Many, if not all, of us have known at some time in our lives the experience that the Psalmist so powerfully describes: bleak nights when some intractable trouble or grief would not let us sleep, moments when we could see no way through or imagine no bright future, times when we may not have doubted God’s reality, but wondered why we’ve been abandoned. At such times we refuse easy comfort, and we should. There are troubles and griefs so awful in all our lives sometimes that it’s hard to hear anything like the chipper voice from that Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, ‘Everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, it is not yet the end.’
But the Psalmist here does not look forward to a happy ending, but back to what God has done in the past. ‘Then at last I remembered all the things I’d forgotten, all the wonders you Lord had begun.’ And so a healing sense of equilibrium begins to be restored, in the remembrance of things past.
A Roman Catholic colleague once told me how, for many Catholics, the immediate response to any crisis is to say Mass. She would illustrate this for ecumenical classes with a hilarious clip from Father Ted, with Mass being said on a milk float. This might seem as absurd as Dev Patel’s glib optimism, but it is quite different. The gift of communion is the memory of what God has done and who God is. It makes the past action of God real and present for us, even in our deepest pain. God’s faithfulness, from that last supper, to death on a cross and resurrection from the tomb, is made vivid in our own present moment. After any dark night of the soul there may come the morning of faithful remembrance. This is not easy comfort, but for times when our suffering is not funny, it is the food we need.
O God of the darkness and the light, of complete desperation and of sure and certain hope, please don’t forget me and do not let me forget you. I pray also for …… known to me, who is in trouble so deep they do not know what to do. I remember them before you and pray that they will know they are not forgotten.
The Rev’d Dr Susan Durber is Moderator of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches