Sluggish Grief

Scripture Focus: Psalm 42:5-7
5 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.
6 My soul is downcast within me;
    therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
    the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

Psalm 43:5
5 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

Reflection: Sluggish Grief
By Erin Newton

In the movie, Paddington, one character reflects on his emotional journey of settling into a new place: “My body had traveled fast, but my heart… she took a little longer to arrive.” The heart can be sluggish during grief. It’s frustrating and discouraging.

I wish grief was a cycle; instead, it is a web. Our bodies are bound to the linear progression of time. We are moving from one event to another, but our hearts and minds are stuck in a tangled web of emotions and thoughts.

The repeated phrase, “Why, my soul, are you downcast?” reflects this emotional tangle. The psalmist tries to soothe himself with words of counsel. “Hope in God…Remember the good times.” Oh, I’ve heard those platitudes from others. And I’ve tried to use them to urge my heart into better spirits.

But grief is not linear. The stages—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance—don’t happen sequentially.

Psalms 42-43 show this type of tangled emotional experience. At first, we see the depth of sadness, “tears have been my food day and night” (Psalm 42.3). Then a joyous memory, “How I used to go to the house of God…with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng” (Psalm 42.4). Then the declaration of depression, “all your waves and breakers have swept over me.”

The journey of emotional experience is like traveling across the mountains. There is the bright ascent to the peak, the crisp breeze, and clear skies. We gaze upon the view and see the other mountaintops, each basking in the pure sunlight. But to get there, we must descend into the valley, the dark woods.

Amy Carmichael calls this “The Ravine.” It is the painful memory of better days: “Yes, we were one of a festive crowd; was there any happy thing that we did not do? And we think of what used to be, so different from all that is now.”

Our minds know of God’s goodness, the joy of his presence, the hope of better days, but our hearts take a little longer to get there.

“We know that it is true. And yet there is something in the trend of our thoughts that is like the backwash of the waves, as wave after wave breaks on the shore…We have seen the lovely radiance of that upper air. But our feet must walk the ways of earth down that dreary hill, past those somber trees, and into the valley…”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves. — Psalm 126.6-7

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 21 (Listen 4:19)
Psalms 42-43 (Listen 2:32)

Read more about Be With Me
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Prayer, Our Tent of Meeting

Psalm 42.2
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
   When can I go and meet with God?

Numbers 7.89
When Moses entered the tent of meeting to speak with the Lord, he heard the voice speaking to him from between the two cherubim above the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant law. In this way the Lord spoke to him.

Reflection: Prayer, Our Tent of Meeting
By John Tillman

In today’s reading from Numbers, we get a description of Moses talking with God in the Tent of Meeting. The Tent of meeting described here is not the first tent of meeting, but the one that replaced it, in the newly finished tabernacle. There in the Holy of Holies, Moses hears the voice of God from between the cherubim above the place of atonement.

Scripture tells us that the conversations of Moses with God were intimate. God spoke to Moses as a man speaks to his friend. But this communication was not only personal—it was communal.

Moses entering the Tent of Meeting was a communitywide event. When Moses entered, the entire community would come and stand at the entrances to their own tents as Moses spoke with God on their behalf.

The design of the Tabernacle and the Tent of Meeting was a tool for community prayer and connection. Prayer—even individual prayer—is an act of community, because God is a God of community.

At the center of this community are the symbols of the atonement that God has set in motion. It is through the atonement that Moses heard God’s voice. The voice from between the cherubim came from the spot where the blood of the atonement sacrifices were placed by the high priest.

For us, prayer is our tent of meeting, where the deepest thirsts of our souls may be satisfied. When we pray as Jesus taught, we enter into God’s presence through the torn curtain of the Tent of Meeting, and hear his voice because of his atoning sacrifice.

This week, on Thursday, The United States will observe a National Day of Prayer. As you pray this week, be reminded that you are entering the tent of meeting in priestly capacity and carry the ability to bring before God the sins and concerns of your nation.

May we all be empowered to pray beyond a personal conversation and approach God on behalf of our communities and our world.

Like Moses, we approach prayer as an individual, speaking to God through the atoning sacrifice of Christ. But we bring with us all the concerns and cares of our communities and our world. As we pray, the world stands at our backs waiting for us to exit the tent of prayer, and act.

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Look upon me and answer me, O Lord my God; give light to my eyes, lest I sleep in death… — Psalm 13.3

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 7 (Listen – 12:50) 
Psalm 42-43 (Listen – 2:32)

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