Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Psalm 116) transports me to the door of hell’s graveyard where braided cords of death threaten to bind and bedevil us. It is an anguishing space, where possibilities of cemetery sorrows possess our spirits and cause us to cry out for deliverance back to the land of the living. I love the language of the Message translation: Death stared me in the face, hell was hard on my heels. Clanging chains wrap around us, severely limiting our mobility. Perhaps no one has understood the pleas of the Psalmist and given verse to the descent into depression better than the poet Emily Dickinson. In one poem she describes the darkness this way: I felt a funeral in my brain, And mourners, to and fro, Kept treading, treading, till it seemed That sense was breaking through. . . And then a plank in reason, broke, And I dropped down and down – And hit a world at every plunge, And finished knowing – then –
The Psalmist did not remain chained at this despairing door of hell. Plaintive prayers for help brought profound praise for the experience of deliverance. You have to read through a lot of Dickinson’s verses to get away from the darkness of death’s door and into the palest light of praise. But it is there. She writes of prayer, At least to pray is left, is left, O Jesus! in the air, I know not which thy chamber is, – I’m knocking everywhere. And in a beautiful verse that glimpses heaven instead of hell in this life, she writes, Who has not found the heaven below, Will fail of it above. God’s residence is next to mine, His furniture is love.
Chris Tomlin references the Psalmist’s experience of deliverance in the chorus to his version of Amazing Grace: My chains are gone, I’ve been set free. During those blessed days when you are basking in the light of such freedom, I encourage you to demonstrate the amazing grace of patience with those of us who still wake up many mornings feeling bound and bedeviled, possessed by depressing darkness staring us in the face. On the days when I feel freedom’s light on my face I’ll do my best to be present with those still knocking and pleading for Jesus to open the door and put some space between them and the hell that is hard on their heels. And let us all pray for the day when everyone who has been where the Psalmist has been can sing with Isaac Watts: Should earth against my soul engage, And hellish darts be hurled, Then I can smile at Satan’s rage, And face a frowning world. I think I’ll face that frowning world while resting on Dickinson’s furniture of love. . .
*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. Each week takes its guiding theme for the daily posts from the gospel reading on Monday, the “Primary Passage.” This week’s theme is “Possession.” As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith.