Prayer from Psalm 5

“The Psalms are not religious in the sense that they are courteous or polite or deferential. They are religious only in the sense that they are willing to speak this chaos to the very face of the Holy One.” (Walter Brueggemann, “Praying the Psalms,” 19)

In the spirit of the Psalmist who brings vulnerable feelings of to the Holy One, today I offer these prayers, using words from Psalm 5:

  • “Listen to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you I pray.” (v. 2)
  • Gratitude for all medical workers, grocery store workers, scientists and others on the frontlines of the pandemic. Thanks for their persistence and their sacrifice. “Spread your protection over them.” (v. 11)
  • Anger at the murder of another unarmed black man, Ahmaud Arbery. Anger at the denial of systemic injustice. “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil will not sojourn with you.” (v. 4)
  • Frustration at lies and misinformation, which hurt the most vulnerable. “For there is no truth in their mouths; their hearts are destruction; their throats are open graves; they flatter with their tongues.” (v. 9)
  • Sadness that communal singing may not return soon. “O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch.” (v. 3)
  • Encouragement for the homeless, the jobless and all those suffering economic hardship. “Give ear to my words, O Lord; give heed to my sighing.” (v. 1)
  • Gratitude for moments of grace and joy. “But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house.” (v. 7)

– Mitchell Eithun, Campus Edge intern

Deconstructing and Reorientation

In our study of the Psalms, we are using Walter Brueggemann’s framework of orientation, disorientation, and reorientation. Brueggemann explains

that our life of faith consists in moving with God in terms of (a) being securely oriented, (b) being painfully disoriented and (c) being surprisingly reoriented. This general way of speaking can apply to our self-acceptance, our relations to significant others, and our participation in public issues. It can permit us to speak of passages, the life cycle, stages of growth, and identity crisis. Most of all it may provide us a way to think about the Psalms in relation to our common human experience, for each of God’s children is in transit along the flow of orientation, disorientation and reorientation.”

Walter Brueggemann, Praying the Psalms, 14.

As Brueggemann notes, these concepts of disorientation and reorientation are helpful not only for looking at the Psalms but also for talking about life and faith. Life is full of moments and seasons of disorientation, such as this pandemic, transitioning into or from grad school, new jobs, new relationships, losses, and more. These seasons of disorientation lead to new patterns and rhythms but also to new questions. Sometimes these questions involve a deconstruction (or unravelling) of one’s faith.

When one’s faith starts to unravel, it can be comforting to hear others’ “stories of deconstruction,” as Ian Harber notes. In doing so, Harber “found people who understood what it was like to deconstruct your faith and rebuild it from scratch.” However, he also notes the challenges of reconstructing or reorienting: he “didn’t have the tools to rebuild.” Thus, as much as he appreciated those who had helped him in his time of disorientation, he also argues that “Helping people deconstruct their faith without also helping put it back together again is lazy, irresponsible, dangerous, and isolating. The goal of deconstruction should be greater faithfulness to Jesus, not mere self-discovery or signaling one’s virtue.”

While I find Harber’s critique of progressive Christianity to be lacking nuance and grace, he raises a very good question about what happens when deconstruction appears to be the goal instead of part of the journey of faith. The question is especially relevant for those of us whose lives are shaped by academia, where deconstruction is strongly encouraged. Harber argues that “Doubt and questions need not catalyze a pendulum swing from belief to unbelief. If worked out in healthy, thoughtful Christian community—and with an abiding connection to Christ, our true vine (John 15)—they can actually deepen faith and strengthen roots, producing a life where we bear fruit and withstand the fierce winds of a secular age.” The only challenge, though, is that for most people, faith shifting, along with reconstruction and growth in faith is hardly simple. There’s no clear and obvious set of guidelines to follow.

Brueggemann’s language of disorientation and reorientation thus provides a hopeful perspective for describing the challenges when life and faith does not happen the way we expect. There’s also hope for the journey of faith. As Brueggemann notes,

“The other movement of human life is the surprising move from disorientation to a new orientation that is quite unlike the old status quo. This is not an automatic movement that can be presumed or predicted. Nor is it a return to the old form, a return to normalcy as though nothing had happened. It is rather ‘all things new’. When it happens it is always a surprise, always a gift of graciousness, and always an experience that evokes gratitude … Such experiences include all those gifts of friendship and caring, all those gesture of reconciliation and forgiveness, all those risky signs of hope in public life, all experiences that may touch us deeply and announce that God has not left the world to chaos (c.f. Isa 45:18-19).”

Walter Brueggemann, Praying the Psalms, 19-20