In a dry and weary land

Water is the first thing the waiter brings to our table. We are made of water. Our cells are filled with water.  Without water we dehydrate and die. “O God, my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water… I cling to you.” Before my grandparents had a freezer, my mother drew water from the well, poured the cool refreshing spring water into large Mason jars, sealed the rubber rims, wrapped the big blue jars in newspapers, and carried the bottled water to those laboring fields. And on the hottest and most humid August days, even her older brother thanked her for these “nalgene” bottles.

I wondered if Psalm 63 might be forcing a half-hearted“Hallelujah.” For just after writing of their raw spiritual thirst, fainting, and weariness, “O God, my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water”, they pivot like a TV preacher and declare: “My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips.”  However, Matthew tells us that after 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus was thirsty and “famished”.  

Why do we feel the need to put a holy spin on our prayers? Why can we never answer “How is it with your soul?” with “I am thirsty”, I am dwelling in a dry and weary land, longing for living water”? Is there an Inner Accussor, an old now-internalized judge, that has taught us to call ourselves unworthy? Do we feel we must scrub up we before we come to the Lord’s Table? Do we hesitate to pour out rawness, pain, or anger to God in prayer? Why sanitize and purify our prayers?

Our Psalmist speaks of spiritual thirst, of a dry and weary land, of lying awake at night, and clinging to God.  A prosperity gospel, as old Baal worship, preaches that suffering, being oppressed, feeling low, being poor or experiencing unhappiness, is outside of God’s will. They tell the lie that God wants to you to wear a big old made-for-television smile. So if you start singing, “in a dry and weary land, there is no water” they remind you to add a “rich feasting” refrain. Perhaps, it was the hymnal committee that decided to smooth out Psalm 63 for a wider distribution. That is pure conjecture, but we often feel we must clean up before coming to our Lord’s Table of forgiveness, grace, and love.  

Let us remember that Jesus was perfectly aligned with God when he went to dark Gethsemane and hung upon the cross.  From the Cross, did not Jesus pray(?) “I thirst”?  When we weep, asking God to remove the bitter cup from our lives, when the evil in the world almost overwhelms us, when we turn to our allies and say, “My soul is overwhelmed with grief, keep watch with me!” and come back to find them asleep, let us remember we stand just as loved, as when the sky parts and we hear God say, “You are my beloved, my child, with you I am well pleased!” Jesus stood perfectly in the will of God when Peter denied him, Judas kissed him, the religious leaders convicted him, the crowd mocked him, and the soldiers crucified him.   

So hear Psalm 63

(with a verb tense andrawness focus):

O God, my God, I seek you,

my soul thirsts for you;

my flesh faints as in a dry and weary land where there is no water…

Oh but, in better days, I have looked upon you in worship,

singing, “Your steadfast love is better than life”

I will (one day) bless you …

I (one day) will sing for joy

I will (future tense) lift up my hands in praise.

I keep telling myself: “My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,”

but I wake up in the watches of the night,

I remember you have been my help…

Oh, my soul is clinging onto you…

Why clean up our prayers? Does not God already know the lowest of low places in our hearts?  Jesus tells us God knows our needs before we ask. (Matthew 6:8) “Not even a dimestore sparrow falls to the ground apart from God’s concern. Even the hairs on your head are numbered, so do not be afraid.” (Matthew 10:30) I imagine God, like a mother running her fingers through her children’s hair, humming loving words; low, steady, and sweet, soothing fears and tending to wounds with an absolute Love. She jokes, “one hundred eleven thousand one hundred ten and one, one hundred eleven thousand one hundred ten and and two, one hundred eleven thousand one hundred ten and and three!”  Perhaps our Divine Mother longs to spend that long rubbing the stress from our tense faces. Linger longer in prayer. Risking telling Her your deepest needs, fears, joys and wants. “Even the hairs on your head are counted… Don’t be afraid. You are of infinite sacred worth.”   

Oh, during Holy Week, Jesus will get up from the table, taking off his dinner jacket, tie, and frumpy dad’s button down shirt, wrap a towel around his waist, and in his undershirt ask us, “Let me wash your feet?” We will likely recoil, as horrified as Peter, for this is not way to worship or feast. We might answer, “Jesus, Lord of love, you of all people should not wash anyone’s feet, we should be washing your feet…!” But Jesus will lovingly insist, “Oh but if I do not wash your feet, you will have no sharing with me!” Why would Jesus need to see the griminess of our inner lives? Why does Jesus care about the inside of the cup?  Perhaps, if we refuse Jesus’ offer to wash the insides of our lives then the grit and grime of less than love remains embedded in our hearts.  If we find ourselves dwelling in a dry and dusty land, with that thin film of grit clinging to our ankles, hiding behind our ears, and impressed by labor into the back of our fingers, let us come to our Lord, who longs to wash and purify every part of our lives. Let us dive into the living waters, without trying to clean up before.

And so the Psalmist lets go of the hate brewing within them. Where else might this ugliness come out? “But those who seek to destroy my life let them be swallowed up by the earth; may they fall on the sword and become food for jackals…”  

That is rough inner language, and God does not approve of these as actions*, but such rough feeling is not unknown to those souls who have been abused, beaten, bullied, ignored, labeled, marginalized, mocked, not-loved, oppressed, robbed, pushed into the closet, questioned, ridiculed, sullied, stereotyped, taunted, and violated. Oh, when my fourth grade teacher read my below-grade-level, misspelled, dyslexic paper to the class: “the GRIL ran down the STRET” ….to snickers… and in haughty tone asked me, “Mr. Purdue, what is a STRET? And how does a GRIL run anyway?” I wanted to melted into that pinkish blue plastic student desk seat. I would cough until I vomited to stay home, but in due season I grew furious, and after that, channelled my humiliation into a drive to compete and to defeat especially any “apple-polishers”. In College, Connie called me out as a “gunner” for I was not in love with learning as much as high grades. I once got mad at myself for finishing with a 98 on a final, knowing another got a 99!  As a parent I came to parent teacher as a skeptic- old wounds. Apple polishing colleagues can unbeknownst to them, call up vestiges of my past anger, even today. However, if I lay down in God’s lap, stopping my hard-striving to prove myself worthy, something healing occurs. Somehow my 43 year-old scars appear more like victorious tattoos. I can sing: “Thanks be to God”, that my church and home offered me a safe space, when school was not. My church loved me. I had a safe space to bare my unverbalized wounds. I did not need to pretend everything was alright or push my dyslexia into a closet. I heard the love of the beautiful hymn, “Just as I am without one plea, but that Your sacrifice of Love is enough for me”, and you, oh Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, You bid me to come and dine with you…  oh, Lamb of God, given such perfect love, I come. Just as I am, though tossed about,  with many a conflict, many a doubt, fighting and fears within without,  O Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, I come.. unwashed, unfiltered, unclean, unashamed..wash me with your perfect love.  

If there is not a safe sacred space to for us to pour out our deepest wounds or to vent our hottest anger, those wounds will fester, spark, and grow, infecting our souls. Let us not feel we must always be feasting. Let us pray without pretending. Let us make a safe space for all who hold fears within and without. When others speak of a dry and weary land, let us resist pointing out the many water fountains around the church. No, let us simply stand with people and never force them into a plastic smile. Let us stay awake as they hold their bitter cup. Who knows, perhaps the cup of suffering holds salvation. Let us place no burden, no label, no need to fake it, before any of God’s children who come to our Lord’s Table, for Jesus welcomes, loves and longs to heal us all. Jesus, in due season, will call up a stream of living water inside of our souls that bubbles up to eternal life. Amen.

*God is not sanctioning these actions.  The Ten Commandments command, “thou shall not kill.” Isaiah calls for the day when “swords will be bent into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation,neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2)  Jesus said those who build peace are the children of God. (Matthew 5:9) Indeed, Jesus calls us to treat our enemies with redemptive goodwill rooted in ethics, ergo making it possible to “love (not emotional but ethical) our enemies”. …. However, Abel’s’ blood cries out from the ground… until Jesus weeps over the city that kills the prophet’s feelings… God cared deeply about our wounds.

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