Psalm 137 verse four reads, ‘How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?’ The poet seems to be admitting that he does not know how to sing the gospel in the midst of all that has changed in his circumstances. I understand that, as I too struggle when there is conflict and during times of uncertainty and upheaval. My mind goes to worst-case scenarios so easily. Anxiety can become a constant companion; paralysis can set in and – dare I say – even aggression.
However, isn’t it wonderful that the psalmist could say it as it is? There is no pretence. Now, I too can admit my fears and my groaning. It opens me up somehow to be able to respond with the truth: a simple ‘Yes, I know’.
The Benedictine, Esther de Waal writes that the Psalms are “an invitation to prayer, the silent prayer of the heart.” She continues, “The psalm was not regarded as human homage rendered to God, but rather as God’s message to humanity, awakening the response of prayer.” To think of the Psalms as God’s message to us helps us to grasp just that little bit more that God not only understands our human predicament but suffers with us. We are not alone.
A short time ago, I heard an interview with Karoline Lewis, a pastor and professor of Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary, Minnesota where she defined the gospel as meaning, ‘Your God is here’ based on texts such as Isaiah 40 and Isaiah 52. “Your God is here in front of you,” she said. As a person with a very busy mind, the Psalms invite me to become silent so I can glimpse this truth. As the poet’s words wash over me, I can participate in what is so often a journey from anguish to joy. I have a chance to see and hear in a new way.
The German Lutheran theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer returned to them often before he was executed by the Nazis. In his sermon in Barcelona on 15thJuly 1928 he said that we are nervous about quietness or rest. We run away from rest, Bonhoeffer said and chase from one event to another, for we are afraid of facing ourselves alone. Prayer, he said, must be practised, and he suggested for at least ten minutes a day. Although he acknowledged that all beginnings are difficult, the soul is given a chance to awaken and begin to find strength. “The troubles and distresses are silenced, the unrest and hatred, the alarms and the cries, tears and anxieties – all are stilled in the presence of God,” he wrote.
Being able to sit in silence with a group of people in contemplative prayer means a lot to me. Although we are all so easily distracted, it does not matter. Often we feel uncomfortable in such situations because we are not used to curbing our tongue or being with others in this way.
However, being together, and acknowledging our helplessness and inabilities, may be just what is needed as we move into the future together as a church. Coming just as we are into a quiet space as a community may help us to remember Love’s covenant towards us and faithfulness to us, even in the midst of trying circumstances. Here is a wonderful opportunity for us to begin to let go of our need for security, approval, and control and begin again to ‘sing a new song unto the Lord’, a song of praise (Psalm 149)!
by Anne-Marie Doecke
Photo Image from Truth for Life