One of the many gifts of the Hebrew Scriptures are the expressions of lament which are given voice throughout. The Psalms record many of these — with cries of of “how long O Lord?”, “Why Lord?” … “when Lord?”
Note these words from Psalm 6:
“Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long? Turn, Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love. Among the dead no one proclaims your name. Who praises you from the grave? I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes.”
This Song of David, along with many other Psalms, provides us with examples of how the ancients prayed when trouble overwhelmed them. There is a brutal honesty here, creating a space to give voice to the pain and sorrow, and bought into the presence of God. Space for our dis-integrated selves be broken and poured out, laid bare before God.
What are your songs of lament? Do you find the stirrings of your soul in these Psalms of sorrow? Perhaps you hear your laments echoed in contemporary poetry or popular song. Perhaps you have been able to write your own poem loaded with honest, heartfelt emotion.
Last month as I sat down to pray I became aware of a deep sorrow and tiredness in my soul. I was reminded of a song I’d not heard for many years—as if it was singing within me. “Van Diemens Land” (sung by the Edge of U2) became my prayer of lament to God that day. And dwelling in that place the words and feelings became a prayer, integrating my whole self; and hope emerged amongst the sorrow and tiredness — I was not alone.
There are times when the wisest option is to say nothing. There are times when we can feel we don’t trust ourselves to say anything. There are times of silence because any expression of the current situation seems inadequate or insincere. There are times of silence because of sorrow. There are times of silence because there is nothing left to say. There are times of silence, because what has yet to be birthed is still being formed. There are times of silence when we wait.
The Patient Oak We marvel at a large old oak tree. We enjoy its twisted branches and complicated shapes. We gasp at its age. “Oaks of Righteousness” – says Isaiah and we hear cries of “yes” and “amen!” But our patience or lack thereof betrays us. We wait only as long as a shoot takes to grow, or a sapling. Weeds spring up quickly, Leylandii shoot up endlessly with little delay. But a well formed oak takes time.
Porous and permeable and mute
Annie Dillard writes this about the acorn in her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (an extended reflection on the nature situated near her home):
“Now the twin leaves of the seeding chestnut oak on the carvin’s cove path have dried, dropped, and blown; the acorn itself is shrunk and sere. But there sheath of the stem holds water and the white root still delicately sucks, porous and permeable and mute. The death of self of which the great writers speak is no violent act. It is merely the joining of the great rock heart of the world in its roll. It is merely the slow cessation of the wills’s sprints and the intellect’s chatter: it is waiting like a hollow bell with stilled tongue. Fuge, tace, quiesce.* The waiting itself is the thing.”
* — ‘fuge, tace, quiesce’ — ‘flee, be silent, rest’
Untitled (a poem)
I go to the garden
sit quietly on a park bench
an acorn rooting in soil
permeable and mute.
A poem inspired by a workshop where the attendees where encouraged to write seven two-word lines about an object in their everyday surroundings which holds a a sense of value beyond it monetary cost. This poem describes the first chair I would sit on each the morning, as I drink my first cup of tea.
I’m praying with eyes open today, as Peterson recommends (see ‘The Contemplative Pastor’). As I do so, I’m mulling over the psalmists concern to: “behold the beauty of the Lord and seek him in his temple.” Sacramental
Made of meat,
flesh on bone,
on soles of feet.
Dust and stone
my kith and kin
in this your temple,
And dwell among.
and over, above,
and through all,
drawing all with love.
Drawing all with love.
“… the whole world, as Hopkins lyricized, is charged with the grandeur of God; for the Christian social imaginary, the world is always more than it seems, without being less than it seems. It is characterised by a kind of enchantment.”
[James K A Smith – ‘Desiring the Kingdom’]
Awake my soul
The many shades of sky,
crystalline white, pale mauve,
a green, soft, light rests in
to the blue, aqua tones
found nowhere else in nature,
except on the back of
rare, warm water creatures.
Yet here I sit staring
out on a winters sky
at the mid point between
the equator and pole.
A frost bitten landscape
for the display of his
I am reminded this morning about the essential nature of being able to receive from God, in this way of life we have inherited from Jesus. We receive gifts of grace in the day, the wonder of nature, those around us and through ways which surprise us and catch us unawares (miracles). In all these ways God gives and even as we note this, we become aware that our very life is a gift and our ability to recognise this glorious grace is a gift. Of course there is much we can do; many ways we can participate in grace, but primarily we do this by recognising God as the source. And yet, Jesus also says, it is better to give than to receive. We needn’t be stagnant pools of dead water, but everything we receive from the Father can be shared beyond ourselves (for there is no need to horde, as if the source would run dry). In this way, as we receive and give, and give and receive. We enter into the flow of grace.
The wasp on my window,
Knowing the sky is there,
Though seen, not experienced.
Small sharp stabs of flight.
He could settle for this,
Call this reality, climbing
Up and down the pane,
A two dimensional life.
Near the top, a two inch bar
Of PVC between him
And the great wide open spaces
of the world. “Keep going”,
I whisper. A moments hesitation,
The option of risk then taken,
To leave his 2-D world, traveling
Over a PVC no-mans-land,
Then out — to freedom.
I wrote this poem as I reflected on Clint Eastwood’s excellent film ‘Grand Torino’. To those of you who’ve seen it this will hopefully make a lot of sense, to those of you who haven’t, I hope its poetic enough to meaningful in its own right. Just Like Clint (after Grand Torino)
I have no classic car, no Grand Torino,
But a dented, T-reg, Ford Mondeo.
I have no war wounds, I’ve killed no man,
But, still a past, a master plan.
No obvious prejudice so to speak,
‘Though malice lurks deep and renders me weak.
Pointed a finger, never a gun.
Raised a fist, but hit no one.
Seen the evil, done nothing about it.
Took a few words but never a bullet.
Knowledge of joy, but rarely known mourning,
A little of life, but nothing of dying.
The following is a poem by one of my favorite poets.
The Real Work
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings. Wendell Berry