Tag Archives: broken dreams

Psalm 79 Words of Pain and Hope in a National Crisis

James Tissot, The Flight of the Prisoners

Psalm 79

<A Psalm of Asaph.>

1 O God, the nations have come into your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.
2 They have given the bodies of your servants to the birds of the air for food, the flesh of your faithful to the wild animals of the earth.
3 They have poured out their blood like water all around Jerusalem, and there was no one to bury them.
4 We have become a taunt to our neighbors, mocked and derided by those around us.
5 How long, O LORD? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealous wrath burn like fire?
6 Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you, and on the kingdoms that do not call on your name.
7 For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation.
8 Do not remember against us the iniquities of our ancestors; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low.
9 Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and forgive our sins, for your name’s sake.
10 Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants be known among the nations before our eyes.
11 Let the groans of the prisoners come before you; according to your great power preserve those doomed to die.
12 Return sevenfold into the bosom of our neighbors the taunts with which they taunted you, O Lord!
13 Then we your people, the flock of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise.

Most of the Psalms of Asaph in this section are likely written in the aftermath of the devastation of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple by the Babylonians in 587 BCE and emerge in a space of broken dreams and deep pain. The placement of this psalm immediately after Psalm 78, with its condemnation of Northern Israel and its belief that God’s love and protection focused on Judah and the sanctuary at Mount Zion, highlights the hopes that are now in pieces after the experience of the surviving the destruction caused after a long siege. The Davidic monarchy is shattered, the temple lies in ruins, the people are being forced into exile, and the land has languished under the violence of Babylon’s campaigns against Judah. The Babylonians have defiled the things the people of Judah believed would endure forever under God’s protection. In a space of national defeat and humiliation where God’s hand has not protected them the psalmist narrates the trauma of the survivors as they walk among unburied corpses in the shattered city calling on God for a response to the violence that has been done to them.

Prophets like Jeremiah had indicated that Babylon was God’s instrument of judgment, but the Asaph who narrates this psalm may have been one of those who would have considered Jeremiah’s words dangerous at best and traitorous at worst. Jeremiah and other prophets may have warned about the failure of the people to live according to God’s covenant with them and that their trust in the Davidic king and the temple were misplaced without this covenant faithfulness. One of the gifts of scripture is bringing together multiple voices and experiences around these critical times of crisis as the individuals and the people navigate who they are and how they are to live in the face of national disaster. This psalm comes from a place of shock, anger, and grief about the plight of the people and God’s apparent lack of action on their behalf.

The psalm tries to appeal to God’s honor and glory and the ways in which Babylon’s actions have defiled that. Instead of the peoples’ inheritance or the temple of Solomon the things that are broken are God’s. The corpse of God’s servant[1] is left unburied for the birds and wild animals to scavenge and with the imagery of the blood being poured out like water it is poetically like the Babylonians in their act of war have made a mockery of the sacrificial offerings of Judah. Now Israel itself has become the sacrifice laid upon the altar of the shattered stones of the city and no one is able to begin the process of undoing this desolation. Their situation is one of devastation and disgrace. Babylon made them an example of the cost of defiance of the might of their empire so that other nations might see and respond in fear.

Yet, the devastation has not turned the psalmist from their trust in God and it is to God they cry from their anguish. There is in the psalm an awareness that it is God’s anger that has allowed the devastation to occur and there is an awareness that God is justified in his anger over the sins of the past. Yet, in the psalmist’s view, the punishment far exceeds the crime and the license extended to the Babylonians has not brought dishonor not only to Israel but to God’s name. Moses used a similar argument after the golden calf to get God to turn away from God’s wrath towards the people, and here the psalmist appeals both to the nations’ perception of the God of Israel but also to the compassion of God that demonstrated when God responded to the cries of the oppressed in the past. They ask God to open God’s hearing to the cries of the prisoner[2] and to deliver the condemned[3] and to repay their enemies sevenfold[4] for the violence they have done and the dishonor they have done to God’s name.

The psalm ends in a place of hope where the broken people will praise God from generation to generation. Most of this psalm dwells in trauma and brokenness as the psalmist cries out in anger to God asking for vengeance but it does not end there. The hurt and pain eventually turn to praise, the deep wounds of the present heal, and the anger recedes as hope emerges out of the devastation. Times of national crisis change us. In my lifetime we thankfully have not experienced the depth of disaster that the Babylonian exile would have been, but September 11, 2001, the Covid Pandemic, the uncertainty of January 6, 2020, and many other events have caused me to cry out to God asking questions and wondering about my perception of God’s action or lack of action in these moments. Times of crisis force us to ask hard questions about our beliefs and to refine them. My instructor in Hebrew Bible two decades ago, Ann Fritschel, once said that the answer to almost any historical question in reference to the Hebrew scriptures was the Babylonian exile. That event caused both a great reconsideration of what the covenant faith in the LORD the God of Israel meant and a gathering and consolidation of the stories, poems, reflections, and words of the prophets to form the scriptures to ensure the tradition could be handed down. We stand as the inheritors of these voices that have come together to reflect upon the life of faith in both times of peace and times of conflict. These words spoken in trauma yet ending in hope may give words to our anger, grief, and mourning but they may also allow us to hope for a time when healing allows us to lift our voices in praise.

