One of my favorite scripture passages is Psalm 139. I read it every year on my birthday:
For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. (vv. 13-16a)
Such lyrical words! I confess I skip over part of the poem:
O that you would kill the wicked,
O God. . .
Do I not hate those who hate you,
And do I not loathe those who rise
up against you?
I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies. (vv. 19; 21-22)
Those words make my Martin Luther King Jr. loving soul squirm!
Last week in the Bible study I lead, we talked about the Babylonian exile. I read another beautiful psalm aloud, Psalm 137:
By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our harps.
For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land? (vv. 1-4)
I skipped part of that psalm too:
O daughter Babylon, you devastator!
Happy shall they be who pay you back
what you have done to us!
Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock! (vv.8-9)
Only I didn’t exactly skip it. I read it to myself—and laughed. How often I have wanted to dash the heads of people who were holding me captive against a rock! In the midst of whatever Babylonian wilderness was mine, I wanted to hit them, or whatever they loved, and hit them hard.
The dark psalms, those sad, angry, even violent parts of scripture we’d rather skip over, were voices in Israel’s wilderness. They can be voices in our wilderness too. They can help us share with God and each other those feelings we’d rather not express, but must—especially if we want to act nonviolently.
During this Lenten season, we will journey once again through the wilderness. Moving together in faith, we will dare to trust that the God who is our friend accepts and holds our most difficult emotions with compassion. We will embody that compassion for each other. Our liturgy will bring forth the dark psalms and allow them to do their healing work within and among us. Like the Israelites, we will wander through the desert enduring exile, knowing that when we return home, we will be God’s newly confident people, ready once again to share God’s love with the world.
Please join us on the journey.