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Psalm 31:9-16

Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also. 31:9 For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away. 31:10 I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors, an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me. 31:11

Lament pours out of the psalmist like sap from a tree. Heaviness oozes as their vulnerability overwhelms listeners. The psalmist expresses pain with brutal honesty felt in the body. Confronting a tormented life they move through a grieving process to honest confession. In an act of faith, they share their agony with the One believed to be most trustworthy.

Engaging the psalm in Lectio Divina may bring Christ Crucified to mind. These ancient words link to an experience of David’s betrayal and point toward a humble way of living. Traditional liturgy proclaims, “Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.” With hope, Christian community remembers mystery born out of suffering. A self-giving Jesus trusts his breaking body into the capable hands of God. In an act of faith, the heartbeat of steadfast love generates a life-giving energy for the sake of others.

I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel. 31:12 For I hear the whispering of many– terror all around!– as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life. 31:13

The psalmist presents a soul in a moment of desolation. Crippling isolation brought this person to a place of desperation. What is an appropriate response? There is little to say to someone in pain except a sincere sorrow for their trouble. Openness paired with generous listening and compassion is the best way to connect. A quiet presence may make all the difference in the world.

Kairos Prison Ministry exposes volunteer participants to the grieving dispositions of incarcerated women. Women from both inside and outside the prison make space for vulnerability. The women experience momentary relief from the dehumanizing reality of inmate life. The Kairos community reflects weekly together with the help of thoughtful questions. Sitting in circles seated on metal folding chairs they share with one another:

  1. Can you share a moment when you knew that Christ’s presence was with you?

  2. Have you discovered anything, anywhere (reading, message, songs, a study) which will help you to be a better follower of Jesus?

  3. Has there been a time when, through some word or action, you tried to help someone recognize God’s love for them?

  4. Has there been a time when it has been difficult to show Christ’s love for another person?

  5. Are there things you are thankful for (situation or struggles) that we can pray about together?

Participants gain perspective through listening to each other’s responses. Taking the risk of sharing brings encouragement. Offering the gift of listening brings a change in perspective. Through the company of others, God becomes more evident to all. The Spirit working in the midst of dire circumstances makes the unseen obvious. Pivoting toward solidarity brings strength and the group of women comes closer together.

But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.” 31:14  My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors. 31:15  Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love. 31:16 

Desolation makes way for consolation; the nearness of love becomes known. Transformational shifts are possible as grace brings relief and restoration. Like the psalmist, a change in disposition makes it easier to imagine love at work and brings hope for a new day. Viewers find such a transformation in Toni Morrison’s 1998 film Beloved. In an awe inspiring scene in the woods, Baby Suggs, holy, exhorts in The Clearing. Drawing people with openness unknown in institutional church settings, she receives her people.

Baby Suggs, holy encourages men, women & children traumatized by slavery. Captivated by her words the people move; they dance and cry. Formed in the bond of terror and trauma they are released as pure freedom pours out of their bodies. From their capacity to give and to receive they meet together in compassion. Viewers witness the tangible possibility of healing and restoration.

Movie scenes inspire wonder. Meaningful relationships are critical to people in trying moments of desolation. Where can people find supportive friendships that make room for raw vulnerability? How can people of faith create space for community members to express raw emotions? What if we prepare ourselves to hold others when they are going through something hard?

As we journey with others we can bring to life the sentiment of Baby Suggs, holy,

“Here,’ she said,

‘in this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass.

Love it.

Love it hard…”