Connections 06.19.2022: Things I Remember

Psalm 42

Some biblical passages are so familiar they are almost hard to read; we’ve heard their phrases so often they practically stand up on their own. Chunks of them have become praise choruses so overplayed that the earworms have taken up permanent residence in our heads. I’m not proud to admit this, but since my college days in the early ‘90s, I’ve instinctively cringed at the opening strains of “As the Deer.” It feels almost blasphemous (I won’t tell you the other songs that make me cringe or I’d surely be counted a heretic!).

Earworms aside, it’s pretty wonderful when we find ways to bring Scripture into our prayers and our songs. Speaking and singing and praying the words of the Bible is a great gift; when we don’t have the words to express our faith and our doubts, we can join with the voices of those who came before us. But sometimes the snippets we cling to, the sound bites we play on repeat, keep us from being able to see and hear the rest of the biblical witness.

Psalm 42 is much more than “as the deer.” Yes, the psalmist longs for God, but the psalmist’s longing comes not from warm-fuzzy Bambi feelings but out of agony, out of being challenged, out of sleepless nights and endless tears. If only we had as many pain-filled praise choruses as there are pain-filled psalms! Yes, the psalmist turns to hope in God, but the psalmist’s hope comes from not from warm-fuzzy Bambi feelings but from memory. From remembering what it once felt like to be in the community at worship (v. 4), and from remembering the far reaches and rolling depths of God’s presence (v. 6).

The psalmist thirsts for a flowing, not stagnant, source of life, then remembers that God’s presence is no trickling stream but waves and billows rushing overhead. The psalmist weeps through the night, then remembers that God’s steadfast love is a song—a prayer—a blessed earworm through the dark hours.

The psalmist remembers all this and then begs God to remember too. Only a beat after claiming God’s steadfast love, he asks “Why have you forgotten me?” (v. 9) How quickly the praise chorus dissolves again into tears! How quickly the tune shifts again into a minor key! This is the song, the psalm, the life of longing. Again and again we are challenged, again and again we are sleepless, weeping. And again and again we remember the congregation of thanksgiving, the crashing waves: our help and our God.

Discussion

  • What memories of God’s faithfulness do you call upon when you long to sense God’s presence?
  • What songs, scriptures, or other words of faith do you play “on repeat” in your head?
  • How do you incorporate Scripture into your prayers? What voices from the Bible do you find most reassuring? Most challenging? Most comforting? Most realistic and relatable? What do you learn about God from these texts? What do you learn about yourself?
  • How have you experienced the “both/and” reality of sensing God’s steadfast love and feeling isolated from God’s presence? How does remembering God’s goodness is the past help you face an uncertain future?

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary, and as a military spouse has had nine (at last count) different hometowns in the past 20 years. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in the Washington D.C. area. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for d365.org and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at amovingyarn.com.

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