Disquietude

Last month, in honor of Eugene Peterson, Fathom Magazine ran a contest inviting folks to submit Psalm paraphrases. Those chosen appeared in this month’s issue and they are excellent. My paraphrase of Psalm 77 was not chosen, but I wanted to share it, hoping it might be a blessing to some. 

I do not hold back my tears from God.
Oh that he would hear my painful wailing,
that he would not be deaf to my disquietude.

In the depths of despair,
when all is blackness,
I grope around for my Comforter.
I strain to reach him, yet my hands come up empty.
How can I rest in peace without him?

Even as I think about him, tears stain my cheeks;
I try to pray, but what’s the use?

Breathe.

My pain blinds me, but you make me see.
Still, my words are held captive by my suffering heart.

I turn my thoughts to the past,
which seems so long ago.
I find my tongue, “Help me to remember joy’s melody!
let your mercy shine light into my darkness.”
I think long and hard.
“Will I always feel rejected by God?
Will he always be disapproving?
Has he stopped loving me?
Has he checked out of my life?
Has he forgotten how much I depend upon his grace?
Must I be crushed by his anger rather than upheld by his love?”

Breathe.

I tell myself, “Remember the past.
Remember God’s goodness to his people.”

Yes, I must recollect what God has done.
I need to recall his never-ending love.
“I will turn my thoughts to every good thing you have done, Father,
and when my thoughts stray, I will turn again to your goodness.
Your way, God, is the right way.
Why do I even consider that anything else compares with you?
You are the wonder-working God.
All I need to do is open my eyes and I can see your handiwork!
Again and again, you have saved your people from impossible situations,
generations have tasted your goodness.”

Breathe.

“When the oceans and the rivers see you, O God,
they retreat in awed surrender.
Even the very depths of the ocean
cannot hide from your glorious might.
At your word, O LORD,
Storms rained upon the earth,
torrents prevailed
lightning assailed
everywhere, accompanied by
thundrous wails.
All creation bowed to your command
winds whirling
with staccato flashes
and booming crashes.
You are the Lord of the lightning
and you are the gentle shepherd.
Your unseen presence
leads your people through life’s storms.”

Prismatic Praise

Write 31 days, day 12

Writing prompt: praise

What does it look like to live a life of praise? Can we praise in sorrow as well as joy? In celebration and lament? I think about Job sometimes. He faced loss and suffering of mythic proportions. He laid his complaints before God. Did he ever stop praising?

Here’s the thing: I think that sometimes Christians get it in mind that a restricted emotional wavelength is preferable. Joy is welcome. Happiness, sure. Also contentment. We even allow sorrow–for a season, but then we expect it to give way to happiness. Do we believe that God is somehow incapable of handling prismatic emotions? The biblical record corrects us. We see men and women living lives of praise who deal with fear, anger, sadness, grief, and shame as well as joy. Perhaps when we bring all of these feelings before his throne, we truly offer robust praise.

For reflection: as often as you think of it today, ask yourself how am I praising God in this moment.

Overflow

A flood of emotion
tear’s cataract
overflowing grief’s banks
saturating the plains of consciousness.
The waters may bring death,
but they also bring life.
Our way is not around,
but through the sea.

The Key

In the shadows I sit
imprisoned in fear,
alone and afraid
year after year.

I wonder alone
will darkness lift?
constant companion
suffering’s “gift.”

I see Jesus coming
carrying a key,
I think to myself
he’ll set me free.

He opens the door
and enters the space,
he sits down with me
tears stain his face.

I ask, “are we leaving?”
He says, “no, not yet.
Your pain continues,
but child, don’t fret.”

He gazes at me
with love in his eyes,
“I’ll be with you
until darkness dies.”

Past tragedy and pain are the paints and canvas we are to use to create the art of life.–Dan Allender

Schema of a Soul

Although I share many book reviews on my other blog, I don’t share them here, preferring to reserve this space as a place for beauty. However, this blog is precisely the right forum for Kimberlye Berg’s book, Schema of a Soulone of the most beautiful books I have ever read.

In a world where nearly one million books are published each year, I would never have encountered Schema of a Soul apart from a chance meeting. Several years ago, I met Kim at Larry Crabb’s Next Step School for Spiritual Direction. All week, she sat a few chairs down from me as we listened and learned together. She struck me as a kind, unpretentious woman and only later did I learn that she had authored a book. Indeed, I am doubtful that she was the one who told me about it.  With just a glimpse of what the book was about, I added it to Amazon wish list where it remained for years. I ordered it last July, but it sat on a shelf in my library since then. I finally opened it this morning and was grateful for an unofficial snow day.

Describing books is sometimes a difficult thing to do. I found that to be particularly true here. In Schema of a Soul, Kim tells of coping with the death of her son nineteen year old son Michael, but that description is woefully inadequate. It is a memoir. A eulogy. A love letter to her husband. A confession. A prayer. Poetic. Raw. Honest. Tragic. And beautiful all the same. She treasures words. As I read, I was reminded of something I read just yesterday: “Language in itself, beginning with the name of ‘God,’ is holy, a precious gift that makes it possible to live in community” (Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places).

Though the book is just shy of 150 pages, I cried a half-dozen times today. Before I left for work this morning, I read my wife just one paragraph and felt that familiar hitch in my throat. Kim’s transparent reflections upon her grief, with hues of anger and fear and confusion stirred my soul. I found myself thinking about my own losses and those of friends, especially those who have borne the grief of losing their own teenage sons.

One of the joys of reading books by other readers is getting a glimpse of what writers have stirred their souls. It came as no surprise that Kim and I share an affection for Larry Crabb, but I was grateful to read of her other influences, among them Chesterton, Buechner, and Lewis. Midway through the book, she reflected upon reading Lewis’s book, The Great Divorce, one autumn afternoon: “I had no idea the wringing I was in for.” The Great Divorce is not only my favorite CS Lewis Book, but one of my favorite books overall. As soon as Kim mentioned her “wringing,” I knew exactly what story would affect her so deeply, the story of a mother who goes to heaven and is looking for her son. Michael. I had forgotten his name was Michael. I wrote in the column of page 75, “Had you ever read The Great Divorce before?” It also brought to memory that when we attended Next Step, we were treated to a one man production of The Great Divorce by Anthony Lawton. I found myself wondering if Lawton brought the character of Pam to life and what effect that would have upon Kim. Upon reflection, I do not think he did.

Schema of a Soul is a gem, formed in the heat of Kim’s suffering, but polished to a rare beauty by her willingness to honestly wrestle with multifaceted changes wrought by the loss of Michael.

Thank you Kim.

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