Morning Prayer sings psalm 69 today in which are the words “do not let me sink.” It is a pleading psalm, part of the 2/3 of the psalm which are psalms of lament or outrage in which we weep or shake our fists at God. The psalms are a training manual of divine self-differentiation. The other 1/3 of psalms are praise psalms. They are lovely if a bit, well, dull. And of course all of them were meant to be sung. The irony is that though we can imagine singing the praise psalms and often do, we have a harder time imagining singing psalms of lament. But singing laments is good for the soul. And saying the psalms makes as much sense as saying the National Anthem – it is possible, it’s just not how it was meant to be used. Occasionally just make up a tune and sing a psalm. It’s cathartic.
Psalm 96 is about being spoken badly of. What we know about people is that they will say what they want and what gets them what they want. And we have a saying in our vernacular “Let them say what they want but, ….” It is hard to know that one is being slandered, be it in big or small things. The angry wife who insults an estranged husband to a child; a hurt friend who exaggerates or twists a mistake to destroy a reputation, an insecure person for whom slander is how they breath and stay alive – slander happens all the time.
And it can feel like quicksand or waves, which is why the psalmist uses this terminology in which God is asked to keep us from sinking.
The question is, what keeps us afloat? What I know from being caught in waves too deep while swimming too far beyond the reefs when I lived in Haiti is that what is in that dark ocean can feel frightening. It can feel like what swims around you is, well, hungry. I remember cutting my legs on fire coral once in Haiti’s oceans and knowing that hungry things could smell me in the deep water far from shore.
When we feel overwhelmed, lied about, slandered by the angry, the envious, the small or the hurt, we call out to God just as does the psalmist in psalm 69. We ask God to save us. And in my experience, the salvation is never that the shark suddenly has a heart attack, nor that the mother suddenly speaks kindly, nor that the friend chooses truth nor that the insecure person suddenly gains emotional intelligence. Rather, what happens more often than not is that God works in me. God shows up and God lifts me up rather than punching my enemies. God grabs my face in both divine hands and says:
You with the face!
I am the One who Is. I made you.
You are beautiful and wonderfully made. Remember who you are. Return to your center. Ignore what swirls around you.
The sharks will swim. Stay focused on my face. Never look away. Lock your eyes with mine. I will never leave you.
All shall be well. All manner of thing, always, shall be well.”
Because in the end, being made of meat, water and bone is a vulnerable thing. Anything can happen; and much will. The question is not what is said about me, nor what is perceived of me, nor why.
There is only one question.
Can you keep yours eyes on God’s; and simply remember how good you were made?