A Reflection on Psalm 84 for those Grieving Loss

Give sorrow words; grief that does not speak

Whispers to the o’er-fraught heart, and bids it break.

Shakespeare, Macbeth

Some of the Psalm lines I quoted in my previous post were from Psalm 84.  I had read this Psalm many times in the past, but this past week it has made an indelible impression on my heart.  I don’t know why it did this time–perhaps this past week’s focus on grief, perhaps the recent book on assembly Bobby Valentine, Johnny Melton and I authored, perhaps it was my past experiences in assembly, or perhaps it was just the right time for God’s Spirit to speak to my heart through this text. I don’t know–but the experience of this text this past week was powerful for me.

The Psalm speaks of the yearning for home–“a place in his courts to rest” (from the song, not the Psalm but it is the idea). The sparrow has a home and so does the swallow–a place of safety where she may hatch her young. It is a nest of peace, tranquility, companionship and joy.

There is such a place for believers near the altar of God–near the mercy, compassion and grace of God. To dwell in the house of God is to fill the emptiness of our souls; to experience the joy of presence rather than the grief of loss. It is the dwelling place of God himself, and our hearts and flesh cry out for that presence.

Our present reality, however, is that our pilgrimage takes us through the “Valley of Baca” or the Valley of Weeping. Our journey does not take us around pain and grief but through them. I think I have often sought to transcend the pain rather than experience it. I have sometimes excelled at the art of jumping to a different place like in the movie “Jumper”–to transport myself to another moment, to escape to a different reality–instead of sitting in my feelings, experiencing the pain and moving through the grief.

The divine promise in this Psalm is that those who set their heart to experience the presence of God will find blessing and strength. As they move through the dry (ironic, huh?) Valley of Weeping in the summer, God will provide autumn rains that create pools of water to refresh them. The pilgrims will move from strength to strength despite their pain, grief and times of weakness.

I connect with this Psalm at many levels. At one level, while the Valley of Weeping has been and still is a dark and painful place for me, there are also times of refreshment–springs of water–which comfort me through encountering God in those dark places. God seeks us even in the darkness and perhaps particularly in the pain. His presence is felt in those moments which turn lament into praise.

At another level, while I have discovered those moments in private meditation, more often than not I have found them in the courts of praise among God’s people. To dwell in the court of the Lord for the Psalmist is more about the public assembly of God’s people in the temple courts where God met his people–it was home for the Psalmist or at least the home he wanted.

I can remember many different times when I felt transformed–moved from lament to praise–through worshipping God with the assembled saints. I remember a moment in the late summer of 2001 after Joshua’s death and my divorce that during the assembly I felt a divine comfort and whereas my heart was previously burdened I was able to release that lament to praise. It is not a permanent release–I still carry much of that burden, as I have discovered–but it was nevertheless an authentic, meaningful experience which still soothes my heart.

At bottom, grief needs both public (assembly) and private (meditation) encounters with God. It needs a safe place, both in the assembly and in communion with God, to bare its soul and to feel its pain. It needs both community and the inner world of the heart–both authentically living in the presence of the living God.

The heart that cries for the living God and journeys toward him will know the joy of living in the courts of God–a place of rest, peace and safety. This is the blessedness of relationship with God.

I am still on my journey–I have not yet arrived, and I know I have many fellow-travelers who are walking the same road with me.

“Blessed are those whose strength is in [God], who have set their hearts on pilgrimage [to the courts of God].”  Psalm 84:5



13 Responses to “A Reflection on Psalm 84 for those Grieving Loss”

  1. Profile photo of Bobby Valentine  bobbyvalentine Says:

    Psalm 84 seems like it confession and testimony at the same time. How wonderful it is to experience the gracious Presence of the Yahweh (testimony). Yet the psalmist also confesses: “My soul yearns, even faints … my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God” (v.2) and then “Hear my prayer, O LORD God Almighty.” If it wasn’t for the latter I might conclude the psalmist did not know what life was and the former casts the ray of hope.

    I, on the other hand, addressed a group of largely singles today using Ps 103. The psalm is an extended interpretation of Ex 34.6-7 it seems to me. Though the text speaks confidently of God’s compassion (4x in fact) … God’s love fills all time (v.17) and space (v.11) but I found myself drawn to the wind that destroys and heals in vv. 15-16. I found myself wanting to claim that wonderful compassion, longing for it, … and doubting it is real. Sometimes it makes me wonder about faith … Well I better go.

    Will miss you at Pepperdine.

    Seeking Shalom,
    Bobby V

  2.   RICH CONSTANT Says:

    john mark

    Psa 51:14 Deliver me from blood, O God, God of my salvation, My tongue singeth of Thy righteousness.

    Psa 51:15 O Lord, my lips thou dost open, And my mouth declareth Thy praise.

    Psa 51:16 For Thou desirest not sacrifice, or I give it , Burnt-offering Thou acceptest not.

    Mar 15:34 and at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a great voice, saying, `Eloi, Eloi, lamma sabachthani?’ which is, being interpreted, `My God, my God, why didst Thou forsake me?’

    Psa 51:17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A heart broken and bruised, O God, Thou dost not despise.

    Heb 2:9 and him who was made some little less than messengers we see–Jesus–because of the suffering of the death, with glory and honour having been crowned, that by the grace of God for every one he might taste of death.

