God listens to unfinished stories
Click on the link for the Psalm above (my links show up as red words) or find it in your favorite Bible or digital Bible or listen to Psalm 89:
Bonus: The Lord’s Prayer is about the amount of time you need for hand scrubbing 😉
Breath Prayer: I am including breath prayers because this is the practice that I engage in most often. Sometimes, I simply manage my breathing as I would when I was singing as a warmup and strengthening exercise. This practice helps me to feel centered, strong, and connected with myself and the divine. Sometimes, I add words or intentions for the inhalation and exhalation.
Nicole Cardoza’s Guided Meditation For Anxiety
Try this short meditation, created by Yoga Foster and Reclamation Ventures founder Nicole Cardoza, the next time you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, stressed, or anxious. Read in Yoga Journal.
Mr. Roger’s “Taking a breath” This one is short, but Mr. Roger’s voice is calming for me (and many Pittsburghers) and even his virtual presence can summon childhood memories of calmness and safety.
Wrap it up, put a bow on it, it’s done. We like stories with happy endings, or even if it isn’t happy we want a moral lesson we can take away, or at the very least and ending and not a cliff hanger. But the truth is that our lives don’t run in news cycles or episodes or series that we can recap and package into a 7 disc blue ray set. Life is not like that. We all have stories without endings.
Here is a Christmas story from my life that still doesn’t have a satisfying ending. My family moved into my grandfather’s house while we were building a new house next to his. We were only going to be with him for a little while in close quarters and then live next store to him on a pice of land my father used to camp on as a child. While we were living with him we found out he had cancer. I remember the last Christmas with him, well, the last Christmas living in his house anyway.
My school had a Santa’s secret shop just before Christmas break where students could go in and buy inexpensive gifts for family members. We made a list of people to buy for on an envelope and our parents but in a few buck and we had a helper (a parent volunteer) to help us get presents to surprise our parents and anyone else on our lists. I don’t remember what else I purchased that year, but I remember trying hard to figure out what to get for Pap. Even as a kid, I had a sense that he was near death and it’s hard to shop for someone who needs a miracle and not a new tie. I decided on candy canes. There were two flavor choices, traditional peppermint and a “fruit” flavored one that had rainbow stripes. I got him a couple of each. I knew he wasn’t really eating much, but I thought he could at least lick a candy cane without worrying about chewing and swallowing. I have a vague memory of taking the candy to the hospital. But the memory of eating them in January when he was gone, is vivid. I feel an urge to write that I thought about sweet memories of him and felt his presence as I ate the candy, but that isn’t true. I was a kid, there was candy that was never going to be claimed, so I ate it. I felt a little funny about it because it technically wasn’t my candy, but no one else was eating Pap’s candy either. And that’s all I remember.
I think that memory sticks because there is no closure. Just lots of questions, about death and dying, and wondering why I couldn’t tell a ‘mom I didn’t know’ that I needed a present for a dying man and that I wasn’t just being indecisive. Did Pap even like candy canes? I have no idea. And I had more questions about what it means to make plans and have them completely shattered. We planned to live next to him, to spend time with him, but he never saw the house we built and he never got to be proud of the hard work and sacrifices my parents made to get us there. There are so many plans and hopes and dreams that end unresolved, unfulfilled, and even unimagined. This story feels unfinished.
I’m not the only one with unfinished stories. I know because those are the stories people tell pastors. No one knows what to do when there isn’t a resolution, closure, or at least a ‘you’re a jag off’ to end things. I was holding so many of my own stories and the stories of others that I finally imagined a box labeled ufo (unfinished objects) where I put those stories. (Also in the box are unresolved, unfixable, and all of the beautiful but broken things we don’t know what else to do with). They are safe there in their unfinished state. They are no longer taking up room in my hands so I can do other work.
In Psalm 98 we see that the people of God remember God’s promises and are waiting for the fulfillment of those promises. They are waiting for the happy ending. And in the midst of current unpleasant circumstances, they are waiting anxiously. We know God’s attributes are righteousness, justice, steadfast love, and faithfulness. We also know that right now it doesn’t feel like that because the world is full of self-righteousness, injustice, hate, and disloyalty. We are disillusioned. Why did the LORD’s anointed fail? Why can’t the people of God live in peace and safety? How long O God, until you come to make things right? Like many of the Psalms, Psalm 98 ends with “lament, questions, and pleas. …. The psalms do, however, presuppose a listening God … who hears both praise and bitter lament, and who always has the capacity to remember–a God who does not forget.” (WBC p. 430) Knowing that God does not forget, gives a little hope that God will return and make all things new, giving us a happy ending.
Advent is a season of unfinished stories and anxious waiting. Christians remember a time when God became flesh and dwelt among us. The Messiah came down from heaven to be with creation. And yet, Christ’s work is not complete. We are still waiting for the second coming. The psalmist asked, “How long O Lord?” and the Christian pleads, “come quickly Lord Jesus”, and together we wait, we hope, and we talk to God who listens to all of our unfinished stories.
I invite you to give God the unfinished story your holding (or if you like, I’ll put it in the ufo box for you) so it is no longer taking up room in your hands. I believe that as God’s people we are called to continue God’s unfinished work of justice and love, even if we don’t finish.
Let us pray:
One way to think about breath prayer is that whatever is exhaled other people will inhale. So, sometimes we might inhale and exhale the same idea with the hope that what we receive from God, we can share with others. For example, you may imagine receiving God’s steadfast love while praying that others are receiving God’s steadfast love.
Another way to think about breath prayer is to pick something you would like to receive for your inhalation and something you would like to release for your exhalation. The idea is to keep it simple, so I encourage you to simply find one word for each inhale and one word for each exhale. That simple prayer could be something like this: God fill me with your Holy spirit. I receive your faithfulness and release my faithlessness.
