Category Archives: Lent and Holy Week

The Next Day: A Palm Sunday Reflection

Bethany

Mark 11:1-11

Jerusalem. The feast of Passover. Thousands of pilgrims crowding into the city to sacrifice the lamb, to remember that God delivered them from slavery in Egypt, to tell the great story of plagues of frogs and the angel of death, of a hurried escape under cover of darkness, of Moses and Pharaoh and the charioteers, of walls of water to left and right, the dry seabed at the bottom, and new life on the other side. 

Excitement runs high in the city during this feast of freedom. Some people use it as an occasion to stir up the age-old expectation that maybe this festival, this year, the liberating God will do again what God did long ago. Maybe at this festival, this year, the messiah will appear; or maybe at this festival, this year, an insurrection will finally get rid of the Romans… 

Jesus’ disciples are thinking like that too—maybe at this festival the Teacher will show his true colors; maybe at this festival he’ll install the kingdom of God; maybe the mysterious ‘hour’ he keeps talking about is now. 

They begin a victory chant. They get the crowds to hail Jesus as messiah and king. And once they start shouting, there’s no stopping them. But it would go a lot better for Jesus if they kept still. The louder the crowds, the bigger the trouble.

The Romans don’t care about the festivals of the Jews. What they care about is order. When crowds run riot, they have a no-nonsense way of dealing with it—crucifixion. It’s showy, it’s brutal, it works. As soon as the commotion begins, eyebrows shoot up at headquarters. The rabbi is losing control of his people. Get a cross ready, just in case. 

Beneath all the joyful street theatre, an undercurrent of violence is crackling. Every joyous wave of the palm heightens the tension. Jesus rides into the city to shouts of joy, but everyone’s looking over their shoulders. 

Soon Jesus arrives at the Temple. If we were reading the gospels of Matthew or Luke today, this is when Jesus causes yet another disturbance, trashing the money-changers’ stalls. But in Mark’s story, the version we heard just now, that provocation doesn’t occur today. It happens tomorrow, the next day.  

In this story, it’s quiet at the Temple. Not much going on, nobody there, really. Jesus just looks around. Doesn’t do a thing. Then, the story says, “because it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.” 

Because it was already late. Maybe too late. The authorities have taken note.  

Jesus walks the two miles to Bethany with his friends. To Bethany, the closest thing he has to a real home, the house of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. To Bethany, the safe house, the refuge and rest. Jesus walks to Bethany. He’s home before bedtime.

Here’s what I wonder: 

What went on that night in Bethany after all the hubbub and danger in the city? 

Did Jesus sleep soundly, or did he lie awake? 

Once he had some space to think about the day, did he toss and turn, worrying that the crowds were so big? That they’d hung their hopes on him? Called him messiah and king? 

Does he fret over what might come next? Imagine the forces of order matter-of-factly dispensing with him? Crushing him in the machine of stability? 

Jesus got home before bedtime. I wonder what kind of night he had. 

Did he stay up, talking with his friends? Had they calmed down, come to their senses? Do they realize what they’ve done in stirring things up? 

Does Martha beg him not to go back the next day? Does Lazarus, recently restored to life by Jesus, tell him he should value his life and not foolishly risk it? Do the disciples suggest that he stay out of sight, or issue a conciliatory statement, take a more gradualist approach and defuse the anxiety of the authorities, be prudent and patient and wise? 

Does he wrestle with it, pray about it, finally tell them he won’t back off? Won’t hide? Won’t stop teaching, healing, being who he is? Won’t do anything except what he’s always done, which is to trust in God?  The God who brought the people out from slavery, led them through the sea, through suffering to freedom, from death to milk and honey on the other side? 

And did he explain to them that the next day is not really all that different from any other day—because every day is the day you are called to risk everything for the sake of the world’s healing? 

Did they stand and pray with him before going to bed? Promise God and each other that no matter what happened, they would always be his friends, always stand up for him, heart of each other’s heart; and that when the time came, they would wash his body for the grave?

The ancient rabbis used to say that the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea was not that God parted the sea; it was that one fleeing Hebrew, the first in line, dared to step out and go down deep onto that exposed sea bed, a huge threatening wall of water to his right, another to his left. 

It’s not news that God wills life and freedom for us. It’s big news, good news, when somebody trusts God enough to risk a step towards claiming it. God always parts the waters for us. Whether we dare walk through them, that’s the hanging question.

