After memoralizing a couple of days in my life (May 21–the date of Joshua’s death and May 22–Sheila and I would have been married thirty-one years), I feel better. It was a cathartic–a kind of cleansing–though I recognize it is a long process (and has been a long one already). I now realize that I need to do this with some regularity and memoralize key dates as a way of remembering, integrating, and recontextualizing the pain.
On Wednesday evening Jennifer and I were blessed with the presence of some special friends at our home, including some who themselves have lost children to death. [I told them that I had checked it out with God and that it counted as Wednesday evening attendance. ] We grieved together through song and sharing. I shared Madeleine L’Engle’s letter to God and my own sort of love-hate relationship with God in recent months as I confronted the tragic events of my life.
I also shared what has become a significant moment for me. In one psychodrama session my life was somatically represented for me. Four people were laid out in front of me as corpses covered in black–one represented my divorce. As I looked at my life the only words I could utter among the sobs were “it is too much.” It was my brief lament; I was overwhelmed. As I sequentially walked through my life, my only thought when I came to Joshua was “God, not again!” And this is how I have felt for some time without feeling it.
Looking life in the eye, I now (to some degree at least) recognize and experience my hurt. Alongside of that, I acknowledge and experience my blessings as well. I am blessed with a loving wife, friends, a church community that has loved me, and the list could go on for some time. Gratitude is part of my healing process. My blessings far exceed most people in the world–especially as we wealthy Americans count “blessings.” But most importantly I truly believe that God does not leave us alone in our pain though it often feels like he does–he sends blessings as moments of grace in the midst of pain. And those blessings provide a way through the pain as we embrace them. The deepest and most powerful blessing is community.
Being with people was more important than I had emotionally perceived earlier in my life. Intellectually I have talked about community for a long time and even experienced it (I thought), but somehow I got it in my heart (my emotional interior) that I could handle grief alone (otherwise, it would be quite embarrasing); somehow I can play the hero and deal with it by myself. I was so wrong and I hope never to make that mistake again. I need a sense of communal lament, communal grief and communal sharing. I need a community that will help me carry the load. In my arrogance I have recognized and recommended that for other people (even written about it!) but I have only recently come to terms with my own need to be vulnerable in community, share with my friends, grieve in their presence and receive the embrace of their comfort–and God through them.
Thank you, my friends–both virtual and otherwise–for listening to my emotional venting in the past month or so.
Yesterday, Thursday, I spent several hours with a new CD entitled The Psalms Project. The eleven songs on the CD are musical arrangements of eleven different Psalms. This CD has special meaning to me. First, it is the work of Kip Long, worship minister of the Sycamore View Church of Christ in Memphis, Tennessee. He produced it in preparation for his ministry at the Pepperdine lectures this year. Kip is a dear friend of mine who knew Joshua from the time when we worked together at the Ross Road Church of Christ in Memphis. Second, the voices on this CD are voices that I recognize from spending almost every Sunday in 2007 with the Sycamore View church. I have a lousy musical ear but I can hear the distinct voices of my friends on that CD.
Third, and most important, the journey of the CD took me through the faith pilgrimage of the Psalms from lament to praise (see my handout for a categorization of Psalms). It begins with Psalm 19 (a Torah Psalm that orients us to the praise and glory of God displayed in nature and Torah) but then moves to two lament Psalms (3 and 13). Then it moved to a orienting wisdom Psalm about blessedness (128 ) and then back to lament with Psalm 44. The CD moves to praise with the short but poweful Psalm 117 and then to the confidence of Psalm 46 (“Be still and know that I am God”) followed by the confident joy of Psalm 121 (we look to the hills). Then the CD breaks out in praise with Psalm 118 which is about a believer who also journeyed through the discipline of hurt and pain to enter again the gates of God’s courts with thanksgiving and joy. Psalm 23 follows as a return to the confidence theme and the CD ends with the praise celebration of Psalm 146.
As I listened to this CD several times yesterday, I imagined myself on the journey of faith from confidence to disorientation (lament) then to praise and back to confidence. It is the up and down journey of faith, and this is what the Psalms portray for us. I experienced again my own life and was able to gain, once again, some perspective in community with Israel, the people of God. It provided again a new interpretation for my life as I journeyed with the Psalmists; it was a new experience of my life through the Psalms. Thanks Kip and the Sycamore View Praise Team for blessing my life.
One of the songs I shared with the group on Wednesday evening has become a popular song among students at Lipscomb University. It is regularly sung at the Sancturary Event every Thursday during the school year. It was written by a former student of mine (and he wrote it before he knew me!)–Nathan Hale. I have sung it every day, several times a day, for the past month. It is particularly meaningful for me because it is based on Psalm 13 which has been an anthem Psalm for me since reading through the Psalms after Sheila’s death. Psalm 13 is my Psalm (but I will share it with you ) Here is Nathan’s poetic rendition which is worth patient meditation as he has captured the essence of the lament. May God bless you with it as he has blessed me.
Psalm 13 by Nathan Hale
How long, O Lord, will you forget me forever?
How long, O Lord, will you hide your face from me?
Long enough, long enough have I carried this load of sorrow.
Long enough, long enough have I lived with this heart full of pain.
But I want to look life in the eye.
I’m tired of falling down on my face.
I’m throwing myself into your loving arms.
And now it’s time to celebrate your rescue.
So, I will sing at the top of my lungs.
Yes, I will sing of your unfailing love.
For you have delivered me from the worst of my enemies.
So, I will sing to the Lord for he has been good to me.