The above quote is from one of the lament Psalms that are in our Bible. Laments tell of the grief and pain either a person or the ancient nation of Israel happen to be going through. Every lament is honest in what is unfolding and each one tells God the truth and asks for help or some kind of deliverance from oppression. And every one, except one, always ends with confidence that God will act and bring hope to the sufferings of God’s people. The only exception is Psalm 88. In this Psalm, normally read on Good Friday there is no deliverance mentioned, no hoped for salvation. What there is is the deep hurt and pain the person is going through. It’s honesty is powerful, it’s plea is one that cannot be ignored. The psalmist has reached the end of his/her rope and just let it all flow out with its brutal honesty.
I read those words at my congregation, Trinity in Nampa, on Good Friday. I barely got through them for to be honest they seemed to mirror my life of late. Reflecting a time of too much pain, too much loss to bear alone. The sickness and death and so much more personally that has surrounded us for so long had worked its way into my spirit and at times I have felt exactly what is being lifted up, I pray my stumbling words of hurt and pain in the morning and in the evening and no relief seems to be in sight. My voice caught as I spoke those words and their reality was revealed. It was it seems that the words of verse that follows 13 was true, “O LORD, why do you cast me off? Why do you hide your face from me?”
Prayer and lament are difficult for me, okay prayer is difficult. I can lament just fine these days having experienced the pain inflicted upon me and the hurt I have caused others who meant something to me. It’s the prayer part that can be challenging for this former pastor of 38 years. The words never come easily; they don’t flow. They come out in a jumble of emotions and tears of hurt and unfortunately feelings of being alone.
Yet, there is a place that has brought comfort to me as I have prayed, or attempted to do. The place, which is no surprise to those of you who know me, is Holden Village, that hard to get to retreat center nestled in the Railroad Creek valley in the North Cascades. The year I lived there I learned more about prayer than any other time or place in my 66 years of life. The picture above is of the place of prayer we gathered each Friday evening. We gathered around the cross there in the middle of the room. We knelt while songs of prayer were being led by a cantor, sometimes that cantor was me, and we prayed. If you wanted to pray alone you did or you could invite the community to lay hands upon you by kneeling at the appropriate spot. What happens next is always powerful, it’s always transformative or at least it was for me. To have people lay hands upon you as you lit the candle, cried tears of grief or, if lucky, a time of joy is an incredible experience. Prayer became communal for the first time. Being a lifelong Lutheran I was not used to that sort of thing. We prayed at meals and at bedtime growing up, but to silently pray with people placing their warm hands upon your body was out of my realm of experience. Even in my deepest hurt I suddenly knew I wasn’t alone! I didn’t have to sugar coat my prayers, but could lift up those prayers of hurt, pain, lament, and also ones of joy and hope. Prayer was not a wish list, but a communal call to God for an experience of God’s presence and grace.
It’s not surprising this is done around the cross, for at the cross comes the intersection of grief and hope. In Mark’s Gospel Jesus speaks from the cross only once and then it is a cry of abandonment, also a quote from the Psalms. Jesus joins us in the dying, in the grieving. He shares the pain of human existence and somehow we know that there can be hope, there will be hope and there is a light pushing back the darkness. Jesus used the cross to show us how to live and yes how to pray with honesty. The words don’t have to be pretty, they can be honest. Sometimes they will be filled with hope and sometimes, maybe more often than not these days, there will be no hope, just honesty and I believe this is enough. Each morning these days I light a candle, read a meditation, and just try and be there in the moment, in the honesty, in the tears, in the moments of hope and I can get through another day. The candle reminds me of the people of Holden whose hands still rest upon me. And that is enough.
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Moved by your brutal honesty, John!
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Thanks, John, for being vulnerable with us in these heat felt words. I am not where you are at the moment, but your words brought to mind a full year of my life around my divorce which was excruciatingly painful. Looking back, I grew a lot that year, but it was not fun. I felt pretty much all alone. I had nurtured few friendships to lean on. I could have greatly benefitted from this devotional during many of those days. You are surrounded by folks who love you and care about you. Lean on us when you need us.
Thank you, Pastor John, from another Lutheran dealing with grieving and loss.
Thank you for sharing this!