How do we make meaning out of what seems to be intolerable? Incoherent? Inherently evil? The last few days, I’ve opened my laptop, terrified of finding out what new legislative event has happened while I’ve been away. And every time I think that there couldn’t be anything worse, there it is, the next day. Seeing the pain, the hurt, and the grief play out in real-time and feeling like I can’t do anything about it is horrifying. What can I do? I attempt to find solace in prayer, peace in knowing that God is bigger than the presidency, and a way to channel my emotions into productivity.
Mostly I’m just astonished at the coldness with which people (flesh-and-blood, made in the image of God human beings) can treat those who are desperate. Refugees are refugees because they have no other choice. They. Have. No. Other. Choice. Reaching the US or Europe is their last hope at LIVING, let alone starting life over again. Contrast that with those in the US who want to close doors to them: they have choices. They have lives that are not disrupted by war or famine or gang violence or dictators. And instead of reacting with gratitude by extending that same grace to others, they turn away, put on blinders, refuse to see who these people really are, and what is really bringing them to our door. This feigned, learned ignorance (or malice, for some), is saying no to people who have no other options.
What meaning, what hope can come from this? I’m not feeling any hope. It’s been eight days of this presidency, and the America that is happening before my eyes is not the America I want to be grateful for, or patriotic for.
This is the first time I’ve ever really identified with the writer of Psalm 109, which is even more uncensored than most of the other Psalms. So much so that we don’t often hear it read aloud. The writer speaks of the wicked, asking for
“their sin [to] be always before the Lord; but let him root out their names from the earth;
Because he did not remember to show mercy, but persecuted the poor and needy and sought to kill the brokenhearted.” (109:14-15)
I’ve always viewed this Psalm with distaste, but today, I too want the wicked to be rooted out from the earth, to “let [cursing] soak into his body like water and into his bones like oil” (109:17). That sounds like a great punishment for those who force a whole country to turn away the desperate, the brokenhearted.
It is a few hours now since I wrote the words in the above paragraph. The anger still festers, but there is hope again with the temporary stay and massive crowds of people protesting. This hope reminds me again of a Psalm—this time 126, which begins “when the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, then we were like those who dream”. It imagines what like will be like when goodness is restored, and when “those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy” (6).
I’ve spent the last five hours writing through this question. Listening, watching, waiting, and wondering “what meaning, what hope can come from this?”. And tonight’s answer isn’t satisfying, or vengeful. It is simply that, like the writers of the Psalms, I too can pour out my anger before God. I can also dream of a better future, for the brokenhearted, for our country, for the world. These two things are not mutually exclusive.
I’ve had it in my head that I need to choose either action or tranquility in response to this. However, reading the Psalms has made me realize that I can choose both. I can act for the sake of the brokenhearted, and I can rest my soul in the goodness of God. The meaning that comes from this moment is the realization that both of these things are a prayer—a prayer that lives out the Christian call to be followers of Christ in both reflection and action.