I Lost It

I Lost It

I love the Psalms of Lent, especially Psalm 137. Known as the “Psalm of Exile” or “By the Waters of Babylon,” this psalm comes from the 6th century BC. This was the time of the Babylonian exile; the Jews are lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem, being taken from their homes and in exile as slaves. Not only are they enslaved and have issues with that, but adding to this frustration is being asked to sing songs from happier times in their homeland. Mosaics discovered from that period show them playing harps as they sang. 

The Babylonians built canals linking the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It is quite easy to imagine the author of Psalm 137 sitting on one of these shores with the burn of frustration and loss building within him. The burn of being taken from their homes, the burn of knowing their “Edomite cousins” joined in the destruction of Jerusalem. These emotions must have festered day in and day out. With this background, let us look at Psalm 137. Note especially the last part of the Psalm. The Church skips over this part during Lent. I propose that this is quite unfortunate. 

A Lament of Israelites in Exile

By the rivers of Babylon we sat down; there we wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows near by we hung up our harps. Those who captured us told us to sing; they told us to entertain them: “Sing us a song about Zion.”

How can we sing a song to the Lord in a foreign land? May I never be able to play the harp again if I forget you, Jerusalem!

May I never be able to sing again if I do not remember you, if I do not think of you as my greatest joy!

Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did the day Jerusalem was captured. Remember how they kept saying,“Tear it down to the ground!”

Babylon, you will be destroyed. Happy are those who pay you back for what you have done to us— who take your babies and smash them against a rock.

Feel the frustration surging through the Psalmist. Note the anger. Why is this Psalm read during Lent? Because times of frustration, anger and loss are common to all of us. Where do we turn?

A short time ago I was at an event where I had to park my car in a very crowded parking lot. Returning to my car after the event, I noticed a person had parked next to me in a very small car which was left sitting diagonally in the space. The car was situated such that the passenger of the smaller car could get out but I could not squeeze into my car. Technically, both cars were inside the designated yellow line. Unfortunately, I was soon reminded that those days of being a high school gymnast were long past. The idea of jumping all over the center console from the passenger side to get my front driver’s seat was not going into happen. So, I went around to the other side of my car. There I sat in my passenger seat and on “the shores of Babylon.” I was angry. I couldn’t leave and I was stuck in this parking lot waiting. I was being held captive. My anger grew and the minutes passed by. Anger and anxiety worked me up to a point of rage when the Edomite driver finally showed up. I had to have been there in my car all of ten minutes.  

Yet, while in captivity, I lost it.

I let my captor have it. No harps to be found. I went “Southside” on those Edomites with both barrels. I was cognizant enough to make sure I had no identifiers on but still too enraged to stop myself from such scandalous behavior. Full heat was erupting and it felt good, it felt vindicated. I truly wanted to “bash their children with a rock” as it says in Psalm 137. 

I felt good and then, I didn’t.  

I began to feel dirty as the emotions began to subside. The Edomite was long gone and I was back on the shoreline. I was feeling alone while also being grateful that I was alone that day. Good to keep witnesses to bad behavior to a minimum… It wasn’t pretty. Fortunately, no women or children were harmed in experience. Driving home that day I actually went the speed limit and stayed in my lane. I may have actually used my turn signal too.

Psalm 137 came alive for me that day. The full Psalm, not just the politically correct verses. Emotions are part of our true selves. Times like these break down the false narratives we believe in ourselves and show the world. As with the crumbling of the walls of Zion, opportunity arises in bringing our authentic selves to God. In the dirt, we see our individual brokenness as we traverse this broken world. We get real. It is not always pretty when our authentic selves take hold. 

Ronald Rolheiser, OMI reminds us that prayer is “lifting of mind and heart to God.” We have to enter into prayer exactly how we are feeling – “no matter how irreverent, unholy, selfish, sexual, or angry that thought or feeling might seem.” We must bring to prayer our brokenness. God wants authenticity in His relationship with us. Rolheiser notes that if we are “feeling bored, pray boredom;” if we are “feeling angry, pray anger;” if we are “sexually preoccupied, pray that preoccupation;” if we are “feeling murderous, pray murder;” and if we are “feeling full of fervor and want to praise and thank God, pray fervor.” In that parking garage I needed to pray Psalm 137’s feeling of bashing that child against rock.” Rolheiser reminds us to “pray what’s inside of us and not what we think God would like to see inside of us.” A great lesson for Lent.

Yet, how many times in our lives do we avoid prayer after we’ve been in this parking lot or on the “shores of Babylon?” After losing it in the parking lot, later that day came time for me to pray Evening Prayer of the Divine Office. I faced a common dilemma that we all have in prayer. How can I “authentically” sit down to the Liturgy of the Hours after being a jerk that day? I could sense my “dirt.” Not wanting to be a hypocrite, my instinct was to avoid this time with God. The enemy points out our unworthiness as he whispers in our ear. The Father of Lies reminds – I never was worthy. However, by God’s invitation I am called to offer my authentic self to him. He knows who I am, such authenticity was lost on me, not Him. God wants an honest relationship. He doesn’t leave – we do. If I am sitting on the shores of Babylon, God wants to sit there with me and be part of the experience. It is only by bringing such experiences to God can we regain our freedom. It was not a time to avoid prayer but to embrace it.

Prayer must be an authentic experience no matter how dirty we feel.  

Skipping prayer misses out on the healing experience, just as not going to a doctor when we are sick obscures the chance of a cure. With this parking lot episode, I took my travels to Babylon to reconciliation. I submitted my scandal and vowed to do better.   

Yes, I lost it. My Southside roots run deep so I have little doubt that Greg will return to the shores of Babylon. When I do, perhaps I can remember that God does not want me to go there alone. God is there to set captives free.

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Written by
Deacon Gregory Webster