Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On Asking the "Right" Question

Only that day dawns to which we are awake. - Thoreau, Walden 
Watch, for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning, lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. - Mark 13:35, 36 
When the Buddha started to wander around India shortly after his enlightenment, he encountered several men who recognized him to be a very extraordinary being. They asked him: "Are you a god?" "No," he replied. "Are you a reincarnation of god?" "No," he replied."Are you a wizard, then?" "No.""Well, are you a man?" "No." "So what are you?" They asked, being very perplexed.  Buddha simply replied: "I am awake."
For many years I worried about whether or not I was saved.  Now, I try to notice whether or not I am awake.  One day (one moment? eternity?), I will neither notice, nor be asleep.  

The good news: if Thoreau is right, I'm much younger than I appear!  

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Voice of One Crying in the Wilderness

Once again, Chris Hedges serves as a prophetic voice that we ignore at our peril. In a recent Truthdig commentary, Hedges called upon mainline churches, including Trinity Church, Wall Street, to be renewed by the Occupy Wall Street movement's embodiment of the values of the Beatitudes:

The Occupy movement is the force that will revitalize traditional Christianity in the United States or signal its moral, social and political irrelevance. The mainstream church, battered by declining numbers and a failure to defiantly condemn the crimes and cruelty of the corporate state, as well as a refusal to vigorously attack the charlatans of the Christian right, whose misuse of the Gospel to champion unfettered capitalism, bigotry and imperialism is heretical, has become a marginal force in the life of most Americans, especially the young. 

Is anybody listening?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Surprised into Gratitude

St. Dorothy’s Rest is one of our diocesan retreat centers.  It is a very special place with a variety of beautiful ministries, but perhaps the most unique of these is its medical camping programs for children.  Each summer, St. Dorothy’s hosts two such camps: one for children with cancer and another for children who have received organ transplants. 
You can imagine the grace and care shared among campers, counselors, nurses, and chaplains at these camps.  It is one of the few places in the lives of these children where they can truly relax and be themselves – where they can feel normal and be treated just like everybody else.  Our bishop, Marc Andrus, serves as chaplain at the camps.  He describes one morning gathering there in this way:
“Campers and counselors all standing in a circle, holding onto each other,  [were] asked . . .  to name one thing for which each of us is grateful. When two tiny boys, at different points in the circle said, "Scientists," my heart was pierced, but when perhaps the smallest child said, simply, "Life," I was not sure I could trust myself to walk, in all truth. To see so clearly, to say it with such simple honesty, at such a young age, tutored by loss and pain, and also by love - I was overwhelmed.”[1]
Brother David Steindl-Rast has written that the root of gratitude is the capacity to be surprised.[2]  The children at St. Dorothy’s were surprised to be alive.  They were surprised to be treated as human beings rather than as problems to be fixed or freaks to be avoided.  They were surprised by joy.  It is this capacity to be surprised, to take nothing for granted, that gave birth to their gratitude. 
When we are in touch with the truth that everything is gift: the air we breath, the water we drink, the blooming rose, the moonlight on the ocean, the food at our table - everything is gift - it is then that we wake-up to the wonder of it all and fall into gratitude. 
In pondering the ten lepers who were healed in today’s Gospel story, I can’t help but wonder if the one who returned to give thanks was the only one of the ten who was actually surprised by his healing.  Perhaps the other nine expected to be healed, even felt entitled to be healed. 
They were after all, Jews, following the normal process of going to the priests – who acted somewhat like public health officers – to verify their healing so that they could be reintegrated into normal society.  Their healing represented a reversion to the status quo; nothing special, so far as they were concerned.

The Samaritan, however, would remain an outcast among Jews, a second-class citizen, even after his leprosy was healed.  Thus for him, his healing was doubly amazing: why would Jesus, a Jewish teacher and healer, take any interest in him whatsoever?  His healing was a gift indeed, because it represented a double inclusion – a return to health but even more importantly, an invitation to community. 

It seems to me that there are two main barriers to gratitude.  The first is a sense of entitlement, the belief that we deserve or have earned all the blessings of life.  That is, of course, patently absurd.  We didn’t create the planet or even grow our own food, for that matter.  We depend upon the gratuity of the natural and social world for so much that we take for granted. 

