This past week has been an especially brutal and harrowing one. Not that brutality and evil haven’t already unleashed similar atrocities on the scale we saw in Orlando last weekend, but there was something just so insidious about the soft target chosen and the immeasurable grief and trauma that was thrust upon the GLBT community in an act of insanity and barbarism that I am still trying to get my head around. But this is not an isolated event. Insanity and barbarism occur every day around the world, often numbing our senses as its too much to take in. I found myself fatigued by news updates this week and spent time talking about events and processing with those around me. I also spent time in silence and solitude, trying to get my head and my soul around the same question many of you have been left with – why?
Why did this happen?
Why didn’t God stop it?
Why is there so much suffering in the world today?
These are not new questions. They are questions that have been posed by the generations before us in a myriad of ways since the beginning of time. what on earth can we say in the face of such horrific and soul crushing events? I’m not sure there are words, at least not any words that can undo the horrors of the evil we seem to encounter daily via the news. But what can we say as Christians? Is there a place to where we can turn that is beyond the well meaning platitudes that we so often hear to find a deeper comfort and hope?
The Psalm we heard this morning, psalm 42 is a cry to know God more amidst the turmoil that may befall us. The words are familiar to us because we too have known this kind of disarray from time to time in our own lives. Augustine wrote a very stirring prayer which really sums up the essence of Psalm 42 when he said, “Our souls are restless till they find their rest in you O God”. It is that restlessness with the griefs of the world and its demands that Augustine is referring to here. Where do we go when our souls are restless, what are we to do with them? Psalm 42 offers us some helpful ways forward to meet sorrow with hope, even when hope isn’t evident yet. I’ll share with you just a few verses and as you hear the words allow a word or a phrase to resonate with you on that deeper level and really seek to hear what the Spirit might be saying to you in your own personal situation right now. The psalmist writes:
“As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God….my tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, “where is your God”….”Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts; all your waves and your billows have gone over me. By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life… Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.” – (Psalm 42)
Hope in God… these words really struck me particularly this week as words of courage and defiance in the face of the evil and challenges we face in the world and in our own lives today. To hope in God may seem naive, but within this phrase lies some room to breathe when we feel suffocated by the intrusions of unwelcome events that come to unsettle our worlds. To hope in God is an act of empowerment, aligning us with the deeper reality that lies just under surface of daily life, reminding us that our God is with us even when we find no evidence of this in that moment. Our God is with us offering the parched soul, some life saving water for the journey.
This metaphor for hunger and thirst appears repeatedly throughout Scripture – the need for living bread, living water, is a constant theme. It speaks to us of that “something more” we all instinctively long for in our lives, as a deer longs for those flowing streams, so our souls longs for God…
Of course life has a way of unfolding in ways we could never imagine. In times like these, how will the foundation we have built satisfy our soul’s deepest longing and needs? We secure financial investments, but might play roulette with our spiritual ones. In an effort to perhaps ease the pain or loneliness we feel at times we might become so overly involved in the consumption of physical securities that we forget about tending to our soul and so we don’t satisfy that thirst for something more, something deeper – that longing for flowing streams, our yearning for the transcendent.
And so in those moments that come to overwhelm us, how prepared will we be? What are we to do when trauma hits us? To where will we turn? When tears are our only food day and night and we wonder “where is God”, what shall we do? To whom shall we turn?
I am heartened that the psalmist takes a devastating event and chooses the way of hope in God as a way forward; “for I shall again praise him” he says….Perhaps not today and that’s important – perhaps not today – but I shall again praise him. The Psalmist is not there yet which is significant. There are times in our own lives when we simply cannot find the words, much less the way forward. Like Jonah in the whale, we find ourselves in a time of turmoil and gestation where we can do nothing else but sit in the belly of the beast and wait for hope to come. Even in this bleak state, the psalmist will wait on God in faith that a new hope will emerge from being swallowed up in fear and uncertainty.
And so in light of recent events, and the struggles in our own lives, we are invited to make the psalmist’s lament our own, but we must not lose sight also of his proclamation – that one day new hope will come where we will once again know and praise God, where we too will know and proclaim that “by the day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.” Until then, during the in-between time of waiting for hope to come, we may discover glimpses of hope and life through the sacraments of the church and in moments of grace that come to surprise us in simple and more profound ways. Through these ways God offers us lifesaving water as we journey through the desert experience. People often say when horrible things happen that its part of God’s plan, but I’m not so sure. It’s significant in the first reading we heard today as Elijah has fled in fear for his own life and God draws near, the Scripture says that God was not to be found in the wind or the earthquake or the fire that destroys, but God was found in the silence and peace that followed. Doesn’t that just open up a new perspective on the part God may or may not play in the evil in the world? I believe God is actually not behind these things; the attacks or diseases or tragic circumstances that fill our hearts with fear. These events and situations unfold on their own accord, they’re not God’s doing. Is God present with us through these events, absolutely. Does God cause them to happen, I don’t think so.
I believe God is to be found underneath the chaos that surrounds us, in the stillness that beats unfailingly underneath the surface of all these horrid events. I believe God is to be found in the hope that never fully disappears, even though it can be significantly obscured at times. I believe God is to be found in the moments that draw us into a place of stillness in the storm where we too can be still and know the presence of the Lord, the holy one to be near. I believe God is to be found in the moments of prayer that align our soul with God’s to remind us we are not alone and that we are loved and called to love others in the same way. I believe God is to be found in the millions of moments of grace that occur every day that don’t make the 6 o clock news, those moments that come to enhance our humanity rather than to diminish it. I believe God is to be found in those moments of peace that call to us every day, inviting us as a deer longs for those flowing streams, to come drink from the waters of peace from the river of the living God.
In a few moments we are going to sing an ancient Navaho spiritual that speaks of the power of God’s presence in our lives, offering us words and a mantra to speak in the face of the fear, evil, and suffering of this world…