In Old Testament times, the closest you could get to God physically was to go to the Temple in Jerusalem. This is where the holy cloud of his presence rested, on the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. Three times a year, all Jews travelled there for one of their big religious festivals, and there was great joy at those times.
I never really knew what that meant, to desire to go to the Temple, until I visited Israel. There I saw Jews praying at the Holy Western Wall, and Jews way down in the tunnels praying by the base of that wall – praying there because it’s the closest they can get to where the Holy of Holies once stood. Even though I know His presence is not confined there – I felt desire like a physical cord drawing me to those holy sites to pray.
This is what you see reflected in many of the Psalms that talk about longing for God, or being in his presence: they use Temple imagery to describe the goal of their desire. Whenever the sanctuary, or tent, or temple, or altars, and so on are mentioned, the Psalmist is speaking of the Jerusalem Temple. “God’s holy mountain” is the place his presence rests, the highest point in Jerusalem and the site of the Temple. Festivals, processions, steps –all these words refer to pilgrimages to the place where they could be in God’s presence and rejoice.
Even when you read about someone hiding in the shadow of God’s wings, there’s an oblique reference to the Temple: the cherubim over the Ark of the Covenant had enormous carved wings, 15 feet long, that spread from one wall of the Holy of Holies to the other. To be in God’s presence is to be under His watchful eye, under his protective and sheltering care; it is to be satisfied with good things and filled with joy. And it’s epitomized, in the Psalms, by processing to a festival or worshiping at the Temple.
Today I ask for that pilgrim’s joy and longing, that awareness of His presence as I seek him throughout the day: in prayer; in his Word; at Mass; before the Blessed Sacrament; in the others I will meet. Thank you, God, for giving us your Presence!
©2015 Sarah Christmyer. All rights reserved.
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This is part of a series of posts on Thirsting for God and how the Psalms teach us to reach out in thirst to the One who can satisfy.
Click here for the first post: Thirsting for God
For the next post: PSALM 63: Five Steps From Desire to Delight