God opened a way for Jesus, parted the waters. The exposed seabed beckoned him back to Jerusalem the next day, leading him eventually to a place called the Skull. By going down deep into that mysterious beckoning, Jesus will find life. Indestructible life will rise from his grave. And he will share it with us. 

God parts the sea for Jesus and called him to step out. What we fail to consider sufficiently is that he could have chosen not to go. He could have stayed in Bethany. 

We know by heart every detail of what happens after he gets out of bed the next morning, says his prayers, breaks his fast, and makes the trek back to the city. 

We know every sordid, sad detail of what happens after he makes the choice between buckling under to order, stability, power, and resolutely embracing our human hope for freedom, mercy, and justice. Hope that won’t calm down, be quiet, or go away just because somebody needs it to, just because somebody tells it to, just because someone believes it’s better for harmony, better for the rest of us, to kill all challenge and crucify all question. 

Three years earlier, in other waters, Jesus had undergone a baptism; he’d been immersed in a bath of preparation. Did he know right then everything he was preparing for, commit all at once to it all? Or like us, did he have to keep committing and re-committing one day and the next day, saying yes to God again and again, as the way was revealed step by step, and the consequences of each previous choice unfolded?

If that day three years before was his baptism, this night in Bethany is his confirmation. This night he embraces again and with more clarity who he is and what he is called to do.

The next morning, he gets up and he goes deep. He walks the dry seabed into the city, a path lit only by God’s faithfulness and love for his people, and for us. 

And ever since that night in Bethany he has been especially present and vivid in all the faith-choosing and faith-confirming moments of our own lives. He’s been especially present and vivid in every daily ‘yes’ we say to God, even when prudence tells us to stay home, when common sense commands us to be afraid, when we know no one would blame us for not risking our lives.

Through all our own long nights in our own Bethanies, those places in us where fear wrestles with faith, where safety struggles with trust, he is with us. In every conversation and discernment, every imagination and dread, every deeper and stronger resolve, he is there. 

And every morning that we leave some safe house and go back, back to our own looming Jerusalems, back to God knows what, we will know him. As we walk the seabed, making our way down to the bottom of the things that matter most in this life, the few things that are worth every sacrifice, we will look up and see great walls of threatening water on our left and on our right, and we will see him too, behind us, ahead of us, within us, above us, beside us. Always. Come what may. 

Who Is the God Who Wants Me to Do It?

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I mean no disrespect, and I have a ton of appreciation for all the hard working preachers out there lovingly laboring over their Holy Week offerings, but as a person less and less in the pulpit and more and more in the pews, I have to say it: If I hear one more moralizing sermon in Holy Week–or in any other week– I think I’m going to scream. Can’t you give moralizing a rest and for a change try inspiration, illumination, pathos, identification, awe, contemplation, devotion and love, gratitude, and praise?

Not every sermon has to be an urgent call to become better Christians, or an examination of those places in my life where I have denied Jesus, or the ways in which I’m fickle and pivot from crying ‘hosanna’ to crying ‘crucify him’, or some such thing in which it’s clear I’m not doing what a good Christian should be doing and I need to do better. Not every bible passage is about us and our moral lives, no matter how earnestly a preacher stands up there trying to wring from it some principle or lesson for human betterment. They’re not all about what I should be doing for God, but every last one of them reveals something about what God in Christ has done–and is doing– for me. Every last one of them is primed to get me lost in the world of grace, disoriented by mercy, and remade for a new world no one sees yet, but in which somehow I’m living even now. And about that astounding possibility and promise, I hear so little. And I long for it.

I know your preaching teacher told you to preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other, but I don’t need every sermon I hear Sunday after Sunday to relate to some obligation or cause or issue or item in the news. Sometimes I just want help gazing at Jesus. Sometimes I just need to be stunned by the odd attraction of the Story. Sometimes I am converted simply by a preacher making me feel in my flesh the ineffable beauty of the vast accomplished grace around me, the bewildering shame and glory of a love that loves me anyway. I don’t always need to be exhorted. But I always need an encounter. I always need a door. And your sermon could be that door if it’s not slammed shut with moralizing and demand. So give me some inspiration, illumination, pathos, identification, awe, contemplation, adoration, love, gratitude and praise every now and then. Please.

