Finding Life: Summer 2020
Meditation on Psalm 13
Jun 28, 2020
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Today’s spiritual exercise called “Trail Marker” is HERE.
13:1 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
13:2 How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
13:3 Consider and answer me, O LORD my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
13:4 and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
13:5 But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
13:6 I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.
Loving and Gracious God, We step into this worship from many different places. Some of us come seeking joy and comfort. Some of us come tired looking for some answer or sign of hope, some of us, would you draw us near to we’re not even sure why we logged on or keep coming back to you. No matter where we’re coming from, you and your steadfast love. Would you make evident to us the power of your love, and convince us, that your love is stronger than anything we might face. we pray, in Jesus Name Amen.
I love that the Psalms are filled with words of prayer from ages ago, But the Bible, is not only the ideal example or a how to book, they are stories of complex people, giving us examples of various journeys of faith that one may embark on. in complicated situations, that display ebbs and flow of many journeys folks have taken over the ages, in their relationship with themselves, their world, and their God. In fact, we shouldn’t just accept the Bible as authority but as a community. Let me say that again. We shouldn’t just accept the Bible as an authority but as community or communities, witnesses, testimonies, as there are many different voices and perspectives, diversity within the Bible. Some claim the Bible as an authority. The Bible is powerful. It’s helpful. It is convincing and a good wise library of stories to journey alongside with. But Bible as authority, as a sole or most important aspect of the Bible is obsession with authority and thereby submission. Our preoccupation with hierarchy must stop.
Any time we engage the Bible it has to start here. What is the Bible and how do we read it?Like checking who the letter is from before we read the contents, we have to first reconcile a few things about the Bible, before we can get to the good stuff It’s the first thing we have to deal with and address. . So stay with me as I try to take you through that a bit before we get to the meat of the text. First, let me set the context through translation of the original text and touch on the historical context of its time, and then talk about what we can learn from this prayer.
So, verse 1. How long oh LORD? Right off the bat, the original word is not LORD. Lord connotes hierarchy, like yes my Lord, to someone who oversees you, or Lord over you. The original word that’s often translated into English as capital LORD, is actually YHWH, a word the Jewish people don’t actually utter out loud because it is too holy. It actually didn’t even have vowels, and the consonants are all breath consonants, YHWH. The language is so ancient no one is exactly sure how you’re supposed to pronounce it.Maybe, God’s name sounds more like, a deep sigh. Instead, in its place, the Jewish people say, Adonai, which does mean Lord, which is why we translate it LORD. I’m sure you might’ve heard me share this before in a sermon, because knowing the background and context of what we’re basing so much of our time and energy and religion on is so important. What is the name of this God we’re even talking about? If you don’t know the history and know how to capture it properly, then you’re probably not doing it justice. SSo this is me doing Bible justice. ome call it the work of decolonizing, as colonial terms, like Lord, have too often tainted the deeper, richer, broader meaning of seeing God as more a Lord, but one who is also as close and intimate to us as our own breath. God doesn’t just watch over us. God is with us and in us. Emmanuel – a name that Jesus showed us, by the way.
Okay, that’s verse 1. LORD pops up again in verse 3, but every time you see LORD, don’t think of a guy on a horse with a cape and a sword and a shield, I mean sometimes you can but diversify your image of God, sometimes try thinking your breath within you, always coming in and going out, always present, take a deep breath and imagine God’s presence filling you up.
Okay, verse 4. “and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed””
The version we read today is NRSV, which often takes the pronouns into consideration and if it isn’t specific to a certain person and is talking about man, as in human kind or a human being in general, they try to make it gender neutral. Which is what most seminaries use, although as my Old Testament professor would say, NIV is more “accurate” because it doesn’t change the pronoun and translates it to something more like, “and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and yes that’s what the original text said and most translation have something along those line but, NRSV gets it closer to what it was trying to mean for us today.
Maybe this doesn’t matter to you, but the experiences of a person for most of history has been in the perspective of a man.It is more difficult for those who don’t identify as male to relate. It’s actually been used to say that see women didn’t pray, because you only had records of men praying. So you wanna smash patriarchy? It starts with very small things like this, a little word like “he” that dominates and captures the imagination of so many religious experiences and stories like this prayer. They don’t mean “he”. They mean one, one who has experienced enemies prevailing against them and being left with nothing they can do or say.
So whenever you see something like, “therefore man will never….”something something some lessons for humankind…” think, human beings, or human kind. And if it says he, think they or she, whatever pronoun you’re comfortable with.
