I’ve been deeply saddened by the events in Charlottesville, more than I can put into words. I’ve wondered if I should or even could speak to it. Or is the better option to let it go, allowing others to speak instead. My voice hardly seems necessary - really, what is there to say.
Then, I started reading about the lament Psalms in The Message of the Psalms by Walter Brueggemann. It has been an enlightening read as I am preparing to teach a course. Brueggemann speaks about the Psalms within culture, Israel’s and ours. He defines the lament Psalms as psalms of disorientation. He explains the Book of Psalms through a lens of spirituality which reminds me of the way spiritual writers speak about transformation.
Brueggemann starts with psalms of orientation. This is a place of understanding our life of faith from the settledness we experience. It is a place of contentment and gratitude. We are thankful to be in a good place and expect that goodness to continue. We believe we are blessed and taken care of.
However, we are likely to deceive ourselves by either being unwilling or unable to grasp that this place of peace isn’t experienced by everyone. Often times the goodness we experience is at the expense of another people group. Unfortunately, this is usually beneath or outside of our awareness.
When Israel was used as slaves in Egypt, those in Egypt probably saw that as good fortune and Israel, not so much. When Solomon built a beautiful temple, he actually used slaves. I’m sure the slaves might have held a different view than the elite of Israel might have experienced. It seems this divide of oppression is held within an us versus them culture.
Our contemporary culture is set up in a way where it is difficult to become aware of our blind spots. We avoid change - either from pain or even held within a surprise. We tend to prefer things to remain the same. We prefer the status quo. This is our nature.
Then something happens in our life or in the world around us; a loss, a death, a transition of some kind. These kinds of experiences move us into the psalms of disorientation. Spiritual writers call this movement an invitation to grow deeper in our relationship with our true selves and with God.
Often, in our current Christian church culture, we tend to skate over the depth of pain and proclaim our trust in God without giving words to our lived experience. It seems we believe that to openly express our deep hurt, anger, or sadness to God or even each other is either unsafe or viewed as lack of faith. It feels like a place of pretending that all is okay.
In the psalms of disorientation, we see Israel act differently. They cry out, sharing all of what they are feeling. We see anger, distrust, and wonder at why God isn’t rescuing them. Even in the beloved Psalm 139, there are words of vengeance that make our contemporary ears tune out. Yet, Israel wasn’t acting outside of faith by sharing these deep emotions but living into a bold faith, knowing that God was for them and with them always.
The next movement is toward a new orientation, which again is a place of settledness. These Psalms remember the struggle of the past and are filled with gratitude for being met by God. With regard to our own journey of transformation, this new place we are able to hold a much larger view of God as we surrender to our own belovedness. It is important, I believe, to not rush these stages but to fully experience them.
The gift of the lament is that it gives words to the lived experience which allows this deep work to be fully transforming. When it comes to Charlottesville, I don’t have the words yet to hold all I am feeling. It seems, at least to me, that the invitation is to rest in the lament and allow God to teach us and show us how to navigate our new understanding and awareness of the old struggle of hatred and division we have witnessed once again.
The division in our nation and the old tendrils of hatred we had hoped were gone, are still here. I would imagine in our own individual loss and discomfort of what we are experiencing, we could write psalms of lament much like those in Scripture. Maybe that would be a good practice.
What do we notice in our discomfort? What do we notice in ourselves within the loss of seeing our own tendency to prefer our status quo and the damage that may cause to those around us? Within what we notice in ourselves, what do we notice about our understanding of God’s character; understood by action or inaction? So much of how we experience life has to do with our understanding of ourselves, God, and those around us.
Let me invite you to take what you notice to God and ask for God’s view. We’ve talked about this practice using the Examen prayer last time. I find that God’s view is usually different and toward a deeper place than my own view. I believe that it is from this place, we can actually move forward within a new orientation; holding a bigger view of God, surrendering to our own belovedness, and leading to graciousness within ourselves for the other.
Brueggemann, Walter. The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1984.
Hello, I'm Kathi Gatlin. Thanks for stopping by!