Still, the illusion of independence remains and is related to the other barrier to gratitude: our fear of vulnerability.  To be grateful is to realize our dependence upon others, to acknowledge our need, and to be willing to accept our limitations.  There is risk involved in this, to be sure, but that is the nature of being alive.  All life is risk.  All the more reason to be surprised by how much God and other people hold us in love.  All the more reason to be grateful for the many blessings that come our way at the hand of others, many of them strangers whom we will never even meet.

The children, gathered around the circle at St. Dorothy’s, recognized their need and their limitations.  They were surprised to be alive and to be loved.  They were grateful for everything.  And so, like the Samaritan in our story, they turned back on the road to healing and said, “Thank you.” 

Our lives are a shared journey on the road to healing – the improbable, unimaginable, and unearned healing that God shares with us in Jesus, in the invitation to live forever in God’s deathless love.  From time to time, we turn back on the road and return to this Table so that we, too, might say “Thank you.”  It is the most important prayer, the one truly necessary prayer, that we will ever say.

Here we are in the world, alive. What a surprise!  In spite of our best efforts to wreak havoc in that world, to spend the gift as if we were entitled to more and more and more, or to hoard it with anxious, grasping fingers, still the Giver surprises us again and again.

In the sublime words of Gerard Manley Hopkins:

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
  It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
  It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
  And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
  And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
  There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
  Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
  World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.[3]

[1] The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus, “St. Dorothy’s Rest” at http://bishopmarc.com/.
[2] See chapter one of Brother David Stendl-Rast, Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer.
[3] “God’s Grandeur”

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Living in the Bay Area and serving congregations in San Francisco, I am well acquainted with the phenomenon of "Buddapalians" - Episcopalians who also engage with one of the varieties of Buddhist spiritual practice.  Living as we do at the western edge of the continental United States, which our President recently reminded us is a Pacific rim country, we can not helped but be touched by the wisdom of the "East."  Some people are called to experience interfaith dialogue, not only with people from other traditions, but among the traditions they have internalized within themselves.

What are we to make of this phenomenon?  Virginia Theological Seminary student Matthew Wright has written a short essay for the Shalem Institute that offers an interesting perspective.  It raises a number of questions for me: How do we discern whether or not we are called to the interspiritual path?  How might the Church support people in this discernment and practice?  Should we treated ordained and lay ministers differently in this regard?  I'm mindful of the bishop-elect who did not receive the necessary consents to be ordained and consecrated a bishop, in part, because of his Buddhist practice.

To date, the Church has tended to stick its head in the sand and avoid the reality of inspirituality, which will become increasingly common so long as the world continues on the path of globalization.  Thank you, Matthew, for inviting us to live into these questions.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats

In her book, The Rapture Exposed, Barbara Rossing provides a helpful analogy for understanding the nature of biblical prophecy.  Prophetic utterances, such as those in today’s readings from Ezekiel and Matthew, can be compared to Charles Dickens’ beloved classic, A Christmas Carol.  We all know the story: how Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three ghosts, who reveal to him the relationship between his past and present life, and the future he will experience if he continues on his current path of self-centered disregard for others. 

Now, if prophecy means accurately predicting the future, then the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come got it wrong.  Scrooge repented and dramatically changed the direction of his life, as well as the lives of Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim, and all the others.   Scrooge “woke up” to the reality of his existence and its implications for others, and chose to give life to those who had previously been victims of his selfish greed. 

The purpose of prophecy, then, is not to predict the future, but rather to illuminate the present.  It serves as a mirror in which we can truly see and judge ourselves here and now.  Prophecy is not the revelation of an unchangeable fate.  It is the gift of awareness that allows us to make choices about our lives, and to discern how well they conform to God’s dream for the world.

Like Dickens’ classic, biblical prophecy makes use of ghostly figures – mythological language rich in metaphor that vividly reveals the mysterious depths of meaning in our world.  These mythological narratives are not literally true.  They are “more true” than that, giving expression to life’s meaning and value in ways not readily discerned or described by prosaic, rational discourse. 

So when we read the parable of the sheep and the goats, it is important to let go of our tendency to understand it as a literal description of a future event.  That would be wide of the mark.  In fact, we would do better to allow the parable to “read us,” to bring to light the reality of our lives.  The parable is not a factual description of a future Judgment Day, but rather the revelation of the criteria by which we are to judge ourselves, today and every day. 

