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.
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.
“...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. 2Like 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.
2 Psalm 13 from Evangelical Lutheran Worship.