I’m not sure if you can buy them anymore–those magic 8 balls that looked like miniature bowling balls with a tiny water-filled window atop them, a different message on each side of the 8-sided shape. The messages were responses to a question you were supposed to pose to the magic 8 ball, before turning it over and upside down and rightside up to see what the “answer” to your question might be.
I’ve not seen a magic 8 ball for years. But for some reason, the image of one comes into my head now and then, when I become aware of how swiftly our mood can shift in our relationship with God. The psalms are to some degree like a 150-sided shape that pops up a different “side” of the human spirit, depending on what which psalm (or psalms) we are encountering that day.
Indeed, a lot of the psalms function like mini magic 8 balls all on their own, encompassing dramatic mood shifts abruptly, without transition.
And isn’t this how most of us experience our own spiritual states (not to mention the emotions interwoven with them)? One moment we are grounded, confident, like those psalms about how God is present in the Temple in Zion and all is right with the world. In those moments, our inner or outer lives feel ordered, in right harmony or rhythm. But soon something triggers a shift into another spiritual mood (perhaps a mood ring analogy would work as well as a magic 8 ball one). We feel despair, overwhelmed, abandoned . . . or at least anxious.
Sometimes the psalms direct us towards how to live with the forces that well up in us and that seem inimical, leaving us feeling cynical, or defeated, or some other hard way. Psalm 27 is one psalm that grants us a vision of a way of being with all the different spiritual moods that bop up in us. Those inner “adversaries and foes will stumble and fall” not when we attack them outright, but when we orient ourselves towards YHWH as our light and salvation, and wait for God to do the battling or dissolving of those inner forces for us.
Of course the psalm isn’t only about the difficult spiritual emotions that well up in us from time to time or day to day. The psalms testify also to enemies who put us or others in physical danger. In often urging us to envision God–not ourselves–as the warrior, the psalms invite us into a pacifist perspective even as they give voice to our longings for revenge and the demolition of who or what threatens us. Or, if not pacifism, then perhaps a reminder to practice a spirit of watchfuless and understanding as we deal with the difficult forces in our inner lives and in the world we share.