“How do you live with the pain?” he asked.
I introduced him to another climbing companion.
I read him another Psalm:
God, you’re my last chance of the day.
I spend the night on my knees before you.
Put me on your salvation agenda;
take notes on the trouble I’m in.
I’ve had my fill of trouble;
I’m camped on the edge of hell.
I’m written off as a lost cause,
one more statistic,
a hopeless case.
Abandoned as already dead,
one more body in a stack of corpses,
and not so much as a gravestone—
I’m a black hole in oblivion.
You’ve dropped me into a bottomless pit,
sunk me in a pitch-black abyss.
I’m battered senseless by your rage,
relentlessly pounded by your waves of anger.
You turned my friends against me,
made me horrible to them.
I’m caught in a maze and can’t find my way out,
blinded by tears of pain and frustration.
I call to you, God; all day I call.
I wring my hands,
I plead for help.
Are the dead a live audience for your miracles?
Do ghosts ever join the choirs that praise you?
Does your love make any difference in a graveyard?
Is your faithful presence noticed in the corridors of hell?
Are your marvelous wonders ever seen in the dark,
your righteous ways noticed in the Land of No Memory?
I’m standing my ground, God, shouting for help,
at my prayers every morning,
on my knees each daybreak.
Why, God, do you turn a deaf ear?
Why do you make yourself scarce?
For as long as I remember I’ve been hurting;
I’ve taken the worst you can hand out, and I’ve had it.
Your wildfire anger has blazed through my life;
I’m bleeding, black-and-blue.
You’ve attacked me fiercely from every side,
raining down blows till I’m nearly dead.
You made lover and neighbor alike dump me;
the only friend I have left is Darkness.
No upbeat turn at the end to make us feel better.
No triumphant, defiant flourish of praise despite it all.
How did that one get in there?
And if it is in there, then why doesn’t it make it on our contemporary worship song list? The Psalms honor the three great movements of human life under the sun: order (when life is good and “the boundary lines have fallen to me in pleasant places, O God”) then disorder (when life goes to hell and we’re left wondering out loud to ourselves, “Where is God?”) and then new order (we find ourselves experiencing a new place and pace, a new season – knowing that the next disruption is around the corner; our address hasn’t changed, after all).
Yes, the Psalms honor all three movements of life, which is why we need them.
Much of our church culture in America only recognizes the first and third. The painful middle is conveniently excised as our church services become more evangelical pep rallies than worship. We are stuck in one mode – we rejoice with those who rejoice and we rejoice with those who weep – because those who weep really should be rejoicing, anyway.
We forget the ancient wisdom:
Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.
Vinegar poured upon a wound is a readily winceable expression. Not sure, however, how “wound” was derived from the Hebrew נָתֶר (nought-ter) which is just transliterated in the KJV “nitre” and in other translations “soda.” It seems it was a substance which, when vinegar was poured upon it, effervesces and crackles just like, well, soda. Carbonated, caffeinated songs that only crackle in the ear of the “heavy heart” – which translates the Hebrew לֶב־רָֽע (lave-rah), literally the “evil (troubled) heart”, the “raw soul.”
Raw souls don’t need singers of songs.
When under the weight of pain, the tempo of your own worship rhythms change.
In addition to slower rhythms, I find that in the midst of pain, I need fewer words, cheerful or otherwise. I find frequently that the last thing I need is a singer of songs – at least a singer of fast, upbeat songs. I need a strummer of chords.
Slow, melodious, mournful chords.
Or nothing at all.
And then I took one more breath…
this really should make it into our worship liturgy…