Or you can offer a phrase with each breath. Out of my hands (exhale) and into yours O Lord (exhale).
Ok, everyone take a deep breath. Breath in. Breath out. Breath in. Breath out. Repeat as needed.
Sources and notes:
“This long psalm begins with the praise of the LORD’s everlasting faithfulness to his covenant with David and ends with a lament of bewildered anguish over the suffering and humiliation the LORD has brought on his anointed. The chosen one has become the rejected one. That reversal is the plot of the psalm and the problem with which it wrestles.” Mays p. 283
“Most of the psalm is devoted to an evocation of those former deeds of loyalty (vv. 1-37). The introduction announces the two related themes, the faithfulness that belongs to the heavenly king (vv. 1-2) and the covenant promise made to David (vv. 3-4). Mays p. 283
Rehab is the chaos dragon. “The myth is used to portray the LORD as the warrior God upon whose victory over his enemies the very existence of the world depends.” Mays p. 284
“The two pairs of attributes that characterize the LORD, righteousness/justice and steadfast love/faithfulness, are represented as aspects of his kingship.” Mays pp. 284-285
“The quoted oracle does not say why the LORD chose David and swore a covenant oath of faithfulness to his kingship. What the oracle does do is depict David’s kingship as a reflection of the LORD’s kingship.” Mays p. 286
“This version of God’s promise to David reckons with the failure of David’s descendants (vv. 30-32, also II Sam. 7:14-15; cf. Ps. 132:11-12). They are subject to the conditional covenant made at Sinai between God and people. The laws of God apply to them. They are subject to judgment and punishment without reservation. But their faithlessness does not cancel the faithfulness of God. They may violate his covenant with God, but God will not violate his covenant with David (vv. 33-35). Mays pp. 286-287
“The psalm turns to the painful present (vv 38-45).” Mays p. 287
“The psalm contains no resolution of the dilemma, save appeal to the faithfulness of God.” Mays p. 288
Tate considers psalms 73 &74 with psalms 88 & 89 as book ends for Book 3 of the Psalms. “Thus at both ends of Book III there is a psalm which deals with the theological distress of an individual followed by a psalm which expresses the distress in terms of the nations. In fact, Book III seems to deal over and over with the bafflement of believers who are struggling with the gap between promise and reality” WBC p. 429
“Both Ps 88 and 89 end without a resolution…. They do not end with domesticated consonance. In the long run, however, their dissonance may be a greater source of strength and comfort. …. Pss 88 and 89 give no “beautiful answers”; rather lament, questions, and pleas. The psalms do, however, presuppose a listening God … who hears both praise and bitter lament, and who always has the capacity to remember–a God who does not forget.” WBC p. 430 Even for Christians who believe Jesus is the Messiah, there is no closure, because Christians are still waiting for the second coming.
WBC Allen, Leslie C. 1983. Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 101-150. Vol. 21. Waco, TX: Word Books, Publisher.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. 1974. Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible. 8th ed. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Press.
Brueggemann, Walter. 2007. Praying the Psalms: Engaging Scripture and the Life of the Spirit. 2nd ed. Eugene, OR: Cascade.
Brueggemann Brueggemann, Walter. 2014. From Whom No Secrets Are Hid: Introducing the Psalms. Edited by Brent A. Strawn. 1st ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
WBC Craigie, Peter C. 1983. Psalms 1-50–Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. 19. Waco, TX: Word Books.
Creach, Jerome Frederick Davis. 1998. Psalms: Interpretation Bible Studies. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
NIB Keck, Leander E. 2015. The New Interpreters Bible Commentary. Vol. 3. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Mays Mays, James Luther. 1994. Psalms. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press.
McCann, J. C., & Howell, J. C. 2001. Preaching the Psalms. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Miller Miller, Patrick D. 1986. Interpreting the Psalms. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press.
Schlimm Schlimm, Matthew Richard. 2018. 70 Hebrew Words Every Christian Should Know. Nashville, TN: Abington Press.
Spong Spong, M. (Ed.). (2020). The words of her mouth: Psalms for the struggle. Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press.
WBC Tate, Marvin E. 1990. Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 51-100. Edited by David Allan. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker. Vol. 20. Waco, TX: Word.
OTL Weiser, Artur. 1998. Old Testament Library: Psalms. Translated by Herbert Hartwell. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Manchester University Press.
I began writing Psalm reflections during Lent of 2020 shortly after we decided to close the church building, work from home, and worship via zoom. Many churches use the revised common lectionary that rotates scripture on a three-year cycle (A, B, and C). Starting in Advent 2019, Third Church decided to worship with the texts from Year D, which is still not circulated as are years A, B, and C. Year D was created with the goal of including scriptures that were left out or not used as frequently as others. Reflections exploring the Psalms in year D. While we were using Year D, most other lectionary followers were using Year A. Now that we are rejoining those who use the lectionary, we are on Year B. This we hope will keep all of us planning and preparing worship on the same page.
I use the Vanderbilt Divinity Library’s resource for lectionary readings to make text selections when I’m following the Revised Common Lectionary.
Other Year B Psalm blog posts:
Advent – Transfiguration: 1st Sunday in Advent Psalm 80, 2nd Sunday in Advent Psalm 85, 3rd Sunday in Advent Psalm 126, 4th Sunday in Advent Psalm 89, Christmas Eve or Christmas Day Psalm 96, Psalm 97, Psalm 98, 1st Sunday after Christmas, Psalm 148, New Year’s Day Psalm 8, 2nd Sunday after Christmas Psalm 147, Epiphany Psalm 72, 1st Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 29, 2nd Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 139, 3rd Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 62, 4th Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 111, 5th Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 147, Transfiguration Sunday (Sunday before Lent) Psalm 50