As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and behold the face of God? —Psalm 42:1–2
This week, the Daily Meditations explore the topic of depression and spiritual healing. We begin with CAC teacher and author Brian McLaren’s reflection on Psalm 42 and the sense of spiritual abandonment and grief that the psalmist expresses:
The psalmist’s thirst, it turns out, has been mockingly quenched—not with “flowing streams,” but with his constant flow of salty tears. Just as his tears mock his thirst, so others mock him for his spiritual depression: Shouldn’t his God be meeting his needs? Their words, he says later, are like a mortal wound to his body (Psalm 42:10).
My tears have been my food day and night,
while people say to me continually, “Where is your God? (42:3)
One senses the bitter contrast between the delayed presence of comfort and the constant presence of unfulfillment. Meanwhile, each good memory of joyful times—those bright days when he felt spiritual fulfillment together with his peers—now only darkens his long nights of alienation and pain.
These things I remember, as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival. (42:4)
Then comes the refrain:
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. (42:5–6)
The “why” of this refrain—addressed to his own soul—is mirrored by another even more disturbing “why” question, addressed to God: “Why have you forgotten me?” (42:9).
All these questions go unanswered: “When?” “How long?” “Where?” “Why?” Yet above the prayer of aspiration [and desperation] a tattered flag of faith and hope still flies: “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him.” That simple word “again”—vague and undefined, but real—seeks to answer the painful question “When?” It doesn’t dare claim “soon”; instead, it more modestly claims “someday.”
McLaren counsels us to create room to bring our desperate feelings before God:
You ask, “When? How long?” because you know—or at least you believe—or at least you hope—that your panting, gasping, famished feelings of unfulfilled longing, abandonment, and confusion won’t go on forever. A sense of peace and fullness will come again, someday….
Hold your when or how long or where before God. Make space for your disappointment, frustration, and unfulfillment to come out of hiding and present themselves in the light. Don’t rush, even though you’ll be tempted to see these times of spiritual dryness and aspiration as a mistake, a sign of failure you want to put behind you. Instead, slow down and hold this moment as an opportunity to express and strengthen spiritual desire.
Brian D. McLaren, Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words (San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 2011), 151–152, 155.
Image credit: A path from one week to the next—CAC Staff Exercise in Grief and Lamentation credits from left to right: Jennifer Tompos, Jenna Keiper, Jenna Keiper. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image.
On retreat, the CAC staff used watercolors to connect to our collective grief. This is one of the watercolor paintings that came from that exercise.
Story from Our Community:
I grew up with a sweet Irish father who was also an alcoholic and a mother who suffered from schizophrenia. Raised Roman Catholic, I was taught that in order to “earn salvation” we had to be sinless and perfect. I grew up believing I would wind up in hell because I was far from perfect. My Dad was my safe place as a child because my Mother often raged at me. But my Dad was also often gone and I never knew when he would come home to “save” me. I have come to understand that at age 79, I have finally been given the grace to feel my deep grief at being abandoned by my Dad. It is a deeply painful experience, but I’m slowly accepting that that God is not the rigid, demanding judge I was told about, but a gentle, loving, and healing entity who exists within me; healing me from the inside out. The Daily Meditations are giving me deep comfort and the grace to be patient, let go, and allow my Higher Power to bring me through the transition to the other side. —Mary W.