In this sense, the parable of the sheep and goats is a wonderful gift, for it helps us to know the best way to live, how to be life giving in our choices and actions.  What, on the face of it, appears as a threatening apocalyptic vision, actually undoes our fear-filled ways of imagining the world from the inside, out.  It uses the language of our violent world to subvert that very violence, and to recall us to our divine origin and destiny.

The first thing to notice about the parable is who is being judged.  It is the nations, ta ethne – the peoples of the world, who are being judged.  “This parable is about how communities have treated their victims.  It does not so much refer to individual judgment as it does to corporate judgment.”[1] 

This is important to underscore at the very beginning, because we tend to think of our life as an individual, self-made project.  But the Gospel again and again calls us to examine our life’s meaning in terms of the kind of communities with which we identify and the values they embody.  The biblical view of “salvation” is not only the promise of a blessed afterlife, but also the promise of a certain quality of life shaped by the nexus of interdependent relationships that constitute our identity.  We are saved together, or not at all. 

The question is not so much, “Am I a good person?” as it is, “Are we building the beloved community?”  That is to say, my personal “goodness” is a function of the kind of community we are creating together.   Which is another way of saying that the criterion for judgment is the extent to which preoccupation with my status, my reputation, my security takes a back seat to the common good.  This is true humility: being so concerned with our collective well being that self-centeredness drains away; not because I am worthless or unimportant, but rather because the meaning and value of my life can only be discovered in community.

In this parable, however, the common good is understood in a certain way.  As James Alison points out, “the judgment is defined not in terms of belonging to this or that group, or believing this or that dogma.  The judgment is presented in terms of the human relationships towards victims.  Those who hunger, thirst, are naked, sick, or imprisoned.  Those who have understood, whether or not they know anything about Jesus, are those who have seen their way out of the self-deception of the world which is blind to its victims, and have reached out to help them.”[2]

How we respond to victims in our community is a daily choice that provides the basis for judging every level of our collective life.  The parable is an invitation to adopt a spiritual and ethical posture that opens us to recognize the needs of the vulnerable, the broken, the disposable people of our world, and to respond with compassion.  The truth of the myth has to be lived.  It is not a proposition to be believed, but rather a program of action that transforms lives and communities.

This is illustrated beautifully by the response of Fr. John Lasseigne to the home foreclosure crisis in his community.  Fr. John is the pastor of Mary Immaculate Church in Pacoima, a working class city in the San Fernando Valley whose 60,000 residents are 90% Latino.  When he arrived there in 2008, he quickly began to encounter family after family who came to him privately in great grief and bewilderment because they were losing their home. 

Fr. John began to wonder if these were just isolated cases.  One in nine homes there were in default; we are talking about thousands of foreclosures devastating an entire community.  What was going on?

Now, it just so happened that Fr. John graduated from law school before becoming a priest, and he knew how to read contracts.  He delved into the fine print of hundreds of mortgage agreements, and discovered that “the financial entrapment that was part of this was unbelievable.”  Many of his parishioners are working immigrants with little education and language barriers, who did not understand what the banks were selling them.  They were lured into risky subprime mortgages and over-priced homes.  It only took a job layoff or a dramatic medical expense to throw the family into foreclosure – and homelessness. 

Teaming up with ONE-LA, a community organizing group, and Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, Fr. John lobbied congressmen, city councilmen and bank executives for laws, community redevelopment funds, and loan reduction agreements.  The result was a pilot program to write-down mortgages for 30 homeowners.  The bank makes more money than it would by selling the foreclosed home, the city preserves its property tax base and avoids further stress on inadequate social services, and families keep their homes. 

Such action – collective commitment to the common good – slowly, patiently builds toward the realization of the kingdom of God.  It seems to me that the Occupy Wall Street movement, however much one may disagree with this or that tactic, has basically recovered the deeply biblical idea that collective greed and unjust inequality tears at the fabric of the common good, and renders the victims of injustice invisible.  At its best this Movement, like the parable, is about how communities have treated their victims, and so asks us to consider what kind of community we want to be.

