Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Rainy Day Rumination

As I begin writing this blog post, Knoxville is experiencing a string of thunder storms and near flooding rains. It is very dark and gloomy.

When I was in middle school, I had a crush on a girl by the name of Senn Sorrow. I was quite naive back then and a bit of a pollyanna, so I didn’t get the significance of her name at first. (I was slow like that. Maybe I still am.) But, eventually it dawned on me. Senn Sorrow....Oh!...Right!...Seen sorrow! Unfortunately, I never did ask Senn what was behind her name. (If I had that one to do over again, I most certainly would.) What was it in her life or the life of her parents that led them to give her such a name? Frankly, I think it is a beautiful name. I’ve never forgotten it. From time to time, I think of her. I’ve wondered how her life has turned out? Has life gone well for her, living out that name? Did her name serve as a self fulfilling prophecy? Has she seen sorrow?

Of course, the truth is we all, every one of us, live to see sorrow. No one is immune. It is as inevitable as a rainy day or the dark of night. Oh, we work mightily to deny it, bury our heads in the sand, cover it up, and generally try to ignore its truth. Sorrow is just not something we like to admit or dwell upon. At this point you might even be tempted to stop reading, so as not to risk lingering with sorrow for long. But maybe it would do you,...do us well to linger and to admit the sorrow we have seen. 

What is it about some branches of popular culture in general and Christian culture in specific that has a hard time admitting and talking about sorrow? “No dirges Pastor,” people will often demand of me. “Oh, let’s make sure this funeral is upbeat and positive, Pastor,” people will request. “More jokes in your sermon, Pastor. I want positivity. I don’t want to think about all the trouble out there.” In other words, let’s deny, cover up, ignore. Believe me, I understand the temptation. I suspect it is our attempt at preserving and enhancing life. But maybe, contrary to what we suspect, if we actually acknowledged the reality of sorrow and dealt with it, we might find an even greater sense of life; real life,...abundant life.    

The Hebrew people seemed to be pretty good about truth telling, acknowledging sorrow and brokenness, and expressing lament. Throughout the Hebrew scriptures, and most specifically in the psalms of lament, Israel was a master at pulling back the curtain on the folly of our denial and unrealistic bliss. 

In his wonderful book, The Message of the Psalms, Walter Brueggemann affirms the gift of the psalms of lament, what he refers to as the psalms of disorientation or darkness. He writes, 
“...these psalms...lead us into a dangerous acknowledgement of how life really is. They lead us into the presence of God where everything is not polite and civil. They cause us to think unthinkable thoughts and utter unutterable words. Perhaps worst, they lead us away from the comfortable religious claims of ‘modernity’ in which everything is managed and controlled. In our modern experience, but probably in every successful and affluent culture, it is believed that enough power and knowledge can tame the terror and eliminate the darkness....But our honest experience...attests to the resilience of the darkness, in spite of us. The remarkable thing about Israel is that it did not banish or deny the darkness from its religious enterprise. It embraces the darkness as the very stuff of new life. Indeed, Israel seems to know that new life comes nowhere else." 1
A psalm of lament that I often turn to in order to embrace the darkness is Psalm 13. It begins like this:
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long shall I have perplexity in my mind, and grief in my heart, day after day? How long shall my enemy triumph over me? Look upon me and answer me, O LORD my God; give light to my eyes, lest I sleep in death; lest my enemy say, "I have defeated you," and my foes rejoice that I have fallen.
This psalmist is getting in touch with her sorrow. She is acknowledging the grief in her heart. She is feeling the coming of the sleep in death. But then, it seems she lingers. She lingers in the darkness and sorrow. Finally, something happens. In time dealing with the reality of the sorrow and pain, as opposed to ignoring or denying it, illumination comes. She has embraced the darkness as the very stuff of new life, and indeed new life has come. Thus, she can conclude her psalm:
But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart is joyful because of your saving help. I will sing to the LORD, who has dealt with me richly. 2
Like the psalmist, I too have seen sorrow. We all have, to varying degrees, some much worse than others. Unfortunately my tendency has been to simply ignore it while maintaining the mask that everything is okay. Everything is not okay. Its high time for truth telling and lament, for lingering a while in the sorrow, for embracing the darkness as the very stuff of new life. Then, and only then, might my heart be joyful once again. 

As I post this blog, the skies of Knoxville have cleared. The rain has stopped and the sun has returned.

1 Walter Brueggemann, “The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary”, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1984), 53. 
2 Psalm 13 from Evangelical Lutheran Worship. 

1 comment:

  1. In experiencing sorrow is it not the drawing of some thankfulness that brings us back to our Lord and then brings us out of the abyss . Maybe embracing our memories sweet and sad is a good thing for our perspective ?