And don’t worry about turning me into a self-absorbed navel-gazer unconcerned with the condition of the world or the plight of my neighbor. Please don’t think you’re being unfaithful somehow, that you’ve fallen down in your duty by not being bold or prophetic in calling me to the barricades of justice every week. I know I’m stubborn and hard-hearted, but it really lacks imagination just to tell me over and over, even artfully and creatively,  that I’m lacking something and need to do much better. It also misses the point, because when all else is said and done, the thing that will best turn my heart to the just purposes of God is a grounding, confounding experience of God.

I know you can’t give me that experience, you can’t make an encounter happen, that’s the Spirit’s job; but you can create the conditions of possibility for it by drawing out beauty and awe, pathos and praise, identification and love from your own spirit, from the deep places where you yourself feel captivated and astounded by that Face, and simply tell me about it. Just contemplate the scriptures and speak to me of God. I hunger for that, and I don’t think I’m alone. As an old, funny, faithful guy sitting in the pew behind me once muttered, after yet another moralizing harangue from the pulpit, “I think I know by now what God wants me to do. What I really want to know is, who is the God who wants me to do it?”

 

 

 

Ash Wednesday: Showered with Stars

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“…For dust you are and to dust you will return.”—Genesis 3:19

Halfway through the line I almost lost it. Until that moment I’d been in a ritual groove, looking my parishioners in the eye, dusting them with ashes, calmly delivering the ancient admonition, “Remember, you are dust and to dust you will return.” One by one they came, listened, received. But halfway through I faltered.

It wasn’t that I suddenly realized the gravity of what I was telling them, that they were breathtakingly fragile, that at any moment they could dissolve into elemental bits, that someday they would. I’d been feeling the heft of that truth all evening.

So no, it wasn’t that I was giving them fatal news. It was that they wanted to hear it. It was that they’d lined up to hear it of their own free will. They knew exactly what the message was going to be, and still they inched their way towards the messenger.

My knees went wobbly as water. I wanted to wave them off, tell them they didn’t have to come, they could go sit down. But I knew no one would. That was the most stunning thing: even if I’d said it, I knew no one would.

So I regrouped, kept tracing charred crosses, kept saying the old words. And they kept coming, one after another, offering me their foreheads with the trust of a child.

And when I told them they would die, some nodded. Some said amen. Some even smiled; they said thank you, as if instead of sentencing them to death, I’d showered them with stars.

Prayer

Holy One, may I live this Lent in bare truth, total trust, and knowing joy; for in life and in death I belong to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Always Contrite

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“You will not turn away, O God, from a broken and contrite heart.”—Psalm 51:17

The psalmist says that God will not spurn a contrite heart, but he might just as truthfully say that God cannot turn from such a heart. There’s something about a heart that’s been shattered, opened, rendered contrite and pliable by failure, that God cannot resist.

If that’s true, it makes me think it’d be a good thing to adopt contrition as a way of life, not just an occasional shamed response to a particular sin committed. The best heart to have would be an always contrite heart.

Not a heart always wallowing in guilt, mind you. Not a perpetually self-abasing or gloomily self-loathing heart. No wailing, breast-beating, or sackcloth and ashes. Just a heart that isn’t shocked by its own mistakes, but assumes them as a baseline human fact. A heart that, in a mysterious way of speaking, welcomes frailty as a God-magnet. A heart that knows failure is one of the best friends the soul could have.

Sr. Joan Chittister says we would do well to embrace the “sanctifying character of our mistakes.” To resist is to miss a mystery, and a biblical truth—our sins may make us holier than our virtues ever will.

An aware heart always on its knees, always truthful about its lack, always surrendered to what Mark Heim calls ‘the vast accomplished grace around us,’ and therefore always intimately accompanied by the Mercy within mercy inside mercy who is God—that’s the joyous life the penitent psalmist prays for. It’s the life I pray for too.

And you?

Prayer

Break my heart with your great mercy, O God, and be always near my always broken heart.

 

Passing Guests

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“Teach me, O God, how fleeting my life is.

Hear my prayer, listen to my cry;

for I am your passing guest…,

like all who have gone before me.”— Psalm 39:12

Whenever I’m herded onto a jetliner with a couple hundred other uncomfortable, prickly travelers, or crammed into a subway full of bleary commuters, or crushed in any crowd where a crash or a derailment or a shooting or a stampede could suddenly kill us all, I find myself thinking, “These are the people I may die with today.”