Yet, I am mindful of Wendell Berry’s warning that movements too readily lapse into self-righteousness and self-betrayal.[3]  The parable of the goats and sheep also works to subvert a too-easy assumption that our movement is the sheep while those other guys are the goats.  As a mythic mirror reflecting reality as-it-is-now to us, the parable has a disturbing realism about it.  If we look deeply into it’s meaning, we see that it reminds us that we quickly forget by whom we are judged.

It is Jesus the Victim who is our judge, the victim raised up by God; but Jesus is vindicated by God as the Forgiving Victim.  His resurrection always takes the form of forgiveness.  It is the end of victimization, whereas the Judge as King of the parable re-inscribes victimization on a cosmic and eternal level.  There is a terrible irony in our celebration of Christ as King – if by Kingship we mean one whose presence with us takes the form of condemnation.   As soon as we forget by whom we are judged, we become goats ourselves and perpetuate the cycle of violent exclusion that undermines the common good.

Each time we make a new scapegoat, a new victim to condemn and cast out – whether activists or bankers – we reveal the extent to which we are not sheep at all.  The true sheep at the cosmic judgment will plead mercy for the goats – all of them.  And so it must be for us in the judgment that shapes our daily lives.  Fr. John Lasseigne is a model for us because he seeks to bring the activists and the bankers and the politicians together at the same table, refusing to consign anyone to outer darkness.  That is the hard work of reconciliation that secures the common good. 

This doesn’t mean we must forego accountability to one another, or responsibility for our actions and their consequences.  It does mean that, if it is our making of victims that judges us, it is only the Forgiving Victim who can set us free to receive the kingdom of God in the midst of our divisions.  The true sheep pray, and pray fervently, for the salvation of the goats on the Last Day and everyday. 

[1] http://www.preachingpeace.org/lectionaries/yeara-lastpentecost/#Ghist
[2] James Alison, Knowing Jesus, pp. 42-45.
[3] Wendell Berry, “In Distrust of Movements” at http://thegreenhorns.wordpress.com/essays/essay-in-distrust-of-movements-by-wendell-berry/

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Master's Joy

This morning I want to tell you about one of the happiest people I know.  His name is Nick.  Nick is an elderly legal immigrant.  English is not his first language, though he has mastered it well enough after being in this country for several decades now.  He lives in a very small studio apartment for indigent seniors operated by Episcopal Community Services. 

For many years, Nick was an active alcoholic.  He couldn’t keep a job.  He lost his home and lived with friends until they couldn’t put up with him anymore.  Eventually, he made his home on the streets of San Francisco. 

Throughout this time, he stayed connected with the Episcopal Church.  Eventually, he hit bottom and with the help of a social worker, entered a treatment program for seniors and began to recover with the help of AA.  Although he is sober, Nick suffers from severe heart disease and is disabled.  He lives on less than $800 per month.  He has spent a significant part of his adult life as an outcast existing on the margins of society.

Despite all this, Nick is about as free from resentment or shame as anybody can be.  He is grateful for his life – all of it – and in response to all he has received happily volunteers his time serving at his Episcopal parish, advocating for affordable housing, and helping other alcoholics to get sober.  He continues to spend a lot of time on the margins with other outcasts.  Yet, to borrow a phrase from the parable we heard today, Nick has “entered into the joy of his master.” 

For me, Nick is a living example of the interpretive key to the parable of the talents.  His story serves as a counter-example to the ways in which we normally understand joy as defined by the masters of our world.  Like Jesus’ parable, Nick challenges us to question the joy on offer by those masters. 

Most masters, like the master in the parable of the talents, would have us believe that the key to success and happiness is accumulating wealth – a lot of wealth – by whatever means necessary.   We are taught to emulate those who have made it to the top of the economic heap, encouraged to desire and acquire the toys that mark their success.  If we can be like them, then we will be happy.  We will enter into the master’s joy.

But take a closer look at the behavior of the master in this parable.  He is an absentee landlord whose wealth has been accumulated on the backs of slaves.  He takes the money earned by the labor of others and then invests it to make more money.  The slaves in the parable are each given a certain amount of money to invest on behalf of the master, based on their ability.  This is meritocracy at work: rewarding the deserving poor. 

