What Time is It?
I am reading Walter Brueggemann's slender book "Praying the Psalms: Engaging Scripture and the Life of the Spirit." In the very first chapter (OK, I haven't gotten very far yet), he offers a simple schematic of the life of faith, which he says "consists of moving with God in terms of 1) being securely oriented; 2) being painfully disoriented; and 3) being surprisingly reoriented."
This is a book about the Psalms, and he is an esteemed Old Testament scholar, and he also notes that not a lot of great writing comes out of the place of being securely oriented - "While we all yearn for it, it is not very interesting," he says. He may mean not a lot of great Biblical writing comes out of that place or he may mean writing in general. Which reminds me of the Talking Heads song "Heaven [is a place where nothing ever happens]." But I digress.... And I remember that when I was in college, majoring in writing, my best stuff came out of times when I was unhappy or at odds with the world in some way. I ended up feeling that I should not like to have a career in writing because it would require me to be miserable in order to succeed at it. But I digress again....
Anyway, Brueggeman goes on to say that the Psalms are our best collection of humanity's crying out to God about both our painful disorientation and the surprising joy of reorientation. (For OT literature coming from secure orientation, he suggests reading Proverbs or possibly the acrostic Psalms 37 and 145, which are (and are about) being orderly and symmetrical.) This place of disorientation of course is where many of us live at various times in our lives, and despite the discomfort of being in that place, we know (when we think about it) that it is the place where good and needed growth is most likely to be occurring. Change and even destruction is the prequel to the story of growth and even resurrection. We must have periods of disorientation in order to experience true newness of life. And that new life is often surprising in its beauty and joy.
So where are you now? What time is it in your life? I myself am in the middle of profound and painful disorientation. And it's not just me - many things are changing in my life and the lives of my family. Our bodies are not working the way they ought; we are moving houses; we are not doing the work we thought we were supposed to be doing; we are in the throes of growing into adulthood/middle age/advanced age and all the stuff that goes with that. Each all of us in my immediate family going through some significant change. Some of this is welcome and some of it is just what one would expect but some of it is neither expected nor welcome. This is a time of disorientation.
Interestingly, Brueggeman, who is clearly a fan of the BCP and of praying the daily offices, suggests that in times of secure orientation, the Psalms are not so powerful as they are when we are at the edges, when we are in our questioning and raw places. We may try to use the Psalms for equilibrium (singing them certainly brings this out - I still get a giggle when chanting a line like "Like the dull and the stupid they perish" (Ps 49:9)) but when we do that, we miss the point of the Psalms. Which is that they give voice to our grief, our raw emotions of fear and attendant feelings of abandonment and shame, these universal feelings all humans have felt throughout the ages. These feelings, these expressions of pain and grief (and also joy) that are an official and important part of the Bible and of religious life and ceremony/ritual.
I admit often rushing through the Psalm in the offices, sometimes in order to get to the Gospel, or to a prayer I particularly wish to say, an intercession or thanksgiving I want to remember to offer, or just to get through the office so I can move on to something else. I admit that I delight in singing psalms at church. I think I do come to the Psalms from a place of expecting equilibrium and if not finding it, moving on without much thought.
But now I am thinking that I am in the perfect place right now to read and pray them as a way to give voice to my own despair, my own deep and scary and sometimes bleak disorientation, not just as a personal message to God but, as Brueggemann suggests, as a way to see how my journey has been shared by other pilgrims, both the ones who wrote and the ones who have prayed these verses for centuries.
"May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble,
the Name of the God of Jacob defend you;
Send you help from his holy place
and strengthen you out of Zion"