Thanksgiving and Lament: Psalm 42-43

There are a good number of psalms of thanksgiving.

And you might have thought that we would have chosen one of those psalms
for next week’s Wine Before Breakfast.

But we didn’t.

Not that next week’s psalm knows nothing of thanksgiving.

You see, the psalmist remembers times of thanksgiving:

These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,
and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
a multitude keeping festival.

Yes, he remembers his stint as a worship leader,
he remembers the holy joy,
he remembers the ecstatic songs of praise,
he remembers those days of thanksgiving.
But these are memories.

You see, more recently he’s been more like a deer
panting for a drink of clear water,
stretching his neck out towards that stream
before he dies of thirst.

Today he sings,

My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
the face of God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”

Good question.
Where is your God?
Where is that God who was so close in your worship leader days?
Where is that God who was on your lips in praise?
Where is that God before whom you brought your offerings of thanksgiving?

And so the psalmist who perhaps once sang,

“Clap your hands, all you peoples;
shout to God with loud songs of joy…”

now sings this refrain:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

Or the way Calvin Seerveld translates it:

Why are you so buckled over deep down?
… I’ll be praising him again someday …

I shall again praise him,
like I used to, but can’t quite pull off these days.

I’ll be praising him again someday,
but not today.

Maybe not this Thanksgiving weekend.

Our friend, Martyn Joseph puts it this way:

And laments have a purpose
and laments have a cost
A requiem playing gathers the lost (“Turn me Tender Again”)

And so this psalmist,
this psalmist for whom faith has bruised him deep blue,
sings a lament.

It is his lament, and yet somehow it gathers all of us
who have been consumed by our tears,
who are cast down,
who feel forgotten,
who walk about mournfully,
who have had it with deceit and injustice.

The point isn’t to abandon praise.
The point isn’t to be lost in lament.
No, laments gather us.

The contemporary psalmist sings,

“Yet I don’t want to freeze here inside or out
For it’s you that dissolves
these cold walls of doubt”

and so he prays,

“Turn me tender again
Fold me into you
Turn me tender again
And mould me to new
Faith lost its promise
And bruised me deep blue
Turn me tender again
Through union with you”

True thanksgiving is born of such union.
Deep thanksgiving is offered from such a place of renewed tenderness.

The ancient psalmist anticipates and longs for a time
when he will go to the altar of God with exceeding joy,
when he will play his harp before his God,
when he will praise this God again …
someday.

He lives with both a memory and an anticipation of praise.
It just isn’t his present reality.

Some of us find ourselves in a similar place.
Thanksgiving is a memory and perhaps a tenuous hope.

But even those of us who experience a deep and radical gratitude this weekend,
know that such a liberating thanksgiving
is tempered and shaped by
memories of loss,
times of being bruised deep blue,
experiences of deep longing and ache in our souls.

Lament and thanksgiving.
You won’t have one without the other.

Lament without thanksgiving (remembered and hoped for)
is a spiraling path that will such you into the pit.
Thanksgiving without lament (remembered and experienced)
is a cheap sentiment that will not sustain you for the long haul.

We gather as a Wine Before Breakfast community this week
with bellies full of thanksgiving
and hearts that have known grief.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian and the CRC Campus Minister at the University of Toronto. He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is entitled Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination.

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