“O God, is this any way to run a world?”

Psalms of Lament

Whether it’s another school shooting, a cancer diagnosis, an unjust imprisonment, violence perpetrated against the peaceful, or an unkind word that brings tears to the eyes of the one who received it… there’s a lot to lament in this world–too much.

A year-and-a-half ago I read a fantastic book called Psalms of Lament by Ann Weems (see more here). I continue to come back to her modern-day lament psalms from time to time. Of course, it’s hard to top the lament psalms in the biblical book of Psalms, so really Weems and David go together. I appreciate the freshness with which Weems approaches the important practice of lament.

Weems tragically lost her son just after his 21st birthday. It is out of that sense of loss and grieving that she writes many of her lament psalms. She says:

This book is not for everyone. It is for those who weep and for those who weep with those who weep. It is for those whose souls struggle with the dailiness of faithkeeping in the midst of life’s assaults and obscenities. This book is for those who are living with scalding tears running down their cheeks.

So if you are weeping right now, or weeping with someone who is weeping… or if you feel like maybe you should be weeping but can’t, or don’t know how… here is Weems’s Lament Psalm Thirty-two (posted with publisher’s permission), which can help to give shape and voice to a heartfelt prayer of lament:

O God, explain to me
the cruelty of your world!
Make sense of those
who make no sense!
Tell me why the innocent die,
and evil people live
to kill again!
Tell me why the faithful
are shunned,
and the self-righteous
point their fingers!
Tell me why the wounded
are wounded,
and sorrow falls
on the shoulder of sorrow!
Tell me why the abused
are abused,
and the victims
victimized!
Tell me why the rains
come to the drowning,
and aftershocks
follow earthquakes.
O God, is this any way
to run a world?
O Merciful One, let us rest
between tragedies!

Speak to us
for we are your people.
Speak to us of hope
for the hopeless
and love for the unloved
and homes for the homeless
and dignity for the dying
and respect for the disdained.

Speak to us, O God,
of the Resurrected One!
Speak to us of hope,
for in spite of
the tidal wave of tears,
we remember your story
of new life!

Tell the world again,
O God of creation!
Tell us that winter will fade,
and spring will wash us new,
and the world will green again,
and we will be new creations
in the garden of our God.
Free us from these tentacles
of sorrow,
and we will fall on our faces
and worship you,
O God of goodness,
O God of a new green world!

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (Guitar Chord Charts for Hymns)

Hymnal

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty has always been one of my favorite hymns. Here (pdf) is a chord chart I put together for the hymn, in case you’ve been Googling “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty guitar chord charts” and haven’t found anything yet. Not all hymnals have chords, so hopefully this can be of help to some worship leaders.

Read Your Bible: But How? (Lectio Divina)

Open Bible by Petr Kratochvil
Open Bible by Petr Kratochvil

“Read your Bible.” But how?

I’ve benefitted from reading large portions of Scripture–whole narratives, books, and multiple chapters–in one sitting. I’ve also benefitted immensely from slowing down and meditatively just reading a few verses at a time. Lectio Divina is a way of reading Scripture that encourages that. It’s reading, as many have said, for transformation and not just information.

Lectio Divina means “holy reading” or “divine reading.” The idea is to deliberately reflect in God’s presence on God’s words, inviting God to echo his words in us today. The most classic formulation of this ancient Benedictine practice is the four-part: lectio (read), meditatio (meditate), oratio (pray), and contemplatio (contemplate).

I’ve also seen a slightly adjusted form, which I’ve used in groups and individually.  It goes like this:

    1. Read: What does the passage say?
    2. Pray: What is God saying to me through this passage?  (short phrase or single word)
    3. Listen: How is God calling me to respond to what he’s saying?
    4. Respond: What will I commit to God to do in response?

Lectio works best with smaller passages–a few verses from the Psalms or Proverbs… perhaps some words of Jesus or a Pauline prayer. Colossians 3:15-17 is a good place to start, if you’re new to the practice:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

In a group setting, readers (four different ones) can read the passage out loud (slowly) before each of the four movements. Individually, one could just read and re-read the passage before each of the four movements.

I’ve also found benefit in doing the fourth “respond” movement creatively: maybe I respond not just seated through prayer, but perhaps there is a response through song or drawing or movement that I can offer.

There are other approaches to Lectio; it’s certainly not meant to be formulaic. But whether I do it in 5 minutes or 30 minutes, with a group or by myself, I find that I am always impressed with how much God’s Word/words still can speak today–if I quiet myself enough to listen.

Who is the New Pope? Bergoglio (now Francis I) of Argentina

Pope Francis
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images, via NY Times

The cardinals today selected a new pope. From the New York Times:

With a puff of white smoke from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel and to the cheers of thousands of rain-soaked faithful, a gathering of Catholic cardinals picked a new pope from among their midst on Wednesday — choosing the cardinal from Argentina, the first South American to ever lead the church.

The new pope, 76, Jorge Mario Bergoglio (pronounced Ber-GOAL-io) will be called Francis, the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. He is also the first non-European leader of the church in more than 1,000 years.

Read more here.

There is a New Pope

White Smoke
Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press, via NY Times

From the New York Times:

With a puff of white smoke from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel and to the cheers of thousands of rain-soaked faithful, a gathering of Catholic cardinals picked a new pope from among their midst on Wednesday. The name of the new pope, the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, by tradition would not be revealed until he appeared on a balcony on the front of St. Peter’s Basilica.

No name yet, but that will come soon. More here for now.

Derrida, Caputo, and David Walk Into a Psalm

Joel Robine/Agence France Presse-Getty Images, via NY Times
Joel Robine/Agence France Presse-Getty Images

Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. Psalm 51:2

The heading of Psalm 51 gives its setting: “When the prophet Nathan came to [David] after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.” The Hebrew text is more explicit in its description of David’s adulterous act in the Psalm heading. David had had sex with another man’s wife—and then had him killed in battle.

The French philosopher Jacques Derrida could have found himself at home in this Psalm. Derrida might point out that for David to follow up his sins with a plea for God to “wash away all [his] iniquity” is to ask the impossible. (For Derrida, as John Caputo puts it, the impossible is “something that exceeds the horizon of foreseeability and expectation.”)

In this sense David asks for the impossible. The affair with Bathsheba was sordid enough, but he also called Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, back from battle to sleep with her in the hopes that no one would know David made her pregnant. When this plan failed, David oversaw military orders that sent Uriah to an unjust death. How audacious is David to ask for forgiveness from these sins that so “displeased the Lord” (2 Samuel 11:27)? Doesn’t David make an impossible request?

Caputo, in a somewhat Christianizing read of Derrida, writes, “[H]ope is truly hope when it has been pushed up against the impossible and everything looks hopeless.” All must have looked hopeless to David, who wrote, “My sin is always before me” (51:3). Yet he held out hope in God, praying, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me” (51:12).

With God the impossible is possible. We can be forgiven for even the unspeakable sins of our past. Some Psalms later David writes, “Praise the Lord, my soul… who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases” (103:3).

Don’t we often feel “pushed up against the impossible”? Don’t we sometimes look at our sins, only to see that “everything looks hopeless”? And yet, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (103:12).

God exceeds the foreseeable. He transcends our expectations. He does not visit upon us the punishment that our sins deserve. David’s impossible request for forgiveness is possible, because God is the God of the impossible.

The above is a reflection I wrote for the Gordon College Lenten Devotional, “The Hope Before Us.” You can access a pdf of the whole devotional here.