40: Depths and heights #Lent2021

My God! My God, why have you left me all alone? Why are you so far from saving me – so far from my anguished groans? …. I’m just a worm, less than human … I’m poured out like water. All my bones have fallen apart. My heart is like wax; it melts inside me. My strength is dried up like a piece of broken pottery. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you’ve set me down in the dirt of death. (Psalm 22:1-15, excerpts) + Let my whole being bless the Lord! Let everything inside me bless his holy name! Let my whole being bless the Lord and never forget all his good deeds: how God forgives all your sins, heals all your sickness, saves your life from the pit, crowns you with faithful love and compassion, and satisfies you with plenty of good things so that your youth is made fresh like an eagle’s. (Psalm 103:1-5)

When Anne told Marilla she was in the ‘depths of despair’, Marilla expressed disapproval, declaring that to be in such a state was to ‘turn your back on God’. Marilla didn’t have much appreciation or empathy for Anne’s distress. In this and other interactions in ‘Anne of Green Gables’, Marilla seems to wish that Anne would very promptly tame a scene of mountain peaks of elation and deep rocky valleys into a neater scene: gently undulating grassy hills, perhaps. Anne is, at times, nearly paralysed with devastation and yet experiences the flipside of being nearly at bursting point with joy and enthusiasm. This intensity is not always received with validation. For those musical people reading, imagine the socially acceptable expressions of emotion as being a song that hovers closely around Middle C. Much communication may easily fall into this range. Yet, what of the dramatic, complex song that spans two or more octaves?

This vast range of human emotion and experience is poetically expressed through the Psalms. The 22nd Psalm, attributed to David, depicts a man who believes that God has turned away from him. David uses the vivid imagery of being a worm. A worm. It evokes an unattractive picture, a creature who is among the lowest of the low. I mean, these are the creatures who feast on what flows into our septic system. The concept of the worm reminds me of the ‘wretch’ in the famous hymn, Amazing Grace.

Yet the sweetness of grace causes an incredible transformation from one who is blind (or perhaps had a massive psychological blind spot…?) into one who sees clearly and has found a place of belonging in God’s family and culture. It does seem to be the way that deeply confronting, painful experiences might stretch one’s capacity at the other end of the scale as well – to know deep relief, gratitude, joy and elation.

The 103rd Psalm, also attributed to David, opens with the exclamation, Let my whole being bless the Lord! Why? Because the Creator provides and encourages forgiveness, healing, positive transformation and the restoration of dignity in us humans, in the midst of our wretchedness.

I do not shy away from the lowest and highest notes. I seek to hold a space, in a one-on-one interaction where someone can express deep pain. For them to be real and to feel validated. To remind the person of their permission to give an alternative answer to ‘how are you?’ than ‘good’, ‘fine’ or ‘well’. I also gravitate towards opportunities to express these more intense, and often private human experiences through a performing arts medium. I consider it an immense privilege and also, I hope, a potential benefit to the audience, who might be moved by a character’s struggles, may identify personally with what the fictional person is grappling with. Or, to feel swept up into the soaring joy, and walk away with a lingering (genuine) smile. Ω

Reflect: How do you express emotion in prayer? Do you take everything to God, or just the ‘good’ stuff? Pray your way through these two Psalm extracts, and let yourself experience the depths and heights of emotion as you pray.

#Lent2021. Real People, Real Stories: 40 Readings for Lent, Sanctuary, 2021. Image credit: Rachel Coyne on Unsplash.

What is this? Lent is the 40 days, excluding Sundays, before Easter. Traditionally it is a time of intense reflection and pilgrimage. To help you on this journey, Sanctuary has put together 40 stories from people both within and beyond the congregation, with associated questions for reflection and prayer. A reading will be uploaded every day of Lent.

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