Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Psalm 69:16-29) transports me to the wonderful world of the nighttime subconcious, aka the dream world, in this case, the bad dream world of nightmares. I was just at a coach approach training event in Winston-Salem, and the subject came up during a break; people were sharing some of their recurring anxiety dreams – forgetting the sermon, realizing they were in public with no clothes on, etc. I had spent the night with my in-laws, and in the morning my father-in-law Ed had shared his most recent nightmare with me – he was officiating a wedding, and it suddenly dawned on him that he had done no premarital counseling work with this couple. Cold sweats! I assured him that if that was the worst of his nightmares, he’s living (and sleeping) a blessed life. The one that keeps popping up for me, at least once a week, is about broken relationships. There have been three or four places/times in my waking life where all my efforts to repair broken relationships with close friends have failed, and I’ve had to live with the lack of reconciliation and the reality of disappointment and desertion. In my recurring anxiety dream, I keep showing up at one of these places, and find myself in the company of people who used to be close friends. The occasions for being there are always different, but the setting and the people are the same. And the dream always ends the same way; similar to looking down and discovering I don’t have pants on, it suddenly dawns on me that I don’t belong there, I shouldn’t be there. I try to find a way out, but can’t. I generally don’t wake up in a cold sweat, but in a foul mood, ready to curse the night.
The Psalmist David is describing his own recurring nightmare of desertion from friends and derision from foes. He not only has his political enemies to deal with, but when he goes to find some comfort and aid from his loved ones, they have all abandoned him, leaving him with nothing but gall for food and vinegar to wash it down with. He is deserted, and can do nothing but cry out to God. What is the prayer that emerges from his nightmare? Mostly cursing. Psalms like this remind us that God is big enough to hear whatever is on our hearts. If we’re honest with ourselves, sometimes the only thing coming from our hearts is this kind of cursing. May those who have deserted me find their own homes as desolate as mine, David prays. Give them the shakes from morning to night, as the Message puts it, and may they find that their best friends are trappers who skin them alive. It all sounds like your typical emotional response to a nightmare, whether a sleeping one or a waking one. Curse the darkness. Damn the desolation. A pox on both houses of desertion and derision.
One question that I’ve learned to ask in the coaching conversation and in other settings is this: How did that work out for you? or How do you think that will work out for you? When it comes to cursing the darkness and desolation and once-dear friends who have disappointed or deserted you, I know the answer to the question. It doesn’t work out. It doesn’t solve or resolve anything. Even so, maybe there’s a place for it. My seminary professor Glenn Hinson, connecting Psalms like this to Jesus’ teaching, counseled us to go into our closets and cuss; after all, God can handle it, and wants honest prayers. I wonder if Jesus ever went into his closet and cussed, accessing images like these in the Psalm as he found his friends deserting him and abandoning him to his foes. Whether he prayed these prayers or not, he worked it out somehow so that he could keep on walking, keep on working, keep on moving toward his life goal. This is something else I’m learning from the coach approach training, the importance of moving toward action and creating forward progress toward life goals, in spite of whatever might be haunting you in your nightmares. Cold sweats need not keep us from walking on and being about the work.
How about you? Where does this Poetry Passage take you in your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc.