(Photo of skunk courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
My heart overflows with a goodly theme; I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.
You are the most handsome of men; grace is poured upon your lips; therefore God has blessed you forever.
Gird your sword on your thigh, O mighty one, in your glory and majesty.
In your majesty ride on victoriously for the cause of truth and to defend the right; let your right hand teach you dread deeds.
Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; the peoples fall under you.
Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever. Your royal scepter is a scepter of equity;
you love righteousness and hate wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;
your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia. From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad;
daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor; at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.
Hear, O daughter, consider and incline your ear; forget your people and your father’s house,
and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him;
the people of Tyre will seek your favor with gifts, the richest of the people
with all kinds of wealth. The princess is decked in her chamber with gold-woven robes;
in many-colored robes she is led to the king; behind her the virgins, her companions, follow.
With joy and gladness they are led along as they enter the palace of the king.
In the place of ancestors you, O king, shall have sons; you will make them princes in all the earth.
I will cause your name to be celebrated in all generations; therefore the peoples will praise you forever and ever.
Ok, I admit, I burst out laughing this morning on verse 8 when I did my Daily Office readings: "your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia."
That's because my house, my yard, and my dog Boomer faintly smell like skunk.
So reading a psalm about the wedding and love of a prince and a princess, complete with beautiful sights and smells, has a hilarious irony to it this morning.
I am reminded of a common admonishment that my grandparents used to tell me when I'm a kid, regarding things that are bound to cause trouble: "Don't poke a skunk."
The problem, of course, with skunks is that one can deal with the lingering evidence of the skunk's ire for days or weeks. Poor Boomer had to sleep outside last night. He might have to sleep outside tonight. I am ending up throwing all the plans for my day off to the side to de-skunk him.
But here's a fact about having dogs and living in the country. If you own dogs and live in the country, and you reside in any of several states in the "lower 48," you are going to have a dog get skunked once in a while. Dogs are kind of funny about skunks. They never seem to have a memory of being skunked. My late dog J.R. got skunked at point blank one time--so close it turned the white parts of his fur faintly green for a few days--but the very next skunk he encountered, he made a bee line right to it, with the very same results. J.R. was, without a doubt the smartest dog I ever owned in some ways--maybe the smartest dog I will ever own--but there's something about a dog's hard wired instinct of "Little critter...must attack and kill..." that even the memory of a hard lesson doesn't seem to take. I've read several articles that dogs don't experience linear time like we do, and literally retain no memory of things related to "time"--but one would think a dog would remember a critter encounter that went wrong. Interesting.
I, unfortunately, have poked more skunks in my life than I ought to have, and once in a while something totally unrelated will happen that brings to mind one of those skunks I poked, and the regret of those things will pop up now and then. Oh, the reality is that I am just as human as everyone else. I think every one of us pokes several skunks in our lives, as well as accidentally encountering a skunk who's determined to spray us even though we are not bothering it.
Regret is also a funny critter. I think the regrets in my life that are the more nagging ones, the ones that tend to pop up and revisit me, are the ones that have two ingredients to them. The first ingredient is my recognition that, as a rather intense person sometimes, I probably "turned the heat up" on the situation and, rather than being patient and letting the situation cook, like a pot of beans on low heat, I cranked up the heat and scorched it, ruining the whole batch. It doesn't even matter how much in the wrong the other person was--I cranked up the heat and ended up looking like a sick or crazy person...and really, in sick situations, we all get sick and crazy, temporarily.
The second ingredient is an incomplete sense of having made amends. That sense of having tried to apologize or seek forgiveness from the other person, and they can no longer trust me, and it all comes out hollow. I am generally über-reliable, and über-trustworthy, and to be distrusted becomes one of the strongest forms of abandonment for me. I can become obsessed with "proving" my reliability and trustworthiness, and well...we're back to that looking crazed and sick thing again.
Probably the one that drives me straight up the wall is the situation where there's been a "mutual hurting" between me and someone I care a great deal about, and I have been ready and willing to accept their apologies in it, as well as make a few of my own, and they'll have nothing to do with it. I'm ready to talk it out, emote it out, and truly start over, and it seems they'd rather have nothing to do with me because it's simpler. My guess is, the other person is thinking the exact same things about me, but there never seems to be a good place to start this process. So many times there seems to be a power structure attached, where the upper end of the power structure feels a need to still be "in charge" of the process, and the lower end of the power structure fears repeated triggerings of perceived slights that may or may not be real. I think that's why the rifts between parents and children are so profound, and so many times, the two parties independently, but mutually, choose to exist in this place of "fake niceness" instead, which only seems to drive the chance of true reconciliation further and further away.
But one of the things I thought about, today, as I read this psalm, and thought of that paradox of "beautiful smells" in the reality of the skunky smells in my yard, in my house, and on my dog, was just what perfume has in it. One of the ingredients in the most expensive perfumes is...yep...skunk or civet cat oil--a substance called butyl mercaptan. It's what "holds" the scent in the perfume so the wonderful smells don't disappear over time, and even sometimes enhance over time.
That odd thought gives me hope for all those things that have come in my life with painful regrets and incomplete amends. I like the idea that the same thing that skunked me has the power to hold enticing and enrapturing scents. But these things only come with time--time for the smell to die down--and they don't get improved by poking the skunk again. I can only pray for those things to reveal themselves.