Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on the psalms

Today I gave one of my favorite professors a gift. It was a framed piece of art that I made in the hospital, an abstract, multi-colored, vaguely wing shaped pastel piece with the words "She will cover me with her pinions, and under Her wings I will take refuge" framed by two black swoops.

It was a midrash of sorts, a playful sort of interaction with the text of Psalm 91.

I gave it to her because I read the psalms a lot in the hospital, because in the psalms you can find the whole range of human emotion, because in the psalms you can hear the voices of people communicating with God out of rage, despair, hopelessness, because the psalms are broken and beautiful and made things make some sense to me.

And the reason I knew to turn to the psalms was because of this professor's class. Hence the gift.

Psalm 91, coincidentally, was in the lectionary on Sunday, the first Sunday of Lent, because it's a psalm that Satan quotes in the desert while tempting Jesus. Funny to have something in the lectionary because it's Satan's favorite.

And coincidentally enough, in the morning Sunday, sitting at the kitchen table at the student's house where we all crashed during our service trip to New Jersey before everyone woke up, I flipped my Bible open to Psalm 91 and started reading. And I remembered gripping on to this psalm like a talisman in the hospital, reading it out of this place of brokenness and fear, and hearing: "You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day, or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday."

"The destruction that wastes at noonday," by the way, is a phrase that the Vulgate Bible translated as "the noonday demon," which then went on to become the title of a book about depression by Andrew Solomon. Solomon writes that it was Cassian who interpreted "noonday demon" as melancholia, depression, and adds:

"I have taken the phrase as the title of this book because it describes so exactly what one experiences in depression. The image serves to conjure the terrible feeling of invasion that attends the depressive's plight. There is something brazen about depression. Most demons--most forms of anguish--rely on the cover of the night; to see them clearly is to defeat them. Depression stands in the full glare of the sun, unchallenged by recognition. You can know all the why and the wherefore and suffer just as much as if you were shrouded by ignorance. There is almost no mental state of which the same can be said."

Leave it to the psalms to carry such meaning.

The psalms keep me connected to God. Even when I'm down. Even when I'm hurting. Frankly, even when I feel like screaming at people, like losing it. And even, even, even when I am experiencing joy. As one of my students once said--a member, obviously, of the iPhone generation--"There's a psalm for that."

This Lent, I'm not giving up on the psalms.

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