^ the above artwork is entitled, Monk By the Sea
Songs of Our Deconstruction
My God, my God, why have You turned Your back on me?
Your ears are deaf to my groans.
O my God, I cry all day and You are silent;
my tears in the night bring no relief.
Still, You are holy;
You make Your home on the praises of Israel.
Our mothers and fathers trusted in You;
they trusted, and You rescued them.
They cried out to You for help and were spared;
they trusted in You and were vindicated.
But I am a worm and not a human being,
a disgrace and an object of scorn.
Everyone who sees me laughs at me;
they whisper to one another I’m a loser; they sneer and mock me, saying,
“He relies on the Eternal; let the Eternal rescue him
and keep him safe because He is happy with him.”
But You are the One who granted me life;
You endowed me with trust as I nursed at my mother’s breast. I was dedicated to You at birth;
You’ve been my God from my mother’s womb.
Stay close to me—trouble is at my door;
no one else can help me.
I’m surrounded by many tormenters; like strong bulls of Bashan, they circle around me with their taunts.
They open their mouths wide at me like ravenous lions.
My life is poured out like water,
and all my bones have slipped out of joint.
My heart melts like wax inside me.
My strength is gone, dried up like shards of pottery;
my dry tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
You lay me in the dust of death.
A throng of evil ones has surrounded me
like a pack of wild dogs;
They pierced my hands and ripped a hole in my feet.
I count all my bones; people gawk and stare at me.
They make a game out of dividing my clothes among themselves; they cast lots for the clothes on my back.
But You, O Eternal, stay close;
O You, my help, hurry to my side.
Save my life from violence,
my sweet life from the teeth of the wild dog.
Rescue me from the mouth of the lion.
From the horns of the wild oxen, You responded to my plea. I will speak Your Name to my brothers and sisters
when I praise You in the midst of the community. (an excerpt)
The Setting for Psalm 22
Let’s gain a little context, and to do that, let’s let the theologian-rockstar-activist share some the environment for such a dark psalm. Bono writes,
At the age of 12, I was a fan of David. He felt familiar, like a pop star could feel familiar. The words of the psalms were as poetic as they were religious, and he was a star. Before David could fulfil the prophecy and become the king of Israel, he had to take quite a beating. He was forced into exile and ended up in a cave in some no-name border town facing the collapse of his ego and abandonment by God. But this is where the soap opera got interesting. This is where David was said to have composed his first psalm — a blues. That’s what a lot of the psalms feel like to me, the blues. Man shouting at God — “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me?” (Psalm 22).
Acknowledging a Change in Our Relationship to God
This is a heart wrenching song. From the opening words, we can image anguish so great that Jesus chooses this psalm to give language to his suffering on the cross.
“My God, my God, why have You turned Your back on me?”
More agony continues,
“My heart melts like wax inside me.”
David is obviously drawing from a dark place to write lyrics as disturbing as these. What is your reaction to such lines?Do you identify with his passionate tone or his desperation? I find the most hopeful words to be a subtle plea that is easily missed in all the bigger language of abandonment and rescue. David petitions God,
But You, O Eternal, stay close;
Earlier in the song David warmly imagines God being with him as he’s conceived, developed in the womb, and as a nursing baby. David is recounting more than rescue, more than abandonment, but the nearness—the relationship with God. “Stay close” David writes. I have prayed for rescue and seen no action (that meets my expectation). I have pled for intervention and felt abandoned (at least as I expected to hear). But, how often have I cried out—not for action, but for presence? By no means am I saying that we should stop praying and pleading and asking for action. But, what if our relationship to God looked less like rubbing a genie’s bottle for three wishes and more like a desire for the companionship of God? In fact, what if those around us—was the answer to such companionship? What if God’s nearness was coming in the way of friendship with others?
Have you ever taken assessment of your prayers?
How honest are your words?
How rote? How relational?
Psalm 22 deconstructs my expectations. The poem deconstruction my relationship with God. Do I have a relationship—or is God simply fielding my requests. What would it even look like to reshape my requests (or lack of) into the simple and honest prayer, stay close.
To stay close—on our end—might very well mean that we need to get more honest in our prayers. If we wrote and compiled a book of poems and lyric to God, how lively would it actually be? Would it look like the wild ups and downs —- from the heart —- uncalculated — unedited —- language of David? Recently reading a collection of writings from poets about their process, I came across the work of Alicia Ostriker. She writes about what she images are “Anti-Psalms.” Alicia Ostriker writes,
My poems wrestle with the need of God, the violence of god. I should rather say that I let these matters attack and wrestle with my poems. In 1999 I was working on a manuscript provisionally entitled “the space of this dialogue,” after a sentence of Paul Celan, “Only in the space of this dialogue does that which is addressed take form and gather around the I who is addressing it.” The experience was not so much of writing as of receiving. The poems arrived intermittently, and I had undertaken not to tell them what to say. They often addressed God, not expecting a response. Early in the process I wrote down some lines and called them “psalm.” They are more like an anti-psalm. They say this:
I am not lyric any more
I will not play the harp
for your pleasure
I will not make a joyful
noise to you, neither
will I lament
for I know you drink
so I dully repeat
you hurt me
I hate you
I pull my eyes away from the hills
I will not kill for you
I will never love you again
unless you ask me
What I recognize in the poem is my resistance to a God who deals cruelly with us and demands our praise. What the final line tells me is that I want to stop resisting. Perhaps I am like one of those abused women who keeps forgiving her abuser. You read about them. They phone the police and then hide their bruises and refuse to press charges. Another poem ventriloquizes a pious voice that could emerge from any of the monotheistic faiths, and concludes with a last line that is, alas, a vast understatement:
One of these days
oh one of these days
will be a festival and a judgment
and our enemies will be thrown
into the pit while we rejoice
and sing hymns
Some people actually think this way
I share Ostriker’s words, not to offend, but to inspire. What would your life with God be like if you began to be truly honest? Use the area on this page to try your own ANTI-PSALM. And that’s the funny thing—right? I cannot think of a psalm that could be written that would be ANTI— ; well, actually, maybe the only ANTI-PSALM is the one we write or speak that has nothing of us in it.
“Everything must be brought to speech, and everything brought to speech must be addressed to God, who is the final reference for all of life.” — Walter Brueggemann
Another current example of the Anti-Psalm is from the House of Cards season one. I had chills after watching this — and yet, I think it can open us up to own some of the language we’ve shuttered to speak.
- Write a psalm about being disappointed in God.
- Write about a time you felt abandoned.
- Write a psalm about when you were scared, hurt, angry, or hopeless.
- Write about when you were confused and full of doubt.
- Write about your cynicism, your going through the motions, your scars.
- Write whatever comes to mind.
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