Spent with Sorrow

Psalm 31 and On Joy and Sorrow from The Prophet by Khalil Gibran

Good morning wonderful people! I really look forward to this time together with a different sort of anticipation and gratitude. This day has become extra special! So thank you once again for connecting this morning in whatever shape you are in!

Let us begin by, turning our hearts and minds toward whatever message meant for each of us today. Hear this prayer from Psalm 19:14. God, Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, wherever they are, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

“Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also. 10 For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away.”

My life is spent with sorrow. This is a poetic way of saying what many of us are feeling in these days, in which we find ourselves. Our lives are spent, heavy with sorrow, the moments clouded with uncertainty, the tomorrows are laid out, many of them sit empty, plan less.

Sorrow is the mental suffering caused by loss and disappointment. And it is a bit different than grief-something we might have felt more strongly at the beginning It is an ongoing distress from a sadness so heavy, it can seem to grate on us, as if to grind away hope slowly. Instead of shock, numbness and denial, many are experiencing deep anxiety, bodily pain, piles of emotions and more.

And it just feels like God is ahead of us, since this Psalm was long-ago assigned for this Sunday. Lord, we need a refuge! Give your ear, give a rock, give a fortress! How about a net? Anything you got!

The Psalmist says, “I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel. For I hear the whispering of many—terror all around!”

I am not thinking straight, as if to say, I don’t know what day it is! I am broken, surrounded by terror…

Scholars believe that the author of this Psalm was under siege, likely in a time of war, enduring deep distress and the words surely point to this. And theologian Artur Wieser contends that this Psalm offers us “glimpses into the psychological aspects of human prayer, moving between petition and praise.”

But what is noteworthy about this particular Psalm, especially reading it now, as Alice Hunt writes, it “violates most of the typical patterns that psalms usually employ…bouncing between pleas for deliverance and declarations of thanksgiving…” She goes on, “such suffering rends the heart and mind, shattering perceptions of reality and forcing extremes of thought and behavior.”

It is a Psalm so filled with anguish that it doesn’t conform to some of the others, the patterns are gone and they quickly move from one intense emotion to the next. This is what it means to be spent by sorrow…

Even though we aren’t all responding in the same way, many of us are spent with sorrow.

We read of the now approaching 80,000 deaths in this country from COVID-19 and we wonder where it will peak, when it will slow, when this grating can grind to a halt. We see all over again that this country still idolizes whiteness when we put pork chops over people and make it easy to kill someone simply for jogging while being black. We feel the pain of distance, knowing we are designed for connection and community for sharing and caring and crying in-person together.

Spent by sorrow.

Lord, we need a refuge! Give your ear, give a rock, give a fortress! How about a net? Anything you got!

The Psalmist says, “I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel. For I hear the whispering of many—terror all around!”

We sense the trauma that this is all creating; we wonder what this will do to our kids; we worry we are headed for not just a psychological depression, but an economic one too.

Our lives are spent with sorrow.

And now that we haven’t seen one another in person in two months, it feels important to say this out loud- to say that we are weary and worried, to be open about the fact that we might have less patience and we might have more tears and we might find ourselves feeling and thinking things we have never before.

You are not alone.

Sorrow can bring anxiety and the sense of being unmoored. It forces new patterns upon us and it can bring us to the extremes of extreme worry and being weighed down by the whispers of terror.

But here is something else I am noticing, sorrow can lead to surrender.

To be sure, I don’t mean that being in despair is God’s plan and I don’t mean despair is spiritual enlightenment, although one could make a case that it can offer that, rather what I mean is that, I am seeing what sorrow can open for us.

Now that we feel so weighed down, so besieged by the forces around us, we can finally remember we are not in control, that we never were. Sorrow of this kind humbles us so completely, reminding us so fully that we are fragile and in need of refuges of all kinds. Being spent, reduced, stopped can be for many of us the first time we pause with intention and turn to a Higher Power and ask questions we have never pondered before.

What is this time showing us? What is clear now that wasn’t before? What is this sorrow telling us about a path to joy?

You might recall that verse 5 in this Psalm is said to be Jesus’ final words, at least according to the Gospel of Luke, where he says, “Into your hands I commit my spirit…”

On the surface we might read this to understand that Jesus is giving his spirit to God, while his physical body is dying. While this might be a fact, I wonder if it is also pointing us to a truth- sorrow forces us to surrender and to see things as they are, which can lead to something beyond us.

Because grief about the world tells us we are missing what was and that we need to “go back to normal,” to return to business as usual. But I think sorrow offers something else. Our sorrow can lead us to surrender- to put our hands up to the Universe and finally admit that we need help, that we were never meant to figure this out without the Holy.

Our lives are spent with sorrow. We are weary and worried, impatient, emotional, “passed out of mind like one who is dead; like a broken vessel, hearing the whispering of terror all around!”

Disorientation abounds.

And I am wondering if that is just the place God needs us to be, to be open…

Because when we think all is well, that we have got this under control, we rarely turn to a Higher Power.

So this just might be the place where we dare to trust something beyond our own way, a presence, a wisdom for this day. We are so disoriented that maybe there is a chance for a redirection.

As Peter Sawtell wrote this week, “disorientation in this setting -- a "holy disruption" of the kind that opens us to reorientation -- might be the visceral acknowledgment that "business as usual" has not worked, and will not work again. What we thought was the good life now appears to be fatally flawed and offensive. The pandemic has revealed to us what we didn't want to see before: the massive amount of pollution dumped into Earth's air and water to maintain consumer societies; extreme economic inequality, and the multitudes who are thrown to the brink when the economy shuts down; the inequalities and inefficiencies and lack of coordination in the US health care system; and the fragility and abuses of industrial food industries…Disorientation allows us to ask if we want to go back to that kind of business as usual.”

Sorrow can force us to surrender and see things as they are, which can lead us somewhere we could never get on our own.

We are spent, unmoored, with our usual patterns gone, as we weep for the endings this brings, and yet, maybe we are so disoriented that there is hope for us to not go back to business as usual. I have heard from some of you that you have started new practices of cooking or meditation of spending less and consuming less, of writing letters to elders and rekindling old connections, of planting gardens. This all makes me wonder whether sorrow can be a chance for our surrender. Maybe this is an opportunity for the Holy One to finally get to us? What could this moment be saying to us?

We are so broken that the fractures of our society are uncovered and we simply cannot continue to say we are the best, the safest, the first to get it, to know the way. Maybe sometimes it is only when we are down so low, when we have lost any cover, when we are off the map, without the usual reference points, that we are willing to let go, to say we don’t know and that we need something more than our own way. We are spent with sorrow, but not without hope. This just might be the only way to get where we need to go. May it be so.

Photo by Annie Spratt

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