I’m listening carefully to the Psalm this weekend, wondering if I can respond to it with any authenticity.
In Psalm 126, we hear
When the Lord brought back the captives of Zion, we were like men dreaming.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with rejoicing.
We believe this is possible, right? To be brought back, rescued by the Lord from our own folly, to once again rejoice. Every night I go to bed looking back on the day, remembering the NPR stories I heard about impending environmental disaster, wondering if God had climate change in mind when he promised he would never again flood the earth. (Do you mean it, Lord? You’ll save us, even if it’s our own damn fault? Even if we resist every single help you try to give us? Are you tired of that yet)?
I think about who’s getting screwed on their taxes, about how many asylum seekers are being dehumanized at this moment, and how scared they are for their children. I think about how scared I am for my children, how my four and eight year olds now walk through a metal detector every day before school, because the possibility of someone wanting to come in and mow down our babies is no longer just a fluke. I think about the morning in October when I heard all the sirens, more than usual, even for the city. And how driving down Shady Ave., past Tree of Life synagogue, doesn’t fill me with hope anymore, but dread and sorrow. And I think about how people I know and love still have the gall to vote against gun control.
I think about how Trump is our president, and that he got here by the votes of people I care about, even as he characterizes groups of people as “cockroaches” and talks about “shithole countries.” I think about bishops and priests I have known who still don’t understand that the sex abuse crisis is not just “another challenging issue.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about Antwon Rose, and about the acquittal of the police officer who killed him. I didn’t know whether to feel hope, terror, shame, or a vision of the coming of the Kingdom last night. Our family was driving home from the elementary school talent show and came right up to the edge of a protest. I felt the pain of the community in a palpable way, manifesting as panicked nausea rising in my throat. And I knew this was a time to try, a little, to explain to my children about how complicated reality is.
The scene evoked so much: rows of protestors sat, blocking traffic, in front of Capri Pizza. They chanted peacefully, but with unwavering determination. I felt tears begin, tears of desperate sorrow for the pain of the community, but also tears of hope and pride. This, right in front of us, was real. We are living into history right now, and that includes the voice of a people saying, “See us! Know that this system is not operating with justice.” And I was glad my children could witness that. At the same time, we heard the car in front of us, the one pulled off to the side next to East Liberty Presbyterian, blasting their music, arguably taunting the police on their motorcycles, shouting along to the lyrics, “Fuck the police! Fuck the police! Yeah, motherfuckers, fuck the police!” But the police remained unmoved, guarding the right of the people to protest.
The rest of our car ride was interesting. I explained to my babies that a lot of people in our Pittsburgh community, and especially a lot of people of color within our community, feel very angry and very sad. They mourn the boy who was shot and killed by police, Antwon Rose, and they feel hopeless and enraged that the police officer was not found guilty of his death. People of color are often treated differently than white people in our society, I said, and that is not okay. That is not just. That’s why you heard the violent words in that song about being angry with the police. Yet you also saw the police guarding and protecting the very people protesting against them, and that is a really beautiful and good thing about our society. In America, we believe in people’s right to protest, and in the freedom of speech. So even when people are protesting against the police, the police still go and protect them (much of the time).
The kids seemed to feel all right about this, understanding, at least, that something complicated and real was going on. I just felt heartbroken, as though this were all too much to carry.
What does the other side of this look like, Lord? What does your salvation look like, in the midst of this captivity? I wake up every night in fear, realizing that my dreams look just like the relentless spiral of my daylight: anxiety about what is, as well as what may be. Will our mouths be filled with laughter, our tongues with rejoicing? Even if we get to the other side, will we see clearly enough to trust? Won’t we have such intense PTSD from these years of fear and fissure that we operate exclusively out of trauma brain? A friend of mine told me that when her son was born super-prematurely, at 25 weeks, she felt (more or less) fine going back and forth from the NICU every day, visiting him. It wasn’t until she finally got to bring him home that the postpartum depression hit. And isn’t that the way of it? We rise to the occasion of crisis, but when it is averted, can we ever be made whole again?
As I write this, I realize I don’t even bring all of this to you in prayer, Lord. Oh, I do in fits and spurts. I pray for people, for their safety, for healing. But do I come before you, pouring all of this out, trusting in your power and your mercy to hold it? I think I’m too scared. I’m afraid of being disappointed, so I hold it close to myself, trying to carry it, trying to “figure it out,” even as I drown within it.
It’s like when I’ve lost my keys or my phone, and I refuse to look in the most likely places first, because I’m afraid of being disappointed. I look everywhere else, because if I don’t find it in those places, there’s still another place to go. But if I start with the intuitive place and it’s not there, I know my despair will be unshakable, and I won’t have the strength to check anywhere else.
It’s like that with you, my Jesus. If I pour all of this out to you in trust, fully, wholeheartedly, and I don’t hear you, that’s it for me. I have nowhere else to turn. So first I try to handle it. I think through it, talk through it, argue through it. I meditate, do yoga, listen to my HypnoBirthing CD, and read (and read and read and read some more). But I’m numb, Lord, and I need you. I pant for your vision and your promise.
I’m sorry I didn’t come to you first, and that you’re just hearing about all of this from me now. But now I do come before you, begging for the grace to pray with the Psalmist
Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the torrents in the southern desert.
Those that sow in tears shall reap rejoicing.
Although they go forth weeping, carrying the seed to be sown,
they shall come back rejoicing, carrying their sheaves.
My vision is weak, Lord. I don’t see it. But my Jesus, I trust in you.
Holly Mohr lives, works and writes in Pittsburgh, PA, along with her husband and two (almost three!) children. She thinks too much and tries desperately to pray with trust, with grace, and in truth. Sometimes it happens.
Image credit: Hans Braxmeier via Pixabay