I look intently at them, eavesdrop on their conversations, imagine their backstories. “You and I may die together today,” I say to them in my inmost heart.

Does that sound morbid? Maybe it is, but it helps me be human. The more I see others as people I might die with, the harder it is to be rude and judgmental and impatient, my usual behavior in hordes. There’s something pathos-inducing about this thought. It elicits a softening.

We’re not rivals for life’s overhead bins. We’re not jockeying for earth’s limited seating. We’re not first class people and steerage people. We’re dying companions. How can I not be reverent? How can I not be kind?

The psalmist knows he’s here today, gone tomorrow, a passing guest of God. We all are. On earth for a fleeting breath, we live by sheer hospitality, God’s to us, ours to each other, our common death our closest bond.

For everyone in the great crowd of mortals, age to age, it’s the same. Soon I will die with you, and you with me.

In the meanwhile, let’s be kind.

Prayer

Life is short, most holy God. Make me tender towards my dying companions, all of us your passing guests.

Render Unto Caesar: On Not Knowing What It Means, or What to Do

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–Titian, The Tribute Coin

Exodus 33: 12-23; Mark 12:13-17

Our gospel story opens with the arrival of representatives from two factions who have put their heads together and come up with a trick question for Jesus. The first group is the Pharisees, a religious party of committed laypeople with whom Jesus had a lot in common, even though they are portrayed in the New Testament as his most intractable enemies.

For reasons scholars disagree about, but which may have something to do with the emperor setting himself up as a divine son of god, the devout Pharisees were resistant to paying the head tax to their Roman overlords.

The other faction, the Herodians, advocated pragmatic collaboration with the Romans. They get only one other mention in the gospels, and we don’t know much about them; but their name implies sympathy with a line of violent and irreligious puppet kings who ruled in Judea at Rome’s behest, and who were generally despised by pious, nationalistic Jews. That these two opposing factions are in cahoots gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘strange bedfellows’.

They begin their interview with Jesus by lathering on the flattery: ‘You are so sincere, Jesus; you truly teach God’s way…’   Jesus is thinking, ‘Blah, blah, blah!’ Then they pop the trick question. “Is it lawful to pay the tax to the emperor?’

It doesn’t take a mind reader to figure out what they are up to. Jesus knows that if he says, ‘Yes, we should pay the tax,” the popular base that resonates with his anti-imperial preaching will complain that he flip-flopped and gave into the special interests; in the next election they’ll vote for Ralph Nader. If he says, ‘No, we must not pay the tax,’ Bill O’Reilly will label him a dupe of the radical peace movement, and the NSA will step up the monitoring of his library books.

Give one answer, and your followers abandon you. Give the other, and the authorities have proof that you are a garden variety insurrectionist and will deal with you by the usual means. This Gruesome Twosome appears to have Jesus over a barrel.

Jesus asks to see the denarius used to pay the tax. He inquires about the image stamped on the little silver coin. They tell him that it is the emperor’s. Jesus says, “Well, then give him what’s his, and give God what’s God’s.”

Apparently this is a great answer. We are told that the Pharisees and Herodians heard it and went away amazed. But why? What were they amazed about? What did they make of Jesus’ reply? What did it mean exactly? What did they report to the party bosses back at headquarters?   Had they won? Had they lost? Is it clear to you what actually happened? It isn’t clear to me!

Once at an ordination I was participating in, a famous preacher gave a mesmerizing sermon that left everyone in the sanctuary breathless. Afterwards, in the reception line, a couple of colleagues sidled up to me and said, “Wasn’t she amazing?” I allowed that yes, indeed, she was. Then one of them whispered, “But what did she say, exactly?” I had absolutely no idea, and no one else did either, as it turned out. A great turn of phrase is worth a lot in my book, but it doesn’t always say anything.

Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’ It’s got a nice Zen-ish ring to it. But what does it mean? And what precisely are we to do with it?

Some theologians think that Jesus was talking about two distinct realms of human life—the secular and religious, or maybe what we call church and state—and telling us that we are citizens of both, one foot planted in each. God sanctions earthly government and requires our loyalty to it as long as it is godly; but when it is ungodly, or when it demands from us the absolute allegiance that pertains only to God, we must always give precedence to God’s claim on us, or risk idolatry.

