“Real Pain, Real Joy, Real Prayer”
The inner and outer landscapes of our lives are painted in the colors of God’s creativity and in the reflection of God’s nearness to us. No matter the range of emotion we sense in our lives or the myriad of experiences that throw us for a loop, God is present through the highs, lows and plateaus. Psalm 42 and 43 reflect a kind of poetic prayer that honestly anguishes over deep human emotions: longing, depression, frustration, ambiguity, shame, unsettled, gut-wrenching pain, mourning. The Psalmist frankly explores this rainbow of sensation in the form of prayer to God with critique and honest questions.
The Psalms are the one of the primary places in our sacred scriptures that remind us: human emotion is part of relating to God. How many times does the combination of Psalm 42 and 43 mention physical tears, longing, thirsting, being cast down, disquieted or mournful? Eight separate times. The Psalms also remind us that creation is “the big book” of God’s communication as the celtic spirituality tradition claims. We can read God’s truth in the “the little book” of scriptures, and in the beauty and majesty of creation. Psalm 42 and 43 use the imagery, allegory and metaphor of deer, streams, the lands of Jordan and Hermon, Mount Mizar, thunder, billowing waves, night time, rocks, light, dwellings and shelters, and hills. Each of these paint pictures for the original Psalmist, and those of us reading the scriptures today. These pictures provide texture and folds and creases in which our own emotion can be felt and expressed to God.
The pattern of these Psalms are a pendulum swing between lament and confidence. At one turn of the prayer, there is a depth of questioning and pain that reflects abandonment. At another turn of the prayer, there is a declaration of trust and pleading that almost sounds joyous. This is the walk of faith: it is a two step journey of expressing doubt and practicing belief. At times language falls short of expressing how deeply we feel in our bodies, but these Psalms give the kind of metaphorical imagery to help with that. These prayers acknowledge the guttural, physical depth to which our emotions can send us searching for answers. The Hebrew word for the panting of the deer after water, “ta’arog” suggests an “audible anguish […] and parched agitation” resonating with those of us who crave answers from God in dark times. The water imagery hints at the depth and flow of our these thoughts, feelings and questions.
It is as if the writer of the Psalms is exploring the inner wrestling of what faith is; and attempting to find out what the external expression of faithfulness can be. Either way: all of the inner and outer landscapes of our faith journeys can be presented to God in prayer. Anne Lamott says there are three essential prayers, “Help!” “Thanks!” and “Wow!” Each of these can be found in Psalm 42 and 43. When it is not possible to full articulate how we are feeling in response to life’s circumstances, returning to section of Psalms like these two can provide a template for exploring what we are sensing. The essentials of prayer are showing up, being honest, and expressing the depth of our selves in God’s loving presence. Our hope after all, is in the God who hears these prayers and responds. The God whose light and truth will lead us back to joy.
For further exploration of these Psalms in musical expression, check out the work of Sandra McCracken. Consider supporting this artist by purchasing these songs for your personal library. Psalm 42: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_nBYQ8SfAI Psalm 43: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OaWS-1Ud0t0  Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Feasting on the Word; Year C, Volume 3, Proper 7. Eds David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. “Exegetical Perspective”, Richard D. Blake. Louiville, KY: WKJ Press. p 155