Wake Up, Help, Thanks

Harvey, Irma, Maria, Charleston, Las Vegas, Santa Rosa, Mexico City, Rohingya, and Mogadishu. The newsfeed from crisis to crisis has seemed relentless. I’ve heard people talk in apocalyptic terms. How does one keep perspective? How does one handle it?

On the one hand, I want to remind us that the 21st century is not close to the 20th century in terms of cataclysm and mayhem. Just as the Great War (WWI) was wrapping up in 1918, the world was caught in a Spanish flu pandemic that infected 500 million people (one third of the global population) and killed over 20 million people. And I haven’t even mentioned Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot.

Still, on the other hand, this season has been a deluge of
calamity and heartbreak. What do we do in the midst of this? What is our calling? We work for the Kingdom of God. Yes. We ponder and console. Yes. But above all, we pray. In these seasons, I often go to Psalm 13 to shape my prayers.

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

This is pure lament. It does not ask for explanation or answers; it simply asks for God to show up. It is raw chutzpa. And it is freeing. Psalm 44 is even more daring: Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not cast us off forever! We have nothing of this kind of boldness in any other ancient religion. And we have a God today who is receptive to exactly this kind of speech.

In the next two verses, the psalmist moves to a different tone: a tone of petition.

Consider and answer me, O LORD my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;
my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.

The psalmist moves from a charge against God, to request for divine aid. Paul offers an echo of this in Philippians 4:6: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” How encouraging for me as pastor to hear so many Bethany voices uttering petitions in our weekly liturgy in the Sanctuary for peoples in the grip of tragedy.

Remarkably, Psalm 13 finishes with thanksgiving and praise.

But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD,
because he has dealt bountifully with me. 

I imagine this was not a prayer that originated in one sitting, but rather, was prayed over an extended period of time. I find that that the psalm gives perspective while empowering communion with our Lord wherever we are in this rhythm.

As we enter this deep part of autumn with our Thanksgiving menus taking shape, Psalm 13 seems an appropriate psalm. I’m reminded that the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth followed a winter where only four of the twenty one women who stepped off the Mayflower survived. There was much lament and petition in Massachusetts. And there was thanksgiving. This is what we will do too.