I Will Praise You with the Harp

27 Nov

I attend a prayer group on Wednesday nights. On the eve of Thanksgiving, I made a point not to miss it, as I think it’s important to remember the deeper meaning of Thanksgiving before excess football and tryptophan set in rendering the brain comatose. The facilitator asked us to pick a verse from the bible that we felt encapsulated our feeling of thanks for the year. Leafing through the bible, I intuitively found myself in Isaiah, not because I had any particular verse in mind but because I’ve always felt that our intuitive impulses yield great dividends. (I’m also mad for Isaiah). And sure enough, a sentence at the beginning of Isaiah 40 popped out at me. In my NRSV version at home, Isaiah 40:2 reads, “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid…” However, I was using someone else’s bible and the translation read something like, “Speak tenderly to Israel for her sad days are over.” And immediately, I took the personification of Israel and attributed it to me. “Speak tenderly to Lise for her sad days are over.” I know that the translation using the word “sad” pulled me into myself and away from the context of the passage, which meant that the Lord would deliver Israel but so be it – this year I’m thankful that an era in my life is over forever. After a 32-years long oppression from the weight of my mom’s alcoholism, her death delivered me from a sadness that created its own form of exile.

Yet, filling in yesterday morning at a psychiatric hospital, I was acutely aware that many have not experienced such liberation. Spending an hour with the in-patient adolescents, I was touched not only by the fact that for the rest of their lives they would remember spending Thanksgiving in a psych ward but that many of them actually preferred being with us than in their broken homes. Similarly, the military folks I’ve been getting to know experience a type of exile beyond the geographical exile of deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. To put it lightly, there has been a lot of suffering in this world since the fall from Eden.

Being in seminary, I have been seeped in the theology of God restoring cosmic order through the crucifixion and it impacts me profoundly because I understand healing. For me, joy did cometh in the morning; God did bring relief. But humans will continue to suffer and those who have been touched by God’s grace return the gift by helping others. Therefore, I love that last night I was reading an analysis of psalm 42 and 43 by N.T. Wright in his book The Challenge of Jesus. In it, Wright points out a man who has previously experienced God yet now suffers and in that suffering is waiting for God to make his presence known again. “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my heart longs for you, O God…” “I say to you God, my rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me?’” And yet the psalmist has hope that he will be delivered and filled up again. When that happens, he says, “I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God.”

I am so struck by this cycle of suffering and redemption. And as I think back on all I’m thankful for, I’m grateful for being part of this cycle. “I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God.”

And yesterday, while buying some flowers for the dinner party I went to, a bouquet of yellow roses shouted out at me to take them. My mother’s favorite flowers were yellow roses. I think she was wishing me a happy Thanksgiving. Then on the radio, “Tupelo Honey” played – perhaps a song request called in from heaven by my dad. God is good.

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