For several thousand years, the Jewish community and, was time has gone on, people from all faith backgrounds have resonated with the Hebrew Psalms.
It’s hard not to connect when we hear how ancient people interacted with a living God. Every emotion, from love and longing to pain and loss, finds its expression somewhere in the corpus.
The beginning of Psalm 42 has really connected for me recently:
As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
2My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
the face of God?
Growing up in West Michigan, I saw my fair share of these creatures; the local species is the whitetail variety. On many occasions I have witnessed deer licking up fresh water from a stream or still pond. The text here recognizes the subtle difference between these creatures and myself, at least as far as I could comprehend, for I had and still have more than enough water and food; but I long for a larger sense of connection to my maker, not just the next meal. Maybe that’s true too for the creature too; but I suppose for now, at least, I cannot know.
Also, seemingly unlike the woodland creature, I am sometimes crushed with sadness and acquainted with loss. Virtual church, for all our efforts, isn’t the same as the sustaining gift of person-to-person connection. Virtual hugs are not real hugs, as nice of a gesture as they are. FaceTime is nice, it’s just not quite face time. For all our talk of health, I do think we should consider our mental and spiritual health alongside our hand washing habits; it’s not an either-or but a both-and. No apology for that digression!
Returning to both our physical, spiritual, and mental health, it is impossible not to wonder where God is in all aspects of our wellness. For all the theologizing, I am really praying for deliverance from the current pandemic we’re facing. Again, the psalmist’s words connect:
3 My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”
God is God, no different than any other historical epoch, but amidst the panic of pandemic, the question feels palpably more relevant. Today doesn’t strike me as the day to tackle this,
More relevant still, at the current moment, at least for a lot of Christians and other religious people, WE MISS CHURCH!
4 These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,
and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
a multitude keeping festival.
The Psalmist, some three millennia ago, remembers going to the house of God [probably the Temple in Jerusalem] and all the associated joy. Then, amidst the tears, there is hope. The psalmist speaks directly to his own soul.
Maybe you, like me, have experienced the kind of thoughts that dysregulate, frustrate, invalidate, or otherwise discourage. Those thoughts are not from God. Unfortunately, it’s easy to believe the terrible things that we tell ourselves:
you’re worthless, and you’ll never get through this!
you’re just like the rest of your family, you’ll never amount to anything!
you did it again! you’ll never get out of that terrible habit!
Once again, these are not from God!
My excellent friend, James, once reflected with eloquence on
how often we listen to ourselves;
and by contrast,
how infrequently we speak to our deepest self, our soul.
Biblical wisdom tells us there is a time to speak and a time to listen, and the psalmist shrewdly recognizes this moment as a moment to speak. The psalmist perceives an inner dialogue that offers no hope, but instead of succumbing to the voices, a choice happens as s/he confronts the voice of hopelessness. It may be not God who has forgotten us, but our souls that have forgotten God:
5 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help 6 and my God.
During these tiring days of parenting young kids, there are moments during which my patience is pushed beyond its limits. It stretches, yes, but also sometimes snaps.
Whether it’s Maelin running away from the table or Silas insisting on a certain toy, there always seems to be something.
Oh – and there’s a pandemic happening. And my little family has an awful lot at stake if we get sick. May I, and may we, remember the God who is with us wherever we find ourselves.
I picture this particular Psalmist If you just replace the land of Jordan with wherever you call home, the psalmist’s gritty honesty might just connect:
My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
As so many have been reminding us whether on social media, over the phone, or maybe even in-person, it’s not only wise and transformational to check in on our own souls and talk back when we hear toxic sentiment, it may be how God is helping us survive isolation.
Keep washing your hands, keep the physical distance up. It’s proven as wise practice.
And keep speaking God-given truth and hope to your own soul.
And to anyone who might need it.