For some reason Psalm 22:14 has been running through my head since last evening. The full verse reads:
I am poured out like water;
all my bones are out of joint; *
my heart within my breast is melting wax.
Psalm 22 begins with “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The Psalmist’s cry is repeated by Jesus on the cross in Matthew and Mark. The Psalm is a profound reflection on personal pain and suffering that ends in a triumphant expression of praise of God. It probably served as the template for the shaping of the passion narrative in Mark and is used liturgically by many churches during the Stripping of the Altar on Maundy Thursday and is designated for use on Good Friday.
No doubt, my memory called it up because of Ash Wednesday and thinking ahead to Lent. I find much of the imagery problematic when used as personal devotion, however powerful it is in the context of communal worship during Holy Week.
But v. 14 speaks to me, and for me, today.
Those who read my blog regularly may remember that I mentioned at some point in the last three weeks that I was caught completely unawares by both the protests and in thinking what role Grace might play because of its location as “the church on the square.” I’ve been reacting, often without the time for reflection that I want to take. It has also up-ended everything else at Grace. Our Lenten planning, begun in early February, came to a crashing halt and we’ve had to piece it together at the last minute.
This week was intense for reasons quite beyond events on the square. We had an elaborate and exquisite liturgical and musical celebration on Last Epiphany, with a Haydn Mass and string players. Monday was the first Monday of the month, so that meant we were feeding 150 people from the Men’s shelter and the community. Then came Shrove Tuesday, and Ash Wednesday. The Capitol Square, though, was quiet, and I felt like I was able to catch my breath and was hoping that after Ash Wednesday I could regroup and enter fully into the season of Lent.
Events at the Capitol overtook us. The protests that provided a backdrop and accompaniment for our service. It was surreal.
It was while driving home that the verse of the psalm first came to me. It remained with me as I talked with Corrie about the day, we followed events on the internet, and then watched a few minutes of local news.
It remained with me when she said, “We’ve got to do something. You have to organize volunteers to be in the church tomorrow.” I replied, “I can’t do anything. I can’t write an email right now.” In the back of my mind was, “I am poured out like water.” A few minutes later, I went to bed, reciting that verse to myself.
When I awoke in the morning, it was still with me. I managed the email; we got the volunteers. And I went off to Clergy Day which was a welcome reason to be away from Grace and Capitol Square, for at least most of the day. But still those words were on my lips and in my heart, “I am poured out like water.”
Being with Bishop Miller and with my brothers and sisters among the clergy today was restorative. Many expressed their good wishes, their support, and told me I and Grace were in their prayers.
As they spoke, shared, hugged me, and offered to help however they could, I was deeply moved and uplifted. But still, the tears were close all day, “I am poured out like water.”
When we talk about Lent, we often use language of desert and wilderness. As a community, a city, a state, we are in a very difficult place. Wherever we stand on the political debates, deep harm, perhaps irreparable, has been inflicted on our community and on our body politic.
I came home on the bus this afternoon, really the first time I’ve ridden the bus in the past few weeks. As I was waiting, a young man engaged me in conversation. I’m sure he was a student. He had been at the Capitol and asked where I was headed. As we talked, and as he learned that I was Rector of Grace, he began to open up about his fears. I was grateful to God when my bus came before we were able to enter to deeply into conversation and just as two other bystanders began to engage us.
“I am poured out like water.” I will stay away from Grace and Capitol Square tomorrow, but somehow I have to open myself up to God enough so that I can craft a sermon to preach on Sunday, the First Sunday of Lent.
While I was at Grace this afternoon, I took the time to pass through the nave and chat with the volunteers who were present. One of them said that, while she couldn’t carry a sign, walk around the Capitol, and protest, she could be in the church, sit, and pray. She said she was praying for me. My hope is that everyone who reads this blog prays for me, for Grace, and for Wisconsin.
“We are poured out like water.”