Tag Archives: Psalms

king of pain: gnaw on a psalm. or two.

“How do you live with the pain?” he asks.

And then I read this to him:

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.


There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.

The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.


Come, behold the works of the Lord,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.

“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”

The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

The Psalms.

I can’t lay hands on your heart or mine and make the pain easier to bear. With mock gesture and the most impressively religious voice I could muster, I waved my hand over his heart and then gently struck his forehead. “Change your attitude. H….O….P….E.”

This is a long climb and you need some reliable, proven climbing companions. And they’re called the Psalms.images-1

They don’t need to be studied or analyzed.
They don’t need to be read like you’d read any book you might pick up.
They must be prayed, sung, groaned, creaked, croaked, danced, dirged.

You’re out of words. Others’ words lie flat and flaccid.
The Psalms give you the words. Start masticating them. Gnawing them. Ingesting them. Absorbing them.

They’ll direct you to the inner “river whose streams make glad the city of God” in the midst of an outer world going to hell. Fast. When you’re in pain, and the world around you is going to hell, we grit our teeth and fight it. We rebel. We resist. We refuse to let go. We will fight. We will fix.

But the Psalmist says “Sink.”

I read the definition of that Hebrew word translated “Be still” in the classic injunction, “Be still and know that I am God.” Such a peaceful, easy, restful, comforting word, “be still.”

The Hebrew is הַרְפּוּ (har-poo). It’s a good word to say slowly, imagining yourself falling backward into what you are trusting are waiting arms. The summarized meaning of the word? “To sink, relax, sink down, let drop, be disheartened.”

Gotta love it.

“Have you seen Finding Nemo?” I asked. “Do you remember when Marlin and Dory are in the whale’s mouth, and then they find themselves pitched precariously over the abyss of the whale’s throat? Dory tells Marlin to let go (har-poo!) and Marlin yells back ‘How do you know something bad won’t happen?’ and then Dory replies, ‘I don’t!’ and then they both let go. Do you remember that? That’s Psalm 46:10. That’s ‘be still.’ We are determined not to be swallowed by this pain and we kick and curse at it like Quint being swallowed whole in Jaws. But what if you need to be swallowed by this – so like Marlin and Dory you can be blown out the blowhole of the whale that just happens to be taking you closer to your goal?”

That’s what I said as he stood there in his pain.


And then I took another breath…

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Posted by on May 13, 2014 in haverings, Suffering


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I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
    which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
    or it will not stay near you.

This passage from Psalm 32 kept flashing before me as I watched this video of my granddaughter Arabelle leading a horse for the first time.

And more.

I see a horse for whom, at this moment, a bit and bridle seem to be a technicality. Arabelle isn’t having to exert force to control or direct Shuga. The horse is simply keen to her presence and movement. I believe this is what the psalm has in mind. I want to go to there. I want to be keen to the Divine presence and movements when it comes to Life, to Love, to God. How often I’m just a runaway horse stampeded by the press of life, panic in my eyes, nostrils flaring.

And then, to see myself in the horse (or in the horse’s rear), is to see God in Arabelle.

That was quite the startling image to me.

The majestic Divine, the pulsating center of all existence, the cosmic energy holding all things together, the consuming fire, seraphs and cherubim covering their faces, the foundations of the earth quaking before the God who smokes…

And then to see the Divine visage in the face of such a child, in the face of such innocence.arabelle_sugar_2

Perhaps this is why we must become as little children to enter the kingdom of heaven.

It simply isn’t an adult place.

It is space for wonder, a place to be enraptured.
The playfulness of God doesn’t make it into most theology texts. It’s not in any ancient catechism or confession of which I am aware. But perhaps all other divine attributes about which we might muse are but satellites in orbit around it.

There is little I won’t do for Arabelle. At least now. (Although I still won’t let her little fingers mess up my latest game of Bejeweled Blitz on my iPad. There are limits, people.)

But to see such playfulness at the very heart of God, at the very heart of reality. To see it at the center of the creation story in Genesis. To see it in the carefree face of Jesus as he went about doing good in his kingdom play, totally flaunting all the adult rules. It’s captivating, contagious. Like Shuga, I find myself instinctively drawn to watch the Child moving just before me, and to enter into Her rhythms at Her pace.

Perhaps this was the trouble with Adam and Eve in that garden.

They were created just a bit too old.


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Posted by on April 1, 2013 in musings, Nature of God, Psalms


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the three-beat rhythm of life

This is the intro I wrote for an upcoming week’s devotions in the Psalms. How essential to recognize and learn to move with the three beat rhythm of life – orientation | disorientation, frustration, disruption | new orientation. And there the Psalms are to be climbing companions through them.

