Give sorrow words; grief that does not speak
Whispers to the o’er-fraught heart, and bids it break.
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