The Red Couch: Getting Involved With God (The Lamenting Psalms)

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By Antonia Terrazas | Twitter: @antoniaterrazas

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To learn more about Getting Involved With God, read the introductory post.  And don’t forget to peruse The Nightstand, which contains resources for those wanting to read more on the topic.

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.

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About Antonia:

AntoniaAntonia 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.

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Image credit: Kamil Porembiński

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  • Kelley Nikondeha

    I think lamenting in good faith involved trust, lamenting and leaning into God at the same time, knowing the velocity of all my feelings will find their place in God’s presence. It’s a bit mystical, but I trust God’s strength and compassion to embrace me lament.

    I wonder how often I sit watching the glass, waiting for it to break. Do I walk with that foreboding sense looming? Maybe. It is an interesting place to begin praying the psalms – as we wait for the next bit of bad news.

    Love you, Antonia. Thanks for sharing your own heart with us as it intersects with Davis and the Psalter.

    • antoniaterrazas

      Mmm I like this answer to the question of “in good faith.” I think you’re right in pointing to the fact that this involves a recognition that things are not as they should be, but hanging on to the fact that that reality does not have the last word.

      Love you dearly xoxoxo

  • Wow, Antonia! Beautiful. I know that writing about a book can be challenging, but you make this seem effortless. So beautiful. I don’t feel like you’re writing “about” the book; I feel like I am getting a glimpse into your heart and that is *such* good craft.

    I pray the Psalms when I need words and don’t always know my own feelings. Or when I know someone else has already wrestled through it, I figure maybe I could tag along and apply words with divine breath in them already.

    There are so many beautiful moments in this piece. Thank you, thank you, thank you …

    • antoniaterrazas

      Thank you for such kind words here, Idelette–I like what you say about not always knowing out own feelings. I think this is why I like praying them with the daily office, because the psalms are chosen for me, and sometimes–strangely, mystically–they and I match up.

  • Sandy Hay

    I have started to pray the Psalms more than once but never get beyond 2-3 days before i “forget”. Lately though I’ve been focusing on the 23rd…it’s been eye opening. Lamenting isn’t something I’ve ever thought about until reading this book. But I am now. It makes such sense that in our whining and complaining to God, not to ourselves or our spouse or our BFF, that it almost naturally leads to praise. And I starred this from pg 20-21 “Lament psalms trace a movement from complaint to confidence in God, from desperate petition to anticipatory praise. Yet they make that move without ever telling us that the external situation has changed for the better.” Thank you Antonia and Red Couch Book club for waking up ideas that have been hibernating …for way too long 😉

    • Love hearing this, Sandy!

    • antoniaterrazas

      I LOVE that quote too. It’s starred in my copy. Thanks for dropping in here Sandy!

  • I spent a very difficult summer of my life in the psalms. I rewrote psalm 139 in my own words (this was a suggestion by Mary Southerland, Girlfriends in God) and found it a very helpful process – did it by one verse a day. Other psalms of lament helped me voice my feelings of having an enemy, even though I felt guilty for feeling that way – but David was betrayed by his best friend – it’s not a new human experience! It felt more honest to admit to the crisis rather than let it all fester unacknowledged inside.

    • Great examples, Morag. I’m so glad the psalms spoke to you during a difficult season.

    • antoniaterrazas

      Love this suggestion of rewriting a psalm! Also I’m totally with you on feeling that guilt, inexplicably. It creeps up at sneaky times–for something that is a normal, human emotion as the psalms show us.

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  • Trish Bjorklund

    Thanks Antonia – I’m enjoying the book, but I love what you had to say! Especially this quote “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.” You
    put into words something that I lived a few years ago. My dad was in hospice and at home with us waiting to go home to heaven. I sat up all night next to his bed one night and started at the beginning of Psalms and read, and wrote notes in my bible in response to what I was reading. We were desperately praying that God would take my dad home and put an end to his terrible pain and suffering. But, short of “please God” over and over I had very few words of my own that I could string together. I started reading the Psalms and using the words there as my prayer along with my jotted down responses. Now as I look over those words I’m taken back to that night and while it was extremely difficult it was also a sweet night of knowing I was in the presence of both my earthly dad and my heavenly Father. Davis points out in her book that the lament Psalms trace movement from complaint to confidence in God and I feel like I understand that. My notes start with comments like “yeah, God, why aren’t you doing this for my Dad, or why aren’t you listening”…to near the end of the night, “Ok God, I get it, I’ll wait on you, your timing is perfect, just hold us close to you.” Complaint to confidence in God!

    • antoniaterrazas

      Oh my heart. Thank you so much for sharing this story, Trish. What power and love there.

  • Laura Shook

    I love the Psalms, precisely because they allow us to see the movement from despair and grief to hope. I find a great example of real life there.

    Love your words:

    “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.”

    Thanks for sharing!

    • antoniaterrazas

      Thanks for reading! I’ll point out that that’s a quote from the book, as are all the billeted points. I should have made that more clear!

  • Cynthia Nichols Cavanaugh

    The Psalms have been an anchor for me so many times. I am by nature a melancholy person and along the way have experienced depression in short spurts and one long bout of clinical depression. It was during the dark night of my soul when I couldn’t even find the words to pray, let alone read more than a few sentences at a time. I couldn’t focus or concentrate for long. I prayed the Psalms, phrases, sometimes just short words like, “How long oh Lord? (Psalm 13).

    Lamenting for me has seemed to be more than praise at times, but I have found that as the author says in the book, the laments make way for the praises. Thank you for your overview and reminding me that God longs for me to pray and talk honestly with him and invites interaction.

    • antoniaterrazas

      I resonate with so much of what you say here, Cynthia. Thank you for sharing.

  • this is so incredibly beautiful Antonia, even if I’m not reading the book!

    • antoniaterrazas

      thank you!

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