Naomi Bennett shared this powerful reflection on Psalm 139 as part of our worship gathering on 27 October. If you’d like to talk more about these ideas, we’ll have an opportunity to do that at our Bring & Share Community Meal on 10 November.
I love Psalm 139. It is one of my Mum’s favourite verses from the Bible, and I remember vividly her reading it to me one day when I was feeling insecure and anxious. So, I was really excited to talk about it with you.
When you read this Psalm, and many of the others, you are hit with the awe and wonder the psalmist feels for God. It’s a beautiful expression of worship. One of the reasons I love this Psalm in particular though, is that for me it reads as a love letter to being human.
You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
It’s really hard to explain in our limited language and experience what it is to be in relationship with God. I understand why David and the Psalmists used poetry and songs, because there is no linear explanation or logic that would completely fit.
Sometimes when you’ve known someone for years I think you can catch a glimpse – you know what they’re going to say before they say it, sometimes its like you know what each other is thinking. Even still this is just a glimpse of what it is to be in relationship with God.
The idea of someone knowing everything you do or think or say can be quite overwhelming. More and more it feels like we have to curate a version of ourselves that is pleasing to everybody. Whether it’s on social media, or even feeling like you have a work personality and a home personality it is easy to feel ashamed of who we really are.
It’s easy to like someone who is all good. When we meet people for the first time, we try and make a good first impression, and sometimes keep our cards very close to our chest. But I don’t know if you can love someone unless you’ve acknowledged the bad, too.
This sounds really cliché and a bit cheesy, but I feel like this is a journey I have had to go on within myself. I had decide I didn’t want to just like myself – I wanted to love myself.
I spent a very long time denying who I really was. I even felt like I could hide it from God, and if I did that for long enough that part of me would no longer exist.
But when I finally stopped feeling ashamed, and stopped hiding, I felt like I was finally seeing myself the way that God sees me – and that was with both the good and the bad. It felt like a whole other part of me was unlocked, and I learned so much about my character, both my capacity for love and also the unhealthy and harmful things that had come out of me repressing that side of myself.
This Psalm encourages us to rest in the knowledge that God can hold all of that, all that we are, and love it no matter what.
6 – Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
This is a biological fact – we are hard wired to use our sight, touch, smell and hearing to gain our information, but not everything in the universe works on that level.
Even when we try to measure things, translate things, we can only really understand them through the perspective of what we already know, what we have already experienced.
But, the beauty of it is that God reaches across the boundaries of our understanding and speaks to us in ways we can grasp.
God even sent Jesus, the word became flesh, so that our Human brains could truly connect, in the best way we know how, to Christ.
As I have learned more and more about neuroscience and biology, it has made more and more sense to me that God would reach out to us through Jesus. As Humans we need context and to be able to relate to things.
I see Jesus as an extended hand from God, inviting us into relationship with our creator. I feel like recently I am seeing the Gospel with fresh eyes, and I am getting to know Jesus as the person he was, as well as recognising Christ within him.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
I am a research scientist and I’m lucky enough to be able to spend my days looking at how stuff works. I am by background a materials engineer, looking at what everything is made out of, but this led me into medical materials and at the moment I am investigating how to treat rare complications in eyes without using invasive surgery.
The way that our bodies, and ultimately, our universe works is complex and beautiful. This image is from my PhD work, and all that I’ve done is stain the some cells, but I love how it looks like a starry night sky.
This Psalm describes us being woven in the depths of the Earth. By being this, a human person, we are rooted in, and inextricably part of, creation.
Everything that we are started billions of years ago – side note: I don’t know how many of you watch the Big Bang Theory but as I was writing this I started singing the theme tune in my head – anyway, in a physical sense, everything we are has existed for billions of years and will continue to exist long after we experience the end of our earthly life.
But, I am constantly amazed by the fact God has chosen to gift each of us with a bunch of atoms that we get to call our own. In a universe that is vast and largely filled with nothingness, we get to exist in all our complexity and beauty.
I don’t know about you, but in the tradition I grew up in we were taught not to trust our bodies. I was taught that humans can be divided into what is heavenly and what is earthly and the earthly was always bad. Before I found peace with myself as a queer woman, whilst I was still battling with my identity and the apparent sin that I thought my body wanted me to commit by loving another woman, it was in sport that I felt safe. In sport, my body wasn’t my enemy – we worked together. I realised that it is through my body that I stay connected, rooted, in God’s beautiful creation. Now through science, I experience that same connection. And so when I think about the Kingdom of Heaven, I don’t feel like we’re talking about something distant and immaterial – I experience the kingdom of heaven right here on earth, transforming what we know and our connection with all that God has created.
I know this is a massive over-simplification, but when I think about how We’re made in the image of God – I think about how God exists as three in one. Even God is a relationship, a flow, a community.
I don’t believe that Humans were just made for God, I believe we were made for each other and the rest of creation too. We’ve only really made it this far because we’ve been shaped by the world around us.
It is tempting to think that being made in the image of God means God looks like us, thinks how we think, operates how we operate. But God is more than just the personal God that we can wrap our heads around, God is infinite in a way that we are not.
So when we talk about being made in the image of God, I believe we all reflect the image of God – together. So when we only have relationships with people who share our same experiences, who look like us and think like us and who have lived like us, I believe we are limiting our knowledge of, and connection with, God.
Relationship, connection – it’s who we are, and it’s who God is.
This community gives me hope, because we are intentionally and gracefully making room for difference. I pray that we continue to share experiences that challenge us, and that we remember daily that we bear the image of God best when we seek relationship with those who are not like us.
But most importantly, I hope that we will encourage each other that even on our worst days, we are fearfully and wonderfully made.
Naomi Bennett is part of New Inclusive Church’s Core Team. She is also the Operations Manager for Red Letter Christians UK and Newbigin Community Trust, whilst also completing a PhD in Biomedical Materials Engineering for Ocular Drug delivery. She doesn’t know what that means either, but she spends a lot of time putting drugs in eyes. She’s passionate about access to and provision of holistic, good, free healthcare. She also wants the church to not only serve marginalised people, but learn from them like Jesus did. She’s most excited about empowering voices we don’t normally hear, and helping create a diverse movement of people passionate about God’s love for his whole creation.