Tag Archives: Psalms

Faith Begins by Letting Go

A few weeks ago, I preached a sermon on the trust psalms, particularly Psalm 27, entitled, “Trust, Perseverance, and Doggedness.”  When I went hunting for a closing hymn for the service, I stumbled upon a relatively new one entitled, “Faith Begins by Letting Go.”

While I ended up selecting it for the service, I felt a bit puzzled by the title, the lyrics, and the sentiment.  The first stanza is as follows:

Faith begins by letting go 
Giving up what had seemed sure 
Taking risks and pressing on 
Though the way feels less secure 
Pilgrimage both right and odd 
Trusting all our life to God

I wasn’t sure I believed that faith begins by letting go of our foundation, taking risks, and that one’s pilgrimage should feel “both right and odd.”  Still, something about the hymn seemed to resonate with the content of my sermon, especially the ode to one of the great contemporary spiritual writers, Anne Lamott, on perfectionism and they way in which our writing cramps up around our wounds as in life.

These past few weeks I’ve encountered my own cramps and struggles to write, and am starting to believe in this whole wisdom of letting go.

You see I was having a lot of trouble getting my thoughts to find substance and clarity on the page, writing and rewriting pages and pages of an article on my research with foster mothers in China.  I kept thinking that despite my frustrations, I needed to have faith that these meanderings, however seemingly futile, had some semblance of progress and that I would eventually find my way if I kept at it.

However, this morning during my prayer time I realized that in the writing process, I’d started to lose the joy and excitement that is so genuine to my work with families in China. And I decided to give myself the freedom to reflect freely on what I learned and what I love about the families I worked with.  In a away, I decided to free myself from the burden of writing something smart and relevant and pertinent to the academy and instead tap back into what these families, this culture, and these people taught me about God and life.

And suddenly I was at no lack for thoughts, ideas, and even words on the page.  

I recalled, rather crudely, what these foster mothers had taught me about my own neediness for God and for others, and that true kinship, true family, is not about blood, choice, or even love, but our deep need for one another.

I love that as I yielded to venture away from what I think I know or how I think I should say it, God let me back to my own need for God and others, and this great sense of unity that in my deepest being I have for my vocation as both a scholar and a minister.

I’m so thankful for the wisdom of letting go today–not only because it’s getting me closer to getting this article down on the page, but because it’s taking me to a revelation that I couldn’t have found on my own, by my own strength, might, or wisdom.  It’s making clear my need to rely on God and others for insight, faith, encouragement, grace, and communion.

And despite how scary that is, it’s an an amazing place to be.

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Feeling our way to God

This is a post I wrote for our church newsletter to give our community some direction and comfort while grieving.  I hope that in whatever circumstance you find yourself this morning it may offer a reflection and a respite from your troubles.

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All photos by Evan Schneider, taken at Merrill Creek Reservoir, NJ.

Have you ever noticed the psalms and the psalmist are a veritable jumble of human emotions?  When I first began personally reading through the Bible, I was vexed by the range of seemingly “unchristian” feelings in the psalms—despair, sorrow, rage, and vengeance—juxtaposed with the more expected and accepted—praise, wonder, and jubilation.  I didn’t understand how laments, cries of anger and defeat, even one’s heaping of curses upon one’s enemy, could be included in a Bible we hold to be the word of God, and wholly Holy.

But over the years, I’ve come to find great comfort in the fact that nearly 70% of the psalms begin with lament, that the Bible is full of unseemly, broken characters who are vindictive, fearful, and impulsive, and that the psalms are not made obsolete by the death of Jesus, but all the more powerful, prophetic, and complete.  For instance, I once heard a sermon about the fateful words that Jesus cries from the cross, lamenting, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27: 45-46).  If Jesus is God, how could he, of all people, lose faith? we might ask.  If God forsake Jesus, surely God may forsake us, we might fear.

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However, in that sermon, the pastor drew attention to the fact that when Jesus spoke these words, he was actually quoting Psalm 22, a psalm that like so many, begins in lament and despair and then winds its way to praise and adoration.  While the psalmist complains that God does not answer (verse 2), and he is but a worm, despised by others (v. 6), he also recalls that it was God who took him from his mother’s womb and kept him safe on his mother’s breast (v. 9).  The psalmist remarks that dogs surround him (16), and much as Jesus experienced, “for my clothing they cast lots” (18).  Yet, throughout the psalm, he cries out to God (2; 11; 19), and finally, feeling that God has heard him and rescued him (21), he turns to praise (23).  He asks that the Lord be glorified by all (27), and promises that he will live for God (29).

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By quoting a psalm so meandering and mixed emotionally, Jesus reminds us that to be human is to feel.  To be human is to feel despair, anger, and fear, but the end of Christian life is not death, but resurrection—a sign that God never forsakes us.  It’s comforting to realize that Jesus lamented, and also powerful to see that those cries to God echo a tradition that claims hope found in the midst of suffering, even death.  When you’re weary, I invite you to turn to the psalms and embrace your emotions as the psalmists did, wandering the paths of the heart to faith.  I invite you to ruminate on the fact that your wholly human self may be the best instrument to knowing our Holy God, that no emotions are “unchristian” or alien to our God, and that the God who invites us to lament and question, also promises resurrection and healing.

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On bones and forgiveness

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?  But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.  –Psalm 130:3-4

You can focus on what we call the necessity of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, or the sinfulness that puts us all in need of saving, or any manner of sins.  Or you can focus on that which makes our God so fully God, and that is, forgiveness.

The bones that make us the stuff of this earth, fully human, are the same ones that ache with insecurity and fear and lead us to point bony fingers at one another.  There’s no grace in those bones.

But if you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?  And so our bones crumble, not only under the weight of such iniquities, of sin, but of their very lifetimes, which are finite and limited.

But may we be reminded before we return to dust, may we choose always to focus on the fact that with you, Lord, there is forgiveness, so that you may be revered.  

It’s when I happen upon a scripture such as this that I’m not so worried about the eventual eroding and decaying of those brittle bones one day, but with every day that might go by in this lifetime when I could have embraced and preached your forgiveness but did not.  Every day that those bony pointing fingers might have held a hand in theirs instead of doing their wagging, or those legs may have stood in solidarity with other sinners, rather than walking away.

With you, Lord, there is forgiveness.

And may there also be with me, may there be grace in these bones, as with my brothers and sisters on the earth.  Amen.

A village elder in Yunnan province.  All photos by Evan Schneider.