With that I’m going to go on another, what may seem like a tangent, sorry, but it totally relates. These languages and words we are critically thinking about as we read the Bible, to consider gender and sexuality, that weren’t a thing in times of deep patriarchy, that we’re trying to turn and unearth and change, we need to be doing that with our own words now. Last year, I said in a sermon, “You are God’s beloved son. You are God’s beloved daughter. God loves you.” Good message right?! Well, a person gave me feedback afterwards, to remember those who might not identify as a son or daughter, and would be more inclusive to add, “You are God’s beloved child.” And I was like, oh! So, now I try to, in my sermons or even in prayers, not just talk about the sisters and brothers gathered here, but broadening my vocabulary to be inclusive and say siblings. It’s not a huge fix, but it could mean less exclusion to people. Let’s help each other, without judgement cause some folks really don’t know this whole world of pronouns but we can pastorally, with Jesus-spirit offer invitation to the world of pronouns right? Gender has been a great source of oppression and exclusion. God is the Lord our God who brought God’s people out of Egypt. One who liberated. If we can do the work of liberation through how we name people, her, him, them, then we can at least try in community.
On that note, I’ll skip to verse 6. It says, “I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” We’ve discussed at Reservoir the gender of God not being particularly male, so I won’t belabor the point. Seeing God solely as a male misses out on so many fuller characters and extensions of God. Reinforcing “he” language on God pays a big price. Especially to little girls, thinking only men or boys can be close to God or be anointed by God. Or bring questions like, how am I made in the image of God if God is male. So, just another reminder that, verse 6 is saying, God has dealt bountifully with me, and not sourcing the act of bounty only to a male figure.
Whew, okay we did some decolonizing the language, the culture, the context, and smashed the patriarchy of ancient wordings and expressions. You’re probably like, HOW LONG oh Lord, will Lydia go on about this stuff? Now we can get to the meat.
How long, indeed. A deep visceral cry of lament, that’s more of a rhetorical question than an actual timeline needed. It gets to the agony, the helplessness of this psalmist’s state of suffering.
And yet, even within the suffering, the psalmist has an object of affection. Their, (it was probably a he but i’m using they pronoun) grief is not lost in a void but they are able to direct their emotion, anger, and lament to someone, a being, a God, that they can express raw feelings to. One whom they trust and lean on, as they say later in the prayer. But at the beginning of the prayer, they’re filled with question after question. This prayer shows us that no matter how big or dire our questions are, there is one who we can hurl ourselves to. Our sufferings are not left to our own loneliness in it but just as this psalmist prayed, we also can pray, even when we’re not sure if God’s even listening, even if we’re so angry
Verse 3 hits on such a depth of despair that almost doesn’t seem like the right things we should be saying in a prayer.” Consider and answer me, O LORD my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,” Demanding. Threatening. This is in the Bible as an example of faith?No, these prayers are not just examples, like I said earlier, but they are a consolation. They are in solidarity with those who are suffering. They are here for those who are experiencing such frustration with God that makes demands on God. They are for those who have been to the depths of suffering down to thoughts of death. If you haven’t been there, you don’t know. But if you have, this is a balm to your soul. It’s not a golden prayer high on display, but rather intimate, even hidden or embarrassing moments of darkness one may experience. And I love that such “not so right way to pray” is included in the Bible. Cause I’ve prayed some heretical, inappropriate, not in my right mind prayers to God and wondered if I’ll be struck with lightning right then and there. No. It’s okay to pray like this, the psalms show us.
This prayer also shows us various facets of one’s experience that faces suffering in all the different angles. It’s uncertain what the suffering is but it’s complicated and involves not one particular thing, but multiple folds. Suffering comes from God who does not listen or answer. “How long will you hide your face from me?” Suffering comes from within for they cannot turn off their minds and get any peace. “How can I bear this sorrow all day long?” And Suffering comes externally, “my enemies have prevailed.” They are in a theological, personal, and social predicaments. Have you experienced that? Making rounds to all those we can blame–God, ourselves, others. It doesn’t reveal who is actually at fault. That’s not important. It just is. Problems are complex. Where the trouble comes from is all sides. It’s hard to decipher exactly who is responsible and what to do. It just hurts everywhere.
Lastly, verse 5 and 6, it turns. And it doesn’t mean that this is how prayers should always end, on a good note. There are psalms that end abruptly without a resolution, and plenty of good songs that end without a resolution chord. So what does this turn mean?
It could be an example of how we can turn our minds from things of our current suffering to the past remembrance of God’s faithfulness. It could be a spiritual tool of one who has dealt with suffering some and knows the power of coupling our grief with gratitude. It could be a picture of a gift that comes unexpectedly while you’re praying. It seemed like they were so lacking in the beginning of the prayer and all of sudden they remember how bountiful God has dealth with them. How could that be? Or maybe it’s a protest. A protest against all that is evil and wrong. A dumbfounding ray of hope in unexpected places. Maybe the audacity to be both, to hold, “how long oh Lord?” and “you have dealt bountifully with me” in both of our hands, is the call of prayer that this psalmist needed in their life. May we have the faith to say both, in prayer and in petition, in grief and in gratitude, in life and in death, to God. Let me pray for us.
Jesus I pray that just as you faced both death and resurrection, that you give us the courage to face both. Help us to lift our hands in weakness and receive the power of your abundant love again and again. Hear us oh holy one. May those who sow weeping, go out in songs of joy. Amen.