I share this to set up some musings on what I will call “waiting for the turn.” Wait for it…

The Psalms are a strange literature to study.    ~ Walter Brueggemann 

They are more than just pretty songs.

The book of Psalms is something of an inspired prayer/song book that reflects the raw and real rhythms of human life “under the sun.” Wherever you are in life, there is a Psalm that speaks to and of that life setting.

We tend to be very selective in our reading and use of Psalms. We like the pretty and easy on the eyes images of Psalm 23 that greet us like a warm Thomas Kinkade painting. We tend to be less enthusiastic about some of the darker, downer Psalms that speak directly to issues of God abandonment, miserable circumstances from which there appears no way out or outright anger and rage that calls curses down on enemies and wishes to see their children’s brains bashed out against the rocks.

Not material for uplifting worship songs.

But this is why Psalms is so enduringly impactful in the worshipping and devotional lives of God followers across all boundaries of time, space, culture and religion. They give us words for where we live, what we see, how we feel. They reveal that an appropriate God response is not prettied up pious sounding expressions, but real, earthy, human ones.

One of the better guides to the Psalms is a theological commentary on the Psalms by the eminent Hebrew scholar Walter Brueggemann (The Message of the Psalms). Brueggemann observes: “Much Christian piety and spirituality is romantic and unreal in its positiveness. As children of the Enlightenment, we have censored and selected around the voice of darkness and disorientation, seeking to go from strength to strength, from victory to victory. But such a way not only ignores the Psalms; it is a lie in terms of our experience…The Jewish reality of exile, the Christian confession of crucifixion and cross, the honest recognition that there is an untamed darkness in our life that must be embraced – all of that is fundamental to the gift of new life.”

The Psalms are profoundly subsersive of the dominant culture, which wants to deny and cover over the darkness we are called to enter. Personally we shun negativity. Publicly we deny the failure of our attempts to exercise control.

To reflect upon and use the Psalms as climbing companions through life’s rhythms is not escaping from or numbing ourselves to those rhythms we find unpleasant, but to fully embrace and experience them from a God perspective.

Brueggemann summarizes the life rhythms we all experience into three groups – and these groupings ultimately serve as a very valuable way to group and understand the Psalms:

  • Orientation. These are satisfied seasons of well-being that evoke gratitude for God’s presence and blessing. Life is good, the world is my oyster, God is in heaven on his throne. There is a predominant sense of “Ahhhhhhh.” Psalms of orientation celebrate “the joy, delight, goodness, coherence, and reliability of God, God’s creation, God’s governing law.”
  • Disorientation. These are those anguished seasons of hurt, alienation, suffering and death. Life sucks. The world is a hostile, cold place. God is nowhere. Psalms of disorientation match such seasons in ragged and raw expressions, culminating in powerful laments that provide the abrasiveness needed for such hard, dark stretches of our journey.
  • New Orientation. This is the suprising turn that life can suddenly take as we find ourselves out of the pit, overwhelmed with new gifts of God, a new experience of grace, of joy piercing through despair. Psalms of new orientation speak boldly of this new gift of God, a fresh infusion and intrustion of divine working that makes all things new, that lifts us up and puts our feet in new high places offering vistas from which all looks different, vibrant, alive.

This week we dip into the Psalms for six days with an invitation to experience Psalms speaking to each of these seasons. A psalm a day. Two days of orientation, two of disorientaton, two of new orientation. Things going great this week? Things falling apart? Things finally coming back together? Wherever you are standing at this moment in your life, you will encounter a few Psalms this week that will speak to it.

There won’t be study questions accompany the Psalms each day. No sermon notes. No small group guide. You can make your small group time a time to share how you encountered God in the Psalms. No, all you have this week is the invitation to read the Psalm of the day aloud. To read it prayerfully, meditatively. To let the Psalm take hold of you. To allow it to lead you into prayer and worship, or to experience the freedom of crying your eyes out – either in pain or in unspeakable joy.

Experience some Psalms. Experience life. Experience God.

Psalm readings:

Orientation –  145, 104, 8, 19, and the mother of all orientation psalms: 119

Disorientation – 13, 86, 35, 74, 79, 137 and the most depressing psalm ever (I dare you to make a song of this for a Sunday morning worship set, O worship leader gurus): 88

New Orientation: 30, 40, 138, 34, 65, 96

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Posted by on September 21, 2012 in Old Testament, Psalms


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