By Jennifer Ohman-Rodriguez
Holy Week, 2020
Every day I check the maps. First, my state map. How many cases in my county? How many deaths in my state? Watch Iowa’s numbers increase daily. Each day showing additions. Not subtractions. Yesterday, 786. Today?
Move to the country’s map. How many states in the United States of America are on stay-at-home orders? Most states now have them. Mine does not. Governor refuses. Claiming freedom, more important than life. Asking us to die for it. Her stubborn stance making us more anxious, lonely, afraid, and unprotected.
My last check, the world. Numbers, never the same. Never less. Only more. Throwing me back into the cushions I lean on. Despair’s long sigh escaping through my nose. Sinking my heart lower and lower. Until questions erupt. Not of maps, leaders, or politicians. But of God.
How long, O LORD?
Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Ancient words still keening. Sounded from the psalmist. Written in Psalm 13, first two verses. (NRSV) Naming our feelings of abandoned-ness, pain, sorrow.
Walk on path one bright day. Hear frogs sing. Filling woods with sound. Notice flock of gulls dancing in sun’s rays. Breathe in spring’s warming air.
“I feel like a bowling pin,” I say. “A bowling ball rolls toward me. In slow motion. Growing larger as I watch.”
Mind sees me standing with all my beloveds. Facing forward. At the end of alley ’s lane. Watching the ball. Praying it veers off to one side, teeters on the edge, finds the gutter. But the ball stays on course. Toward us. As we freeze. Immobilized. Caught in a slow form of trauma. Spanning days, weeks, months. Trauma approaching, getting closer and closer. As we continue standing. Hearing ball against wood floor. Feeling moving vibrations beneath our feet. Ball growing bigger and bigger. Soul asking again like the psalmist. “How long, O LORD?” (v 1)
Brain, a funny organ in humans. Mine flashes. With wonderings in trauma’s watch. How does the psalmist manage hope in the last two verses? Beginning with, “But I trust in your unfailing love…” (v 5)
How do we hope when the ball keeps rolling? Answer my own question. Out of something I tell my son these days. “We can hold both sadness and hope at the same time.”
A paradox. Holding both. Something I learned from living in concurrent grief and trauma recovery. Sadness, sorrow, and despair are emotions. But hope? Hope is learned. Practiced. Acquired. What is called a cognitive function.
Holding both, wisdom. Excelled in by the psalmist. Through first naming and listing experiences surrounding pain. Pain, intrusive thoughts, sorrow, abandonment, defeat. This listing, a crying out called lament. Lament defining deep unmet basic needs such as safety. Lament leading to an ask for help called prayer. “…Give light to my eyes…” (v 3) the psalmist prays.
Then the psalmist shifts. Into recognizing gifts. God’s gifts of “trust,” “unfailing love,” and “salvation.” ( v 5) Remembering these good gifts, the psalmist builds hope. In a future filled with song and “good“-ness . (v 6)
Yes, we can hold sadness and hope at the same time. Sadness begins a necessary journey in emotional survival. Leading us to act by lamenting. Lament opening us into another act. The act of prayer. For our pain and needs. Leading us into naming the gifts we have already received. Gratitude for these gifts creating a sense of hope from within. Hope living alongside sadness. Sadness, the beginning. Hope, the last word. Together creating a never-ending map for living. One providing ongoing healing balm. Making the ball rolling toward us something we can deal with.
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. (Psalm 13, NIV)