Now, if that is what Jesus meant, it seems simple enough. If you think, for example, that the war in Iraq was an unjust imperial project; and if, after it took more than 2,000 American lives, untold Iraqi lives, and cost billions a day, you are more persuaded than ever in your Christian conscience and in your judgment as a citizen that preemptive war is just plain wrong, then you should not fork over the taxes that pay for it if you should be asked to support such an immoral misadventure again. Right?

On the other hand, some of you might think, taxes also pay for public education and other things that are needed and good, and one would not want to harm those interests by refusing to pay. Others might wonder, what will happen to me if I withhold my taxes? And wouldn’t it be a futile gesture? Would it really stop a war? And still others of us might say, I can’t think about this right now, I have a meeting.

Give to Caesar what belongs to him, and to God what belongs to God. What does that mean? What are we supposed to do, exactly?

Another line of interpretation says that when Jesus told the ambassadors to give to Caesar what belongs to him, he was being facetious: the overarching truth is that nothing belongs to Caesar. Everything is God’s, and claims by the Empire to possess and control its subjects with ultimacy—claims implicit in the coin’s inscription identifying Caesar as divine—are simply blasphemous.

This interpretation has given rise to various and sometimes contradictory approaches to Christian civic life. One place to which it has led is to withdrawal from the world. This is the separatist, or sectarian, impulse exemplified by the internal exile that evangelical Christians in this country once imposed on themselves—before they came to love power, that is—as the most faithful way to be a disciple in a lost and corrupt world. It is still what many religious home-schoolers believe. Minimize your involvement lest you be tainted by the idolatry of the State.

But even sectarians make compromises. Maybe you don’t run for the local town council or school board, maybe you don’t even vote, but if the government should ever move to take away your church’s tax exemption, I’m guessing you will get on the horn and call your Congressperson, or hire an attorney and use the courts for redress.

Give to Caesar what belongs to him, and to God what belongs to God. What does that mean? What are we supposed to do, exactly?

In most cases, using this passage to describe a reasoned approach to the question of the Christian citizen’s relationship to government ends up generating all sorts of complications. It’s no wonder that another typical line of interpretation gives up trying to relate this story to politics, citizenship and government altogether. Instead the story becomes a stewardship message: Give Uncle Sam what belongs to Uncle Sam, it says, but don’t forget also to give St. Polycarp by the Pool what belongs to St Polycarp by the Pool—pay your dues to your country and to your church! Render unto Caesar…

So, what did Jesus really mean?

I have no idea. And I doubt that all the Pharisees and Herodians back at headquarters did either. Whatever they understood by it, it did not convert them on the spot; it did not deter them from further confrontation with Jesus; it did not ensure him the lasting loyalty of his followers either, and it did not win him the mercy of Pontius Pilate. Whatever Jesus meant, he did not mean to save his life.

Now, we all know that this is not the only place in the scriptures where Jesus is deliberately cryptic. It isn’t the only story in which we hear that people walk away amazed, even though we are not quite sure what that amazement was about. It’s not the only instance in which the theory we spin from what Jesus says seems at first so straightforward, and then turns out not to be. Not the first time that we are left to work out the implications for ourselves, and to discover the unsettling truth that faithful disciples can and do work them out in different and even conflicting ways. It isn’t the only example of Jesus’ resistance to cooptation and manipulation.

And I think that it is in elusive moments like this one that Jesus, whom Christians believe is ‘God with us’, most reminds me of the God who is not with us in any ordinary sense, but is the Hidden One whose ways are not our ways, and who is under no compulsion to explain or justify anything at all to mortals.

This is the part of God’s biblical character that seems most forbidding to us, this absence, this stubborn silence. Many of us are impatient with Zen-like utterances. We don’t want a God that slips eternally through our fingers. But in some ways it is only this hidden, cryptic, elusive and unknown God that you can really trust to have your best interests at heart.

When by divine reticence God lets us know that God is not who we think God is; when God won’t give us a straight answer to a simple question; when God amazes us without letting on what it’s really all about, God is doing human beings a huge favor.