The word translated as “talent” does not mean an innate or learned skill, something a person is particularly good at doing.  “Talent” used here means a unit of money, and a large one at that: the equivalent of what a common laborer would have earned over the course of about 15 years.  This is not a story about using our abilities to become the best we can be; it is a story about the way in which some people benefit from the accumulation and deployment of enormous amounts of money while others suffer. 

The punch line of the parable, “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away” could well be translated “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”  So, joy here is defined by the willingness of the first two slaves to follow their master’s example by promoting their master’s self-interest. 

Notice, however, what happens to the third slave.  He recognizes that the master is a harsh man who exploits others, “reaping where he did not so and gathering where he did not scatter.”  He refuses to disobey the biblical prohibition of lending money at interest, much less engaging in risky speculative investments, and so hides the money.  He resists the temptation to desire and accumulate as the master desires.

His resistance comes at a great cost.  He is made to be a victim and outcast, thrown into outer darkness.  That, we are told, is what happens to those who don’t play by the rules.  So, you better accumulate as much wealth as possible or you, too, will be miserable.

Now, are we to believe that this is what the kingdom of heaven is like?  Is God or Jesus to be identified with the master of the parable?  Which of the slaves are we supposed to emulate?

Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, we hear Jesus declare that “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.”  (Matthew 11:12)  Jesus tells this parable in answer to the disciples’ question about the signs of Jesus’ presence at the end of the age.   How are we to recognize Jesus’ presence, the presence of God’s kingdom, even as it is suffering the assaults of the violent?  How are we to live under the sign of the Cross that reveals the violent lie of the masters of this world so that we can discover true joy?

Jesus offers this parable as an illustration of what it looks like when the kingdom of heaven suffers violence.  We are invited, I think, not to emulate the master, but rather the slave who is willing to identify with outcasts living on the margins.  Contrary to the insistent messages of the masters, true joy is found there; the joy of our master, Jesus.

Which brings me back to my friend, Nick.  Nick, for all his imperfection and brokenness, has resisted the messages of the masters.  He has seen through the lie that wealth brings happiness, and so has attained an authentic joy rooted in the freedom to choose compassion over competition.   His example is the same as that of Christian saints throughout the ages, from St. Francis and St. Clare to Dorothy Day and Father Zach, an Episcopal missionary in Kenya, who was with us a couple of weeks ago.  True joy is found in humble service with the poor, the sick, the least and the last.

This may seem counter-intuitive, because we have so deeply internalized the messages of the masters.  We expend an enormous amount of physical and psychic energy to acquire more and more money, and yet the fact is that once people move beyond the condition of abject poverty there is no correlation between wealth and happiness whatsoever.  

In a typical survey people [were] asked to rank their sense of well-being or happiness on a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 means 'not at all satisfied with my life' and 7 means 'completely satisfied.' Of the American multimillionaires who responded, the average happiness score was 5.8. Homeless people in Calcutta came in at 2.9.  But before you assume that money does buy happiness after all, consider who else rated themselves around 5.8: the Inuit of northern Greenland, who do not exactly lead a life of luxury, and the cattle-herding Masai of Kenya, whose dung huts have no electricity or running water. And proving [the] point about money buying happiness only when it lifts you out of abject poverty, slum dwellers in Calcutta—one economic rung above the homeless—rate themselves at 4.6.”[i]

Bill McKibben points out that those Calcutta slum dwellers are basically as satisfied with their lives as a sample of college students drawn from 47 countries.  In fact, the level of life satisfaction varies dizzyingly among various groups cross-culturally once people surpass about $10,000 in per capita income annually.  Below that point, there is indeed a correlation between wealth and happiness.  Beyond that point the correlation disappears.  More doesn’t make us happier.[ii]

The master’s joy is found elsewhere: in our shared commitment to the common good.  That should come as very good news to those of us who are rich – and that includes most of us in this room by any reasonable standard of comparison with the peoples of the world.   We may hear this teaching as a threat, as a word of judgment.  But we may also hear it as an invitation to relax, to let go of the worry that there isn’t enough that so often lurks just below the surface of our lives, and as an opportunity to discover our common humanity in the faces of the poor.

