From Psalm 30, an example of orientation, dis-orientation and new orientation:7 While I felt secure, I said, “I shall never be disturbed. You, Lord, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains.”8 Then you hid your face, and I was filled with fear.9 I cried to you, O Lord: I pleaded with the Lord, saying,10 “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness?”11 Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me; O Lord, be my helper.”12 You have turned my wailing into dancing; you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.13 Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; O lord my God, I will give you thanks for ever.A prayer for the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, observed later this week:Almighty God, whose blessed Son restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and of mind, and called her to be a witness of his resurrection: Mercifully grant that by your grace we may be healed from all our infirmities and know you in the power of his unending life; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.2 Corinthians 5:17,18So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.From Psalm 981 Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things.
This summer, I’ve been part of a group studying a book entitled The Spirituality of the Psalms, by Dr. Walter Brueggemann. It’s a great find, a succinct offering (74 pages…we like that) that describes the psalms in their great variety. Dr. Brueggemann identifies psalms of orientation, psalms of disorientation, and psalms of new orientation.
Psalms of orientation celebrate the goodness that surrounds us. They are often filled with praise and gratitude, a key part of the spiritual life. But they can sometimes spill over into self-congratulation and complacency. Isn’t God lucky to have me on the team?
Psalms of dis-orientation seem especially appropriate now, as we contend with coincident crises any one of which would normally send us reeling. They suggest times to discover our need of God, our absolute dependence. They can also be times when we feel overwhelmed by forsakenness and despair.
Psalms of new orientation emerge from that disorientation. They call us to sing a new song, to find a new way of being, perhaps move to the new normal for which we all pine. They do not describe a return to the good old days. Instead they speak of new creation.
We can note these varied voices not only in the Psalms, but in other stories in the Bible as well. We see it as communal experience, in the exodus of the children of Israel, the Babylonian exile, the persecution of the early church, as communities of faith ride a roller coaster and come to a new place. It’s the story of individual characters like Joseph, who went from favored son to slave to prisoner to prince of Egypt, a progression which according to the book of Genesis represented the salvation of Israel in a time of global famine.
It’s the story of Mary Magdalene, whose feast we celebrate this week. She was grateful for the ways Jesus delivered her from spirits that bedeviled her, becoming one of Jesus’s most faithful disciples and ardent supporters. Then she came to the disorientation that took her to the foot of the cross when other disciples fled. In that disorientation, she made her grief-stricken way to the tomb, where she met the risen Lord and became the first witness of Easter faith. Perhaps that’s why one of the readings for her feast day speaks of new creation (See the passage above). In Christ, God makes things new.
We see the progression not only in the psalms, not only in the Bible, but in our own lives. Take a look in your own spiritual rear-view mirror this morning and see if you can identify periods of orientation, dis-orientation and new orientation in your own biography. See if you can identify those stages unfolding in a communal sense.
I’ll go out on a limb here, but I’m guessing that right now we can best be described as living in unprecedented disorientation. We face unsettling threats to our most fundamental concerns: our health, our financial resources, and our relations with each other in a world where too many people are disregarded and marginalized. It’s true of our families, our churches, our nation, our world.
In the thick of all that, we’ve got to hold on to the possibility, the prospect, the hope of new orientation, new creation. I’m pretty sure we’re not going back to the old normal, the old orientation. I’m not sure I want to. But God is faithful. Something new will be created, and we can be part of that new creation. What will you do this week, even in massive disorientation, to be part of that new creation? Let me know your thoughts. I’m all ears.
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