At some point, many of us will take a time-out from the ups and downs of life just to maintain some semblance of emotional sanity. I’m not immune to timely forms of coping in order to numb the wounds during rough patches or buckle down and buck up during seasons of ‘surviving.’ Hey a good marathon binge session of my favorite Netflix show has served well as a pit-stop or salve to a smarting soul. There is a level of ‘socially appropriate’ intensity that most of us are keenly aware of. We simply can’t emotionally engage at a profound depth and be completely bare and honest to all people, all the time. Let’s face it, we don’t want to be labeled that “super-intense person” everyone seems to be avoiding. We don’t always want to face it. But I believe the time of Lent offers a unique invitation for you and me to slow down, be intentional, embrace cruciform rythms, and to daily ask: what does it look like to continue to live with an open heart even when difficult things are happening? What does it look like to engage with the world around you and to lament with others in their pain, suffering, and unjust treatment?
The Day’s Scripture
Psalm 42 ‘The Message’
1-3 A white-tailed deer drinks
from the creek; I want to drink God, deep draughts of God. I’m thirsty for God-alive.
I wonder, “Will I ever make it—arrive and drink in God’s presence?”
I’m on a diet of tears—tears for breakfast, tears for supper.
All day long people knock at my door, pestering, “Where is this God of yours?”
4 These are the things I go over and over, emptying out the pockets of my life.
I was always at the head of the worshiping crowd, right out in front,
Leading them all, eager to arrive and worship, Shouting praises, singing thanksgiving—
celebrating, all of us, God’s feast!
5 Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God— soon I’ll be praising again. He puts a smile on my face.
He’s my God.
6-8 When my soul is in the dumps, I rehearse everything I know of you,
From Jordan depths to Hermon heights, including Mount Mizar.
Chaos calls to chaos, to the tune of whitewater rapids.
Your breaking surf, your thundering breakers crash and crush me.
Then God promises to love me all day, sing songs all through the night!
My life is God’s prayer.
How will we make the journey to becoming people of compassion—a people who tell stories and listen to the stories of others while remaining fully engaged, tender, and dynamically open to transformation? Often our Christian lingo and conversation relegates matters of the heart and body (like sexuality) to black and white categories like worship versus idolatry, sin and not sin. In some ways, this is a helpful, clarifying framework for reform and discipleship. In so many other ways it is not helpful at all. It’s not helpful when my tempted body is on fire, or I am salty with just anger, and yet there is no meaningful discourse or language landing pad in the space between.
How do we handle desire in our lives as Jesus’ people? Do we avoid, exclude, and shutdown; or do we engage, include and embrace? Will we be closed off people; or will we be open-minded people? How do we handle the reality that we were created with great vision and capacity to love (by God!) as desirous creatures, and yet our experience falls inextricably short of these desires as our rituals either snuff them out (religiosity), or our practices lure us to siren-voices disappearing into oases of false fulfillment (consumerism)? Both paths lead away from whole-heartedness and intimacy.
The beauty of the Psalms is that as a worshiping people of God we get insight into rituals and practices of true worship, or how our lives become “God’s prayer.” (v 8) We witness desire in the raw. We recognize hopeful, positive feelings, but we also feast upon the sad, intense emotions of the Psalmist, even those of rage and revenge. It ain’t clean eating. The Psalmist is “thirsty for God-alive,” eating her sadness and tears all day long. There is lament and there is also the memory of praise. Where she was once eager to praise, she finds her soul in the dumps. This person does not “feel” like worshipping and so, because of the despair and the depression, he will “rehearse” everything he knows of God. In rehearsal and ritual, we journey into worship beyond what we feel. To be human is to deeply embrace all the nuances of the heart. To only be happy, or to control the intensity of what one feels by numbing or shoving it down or avoiding or lying to the self and others is to cheat, deflate that humanness, the Imago Dei, reduce our stamina for worship. The way to do Justice and to love mercy and to live out the Kingdom and be witnesses in a broken world begins with being more human. By exercising and strengthening our hearts by courageous engagement. Be brave, be open, and become truly committed, hopeful, compassionate people. Following Jesus “humanly” through the wilderness permeates our lives in all that we do and say, in every day and hour; flash-floods thoroughly in every emotional nook and cranny—honestly embracing every thought and feeling and place before us, behind us, and the spaces “in-between.”