From the Fall/Winter 2017 issue of Reflections magazine
by Diane Thrush
“By the rivers of Babylon –
there we sat down and there
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung our harps.
For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy”
In one of the most poignant, mournful passages of scripture in the Old Testament, the Israelites weep for their beloved Zion. Most of them have been carried away to Babylon from Jerusalem during the Exile. They literally don’t know how to live and carry out their faith in a pagan land surrounded by pagan peoples who have no idea of who they are and who their God is.
I have always been grateful for the psalms and the models of prayer they give us. No matter what we are feeling and going through, the good and the bad, we can see our feelings mirrored there. The psalmists knew where to turn in all of life — to God. They could tell God what they were going through without holding back. They were not burdened as we are with restraints on what is ‘proper’ prayer language. Certainly the Israelites living in the Babylonian Exile knew how to turn to God in their sorrow and grief.
As I read about the destruction of the Coastal Bend, including my beloved Port Aransas, my personal thin place, as I watched with horror at the Armageddon-like pictures in the news, all I could do was lament over the horrible storm Harvey had brought to the coast. As I watched interviews with locals and heard their heartbreaking stories, my heart was breaking for them. This indeed was a time of wailing and mourning for them and empathy from those of us who watched in sorrow for them. These were not strangers in a foreign land on the TV. These were OUR people. They were people we knew whether personally or collectively. These were our churches, our brothers and sisters in Christ and the Diocese of West Texas.
There is always a time in a great tragedy that first must be answered with sorrow and tears. We can’t move forward until we have processed our incredible pain and suffering. That’s when we need the comfort of helpers the most. People who will wipe our tears, hold us tight, and grieve with us. I watched and read posts on Facebook as fellow Christians ministered to the heartbroken. I was so proud to know what a wonderful presence we had in the midst of the storm — literally. One of my favorites stories was how the AA community in Port A showed up that next morning at Trinity with coffee and the solid wisdom and support that a 12-step program offers.
Eventually, the time comes to blow our nose, pull up our socks and begin to move. But the lament and pain is always there and often lurking just underneath the surface only to re-emerge time and time again. That is when the rest of us, the community of Christ, stand by ready to help again and again. As a wise grief counselor used to say, “Just because the last casserole is gone doesn’t mean we are through with the suffering.”
Our task is not accomplished. It is not time to quit praying, giving, loving, and reaching out. Our job continues. Our journey with our brothers and sisters goes on for as long as we are needed. We are called in tragedy to eventually begin to sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land — one that is often largely destroyed. We can help to get the harps out of the trees and tune them to play again. It will be a new, often painful song, but it will still be the Lord’s song. This is what we are called to do in faith – take all that we are, our joys, sorrows, pain, and losses and weave them into our faith and let God use them to strengthen us.
Diane Thrush is a retired chaplain and a member of St. Luke’s, San Antonio. Reach Diane at firstname.lastname@example.org