Psalm 13

Agony and Adoration

In an influential little booklet that I was given in my teens, there is a diagram of a train with three cars: fact, faith and feelings. The clear implication is that my affective life, my feelings and my many human experiences are an unreliable source for insight on the journey with Jesus, and that faith in the facts of Scripture alone are sufficient. I no longer believe this. Rather, with Frederick Buechner, I believe that if God speaks to us anywhere other than through Scripture and the church, it is through learning to listen to your life experiences.

Since we are all products of our experiences, part of Christian discipleship requires us to reconcile these experiences with our understanding of God and the Gospel. Rather than distrusting our experiences, we need to listen to them and somehow discern in them the tender voice of God.

Here Psalm 13 can be very helpful.  The Psalm is a prayer for help in a time of deep trouble.  The prayer is a double petition: Hear me and help me.  Who among us has not prayed such a prayer?  In his book of memoirs, Listen to Your Life, Frederick Beuchner tells of his father’s struggle with alcoholism and suicide, and his daughter’s long battle with anorexia.  In these experiences as well as more commonplace experiences of lunch with a friend, or walking a grandchild through a park, God is present.  He writes:

‘There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him or not to recognize him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly…. [So] listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.’ 

This psalm teaches us how to pray:  from bold protest to petition to praise, but it also reminds us of who we are when we pray.  We are mortal human beings who stand on earth and speak to God who is ours but never owned.  Agony and adoration hang together by a cry for life – that is the truth about us as people of faith.  We are simultaneously two: the anxious, fearful, and dying who cannot find God where we want God to be, and we are the elect, the saved whose lives are hidden with God in Christ.  ‘How long, O Lord,’ we lament into the empty space.  We also confess, ‘You have dealt bountifully with me.’  


In the godforsaken, obscene quicksand of life,                                                 

there is a deafening alleluia                                                                              

rising from the souls of those who weep,                                                       

and of those who weep with those who weep. 

If you watch you will see                                                                                        

the hand of God                                                                                              

putting the stars back in their skies                                                                  

one by one.       [Ann Weems – Psalms of Lament]