I have looked upon thee in the sanctuary, beholding thy power and glory. - Psalm 63:2 (RSV)
Tradition has it that Psalm 63 was composed by David when he was in the Judean desert on the run from King Saul. Modern commentators dispute his authorship, but the psalm certainly describes David’s desperation as he fled “those who seek to destroy my life.” It also expresses the hardship of a desert place and time:
“My soul thirsts for thee, my flesh faints for thee, as in a dry and weary land where no water is.”
Most of all, Psalm 63 gives voice to the longing for sanctuary, in all the ways we use that word. Sanctuary as the sacred place where, like the psalmist, we have beheld God’s power and glory. Sanctuary as the safe place where we are protected from those who would do us harm (or a virus that can do us in).
Sanctuary as the place where we’ve gathered in the presence of God and of others. The place where, with one another’s voices lifted in prayer and song, God quenched our thirst and strengthened our souls. In their fearful wilderness time, it’s no wonder whoever wrote Psalm 63 remembers what it is what like to be in such a sanctuary – nor any wonder that we, too, may thirst for such a safe and sacred place.
Yet despite the longing to be back in the sanctuary, the psalmist remembers – and reminds us – that God’s steadfast love is not limited to a physical space. Even in a fearsome, desert place, the psalmist trusts that love and knows it is our true sanctuary. May we know the same.
Wherever we are in this wilderness time, O God, may we know we are in the sanctuary of your steadfast love. Amen.
About the Author Talitha Arnold is Senior Minister of the United Church of Santa Fe (UCC), Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is the author of Mark Parts 1 and 2 of the Listen Up! Bible Study series and Worship for Vital Congregations.