Psalm 13

This morning I criticised something in our Parish Magazine. It’s a rule of mine never to criticise without offering to help, so this evening I find myself with a deadline for two articles! One on my favourite Bible passage and one I volunteered, a report on Greenbelt. That will mean a reworking of my blog posts, so you’ll have read those. Here’s this evening’s written-on-the-train-with-help-from-Twitter effort…

Psalm 13

1 How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
3 Look on me and answer, LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the LORD’s praise,
for he has been good to me.

This is the well-thumbed page in my Bible, the link saved to my Favourites and it’s bookmarked on my Iphone app…

Finding Psalm 13 was like a light coming on in a very dark room. At the time I was surrounded by boundlessly confident Christian friends who could ‘just’ name and claim God’s blessings. So discovering a psalm that echoed exactly how I felt was, I suppose, the best way of grounding my faith. Yes, there are reams of Psalms written from unhappy places, but somehow even they all seemed ultimately too triumphant, too long, too showy. Psalm 13 is short and to the point. Has anyone been so lucky as to not know that sense of ‘how long must I wrestle with my thoughts?’ This is where the NIV & KJV wins; other translations don’t quite phrase it the same way and give that sense of trying to defeat the negativity, the harmful and worrisome thinking that somehow is never quite vanquished. I quite like the Message’s ‘I’ve carried this ton of trouble’ but it’s not quite the same feeling of that insistent, repetitious thinking that nothing quietens.

Some days, I have to stop at verse 4. These are mostly times when I wonder why our heartfelt pleas are falling on deaf ears, when my prayers seem to fall into a big black hole. Other days, good days, I can read the whole way to verse 6 and genuinely rejoice. But on all days, I am thankful for this tiny corner of the Bible, these six verses of Scripture that perfectly describe the complexities of faith.

Doing God in public

Recent(ish) tweets on the Bible Society’s Take your Bible to Work Day (October 25th) started me thinking about what I do and don’t do in public. In the past I’ve happily read a Bible on my train journey to work and then scribbled in a prayer journal. Now I’m using an iPhone, I don’t carry a Bible with me – no need, when it’s all there on the phone. I do generally have a copy of Cover to Cover notes with me, though, and I am a fan of PAYG to listen to.

So some days I use the commute time and some days I don’t. The thing that stops me more often than anything isn’t a general concern about being seen to Do God in public. Rather, it’s my attitude when I get on the train – if I’ve not been the most patient person waiting for a seat, or I’ve had to jostle for elbow space. Somehow I never quite feel I can then whip the notes out and read today’s passage or listen to the day’s PAYG – I’d feel way too hypocritical. One of the first days I walked to work listening to PAYG I started it just as I left the train. Walking towards the ticket barriers, I listened hard and felt very holy. Got to the barrier, was held up by someone faffing, made the kind of disapproving noise that sounds like Muttley swearing. Laughed out loud as I thought to myself that I probably ought to start that particular prayerful meditation again once I was out of the station…

Religious writers

I was given a set of Bible reading notes recently – New Daylight. I keep referring to it accidentally as Living Daylight, but that is another issue all together. They seem OK, but I have a couple of issues with some of the daily notes.

Firstly, some are a bit thin on theology/ instruction/ education. Don’t get me wrong, when I’m reading these on the 08:00 from Colchester I don’t always want a lesson in Greek or Hebrew. It would be nice, though, if the notes went a bit deeper into the text. Each day only has about 400 words, so this is a tall order, I know, but sometimes it feels as if we merely skim the surface with a nice story to illusrate the point. It’s like the start of a sermon, the joky bit at the beginning, but without the actual meat of the message.

Secondly, and this really does make me cross –  if the writer only has 400 words, should they waste space on stories about their life? I nearly threw the book out the window after a few days when the writer spent a paragraph telling me about their sunny vicarage, toddler and au pair. Is that really a good use of space? Is that really a God-inspired piece of writing?

Who is writing for the rest of us? Who is writing for people who don’t have ‘perfect’ lives? Who don’t feel particularly blessed in their circumstances, whose faith is sustained not by a joyful sense of wonderful God-given things but by a grim determination not to turn away from a God we don’t understand? Let’s call ourselves the Psalm 13ists. Let’s rise up against glib proclamations. Let’s band together and write about life from the bottom of the spiritual valley, not from the glorious mountain top. And in doing so, we might encourage the poorer, the transient, the doubters, the kind of people who sit at the back of a church and wonder what on earth these people are getting that they are not.