In my post last weekend I chose to spend five minutes each morning last week with a cup of coffee and Psalm 42. Since I’m not preaching today and don’t have a sermon to share, I thought I might reflect on the week’s intention with scripture. Whatever else I was doing in practicing morning prayer or starting up each day, I was sure to refresh my coffee, set a five minute timer on my watch and open up to Psalm 42 to read and meditate a bit. It’s a familiar and beloved Psalm, especially if you grew up as I did in church circles singing some version of As The Deer.
Psalm 42 is a song of lament, that means it’s essentially a song about being upset that something is missing. In Psalm 42 the singer is missing their past closeness to God and the peace that comes with God’s presence. I’ve used and enjoyed several different translations during the week, but by far I’ve most loved the wording from the New Living Translation. It renders the opening line of verse 4 as “My heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be…” That line has really resonated with me, the sentiment of remembering better, or at least good, times.
We can all relate with that sentiment in some way, can’t we? Whether remembering all that we took for granted before the COVID pandemic, or times when our younger bodies had more energy and fewer aches and pains, or a time gone by when our spirituality was easier, richer and more satisfying: we get it. When today gets difficult, memories of yesterday can be a comfort. The psalmist has obviously fallen into some hard times, but there’s some peace and comfort in looking backward and remembering the good days of joy and praise.
The psalmist also looks forward using a refrain which occurs twice in Psalm 42, in verses 5 and 11, and even again in Psalm 43, verse 5: “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again – my Savior and my God!” The NRSVue translation reads this way: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.”
Strength in the Struggle
The sentiment is clear, we have strength in the struggle remembering what we have experienced of God to be true and looking ahead in faith and hope. Our faith and our scriptures don’t deny that we will have struggles or ever promise to eliminate all the struggles. Our faith doesn’t judge us for struggling. We all have times when our souls are heavy with grief, anxiety or fatigue, times even when breathing seems a chore. Looking back to remember the good times can be a source of strength for the moment and a way to frame the way we look forward, hopefully looking to the day when the good times will return and we will again hear the music and sing the songs.
Are we in a time of lament, today? What was a good time? What was it like and how did it feel? Those times will come again, and God has never left. We can rest in the memories and faithfully hope that good times are coming again. God’s love has never ended, faded or been stolen; God’s love is our anchor in the storm and energy when it’s time again to dance.
Be blessed, Rev. Todd
With a new year just around the corner many of us are thinking about the intentions we would carry forward, the regrets we’d leave behind and the treasures we would maintain. Of course the date doesn’t matter that much, but it’s always a welcome gift to be in a liminal moment, a place of change and even renewal, when our hearts and minds are bent naturally to reflect and to dream.
One year closes and another opens. What will my new year bring? What will I bring to the new year? As people of faith we believe that God goes with us, and that God knows what awaits us… but we also know all too well that our faith is not in what we see but in what we hope. As much as God might know, we do not. This is the essence of hope. This is why we take such tight hold on these times to reflect and to dream. Hope is this intersection of what is not known and what is known. We recognize that the coming year has so much we cannot yet see, but also that God walks beside us, going before us, and coming after. Days of lightness and days of darkness are the same, rain and shine both speak of God’s presence, for in Christ all matter has been sung the song of love.
Still, to stand and look across the divide from one year to the next is exciting. I look back and see that I have too often neglected prayer. I have too often neglected to study. I have too often neglected to love. I see also that God has both ministered to me through the many and various people in my life, and God has ministered to them through me. God’s will is done regardless of my prayer, but I would have eyes wide open and be awake to see as much as I can. So I look out at the coming year and I pray: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Perhaps the deepest blessing of a past year in which I did not see myself doing all that I should have done is seeing all that was done in spite of me, and in spite of any of my failing, and just beyond it to see God’s smile. To be reminded that almost there is sometimes exactly the place where I was going to be regardless of my effort or my intention. Almost there was the place I needed to be. Almost there was there all along. This is the root of hope for a new year, and all the intentions I may place within it. I do not hope for a better year, but for the year that is needed, for me, for those I love, for all in this hurting world of conflict and hatred.
I intend so much for this new year. No doubt in twelve months I will look back with some regrets. No worries. As long as God is there, the rain and shine, the darkness and light, the ups and downs of my year will be just fine. Deus in adjutorium meum intende.
We are finally here… it’s crunch time. Today we’ll be wrapping up our General Election for the President of the United States. Millions have voted early, and we’ll be joined by millions more. Please take a deep breath and stand back for a moment; no matter who wins we will all be here on Wednesday, and the day after that, and the day after that.
Scripture has so much less to say about who we cast a vote for (as in none, no scripture at all) than about who we are going to be regardless of who is our President. Of course it matters who is the next President of our country, but I only control my one vote, not the election. There are many things in scripture to shape my personal values which should affect my vote, but we must admit that scripture primarily directly speaks to my submission to civil authority. Who I am, what I say and how I impact the world, is up to me. That’s the constant in my life, not the person holding our highest elected office. My own life, words and actions, are the responsibility I personally carry as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
I can only guess how either candidate will make it easier or more difficult for me to actively express my faith in God and my discipleship to Jesus Christ. Wait. Let me rephrase that… neither candidate will have any impact on my ability or responsibility to actively express my faith in God and my discipleship to Jesus Christ. And certainly as a Christian, I will be working as hard and as loud as I can to be sure that no one else faces any threat to their religious freedoms be they Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh or atheist, etc. For even though a person’s convictions and faith belong solely to the individual, we must safeguard everyone’s right and to openly and safely be themselves. No matter who is in that highest office we will be our brothers’ keepers, and our sisters’ keepers. We will continue to stand with sexual miniorities who may be denied their civil rights and we will work to help and welcome the globe’s most vulnerable populations in their own countries and when they are forced abroad seeking refuge. None of this changes, regardless of the election’s outcome. Stop thinking of the election as an end or a solution… it is simply one step, forward or backward, in the sojourn of a little slice of our species.
Do yourself a favor and after today’s election, take a deep breath and stop the uncivil and angry dialogue. Drop the anger and the fear. Stop believing every unfounded accusation and spin job. Neither candidate will enter office unscathed by this past year, and neither needs to enter office amid this continuing storm of uncivil mud slinging and promised reprisals. Hold them accountable fairly and unceasingly. We will each be part of the process of helping whomever is elected, and our whole country, move forward. And in four more years we’ll do it all again, a little worse or better for the journey. And in the meantime we’ll all keep working hard for the values and goals we most cherish.
We’ll pray and we will be our neighbor’s servant. This is our calling. Not power. Not domination. Not nation building. Serving, and not being served. And peace will be our legacy and our inheritance.
“O Lord our Governor, bless the leaders of our land,
that we may be a people at peace among ourselves
and a blessing to other nations of the earth.”
Book of Common Prayer, Page 821
Oct. 7 ~ Civility allows for the “benefit of the doubt,” a response of hope. #civility
*I know it’s getting hard to be hopeful, but we can do it!
Civility has everything to do with hope, and giving the benefit of the doubt is often the first seed of hope that is sown in disagreement. When you give the benefit of the doubt you assume that the other person is not evil or irredeemable, even as they speak a position or opinion that is antithetical to your own.
When you do this you allow for many things to happen… you allow for them to nuance the things they have said. You allow them to keep speaking so that you might better understand them. You allow them to be a “work in progress.” And if we are serious about communication, then we recognize the progress needed by all of us.
Giving the benefit of the doubt also keeps the judgmental expressions off our faces. It keeps us from simply walking away. It keeps us from shutting down and giving up hope, and hope can be contagious. If we keep our hope alive, it just might spread and grow.
still grey skies
mock the storm in my soul
as a sacred unease
rises, shifts and rolls
i cannot name the thing
which inside me grows
This often happens when I sit to intentionally write some poetry. A still, quiet moment allows me to hear some of my more painful inner movements that are drowned out in the usual activity of the day. It’s not that I’m totally filled with melancholy, but it’s there.
In recent months I’ve been in several different situations discussing the impact of depression on our lives and those conversations have had me thinking. I have lived with the ebb and flow of depression as long as I can remember. I don’t think it’s ever outright owned me, but it’s been there. I’ve learned to watch the seasons and to be aware of their impact on my moods. I’ve learned to listen to the people who love me and live with me; Teresa will let me know when I seem to be letting it get an upper hand.
I’ve been thinking about some of the ways that being a person of faith has impacted the way I deal with my depression and darker moods. I think that growing up with a “seen and unseen” worldview has been helpful for me. I was raised to put my faith in something beyond my senses, beyond my ability to perceive, as I could perceive other things. So when the dark thoughts come and I perceive no hope, I have this reflex to look past it and try to see what may not be seen.
I have a cognitive trigger built into me that causes me to seek. When I seek I am in movement. When I am in movement I cannot be held in the grip of anxiety, fear or hopelessness for too long. So when I am in the grip of depression, it never holds all of me, there is a bit of me still free to roam.
I’m not saying that this idea is a panacea or a magic cure all of some kind. And there will always be times when our imbalanced physiology demands the help of trained professionals, both for counseling and for medication. When I stop seeking, then I think it will be time for me to see a professional.
But having that safety valve built into me allows me to be very open about the presence of darkness in my soul. I can deal with the fact that even as a creature of the light, I retain these shadows; I own the shadows. But the shadows don’t own me. I’m grateful to God for this. And so even as I write something that questions what “inside me grows” I am also very assured that it will not one day rule me and destroy me, or supplant in me what God would do. My unease is sacred.