Rhythm of Life: Orientation, Disorientation, Reorientation

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:

  1. a place of orientation, in which everything makes sense in our lives;
  2. a place of disorientation, in which we feel we have sunk into the pit; and
  3. 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.

Orientation


  • 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

Disorientation


  • 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)

Reorientation


  • 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.

When God Wounds

The great preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones was once asked, “What does a person look like who has truly met God?” Alluding to Genesis 32:31 he replied, “He walks with a limp.” The story referred to by Dr. Jones is the strange tale of God and Jacob wrestling through the night. Frederick Buechner titled this story The Magnificent Defeat. Jacob tangles with his Creator and paradoxically prevails over him through being defeated.

This “crippling grace” as Kent Hughes calls it results in a limp, a changed name, and a new way walk of life for Jacob. Walter Brueggemann says the “new name cannot be separated from the new crippling, for the crippling is the substance of the name.” Jacob’s new brokenness is central to his transformation. His woundedness is the mark of God’s presence in his life.

I draw a few important things from this story. First, pain and blessing are not mutually exclusive. Blessing comes through pain. They are tied together. Second, divine encounters are not always what we might expect. When God shows up, sometimes there’s a whirlwind, sometimes there’s a lightning storm, and sometimes there’s a wrestling match. The outcome of these encounters can also be counter-intuitive. A dislocated hip is probably not what Jacob was looking for and definitely not what he expected.

The third and final observation is that transformation is gritty and sweaty. Change happens when Creator and creature grapple in close quarters. Jacob’s encounter with God was extremely earthy. It happened on the soil of the earth. It was physical, tangible, and real. God executes his sanctifying power through the concrete, raw, and painful contexts where he shows up in wrestling gear.

Here is a great imaginative retelling of the story of Jacob and God. Check it out here: I will not let you go unless you bless me.