Dear Members and Friends,
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
I think of God, and I moan;
I meditate, and my spirit faints.
I saw it in their eyes. On this past Sunday, those people who were still living without electric power – still living without air conditioning, without hot showers, without peaceful sleep undisturbed by the roar of generators – the stress and strain was evident in their eyes. As of Sunday, it was 7-8 days for them living in this manner. I was impressed that they made it worship.
But I wondered if the message of the day was helpful to them. I wondered if the message drawn from Psalm 107, with the reminder that in any distress, God is still with us, really connected with them. I wondered if they were able to feel God’s presence at all in their lives at that moment, or if the reassurance of God’s presence was ringing hollow.
Then on Tuesday Richard Floyd, a retired UCC pastor reminded us that most of the Psalms lift up laments by the people of Israel, the people of faith. He did this by reflecting specifically on the above two verses from Psalm 77. These verses clearly voice lament by the Psalmist, speaking honestly the hard truth that there are times when we are incapable of being comforted and of feeling God’s presence.
Richard Floyd shared how this comfortless time for him occurred when he was 18 years old and his mother died at the age of 53. He shared honestly how he did not find comfort in the faith of his mother and the little church from which she was buried. It was not their fault, he was not capable of being comforted at that moment, his grief was too overwhelming and instead, he greatly questioned how God could let such a thing happen.
Another UCC colleague, Kurt Walker, shared his own reflection on Floyd’s sharing in a Facebook post. He shared how the experience of witnessing his older brother die from accidental electrocution led him to struggle with God, God’s goodness, and God’s presence or attentiveness to the world and to his life in particular for many years. Both of these reflections led me to remember the experience of standing at the coffin of my mother, viewing her lifeless body, and feeling that her faith, the faith I was raised in, about a place in heaven waiting for her after this life, was just not enough. I remember how seeing my mother dead at the age of 63 led me to question seriously the goodness of God and attentiveness of God for many, many years after.
As I write this column I know there are people in our congregation who just got their electricity back on Monday, or Tuesday, or (I read in the Herald today, there are still 11,000 homes in South Dade without electricity) maybe still don’t have it on. And many, even with electricity, still don’t have telephone service, cellular service, internet, or cable TV service. And now Puerto Rico is 100% without power, not to mention what other devastation they are experiencing as a result of Hurricane Maria; and hundreds have died in a massive earthquake in Mexico City; and wildfires are still burning in the Western United States; and wars still rage in Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq.
In such a time it is a truly faithful response to lament. It is a time to cry out to God, “How long, O Lord, how long???” It is a time to curse and wonder: Where is God? Does God care? It is faithful to refuse false or simplistic comfort but to struggle and to seek for more from God, from our leaders, from one another.
Psalms of lament or complaint from the people against God are the single largest category or type of psalm. It is clear that the people of Israel had ample reason and cause to lament their circumstances and to complain to God. But it is also clear, as Richard Floyd ended his reflection by reminding us: that the people never stopped asking, questioning, complaining or calling out to God, “as they continued to wait in hope for a time of comfort.” Maybe this thought can bring us some comfort in what feels like such a comfortless time.
See you in church.
R. Steven Hudder
Pastor, Christ Congregational United Church of Christ
Palmetto Bay, Florida