Monday's Messianic Taste of Hidden Manna #50
Falsely Securely Oriented, Painfully Disoriented, Surprisingly Reoriented
It is experiences of being overwhelmed, nearly destroyed, and surprisingly given life that empower us to pray and sing at the level of the Psalms.
Always Being Carried Along in the Flow
This past weekend, I had the chance to read Walter Brueggemann's "Praying the Psalms: Engaging Scripture and the Life of the Spirit". The whole premise of the book is that all of God's people as individuals, and as a community, are always being carried along in the flow of being securely oriented, painfully disoriented, and surprisingly reoriented. However, the book opens with a serious concern that too many of us are falsely securely oriented in what I call an 'easygoing' equilibrium.
Falsely Securely Oriented in an Easygoing Equilibrium
From the perspective of the Scriptures themselves, the starting place for God's people is to be securely oriented in God's covenant of shalom (wholeness, completeness, soundness, sufficiency, satisfaction, harmony, peace) or holistic wellbeing (see, e.g., Isa 26:3; 54:10; Num 6:23–27; Isa 52:7; John 14:27; Gal 1:3; 1 Cor 14:33). However, as stated above, Brueggemann's book opens with a serious concern that too many of us are falsely securely oriented in what I call an 'easygoing' equilibrium. By that, we mean a relaxed and tolerant approach to life that is NOT characterized by raw honesty, total transparency, and the unembarrassed audacity or boldness to pour our hearts out to the God of shalom in honest reaction to the painfully disorienting situations that befall us.
The Psalms Do Not Emerge Out of an Easygoing Equilibrium
The problem with such a lack of raw honesty, total transparency, and unabashed audacity is that we are not able to authentically engage and pray the Psalms. That is because the Psalms do not emerge out of an easygoing equilibrium. Rather people are driven to such poignant prayers and songs as are found in the Psalter precisely by experiences of disorientation and reorientation. It is experiences of being overwhelmed, nearly destroyed, and surprisingly given life that empower us to pray and sing at the level of the Psalms.
The Painfully Disorienting Disruption of Our Easygoing Equilibrium
In a variety of ways, the situations at the edge of our humanness—the ones that threaten and disrupt our convenient equilibrium— are the situations that may fill us with pathos (depth of emotion) and evoke in us eloquence (clear, expressive, persuasive speech). Thus the Psalms mostly reflect such situations of pathos and eloquence when we are pressed to our limits by experience to address the God of shalom. What situations press us to our limits or drive us to the edge of our humanness? They are situations of extremity for which conventional easygoing equilibrium offers no adequate base! The painfully disorienting disruption of our easygoing equilibrium can involve any of the following: sin, consequence, stress, distress, hardship, trouble, suffering, pain, grief, sorrow, depression, oppression, affliction, threat, trial, tribulation, woe, adversity, difficulty, calamity, catastrophe, contingency, limitedness, anguish, disease, illness, random misfortune, ordeal, misery, plight, blight, fright, fear, overwhelmingness, disillusionment, etc.! Did I leave anything out? Please fill in the blanks!
The Raw Honesty of Human Reality
The Psalms allow us to consider the prayers of all sorts and conditions of persons in covenant community relationship with God, over a long ancient period, but in voices that have amazing authenticity and contemporaneity due to our 'common humanity'. The painfully disorienting situations that we lament are what is meant by the Psalms representation of "all sorts and conditions" of people. The lament we are talking about is the powerful, painful, bold, and vivid expression of the raw honesty of human reality—in a voice that dares to speak of these disorienting situations with pathos and eloquence to the God of shalom! The Psalms teach us to speak about human experience in a raw, honest, and freeing way. This, is in sharp contradistinction to much of human talk and conduct which is in fact a coverup! That coverup talk and conduct is actually the language of the falsely secure easygoing equilibrium! Such language denies raw honesty with the result that our speech is dulled and mundane. One of the best examples of this is the dulled, mundane, and arrogant U.S. expression "I got this"!
The Raw Honesty of the Psalms Versus Coverup Talk & Conduct
This means that the strategic intention of the Psalms is considerably at odds with the normal talk of most people—the normal talk of a stable, functioning, self-deceptive culture in which everything must be kept in an easygoing and pretend equilibrium. As stated above, the language of the Psalms is characterized by raw honesty, total transparency, and unabashed audacity (i.e., unembarrassed and even abrasive boldness). Those who utter Psalmic laments pour out their hearts to the God of Shalom in raw and honest reaction to whatever has befallen them. They do not cease talking and walking with God in the midst of troubles. They do not play games or pretend to be okay, and their lament includes bold speech characterized by raw honesty, pathos, and eloquence (including loud complaints, questions, and sometimes even accusations against God) knowing that "God will never be blown away by the strength of our language"!
Authentically Engaging the Power of the Psalms
If we merely engage the Psalms superficially in our easygoing and pretend equilibrium, we miss the point of the Psalms and they do not yield their power. Moreover, our own experience may then be left untapped and inarticulate—and therefore unliberated. Such superficial use of the Psalms coincides with the denial of the edge of our humanness (i.e., where we are pushed to the limits). Thus, Brueggemann rightly suggests that most of the Psalms can only be authentically prayed by people who are living in the reality of the rawness of the edge of life—sensitive to the raw hurts, the primitive pathos, and the naïve elations (presumed happinesses) that are at the bottom of our life. Authentic prayerful entrance into the Psalms requires a real change of pace. It requires that we depart from the closely managed world of public pretense, into the raw, honest, totally transparent, and unabashedly audacious world of eloquent speaking with the God of shalom.
The starting place for people who claim to belong to God and Messiah must then be that of being securely oriented in God's covenant of shalom. Then, we shall join the transformative process of the people who were driven to such poignant prayers and songs as are found in the Psalter—precisely by experiences of painful disorientation (whether of our own doing or not) and surprisingly shalom-based reorientation. It is experiences of being overwhelmed, nearly destroyed, and surprisingly given life that empower us to pray and sing at the level of the Psalms.
In your service always, Henri Louis Goulet