Being part of a community of faith makes you realize the different trajectories of life and faith that are going on simultaneously. Sitting in one Sunday morning service you will have at one time: people whose lives are peaceful and restful and are present to the rightness of things, others who are experiencing deep tragedies and loss and who wonder where God is in the midst of it all – and probably are very angry with him at the same time, and even still others who are coming out of their own chaos and pain but who are re-experiencing the coherence of life and God one day at a time. These experiences are not always so neatly marked off from each other, due to the fact that in many ways we can live in all three of these areas at any one time. However, they do offer some clarification about seasons we experience in the life of faith. The Psalms match these varying trajectories quite well, leading one Old Testament scholar to even categorize three different strains in the Psalms that makes sense of these simultaneous realities in our lives.
There are Psalms of Orientation – (example: Psalm 65) we experience that everything is right in the world, God is at work restoring and providing for many and for ourselves; there is justice, there is color, essentially we see things coming together and being ordered well. In these Psalms we agree with the author that life is sweet, we are meant to enjoy it and to be satisfied by the God who has created such beauty and order. We are content and happy for it seems that God, others, and ourselves make sense at this time.
There are Psalms of Disorientation – (example: Psalm 88) our experience is that life is out of control, utterly chaotic. Justice is perverted, all appear guilty and God is noticeably absent. All we can see is the grayness that covers over everything, there is no hope for life to be better and we are in despair. We seek, we question, and we beg but there is no answer to the pain of life. We are tired and angry, and yet there is still no end to the pain. The previous life that seemed so sweet is given a bitterness as we experience loss, grief and death (can be both literal and metaphorical). The foundations we had built upon have crumbled and disappeared, life is a heap of ruin.
There are Psalms of Reorientation – (example: Psalm 22) this strain only occurs after a period of disorientation. One reality has died and in its place there is a new reality being born. It is a time where tragedy and comedy, pain and joy, loss and hope are intermixed. There is the pain of the loss of what we had previously hoped and longed for that has come to pass, but in its place is a new hope is born and a new way of life is being organized. This is a process of course, it rarely happens in an instance but is a journey that we take one step at a time. However, with each step forward we move into a path that is more straight and coherent, thus leading us to a deep hope and trust in the power and provision of God.
Note: these are not clean steps that we take and we always know which one we are in presently, often times these things will happen at the same time and we will be very confused in the process still. However, I believe articulating all of this gives just a little more clarity to our present situations, and it also gives us a language for how we approach and live into our faith. So often when we experience disorientation, we simply want to shut down and withdraw, but there is powerful and evocative language in scripture that can guide us and help us realize that we are (a) not alone in our suffering and that our tradition is filled with people just like us that have experienced the loss of their perceived reality, and (b) that we can pray to God in our anger and confusion and that God does not fear our questions and honest struggle.
Jesus himself prayed a prayer of reorientation when he echoed the author of Psalm 22 in saying “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. The beginning of this prayer is so disorienting and matches the feelings I am sure Christ had as he was on the cross. And yet, if you read the rest of the Psalm, there is a deep and abiding trust that the God who has seemed absent will save as he has done in the past. And that prayer is so pivotal for all of us during this season of Lent, we can easily sense in our own lives when we have felt this way. So let us be honest in our faith and in our prayers.
- Lord Jesus, lead us in prayer…
- Today I would encourage you to read Psalm 22 and to pray over it and make it more palatable for your life. Consider reading the Psalms throughout the rest of Lent, learn from the authors a deeper sense of faithful language.