Hello. I am Jim Jelinek, the Interim Rector of Trinity Church, Newport, and we clergy (Alan Neale+ and I) have committed ourselves to doing several reflections each week on a topic or lesson of our choice that we hope may be helpful to you during this pandemic and the internal turmoil and questioning it presents to each and all of us. Our hope is to lead you to think and reflect deeply about your own life and faith and how you live it, and how we can better serve God as individuals and as Trinity Church. We are making many phone calls to check up on how you are weathering this spiritually, and I invite you to call either of us if you have a need to talk about how and where you are. It is very hard to imagine how best to walk with you without knowing what you may want or need. I hope this reflection and meditation will lead you into some helpful praying.
I often go to the psalms for spiritual solace, you know, “comfort.” I deeply believe that our salvation is because of and in Jesus, but there is something in those 150 psalms that becomes very real to me. They express feelings, and feelings are always real. Thoughts, opinions, attitudes, views—are not necessarily so.
On Sunday, during the National Cathedral liturgy, a (gorgeous) radiant young woman who has a voice of spun gold was the cantor and soloist, and she sang Psalm 130 (one of my favorites) in Spanish. [I can understand that when it is sung without the warp speed of Tatiana and Nea’s Portuguese(!).] In Latin, the title is the beginning of the first line: “De profundis.” In English. that is “Out of the depths….”
Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice;*
let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.
If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss,*
O Lord, who could stand?
For there is forgiveness with you;*
therefore you shall be feared.
I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him;*
in his word is my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning.*
more than watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, wait for the Lord,*
for with the Lord there is mercy;
With him there is plenteous redemption,*
and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.
“Out of the depths,” I can picture Jonah in the belly of the whale. I can picture Joseph in the pit where his ten elder brothers threw him until they decided to sell him to some Egyptians as a slave. I can picture Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and even more, from the cross. I can picture countless people calling out from the depth of their suffering. I can remember myself in very dark or bleak or scary times (or all of those), like this pandemic.
1 Out of the depths [of my heart, of my very being]…I called to you…[please, please listen to me].
2 If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss, O Lord, who could stand?
[If you are keeping score, Lord, I don’t stand a chance.]
3 For there is forgiveness with you;* therefore you shall be feared.
[I stand in awe of your capacity to forgive; even and especially me.]
4 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits for him; in his word is my hope.
[how often do I wait, tapping my foot, looking at the clock? And then I want that “word” either in writing or at least out loud, so others can hear it too. I cry out from my depths, but I don’t want the response to be way down there in my depths. I want it up front. Clear.]
5 My soul waits for the Lord, more than the watchmen for the morning;* more than watchmen for the morning.
[Waiting. Two whole verses of waiting (so far) because waiting takes time, and we have to remind ourselves we are waiting for something, not just hanging out; waiting for what we do not know but what we shall know when God comes in some new way into our hearts. And what a “fun image” about watchmen, because when morning comes they get to go home and go to sleep.]
6 O Israel, wait for the Lord,* for with the Lord there is mercy.
[This could be a change of tone here: “I have had to learn this lesson and pass it on to my people,” OR “I, who am Israel, proclaim this to myself as a people”—a third time of waiting.]
7 With him there is plenteous redemption,* and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.
[“plenteous redemption” —if there is a ransom to be paid, there are more than enough resources, to “buy me (Israel) back.”
This reflection is about our relationship with God, especially when feeling helpless or forlorn or hopeless. I regret that so much of early Hebrew literature is wrapped up in a sense that when things are going badly it is almost always because we are guilty of something, i.e., “we have sinned.” There are so many other reasons why “things go bad,” like a pandemic, and lots of unpreparedness.
We are living in a time when I am expecting the Bible thumpers to push in during this terrible situation we are in the midst of, and to characterize it as some punishment from God for some awful and unforgivable thing we have done (even though the core of our faith is that nothing is unforgivable). We are experiencing worse consequences due to the sloppiness and tardiness of our preparedness and response as a country, and who knows how many lives could have been spared if we had marshaled our resources sooner? This pandemic is not a retribution or a punishment for something we have or have not done. [It may be a consequence of something we have done, like being flooded again when we rebuilt on a flood plain, but that is not sin; it is foolishness.]
I introduce this psalm and the theme that it shares for a particular reason, which I alluded to in my sermon on Sunday. I mentioned that I felt quite depressed at the beginning of last week, because of
varying contributing factors. When I got in touch with my feelings, particularly that I had no motivation to do anything, I wrote that to some of the people I work with most closely here, so that they might know I was not doing my share. Just writing that at least clarified the fog, and that is a great first step. Tonight on TV I heard an author say “Name it and tame it!” How very true! I have been depressed before, and it is not a sentence or a permanent condition. For me, depression is about losing any enthusiasm, and that affects motivation. The second dimension or result of the sharing was that every one of those people to whom I wrote responded with compassion and concern and understanding, and each sought to affirm me in some way that only she or he could do. And the fog has lifted.
Now for the “main reason” I go on about this: Given the current projections, the devastation from this virus is likely to have a greater impact on human society than a world war, a nuclear bomb, and maybe even the plagues during an extended period in the Middle Ages. I want you to be prepared for terrible news of the very possible numbers of those who may die, but I leave the telling of that to the news media.
What I most want to say to you is this: we are all likely to go through or in and out of depression and perhaps even touch on despair, especially if we lose a loved one. Years ago I heard a chilling statement: “Statistics are people, only the tears have been removed.”
My partner in ministry, Alan+, said yesterday in his reflection that he and I are available to listen to you and walk with you in your journey through this. Both Alan and I are feeling very “out of our element,” because all of our pastoral ministry has included countless visits with people in person. Because each of us is highly susceptible to this virus, and because we could become a carrier without knowing it, we are very cautious. We have learned to do many visits by phone. You know Alan is the “pastor of choice” for so many of the weddings in and of Newport, because of his wonderful pastoral gifts and demeanor. I know that Alan always tries to engage the people who come to him to become involved in their local church community, to worship where they live. I respect his ministry immensely.
We both have pastoral concerns, gifts and training, and we are BOTH VERY AVAILABLE TO YOU, if you would like to call us. As many gifts as we have, we are dinosaurs about a lot of this technology, and are dependent on the gifts and skills of Cassandra and Steve Messere to coach us through the logistics.
May I suggest a spiritual exercise for today or whenever?
- Read Psalm 130 (pp. 784-5, BCP), a few times, at least one of them aloud. Sit with it. Let it become your voice, your prayer.
- Make some notes/do some journaling to name for yourself how you are experiencing this very real crisis.
- Try to put what you are feeling into an email or letter you send to a few friends, and, if you wish to Alan or me.
- It is difficult to be so vulnerable, but remember this description of God: “a bruised reed he will never break.” Being vulnerable invites people to care for you, and I think you can count on that.
- Remember, our email addresses and cell numbers are published in the eTower.
May God bless you today with safety and grace. Thank you.