Praise the Lord, you that fear him; stand in awe of him,
APB: Calling the liturgical police
Maybe Psalm 23 is the best known of the 150 psalms. But Psalm 22 may be a close second. The first 21 verses are read in Holy Week, especially on Good Friday, as the psalm begins with the poignant, painful cry: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Those words are repeated by Jesus on the cross. They suggest one of the deepest wounds of Calvary, which is that Jesus senses abandonment by his father. When Jesus offers his question from the cross, it’s been regarded as shorthand for the rest of the psalm which vividly describes the pain of that crucial moment.
When this psalm appears in our liturgy, we usually just read the first 21 verses, again, a picture of suffering and abandonment. But consider the last part of the psalm, heard yesterday in church, included above. After 21 verses of grim news, rightly reflecting the grimness that life can serve up, the tone shifts. These verses suggest that even in the face of devastating loss, there is cause for praise, cause for hope.
Since I’m writing this on a Sunday in Lent, I’m going to take a Sunday break from Lenten observance and let loose a few hallelujahs. If you or the liturgical police take offense, know that I only do so based on the wisdom of spiritual writers (heroes) who know a lot more about the life of the spirit than I do.
I’m talking about Anne Lamott, who wrote a book called Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy. In her book, she notes the ancient Chinese practice of embellishing the cracked parts of valued possessions with gold leaf. According to Lamott: “We dishonor it if we pretend that it hadn’t gotten broken. It says: We value this enough to repair it. So it is not denial or a cover-up. It is the opposite, an adornment of the break with gold leaf, which draws the cracks into greater prominence. The gold leaf becomes part of its beauty. That leads her to hallelujah, because “in spite of it all, there is love, there is singing, nature, laughing, mercy.”
I’m talking about Joan Chittister and Rowan Williams, who collaborated on a book called Uncommon Gratitude: Alleluia For All That Is. Here’s some wisdom from Sister Joan: “Life itself is an exercise in learning to sing “alleluia” here in order to recognize the face of God hidden in the recesses of time. To deal with the meaning of “alleluia” in life means to deal with moments that do not feel like ‘alleluia moments’ at all.”
I’m talking about Henri Nouwen, who wrote an article entitled “All is Grace” for the journal Weavings in 1992. In that article, he says that “gratitude as the gospel speaks of it embraces all of life: the good and the bad, the joyful and the painful, the holy and the not so holy…The cross is the main symbol of our faith and it invites us to find hope where we see pain…The call to be grateful is a call to trust that every moment of our life can be claimed as the way of the cross that leads us to new life.”
Maybe that’s what St. Paul was after when he said to give thanks in all things (I Thessalonians 5.18).
We’re in the thick of Lent. Maybe that corresponds to a sense of wilderness, even forsakenness in your own life. I suspect that sense comes to each one of us at some time. Is there a way to offer praise anyway?
Read all of Psalm 22 today, as a Lenten practice. Maybe when Jesus asked his question from the cross, shorthand for Psalm 22, he was including the last portion as well, glimpsing with praise the possibility of a new life, a new beginning which we’ll observe on Easter. Maybe he knew what Anne Lamott says in her book: “God makes a way out of no way.”