Word for the Week
Short reflections on Bible passages, with a frontline focus...
Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
PSALM 1:1–3, NRSV
Happy, or blessed, is the first word of the psalter. It can mean both, but we can be afraid sometimes to acknowledge that the Bible talks about happiness – and does it rather a lot. In the Psalms alone, there are 24 ‘happy are those’ sayings. You could say that the Psalms are an extended reflection on happiness and the life of faith.
I wonder what happiness looks like for you – and how your idea of happiness shapes your choices at work, at home, in your leisure time, in what you do in church, or even what church you attend? The pursuit of happiness is a very human concern, and one that, over time, we have even come to see as a fundamental right (as is expressed in the American Declaration of Independence).
But what does it mean to be happy? What if it is elusive? What if my happiness means your unhappiness, and vice versa?
The Psalms wrestle with these questions. This means that thinking about happiness is not a bad thing; indeed, it is even a good thing. It is an appropriate topic for those who follow God to meditate on, and crucial for us to explore so we can discern how our pursuit of happiness can be shaped and fashioned according to the ways of God. Yet how often do we explore happiness in our study, teaching, and prayers?
Psalm 1 starts with a series of affirmations: happiness is found in walking in the paths of God. Psalm 1 helps us orientate ourselves in the landscape of happiness. If we are honest with ourselves, most of us will immediately say, ‘but that isn’t always how it works!’ Sometimes walking with God feels far from a happy journey, and walking with God can seem a considerably more rocky path towards happiness than doing what we would prefer to do.
This dilemma will occupy the rest of the Psalms’ sayings on happiness. But Psalm 1 sets us up to think about it: happiness depends on where our ‘delight’ is. What we desire shapes our experience of life and our ability to experience happiness.
As we start exploring the Psalms, ask yourself what is it you most desire. How does this shape your choices about what you do, who you reach out to, and what you choose not to do? What factors in your experience, life, family, and spiritual journey have shaped these choices?
Revd Prebendary Dr Isabelle Hamley
Secretary for Theology and Theological Adviser to the House of Bishops
Spend some time reflecting on what you desire for yourself, for family, for the work, study, or volunteering you engage in, and for your life with God. How does ‘delight in God’ shape what you long for? Join the conversation below.