Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Times of Darkness

         I love the psalms.  I love them because they give words to all the feelings we have: all, including that which we often think we should not share with God.  There is anger, there is despair, there is sadness; as well as praise and thanksgiving and joy and delight.  There is envy and frustration, feelings of abandonment; as well as celebration of life and all of its gifts, triumph, trust, and victory.
         I am part of a spiritual journeys group that meets once a month for 4 1/2 hours or so and that is practicing different spiritual disciplines each month.  This month we looked in particular at psalms of lament.  Every week we were to pick a different psalm of lament and each day we read through it, listening for where God is and what speaks to us in that particular reading.  I love Psalm 22 for many reasons, not least of which is that I think many of us can resonate so strongly in times of despair with much of what the psalmist wrote, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,     by night, but I find no rest."  If we are honest with ourselves, all of us have felt this at one time or another.  I also love it because Jesus quoted that first line from the cross.  Christ, too, knows what it is like to feel that despair, that pain.  I find great comfort in that, in the idea that we are understood for all of who we are and all of what we feel.
       But this last week I focused on a different psalm.  I chose Psalm 88, which doesn't resolve as most of the other psalms of lament do.  There is no "it's okay" at the end, or even praise of God to set us back on our feet.  It ends in the dark.  It ends still in the despair.  It ends in anguish and sorrow.
      I know there is a theological position that states that we should never leave our people in that darkness, that we must always shine a light to lead them out of that place.  But I do not and cannot agree with that. For one thing it does not acknowledge that there simply ARE times of despair for all of us, that there are times when we cannot find the light.  To acknowledge that and to honor those feelings is to really see people and to be with them even in that darkness.  When we try to rush people too quickly out of their pain and anguish, we do not give them the space to fully grieve and therefore to truly heal.
         To be fully human means to experience the darkness as well as the light, to be willing to learn the lessons and accept the gifts that sorrow can bring to each of us.  These aren't easy lessons to learn and I understand not wanting to be in the pain which alone can lead us to these deeper understandings.  But without that willingness to be in the dark for a while, the light's brightness can never be fully understood, experienced, or appreciated for the gift it brings. Without that commitment to walking through the despair, we cheapen life in all its wondrous variety.  Without sinking into the desolation and suffering for a time, the pain cannot be completely released, and we will not be set free to experience joy with fullness.
        We were encouraged to write our own psalms of lament during this time as well.  I am aware that, to quote Hildegard de Bingen, "My greatest disobedience is my self-doubt".  I also want to remind you that a psalm of lament is a glimpse, a moment.  It is not the totality of our beliefs or even an accurate reflection of our faith.  It is a snapshot on the pain we are feeling at the moment (so please don't send me a message "correcting" my theology on this.  Again, this is a reflection of the feelings I had in a moment).  With all those caveats, I am choosing to share with you my psalm of lament in the hopes that it might resonate with some of you as well:

I hear you calling, God
I hear it constantly,
This call
To do more
To be more
Than I am.

You call me through the Prophets’ words
Of preaching good news to the poor
Lifting up the downtrodden
And healing the broken hearted.

You call me through the words
Of Jesus as he begs and demands and insists
That our call is to feed the hungry
And clothe the naked
And visit those in prison
And who are sick.

You call me through our modern prophets
Who speak of the need
To advocate for the voiceless,
To fight the powers that would hold down
Any of our sisters and brothers,
To stand up with those who are threatened.

And you call me through the pain I feel
At the suffering of others,
And at the destruction of the environment.
At the cutting down of the trees
And at the anger, bigotry, misogyny, homophobia,
That cuts me like it was my own skin being torn to shreds.

You call me through all these things.

But I’m all too aware that I fall short
I don’t do enough
I’m not enough.

And in my failing, God, I feel your absence.
I feel your tangible disappointment in me:
Not only what I have done
And what I have failed to do,
But also in who I am.

I call to you
Day and night
To release me from this torment
Of self-doubt and judgment

I ask every day for you to help me
Let go of my own ego
That keeps me more focused
On my failings
Than on doing what is there to be done
In each day
In each moment.

I beg and plead of you
To help me see where to put my next step
And to let me be a vessel
Of your will
And your way:
Your grace, love and compassion
To a hurting world.

But what I hear is silence.
What I get is absence.
What I experience is a turning of your back
With sad eyes.
A walking away.
A giving up
On me.

Don’t turn away from me!
Be there to give me the words
And the actions
And the vision
That I need.

Do not leave me
To fight my own inner demons
Of judgment and anxiety
By myself.

God, I beg you to return
And guide me on this dark
And difficult journey,
To help me get the “me”
Out of my laments
And to focus instead
Always and all the time
On the You
That is the person in front of me at any moment
As well as the God beyond us all.

          If this resonates with you, I hope you will try writing your own psalm of lament.  Finally, I want to end by encouraging you to listen to Amy Grant's song, "Better than a Hallelujah".  Beautiful.  Her own psalm (which means "song") of Lament.  Click here to hear it: Lament