Keep my steps steady according to your promise,
and never let iniquity have dominion over me.
I was hiking by myself along the north rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison years ago. I had set out on the trail impulsively, without leaving a notice in the car. The landscape was so wondrous, I was lured by curiosity about what I would see around the next turn – and the next – and the next. Soon I was far down the trail. And then my foot turned on a loose rock and I went down.
It was an impulsive hike, so I wasn’t wearing my hiking boots. I didn’t bring water with me. I was alone. It was the era before cellphones – though I don’t know if that would have made any difference as far as I was from “civilization”.
I understand this prayer to keep my steps steady. I understand, now, how easy it is to suddenly be knocked off balance. I understand, now, the value of community, of not being alone on your journey. I even possess hiking sticks now to give me added stability when you’re top-heavy with a backpack. And what is true of hiking is true also of the spiritual journey of life. It is easier than it should be to lose our balance, easier than it should be to fall away from our spiritual center. Temptations come. Trials happen. The unexpected wops you up side the head and suddenly we are in unfamiliar territory. What will keep us grounded? What will keep us faithful to God and to others? What will keep us on the path of God’s justice and mercy? What will keep us in the joy and grace of God’s Spirit?
The author of this majestic psalm uses a variety of words to point us to God’s word, guidance, teaching, command, law, instruction, and promise. It is God’s living voice, mediated to us through the written word, preached by the prophets, sung by the psalmists, embodied in Jesus, and lived in community that keeps our steps steady when trials come.