"Have mercy on me, O God, for my enemies are hounding me; all day long they assault and oppress me…"Using the Daily Office from the Book of Common Prayer for both morning and evening prayer has been my spiritual practice for many years. You go through the entire Old Testament in the year, twice through the New Testament, and the complete book of Psalms spins by at a dizzying pace every month. Frequently in the Psalms, there is talk of "enemies": Enemies who oppress us; enemies who plot against us; enemies who wish to take our lives. I've always had a hard time with this kind of talk. Jesus said that we are to pray for our enemies, not beg God that their blood be running in the gutters. So, I get to a Psalm this morning that is all about enemies, and I really can't think of any. Maybe I can think of hypothetical enemies such as vague terrorists plotting half a world away, but I don't want them destroyed; I pray for their hearts to soften and for the unjust social structures, such as grinding poverty and loss of hope that give rise to terrorism, to be undone. It isn't that I can't think of people in my life who don't care for me – Lord knows I'm an acquired taste; part of achieving maturity is recognizing that not everyone is going to think I'm wonderful. Still, I would never describe such people as "enemies".
– Psalm 56:1
But I do have enemies I deal with on a daily basis that "hound, assault, and oppress me all day long." It would be so much easier if they were the kind of enemies you could punch in the mouth, but they're not. My most fearsome enemies are the voices of that dire Greek chorus in my head. You know the Greek choruses? When a hero in ancient Greek plays was about to attempt something heroic, the oh-so-helpful chorus behind him would be singing something cheery like, "He's going to fail! He's going to die horribly!" A great way to add suspense to a theater production, but a lousy way to live your life. I suspect we all live with those Greek choruses in our heads. You go through your day, and they manage to fit in a nice little musical interlude whenever you try to make positive plans. It goes something like this:
"I've really got to get back on my diet today."It sounds ridiculous writing it out like that, but I'll bet if most of us would admit it, we say these kind of things to ourselves and probably even worse things.
"You're going to fail again! O, you're going to fail again! Geez, what a fatso!"
"I need to apologize to Michael. I was kind of short with him this weekend."
"You're a horrible person! O, you're a horrible person! How can you be so horrible?!"
"I can't believe I didn't get the laundry done today. Oh well, I'll get it done tomorrow."
"You're so lazy! O, you're so lazy! And did we mention you're a fatso?!"
So when I read Psalm 56 this morning, and think of my real enemies, the Greek chorus in my head, it really seems to make more sense:
"They hound me all the day long; truly there are many who fight against me, O Most High. Whenever I am afraid, I will put my trust in you… All day long they damage my cause; their only thought is to do me evil… You have noted my lamentation; put my tears in your bottle; are they not recorded in your book? Whenever I call upon you, my enemies will be put to flight, this I know, for God is on my side."As God calls us day by day into His light, and invites us to see ourselves and others more and more as made in His image, it is truly the Greek chorus that is our greatest enemy.