Tag Archives: Psalms

Moving…Again

As we prepare for our short-notice need to move situation I feel overwhelmed by “one more thing” in a life that seems characterized more by the presence of transition than the absence. In many ways it feels like my life is a transitional one, always moving to another place or thing, always in flux in one way or another. In the past it was easy to transition because we only had one other person to worry about, now there are three others, and that makes things complicated. One of my disciplines in times of stress is to stop and write poetry about what is happening so that my emotions find an avenue of expression. With the current batch of transitions, it feels like that well is dry and that my emotions are so tangled that expressing them is nearly impossible. I am disoriented. As I go to the Psalms I once again resonate with the Psalms of the depths. I pray with the words of David:

Psalm 28:1 Eternal One, I am calling out to You;
    You are the foundation of my life. Please, don’t turn Your ear from me.
If You respond to my pleas with silence,
    I will lose all hope like those silenced by death’s grave.
Listen to my voice.
    You will hear me begging for Your help
With my hands lifted up in prayer,
    my body turned toward Your holy home.

It is all to easy to mouth the platitudes in order to not hear people giving “advice” on how to make things better, or worse trot out that “All things work to the good of those who served the Lord” quote. Unsolicited advice from me: Under no circumstances quote the All things work together passage to someone who is experiencing any kind of rough time, it just makes them angry. The reality now is that I have to move because of someone else’s financial errors, my brother had brain surgery that I couldn’t be there for, I have a huge proposal that is being brought to my congregation this weekend that impacts the future of the church, my 1 year old is incredibly strong-willed, and my almost 6 year old is needing my full emotional support to make it through this move well. My plate is overfilled and it feels like my cup is running dry.

So I share with you this prayer for transition that I cry out to God

My Cup Underfloweth

God, Seriously.

This is a bit much.

I try to hold it all together and I can’t

The ball has not only been dropped, but has also rolled away

I don’t remember half of the details I have forgotten in this over whelming time

And I have no energy to pick up what I have dropped

Forget about looking for where dropped balls rolled

My cup underfloweth

I have cast my four letter prayers at you

In the hope that your Spirit translates the weariness behind them

My soul needs rest but finds only more labor, more burdens

I long for the green pastures and still waters

But my cup of faith underfloweth

I know you are with me

But right now I need more than presence

I need to be refilled with your peace and strength

I don’t have enough to get through one more transition in a lifelong line

And the food that I turned to for comfort is put aside in one more transition

My cup of strength underfloweth

I cry out to you my rock

In the hope that my words aren’t in vain

That you are there to fill me again with good things

That you really are there to take my burden and replace it

with the yoke that is easy and the burden that is light

I need your grace and mercy to fill  me again

Help me trust you to carry your end

My cup of trust underfloweth

God, seriously.

I need a refill.

 
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My Cup Underfloweth by Gilbert George is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://extrovertedquaker.wordpress.com/2014/05/13/moving-again/.
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Fully Present to Worship

(This last week I got to share my work on the Psalms at West Hills Friends Church in SW Portland. I appreciate the opportunity and had a bunch of fun. Click here for audio. Link fixed. 2/19/2014)

Good Morning, I am Gil George, the pastor at Clackamas Park Friends Church. I appreciate the chance to share with you today about the importance of bringing our whole selves into our faith. Even those emotions that we might call ugly have an important place in our worship. In my growing up church was not a place you could be struggling in. I kept hearing people say “life is hard, but God is good, so I can’t complain.” With the subtext being that it wasn’t OK to complain or take any negative feeling to God. God was like this image by Gary Larson. (I don’t have rights to the image, I had scanned it in from a book, but here’s a google search that will take you to it.) That God isn’t safe to come to with anger. I was under the impression that since God’s people had to have it all together that God wasn’t interested in our struggles, just in our praise. There were consequences for believing in a God that forced me to hide parts of myself. I learned how physically damaging it is to hide my feelings when I got my first ulcer at 14. I was forced to learn how to express my anger, doubts and fears as a way of preventing myself from physical harm. I also learned that the best one to bring these hard parts of myself to was God. That God not only could handle me being mad, but welcomed me in my anger and grief and rage, in my sadness, in my brokenness and in my frustration. It was only through expressing these things to God that I could then heal. This God who listens to our discontent, brokenness, anger and grief is the God Jesus shows us in the garden, the cross, and the resurrection. A Jesus who probably looked something like this guy was someone I could actually have a frank conversation with.