[1] This is singular in Hebrew. The Septuagint and most English translations make this plural, but it probably is used here like the servant in Isaiah which may refer collectively to Israel.

[2] Again, singular in Hebrew but also is probably used as a collective to refer to Judah.

[3] Literally the ‘sons of death’.

[4] Possibly an allusion to the words of God in protection of Cain in Genesis 4:13.

When a Dream Dies

Glimpse of a Dream, IR photo of French River by Paul Bica, 2013 shared under creative commons 2.0https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Dreaming#/media/File:Glimpse_of_a_dream_(9391068364).jpg

Often they simply fade into the night, slipping into the ether
They dwelt for a brief time deep within our sleeping mind
We wake with no remembrance of their sojourn through synapses
Our short journey with their evanescent existence in the dark
Yet, rare visions weave themselves into the warp and weft of the soul
Their lives become joined to our own, birthing hopes and aspirations
A symbiotic connection of between vision and will, the dream and dreamer
And when that dream dies it takes a piece of us with it into oblivion

What I Learned About Myself, Life and God from My Divorce: Part 2

Apophysis-Betrayal (1footonthedawn at deviantart.com)

Apophysis-Betrayal (1footonthedawn at deviantart.com)

4. The Language of Woundedness– Growing up, in seminary and even through the first several years of my ministry I never really knew what to do with much of the language of the prophets in the bible. At times it is visceral, offensive, painful and harsh and even though I had done many things through my life to challenge myself physically and mentally I didn’t realize what a sheltered life I had lived. It was only in the time before and after my divorce, where I found myself emotionally shattered and dealing with a deep emotional and spiritual wound that I found that this was the language of emotional pain. Those who have been following my writing know I’ve been writing quite a bit on Jeremiah, and Jeremiah is full of this language of woundedness-of a wounded God and the wounded prophet who are working through an intense feeling of betrayal by the very people they committed themselves to. I’ve come to understand that this language, although harsh and painful and often unheard by anyone else is a part of the healing process. It is a way that we try to make sense of the deep brokenness that we feel on the inside and to let go of the relationship, dreams, trust, love and eventually move towards forgiveness. For me, many times, these were words that were said in the car alone, in the shower when nobody could hear, and rarely before anyone except a couple close friends who I trusted deeply as well as some of my conversations with God (which both the Psalms and the Prophets model). It is the language of our emotional self crying out in desperation as it tries to re-establish itself and it needs the place to be vented, and yet it is not where we want to remain. It is a wilderness of anger that I had to move through on my journey of healing, but I have also know people who have established their residence there and allowed their identity to remain wounded. This is one of those things that there is a season for, a season for woundedness and anger and a season of healing and new beginnings.

5. Letting Go of Dead Dreams-This took some time, probably close to two years for me. Many people will immediately try to re-establish a relationship to take the place of the relationship they lost but I didn’t. I did date some over my first couple years but was never able to place myself fully into the relationships because I was still holding on to what had been in the past. For two years of dating and thirteen years of marriage I had seen my life always being connected to my ex-wife’s and there was a time, even after divorce where I dreamed the relationship could be reestablished, my family could be joined back together and the dream I had held onto for years could be realized. The crazy part is that I was holding onto this dream precisely when I was also dealing with the most extreme pain and hurt. Eventually I did reach a point where I was able to say that the relationship was truly over, the dream was dead, that I had come to the point where there was no going back, where I could be honest with myself about the number of things I had given up over the previous years to make the relationship work and I could see some of the flaws. For me this was a part of letting go and beginning to wonder what might happen in the future and making space for the present. It also allowed me to accept the gift of myself and hopefully in the future be ready for the gift of somebody else.

6. The Relational Currency of Trust-I had the opportunity as I was going through my divorce to do some coursework on Marriage and Family Therapy which has been invaluable going forward in my life and in the counseling I do as a pastor. At a fundamental level, when you love someone else you open yourself up to the possibility of being hurt-there is no love without this possibility. This is why a person’s death can be so difficult and why betrayal within any relationship can be so devastating. In my own experience I know there were times when I may have known what was going on but I didn’t want to admit that someone I had opened up to so deeply could possibly be willing to betray that trust. The reason that betrayal is so deadly to marriages (and this can come in many forms, affairs both emotional and physical, addictions, lying, hiding of financial struggles or resources, undisclosed legal struggles and the list could go on) is that it violates trust. Trust allows us to risk opening ourselves up, and once trust is broken it is painful and it takes a lot for another person to grant that trust again. In my case I was willing to open myself up again in the hope of saving the relationship and I ended up being wounded again, but it was the right decision for me to make in the long run. If trust has been broken it can be rebuilt, but it takes a lot of time and work.

purple rose 01 by picsofflowers.blogspot.com