"What if I had not believed that I should see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living?"
--Psalm 27:17 from the Psalter of the Book of Common Prayer
One of the things I like about reading the Psalms in different translations is that sometimes I see things in a different way in familiar settings. The NRSV version of Psalm 27:17 says, "I believe I shall see the goodness of the Lord..." It's more of a statement than a question. The BCP version, in asking me the question, puts the reflection back on me..."What if?" The St. Helena Psalter says, "What if I had not believed that I should see the goodness of my God..." and takes it one step further, personalizing the relationship between me and God.
I've had reason to reflect on this line some lately. There's been a convergence of some things happening in the lives of some people close to me that have caused me to think back of some times I was in similar situations myself. In all these present episodes, there is really not much I can do for any of the other people in the stories, except be a listening ear and and affirming voice. I am sometimes surprised how people approach me, thinking I have something for them, when the unsatisfying truth is I really don't have any "advice," just a memory of my own similar past, and how I might have journeyed from Point A to Point B in a similar, but not always applicable, situation. That memory, frankly, may not be totally accurate--it is always laced with "my analysis" of the situation, and over time, the little details get lost.
In these situations lately, issues of broken trust, betrayal, and out and out having been lied to have bubbled up for these other people. I've noticed that all forms of dysfunction--no matter what the root cause--have some similarities. One is that the universal human tendency, when hurt, is to avoid the "land of the living." All of us, when hurt, shut down in some fashion--physically and emotionally. Early on in this process, even thinking about "the land of the living" is painful. Yet many of us "buck up and carry on"--zombies at work or with our families. We function on the surface, we concentrate on the things we must do to keep our jobs or to keep up appearances. I think part of the reason zombie movies are so popular these days is because far too many people are living their own Night of the Living Dead in the daylight of their lives.
When I think back, at the times I had to move from the pit of despair, with little to no trust in humanity, I think the only thing that ever did keep me going was that little glimpse of God in the confines of humanity. Let me be real here. Trust issues? I have 'em. If I had to trust humans as humans, I'd never leave my house.
I have, however, learned to believe in the Incarnation--and if the Incarnation is real, then it stands to reason there will be glimpses of God in this morass of humanity. I think every time in my life I had to crawl out of the abyss of my own despair, I could only do it by agreeing to accept the glimpses of God that showed up in broken, flawed people. Most of them would start out coming from people I would never have suspected. Over time, those glimpses taught me to slowly begin to trust people closer to me. This has never been without casualties. Every time I crawled from the abyss, some people who used to be close to me were lost. Sometimes it was just too messy to ever repair. But what I would see in the places I could gave me enough hope that maybe, just maybe, all would be made right in the end. I could at least trust enough to let go, to trust that God would heal those people I was no longer close to without my intervention.
The other place in those times I had to accept seeing the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living was within myself. I have a terrible tendency to think it's always my fault somehow, and to not forgive myself. Crawling from the abyss for me has always included learning to trust myself again--to trust that I am worthy of God's love and capable enough of hearing God's call for my life.
I only know one thing--accepting what I see of the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living is the only thing I know that allows me to move beyond the comfortable confines of the seduction of self. It's the only thing I know that keeps me from propping myself up as my own little shallow version of God that looks more like a ventriloquist dummy than a real, loving, feeling person. If I had not seen it, I would have no hope of ever being free of the chokehold the broken world has on people.