I had a problem though: I had no idea how to bring my emotional self to God. I wasn’t comfortable with my emotions since they didn’t seem to be controllable and my church background hadn’t prepared me to look at my emotions with anything other than suspicion. Those pesky emotions just got in the way of being rational and objective, how could that ever be a good thing? A family friend introduced me to the Psalms, which contain every human emotion and bring each one of them before God in worship. How shocking is it for us to hear the ending of Psalm 137 and think of this as worship?

7Remember, Eternal One, how the Edomites, our brothers, the descendants of Esau, stood by and watched as Jerusalem fell. Gloating, they said’ “Destroy it; tear it down to the ground,” when Jerusalem was being demolished. 😯 Daughter of Babylon, you are destined for destruction! Happy are those who pay you back for how you treated us so you will no longer walk so proud. 9Happy are those who dash your children against the rocks so you will know how it feels.

This Psalm is one of disorientation. The Psalmist is angry with a rage beyond bearing and throws it in God’s face as if to say “This is how I feel! This is what I want! What are you going to do about it?” It is in Psalms like these that we can learn to say “Things are not as they ought to be. God, things are not the way you have expressed your desires for this world. Why did you let this happen? God, why can’t we see your work against these situations?” Has anyone here ever looked at the way the world is, at a hard situation and felt the question burn within you “Why does God allow this to continue?” I want to give you permission to take this question to God. Not having the ability to take our religious frustrations and disappointments to God destroys the authenticity of our faith experiences. The destruction of authenticity is accomplished through making sorrow, mourning, fear, doubt, and uncertainty the opposite of true faith. Since every one of us experiences all of these emotions at various points in our lives, we damage our own integrity in our efforts to hide them from God and each other. When we give voice to these uncertainties in the presence of God and each other, we find the voice of hope within our relationship to God and then are freed to enter into praise.

The biblical scholar Walter Breuggeman describes three types of Psalm: Psalms of Orientation, Disorientation and Reorientation.

  • The Psalms of Orientation help us to share the controversial message that we depend on our God, because our God is faithful, mighty and continues to create all that is. These Psalms orient us to the fact that not only our lives, but the lives of everything are dependent on God for existence, or as Paul said to the crowds in Athens “In him we live and move and have our being.” Acts 17:28. When we express gratitude for the bounty of God’s good creation, joyfully obey the call of Jesus on our lives, depend on the wisdom of God, rely on God’s justice, and recognize those times when we get to experience the well-being that comes from witnessing God’s loving power; we are oriented on reality.
  • The Psalms of Disorientation ask hard questions of God when we don’t understand what is going on and ourselves when we make those grave errors that bring harm to ourselves and others. Over half of the Psalms contain elements of lament, the children of Israel experienced loss and pain on a regular basis, some of it through circumstances beyond their control or influence and at other times they were the source of their own pain. Just like us. The laments take these negative circumstances and hold them before God in childlike trust. Their inclusion in the Hebrew Scriptures may be judged to be acts of unfaith and failure, but for us, and the Hebrews, I would say that bringing our dark experience into the light of God is an act of bold faith. By speaking our hurts, sorrows, anger, and disorientation in our worship of God we boldly proclaim that God is big enough to handle anything we bring to him, no matter how negative, even our anger or disbelief. When we bring the fullness of our disoriented thoughts and lay them at the feet of God, we prepare the soil where new life can grow.
  • Psalms of Reorientation that renew our relationship with God and reorient our lives to the paths of righteousness. One of the encouraging truths the Psalms share with us is that disorientation is not a permanent state. New life blossoms right when it seems all hope is gone. One thing important to note is that there’s no return to the simple faith that says bad things can’t happen. God will never call us to deny reality. Our faith must then grow to encompass the reality of disorientation and when the storm passes, to praise the God who walked beside us through it. This is our hope, not only that the storms of life pass, but that God is with us in those storms. The Psalms of Reorientation are, at their core, a witness to the good character of God.

In my life I have experienced all of these times, I have cursed a blue streak at God and I have sung the praises of my redeemer, and God has yet to hit the “Smite” button on his keyboard. God truly desires to be in relationship with us exactly as we are. The greatest worship occurs when we open ourselves fully to the light of God, allowing God to be present to us exactly as we are. This is a booklet I made for our church community that I bring as a gift to you. I hope that you may use the discernment tools inside and the guides to help you bring, with authenticity, your full emotional self into the Light within.

If any of you would like access to the booklet or are interested in having me speak at your church, please post in the comments and I will give you access to the document which is released under the creative commons license or contact you with more information.

What is our Orientation?

Good Morning Friends. Before I get started, I want to say that I am deeply indebted to the scholar Walter Brueggemann for the content and character of my next two sermons, his commentary and exegesis of the Psalms has quite literally changed my life for the better and these sermons stem directly from my experience of God’s work through him. Last week we talked about the ways the Psalms help us to bring the fullness of our emotional selves before God. The Psalms of Orientation provide a calm, non-anxious center that is the foundation of our ability to fully enter God’s presence. Next week we will get into the times of disorientation and the necessary reorientation, but first we need a foundation, a basic orientation to start from. When we have a quiet center to work from we can better face the storms of life and God becomes the safest one to turn to in those storms. The Psalms of Orientation orient us in five ways: Gratitude for the created order, Joyful obedience to the gift of the law, trust in the wisdom of God, safety in the knowledge of God’s justice, and recognition of the active presence of shalom/peace/well-being when we are in alignment with God’s purposes. These Psalms proclaim that the world is a well ordered, reliable, and life giving system because God in his goodness ordained it that way and continues to preside effectively over the process. Please turn with me to Psalm 8

 

To the leader: according to The Gittith. A Psalm of David.

1 O Lord, our Sovereign,

how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.

2   Out of the mouths of babes and infants

you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,

to silence the enemy and the avenger.

3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars that you have established;

4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them,

mortals that you care for them?

5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God,

and crowned them with glory and honour.

6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;

you have put all things under their feet,

7 all sheep and oxen,

and also the beasts of the field,

8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,

whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

9 O Lord, our Sovereign,

how majestic is your name in all the earth!

 

The starting place is, of course, gratitude. Creation and our daily lives are recognized as avenues of God’s blessing on us. Our times are ordered of God and experienced in the seasons of the year, the seasons of life, and according to the needs of the day. It is in the constancy of these mundane things that we can find havens of safety and freedom. The world was created and is a source of awe and wonder at the artistry, majesty, power, glory and generosity of God. The Psalms tell us to whom the Earth belongs and calls us to appreciate the gift of creation that we are called to steward. Psalm 145: 14-15 tells us of the faithfulness of God upholding creation:

15 The eyes of all look to you,

and you give them their food in due season.

16 You open your hand,

satisfying the desire of every living thing.

 

The provision of all that is prompts a grateful response. Israel’s response to the good order of God is by living in the covenantal relationship expressed in the Torah/law.  This obedient response is joyfully undertaken without calculation or grudging. When the law is viewed through the lens of gratitude, it is no longer a system of appeasement, but the only possible response to the gift of God’s beautiful and verdant world. Psalm 1 introduces the Psalms in the context of Torah/law and expresses confidence that God watches over the righteous who delight in God’s ways.

1 Happy are those

who do not follow the advice of the wicked,

or take the path that sinners tread,

or sit in the seat of scoffers;

2 but their delight is in the law of the Lord,

and on his law they meditate day and night.

3 They are like trees

planted by streams of water,

which yield their fruit in its season,

and their leaves do not wither.

In all that they do, they prosper.

4 The wicked are not so,

but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgement,

nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

6 for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,

but the way of the wicked will perish.

 

It is important to note that these are not Psalms addressing a theologically ambiguous or morally disruptive world, but Psalms that are descriptive of God’s perfect will and our desire to live by it, and express confidence that there are consequences to both obedience and disobedience. Indeed God’s wisdom is displayed in giving us the law and we need to remind ourselves of the wisdom of trusting God’s moral will. You might say that what you have experienced and see in life does not appear to match up to the faith in the justice of God articulated by this Psalm. That is indeed some of the disorientation that we all go through. These Psalms of the Torah, however, point us to the ultimate reality that God’s order is sustained by God and that while our efforts to live justly are often ineffectual; God’s will cannot be thwarted. There will be consequences that arise from our actions, and those consequences are applied by the mercy of God’s justice.

The Psalms of retribution or justice remind us that true justice is dispensed from God’s hands, and the character of that justice applies to all people. The clearest example of this kind of Psalm is 112:

1 Praise the Lord!

Happy are those who fear the Lord,

who greatly delight in his commandments.

2 Their descendants will be mighty in the land;

the generation of the upright will be blessed.

3 Wealth and riches are in their houses,

and their righteousness endures for ever.

4 They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright;

they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.

5 It is well with those who deal generously and lend,

who conduct their affairs with justice.

6 For the righteous will never be moved;

they will be remembered for ever.

7 They are not afraid of evil tidings;

their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord.

8 Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid;

in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.

9 They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor;

their righteousness endures for ever;

their horn is exalted in honour.

10 The wicked see it and are angry;

they gnash their teeth and melt away;

the desire of the wicked comes to nothing.

 

This Psalm is a bold declaration that there are indeed consequences to our actions. One thing to note here is that not only our character, but the ways we interact with people who are “under” us in the world’s eyes are criteria for judgment. God pays attention to the way we interact with the world and God’s judgment is based not on our circumstances, but on the ways we interact with the good creation he gave us, especially those parts weaker than us.  Satisfaction and life fulfillment do not come from greed and self-filling and self-sufficiency, but from trusting the generosity of the God who always feeds us. We can then fully experience the mercy of God’s justice when we submit to His wisdom and will. This is the second time I have used this statement and I am sure there is a little confusion. We tend to think of justice and mercy as opposites, even seeing mercy as the suspension of justice. What would it mean for mercy to be an expression of justice or for justice to be an expression of mercy? God’s will is expressed through both, so can they truly be opposites? Important questions to think about but I am getting off track.

The final orientation is in praise when we see God’s will actively functioning to create wellbeing and wholeness through the quiet, unobtrusive sustenance present in the patterns of daily life. Indeed, these are the Psalms that speak of the results of being oriented on the truth of God. Often called the Songs of Ascent, these were what Israel sang as they climbed the temple mount. Psalm 131 speaks of what it really feels like be oriented on God.

A Song of Ascents. Of David.

1 O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,

my eyes are not raised too high;

I do not occupy myself with things

too great and too marvelous for me.

2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul,

like a weaned child with its mother;

my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

3 O Israel, hope in the Lord

from this time on and for evermore.

 

The use of this remarkable domestic image makes two crucial points about the proper ordering of life. First, it affirms that being one of the created is contrasted with autonomy. The faithful human creature, is like a small baby who is dependent on its mother for food and has no inclination to autonomy. The second is that glad, submissive reliance is the antidote to anxiety; indeed the point of the Psalm is that anxiety comes from trying to be self-sufficient or attempting equality with the source of our life.

These orientations fly in the face of our culture that values independence, self-sufficiency and autonomy. The great myth of our time is that real maturity is defined by freedom from every relationship of dependence. In these Psalms we begin to hear the context in which Jesus can say in Matthew 18:3-5 “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

The Psalms of Orientation help us to share the controversial message that we depend on our God, because our God is faithful, mighty and continues to create all that is. We have a God that we can depend on and while some might say that depending on God is a crutch; I have to ask: what is so great about standing alone? Is there some kind of trophy or prize? There is not a single human being in our society today that exists without depending on other people. Independence is impossible, but I would go further and say that striving for independence is striving to separate from God. These Psalms orient us to the fact that not only our lives, but the lives of everything in creation is dependent on God for existence, or as Paul said to the crowds in Athens “In him we live and move and have our being.” Acts 17:28. When we express gratitude for the bounty of God’s good creation, joyfully obey the call of Jesus on our lives, depend on the wisdom of God, rely on God’s justice, and recognize those times when we get to experience the well-being that comes from witnessing God’s loving power we are oriented on reality. Stand with me to sing that great hymn of orientation “How Great Thou Art”.

*All scripture texts taken from the NRSV.