Pain is a constant in human existence. This regularity necessitates response, which in time becomes habitual. We develop a particular posture toward pain and a way of handling life when it hurts. These mechanisms for coping, making meaning and supporting others have great potential for help or harm.
Responses that work to ignore, deny, minimize and numb pain are at best unhelpful. More likely than not, approaches with these hidden or explicit intentions end up compounding one’s pain.
Pain must be looked directly in the face. It must be experienced and it must be resisted. In other words, it must be engaged with compassion. Compassion is that posture that refuses to back down from pain.
Compassion does not run, it does not deny or minimize, it does not numb. Compassion is courage in the face of pain, it is a passionate unwillingness to accept suffering as a static reality. Walter Brueggemann says it best.
“Compassion constitutes a radical form of criticism, for it announces that the hurt is to be taken seriously, that the hurt is not to be accepted as normal and natural but is an abnormal and unacceptable condition for humanness.”
Compassion is rebellion. It refuses to lay down to pain. It wades right into the heart of suffering and wages war. It seeks to absorb and shoulder the pain of another. It inserts kindness, love and patience into the darkest of places.
Pain will not be rendered impotent until the return of the King. Yet, he has not left us without weapons for the battle, the greatest of which is compassion.
Walter Brueggemann provides some very helpful insight on what fear does to us.
“When we live according to our fears and our hates, our lives become small and defensive, lacking the deep, joyous generosity of God. If you find some part of your life where your daily round has grown thin and controlling and resentful, life with God is much, much larger, shattering our little categories of control, permitting us to say that God’s purposes led us well beyond ourselves to live and to forgive, to create life we would not have imagined.”
I had a conversation with a good friend of mine today. We were discussing the value of transparency before God and neighbor. As we talked it was refreshing to speak openly about the rhythms and seasons of life in a fallen world. We got onto discussing Walter Brueggemann’s work on the Psalms and his paradigm for life’s rhythms. I have pulled together a helpful summary from a few different sources that capture Brueggeman’s thoughts on the matter. I have found this framework quite helpful and very true to life.
Brueggemann has developed a very intriguing way of categorizing the Psalms and bringing them into our own personal lives. In his book entitled Praying the Psalms he suggests that the psalms reflect two very basic movements in everyone’s life.
The first is the move into the “pit”. It happens when our world collapses around us and we feel that there is no way out of the deep hole into which we have sunk. The second is the move out of the pit into a welcome place. We suddenly understand what has happened and who has brought us up out of the pit.
Brueggemann further suggests that human beings regularly find themselves in one of three places:
- a place of orientation, in which everything makes sense in our lives;
- a place of disorientation, in which we feel we have sunk into the pit; and
- a place of new orientation, in which we realize that God has lifted us out of the pit and we are in a new place full of gratitude and awareness about our lives and our God.
Using these three “places,” Brueggemann suggests that life has a rhythm as we move from one place to the next. He believes that that psalms match those places and the surprisingly painful and joyful moves we make. In short, there are psalms of orientation, disorientation, and new orientation. Recognizing that different psalms match these three places in our lives can help us identify psalms that fit our personal lives.
Brueggemann helpfully categorizes the psalms around this larger scheme. By doing so he gives believers moving through the three-fold cycle a voice and framework for engaging God. The Psalms are a sufficient resource to enable robust faith in the face of any situation.
- Creation – in which we consider the world and our place in it
- Torah – in which we consider the importance of God’s revealed will
- Wisdom – in which we consider the importance of living well
- Narrative – in which we consider our past and its influence on our present
- Psalms of Trust – in which we express our trust in God’s care and goodness
- Lament – in which we/I express anger, frustration, confusion about the experience of God’s absence (both communal and individual laments)
- Penitential – in which we/I express regret and sorrow over wrongs we have done (both communal and individual penitential psalms)
- Thanksgiving – in which we thank God for what God has done for us/me (both communal and individual thanksgiving psalms)
- Hymns of Praise – in which we praise God for who God is
- Zion Psalms – in which we praise God for our home
- Royal Psalms – in which we consider the role of political leadership
- Covenant Renewal – in which we renew our relationship with God
If you are interested in his full discussion of this topic you can read it here: Psalms and the Life of Faith. If you skip right to page 6 you will see these three categories. Feel free to comment, I would love to dialogue with you about this paradigm.