Thursday, November 11, 2010

#275: As the Deer Pants for the Water Brooks

Go on and start reading. The picture doesn't change. And the music is a nice sound track.

Sitting in my therapist's waiting room the other morning I almost gave up on the possibility of finding anything decent to read. When you spend as much time in medical offices as I do, you get just about all the five year old magazines you can stand. I was surprised, while looking over one of the end tables, to find a little New Testament from the Gideons. When I was touring the country playing Shakespeare, I got used to seeing these little books. I also got used to ignoring them. But compared to one more ancient article about Brad and Jennifer breaking up, the scriptures were a welcome change. The book contained the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs. I thumbed into the Psalms and found this old friend.

Psalm 42

1 As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So pants my soul for You, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
3 My tears have been my food day and night,
While they continually say to me,
“Where is your God?”

It is always so shocking to find myself described in the pages of the Bible. Maybe "jarring" is a better word. I've been reading the scriptures too long to be surprised when this happens. It almost always does. During my battle against cancer, I often felt spiritually parched. Ironic that I had so much trouble with dehydration. When my body needed fluids, they just stuck a needle into my arm and filled me up. My soul was not so easy to refresh. It was hard to go to church, hard to pray, hard to believe even. It seemed sometimes as if my own grief was the only companion I had left. My enemy, the cancer growing inside me, seemed to mock my longing. "If I can kill you this easily, how can you believe in a God who knows you and cares about you?"

4 When I remember these things,
I pour out my soul within me.
For I used to go with the multitude;
I went with them to the house of God,
With the voice of joy and praise,
With a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast.

It took me years to find a church where I felt as if I fit in. A place where liturgy was valued and compassion was the rule of life. When I finally found a home, it was as if my heart broke open and the Spirit of God flowed in. Like Tevye, I used to sit in this "synagogue" and pray. We discussed the holy books. We worshiped together and ministered to one another and to the world. It really was the sweetest thing of all. I felt as if I had finally found my place among God's people.
5 Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him
For the help of His countenance.

I could not have imagined ever leaving that fellowship. At times Mrs P and I would discuss moving away from Lexington, but the prospect of leaving our church always made us dismiss the possibility. I knew I would never find a place like that again. But the sweetness of those first few years did not last. There were hard times for the church. Money was scarce. A beloved priest left our parish and a new leader was found, one with his own style and thoughts about how things ought to be done. The family split between those who welcomed the changes and those who valued what seemed to have been lost. People fought. People left. Finally it seemed as if being on the right side of the controversy was more important than doing God's work. My heart, once broken with joy, was split by grief. Finally I went to my friend, my priest, my spiritual father and told him that I could no longer bear to be a part of the parish. My health was failing. My sleep was troubled with frightful dreams. I felt I was close to a nervous breakdown. I wanted to trust God, but felt as if I was swimming against a rip tide. I lost my strength. I left my church. It seemed as if God's face had turned away from me.
6 O my God, my soul is cast down within me;
Therefore I will remember You from the land of the Jordan,
And from the heights of Hermon,
From the Hill Mizar.
7 Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls;
All Your waves and billows have gone over me.
8 The LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime,
And in the night His song shall be with me—
A prayer to the God of my life.

So much has happened since then. I lost my job. I finally got around to having that breakdown. Cancer. I wanted to go back to church. People would call from time to time to ask after me. To tell me they missed me. I wanted to go, but for a long time just being in the neighborhood could make me physically ill. I even had a psychiatrist tell me that it sounded as if I were experiencing PTSD. Even when I tried going to another church, my breath would come shallow and my heart would pound. Everything that I used to love about church filled me with fear. Seeing my old friends or hearing the old music sent me into a panic.
9 I will say to God my Rock,
“Why have You forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”
10 As with a breaking of my bones,
My enemies reproach me,
While they say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”

My anxiety. My disordered mind. My diseased body. They were my enemies.They did all they could to convince me that God had left me. It seemed to me that there was nothing I could do, nowhere I could go to restore my love affair with my Creator. Mrs P would ask, "Do you pray?" I could only shake my head. I felt betrayed and angry. Mom would tell me how dangerous my anger at God was. How ungrateful. I wanted to agree with her, but in my heart I could only ask the question that David asked. "Why have you forgotten me?"
11 Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God;
For I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God.

So what's happened? Have I been delivered from all my doubts? Not really. St. Paul talked about the thorn in his flesh. I guess this is mine. My unquiet soul will always be there, whispering doubt in my ear. Asking, "Where is your God?" I don't think I'll ever be really free from those doubts. I don't know if I'll ever be free from cancer and what it's done to me, or if I'll ever find another church where I feel as much at home. But I do know that like the deer, I will always thirst for God. I will serve my God as best I can, as long as I can, because I have no other hope, no other help. When I could not pray, others prayed for me. I will not forget them, and I will not forget the God who answered their prayers when I could not speak for myself. When I could not bring myself to go the church where the word is preached, God sent the word to me in a little white book from the Gideons.

I went to the therapist looking for help. Who knew I would find so much of it in the waiting room?



1 comment:

  1. Your thirst is a prayer Bob, and your doubt, and your body fighting. The Spirit prays uttering words you can't. Looks like God responded in the waiting room.


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