He leans his chair back on two legs and balances a cup on his knee—I zero in on it as he talks, because these days I’m always waiting for broken glass.
“Before anything else happens, before any other conversation you have, you need to have one with yourself—and with the God who orders the universe.”
“The Love which moves the sun and other stars,” Dante adds in my head. I continue to keep the glass from falling with my eyes. I’ve hinted at the creeping darkness, at the cloud that found me in a place to ask for an exception to the rule, enough to hobble over the finish line of my first year of seminary. It’s over, and I’m still dazed.
“Otherwise,” my friend continues gently, “You’ve put yourself in a position to receive grace from the wrong people. It might have to begin with you this time.”
It might have to begin with you.
“At the still point of the turning world…there the dance is,” Eliot whispers, as the knot loosens below my collarbone, the way it does whenever a friend says a true thing.
Begin at the still point, at the center. This time, begin with you and God.
Well of course, this means the Psalms.
In protestant Bibles, they are located right in the middle; in much of the global church, they are the centering elements of worship. They are, it seems, the still point of the turning world from which so many dances begin, though they are anything but really still.
They are the hard work of honest talk before God that span all of human experience, even and especially the parts we don’t know what to do with, the bits we are even embarrassed to call scripture—rage and grief and violence and despair.
As I read the first section of Getting Involved With God: Rediscovering the Old Testament, I realized that this is where my conversation begins, this is where I begin to understand that the things I can offer to admit before God do not exclude me from divine interaction—in fact, they may very well comprise the substance of encounter itself.
A phrase that floats around with church-people is “just give it to God,” and while I am still wary about saying this casually to people in times of distress, it is comprehensible to me as Davis writes about biblical characters—in this case, the psalmist. Ellen Davis writes that it seems the shift occurs within a psalm of lament towards praise precisely because of “the psalmist’s experience of suffering, and perhaps that has changed only because she has dared to break the isolation of silence and knows that God has heard.”
If this sounds a pretty abstract to you still, I’m with you. Even this still sounds a little bit like the work of an ethereal opening of pure consciousness. But at the same time, I think this is why I like Davis’s exhortation to not only read the psalms, but to pray them. It gives me something to hold on to, someone else’s words to grasp, a way of standing on the psalmist’s shoes when I’m not quite sure of the steps to dance. “Healing will not come through a cover-up,” Davis writes, but sometimes we need to be taught how to unwrap our wounds.
But here’s the other thing—they also show me there’s a way out.
- The psalmist is not just indulging in self-pity or “wishing upwards,” with no particular hope of satisfaction.
- Lament is always hoping to grow into praise; when it does, it does not forget where it came from.
- When you lament in good faith, opening yourself to God honestly and fully—no matter what you have to say—then you are beginning to clear the way for praise.
- The psalms honor our immediate personal experience, yet at the same time they keep us from becoming mired in it.
So I think I will begin whatever honest talk with God I can muster from the middle. Maybe I will find that rage can actually be a prophetic, even hopeful part of my life before God, and while despair does not have the last word, it’s also nothing God hasn’t seen before.
Back to honest center I go, uncovering wounds with the words of the psalmist in a shadow—
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.
I breathe, finding my way forward—
Yet you are holy….
Lament is not a bad place to start.
Questions to Consider
- How do you make room for lament? What keeps you from lamenting?
- Do you ever pray the Psalms?
- What does it mean to “lament in good faith”?
- What else resonated from the section on the Psalms?
Come back next Wednesday May 21 for another guest post on Getting Involved With God. Kelley Nikondeha will close out the book on Wednesday May 28. Join the Facebook group to share quotes and discuss the book throughout the month. On Twitter, the official Red Couch Book Club hashtag is #redcouchbc.
Disclosure : Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.
Antonia Terrazas attends Duke Divinity School in North Carolina, where Dr. Ellen Davis teaches. They’ve never spoken but Antonia hopes to make eye contact someday. Antonia has roots in New Mexico and Texas, where she studied Great Texts at Baylor University. She loves a good red lipstick, 30Rock, mystics, scholastics, poetry, and snobby coffee. Over the years her prayer language has changed from a Tongues to Doubt to Liturgy, and she’d love to talk about it with you sometime. Preferably over strawberry-rhubarb pie.
Image credit: Kamil Porembiński