Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Psalm 130) transports me to Carowinds Amusement Park during the years of my adolescence, when I would get through the gates and make a bee-line to stand in the queue and ride the classic Oaken Bucket (aka the Hell Hole or the Human Centrifuge or Rotor in other parks). This is the ride where you stand inside a big barrel, with your back against the wall. The barrel starts spinning, and when it gets fast enough, the g-forces pin you against the wall, and the bottom drops out, literally; the ride operator pulls a lever and the floor drops a few feet, so the riders are suspended there on the wall. My friends and I used to get into trouble for trying to crawl up the wall while the bucket was spinning. I’ve since read that there was a good reason for rules against this kind of misbehavior; some kids have been severely injured as they crawled up high enough and were flung out of the bucket. For normal patrons of the ride, after a few minutes of spinning, the barrel slows down, the bottom is raised, and the patrons find their feet back on the floor. They dizzily walk back out into the sunshine to find another amusing adventure.
This experience comes to mind whenever I hear people involved in AA or other addiction groups talk about raising the bottom. Alcoholics and other addicted persons are folks whose worlds have spun out of control; they have experienced the bottom dropping out of life. They feel pinned to the wall, barely functioning in a spin cycle of destructive action and shame. Finally, someone, a family member or friend, realizing that real recovery won’t begin until the person hits rock bottom, gets tired of waiting for this to happen on its own and raises the bottom, that is, stops enabling and rescuing so that the addict is more likely to reach out for help. I wondered about this concept when I read today’s Psalm, which starts out in the Message translation, Help, God, the bottom has fallen out of my life! At some point, someone must have helped raise the bottom for the Psalmist, because he is taking the first three steps of the twelve-step program here. He knows he is powerless and doesn’t stand a chance on his own. He calls on God, and turns his will and his life over to that Higher Power. Here is how the recovering sinner, aka the Psalmist, understands that Power: it is the source of unfailing love, mercy, and redemption. Raising the bottom means giving the sinner an opportunity to ground himself or herself in this crazy notion that he or she is actually beloved by God, and is free.
Not all of us have fallen prey to alcohol or drug addiction, but I’d venture to say a large majority of us are junkies of one thing or another and are living our lives in an Oaken Bucket of some kind. The world is spinning out of control for many folks, with the g-forces of rapid change pinning us against one wall or another. And if you haven’t had an experience of the bottom falling out of your life, then you probably just haven’t lived long enough. The spin cycle of failure and shame is not reserved for the crackheads and drunks. It happens in families, in marriages, in workplaces, in churches. Sometimes the best we think we can do is break the rules and try climbing up the walls. But the gospel is here to raise the bottom for us. The bottom, the ground of our being, is merciful love. From the depths we cry out to this God of merciful love, and we experience redemption, full pardon, and true liberation. We walk on, sometimes a bit dizzy, back into the sunshine, ready for the next adventure.
How about you? Where does this Poetry Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc.