Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Spiritual Cycles in the Psalms

We've been studying the Psalms on Sundays this summer season (say that 5 times fast!), and I wanted to share a tiny book that has been incredibly helpful both in understanding the Psalms and our spiritual lifecycle. Walter Brueggemann's Spirituality of the Psalms (an abridged version of The Message of the Psalms) is a very short read--only 74 pages--but packs an enormous amount of spiritual depth into a tiny space. It's truly changed the way I view Christian spirituality.

Brueggemann proposes a three-part framework for understanding the Psalms, and thus our relationship with God.

Orientation: A sense of peace and contentment with God. Spirituality almost feels easy--prayer works, reading the Bible feels alive, worship is passionate, there is unity with fellow believers. Many brand new believers experience an elated orientation; Christianity is a new and exciting endeavor. For the Israelites, these Psalms reflect experiencing the blessings of the promised land, of being right where God wants them. Yet too much orientation leads to a sort of spiritual apathy; we begin to take God's blessings and presence for granted.

Disorientation: All is not well in disorientation. There is the introduction of pain, trials, doubts, and frustrations. Prayer is tedious, reading the Bible is a chore (if it even happens), worship is lifeless, and one feels isolated and alone. God feels distant, even unjust in His actions. This causes us to lament, to cry out to God in anger and sorrow. Disorientation tends to be an inner response to an external circumstance--a loss of status, a broken relationship, death or disease, etc. This is being led out of the promised land into exile; we feel far away from the security of home. Thankfully, God is present with us throughout this painful season, though it doesn't feel like it. He is walking with us in the valley of the shadow of death.

New Orientation: At some point, one emerges from the valley into the light, emerging from the pain and isolation with a renewed sense of peace, gratitude, and trust in the Lord. This feels like returning home after a long journey, only one's heart and mind will never be the same after one's painful experience of disorientation. It is like Israel coming back to rebuild Jerusalem after being in exile for so long. This new orientation only stays new for awhile; then it slips into the comfort and security of orientation, which lasts only until the next doubt or trial or emotional turmoil fosters disorientation once again. And so the cycle continues

When I first heard about this framework, it was in the middle of a personal season of orientation. Unbeknownst to me, I was on the brink of disorientation--broken relationships, physical pain and struggles, culminating with the near-loss of my infant son. God led me through the pain--not around it, not away from it, but through it--to draw me into a deeper relationship with Himself. It turns out He's been doing this since the beginning--read the stories of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Jonah, and even Jesus, and you'll see this progression and cycle.

There are two paradoxical difficulties here: first, we don't like the shifts, the "arrows," the changes from orientation to disorientation or from disorientation to new orientation. We don't like change. Yet we also struggle with being present in our current season--if we're in disorientation, we want to get out of the pain; if we're in orientation, we're worrying about when the season of disorientation is coming for us. We don't like being present. Paradox, I know.

The key is to recognizing the season you are currently experiencing and embracing it as God shapes your heart through this journey.

Where are you right now? Where are your students, your kids, your spouse? How can you be fully present in the season God has you in?

1 comment:

  1. thanks for posting about this! i haven't read your blog in a while, so i was "catching up"...and this is exactly the book i need to be reading right now...ordering it tonight!