Because like Moses, we keep asking for clarity. We keep demanding the truth about God. We want the picture sketched out. Put the instruction manual in our hand, we pray—tell us plainly who you are, what you want, and how, precisely, we should regulate our social, political and ecclesial lives according to the gospel. But the saving grace that we are granted instead of all this clarity is simply that we are finite, partial and contingent. We want it all, but the gift and blessing we are given is to see only a little light, as we peer out from the cleft in the rock where God has thoughtfully stashed us.

Never in this life to know everything is not a cause for sadness and frustration. Not to know everything is a cause for gratitude and praise, because, by glimpsing only God’s back, we are shielded not only from a blast of full frontal glory we could not possibly endure, but we are shielded also from pride—and from the violence and contempt that always go with it. If we can be content to see only snatches of truth, if we can resist claiming more about God’s being and God’s intentions than any finite human can truly claim, we may, by God’s grace, be les likely to set ourselves up in God’s place, with all the dreadful, familiar consequences that such self-delusion always entails.

I once had student who had a great crisis of faith and left the seminary, abandoning all thought of a pastoral calling. He had many reasons why this was a good thing to do. Mostly it was a move prompted by a need for intellectual, theological and moral purity. He did not think he could be a pastor with complete integrity; he had mixed motives, his ego was untamed, he wasn’t sure that he had enough faith, or faith of the right quality. His departure seemed a sad waste to me, since no one accepts this calling with complete integrity, without a mixed motive or a doubtful cloud on the horizon of the heart. If complete personal coherence were a qualification for ministry, there would be no one serving. But one thing he said has stayed with me, and it challenges me all the time. He said, ‘I don’t know how I can get up and preach to people every Sunday as if I knew what God wants. I am afraid to speak as if I actually knew what God is saying.’

Today in our nation a large number of Christian voices are not, apparently, the least bit perplexed or stymied by Jesus or by the God of Jesus. They seem to know precisely what God means and exactly how to practice what Jesus preaches. They are often invited to tell our pluralistic nation all about it on TV. They are happy to do so. You have seen and heard them. They seem unafraid that they may be presuming too much, overreaching. No shadow of doubt or complexity haunts them.

I do not wish to judge anyone’s faith. I am in fact eager for the good news about what God is doing for the world in Christ to be heard in the street and on the airwaves. I myself hope always to speak with joyful confidence about the good news, never being ashamed of the gospel. But I also pray every day, for me and for all of us, that I might be protected from myself, from my prideful need to know it all, my anxious need to control even God, my presumption and overreaching in speaking in God’s stead—and from the violence and contempt that lurk in the shadow of such self-delusion.

I want to be protected from myself by the very God who refuses so wisely to be fully known, so that from the cleft in the rock where the hidden God has so compassionately hidden me, I may tell the amazing story of what I do not know, as well as the wondrous story of what I do know—and do so with humility of speech, with modesty of exhortation, with joy in my human limitations too many to count, and with a reverent and awe-struck heart before the One whose Holy Name cannot be pronounced, but whose seen and unseen love is everlasting.

I invite us all to the do the same.

Ghastly Prayer

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“By your sword, deliver me from the wicked, O God. Fill their bellies with the wrath you have stored up for them. May their children have a surfeit of it too, with leftovers for their little ones.”  –Psalm 17:13-14.

What I pray for when I’m distraught, terrified, enraged, or overwhelmed is not what I pray for when I’m peaceful, content, hopeful, and safe. What comes out of my mouth when I’m beyond the end can be ghastly.

My most desperate prayers lay bare the damaged self I normally conceal under good Christian wraps—an aggrieved righteousness, contempt for those who oppose me, a primal impulse to pay back with lasting hurt those who have hurt me (and while we’re at it, their children too), and a cowardly urge to have God do the dirty work for me.

I’m grateful to this bloodthirsty psalmist for being as nasty as I am when my heart is backed into a corner. Grateful not so much for validating my emotions, or for modeling honest prayer, or for reminding me that God is big enough to absorb my fury, but for shocking me into recognition. I hate what he prays for. I recoil at his viciousness. But I’ve prayed that way myself.

We could shun psalms like these, excise them from our devotions, denounce them for their violence. Or we could pray them. We could let their hateful words come out of our mouths. We could discover in repeating them that they are not as foreign and distasteful to us as we think they are, or as we want them to be.

Self-knowledge. It’s the beginning of wisdom.

Prayer: Have mercy on me, O God, just as I (really) am.