One of the best things about the psalms and how they speak to us today is how to lament. A lament holds us in the uncomfortable space of disappointment and frustration, and most Christians aren’t too good at staying in this space. The way in which our church calendar moves we have time build in for lament: Lent and Advent are penitential seasons of waiting in which we hold on to hope even as we walk the long path to the glory that we know is coming. Even with the advantage of the calendar, most of us struggle to lament.
To give voice to a lament means we have to admit when things are not right or when things are painful. Laments are invaluable in our society because there is so much brokenness in our world, and to take time to give voice to even part of what we are lamenting is to begin to heal and to grow.
This evening’s psalm, Psalm 42, is an individual lament; it is the voice of a person, not a community, lamenting the ways in which she feels far from God. In her poetic description of the space she feels from God is full of water imagery. Flowing streams, a soul that thirsts, and tears as food all express the depth of which she wants to be connected to God and to have her life righted. It is as if she is recalling a time in which her connection and access to God was strong and vibrant, and now the only thing that gives voice to her cry is the very substance that we all need. She needs God to come back into her life like she needs water.
It is true, I believe, that a life of faith is full of ebbs and flows. There are times in which we feel so connected to God and to God’s work in this world; it is a happy time full of praise and hope. And there are times when we feel forgotten by God; when the presence of the very foundation of our lives feels unsteady and removed from us.
In one of the most often quoted lines from the psalms, the psalmist describes this absence of God’s presence and her longing for it to return as “deep calls to deep.” The depth of her very soul craves and longs for the depth of God’s presence. There is no answer to our deep wailing laments other than the depth of God in our lives.
The psalmist knows, too, like most lamenting psalms that the sun also rises; she knows that hope will return and she will once again know the sacred communion with God as she wraps up this prayer in verse 11:
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.
She knows what many of us have yet to learn: that even in our times of farness from God, God is still present. God is still our hope and God will not let us fall.