This week there has been a lot of talk about what is normal and what is abnormal, or exceptional. This week Scotland experienced both its hottest night and its hottest day. The weather is not normal and is a reminder – if ever we needed one – that the climate crisis which was front and centre of our news cycles back when COP26 was in Glasgow has not gone away.
As well as taking personal responsibility for how we live in harmony with the environment we need to continue to look to influence those in power to make the necessary systemic changes to move to low carbon living. And of course, we need to pray. Thankfully, we pray to God the maker of heaven and earth, who as creator and sustainer of this wonderful world understands the intricacies and connectedness of life on this plant even better than dear old David Attenborough!
What is normal?
This Sunday we kick off a new series where we will be looking at some of the Psalms, and this Sunday we will be diving into Psalm 13.
Reading the Psalms and debates about normal weather got me thinking about how we talk to God and how we talk (to each other) about God. What is normal in this respect?
I wonder if we in our God-talk, and talking to God, self-censor? We rightly speak of God’s goodness, His love, and His faithfulness. We rightly declare that nothing is too difficult for God. But many of the Psalms present a more complex and nuanced way of speaking to God and about God.
Walter Brueggemann, whom Iain has mentioned in several sermons, calls this Psalmic way of speaking and praying, speeches of disorientation and dislocation. We are disorientated because we know life is not as it should be, we are dislocated because we are in the wrong place (in the pit, in the midst of enemies).
It is ok to have feelings!
In this way, the Psalms invite us not to read them as a detached reader but to bring our experiences of disorientation and dislocation to the Psalm. In doing so we need to throw off the shackles of self-censorship and, secure in our identity as a child of God, speak with a freedom, honesty and yes …rawness about life and its challenges.
The Psalms, therefore, encourage us to stop praying nice polite prayers that address God in “accepted” terms and speak in generalities. Indeed meditating upon the Psalms frees us not just to bring our concrete situations to him but also, importantly, how we feel about all of this.
A new location
Yet, the Psalms do not leave us there: angry, confused, disorientated, and dislocated. We see time and time again in the Psalms a change that takes place toward the end of the Psalm.
Having spoken honestly to God, having brought their uncensored self to God, a change takes place. The Psalmists find themselves under the shelter of God’s wing, the refuge of his tower, his provision in a place of trouble or lack. In other words, the Psalmist, in coming to God, is relocated and reorientated.
Most often the situation which they are facing has not gone away but in the midst of whatever they are facing and experiencing they discover hope and life. Hope, yes for a better future (vindication) but critically, hope that God is with them in their present circumstances. Given the evocative language of the Psalms, this hope of God’s provision, protection, and presence in present difficult circumstances is not merely a thought, but it has worked itself deep into their bones, deep into their sense of self and existence.
Question for Sunday
Is our hope, our sense of God relocating us and reorientating us, something that is just “head-knowledge”, or does it go deeper than that?
Given the Psalms are examples of honest speaking, let’s be honest with ourselves and each other in how we answer this question. Indeed, we need to be honest and not fearful in answering such a question, because until we do so we are not bringing our true self to God and we forego the support and encouragement we can receive from each other.
Here’s a second question and with this, I’ll end:
How can we like the Psalmist bring ourselves before God in a way that we experience this deep infusion of hope, an experience so deep that it gives us a new sense of where we are (relocation) and new attitudes and feelings toward our circumstances (reorientation)?
See you on Sunday.