horse-drawn or no. Then I discovered what he had to do. He was 6’3″, a tall man at that time and a prime target. The ambulance drivers did not bring their wagon up to the trench and load in casualties. They had to crawl out into no-man’s-land and bring back the wounded to load into their ambulance. There were over 80% casualties for ambulance drivers. Once I knew this, I understood the profound service my grandfather made. He had to crawl past mutilated bodies, through wire and into bomb craters to find those who needed attention. He had to keep from being spotted by snipers and machine gunners as he entered and left with his brother in arms. Needless to say, my grandfather’s service became profoundly humbling to me once I understood. But this is also the case of those who attack us. They are those who have been left out in no-man’s-land and we must crawl in after them, knowing that we shall be sniped at, shelled and gassed. The poor people who attack us are victims who begin to do the work of the enemy.
Sometimes, however, we are so shell-shocked that we must leave the battle to find some respite so that we may re-enter the fray. And notice this, we shall ever have to re-enter the fray. There is no escaping it. It is a life-long battle so we cannot allow ourselves the illusion that we can retire from it. We shall only retire once we have left this world or when the Lord returns. I would suggest that we must daily retire for a piece of time. How often should we do so? The Psalmist says: “Seven times a day I have given praise to thee, for the judgments of thy justice.” (Ps. 118:164 LXX / Ps. 119:164 KJV) Seven is, of course, a mystic number for the Hebrews and the Early Church. It referred to a fulness, and completeness and had firmly in mind the fulness of creation which God created in seven days. The Psalmist means something very similar to Saint Paul’s admonition to “Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) It takes a long time to acquire habitual and constant prayer, and many people are sadly unaware that this is a real possibility, much less that we are supposed to learn how to do it. But that is for another post some time in the future. What needs to be said now, is that we must regularly, habitually and by a rule, set aside time daily to repair to God so that we may be strengthened in our battle.
Is there another little nugget to gain from this single phrase of the Psalms? Absolutely, for there is always so much that can be said on the Scriptures. Notice that last half of the phrase, “for I flee unto thee”, the very name of this article. What we see is that it is “I” who flees to the Lord, it is not me and my problems, yet I think most people flee to God so that they can speak to him about their problems. What they are really concerned with is magic. I go to God, I ask him to help, he solves my problems. Anytime we think we have a switch that we can turn on to have God do our bidding, then we have fallen into magic and that is not the purpose of prayer. What we are supposed to do is take flight into the presence of Christ our God. We bring ourselves, not our problems—those can be taken care of later. Our flight to the Lord is to rush to the embrace of one who loves us. It is deeply relational and personal. And isn’t that what we are aching for really? We live in a world of broken relationships and threatening assaults, and what our heart desires more than anything is to rest in love. Bringing our problems as the focus of our prayer is like visiting your grandparents with your video game box; you will be in their presence but will never know them.
“Unto thee” is the last phrase. We flee unto a God of love, one who knows us and whom we know. We flee as persons to the Persons of the Trinity and enter into the relationship of love that God has had with himself since before eternity began. God has always been love, which requires the Trinity of Persons for each to love and have love exist within himself—otherwise God would not be love, instead he would be a narcissist.
In that communion of Love, we find ourselves loved and able to love. We begin to see the world through that experience and it changes everything before our eyes. The battles remain and they may well be just as difficult as we first thought them but we are comforted—“strengthened” being the old meaning of that word—and ready for the battle before us. And moreover, we begin to see that the battle is not against flesh and blood. Those who are convinced our struggles are against other people are those who need to pray more; they are those who need to take flight to God that they may find respite, solace and strength.