(A meditation on Psalm 30 for Wine Before Breakfast on September 16, 2014)
Psalm 30 is said to be a psalm of David,
sung at the dedication of the temple.
And it may well be precisely the right kind of psalm
for such an occasion.
At the beginning of something new,
at the dedication of a place to pray,
in an act of covenant making that names
this as a place where God will meet the people,
this as a place where God will dwell,
this as a place in which heaven and earth come together,
this as a place that will be nothing less than the centre
of covenantal life for the nation,
this just might be the right psalm to pray.
And it may well be precisely the psalm that we need
to help us into our year together in the psalms
at Wine Before Breakfast.
You see, this psalm is something of a model of prayer.
This psalm gives voice to the community’s most fundamental orientation,
while bearing witness to periods of disorientation,
all on the path to reorientation.
Okay, that is Walter Brueggemann’s take on the psalms,
and it is, I think, a most helpful way to read these prayers.
Some of the prayers in Israel’s Psalter can be called psalms of orientation.
These are psalms that confidently offer praise and thanksgiving.
These are psalms that describe the way the world works,
in light of God’s covenant.
These are psalms that have clear demarcations
between truth and deceit,
between fidelity and infidelity,
between the righteous and the wicked.
These are psalms of orientation because they give witness
to the community’s deepest certitudes,
those rock bottom truths, that orient them in life.
We will do well to attend to such psalms together this year.
But there are other psalms that say, not so fast.
These are psalms that aren’t so confident in a world of praise.
These are psalms that say that the world is out of order,
life is out of balance.
These are psalms in which everything is turned on its head,
all the boundaries get crossed,
all the clear distinctions get blurred.
These are psalms of disorientation
that give voice to confusion, complaint, lament and doubt.
I suspect that these are the kind of psalms
that the Wine Before Breakfast community will be most drawn to.
And then there are psalms that have come through a time of disorientation
to a new place, to a resolution of some sort, to a rekindled faith
that has traveled through the depths (through the pits) of disorientation,
and found a way to reaffirm the heart of that prior orientation,
reinterpreted, reaffirmed, re-appropriated, believed anew.
These are psalms of reorientation
and they often take up the tone of singing a new song.
These are the psalms that I think we most long to sing,
because so many of us have met a crisis in our faith lives,
so many of us have found the old pieties to be wanting,
the old orientations to be empty at best, deceitful at worst.
But we don’t want to abandon our faith.
Heck, we’ll even come to church at 7.22 in the morning
to give faith another shot,
to strive towards a renewed faith that can handle the crap,
that can give us hope, a reorientation, a new song.
But there is no reorientation without facing our disorientations head on,
and there is no reorientation without revisiting, with new eyes,
the orientation that has seemed to be so lacking.
This psalmist remembers the good old days.
He remembers those days of prosperity,
those days when all was as it should be.
I said in my prosperity,
“I shall never be moved.”
By your favour, O Lord,
you have established me as a strong mountain.
Once upon a time, life was full of confidence.
Once upon a time, things were secure.
Once upon a time, I was a established as a strong mountain.
Once upon a time, Mount Zion was unassailable.
Once upon a time …
But when you hid your face, I was dismayed.
The centre did not hold,
the prosperity was a house of cards,
the self-confidence was a sham,
and that self-secure orientation collapsed.
Sometimes the best map will not guide you,
You can’t see what’s round the bend
Sometimes the road leads through dark places
Sometimes the darkness is your friend
It’s as if the thing were written
In the constitution of the age
Sooner or later you’ll wind up
Pacing the cage
(Bruce Cockburn, “Pacing the Cage”)
And so this psalmist started pacing the cage.
This psalmist, like so many of us, found that the map of faith
that had been so trusted in the past,
was no longer a reliable guide,
could no longer see around the bend,
and life has thrown us a few bends.
But he knew enough of his story,
and he knew enough of God’s faithfulness in the face of such dead ends,
to know how to respond in such a crisis.
Like Israel in the dead end of Egyptian bondage,
he cries out.
Yahweh, my God, I cried to you for help.
To you, O Yahweh, I cried,
and to Yahweh I made my supplication.
And then the psalmist, modeling what prayer should look like in the temple,
modeling what prayer could like for us at Wine Before Breakfast,
rehearses that crying out,
tells us the details of his lament,
recalls the words of a previous psalm of disorientation.
And he does so with three rhetorical questions:
What profit is there in my death,
if I go down to the pit? (Implied answer: nothing. There is no profit in it.)
Will the dust praise you? (Implied answer: no.)
Will the dust tell of your faithfulness? (Again, implied answer: no.)
Three questions cried out in the face of God.
Three questions that call out of the depths of crisis,
questioning the very faithfulness of God,
and letting God know that there will be no praise
without a resolution of this time of troubles.
And then the psalmist matches his three questions with three imploring imperatives:
Hear, O Yahweh,
be gracious to me,
Yahweh, be my helper!
Here was his lament.
Here was his psalm of disorientation.
And, my friends, Wine Before Breakfast must be a community
in which such songs of lament,
such abrasive crying out to God,
such pain at the depths of our souls,
can have free voice.
You see, without such lament,
without such wrestling with God,
individually and communally,
we can never sing praise with integrity.
But this psalmist does sing praise.
His crying out, like the crying out of Israel before him,
has awakened God to action,
has recalled God to his covenant,
has animated God to faithfulness.
I will extol you, O Yahweh, for you have drawn me up.
I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.
I went down into the pit, and you have raised me up.
This is the psalmist’s most liberating experience.
And he can’t keep it to himself,
so he calls the community to join him in praise,
as they had born witness to his lament:
Sing praises to Yahweh, O you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.
He bears witness to what God has done in his life.
You have turned my mourning into dancing,
you have taken off my sackcloth,
and clothed me with joy,
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
Silence is not an option,
not in his lament,
not in his confession,
not in his praise.
And so, dear sisters and brothers, we come out early on a Tuesday morning
to sing and to pray.
We sing praise, we sing lament, and … if grace should be upon us … we sing clothed in joy.
Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
Now I know, friends, that sometimes that weeping lingers for the night,
the next morning, the afternoon, the night and on to the next morning,
and on and on and on …
I know that joy does not always come with the morning.
I know that for some of us our mourning is not turned to dancing,
and we are still clothed with sorrow, and not joy.
There is nothing easy or automatic
in the movement from disorientation to reorientation,
from mourning to dancing,
from sorrow to joy.
But we come together,
and we come to these psalms,
with the longing in our hearts,
for each other,
for our world,
that joy will indeed come with the morning,
that joy will come with a little wine before breakfast.