When great disasters strike, our world is not the same. In any crisis there is the hope to return to the emotional stability of pre-critical times. We note this both in our Church and in world critical events. Terrorism does not always afford us this. Rather our memories and imagination will always be subject to awareness that there is evil, that enemies do surround us and that there is need for protection.
In order to go forward, we need to develop a new orientation to live itself. This orientation with a spiritual foundation fortifies against the sinister realities of life.
We, both individually and collectively, as a nation are experiencing crises. We need direction and more than that. Our hope is for God’s intervention giving us purpose amidst the country’s chaos.
It has been noted that alarming statistics of depression are prevalent in our country. Many are feeling the weariness that accompanies grief. It is grief in need of expression. It is grief in need of channeling. We need as a nation to tell our story.
Similar to the Psalmist we are searching for a context to express our innermost feelings. There are so many questions that have been raised. We heard these questions in the early moments of the September 11 events. We hear them again with Haiti and other areas of the world suffering catastrophes.
The Psalms place our loss into the context of conversation with God. They assist us in naming and owning our emotions. They assist us in avoiding all denial and equip us to go through bereavement in healing and holy ways.
A frequent cry of the Psalmist is often found in the Psalms of Lament. Some of these psalms are proclaimed as individuals. Others are written for the entire community.
“Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?” (Psalm 10:1)
“Why are you so far from helping me?” (Psalm 22:1)
“Why do you hide your face?” (Psalm 44:23)
“Why do you forget our affliction?” (Psalm 44:23)
“Why should the nations say, where is their God?” (Psalm 79:10)
When we proclaim the revelation in the Psalms as expressing doubts and suffering to God we communicate the depth of human needs. At the same time, while we explore our laments with our congregations, we find a foundation of faith “beneath” our doubt and suffering. When we find this foundation of faith (or it may be translated as “trust”), it then becomes possible for us seek help with our emotions and with present events. Our concerns and fears testify that we need to rebuild our trust in the Lord who is our help and our salvation.
Praising God by Way of Lamenting
Even while we lament, we are able to praise God. During times of loss, especially critical times when death occurs, we call upon the name of the Lord. It is at this time that we need help more than ever.
The lament of affliction looks forward. In this expression, the grieving person is petitioning for relief from the pain. Our attention in appreciating the grieving process focuses on the element of affliction and how it applies to our time of bereavement.
There are many movements in our lives. Our faith in God is affected by moments of harmony, separation and readjustment. Scripture scholar Walter Brueggemann has specifically listed Psalms which speak to our times of orientation or balance, moments of disorientation or separation emotionally from one another, and our re-orientation or adjustment to losses, which are times of new beginnings and renewed hope.
When we apply these classifications as an outline to the Psalms we find new expression and direction. This application of the Psalms was powerfully stated in the early moments of the September 11th tragedy. We heard invoked Psalm 23:4 “Even though I walk through the dark valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”
The Psalms show us how to sing a new song amidst our disorientation bringing us toward our much needed new orientation.
Telling Our Stories
Like so many others in the past we will remember where we were and what we were doing on September 11. It seems that this is always the way it is with great crises. We remember the assassination of a President or civil rights leaders, a space shuttle disaster, school violence and many other incidents in very specific ways. We need to tell and retell our story about how we react in times of loss. We further need to tell the story so that it becomes real for us. By so doing we can begin to accept that the loss really did happen.
Telling and retelling our stories is essential for healing and hope while we mourn. The Psalms unlock many of the ways to tell our story in the context of trust and hope. By so doing they act as facilitators for the grieving process. We speak to the chaos and upheaval in our parishioners’ lives. When we assist each other with better ways to identify our emotions, we are receiving spiritual direction.
Many of us wonder what to expect with the way we feel. How long will this last? Will I continue to feel this way? What should I do?
A few examples from the Psalter of similar questions are the following:
“But you, O Lord, how long?” (Psalm 6:4)
“How long O Lord?” (Psalm 13:2)
“How long shall I harbor sorrow in my soul?” (Psalm 13:3)
“How long will my enemy triumph over me?” (Psalm 13.3)
“How long, O Lord, shall the wicked exult?” (Psalm 94:3)
All of the above questions and many more are on our minds. It is not so much that we get an answer to these questions. With the ways of grief it is not so much finding an answer as that the answer finds us. There is a reversal in the very way most of us have been conditioned to think. The answer is that we receive a peace beyond understanding. It takes time for this to occur. In the meantime there are only ways that we are able to mange our losses a little better as we express our emotions.
There is no one complete theory or way to go through grief. If that were the case our approach would be simply to use it. However, we know that grief is an intensely personal response to loss. It is colored by many factors. Not least among those factors is our religious faith.
Our faith is central to our working through our losses. When we grieve it is important that our parishioners realize that spirituality is not something added on. Rather it is essential for our being able to live through our experiences of loss.
The Psalms have that spirituality that is timeless. The revelations, especially from the laments, speak to the human heart. They constantly remind us that we do have a conversation with God about matters which trouble us in deep and profound ways.
Our communities of faith benefit greatly when we as priests catechize them about loss. We do this is a variety of ways. The Psalms play a prominent role in our ways of communicating that our dialog with our loving God does make all the difference as to how we go with them through the grieving process. The Psalms are, in many instances, cries of the heart. The give expression to many of the losses we face in our lifetime.
This article has focused on the Psalms as a rich resource in faith which gives us ways to be empathic and understanding to what is occurring in everyone’s life. We cry out in the context of faith and trust. TP