    2Ti 1:9 who did save us, and did call with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, that was given to us in Christ Jesus, before the times of the ages,

    2Ti 1:10 and was made manifest now through the manifestation of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who indeed did abolish death, and did enlighten life and immortality through the good news,

    PEACE AND BLESSINGS

    RICH IN CA.

    PS MY NEW WIFE OF 20 YEARS GAVE ME
    2 TI.1:9-10

  3.   Carisse Says:

    In those terrible sliding plummeting weeks after my husband left, I learned to hear Ps 119 in a way I had never been able to before. Where I had formerly thought of it as legalistic, I found great comfort in its assurances that even though my world had blown apart, God’s moral law was in place and eternal.

  4.   Nick Gill Says:

    JM,

    I’m glad you were able to participate in the redemptive and healing work of God in your own life. Often we’re much better at sharing that healing with others; we get in our own way so much.

    I’m glad, because NOW you can start work on the fourth book in your increasingly mis-named trilogy on the Stone-Campbell Sacraments – The sacrament of the Word.

    Have you noticed perchance how your sacramental writing has paralleled Ben Witherington’s work (until your third books went different directions)?

  5. Profile photo of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    Actually I gave him the idea when we were on a panel together in 2002 or was it 2003….. Just kidding! We were on a panel together, but I didn’t give him any ideas at all! :-)

    One might say that epistemologically, the sacrament of the Word is the key sacrament since we know and experience the other sacraments under the horizon of the promises of the Word. So, it would be a nice addition to do something on the Word, hermeneutics and theology. But I’m afraid that will have to wait a couple of years at least as I am in a sabbatical rest from my labors for 2008.

    Blessings

    John Mark

  6.   RICH CONSTANT Says:

    john mark

    I hope you’re carrying a digital recorder so that next year you’ll be able to look at some of the thoughts and musings that you have during this pivotal point in your life.
    Hey I’ve got a good idea, I’ll sing you a digital tape recorder and you can rattle off five or six hours on a couple subjects that I’d like you to talk to me about..

    Oh and by the way just in case you try to brush off pivotal point. I have a little question.
    Many times have you done this.
    And how many times have you been 50.

    Always blessings starting to be able to say peace and joy in the spirit of our Lord.

    Rich in California

  7. Profile photo of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    It is nice to think of 50 as my sabbatical year of rest. Indeed, I’m catching up for the 49 years I did not rest. :-)

  8.   RICH CONSTANT Says:

    john mark

    After being raised in the church, and being 60 years old, and putting my mind to task in the Scriptures.
    It has always amazed me generalized conceit that I find in the church, in my limited experience in Southern California.
    Since finding your website, I have found a place to grow.
    My wonderful wife has always told me, and scolded me of my contentious nature.
    Although from my perception I was contending for the faith.
    It has taking taken me years before I came to the conclusion that my perception was wrong.
    The heart is a funny thing misguided at best and we are products of our environment.

    I would like to thank you for your 50 years, and bringing this environment, which is a reflection of the divine nature that you obviously have been so diligent to bring forth from out of your heart.

    Out of their hearts will flow living waters.
    Not.
    Out of their hearts will flow of condemning waters.

    Thanks again as always.
    Peace and blessings and joy in the spirit of our Lord.
    Rich in California

  9.   rich Says:

    As I walk now in the dispair of devorce the words I put down spell out the demise of my of my marriage god give her grace for my misguided ledership shamed I am and in my greefing teArs this morning a contenshious hart misguided by blindNess to the command of grace through love kindness and understanding how great the valley of dispair and the ramafacations to my partner my brother. Oh my god please help her in the hardness of her hart because of my misguided ignorent leadership
    Amen

    • Profile photo of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      Rich, it is helpful to hear from you about your own grief process, and how your divorce hurts. Many know that pain all too well. We own our mistakes, seek God’s forgiveness, and live differently into the future…as best we can. Blessings, my friend. John Mark

  10.   Inversion table Says:

    When we meet people who are suffering and grieving we either ?give them the truth? … However, other people ?just weep? with those who are suffering which shows ….. Jesus comes to earth, takes on human flesh and befriends the lost.

  11.   Teeter Hang ups Says:

    Human beings tend to make strong bonds of affection or attachment with others. When these bonds are broken, as in death, a strong emotional reaction occurs. After a loss occurs, a person must accomplish certain tasks to complete the process of grief. These basic tasks of mourning include accepting that the loss happened, living with and feeling the physical and emotional pain of grief, adjusting to life without the loved one, and emotionally separating from the loved one and going on with life without him or her. It is important that these tasks are completed before mourning can end.

  12.   strumpfhosen Says:

    Grief therapy is used with people who have more serious grief reactions. The goal of grief therapy is to identify and solve problems the mourner may have in separating from the person who died. When separation difficulties occur, they may appear as physical or behavior problems, delayed or extreme mourning, conflicted or extended grief, or unexpected mourning (although this is seldom present with cancer deaths).

    Grief therapy may be available as individual or group therapy. A contract is set up with the individual that establishes the time limit of the therapy, the fees, the goals, and the focus of the therapy.

    In grief therapy, the mourner talks about the deceased and tries to recognize whether he or she is experiencing an expected amount of emotion about the death. Grief therapy may allow the mourner to see that anger, guilt, or other negative or uncomfortable feelings can exist at the same time as more positive feelings about the person who died.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. One Year at Wordpress: The Most Viewed Posts/Series « John Mark Hicks Ministries
  2. Five Years of Blogging | John Mark Hicks Ministries

Leave a Reply