Saturday, October 16, 2010

Ascending by Humility: The Hard Truths of Imprecatory Psalms

Derek has offered a post on the retention of the imprecatory Psalms. While there is merit to reinterpretations of these Psalms, I find these Psalms invaluable for self-examination and social-examination. We do not want to face ugliness in ourselves. We would prefer to think of our sense of justice as untouched by Sin, as we go on (self-)righteous crusade devoid of mercy. Too much ugliness is accomplished in the name of the good, in the Name of God. The Twentieth Century is the bloodiest and most vicious in history. With all of our advances, on the level of human relating, we are not any better than those desiring to dash babes against rocks. And it could be argued that we are worse--sometimes because of our advances in technology. The imprecatory Psalms are a wake up to face what is in ourselves, in our socialities—not just those of society that bugaboo "the world," but those of our Churches, a reminder not lost on me in the wake of so many suicides by lgbt young people.

Abba Isaac of Scetis reminds us that the passions are not themselves evil. His was a revolution in desert understanding. Previous teachers had taught that the passions were either evil or meant to be extinguished. Abba Isaac sees them as fallen, in need of bridling, so as to be redeemed and turned to the good. Anger, he tells us, exists to do justice. But God’s justice, seen through the lens of Crib and Cross, Resurrection and Ascension, namely, Jesus Christ, is not the justice of unbridled self-righteousness. God’s justice on the level of fallen humanity gently firmly says “no” to harm of others while staying close to earth, while recognizing “I too am a sinner.” For Anglicans, this should all be very familiar. Our Prayer Book ever holds before us the mirror of “sinner,” of which the imprecatory Psalms are a part, and reminds us repeatedly that our desires are created good, but fallen, in need of redemption, once-for-all accomplished in Christ, who now works himself out in our own lives if we will to face ourselves and face Reality nowhere more vivid than the Crucifixion, where we who would put to death God, find ourselves "within the reach of saving embrace."

To face our ugliness personally and socially too is confession and profession of need for God. We leave out the imprecatory Psalms at our peril. In a manuscript I am currently working on, I write of the Psalms and their order,

“All of us have favorites. I personally resonate with those that set our praise within the whole of creation. And some psalms horrify us. We do not want to face the possibility of God's anger. Or our own. By neglecting nothing in the psalter, we cannot avoid wrestling with our own want to crush enemies or gloat over another's ruin. We cannot avoid our own alienation from God, one another, and all creatures. A continua practice asks us to enter into the struggle of discipleship.

For busy days and for ease-of-use in keeping up the practice, a psalm has been chosen and arranged in contemplative vernacular for each time and day as a beginning. These are designed for this continua approach to making God's Work. You will notice that the different types of psalms are not avoided. The variety chosen is meant to give a sweep of the types of psalms, each of which reveals our dependence in a different way, a mini-continua. The effect of continua practice is maintained.”