We are seething in our fury, anger festers into flame. We could kill! No judge or jury would convict or even blame. Shepherd hear our cries, our furor; but before you cool and tame, share our pain, then, in your power lead us from our hateful aim.
Worthless adversaries hurt us, with a wrath we did not earn. Worthless partners all desert us; God seems distant, silent, stern. Spirit, hear our cries for vengeance! Let our indignation burn! Then come, heal our reckless nature, lead us from the rash and stern.
You who set the earth’s foundations, comprehending our distress: reconstruct our accusations and the violence we profess. Mason, hear our cries; rebuild us. Through your power to wash and bless, lead a spring, a healing justice from our dregs of bitterness.
Sometimes when we pray, it flows in such a way that we sense our petitions are already in tune with God’s purposes. Other times, though, the need to pray may be no less urgent but we’re stuck with an underlying awkwardness: Should I really be saying this in prayer, should I be expressing these kinds of thought and emotion before God?
And at the sharp end of life, we know that the things we need to say – and to pray – are liable to come across as angry and abrasive; but to bite our tongue and bottle them up would feel far from healthy.
So in today’s Psalm setting, prayerful self-censorship isn’t high on the agenda. Instead there’s full-throated acknowledgement before God of the depth of disillusionment and rage being experienced. Remarkably though, the text holds in tension a recognition that thoughts which overstep the mark of God’s justice must ultimately be tempered, with a forthright insistence that God should not rush to remove our anger before we’ve been allowed to let rip.
In truth, James Hart Brumm’s verse is rather tangential to the Biblical text of Psalm 60 to which hymnals index it (the main points of contact are the voicing of complaint and the imagery of God as ‘builder’). But Brumm’s editors have written that these words “are not intended to represent any particular Psalm; rather, they reflect the tone of Pss. 58-60 (and many others like them), with honest expressions of hurt, anger, bitterness, and desires for vengeance.”
Indeed, that’s the beauty of the Book of Psalms as a whole: it encourages us not just to offer God the sentiments that we think are ‘acceptable’, but to pray our actual thoughts and feelings – however hurt or harsh they may be. Praying the Psalms gives us permission to identify ourselves with their expressions of lament, their cries for vindication; and emboldens us not to stop there, but to say it ‘in our own words’ too.
Lord, you see me as I am. Not just the idealized version of myself that I aspire to, but the ‘me’ that sometimes lashes out. Give me boldness to be honest with myself and with you, confidence to know that you hear my prayer, and grace to open myself and my circumstances to your healing. In the name of Jesus, who brings heaven’s truth among us, and who brings our humanity to heaven’s throne. Amen.
The Rev’d Dominic Grant, Minister, Barnet URC and St Andrew’s Chesterfield Road URC