Rather than imitate the desire of the masters who would have us exhaust ourselves on a never-ending treadmill of economic anxiety, we are invited to imitate the desire of our Master, Jesus, who sets us free from self-preoccupation so that we can discover the joy of compassionate service in community. The only way that money can contribute to authentic joy is in giving it away and investing it sustainably for the common good.  It is the joy of this mutual self-giving that is the sign of Jesus’ presence in a world in which the kingdom of heaven suffers violence.

[i] “Why Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness,” Newsweek Magazine, http://www.newsweek.com/id/43884/page/1.
[ii] Bill McKibben, Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, pp. 41-42.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Language of Lament

Loss and grief are part of the human condition.  They are unavoidable experiences.  How do we respond to them as people of faith? 

The Bible acknowledges the reality of pain and suffering.  It is not denied or treated as an illusion.  Neither is it explained (at least, not to my satisfaction!).  It just is.  Religion is about what we do with our suffering: how we integrate our experiences of loss within a larger affirmation of life and love. 

Grieving is a spiritual practice that we work at and that works on us, opening us to the possibility that we can give voice to our loss, without giving it the final word.  It is literally heart breaking work that opens us to a deeper encounter with the divine compassion in which all things are held. This is why Jesus has the audacity to say, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”[1]

Commenting on this difficult teaching, Cynthia Bourgeault writes that

“When we mourn . . . we are in state of free-fall, our heart reaching out toward what we have seemingly lost but cannot help loving anyway . . . Mourning is indeed a brutal form of emptiness.  But in this emptiness, if we can remain open, we discover that a mysterious ‘something’ does indeed reach back to comfort us; the tendrils of our grief trailing out into the unknown become intertwined in a greater love that holds all things together.  To mourn is to touch directly the substance of divine compassion.  And just as ice must melt before it can flow, we, too, must become liquid before we can flow into the larger mind.  Tears have been a classic way of doing this.”[2] 

Staying open in the midst of grief, what the psalms refer to as being in the “pit,” is not easy.  The temptation in the pit is to become silent, to close in on ourselves and cut ourselves off from the very connections that can sustain us in the darkness.  There is a saying of the rabbis recorded in the Talmud:  “The deeper the sorrow the less tongue it has.” 

The biblical language of lament that we find in the psalms help us give voice to the unspeakable, and thereby reconnect us with God and with one another. About one-third of the psalms are songs of lament.[3] They reflect the disorientation we feel when things fall apart.  They honestly and poignantly express the feelings of abandonment, isolation, confusion, doubt, and anger that we experience in the “pit.”  Here, at the very heart of the biblical tradition, the psalms allow us to acknowledge the reality of loss and pain before God and one another.

By giving “tongue” to our sorrow, the lament psalms validate and normalize the difficult and sometimes overwhelming feelings that accompany the grief process.  Lament psalms are communal hymns that reduce our sense of isolation and place us in the very human company of all who suffer loss.  They invite us to listen to the anguish of another without judgment or explanations.  They keep us open to the possibility that in the midst of despair, the tendrils of our grief eventually will become intertwined with the divine compassion.

We need the language of lament, even if it seems scandalous.  As William Parker notes,

“We may even be uncomfortable with these prayers.  Yet they are the collective prayers of a people in pain.  They are not magical, however; praying these psalms will not make everything better.  But unless they are spoken, we run the risk of trivializing our relationship with God.  The language of the lament calls upon God by name and expects a response.  It takes a great faith to be so candid.”

“It would be simplistic to suppose that once the lament has been prayed the person’s complaint was immediately answered and life was restored.  We do not know how may weeks, months, or even years passed before the psalmist could utter those words of thanks signaling the end of the lament.  But concluding with a prayer of thanksgiving reflects our faith that God will rescue us and brings us up from the depths.”[4]

Grief is an invitation into the mystery of death and resurrection.  The death of those we love  – as well as other kinds of loss – occasions a dying within us.  As we grieve, we are simultaneously nurturing the coming to life of a new sense of self and of God.  We do not know when that resurrection life will be born.  Its development is often hidden from us.  In the meantime, while darkness seems to be our only friend, we offer our lament to God, we try to stay open, and we wait together. 

[1] Matthew 5:4
[2] Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus, p. 43
[3] Psalms 13, 22, 42, and 88 are good examples.
[4] William Parker, “Psalms of Orientation, Disorientation, and Reorientation”