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Living the Psalms

Psalms is the only book of the Bible in which God’s people speak to God – and they did so honestly and openly and with great faith.

When our ancestors in the faith, the children of Israel, got into trouble they called upon God. When they celebrated, they glorified God.  When they were afraid, they hid under the shadow of God’s wings.  When they gathered for worship, they did so with songs praising God.

All of this we are experiencing in these days. And all of these emotions we find in the psalms of the Hebrews. Psalms is the only book of the Bible in which God’s people speak to God – and they did so honestly and openly and with great faith. A mark of the psalms is that even when the people were angry with God, or questioned God, or railed against God, they remained faithful and hopeful, with a sure and certain belief that God would not desert them.

Today we find ourselves in the same circumstance: our future is uncertain, our loved ones are suffering, and we are all afraid.

When Bishop David Reed asked the Diocese of West Texas to study the psalms in 2020, he could not have chosen a better scripture for our times. The plan of the diocesan Adult Christian Formation consultant was to prepare a curriculum for release at Pentecost 2020.  Instead, we are going to crank up the diocesan Adult Christian Formation website now and live the psalms.  In the coming days and weeks, we will offer reflections, study materials, thoughts and suggestions for coming into the presence of our God, asking God to bless us, and relying on God as we remember that nothing can separate us from God’s love.

We invite your participation by commenting, giving us feedback, and offering your own thoughts and inspiration. You can do so by sending an email to Marjorie George at marjorie.george@dwtx.org.

May God bless you and hold you in God’s strong arms and ceaseless love.

Please and Thank You

Again and again, the Hebrews turned to their God, crying, “Save us, save us,” and adding their petulant complaint of “This is not fair,” a whine every parent has heard. And yet, in the psalms, they never forgot from what they had already been saved. 

by Marjorie George

When will your puddle of vague unrest gather up into a storm of emotions? And what will that storm name itself: anger, resentment, hopelessness, sorrow, despair?  Or has it already? Good, you are making progress. 

In this morning’s post from The Center for Action and Contemplation, Brian McLaren says, “When we call out for help, we are bound more powerfully to God through our needs and weakness, our unfulfilled hopes and dreams, and our anxieties and problems than we ever could have been through our joys, successes, and strengths alone. . . . 

Naming our anxieties, says McLaren, helps us see more clearly what we are bringing before God. “Anxieties can gray the whole sky like cloud cover or descend on our whole horizon like fog. When we rename our anxieties, in a sense we distill them into requests. What covered the whole sky can now be contained in a couple of buckets. So when we’re suffering from anxiety, we can begin by simply holding the word help before God, letting that one word bring focus to the chaos of our racing thoughts. Once we feel that our mind has dropped out of the frantic zone and into a spirit of connection with God, we can let the general word help go and in its place hold more specific words that name what we need, thereby condensing the cloud of vague anxiety into a bucket of substantial request” 
 (https://cac.org/praying-in-crisis-2020-03-25/).  

The Hebrews knew about storms and anxieties and frequently brought them before God in their psalms. The history of the Hebrew people is one of oppression, exile, and slavery. But their identifying characteristic as a people is deliverance. The Exodus event and the return from exile define them.

Again and again, the Hebrews turned to their God, crying, “Save us, save us,” and adding their petulant complaint of “This is not fair,” a whine every parent has heard. And yet, in the psalms, they never forgot from what they had already been saved. 

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion 
    we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
    and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
    and we rejoiced
(Psalm 126:1-3).

Of the 150 psalms, about a third are psalms of lament. Mostly they follow a predictable pattern: a call upon God, a recitation of the complaint, a petition for help, and – and this is important – an expression of trust that God will indeed relieve their plight.

We can see it in Psalm 22, which Jesus remembered from the cross:

Cry of distress
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
(vs 1)

Complaint
But I am a worm, and not human;
    scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me;
    they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
(vss6-7, see also 12-18)

Petition
But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
    O my help, come quickly to my aid!
(vs 19)

Affirmation of deliverance
I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
    All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
    stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he did not despise or abhor
    the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
    but heard when I cried to him.
(vss 22-24)

In a shorter psalm, and one which we might emulate, Psalm 13 begins with a mournful cry: 
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
(vs 1)

but ends with a rejoicing heart:
But I trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me
(vs 6)

“There is in the psalms no quick and easy resignation to suffering,” says Dietrick Bonhoeffer in his little book Psalms, the Prayer Book of the Bible. “There is always struggle, anxiety, doubt . . . But even in the deepest hopelessness, God alone remains the one addressed” (pg 47).

Our circumstances right now demand faithfulness. With the psalmist, we bring our cry to God, ask for God’s help, and look for God’s deliverance. We allow the storm of our emotions to gather, admit our fears to God (and maybe to each other), and know that nothing can separate us from the love and mercy of God.

Psalms to read this week

Psalm 13

Psalm 25:1-2, 6-21

Psalm 31:1-5,9-16

Psalm 86:1-4, 14-17

Psalm 12

Psalm 22

For an interesting exercise, write a psalm of lament for yourself.

Marjorie George serves the Diocese of West Texas as a consultant in adult Christian formation. Reach her at marjoriegeorge62@gmail.com or marjorie.george@dwtx.org  She would love to hear from you.  Or leave a reply to this post.

Hard Times in the Psalms

But Peter stepped up and spoke the words we cling to today: “Where else would we go, Lord? You [alone] have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

Jesus had just foreshadowed the Last Supper, the Holy Eucharist.  To follow him, he had said, we must eat his flesh and drink his blood (John 6:53-68). Those who were listening were “offended,” the scripture says. This was a hard teaching. After that time, many of the followers turned back and did not go with Jesus any longer. 

So Jesus looked at the 12 and asked them, “Do you want to go away also?” But Peter stepped up and spoke the words we cling to today: “Where else would we go, Lord? You [alone] have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

Where else are we going to go in this tough time? Where else but to God? Who else – what else – are we going to trust?

With the psalmist we say:
“To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust” (25: 1-2). 

In our distress, we petition God: 
Make your ways known to me;
Lead me in your truth;
Teach me your paths;
Don’t deal with me according to my sins;
Relieve the troubles of my heart
Be gracious to us. (from Psalm 25)

David knew hard times, some of which he brought on himself, some that came with the territory of being anointed by God. The great king did not escape the trials of being mortal. But always the psalmist knew where to turn – 
“My refuge and my fortress; 
my God, in whom I trust” (Psalm 91:2).

This week, when we can’t do anything else, or even if we can, read and pray with the psalmist and our ancestors in the faith, meditating on Psalm 25 and Psalm 91.

May God hold us all in God’s mighty hands. Be blessed, and bless others along the way. 

Repairing breaches – Bringing peace

Week four of Prepare the Way, the 2019 Advent study
from the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas.

 

Among the many names by which Isaiah describes the coming messiah, “Prince of Peace” fully resonates with us during the Christmas season.  Peacemaking, says Bishop Gary Lillibridge in this week’s lesson, includes repairing breaches. As we foster peace in our own families, communities, and nation, where might we be called to repair breaches?

Click here to read or listen to week 4 of Prepare the Way.